Accidental Obsolescence

Years ago, I remember hearing the term 'planned obsolescence' being thrown around. The context was typically surrounding Apple and their upgrade cycle. The idea was that Apple would not support their devices for more than two years, forcing users to upgrade to continue to receive support.

If you look at the first few iOS devices, it could be easy to see that. The original iPhone receive its last software update, iPhone OS 3.1.3, in February 2010, just over two and a half years of availability. It didn't stand a chance of receiving iOS 4. In fact, if you look at the history of iOS releases in general, each has typically left behind some device or another.

Yet, despite older devices eventually having to fall by the wayside, something interesting began happening with the iPad 2.

In March 2011, Apple unveiled the iPad 2. It was thinner than the original iPad, included both a front and rear facing camera, and packed the Apple designed A5 chip. While not incredibly more powerful than iOS devices sold in the previous year, the iPad 2 currently holds an incredible distinction: it supported six iOS releases! Only now, five years after introduction, is Apple letting the A5-family go. It launched with iOS 4.3.5 and will end with iOS 9.3.5, the most current stable release of iOS.

iOS 9 stands as a unique iOS release: it is the only major iOS version to not drop support for a device. In other words, all iOS 8 capable devices were able to get iOS 9. Given these recent trends, it's likely that a good number of iOS devices, especially the 64-bit ones running the A7 chip or newer, will be supported by iOS releases for years to come.

That all said, I'm sure any iPad 2 owner can tell you: The device ran smoothest with iOS 4 and slowest with iOS 9. But given that each release adds new features of some kind, it's only an eventuality that hardware cannot keep up with the software running on it. But to support major OS releases for six years is quite a lot, at least in the mobile space. Apple, thankfully, has the advantage of controlling both the hardware and software that goes into their devices, allowing them to tweak and manage every aspect. Because of the limited hardware options, it's also easy for them to maintain support for older devices if need be.

Accidental (They didn't mean to)

By comparison, take a look at the recent news regarding Android devices running certain Qualcomm chipsets:

Not all of the big Android phone makers have announced their plans for the Nougat update [Android's latest OS release], but if you look at Sony’s and Google’s and HTC’s official lists (as well as the supplemental lists being published by some carriers), you’ll notice they all have one big thing in common. None of the phones are more than a year or two old.

After doing some digging and talking to some people, we can say that it will be either very difficult if not completely impossible for any phone that uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 or 801 to get an official, Google-sanctioned Nougat update (including the Z3). And that’s a pretty big deal, since those two chips powered practically every single Android flagship sold from late 2013 until late 2014 and a few more recent devices to boot.

This situation has far-reaching implications for the Android ecosystem. And while it can be tempting to lay the blame at the feet of any one company—Google for creating this update mess in the first place, Qualcomm for failing to support older chipsets, and the phone makers for failing to keep up with new software—it’s really kind of everybody’s fault.

While the Android ecosystem allows for a great amount of variety and customization, it also can lead to situations like this. In this case, it looks likely that Qualcomm themselves have decided to stop supporting that chipset. Given that Android updates require sign-offs from multiple parties, just one can provide a roadblock.

This sets off a vicious cycle—OEMs usually don’t update their phones for more than a year or two, so chipmakers don’t worry about supporting their chipsets for more than a year or two, so OEMs can’t update their phones for more than a year or two even if they want to. It turns the 18-month minimum target that Google has been silently pushing for the last half-decade into less of a “minimum” and more of a “best-case scenario.” And people who don’t buy brand-new phones the day they come out are even worse off, since most of these update timelines are driven by launch date and not by the date the phones were taken off the market.

This isn't the first time we've seen a premium or flagship handset losing support before the intended date. But for smartphone users, does the idea of an 18-month support window make you feel comfortable? I know I wouldn't like that.

Google's (soon to be rebranded) Nexus line might be the best supported for Android updates, but I wonder if Google will do more to tighten down the Android experience on their own devices. Will they move to take more control of the entire experience and limit situations like this? Can that even be done? One thing's for sure: I doubt Google intended for Nougat to be limited in release. Yet, through no direct fault of their own, this is the current situation.

Associate, an affiliate linking app for Amazon

For many bloggers and publishers, affiliate linking programs are a common way to boost your income when talking about products and services. Popular programs in the tech space include iTunes and Amazon (both used here at Noted), but a plethora of programs exist online across all manner industries. 

While gaining a small kickback from links on the site and social media is pleasant (and crucial for maintaining a business for many), often the process of generating those links is not. Clunky link generators or manually embedding tracking codes in links make the process tiresome and time-consuming. 

Developers Squibner solved the problem on iOS for iTunes links with Blink, a simple, intuitive and straightforward link generator for the iTunes Affiliate Program that allowed iPhone and iPad users to quickly create links to apps and media with embedded affiliate tokens and campaign tags. As a frequent Blink user, my process went from minutes of typing and fiddling to just a few taps (app links in this post were created using Blink on my iPad). 

Squibner is now turning its attention toward Amazon with its new offering, Associate. Launched today, Associate does for the Amazon Associates Program what Blink did for iTunes. Having tested the app for a week in beta, I can confidently state that Blink users will feel right at home with Associate's powerful in-app search, customizable link styles and variety of export options. Associate also has a Share Sheet extension that makes creating Amazon affiliate links from other apps — be it Amazon's own app, the web or any other app with a Share button — a breeze and, with support for Split View, you can be easily generate links on one side of the screen and insert them into your text editor on the other. 

Associate is a must-have tool on iOS for any member of the Amazon Associates Program. It does all of the hard work in converting your links and allows you to get back to work.

Associate is available for iPhone and iPad for $4.99

Apple invests $1 billion in China's Uber

Reuters:

Apple Inc said on Thursday it has invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, a move that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said would help the company better understand the critical Chinese market.

The move aligns Apple with Uber Technologies Inc's chief rival in China, as automakers and technology companies forge new alliances and make cross investments. General Motors (GM.N), for example, recently bought autonomous driving technology company Cruise Automation and has also taken a stake in U.S. ride-sharing company Lyft.

That's a huge investment into a ride-hailing service. And while there's something to be said about understanding a critical market, does this investment benefit existing products or future ones?

I like where Glenn Fleishman went with this tweet:

Marco Arment's new Mac app: Quitter

Marco Arment, famous for apps like Instapaper and Overcast, has just released his first Mac app. It's relatively simple but can have a profound impact on your productivity. Marco detailed the reasons for creating the original scripts in a blog post entitled Automatic Social Discipline.

Essentially, the app lets you specify certain applications to watch, an amount of time to check for inactivity, and whether you want to quit or hide that particular app. This is great for closing unnecessary apps in the background on your Mac while you're working. That way you can stop getting all of those Tweetbot notifications that might otherwise interrupt you.

I started using it today on my work Mac. Instead of killing apps, I'm choosing to hide the corporate email client. I think it's a visual distraction and, while I want it open to notify me of new email, I don't want it to stay up in case I forgot to close it.

I haven't set it up on my personal Mac yet, but I'm sure I'll be doing that soon.

If you're a Mac owner and want to try and remove some distractions in your life, check out Quitter. It's currently free on Marco's website.

"They designed the system to not trust them"

Rich Mogull at Securosis:

Last Friday I spent some time in a discussion with senior members of Apple’s engineering and security teams. I knew most of the technical content but they really clarified Apple’s security approach, much of which they have never explicitly stated, even on background. Most of that is fodder for my next post, but I wanted to focus on one particular technical feature I have never seen clearly documented before; which both highlights Apple’s approach to security, and shows that iMessage is more secure than I thought.
It turns out you can’t add devices to an iCloud account without triggering an alert because that analysis happens on your device, and doesn’t rely (totally) on a push notification from the server. Apple put the security logic in each device, even though the system still needs a central authority. Basically, they designed the system to not trust them.

Rich takes a very interesting look at iMessage security. Basically, saying iMessages are encrypted end-to-end is not the entire story. There's more going on that I, honestly, didn't expect. It might be a bit technical for some people, but this is definitely worth reading.

Over 400K pre-orders for Tesla's Model 3

Reuters:

Electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors has received almost 400,000 orders for its latest car, the model 3 sedan, its CEO said on Thursday.

"We are now almost at 400,000 orders for the model 3," Elon Musk told a conference held in the Norwegian capital. He added that the interest in the model had "surprised even us".

On April 7, the company said it had received over 325,000 reservations for the model 3.

I just hope that Elon's surprise doesn't mean they're unprepared for this many pre-orders. In their Model 3 unveil, he noted that their future production capacity would be around 500,000 vehicles a year (or 9,500 to 10,000 a week). Unfortunately, according to their website, their current capacity is around 100,000 (or 2000 a week). Hopefully, all of the pre-order deposit money (400,000 * $1000 = $400 million) will be spent increasing that capacity.

That also means increasing their battery production. Their main factory for the Model 3 batteries isn't even complete yet. If the Model 3 pre-order numbers keep rising, though, by the time they start shipping in late 2017, who knows how many car orders they'll have to fill?

Rose Gold MacBook

When Apple introduced the new MacBook design last year, some called it the MacBook One. That, of course, was because of its single USB-C port.

In a press release today, Apple has announced an updated MacBook: same design, latest processors, and the first Mac with the Rose Gold color option. Until the other Macs get that option, I'll call this the Rose Gold MacBook.

As an update, it's a seemingly minor one. Looking at processor speeds alone, you'd think there was no update at all. But moving to Intel's Skylake processors not only bring some improved battery life but also some performance improvements.

If you've held off on the new MacBook, this might be the one for you. If you must have everything Rose Gold in your life, this is a must buy for you. Otherwise, if you need a powerful laptop, like me, stick to the MacBook Pro line.

Another piece of news in Apple's press release today: All 13-inch MacBook Air models now come with 8 GB RAM standard. From a performance standpoint, that's a good minimum to have. That only leaves the 13-inch MacBook Pro (non-Retina; remember this one?), 11-inch MacBook Air, and Mac Mini base models starting with 4 GB. While not terrible, any new Mac purchase should be of an 8 GB or higher configuration. It's one of the requirements for future-proofing your purchase.

Algorithmic photos by Instagram

According to a blog post by Instagram, they'll soon be showing photos in a new, sorted order. Their algorithm will sort through your feed and show you items that they 'believe you will care about the most.' They'll look at content, your relationship with the one posting the photo, and the time the photo was posted. Given Instagram is owned by Facebook and has been for a while, I'm surprised this feature is only now coming to the photo network.

While reorganizing your photos with their smart algorithm, Instagram says they won't be removing any. At least, they won't be doing so from the beginning. Instead, they'll be focusing on optimizing the order of photos first. Given how scrolling Facebook's smart feed will never reveal certain posts, though, it'll only be a matter of time before certain photos never make it into your Instagram feed.

I'm mixed on this change. So long as there is an option to view the timeline in chronological order, I'm all for giving this change a try. But as with Facebook's news feed, I don't like missing things that I would've been interested in seeing had it not been for a computer assuming I didn't want to.

Thankfully, these changes won't be coming for a couple of months. And they promise to listen to feedback along the way. Let's hope I truly don't miss any photos that I'd love to see.

Source: Instagram

iOS and Android encryption

One of the reasons Apple has been requested to build a backdoor into iOS is because the FBI can't access the data on a certain iPhone directly. To get into the encrypted device, they need the correct PIN. Then they'll be able to access the data they want.

By default, all devices running iOS 8 and above are encrypted. Whether it's your new iPhone 6s or your grandmother's iPad 2, if it has the OS installed, the content on it has been encrypted to some degree. The best way to see how many iOS devices are encrypted is thus by seeing how many are using those operating systems.

Directly from Apple, we can see the breakdown of iOS usage across all iOS devices. All iOS devices running iOS 8 and up are encrypted, thus leading to the conclusion that 94% of all iOS devices have encryption enabled. I would say 'by default', but Apple's control of the operating system and limitations to the user prevent someone from 'disabling' that encryption.

Android, meanwhile, can't boast those same numbers. In fact, it's a lot harder to make a proper estimate of how many Android devices are encrypted. CNN's Jose Pagliery:

Google introduced encryption on Android in 2011, but it was buried deep within a phone's settings. Not until late 2014 did Google begin asking customers if they wanted to encrypt their phones during the setup process.
Although 97% of Android phones have encryption as an option, less than 35% of them actually got prompted to turn it on when they first activated the phone. Even then, not everybody chooses that extra layer of security.

While the option has been there, most users simply don't enable device encryption. It was enabled by default with the Lollipop update. And while Android's next version, Marshmallow, requires encryption to be enabled, the number of devices currently running it is only 2.3%. And even then, such encryption is only enforced on "high-performing devices". With the plethora of Android devices available out there, it's likely that consumers are not always buying or owning such a device.

If the San Bernardino terrorists were using Android devices, we probably wouldn't have seen any government requests at all. Chances are the device would either be on an older OS version or simply not be encrypted at all. If this had been the case, this situation could've been a lot different than it has played out.

'Security is an endless race'

Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Apple, in an Op-ed at The Washington Post:

That’s why it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. They have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013. But the security of iOS 7, while cutting-edge at the time, has since been breached by hackers. What’s worse, some of their methods have been productized and are now available for sale to attackers who are less skilled but often more malicious.

Some people see Apple's stance as siding with 'terrorists'. Just look in the comments section of any number of online articles on the Apple vs FBI issue and you'll see such remarks. But security has needed to improve to keep hackers out. The (unfortunate?) side-effect is the government's inability to get into a device. Should that be backtracked for everyone so a minute number of devices can be inspected?

Also notable from this article: yet another Apple executive telling the situation as it is. The government's request is as simple as he makes it: they miss the security level of iOS versions gone by. But Craig is right when he calls security an "endless race". The smarter the engineers creating new technology become, the smarter malicious players become, too.

Hours 2.0 and Hours for Teams

Jeremy Olson of Tapity:

I was a dreadful time tracker myself so I understand deeply why people hate tracking their time. I am convinced time tracking itself isn’t the problem — in fact, now that I track every minute of my time, I am much more productive because I am conscious about where my time is going. No, the problem is that time tracking tools have not been designed to be really good at tracking time as you go.
That changes today with the launch of Hours.

I've been a consultant for three and a half years, and tracking time was a difficult thing for me to do for a long while. When Hours was first released in the Summer of 2014, that all changed. I, too, can say that I have become more productive.

Hours 2.0 brings new features for teams, reports and analytics, and support for more devices and the browser. The iPhone app gets a newer look, support for 3D Touch shortcuts on the home screen, and data syncing with the new Hours for Teams.

Whether you're a freelancer or not, tracking time on your Apple Watch or wanting to do so in the browser, this is something worth looking into. Definitely check it out!

Twitter considering 10,000 character limit for Tweets

Kurt Wagner at Re/code:

Twitter is building a new feature that will allow users to tweet things longer than the traditional 140-character limit, and the company is targeting a launch date toward the end of Q1, according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans. Twitter is currently considering a 10,000 character limit, according to these sources. That’s the same character limit the company uses for its Direct Messages product, so it isn’t a complete surprise.

I can see this happening in one of two ways.

  1. Twitter adds support for creating notes. Notes would be attached to tweets in the same way that photos and videos can be attached to tweets now.
  2. Twitter truly changes the structure of a tweet to allow 10,000 characters of text per tweet.

I'm expecting Twitter to go with option #1. This seems like a natural evolution of the platform and adds in new abilities while keeping the basic structure and function of Twitter intact.

This also gives Twitter a new set of information to index and search. Instead of having to take a screenshot of text to share it, users can write a note and share it directly with their followers. Whether this would have an impact on sites like Medium or not I don't know. 

If Twitter went with option #2, then I think we'd be seeing the start of a fundamental shift with Twitter. Twitter has always set itself apart as a microblogging platform. Sharing short, text-sized messages is what it is known for. This limit has required people to be creative in order to express themselves at times.

But if Twitter truly increases the tweet size itself to 10,000 characters, you likely need to include support for editing tweets. No one wants to write thousands of characters of text, make a typo, and then be unable to fix it once posted. 

At that point, why doesn't Twitter start intelligently showing us tweets they think interest us (or ads that someone has paid to show us)? Once you start down the Facebook path, will it forever dominate your destiny? I'm hoping Twitter won't set foot on that path at all.

Thankfully, a tweet from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gives me hope that option #1 is the path they will take.

Source: Re/code