Planet Money States Apple Holds the Keys
The Planet Money podcast Ep. 568 about online security states as fact that Apple has the encryption keys to iMessage.
“If you send a normal text from your iPhone to a friend’s iPhone, that’s encrypted. But there’s a difference. In Apple’s case, Apple holds the key.”
7:55, NPR: Planet Money Podcast: Episode 568: Snoops, Hackers And Tin Foil Hats
Apple and CEO Tim Cook have repeatedly said this is not true. Cook just recently said to Charlie Rose they do not have encryption keys to iMessage. “If the government laid a subpoena on us to get your iMessages, we can’t provide it. It’s encrypted and we don’t have a key.”
And Apple’s “Commitment to Customer Privacy letter from June 2013:
…conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data.
If Planet Money is saying Apple and Tim Cook are wrong or lying, shouldn’t they state that in their report? They just state that Apple does have the keys as fact with no mention that Apple says the opposite.
There is some debate as to whether the government or a bad actor at Apple could make a change to access to iMessage through the use of changed public keys. There is a very good overview of this with lots of relevant links over at Daring Fireball from October 2013. But again, no mention of this in the Planet Money Podcast.
Suspense vs Surprise in *Game of Thrones*
In the second episode of the new season of Game of Thrones the surprise ending was “ruined” for me by some idiot on twitter spoiling it within twelve hours of airing. (Haven’t they heard of a DVR? By the way spoiler alert.)
But it turns out, that twitter idiot might have done me a favor. As the episode unfolded, I kept waiting for what I knew was going to happen to happen. It added an incredible level of tension to the experience. At first it was more of a curiosity, but by the time the wedding unfolded, I was on the edge of my seat and my stomach was in knots. The sequence was intensely dramatic as written, as the tension kept ratcheting up. But for me, there was a whole other level of tension as I waited for Joffrey to somehow die. I thought maybe Oberyn Martell, the new enemy would be the one to kill Joffrey. But as Joffrey kept humiliating different family members, I kept guessing incorrectly that one of them would lose it and haul off and kill him. It seemed plausible that Sansa would reach a breaking point and be willing to commit murder/suicide. Then it seemed just as plausible that Tyrion would do the same. I waited for one of the anonymous armed guards to suddenly strike him down. It all built to his actual mysterious death, and I could finally sigh relief.
I don’t think it would have been the same experience if I had no idea what was coming, and the death was simply a surprise. I wonder if the writers should have let the audience know what was coming at the beginning of the episode, perhaps by starting with a close up of the dead king’s face, or with a character shouting, “the king is dead.” Then everyone could have had the same experience I had.
Alfred Hitchcock famously explained the difference between suspense versus surprise:
“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.
We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”
In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”
― Alfred Hitchcock
(via Quote by Alfred Hitchcock: “There is a distinct difference between “suspens…”)
I wouldn’t say that the Game of Thrones scene was an “absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence.” Quite the opposite. On it’s own it had incredible tension and drama. And perhaps “the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.” So it could be I’m wrong and the writers very intentionally did not want to add this level of suspense by letting the audience know what was coming because they wanted to let the tension of the scene stand on it’s own. But I can attest it was quite a ride knowing and waiting for what was coming.
John @gruber quoted a different part of this article but this leapt out at me:
On mobile devices, however, Firefox ranks 13th, with less than 0.1% share, according to Net Applications. Apple’s Safari browser leads with 54% of the mobile-browser market, while Google’s Android and Chrome browsers have a combined 36% share.
36% when Android install base is so much bigger than iOS? Do that many Android users never open a web browser? Or maybe the install base isn’t as big as those market shares numbers imply?
On New Movie Screenplay Formats
An open letter to John August (@johnaugust) and Craig Mazin (@clmazin) of the podcast Scriptnotes.
I enjoyed the brainstorm session on imagining a new screenplay format. I have one quibble: The first time the idea came up in episode 134 you talked about scenes being the fundamental unit rather than pages, but when you did your five minutes on the subject in episode 135 you seemed to have second thoughts and decided that sequences would make more sense because scenes could be single lines of action or description. But I think you guys are falling into the Final-Draft-outlining-trap whereby you are thinking of every slugline as a scene. A scene can have many sluglines. An obvious example is a phone conversation between people in two locations where the script cuts back and forth between the two locations. Another would be a scene where the scene starts outside and moves inside and through different rooms. So when thought of this way, I think scenes do make sense as the fundamental unit for your new format. An entire act may have only two to four sequences, made up of scenes. (Real scenes, not sluglines.) Sequences seem too large to be your fundamental unit. But scenes as I’m defining them (as opposed to how the AD defines them) would be nice.
I think this also shows that you might want to replace sluglines in your new format. A true scene heading for the entire scene that is thematic rather than location based, and then location and time indicators to replace each slugline that might be in a scene.
I guess what I’m saying is the current 100+ year old screenplay format has sluglines only (which may or may not denote an entire scene), but if you are starting a screenplay format from scratch you could define a thematic scene notation and location/time of day notation.
Trying to Complete iCloud Photostream for Your Video
Using iCloud’s Photostream works well to get all your photos onto all of your devices but unfortunately it doesn’t do video. I’ve been looking for a solution for getting video shot on my iPhone to my computer for some time.
Dropbox offers a free feature that will automatically upload all your photos and videos to a special Dropbox folder. My problem with this option is that:
Dropbox renames all photos and videos with the date and time. This can be useful for some workflows, but by in large I want the original file names.
You cannot choose to upload only videos. It’s all photos and videos or nothing. I already have all my photos going to my devices with Photostream; I just want to send videos.
One answer I’ve found for this problem has been an iOS app called CameraSync. It can automatically upload all photos and videos to Dropbox but , you can choose to leave the file names alone, and you can choose to only upload videos. Problem solved! 2.99 in the App Store.
Apple Aperture Books and My Worst Customer Experience of 2013
For the holiday season, I thought it would be nice to create and publish a book of photos of my kids for their grandparents using Apple Aperture’s book publishing feature. Welcome to hell. Aperture’s book purchasing mechanism reveals a problem that not only was incredibly frustrating, but I think is actually a security vulnerability for Apple ID’s.
I think this definitely comes under Marco Arment’s version of Collin Donnell’s “The Products Apple Doesn’t Have Time to Improve”. The problems detailed below all stem from the fact that Apple has done so little to update Aperture over the last few years that it hasn’t kept pace with Apple’s own changes to Apple ID and iCloud services.1
Just look at the wording the latest version of Aperture (3.5.1) uses when you go to purchase a book that you create in Aperture:
The login window still refers to MobileMe as a version of an Apple account. No mention of iCloud. And I’m no sure Apple even uses the term “Apple Account” anymore. I will continue to confuse as we move forward.
But let’s detail all the problems a user that tries to order a book through Aperture for the first time
It’s confusing and inaccurate to say “Returning Customers,” and “New Customers” in this context. Under “Returning Customers” they mention putting in your Apple ID. But what do you do if you have an Apple ID, but have never ordered from Aperture before? Go to “New Customers?” In fact, if you press the “Create Account” button under “New Customers,” it has you create a new Apple ID. So, if you have an Apple ID - even if you’ve never ordered from Aperture before - you should login under the “Returning Customers” section with your Apple ID. (But as you’ll see this could end up causing you to go on a bloody rampage.)
It should really just say “Login using your Apple ID” (and “If you don’t have an Apple ID, click ‘here’ to create one.”)
But on to the enhanced interrogation techniques of Aperture Books.
I could not log in using my Apple ID to purchase my book because I use Apple’s own two step authentication feature for Apple ID and it is incompatible with Aperture. This is a feature that Apple recommends users enable and added after Wired writer Mat Honan publicly detailed how his iCloud account was hacked in 2012. Yet the latest version of Aperture Books is incompatible with it.
But the reason this rates as such a terrible experience is that Aperture does not alert you to this. It simply went back to the login screen, but with an error that said “Please try again later.” And because of the confusion detailed above regarding New Customers, I was never quite sure if logging in with my Apple ID was the right thing to do. Was I supposed to create a new Apple ID for the purpose of buying an Aperture book? I definitely did not want to do this. I finally did some googling and found reason for the error on this Apple support page after days of “try[ing] again later.” (I had figured that they were extremely busy with the holidays, and that perhaps this is why they were telling me to “Please try again later.”)
I was a bit shocked that Apple was telling me to disable two step authentication, but since I’d already put in many hours creating the book in Aperture, I went ahead and turned it off and tried again.2
So, now I had a regular Apple ID and password. The following window is shown when you log in with a regular Apple ID without two-step authentication:
What the !@#$&%! Why is it saying to “Create an Apple Account” when I just logged in with my Apple ID? This is the same window that pops up when you click “Create an Account” on the first page except now my Apple ID info is all pre-filled in. So it has my Apple ID info, but it is still saying to “Create an Apple Account” and asking me to fill in both a “Password” and a “Verify” field.
Since it doesn’t say “Create an Apple ID” but rather “Create an Apple Account,” my best guess was that they were asking me to create a separate Aperture Book buying account. So I put in a new password into the two password fields. Instead, what this did was to reset my Apple ID password from within Aperture, causing all kinds of havoc on my Apple devices.3 I would not have thought this possible from a pop up window in an application. Apple has a website for managing your Apple ID. I was unaware that you could change your password in any other place than on this website. Even without two step authentication, the Apple ID website requires the user to enter answers to pre-chosen questions in order to make changes. This was not the case in Aperture.
I totally missed Christmas by the time I got the books ordered. It was truly a terrible experience that was totally antithetical to whole point of having the book building and buying option in the first place. In this case, it would have been quicker for me to have chosen a bunch of pictures, exported them out of Aperture and uploaded them to a book making site like Blurb. But it truly is a much nicer experience to be able to build the book right inside a native application like Aperture . But then the ordering experience killed the whole thing. I’m making a second book (going back for 2012) with Lightroom 5.4 I haven’t ordered the book yet, so I can’t compare the purchase experience. But I feel pretty confident that it can’t be any worse than what I experienced in Aperture. And since I’ve turned two step authentication back on for my Apple ID, there is no way I’ll be using Aperture to order any more prints or books.
This example supports Marco Arment’s opinions on both his blog post and episode 46 of his podcast ATP where he questions the wisdom of continuing to use Apple Mac apps. Just the wording of the pop-up windows alone makes me think Apple doesn’t have the resources to work on application like Aperture. Apple has been successful because of their laser like focus on their products. So I understand that they can’t pay attention to everything. But if they are going to make the software at all, they need to apply their focus to it. If they feel it’s not important enough to their business to focus on it, they shouldn’t make it at all. 5
Everpix’s Demise and Apple’s Photo Cloud Service
John Gruber on Daring Fireball:
One of the glib things a simple “I wish Apple had bought them” statement glosses over is that I have zero idea whatsoever whether Everpix, which worked great for me — a terrific, reliable, fast service and great apps — would work just as well, or even at all, going from tens of thousands of users to tens of millions. Could be that Apple took a look at Everpix and deemed it unfeasible for the massive scale they would need.
This implies Apple would in fact contemplate incorporating an Everpix type service into their own platforms and his only question is whether it would scale to Apple’s number of users. I don’t think they would for reasons I’ll discuss below. But Apple is already storing photos at scale with their photo stream and iCloud service. It’s just that they are limiting it to the past 30 days/1000 photos per user. The question in my mind is whether Apple will open photo stream up to include all of a user’s photos (and hopefully videos.) Is that something Apple would have trouble scaling totems of millions of users? Gruber mentioned no worries when he linked favorably to Bradley Chambers’ post:
… photo stream needs to be reversed. Apple should store all photos/video taken with your iPhone and just store the most recent 1000 (or 30 days) locally on the device.
Make iCloud free for the total size of all the active devices backing up to that account.
(via Daring Fireball)
I’d argue that Apple should be able to scale this because they are already doing this in a certain context right now. If you have enough iCloud storage and you have iCloud backup turned on, your photos and videos are already stored in iCloud — but only in the backup to iCloud feature. Unfortunately, you don’t have access to them except by restoring a device from the backup.
Apple seems so close to giving us what we want, if they could just change the way photo stream works to include access to all the photos and videos that are already residing in iCloud if you use iCloud backup. I would hope that they wouldn’t upload photos and videos twice, once for photo stream and once for iCloud backup. Instead I’d hope they would be uploaded once and used for both.
But What about the Rest of Everpix?
Everpix was designed to do something slightly different than what, at best, we can hope Apple will do with iCloud.
Everpix was meant to suck up photos from all possible 3rd party sources and applications and platforms seamlessly and store them on the web. It then organized them really well in a way intended for you to discover your own photos. Finally, it gave you access to all your photos from any device (either through a web browser or an app).
Apple is not going to try to solve the photos from everywhere problem. They will not design something that works with 3rd party products in order to get photos from, say, Adobe Lightroom and then store and organize them for us on the web.
At best, we can hope that they want to extend their current photo stream and iCloud offering to all your photos and videos from Apple products. That means iOS cameras and iPhoto/Aperture. Now, many agree that all photos (and videos) from your iPhone should go into the photo stream. But what about all the photos you took with your DSLR that are in iPhoto? Everpix said ‘yes, every photo from everywere.’ But I’m not sure Apple is interested in getting photos from anywhere but iOS devices into iCloud.
But unlike the primary web interface of Everpix, accessing photos would be done through the photos app on iOS and iPhoto/Aperture on the Mac. (I suppose they could add a photo web app to iCloud.com as they did with the iWork apps. But with photo/videos they don’t seem to be interested in that anymore since getting rid of Galleries and MobileMe.)
In terms of organizing your photos for you, Apple has done a somewhat similar thing as Everpix in their iOS 7 photo app with the “years, collection, moments” format. I think Everpix was even better at helping you view your entire library by showing a few representative photos from each grouping of your pics in a way that allowed you to scan through very large amounts of photos. (Apple and Adobe would do well to copy this approach in iPhoto/Aperture and Lightroom.)
Even in a best case scenario, I can’t imagine Apple solving all of users’ photo/video management problems. In a way, a third party like Everpix was best suited to help users sort all their photos from different venders. But Apple could makes things so much better for users of their own products if they seamlessly and effortlessly backed up and gave users access to all of their photos and videos on any device.
It seems they had the story before it happened
By the way…how did The Verge have a detailed story on the demise of Everpix — with a blow by blow of the past month complete with photos of the team over that time— on the very day that Everpix called it quits? Did Everpix call up and say, “Hey I think we’re going to go out of business, do you want to hang out and follow us for our last month and do a story?”
Everpix Shut Down
Everpix announced it was shutting down yesterday. What a bummer.
I’m really surprised that they couldn’t make it work. They had people like me so convinced that they were providing a needed service that not only was I paying them, I was convincing people I know to sign up left and right. Not only were they successfully organizing and giving me access to all my photos from many sources in a frictionless way, they were allowing me to discover those photos - tens of thousands going back to 2000. Each day they send me “flashback” pictures taken on that date from any previous year in my library. Often those pictures (from 2, 5, 7, or 9 years ago) are of old friends, and I would email the pic to those friends and say “this great service called Everpix just sent me this picture of us. Remember when…?”
And I’m pretty disheartened both that Everpix couldn’t convince investors it was a worthwhile project, nor could they interest a larger company in acquiring them in order to improve that company’s own services. I’m disheartened because they were solving something that no one else is solving well. And the fact that investors and companies weren’t interested shows that they don’t feel that solving the-pictures-and-video-management-problem is worth doing.
I think it’s the number one pain point with using all these “post PC” devices and regular PC’s. And Apple and Google and silicon valley investors just don’t get it. One investment team said:
…everyone here is hung up on the concern over being able to build a >$100M revenue subscription business in photos in this age of free photo tools.”
via The Verge
“Photo tools” are not the problem. Yes, we don’t necessarily need another paid photo tool app. What Everpix was solving was the problem of taking pictures on umpteen devise and trying to organize and have access to them everywhere in a simple and frictionless way. No one is solving that. Not Apple. Not Google. Not Adobe. Everpix was doing a pretty good job.
Complaint Dept. Podcast Apps
I like to listen to podcasts. I do not consider myself a power user, and have a limited set of wishes for features, yet I can’t find one app that satisfies those few. Perhaps Marco Arment’s new podcast app Overcast will fit the bill. (Although he says he won’t support streaming.)
Here’s my wish list:
- Custom audio controls show up on the lock screen. — Very convenient for being able to jump back 15 seconds or so without having to unlock and go to app. (Only Apple’s Podcast app does this, that I can find)
- Easy, one tap download of episode. — (I usually default my podcasts to stream so the app doesn’t fill up with hundreds of MB of files, but sometimes I want to quickly download one before going into the subway or on a drive to someplace with no cell coverage.) Many apps force you to open an episode, drill into menus and settings to download. Apple’s Podcast app has their standard “download from cloud” icon next to each episode in a list.
- Sync between devices. — Most apps claim to do this, but it doesn’t seem to work very well. I think the fault is with Apple’s API’s. It seems to me that when audio is playing in the background, your play position is not updated to other devices. So if you start playing a podcast, go to say, Messages to send a text, then lock the phone and put it in your pocket while you continue to listen for half an hour, your position won’t update to other devices. You would have to open the podcast app and let it be active for awhile in order for your position to update.
- Podcast notes page with links. — Many podcasts have a page of links and notes for the episode. Most apps show this page within the app and let you click on the links to load in a browser within the app. Apple’s Podcast app inexplicably shows the notes page without the links.
- Some basic playlist functionality. — Some way to throw some podcasts into a list that plays through.
So basically, the third party apps I’ve tried (Instacast, iCatcher, Downcast) have too many options that are hard to weed through to find the ones that I want and they don’t put the custom audio controls on the lock screen. And Apple’s app, which otherwise serves my needs fine, doesn’t have the links that I like to check out while listening to a podcast.
I don’t know what the moral to this story is. I can’t expect developers to satisfy only my desires. I guess the answer is I should have studied computer science, become a programer, and made the app I want myself.