This Week in Apps: WWDC 21 highlights, Instagram Creator Week recap, Android 12 beta 2 arrives

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

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

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. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, our series will take a dive into the key announcements impacting app developers from WWDC 21.

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WWDC 21 Wrap-Up

Image Credits: Apple

Apple’s WWDC went virtual again this year, but it didn’t slow down the pace of announcements. This week, Apple introduced a slate of new developer tools and frameworks, changes to iOS that will impact how consumers use their devices and new rules for publishing on its App Store, among other things. We don’t have the bandwidth to dig into every dev update — and truly, there are better places to learn about, say, the new concurrency capabilities of Swift 5.5 or what’s new with SwiftUI.

But after a few days of processing everything new, here’s what’s jumping out as the bigger takeaways and updates.

Xcode Cloud

Apple’s development IDE, Xcode 13, now includes Xcode Cloud, a built-in continuous integration and delivery service hosted on Apple’s cloud infrastructure. Apple says the service, birthed out of its 2018 Buddybuild acquisition, will help to speed up the pace of development by combining cloud-based tools for building apps along with tools to run automated tests in parallel, deliver apps to testers via TestFlight and view tester feedback through the web-based App Store Connect dashboard. Beyond the immediate improvements to the development process (which developers are incredibly excited about based on #WWDC21 tweets) Xcode Cloud represents a big step by Apple further into the cloud services space, where Amazon (AWS), Google and Microsoft have dominated. While Xcode Cloud may not replace solutions designed for larger teams with more diverse needs, it’s poised to make app development easier — and deliver a new revenue stream to Apple. If only Apple had announced the pricing! 

Swift Playgrounds 4

Image Credits: Apple

Swift Playgrounds got a notable update in iPadOS 15, as it will now allow developers to build iPhone and iPad apps right on their iPad and submit them to the App Store. In Swift Playgrounds 4, coming later this year, Apple says developers will be able to create the visual design of an app using SwiftUI, see the live preview of their app’s code while building and can run their apps full-screen to test them out. App projects can also be opened and edited with either Swift Playgrounds or Xcode.

While it’s not the Xcode on iPad system some developers have been requesting, it will make app building more accessible because of iPad’s lower price point compared with Mac. It could also encourage more people to try app development, as Swift Playgrounds helps student coders learn the basics then move up to more challenging lessons over time. Now, they can actually build real apps and hit the publish button, too.

App Store

Antitrust pressure swirling around Apple has contributed to a growing sentiment among some developers that Apple doesn’t do enough to help them grow their businesses — and therefore, is undeserving of a 15%-30% cut of the revenues the developers themselves worked to gain. The new App Store updates may start to chip away at that perception.

Soon, developers will be able to create up to 35 custom product pages targeted toward different users, each with their unique URL for sharing and analytics for measuring performance. The pages can include different preview videos, screenshots and text.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple will also allow developers to split traffic between three treatments of the app’s default page to measure which ones convert best, then choose the percentage of the App Store audience that will see one of the three treatments.

Meanwhile, the App Store will begin to show to customers in-app events taking place inside developers’ apps — like game competitions, fitness challenges, film premieres and more — effectively driving traffic to apps and re-engaging users. Combined, Apple is making the case that its App Store can drive discovery beyond just offering an app listing page.

Beyond the App Store product itself, Apple overhauled its App Store policies to address the growing problem of scam apps. The changes give Apple permission to crack down on scammers by removing offenders from its Developer Program. The new guidelines also allow developers to report spam directly to Apple, instead of, you know, relying on tweets and press.

Apple has historically downplayed the scam problem. It noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020, for example. Even if it’s a small percentage of the App Store, scam apps with fake ratings not only can cheat users out of millions of dollars, they reduce consumer trust in the App Store and Apple itself, which has longer-term consequences for the ecosystem health. What’s unclear, however, is why Apple is seemingly trying to solve the App Review issues using forms — to report fraud (and now, to appeal rulings, too) when it’s becoming apparent that Apple needs a more systematic way of keeping tabs on the app ecosystem beyond the initial review process.

Notifications overhaul

The App Store discovery updates mentioned above also matter more because developers may need to reduce their reliance on notifications to send users back into their apps. Indeed, iOS 15 users will be able to choose which apps they don’t need to hear from right away — these will be rounded up into a new Notification Summary that arrives on a schedule they configure, where Siri intelligence helps determine which apps get a top spot. If an app was already struggling to re-engage users through push notifications, getting relegated to the end of a summary is not going to help matters.

And users can “Send to Summary” right from the Lock Screen notification itself in addition to the existing options to “Deliver Quietly” or be turned off. That  means any ill-timed push could be an app developer’s last.

Image Credits: Apple

Meanwhile, the clever new “Focus” modes let iOS users configure different quiet modes for work, play, sleeping and more, each with their own set of rules and even their own home screens. But making this work across the app ecosystem will require developer adoption of four “interruption levels,” ranging from passive to critical. A new episode of a fav show should be a “passive” notification, for example. “Active” is the default setting — which doesn’t get to break into Focus. “Time sensitive” notifications should be reserved for alerting to more urgent matters, like a delivery that’s arrived on your doorstep or an account security update. These may be able to break through Focus, if allowed.

Image Credits: Apple

“Critical” notifications would be reserved for emergencies, like severe weather alerts or local safety updates. While there is a chance developers may abuse the new system to get their alert through, they risk users silencing their notifications entirely or deleting the app. Focus mode users will be power users and more technically savvy, so they’ll understand that an errant notification here was a choice and not a mistake on the developer’s part.

Image Credits: Apple

Augmented Reality

Apple has been steadily pushing out more tools for building augmented reality apps, but this WWDC it just introduced a huge update that will make it easier for developers getting started with AR. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple’s new Object Capture API will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone or iPad (or a DSLR or drone if they choose).

Explains Apple this will address one of the most difficult parts of making great AR apps, which was the process of creating 3D models. Before, this could take hours and cost thousands of dollars — now, developers with just an iPhone and Mac can participate. The impacts of this update will be seen in the months and years ahead, as developers adopt the new tools for things like AR shopping, games and other AR experiences — including ones we may not have seen yet, but are enabled by more accessible AR technology tools and frameworks.

SharePlay

This update is unexpected and interesting, despite missing what would have been an ideal launch window: mid-pandemic back in 2020. With SharePlay, developers can bring their apps into what Apple is calling “Group Activities” — or shared experiences that take place right inside FaceTime.

If you were co-watching Hulu with friends during the pandemic, you get the idea. But Apple isn’t tacking on some co-viewing system here. Instead, it’s introducing new APIs that let users listen to music, stream video or screen share with friends, in a way that feels organic to FaceTime. There was a hint of serving the locked-down COVID-19 pandemic crowd with this update, as Apple talks about making people feel as if they’re “in the same room” — a nod to those many months where that was not possible. And that may have inspired the changes, to be sure. Similarly, FaceTime’s support for Android and scheduled calls — a clear case of Zoom envy — feels like a case of playing catch-up on Apple’s part.

Image Credits: Apple

The immediate demand for these sorts of experiences may be dulled by a population that’s starting to recover from the pandemic — people are now going out and seeing others in person again thanks to vaccines. But the ability to use apps while FaceTime’ing has a lifespan that extends beyond the COVID era, particularly among iPhone’s youngest users. The demographic growing up with smartphones at ever-younger ages don’t place phone calls — they text and FaceTime. Some argue Gen Z even prefers the latter.

Image Credits: Apple

With its immediate support for Apple services like Apple Music and Apple TV+, SharePlay will hit the ground running — but it will only fully realize its vision with developer adoption. But such a system seems possibly only because of Apple’s tight control over its platform. It also gives a default iOS app a big advantage over third-parties.

More

There were, of course, hundreds of updates announced this week, like Spatial audio, Focus modes, AirPods updates, iPadOS improvements (widgets! multi-tasking), Health updates, iCloud+ with Private Relay, watchOS improvements, Spotlight’s upgrade, macOS 12 Monterey (with Continuity with Universal Control), HomePod updates, StoreKit 2, Screen Time APIs, ShazamKit, App Clips improvements, Photos improvements and others.

Many, however, were iterative updates — like a better version Apple Maps, for example, or Siri support for third-party devices. Others are Apple’s attempt to catch up with competitors, like the Google Lens-like “Live Text” update for taking action on things snapped in your photos. The more significant changes, however, aren’t yet here — like the plan to add Driver’s Licenses to Wallet and the plan to shift to passwordless authentication systems. These will change how we use devices for years to come.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

✨ Not to be outdone by WWDC (ha), Google this week launched Android 12, beta 2. This release brings more of the new features and design changes to users that weren’t yet available in the first beta which debuted at Google I/O. This includes the new privacy dashboard; the addition of the mic and camera indicators that show when an app is using those features; an indication when an app is reading from the clipboard; and a new panel that makes it easier to switch between internet providers or Wi-Fi networks.

Google also this week released its next Pixel feature drop which brought new camera and photo features, privacy features, Google Assistant improvements and more. Highlights included a way to create stargazing videos, a car crash detection feature and a way to answer or reject calls hands-free.

E-commerce

Pinterest wants to get more users clicking “buy.” The company this week added a new Shopping List feature which automatically organizes your saved Product Pins for easier access.

Augmented Reality

Google discontinued its AR-based app Measure, which had allowed users to measure things in the real world using the phone’s camera. The app had seen some stability and accuracy issues in the past.

Fintech

Facebook’s Messenger app added Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Users can scan the codes to send or request a payment, even if they’re not Facebook friends with the other party. Payments are sent over Facebook Pay, which is backed by a users’ credit card, debit card or a PayPal account.

Downloads of fintech apps are up 132% globally YoY according to an AppsFlyer marketing report.

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey said Square is thinking about adding a bitcoin hardware wallet to its product lineup. The exec detailed some of the thinking behind the plan in a Twitter thread.

✨ Social: Creator Week recap

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said Facebook will help creators get around Apple’s 30% cut. While any transactions that take place in iOS will follow Apple’s rules, Mosseri said Facebook will look for other ways to help creators make a living where they don’t have to give up a portion of their revenue — like by connecting brands and creators offline or affiliate deals.

Related to this, Instagram announced during its Creator Week event it will start testing a native affiliate tool that will allow creators to recommend products and then earn commissions on those sales. Creators can also now link their merch shops to personal profiles instead of just business profiles, and by year-end, will be able to partner on merch and drops with companies like Bravado/UMG, Fanjoy, Represent and Spring.

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram also rolled out a new “badge” for live videos which lets viewers tip creators, similar to Facebook’s Stars. Facebook also said paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges and its upcoming news products will remain free through 2023. And it rolled out new features and challenges to help creators earn additional payouts for hitting certain milestones.

Finally, Instagram in a blog post explained how its algorithm works. The post details how the app decides what to show users first, why some posts get more views than others, how Explore works and other topics.

Messaging

Giphy’s Clips (GIFs with sound) are now available in the Giphy iMessage app, instead of only on the web and in its iOS app. That means you can send the…uh, videos (??)…right from your keyboard.

Dating

Image Credits: Tinder

Match-owned dating app Tinder added a way for users to block contacts. The feature requires users grant the app permission to access the phone’s contacts database, which is a bit privacy-invasive. But then users can go through their contacts and check those they want to block on Tinder. The benefit is this would allow people to block exes and abusers. But on the downside, it permits cheating as users can block partners and those who might see them and report back.

Streaming & Entertainment

YouTube will allow creators to repurpose audio from existing YouTube videos as its “Shorts” product — basically, its TikTok competitor — rolls out to more global markets.

Gaming

Google’s cross-platform cloud gaming service Google Stadia is coming to Chromecast with Google TV and Android TV starting on June 23.

Roblox is generating estimated revenue of $3.01 million daily on iPhone, according to data from Finbold. Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Pokémon GO and others follow. Good thing if they have to pay up over that music usage lawsuit.

Image Credits: Finbold

Utilities

Apple-owned weather app Dark Sky, whose technology just powered a big iOS 15 revamp of Apple’s stock weather app, is not shutting down just yet. The company announced its iOS app, web app and API will remain online through the end of 2022, instead of 2021 as planned.

Productivity

Microsoft’s Outlook email app for iOS now lets you use your voice to write emails and schedule meetings. The feature leverages Cortana, and follows the launch of a Play My Emails feature inside Outlook Mobile.

Government & Policy

President Biden revoked and replaced Trump’s actions which had targeted Chinese apps, like TikTok and WeChat. The president signed a new executive order that requires the Commerce Dept. to review apps with ties to “foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks. Trump had previously tried to ban the apps outright, but his order was blocked by federal courts.

Google has agreed to show more mobile search apps for users to choose from on new Android phones following feedback from the European Commission. The company had been showing a choice screen where app providers bid against each other for the slot, and pay only if users download apps. DuckDuckGo and others complained the solution has not been working.

Security & Privacy

Security flaws were found in Samsung’s stock mobile apps impacting some Galaxy devices. One could have allowed for data theft through the Secure Folder app. Samsung Knox security software could have been used to install malicious apps. And a bug in Samsung Dex could have scraped data from notifications. There are no indications users were impacted and the flaws were fixed.

An App Store analysis published by The Washington Post claims nearly 2% of the top grossing apps on one day were scam apps, which cost people $48 million. They included several VPN apps that told users their iPhones were infected with viruses, a QR code reader that tricked customers into a subscription for functionality that comes with an iPhone, and apps that pretend to be from big-name brands, like Amazon and Samsung.

Multiple apps were removed from the Chinese app store for violating data collection rules, Reuters reported. The apps hailed from Sogou, iFlytek and others, and included virtual keyboards.

Funding and M&A

💰Mexican payments app Clip raised $250 million from SoftBank’s Latin American Fund and Viking Global Investors, valuing the business at $2 billion. The app offers a Square-like credit card reader device and others, and has begun to offer cash advances to clients.

🤝 Shopify acqui-hires the team from the augmented reality home design app Primer. The app, which will be shut down, had allowed users to visualize what tile, wallpaper or paint will look like on surfaces inside their home.

💰 Singapore-based corporate services “super app” Osome raised $16 million in Series A funding. The app offers online accounting and other business services for SMBs. Investors include Target Global, AltaIR Capital, Phystech Ventures, S16VC and VC Peng T. Ong.

📈  Chinese grocery delivery app Dingdong Maicai, backed by Sequoia and Tiger Global, has filed for a U.S. IPO. To date, the company has raised $1 billion.

💰San Francisco-based MaintainX raised $39 million in Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners for its mobile-first platform for industrial and frontline workers to help track maintenance, safety and operations.

💰Berlin’s Ada Health raised $90 million in Series B funding in a round led by Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG. The app lets users monitor their symptoms and track their health and clinical data.

💰Photo app Dispo confirmed its previously leaked Series A funding, which earlier reports had pegged as being around $20 million. The app had been rebranded from David’s Disposable and dropped its association with YouTuber David Dobrik, following sexual assault allegations regarding a member of the Vlog Squad. Spark Capital severed ties with Dispo as a result. Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remained listed as investors, per Dispo’s press release, but the company didn’t confirm the size of the round.

💰Brazilian fintech Nubank raised a $750 million extension to its Series G (which was $400 million last year) led by Berkshire Hathaway. The company offers a digital bank account accessible from an app, debit card, payments, loans, insurance and more. The funding brings the company to a $1.15 billion valuation.

💰Seattle-based tutoring app Kadama raised $1.7 million in seed funding led by Grishin Robotics. The app, which offering an online tutoring marketplace aimed at Gen Z, rode the remote learning wave to No. 2 in the Education category on the App Store.

📈  Mark Cuban-based banking app Dave, which helps Americans build financial stability, is planning to go public via a SPAC launched by Chicago-based Victory Park Capital called VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings III. It also includes a $210 million private investment from Tiger Global Management.

🤝  Mobile game publisher Voodoo acquired Tel Aviv-based marketing automation platform Bidshake for an undisclosed sum. Launched in January 2020, Bidshake combines data aggregation and analytics with campaign and creative management. It will continue to operate independently.

Downloads

Turntable — tt.fm

Image Credits: tt.fm on iPhone/Brian Heater

Newly launched music social network tt.fm is a Turntable.fm rival that lets you virtually hang out with friends while listening to music. To be clear, the app is not the same as Turntable.fm, which shut down in 2013 but then returned during the pandemic as people looked to connect online. While that Turntable was rebirthed by its founder Billy Chasen, Turntable – tt.fm hails from early Turntable.fm employee, now tt.fm CEO Joseph Perla. But as live events are coming back, the question now may be not which Turntable app to choose, but whether the Turnable.fm experience has missed the correct launch window…again.

SketchAR

SketchAR

SketchAR

The art app SketchAR previously offered artists tools to draw with AR, turn photos into AR, create AR masks for Snapchat, play games and more. With its latest update, artists can now turn their work into NFTs directly inside the app and sell it. The app, now used by nearly 500,000 users, will select a “Creator of the Week” to NFT on OpenSea. Others can create and auction their art as NFTs on-demand.

Tweets

#android, #android-apps, #app-stores, #apple, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #creators, #developers, #facebook, #google, #instagram, #ios, #ios-apps, #ipad, #ipados, #mobile, #swift, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021, #xcode

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Here are a bunch of iOS 15 features that Apple didn’t mention earlier

As Apple’s annual WWDC conference wraps up, we have a whole week of developer sessions and press briefings to look back on, plus a bunch of bullet points on Apple’s various feature pages to sort through.

The result? There are a bunch of interesting features coming to iPhones in iOS 15 that Apple didn’t highlight during its public-facing keynote event on Monday.

We’re not going to list them all, as there are far too many little changes in the upcoming software updates. If you want to review the complete list, Apple has published detailed feature pages on its site.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #ios, #ios-15, #ipad, #ipados, #ipados-15, #iphone, #tech, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021

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Apple announces its 2021 Apple Design Award winners

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)

Image Credits: Aconite

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.

Image Credits: Voice Dream LLC

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)

Image Credits: Pok Pok

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.

Image Credits: The Chinese Room

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.

Image Credits: Brian Mueller, Grailr LLC

Canada’s Bird Alone game combines gestures, haptics, parallax, and dynamic sound effects in clever ways to brings its world to life.

Image Credits: George Batchelor

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)

Image Credits: S/I Be My Eyes

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.

Image Credits: ustwo games

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.

Image Credits: Loóna Inc

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.

Image Credits: miHoYo Limited

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.

Image Credits: Sandeep Ranade

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.

Image Credits: Riot Games

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.”

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#a-i, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-watch, #apps, #awards, #belarus, #belgium, #companies, #computing, #denmark, #games, #gaming, #india, #ios, #league-of-legends, #loona, #susan-prescott, #text-to-speech, #united-states, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021

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Apple’s latest accessibility features are for those with limb and vocal differences

Apple announced a batch of accessibility features at WWDC 2021 that cover a wide variety of needs, among them a few for people who can’t touch or speak to their devices in the ordinary way. With Assistive Touch, Sound Control, and other improvements, these folks have new options for interacting with an iPhone or Apple Watch.

We covered Assistive Touch when it was first announced, but recently got a few more details. This feature lets anyone with an Apple Watch operate it with one hand by means of a variety of gestures. It came about when Apple heard from the community of people with limb differences — whether they’re missing an arm, or unable to use it reliably, or anything else — that as much as they liked the Apple Watch, they were tired of answering calls with their noses.

The research team cooked up a way to reliably detect the gestures of pinching one finger to the thumb, or clenching the hand into a fist, based on how doing them causes the watch to move — it’s not detecting nervous system signals or anything. These gestures, as well as double versions of them, can be set to a variety of quick actions. Among them is opening the “motion cursor,” a little dot that mimics the movements of the user’s wrist.

Considering how many people don’t have the use of a hand, this could be a really helpful way to get basic messaging, calling, and health-tracking tasks done without needing to resort to voice control.

Speaking of voice, that’s also something not everyone has at their disposal. Many of those who can’t speak fluently, however, can make a bunch of basic sounds, which can carry meaning for those who have learned — not so much Siri. But a new accessibility option called “Sound Control” lets these sounds be used as voice commands. You access it through Switch Control, not audio or voice, and add an audio switch.

Images of the process of adding an audio switch to the iPhone.

Image Credits: Apple

The setup menu lets the user choose from a variety of possible sounds: click, cluck, e, eh, k, la, muh, oo, pop, sh, and more. Picking one brings up a quick training process to let the user make sure the system understands the sound correctly, and then it can be set to any of a wide selection of actions, from launching apps to asking commonly spoken questions or invoking other tools.

For those who prefer to interact with their Apple devices through a switch system, the company has a big surprise: Game controllers, once only able to be used for gaming, now work for general purposes as well. Specifically noted is the amazing Xbox Adaptive Controller, a hub and group of buttons, switches, and other accessories that improves the accessibility of console games. This powerful tool is used by many, and no doubt they will appreciate not having to switch control methods entirely when they’re done with Fortnite and want to listen to a podcast.

Image Credits: Apple

One more interesting capability in iOS that sits at the edge of accessibility is Walking Steadiness. This feature, available to anyone with an iPhone, tracks (as you might guess) the steadiness of the user’s walk. This metric, tracked throughout a day or week, can potentially give real insight into how and when a person’s locomotion is better and worse. It’s based on a bunch of data collected in the Apple Heart and Movement study, including actual falls and the unsteady movement that led to them.

If the user is someone who recently was fitted for a prosthesis, or had foot surgery, or suffers from vertigo, knowing when and why they are at risk of falling can be very important. They may not realize it, but perhaps their movements are less steady towards the end of the day, or after climbing a flight of steps, or after waiting in line for a long time. It could also show steady improvements as they get used to an artificial limb or chronic pain declines.

Exactly how this data may be used by an actual physical therapist or doctor is an open question, but importantly it’s something that can easily be tracked and understood by the users themselves.

Images of Apple Memoji with a cochlear implant, an oxygen tube, and a soft helmet.

Image Credits: Apple

Among Apple’s other assistive features are new languages for voice control, improved headphone acoustic accommodation, support for bidirectional hearing aids, and of course the addition of cochlear implants and oxygen tubes for memoji. As an Apple representative put it, they don’t want to embrace differences just in features, but on the personalization and fun side as well.

#accessibility, #apple, #apps, #gadgets, #mobile, #tc, #wearables, #wwdc-2021

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Apple’s StoreKit 2 simplifies App Store subscriptions and refunds by making them accessible inside apps

If you’ve ever bought a subscription inside an iOS app and later decided you wanted to cancel, upgrade or downgrade, or ask for a refund, you may have had trouble figuring out how to go about making that request or change. Some people today still believe that they can stop their subscription charges simply by deleting an app from their iPhone. Others may dig around unsuccessfully inside their iPhone’s Settings or on the App Store to try to find out how to ask for a refund. With the updates Apple announced in StoreKit 2 during its Worldwide Developers Conference this week, things may start to get a little easier for app customers.

StoreKit is Apple’s developer framework for managing in-app purchases — an area that’s become more complex in recent years, as apps have transitioned from offering one-time purchases to ongoing subscriptions with different tiers, lengths, and feature sets.

Image Credits: Apple

Currently, users who want to manage or cancel subscriptions can do so from the App Store or their iPhone Settings. But some don’t realize the path to this section from Settings starts by tapping on your Apple ID (your name and profile photo at the top of the screen). They may also get frustrated if they’re not familiar with how to navigate their Settings or the App Store.

Meanwhile, there are a variety of ways users can request refunds on their in-app subscriptions. They can dig in their inbox for their receipt from Apple, then click the “Report a Problem” link it includes to request a refund when something went wrong. This could be useful in scenarios where you’ve bought a subscription by mistake (or your kid has!), or where the promised features didn’t work as intended.

Apple also provides a dedicated website where users can directly request refunds for apps or content. (When you Google for something like “request a refund apple” or similar queries, a page that explains the process typically comes up at the top of the search results.)

Still, many users aren’t technically savvy. For them, the easiest way to manage subscriptions or ask for refunds would be to do so from within the app itself. For this reason, many conscientious app developers tend to include links to point customers to Apple’s pages for subscription management or refunds inside their apps.

But StoreKit 2 is introducing new tools that will allow developers to implement these sort of features more easily.

One new tool is a Manage subscriptions API, which lets an app developer display the manage subscriptions page for their customer directly inside their app — without redirecting the customer to the App Store. Optionally, developers can choose to display a “Save Offer” screen to present the customer with a discount of some kind to keep them from cancelling, or it could display an exit survey so you can ask the customer why they decided to end their subscription.

When implemented, the customer will be able to view a screen inside the app that looks just like the one they’d visit in the App Store to cancel or change a subscription. After cancelling, they’ll be shown a confirmation screen with the cancellation details and the service expiration date.

If the customer wants to request a refund, a new Refund request API will allow the customer to begin their refund request directly in the app itself — again, without being redirected to the App Store or other website. On the screen that displays, the customer can select which item they want refund and check the reason why they’re making the request. Apple handles the refund process and will send either an approval or refund declined notification back to the developer’s server.

However, some developers argue that the changes don’t go far enough. They want to be in charge of managing customer subscriptions and handling refunds themselves, through programmatic means. Plus, Apple can take up to 48 hours for the customer to receive an update on their refund request, which can be confusing.

“They’ve made the process a bit smoother, but developers still can’t initiate refunds or cancellations themselves,” notes RevenueCat CEO Jacob Eiting, whose company provides tools to app developers to manage their in-app purchases. “It’s a step in the right direction, but could actually lead to more confusion between developers and consumers about who is responsible for issuing refunds.”

In other words, because the forms are now going to be more accessible from inside the app, the customer may believe the developer is handling the refund process when, really, Apple continues to do so.

Some developers pointed out that there are other scenarios this process doesn’t address. For example, if the customer has already uninstalled the app or no longer has the device in question, they’ll still need to be directed to other means of asking for refunds, just as before.

For consumers, though, subscription management tools like this mean more developers may begin to put buttons to manage subscriptions and ask for refunds directly inside their app, which is a better experience. In time, as customers learn they can more easily use the app and manage subscriptions, app developers may see better customer retention, higher engagement, and better App Store reviews, notes Apple.

The StoreKit 2 changes weren’t limited to APIs for managing subscriptions and refunds.

Developers will also gain access to a new Invoice Lookup API that allows them to look up the in-app purchases for the customer, validate their invoice and identify any problems with the purchase — for example, if there were any refunds already provided by the App Store.

A new Refunded Purchases API will allow developers to look up all the refunds for the customer.

And a new Renewal Extension API will allow developers to extend the renewal data for paid, active subscriptions in the case of an outage — like when dealing with customer support issues when a streaming service went down, for example. This API lets developers extend the subscription up to twice per calendar year, each up to 90 days in the future.

Another change will help customers when they reinstall apps or download them on new devices. Before, users would have to manually “restore purchases” to sync the status of the completed transactions back to that newly downloaded or reinstalled app. Now, that information will be automatically fetched by StoreKit 2 so the apps are immediately up-to-date with whatever it is the user paid for.

While, overall, the changes make for a significant update to the StoreKit framework, Apple’s hesitancy to allow developers more control over their own subscription-based customers speaks, in part, to how much it wants to control in-app purchases. This is perhaps because it got burned in the past when it tried allowing developers to manage their own refunds.

As The Verge noted last month while the Epic Games-Apple antitrust trial was underway, Apple had once provided Hulu will access to a subscription API, then discovered Hulu had been offering a way to automatically cancel subscriptions made through the App Store when customers wanted to upgrade to higher-priced subscription plans. Apple realized it needed to take action to protect against this misuse of the API, and Hulu later lost access. It has not since made that API more broadly available.

On the flip side, having Apple, not the developers, in charge of subscription management and refunds means Apple takes on the responsibilities around preventing fraud — including fraud perpetrated by both customers and developers alike. Customers may also prefer that there’s one single place to go for managing their subscription billing: Apple. They may not want to have to deal with each developer individually, as their experience would end up being inconsistent.

These changes matter because subscription revenue contributes to a sizable amount of Apple’s lucrative App Store business. Ahead of WWDC 21, Apple reported the sale of digital goods and services on the App Store grew to $86 billion in 2020, up 40% over the the year prior. Earlier this year, Apple said it paid out more than $200 billion to developers since the App Store launched in 2008.

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0

These macOS Monterey features won’t work on Intel Macs

A page on Apple’s website has revealed that several features of macOS Monterey, the new version of the software that runs on Macs, won’t work on legacy Macs with Intel processors.

Rather, those features will require the Apple-designed M1 chip (or presumably its upcoming successors) found in new Macs the company has introduced since late last year.

That means that the following Macs in Apple’s lineup will be needed to use the features in question:

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0

Spotlight gets more powerful in iOS 15, even lets you install apps

With the upcoming release of iOS 15 for Apple mobile devices, Apple’s built-in search feature known as Spotlight will become a lot more functional. In what may be one of its bigger updates since it introduced Siri Suggestions, the new version of Spotlight is becoming an alternative to Google for several key queries, including web images and information about actors, musicians, TV shows and movies. It will also now be able to search across your photo library, deliver richer results for contacts, and connect you more directly with apps and the information they contain. It even allows you to install apps from the App Store without leaving Spotlight itself.

Spotlight is also more accessible than ever before.

Years ago, Spotlight moved from its location to the left of the Home screen to become available with a swipe down in the middle of any screen in iOS 7, which helped grow user adoption. Now, it’s available with the same swipe down gesture on the iPhone’s Lock Screen, too.

Apple showed off a few of Spotlight’s improvements during its keynote address at its Worldwide Developer Conference, including the search feature’s new cards for looking up information on actors, movies and shows, as well as musicians. This change alone could redirect a good portion of web searches away from Google or dedicated apps like IMDb.

For years, Google has been offering quick access to common searches through its Knowledge Graph, a knowledge base that allows it to gather information from across sources and then use that to add informational panels above and the side of its standard search results. Panels on actors, musicians, shows and movies are available as part of that effort.

But now, iPhone users can just pull up this info on their home screen.

The new cards include more than the typical Wikipedia bio and background information you may expect — they also showcase links to where you can listen or watch content from the artist or actor or movie or show in question. They include news articles, social media links, official websites, and even direct you to where the searched person or topic may be found inside your own apps. (E.g. a search for “Billie Eilish” may direct you to her tour tickets inside SeatGeek, or a podcast where she’s a guest).

Image Credits: Apple

For web image searches, Spotlight also now allows you to search for people, places, animals, and more from the web — eating into another search vertical Google today provides.

Image Credits: iOS 15 screenshot

Your personal searches have been upgraded with richer results, too, in iOS 15.

When you search for a contact, you’ll be taken to a card that does more than show their name and how to reach them. You’ll also see their current status (thanks to another iOS 15 feature), as well as their location from FindMy, your recent conversations on Messages, your shared photos, calendar appointments, emails, notes, and files. It’s almost like a personal CRM system.

Image Credits: Apple

Personal photo searches have also been improved. Spotlight now uses Siri intelligence to allow you to search your photos by the people, scenes, elements in your photos, as well as by location. And it’s able to leverage the new Live Text feature in iOS 15 to find the text in your photos to return relevant results.

This could make it easier to pull up photos where you’ve screenshot a recipe, a store receipt, or even a handwritten note, Apple said.

Image Credits: Apple

A couple of features related to Spotlight’s integration with apps weren’t mentioned during the keynote.

Spotlight will now display action buttons on the Maps results for businesses that will prompt users to engage with that business’s app. In this case, the feature is leveraging App Clips, which are small parts of a developer’s app that let you quickly perform a task even without downloading or installing the app in question. For example, from Spotlight you may be prompted to pull up a restaurant’s menu, buy tickets, make an appointment, order takeout, join a waitlist, see showtimes, pay for parking, check prices and more.

The feature will require the business to support App Clips in order to work.

Image Credits: iOS 15 screenshot

Another under-the-radar change — but a significant one — is the new ability to install apps from the App Store directly from Spotlight.

This could prompt more app installs, as it reduces the steps from a search to a download, and makes querying the App Store more broadly available across the operating system.

Developers can additionally choose to insert a few lines of code to their app to make data from the app discoverable within Spotlight and customize how it’s presented to users. This means Spotlight can work as a tool for searching content from inside apps — another way Apple is redirecting users away from traditional web searches in favor of apps.

However, unlike Google’s search engine, which relies on crawlers that browse the web to index the data it contains, Spotlight’s in-app search requires developer adoption.

Still, it’s clear Apple sees Spotlight as a potential rival to web search engines, including Google’s.

“Spotlight is the universal place to start all your searches,” said Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi during the keynote event.

Spotlight, of course, can’t handle “all” your searches just yet, but it appears to be steadily working towards that goal.

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0

Apple’s new ShazamKit brings audio recognition to apps, including those on Android

Apple in 2018 closed its $400 million acquisition of music recognition app Shazam. Now, it’s bringing Shazam’s audio recognition capabilities to app developers in the form of the new ShazamKit. The new framework will allow app developers — including those on both Apple platforms and Android — to build apps that can identify music from Shazam’s huge database of songs, or even from their own custom catalog of pre-recorded audio.

Many consumers are already familiar with the mobile app Shazam, which lets you push a button to identify what song you’re hearing, and then take other actions — like viewing the lyrics, adding the song to a playlist, exploring music trends, and more. Having first launched in 2008, Shazam was already one of the oldest apps on the App Store when Apple snatched it up.

Now the company is putting Shazam to better use than being just a music identification utility. With the new ShazamKit, developers will now be able to leverage Shazam’s audio recognition capabilities to create their own app experiences.

There are three parts to the new framework: Shazam catalog recognition, which lets developers add song recognition to their apps; custom catalog recognition, which performs on-device matching against arbitrary audio; and library management.

Shazam catalog recognition is what you probably think of when you think of the Shazam experience today. The technology can recognize the song that’s playing in the environment and then fetch the song’s metadata, like the title and artist. The ShazamKit API will also be able to return other metadata like genre or album art, for example. And it can identify where in the audio the match occurred.

When matching music, Shazam doesn’t actually match the audio itself, to be clear. Instead, it creates a lossy representation of it, called a signature, and matches against that. This method greatly reduces the amount of data that needs to be sent over the network. Signatures also cannot be used to reconstruct the original audio, which protects user privacy.

The Shazam catalog comprises millions of songs and is hosted in cloud and maintained by Apple. It’s regularly updated with new tracks as they become available.

When a customer uses a developer’s third-party app for music recognition via ShazamKit, they may want to save the song in their Shazam library. This is found in the Shazam app, if the user has it installed, or it can be accessed by long pressing on the music recognition Control Center module. The library is also synced across devices.

Apple suggests that apps make their users aware that recognized songs will be saved to this library, as there’s no special permission required to write to the library.

Image Credits: Apple

ShazamKit’s custom catalog recognition feature, meanwhile, could be used to create synced activities or other second-screen experiences in apps by recognizing the developer’s audio, not that from the Shazam music catalog.

This could allow for educational apps where students follow along with a video lesson, where some portion of the lesson’s audio could prompt an activity to begin in the student’s companion app. It could also be used to enable mobile shopping experiences that popped up as you watched a favorite TV show.

ShazamKit is current in beta on iOS 15.0+, macOS 12.0+, Mac Catalyst 15.0+, tvOS 15.0+, and watchOS 8.0+. On Android, ShazamKit comes in the form of an Android Archive (AAR) file and supports music and custom audio, as well.

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0

Apple’s RealityKit 2 allows developers to create 3D models for AR using iPhone photos

At its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced a significant update to RealityKit, its suite of technologies that allow developers to get started building AR (augmented reality) experiences. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple says developers will have more visual, audio, and animation control when working on their AR experiences. But the most notable part of the update is how Apple’s new Object Capture technology will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone.

Apple noted during its developer address that one of the most difficult parts of making great AR apps was the process of creating 3D models. These could take hours and thousands of dollars.

With Apple’s new tools, developers will be able take a series of pictures using just an iPhone (or iPad or DSLR, if they prefer) to capture 2D images of an object from all angles, including the bottom.

Then, using the Object Capture API on macOS Monterey, it only takes a few lines of code to generate the 3D model, Apple explained.

Image Credits: Apple

To begin, developers would start a new photogrammetry session in RealityKit that points to the folder where they’ve captured the images. Then, they would call the process function to generate the 3D model at the desired level of detail. Object Capture allows developers to generate the USDZ files optimized for AR Quick Look — the system that lets developers add virtual, 3D objects in apps or websites on iPhone and iPad. The 3D models can also be added to AR scenes in Reality Composer in Xcode.

Apple said developers like Wayfair, Etsy and others are using Object Capture to create 3D models of real-world objects — an indication that online shopping is about to get a big AR upgrade.

Wayfair, for example, is using Object Capture to develop tools for their manufacturers so they can create a virtual representation of their merchandise. This will allow Wayfair customers to be able to preview more products in AR than they could today.

Image Credits: Apple (screenshot of Wayfair tool))

In addition, Apple noted developers including Maxon and Unity are using Object Capture for creating 3D content within 3D content creation apps, such as Cinema 4D and Unity MARS.

Other updates in RealityKit 2 include custom shaders that give developers more control over the rendering pipeline to fine tune the look and feel of AR objects; dynamic loading for assets; the ability to build your own Entity Component System to organize the assets in your AR scene; and the ability to create player-controlled characters so users can jump, scale and explore AR worlds in RealityKit-based games.

One developer, Mikko Haapoja of Shopify, has been trying out the new technology (see below) and shared some real-world tests where he shot objects using an iPhone 12 Max via Twitter.

Developers who want to test it for themselves can leverage Apple’s sample app and install Monterey on their Mac to try it out.

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0

Apple Music launches Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio, adds Spatial Audio playlists

Last month, Apple announced it would soon add lossless audio streaming and Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos to its Apple Music subscription at no extra charge. That upgrade has now gone live, Apple announced this morning — though many noticed the additions actually rolled out yesterday, following the WWDC keynote.

The entire Apple Music catalog of 75+ million songs will support lossless audio.

The lossless tier begins at CD quality — 16 bit at 44.1 kHz, and goes up to 24 bit at 48 kHz, Apple previously said. Audiophiles can also opt for the high-resolution lossless that goes up to 24 bit at 192 kHz. Apple has said you’ll need to use an external, USB digital-to-analog converter to take advantage of the latter — simply plugging in a pair of headphones to an iPhone won’t work.

Apple Music subscribers will be able to enable the new lossless option under Settings > Music > Audio quality. Here, you’ll be able to choose the different resolutions you want to use for different connections, including Wi-Fi, cellular, and download.

When you make your selection in Settings, iOS warns that lossless files will use “significantly more space” on your device, as 10 GB of storage would allow you to store approximately 3,000 songs at high quality, 1,000 songs with lossless, or 200 songs with high-res lossless.

Image Credits: Apple

Meanwhile, Spatial Audio will be enabled by default on hardware that supports Dolby Atmos, like Apple’s AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip. The latest iPhone, iPad, and Mac models also support Dolby Atmos. Spatial Audio on Apple Music will also be “coming soon” to Android devices, Apple said.

To kick off launch, Apple Music is today rolling out new playlists designed to showcase Spatial Audio. These include:

Apple is also adding a special guide to Spatial Audio on Apple Music, which will help music listeners hear the difference. This will include tracks from artists like Marvin Gaye and The Weeknd, among others. And Apple will air a roundtable conversation about Spatial Audio featuring top sound engineers and experts, hosted by Zane Lowe at 9 am PT today on Apple Music.

Because songs have to be remastered for Dolby Atmos specifically, these guides and playlists will help music fans experience the new format without having to hunt around. Apple says it’s working with artists and labels to add more new releases and the best catalog tracks in Spatial Audio. To help on this front, Apple notes there are various initiatives underway — including doubling the number of Dolby-enabled studios in major markets, offering educational programs, and providing resources to independent artists.

Apple also said it will build music-authoring tools directly into Logic Pro. Later this year, the company plans to release an update to Logic Pro that will allow any musician to create and mix their songs in Spatial Audio for Apple Music.

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0

Apple finally launches a Screen Time API for app developers

Just after the release of iOS 12 in 2018, Apple introduced its own built-in screen time tracking tools and controls. In then began cracking down on third-party apps that had implemented their own screen time systems, saying they had done so through via technologies that risked user privacy. What wasn’t available at the time? A Screen Time API that would have allowed developers to tap into Apple’s own Screen Time system and build their own experiences that augmented its capabilities. That’s now changed.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, it introduced a new Screen Time API that offers developer access to frameworks that will allow parental control experience that also maintains user privacy.

The company added three new Swift frameworks to the iOS SDK that will allow developers to create apps that help parents manage what a child can do across their devices and ensure those restrictions stay in place.

The apps that use this API will be able to set restrictions like locking accounts in place, preventing password changes, filtering web traffic, and limiting access to applications. These sorts of changes are already available through Apple’s Screen Time system, but developers can now build their own experiences where these features are offered under their own branding and where they can then expand on the functionality provided by Apple’s system.

 

Developers’ apps that take advantage of the API can also be locked in place so it can only be removed from the device with a parent’s approval.

The apps can authenticate the parents and ensure the device they’re managing belongs to a child in the family. Plus, Apple said the way the system will work lets parents choose the apps and websites they want to limit, without compromising user privacy. (The system returns only opaque tokens instead of identifiers for the apps and website URLs, Apple told developers, so the third-parties aren’t gaining access to private user data like app usage and web browsing details. This would prevent a shady company from building a Screen Time app only to collect troves of user data about app usage, for instance.)

The third-party apps can also create unique time windows for different apps or types of activities, and warn the child when time is nearly up. When it registers the time’s up, the app lock down access to websites and apps and perhaps remind the child it’s time to their homework — or whatever other experience the developer has in mind.

And on the flip side, the apps could create incentives for the child to gain screen time access after they complete some other task, like doing homework, reading or chores, or anything else.

Developers could use these features to design new experiences that Apple’s own Screen Time system doesn’t allow for today, by layering their own ideas on top of Apple’s basic set of controls. Parents would likely fork over their cash to make using Screen Time controls easier and more customized to their needs.

Other apps could tie into Screen Time too, outside of the “family” context — like those aimed at mental health and wellbeing, for example.

Of course, developers have been asking for a Screen Time API since the launch of Screen Time itself, but Apple didn’t seem to prioritize its development until the matter of Apple’s removal of rival screen time apps was brought up in an antitrust hearing last year. At the time, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s decision by explaining that apps had been using MDM (mobile device management) technology, which was designed for managing employee devices in the enterprise, not home use. This, he said, was a privacy risk.

Apple has a session during WWDC that will detail how the new API works, so we expect we’ll learn more soon as the developer info becomes more public.

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0

Apple’s new App Store Guidelines aim to crack down on fraud and scams

Apple today is releasing a new version of its App Store Review Guidelines, its lengthy document which dictates the rules which apps must abide by in order to be published to its App Store. Among the more notable changes rolling out today are several sections that will see Apple taking a harder stance on App Store fraud, scams and developer misconduct, including a new process that aims to empower other developers to hold bad actors accountable.

One of the key updates on this front involves a change to Apple’s Developer Code of Conduct (Section 5.6 and 5.6.1-5.6.4 of the Review Guidelines).

This section has been significantly expanded to include guidance stating that repeated manipulative or misleading behavior or other fraudulent conduct will lead to the developer’s removal from the Apple Developer Program. This is something Apple has done for repeated violations, it claims, but wanted to now ensure was clearly spelled out in the guidelines.

In an entirely new third paragraph in this section, Apple says that if a developer engages in activities or actions that are not in accordance with the developer code of conduct, they will have their Apple Developer account terminated.

It also details what, specifically, must be done to restore the account, which includes providing Apple with a written statement detailing the improvements they’ve made, which will have to be approved by Apple. If Apple is able to confirm the changes has been made, it may then restore the developer’s account.

Apple explained in a press briefing that this change was meant to prevent a sort of catch and release scenario where a developer gets caught by Apple, but then later reverts their changes to continue their bad behavior.

As part of this update, Apple added a new section about developer identity (5.6.2). This is meant to ensure the contact information for developers provided to Apple and customers is accurate and functional, and that the developer isn’t impersonating other, legitimate developers on the App Store. This was a particular issue in a high-profile incident of App Store fraud which involved a crypto wallet app that scammed a user out of his life savings (~$600,000) in Bitcoin. The scam victim had been deceived because the app was using the same name and icon as a different company that made a hardware crypto device, and because the scan app was rated 5 stars. (Illegitimately, that is).

Related to this, Apple clarified the language around App Store discovery fraud (5.6.3) to more specifically call out any type of manipulations of App Store charts, search, reviews and referrals. The former would mean to crack down on the clearly booming industry of fake App Store ratings and reviews, which can send scam app up higher in charts and search.

Meanwhile, the referral crackdown would address consumers being shown incorrect pricing outside the App Store in an effort to boost installs.

Another section (5.6.4) addresses issues that come up after an app is published, including negative customer reports and concerns and excessive refund rates, for example. If Apple notices this behavior, it will investigate the app for violations, it says.

Of course, the question here is: will Apple actually notice the potential scammers? In recent months, a growing number of developers believe Apple is allowing far too many scammers to fall through the cracks of App Review.

One particular thorn in Apple’s side has been Fleksy keyboard app founder Kosta Eleftheriou, who is not only suing Apple for the revenue he’s personally lost to scammers, but also formed a sort of one-man bunco squad to expose some of the more egregious scams to date. This has included the above-mentioned crypto scam; a kids game that actually contained a hidden online casino; and a VPN app scamming users out of $5 million per year, among many others.

The rampant fraud taking place on the App Store was also brought up during Apple’s antitrust hearing, when Georgia’s Senator Jon Ossoff asked Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer why Apple was not able to locate scams, given they’re “trivially easy” to identify.

Apple downplayed the concerns then, and continues to do so through press releases like this one which noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020.

But a new update to these Guidelines seems to be an admission that Apple may need a little help on this front. It says developers can now directly report possible violations they find in other developers’ apps. Through a new form that standardizes this sort of complaint, developers can point to guideline violations and any other trust and safety issues they discover. Often, developers notice the scammers whose apps are impacting their own business and revenue, so they’ll likely turn to this form now as a first step in getting the scammer dealt with.

Another change will allow developers to appeal a rejection if they think there was unfair treatment of any kind, including political bias. Previously, Apple had allowed developers to appeal App Store decisions and suggest changes to guidelines.

Apple told us it has 500 app reviewers covering 81 languages who see new scenarios daily that have to be accounted for in updated guidelines and policies. Apple says it takes what it learns from these individual issues it encounters to invest in its systems, algorithms and training so it can prevent similar issues in the future. The company believes the new Code of Conduct rules, in particular, will give it the tools needed to better crack down on App Store fraud.

The rules about scams are only a handful of the many changes rolling out with today’s updated App Store Review Guidelines.

There are a few others, however, also worth highlighting:

  • Apple clarified rules around “hookup” apps to ensure developers understand porn and prostitution are not allowed on the App Store — often an issue with the fly-by-night hookup apps, which bait and switch users.
  • Creator content apps are instructed that they must follow rules for user-generated content, when applicable, meaning they must have content blocking, reporting and robust moderation.
  • Apple added the ability for licensed pharmacies and licensed cannabis dispensaries to facilitate purchasing provided they’re legal and geogated.
  • Apps that report criminal activity require the developers to work with local law enforcement. (Citizen is a recent example of an app gone awry when users hunted down the wrong person. That level of carelessness may be coming to an end now.)
  • Bait-and-switch marketing and ads about app pricing isn’t allowed.
  • Cellular carrier apps can now include other kinds of subscription apps besides music and video services.
  • Apple clarifies that developers can communicate on email with anyone, but says they can’t target customers acquired through the App Store with messages about how to make purchases outside of the App Store.
  • Apple has enough drinking game apps. Stop sending them in.
  • Apps that offer account creation also have to offer account deletion.
  • Other clarity was added around in-app purchases for gift cards, app metadata, bug fix submissions, and more. But these were not major changes.

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0

Apple releases torrent of updates, and Wall Street yawns

Today’s WWDC keynote from Apple covered a huge range of updates. From a new macOS to a refreshed watchOS to a new iOS, better privacy controls, FaceTime updates, and even iCloud+, there was something for everyone in the laundry list of new code.

Apple’s keynote was essentially what happens when the big tech companies get huge; they have so many projects that they can’t just detail a few items. They have to run down their entire parade of platforms, dropping packets of news concerning each.

But despite the obvious indication that Apple has been hard at work on the critical software side of its business, especially its services-side (more here), Wall Street gave a firm, emphatic shrug.

This is standard but always slightly confusing.

Investors care about future cash flows, at least in theory. Those future cash flows come from anticipated revenues, which are born from product updates, driving growth in sales of services, software, and hardware. Which, apart from the hardware portion of the equation, is precisely what Apple detailed today.

And lo, Wall Street looked upon the drivers of its future earnings estimates, and did sayeth “lol, who really cares.”

Shares of Apple were down a fraction for most of the day, picking up as time passed not thanks to the company’s news dump, but because the Nasdaq largely rose as trading raced to a close.

Here’s the Apple chart, via YCharts:

And here’s the Nasdaq:

Presuming that you are not a ChartMaster™, those might not mean much to you. Don’t worry. The charts say very little all-around so you are missing little. Apple was down a bit, and the Nasdaq up a bit. Then the Nasdaq went up more, and Apple’s stock generally followed. Which is good to be clear, but somewhat immaterial.

So after yet another major Apple event that will help determine the health and popularity of every Apple platform — key drivers of lucrative hardware sales! — the markets are betting that all their prior work estimating the True and Correct value of Apple was dead-on and that there is no need for any sort of up-or-down change.

That, or Apple is so big now that investors are simply betting it will grow in keeping with GDP. Which would be a funny diss. Regardless, more from the Apple event here in case you are behind.

 

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Here’s everything Apple announced at the WWDC 2021 keynote

It’s that time again! This morning Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developer Conference the same way it does each year: a keynote jammed to the brim with all the new stuff coming to its various devices.

Didn’t have time to tune in to the liveblog or watch the stream? We get it. That’s why we’ve boiled all of the biggest news down to the bulletpoints for you below. Skim at your leisure!

iOS 15

WWDC iOS overview screen

Craig Federighi started things off with details on the latest major update to iOS, noting that this release focuses on four points: staying connected, finding focus, using intelligence, and exploring the world. iOS 15 will roll into public beta in July, with a full release “this fall.”

FaceTime updates

  • Spatial audio: When using a compatible audio setup, spatial audio will make it seem more like your friends voices are coming from their on-screen position.
  • Voice isolation: Better (and toggle-able) voice isolation for when you’re FaceTiming from a loud environment.
  • Portrait mode: The portrait mode from the camera app is coming to FaceTime — in other words, pretty background blurring.
  • FaceTime links: You’ll now be able to generate shareable FaceTime links to let others (including desktop and Android users via the browser!) join FaceTime calls.
  • SharePlay: Shared audio/video streams to allow you to listen to music, watch video (select video partners initially, including Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and TikTok), and control apps in sync with friends. You can pushed the shared videos to your AppleTV, keeping it all synced up between devices and households.

“Focus” mode

  • You’ll be able to shift your phone into different, customizable modes — like “work”, where only your work related apps will show up, or “personal” which could tuck all those work apps and widgets to the background. Vacation mode, activate!
  • Notifications batching: You can now tell iOS to batch less important notifications together, delivering them all at a specific time (like after you’ve woken up, rather than letting them trickle in throughout the night.)

Live Text

WWDC 2021 - Photos - Live Text

The camera can now recognize text in photos (handwritten or printed) and make it selectable, searchable, copy/pastable, etc. It can recognize things beyond text, as well, including animal breeds, landmarks, etc.

Apple Wallet

Apple is incorporating home, office, and hotel keys into Apple Wallet, allowing you to unlock compatible doors in those places with your phone. You’ll be able to check into select hotels, for example, and have your room key show up on your phone as soon as your room is ready.

They’re also working with the TSA (in select states, at first) to put an encrypted copy of your state driver’s license (!) in Wallet that will be accepted at security screenings.

Apple Maps

Image Credits: Apple

Maps is getting a details-focused overhaul, with the addition of 3D elevation maps, 3D rendered landmarks, crosswalks, bikelanes, etc.

Apple Maps is also taking some cues from Google Maps, including a mode that has you use the camera to scan nearby buildings to more precisely orient the phone and help you figure out which direction you’re supposed to go at the beginning of a walk.

AirPods Updates

  • Conversation mode: AirPods Pro will now allow you to boost the volume of voices (and control the volume of ambient noise) of those around you when you’re having a face-to-face conversation in a noisy environment.
  • Find My: AirPods will now work with the Find My app even when they’re in the case, and will be able to alert you if you leave them behind.
  • Spatial audio is coming to tvOS and M1-powered Macs

iPadOS

  • iPadOS will get home screen widgets. They’re pretty similar to the ones you’ve seen on iOS, with the addition of a much bigger widget option because, well, bigger screen.
  • The “App Library” concept is making its way from iOS to iPadOS, as well.
  • A new multitasking menu will (hopefully) simplify the way you handle multitasking on iPadOS, moving the system away from the easily-forgotten gestures currently required.
  • The Notes app will now let you @ mention someone in a shared note to get their attention on a change, and highlight changes when you come back to a shared doc
  • Translate: iPadOS will get a system-wide text translation option, along with an app for translating in-person conversations in real time.
  • Swift Playgrounds will now let you build apps on the iPad and submit them to the App Store.
  • Public beta in July, full release “this fall.”

Security Updates

  • Mail app will now automatically obscure your IP address/location from those invisible tracking pixels marketers love to tuck into emails
  • An “App Privacy Report” option in settings will now summarize how often any given app accesses your location, photos, etc to hopefully flag any unexpected behaviors.
  • Siri’s speech recognition will now happen on-device, keeping the audio recordings off of Apple’s servers and allowing for Siri commands without an internet connection
  • You’ll be able to add recovery contacts to your iCloud account, allowing you to select friends who can help you get back into your iCloud account if you get locked out. You’ll also be able to pick “Legacy” contacts who can request access to your iCloud data should you pass away.

Health updates

  • Your iPhone can now analyze your gait, step timing, etc to analyze your “walking steadiness” to hopefully flag if your fall risk is increasing over time.
  • A “Trends” summary in the health app will highlight patterns in your step counts, heart rate, etc
  • New “Health sharing” options will let you securely share health data with people you care about — like that of your parents, or your kids.

watchOS

  • watchOS will now be able to help track your respiratory rate (how many breaths you take per minute), and note how you might breath differently throughout the day (like when you’re sleeping). They’re also adding new workout modes to the activity tracking engine, including Tai Chi and Pilates.
  • A new “Portraits” watchface will use your portrait-mode photos to create a neat, layered-looking clock layout

  • Text input is getting a subtle overhaul on watchOS, with the “Scribble” handwriting recognition being incorporated right into the text view. You use the crown to place the text cursor, then draw the letters/symbols you want right on top of your text.
  • Public beta in July, full release “this fall.”

Siri goes to third party devices

Apple says it’s opening up Siri to third party manufacturers and their devices, allowing Siri to live on things like ecobee thermostats beginning later this year.

macOS

  • The next major release of macOS will be called macOS Monterey
  • All of the aforementioned SharePlay stuff — which allows you to watch video and listen to music in sync with friends over FaceTime — is coming to macOS.
  • Universal control” will let you use one keyboard/mouse setup to control multiple macs and iPads, automatically recognizing when a new compatible device is placed nearby. Put an iPad next to your Macbook, and bam — it automatically extends, turning the two devices into one big canvas.
  • Macs are getting AirPlay, allowing you to send AirPlay content to your Mac’s display like you might an AppleTV.
  • The “Shortcuts” automation system from iOS is coming to macOS, allowing you to quickly drag-and-drop together scripts to do the things you find yourself doing often. (If you’re already using macOS’ automator system, it’ll still be supported for now.)
  • Safari is getting a UI overhaul; tabs are being made smaller, and they’re introducing a “tab groups” system to keep things organized. Tab groups will automatically sync between iCloud devices.
  • Public beta in July, full release “this fall.”

Dev stuff

Though its called the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple tends to keep the keynote focused largely on the consumer-facing stuff and save the most technical bits for the week’s many breakout sessions. They did touch on a few developer highlights, though, including:

  • New APIs to hook into things like SharePlay, Focus, etc.
  • iOS is getting a built-in 3D object scanning system that developers can tie into their apps, allowing them to integrate 3D scanning-style functionality without having to reinvent that wheel.
  • Devs will now be able to build multiple App Store product pages for the same app — with different icons, screenshots, etc — to see which one resonates best.
  • TestFlight — the service for privately distributing pre-release/beta apps on Apple’s phone/tablet/watch operating systems — is coming to macOS.

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Apple to introduce A/B testing and in-app events to the App Store

Apple today announced a number of coming changes and improvements to the App Store that will help developers better target their apps to users, get their apps discovered by more people, and even highlight what sort of events are taking place inside their apps to entice new users to download the app and encourage existing users to return.

The company said its App Store today sees 600 million weekly users across 175 countries, and has paid out over $230 billion to developers since the App Store launched, highlighting the business opportunity for app developers.

However, as the App Store has grown, it’s become harder for app developers to market their apps to new users or get their apps found. The new features aim to address that.

Image Credits: Apple

One change involves the app’s product page. Starting this year, app developers will be able to create multiple custom product pages to showcase different features of their app for different users. For instance, they’ll be able to try out things like different screenshots, videos, and even different app icons to A/B test what users like the most.

They’ll also be able to advertise the dynamic things that are taking place inside their apps on an ongoing basis. Apple explained that apps and games are constantly rolling out new content and limited time events like film premieres on streaming services, events like Pokémon Go fests, or Nike fitness challenges. But these events were often only discoverable by those who already had the app installed and then opted in to push notifications.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple will now allow developers to better advertise these events, with the launch in-app events “front and center on the App Store.” The events can be showcased on the app’s product page. Users can learn more about the events, sign up to be notified, or quickly join the event, if it’s happening now. They can also discover events with personalized recommendations and through App Store search.

App Store editors will curate the best events and the new App Store widget will feature upcoming events right on users’ homescreens, too.

Apple says the feature will be open to all developers, including those who already run events and those who are just getting started.

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macOS 12 Monterey upgrades Continuity with Universal Control

During the WWDC conference today, Apple unveiled the new macOS 12 Monterey. A major feature in the macOS update is Universal Control, which builds upon the Continuity features first introduced in OS X Yosemite. For years, it’s been possible to open a news article on your iPhone and keep reading it on your MacBook, or to copy and paste a link from your iPad to your iMac. But Universal Control takes these features further.

With Universal Control, you can use a single mouse and keyboard to navigate across multiple Apple devices at once. This functionality works across more than two devices – in the demo video, the feature is used to seamlessly move across an iPad, MacBook, and iMac. Users can drag and drop files across multiple devices at once, making it possible, for example, to use a multi-screen setup while editing video on Final Cut Pro.

What’s possible in Universal Control isn’t necessarily new – this has been made possible before through third party apps. Plus, in 2019, Apple debuted Sidecar, which allowed users to connect their iPad as a second monitor for their MacBook or iMac. But, Universal Control improves upon Sidecar – and maybe renders it obsolete – by allowing users to link any Apple devices together, even if it’s not an iPad. Though this update may not be ground-breaking, it’s a useful upgrade to existing features.

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Apple TV to support using HomePod Mini as speakers, among other updates

Apple didn’t announce that rumored combined Apple TV device that would combine the set-top box with a HomePod speaker during its WWDC keynote, but it did announce a few features that will improve the Apple TV experience — including one that involves a HomePod Mini. Starting this fall, Apple said you’ll be able to select the HomePod Mini as the speaker for your Apple TV 4K. It also introduced a handful of software updates for Apple TV users, including a new way to see shows everyone in the family will like, and support for co-watching shows through FaceTime.

The co-watching feature is actually a part of a larger FaceTime update, which will let users stream music, TV, and screen share through their FaceTime calls. The Apple TV app is one of those that’s supported through this new system, called SharePlay. It will now include a new “Shared with You” row that highlights the shows and movies your friends are sharing, as well.

Another feature called “For All of You” will display a collection of shows and movies based on everyone’s interests within Apple TV’s interface. This is ideal you’re planning to watch something as a family — like for movie night, for example. And you can fine tune the suggestions based on who’s watching.

A new Apple TV widget is also being made available, which now includes iPad support.

And the new support for HomePod Mini will help deliver “rich, balanced sound” and “crystal clear dialog,” when you’re watching Apple TV with the Mii set up as your speakers, Apple said.

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Apple unveils macOS 12 Monterey

The past year has seen some of the most dramatic updates to Macs in recent memory. At last year’s WWDC, Apple announced its long-awaited move from Intel chip’s to its own first party silicon. By the end of the year, the company launched the first three M1 Macs, along with Big Sur, one of the biggest updates to macOS.

At this morning’s kickoff to WWDC, the company unveiled macOS 12 — named, you guessed it, Monterey. Universal Control is the top line new feature here, which further bridges the gap between desktop and tablet. Sticking the iPad next to a Mac, you can move the cursor between devices using the same trackpad and keyboard. The feature works on up to three devices at once.

AirPlay to Mac also blurs that let’s you cast content directly to your big desktop screen — that’s nice for weirdos like me who don’t have a TV. Shortcuts are also now available on macOS, allowing for simpler automation that the existing Automater. Users will be able to import Automater workflows directly to the desktop version of the popular mobile app. It will be a multi-year transition, but rip Automater — you will be missed (kind of). Shortcuts will be coming to Siri, Spotlight, the menu bar and Finder to start.

Safari is getting some updates, of course. The biggest piece of news on the browser front is the arrival of Tab Groups — which is more or less as it sounds. Users can group tabs into bundles, which can be shared with other users. That’s a lot of content and will probably require a rethink of many users workflows. But at least the tab bar itself is getting cleaner and more streamlined.

Also new are desktop extensions that can now be with iOS and iPadOS. Desktops also now support Spatial Audio on the AirPods Pro, while LaunchPad now features a games folder to get that content all in one place.

Some nice additions, but as expect, Monterey doesn’t represent as big an update as Big Sur. There are some nice new features here, but it seems likely that much of the big news is happening under the hood, as the company continues to refine the Apple Silicon experience across its new systems.

 

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Apple announces iCloud+ with privacy-focused features

Apple is rolling out some updates to iCloud under the name iCloud+. The company is announcing those features at its developer conference. Existing paid iCloud users are going to get those iCloud+ features for the same monthly subscription price.

In Safari, Apple is going to launch a new privacy feature called Private Relay. It sounds a bit like the new DNS feature that Apple has been developing with Cloudflare. Originally named Oblivious DNS-over-HTTPS, Private Relay could be a better name for something quite simple — a combination of DNS-over-HTTPS with proxy servers.

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 second iCloud+ feature is ‘Hide my email’. It lets you generate random email addresses when you sign up to a newsletter or when you create an account on a website. If you’ve used ‘Sign in with Apple’, you know that Apple offers you the option to use fake iCloud email addresses. This works similarly, but for any app.

Finally, Apple is overhauling HomeKit Secure Video. With the name iCloud+, Apple is separating free iCloud users from paid iCloud users. Basically, you used to pay for more storage. Now, you pay for more storage and more features. Subscriptions start at $0.99 per month for 50GB (and iCloud+ features).

More generally, Apple is adding two much needed to iCloud accounts. Now, you can add a friend for account recovery. This way, you can request access to your data to your friend. But that doesn’t mean that your friend can access your iCloud data — it’s just a way to recover your account.

The last much-needed update is a legacy feature. You’ll soon be able to add one or several legacy contacts. Data can be passed along when you pass away. And this is a much needed feature as many photo libraries become inaccessible when someone close to you passes away.

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iPadOS 15 announced at WWDC, features improved multitasking and surprising Swift Playgrounds features

Apple today introduced the next version iPadOS with more widgets and a better multitasking system. The announcement was by Apple SVP, Craig Federighi at Apple’s annual developer’s conference, WWDC. The features announced today are welcomed updates, but fall short from the major rework the iPad sorely deserves.The new iPad features come in addition to the bevy of features and updates found in iOS 15, which were also announced today.

“With iPad OS, we [want to] build distinct capabilities making it possible for the iPad to become whatever you need it to be,” said Apple SVP, Craig Federighi in a pre-recorded video.

iPadOS 15 retains the overall look and feel of the current iPad operating system. The updates in the new OS are mostly centered around multitasking. The iPad’s widget support gets a big update with iPadOS 15. The widgets are larger, more immersive, and dynamic. iOS’s App Library is finally available on the iPad where it tweaks the overall user experience. The feature, added to the iPhone in 2020, presents the user with an organized view of the apps on the iPad.

iPadOS 15 adds a new multitasking system. Called Split View, a drop-down menu at the top of the screen unlocks several multi-tasking, multi-window options. Called Split View, the system seems much smoother than the current multiscreen option on iPad OS, which is clunky and hidden. With Split View a feature called Shelf makes it easy to switch between different screens and screen grouping.

These new multitasking features will help our users be more productive, and do even more on their iPad,” said Federighi. “And what’s really cool is we now have a new set of keyboard shortcuts that let you do all of this without lifting a finger.”

Apple updated the note taking system in iPad OS to better take advantage of the iPad’s large screen. One new feature, called Quick Notes, allows users to float a note-taking window anywhere overtop of another app. That way, a user can take notes without

iPadOS 15 sports a new version of Swift Playgrounds that allows users to learn, build, and submit iPad and iPhone apps to the App Store. This represents a large step forward in Apple’s app development world. Now, a user can learn Swift and submit apps without the need of a Mac.

These features come just weeks after Apple started selling its more powerful iPad yet with many tech pundits calling on Apple to update the iPad’s operating system to better match the potential of the new hardware. iPad OS 15 is the evolution of the iPad and not the revolution many want.

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