Category Archives: Computing

Articles about computers and the IT industry.

iOS 13 and iPadOS

As I normally do at this time of year, here are a few thoughts about Apple’s new mobile operating system. However, this year has been different in a few ways.

Betas are, well, betas. You don’t use them on devices that you actually need1. My normal pattern is put them on my iPad around the start of August. This is often the third or forth beta. Most of the worst glitches have been resolved by this point. Then, depending on how it goes on the iPad, I’ll probably put it on my phone towards the end of August, earlier if everything is going well.

As I write this, I still don’t have the beta on either my carry phone or my iPad pro. I’ve had it installed on my iPad mini 4 since the very first beta, but that’s not a device I use every day.

My caution is because of a combination of things. Firstly, I’m not doing this for a living. I need to have a functioning phone for work. But I still want to! The reason I didn’t is because these betas have been rough, especially the first few.

At the start of the beta cycle, there were stories of iCloud Drives getting corrupted and Too Much Stuff being broken.

Even now, on the most recent beta, there are still a few… oddities. One of my apps, when compiled with the latest GM SDK, comes up in lots of weird colours. Through the whole process I assumed that it was a glitch and that it would be fixed in the next seed. It turns out that this was my mistake. It’s a change rather than a bug. Still, in my defence, it’s rather surprising behaviour and it looks like a rendering bug.

Anyway, I mention this for two reasons, on both sides of the stability coin. First, the betas have been such that the idea that there was a serious rendering bug remaining wasn’t entirely implausible. Second, maybe that this affected my own app skewed my perspective and that they’re not as bad as I think. Your milage may vary, etc.

So, in summary, I’ve not been working with the new OS full time for a few weeks. This possibly means that my opinion isn’t quite as well informed as in previous years. If you can call my previous posts informed2.

The Good

  • Improved use of iPad screen. (Okay, this is technically iPadOS but I think they’re still close enough to not need a second post!) The “multi-app slide over” multitasking is nice, the widgets on the home screen is long overdue, the ability to have multiple windows of the same app open. Apple have been saying that the iPad is the future of the computer, now it’s finally starting to feel it can be used as one.
  • Text editing. I’m not sure that it’s perfect yet but it is dramatically improved. There’s a new keyboard, new cut-and-paste gestures, swipe keyboard, cursor navigation and selection, more keyboard shortcuts on iPad. Even with an external keyboard, this has always felt harder in iOS than it should.
  • Photos. I’ve not dug into all the improvements, but the design is greatly improved aesthetically.
  • Voice Control. I probably won’t use this very much, but I love that it exists. As I wrote on Twitter, it makes me feel like Deckard.

The Bad

  • Stability. See above, but, long story short, I’m not sure I can easily recommend that people dash out and install this on the first day. Even the early iOS 12 betas were stable enough that this was an easy choice. This year it’s not so clear. I hope I’m wrong.

The Ugly

  • Release schedule. What’s going on this year? iOS 13 is available on 19 September for the iPhone. But not at all for the iPad. For that you have to wait for iOS 13.1 at the end of the month (30 September). For the Watch, which is still closely tied to the iPhone, it’s out the same day as iOS 13. Unless it’s more than a couple of years old, in which case… at some later point. This is greatly preferable to releasing software before it’s ready, but see above about stability. It does seem that Apple bit off more than they could chew this year. Either it’s not been planned well and they’re just reacting or they’re not communicating well. I really hope it’s the latter.

There are some features that I wanted to mention but I’ve not actually used. The Reminders updates look good but I think the handover support from the Music app to the HomePod that I’m most excited by! And some things are probably true but I’ve not actually noticed, like the improved performance or reduced app sizes.

Overall, I think that has the potential to be a great release. There are some nice improvements. I just hope I’m wrong about the glitches.


  1. That Apple make them available for non-developers so early in the process is a rant for another time. ↩︎
  2. Answers on a postcard, please. ↩︎

App Store pricing

Like Spotify’s complaint before it, yesterday’s “App Store Principles and Practices” document from Apple got me thinking.

Apple talks a lot about free apps not paying anything (which isn’t entirely true of course), and it’s always pitched as a feature.

But the more I think about it, the more I think it might be a bug.

This effectively means that all paid apps have to subsidise all free apps. Is this what’s preventing Apple from reducing the 30% fee?

Why should free apps get a free ride? How much value is Facebook getting from Apple? My apps don’t take your personal data and use it for advertising purposes — something that Apple seems to be in favour of — yet I have to pay 30% and Facebook pay nothing.

Of course, we have to consider unintended consequences. It would be fair for Google and Facebook to pay, but what about a game I wrote in my spare time? Or that useful utility I wrote for myself that I’m altruistically sharing?

I don’t know is the short version. Should they charge for each download? Or each App Review? They’d probably need exceptions for certain categories, but also to be very careful that the system doesn’t get gamed.

The other thing Apple doesn’t directly address is Spotify’s most compelling argument: the fact that Apple charges 30% commission for apps that provide digital services, such as streaming music or books, means that no one other than Apple can actually allow in-app purchases in those categories. Apple only allow in-app purchases with the fee yet many of these services just don’t have 30% “spare” that they can give Apple. Apple Music and Apple Books don’t have to play by the App Store rules and they don’t have to pay the 30% fee.

If anything, this is harder than than the free freeloaders problem. It doesn’t seem right that Apple couldn’t compete in these categories, yet the platform owner clearly has a huge advantage here.

Anyway, at least two issues here and no firm conclusions. They always say “bring me solutions, not problems.” Sorry, I failed.

Fragile Development

The problem with “agile development” is that it is both a methodology and a buzzword. What this means in practice is that people who do not understand it implement parts of it without appreciating the whole. This usually results in more overhead but without the benefits.

I’ve come across this multiple times in my career. The usual refrain is “we’re agile so we don’t need documentation.” The “agile” aspect is more often than not, merely the assertion that the project is agile. Or someone says that the code is the documentation.

Another common one is “we need to improve communication so we’ll have have a daily stand-up.” This often ends up being an opportunity for senior managers to give ten minute monologues about what they might get up to if they didn’t have so many meetings to attend. (Cue unheeded calls for sympathy.) Updates from people at the coal face often get cut due to time pressures. After a few weeks people stop attending…

Agile as it was originally designed was clever because it went up against the common wisdom of the day by jettisoning certain elements of bureaucracy but balancing them with other carefully considered, and hopefully less onerous, procedures. Less documentation might work if you increase the amount of teamwork; less formal requirements gathering is counteracted by including a user in the team; regular cadence of releases means you can get away with less rigid planning.

The common trait in the examples I gave is that they lack that balance. Not writing documentation is a mistake if there is no other method of retaining knowledge inside an organisation. Poor communication is not solved by managers broadcasting how out of touch they are.

As with any problem, you can’t fix it if you don’t understand it.

iOS 12

As I’ve done for the past few years, here are a few thoughts on the new version of iOS that will be heading to your phone in a few days. Usual caveats: my usage patterns are probably different to yours, I have a 6s and iPad mini, not whatever weird and wonderful hardware you have. I’ve been using the beta on my iPad since early August and on my iPhone since late August.

The good

  • Stable. I’ve had a couple of minor glitches but, honestly, there have been worse release versions. (They have been fixing new APIs and suchlike so I’m not saying they should have released earlier. But I am saying that the GM version should be pretty solid.)
  • Performance. As advertised, it works well on my far-from-new devices, probably better than iOS 11. I didn’t buy into the whole battery-gate scandal but if this is the result I’m happy with it.
  • Siri suggestions. I’ve not seen the full benefits yet, since I’ve not finished writing my own and haven’t been running anyone else’s beta software. But even just with Apple’s suggestions it’s nice. I go to the gym and it suggests my “gym” notes document. I think this is going to be big when more apps support it.
  • Do not disturb. I already used it a lot and now it’s better. DND until the current meeting and DND until I leave the current location are both super useful.

The bad

  • Nothing. Really. Sure, there are things that I would change or do differently, but there’s nothing that I would really look at and say “That’s worse than iOS 11.” If you’re okay with iOS 11 there’s no good reason not to update.

The ugly

  • What’s with the time and battery indicator being jammed in the very top left and right of the iPad screen? What a waste of space.

Final words

You’ll note that “Screentime,” Apple’s answer to the accusations that people are spending too much time on their devices, is not on the list. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, but I didn’t find it very useful. I have my smartphone addiction under control. I could stop any time I want to…

Pro is not a useful label

Here is goes again. Apple announces new MacBook Pros (or there are rumours about a new Mac mini pro) and the hoards pile on it saying it’s not a “Pro” machine. But what does that actually mean?

Traditionally the label “pro” is short for professional and is used to describe people who make their living using the tool. Sadly that definition is so ridiculously broad that it’s not terribly useful. What does a video editor, a writer, a 3D modeller and a software developer have in common?

Nothing.

Some need a fast CPU, others lots of memory, or storage or ports or GPU. Others just like the “best.”

And that’s the problem. We have to stop fixating on it being short for “professional.” It’s a marketing term, nothing more. It doesn’t mean anything beyond “expensive.” Just because it’s missing a feature that you’ve grown accustomed to does not mean that it’s not usable by professionals. Maybe it makes it unusable by you but that’s not the same thing at all.

If you work on a computer, buy the one the best meets your current and anticipated future needs. Whether that’s a MacBook or a Mac Pro, a Mac mini or an iMac Pro, even a Windows PC, the name doesn’t matter.

And if none of the computers in Apple’s current line up meet your requirements, that might legitimately be a problem. But, it’s not a new problem — Apple has had a relatively limited range since at least the late 90’s — and that still has nothing to do with the name.

iOS 11

As I’ve done for the last few years, here are a few quick thoughts about today’s new iOS release, version 11.

I’ve been using the iPad version since the beginning of August and the iPhone version for only a couple of week but I think I have reasonable picture of what you’re going to see. 

Good

  • Multi-app support on the iPad. Wow! It’s quite different. You might need to give it a while before you get used to it. I also found that I needed to rearrange my dock so that apps I use to multitask are quickly available
  • “Swipe up on the iPad keyboard to get symbol characters.” Such a time saver
  • The voice synthesis of Siri is way better. But I agree with Gruber, if I could have dedicated engineering resources to Siri that wouldn’t have been where I would put them
  • iCloud sync for Photos. No more training each device to receognise each person!
  • Lots of nice, minor changes. The “Now playing” lock screen widget, the “play” button at the top of playlists/albums in the music app
  • Control Center is improved (but see first item in the “ugly” section below)

Bad

  • I’m guessing this has something to do with the iPhone X, but the one 3D Touch gesture I used all the time was the hard-press on the left side of the screen to trigger the app switcher. That’s gone in iOS 11. This is going to take a lot of getting used to
  • It won’t work on older devices. I get the “why” but it always sucks when they get left behind

Ugly

  • Why did the WiFi button is Control Center change to be “disconnect” rather than “switch off”?!
  • Not sure about some of the animations, especially on iPhone.