Company / division: Apple
Apple Wins First Small Battles in Court Against Qualcomm (Sep 22, 2017)
Following on the heels of yesterday’s iPhone 8 reviews, today the reviews for the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE came out, and they were rather different in tone, in at least some cases. Whereas yesterday’s reviews were largely positive with some misgivings around the edges, today’s Watch reviews were bifurcated between those that were almost entirely positive and those that noted significant connectivity issues, notably those at the Wall Street Journal and The Verge (once again, I’m linking to the Techmeme roundup here). All seemed to agree that the faster processors and watchOS 4 combine for significantly better performance across multiple areas including fitness and heart rate tracking, app use, and music, but the differences occurred around LTE/WiFI connectivity.
It appears (there’s a good explainer here) that the Watch tends to try to hop onto so-called captive WiFi networks – those that allow devices to connect without a password but require going through an interstitial or popup before allowing internet access – but can’t progress beyond the interstitial, putting the Watch in an awkward in-between state where it’s connected to WiFi but can’t actually reach the internet. That, in turn, stops the Watch from trying to connect to LTE, which is what you really want it to do in that situation. That should be a relatively easy software fix for Apple, and it’s suggested that’s the case, but it’s baffling that this issue didn’t come up during all the testing that must have gone on over recent months, and as such is an embarrassing slip-up for Apple when the new connectivity options are the key selling point for this device.
It is notable that not all reviewers experienced the problem, which may be indicative of either their differing use during the review period or their differing earlier use, with some perhaps more prone to hop onto captive WiFi networks with their iPhones (and thereby inadvertently setting up their Watches for failure) than others. At any rate, many regular users likely won’t see those issues either, especially if using the Watch out in the wild rather than in busy urban areas, while those who do will hopefully see the problem fixed very quickly in a software update. Regardless, this clearly wasn’t what Apple was hoping for from these reviews, and it’s likely that the glitches will color perceptions of the Watch at least until Apple does issue a fix and that gets some decent coverage.
iPhone Pre-Order Wait Times Remain Short After First Weekend (Sep 18, 2017)
Wired reports on a third party study which claims that Apple’s approach to differential privacy – the method Apple says it uses to obfuscate individuals’ data when uploading it to the cloud – is inadequate to really protect those users’ privacy. That study dug into Apple’s code and on that basis makes claims about the degree to which Apple has added noise to the data, that degree being the single biggest factor in determining how obscured the individual’s private information is. The authors claim that Apple’s differential privacy approach adds far too little noise to data to preserve privacy, while Apple has pushed back, saying that the approach used assumed that it treats all data the same way and that aggregating data across multiple categories would reveal more about users than looking at single data points, assertions Apple disputes.
One of the most telling lines in the article has one of the researchers saying that the DP approach is based on the assumption that companies will always behave badly, something Apple would clearly dispute too – it prides itself on protecting users’ privacy, generally doesn’t use business models which require it to collate data about users to target advertising, and requires users to opt in to any of this data gathering in the first place. As such, some of the assumptions being made by the researchers may be reasonable in general but not as applicable to Apple as to other companies. The fundamental issue here, though, is that Apple isn’t transparent about its approach, something I would guess it would attribute to competitive sensitivity, but which – like all company claims about privacy – requires users to take many of their privacy claims on trust. Whether you’re OK with Apple’s approach should therefore depend less on claims like those made by these third party researchers and more on whether you trust Apple overall when it comes to privacy. Surveys I’ve been involved with have generally shown high levels of trust on that point among Apple users and the population in general.
★ Apple Reportedly Siding with Bain in Toshiba Memory Bid (Sep 14, 2017)
Though the headline on the Recode piece linked below says Apple is facing questions from the US Senate on its new Face ID feature, the reality is that the questions are coming from one Senator: former comedian Al Franken, who’s always taken an interest in tech issues and tends to use them to raise his public profile. A number of the questions he’s posing have already been addressed by Apple (including in its public announcement of the feature) while others suggest Franken thinks Apple is Google or some other company which regularly uses data on its customers to target advertising. All of which suggests he either hasn’t taken time to understand the feature properly, or is simply grandstanding, which frankly feels more likely. Apple’s stance on privacy and security is abundantly clear at this point, as demonstrated by its approach to the Touch ID feature (which Franken previously investigated in a similar way). None of that will stop people freaking out about the feature, and coincidentally or not the Economist magazine’s cover story this week is about the dangers of companies collecting facial data. But Apple is storing this data on the device in ways inaccessible to anyone but the user or for purposes other than those intended by Apple and approved by the user.
As is often the case, various details are dribbling out today about the many announcements Apple made yesterday, so here’s a quick roundup. Firstly, CNBC reports that Apple quietly hiked iPad Pro prices by $50 yesterday without making any changes to the hardware – that’s likely because flash memory prices have been rising dramatically recently, putting pressure on both smartphone and PC makers (but driving Samsung’s highest ever profits).
Secondly, MacRumors reports that the new desktop version of iTunes drops the iOS App Store entirely, meaning it’s now just for buying and consuming content that can actually be used on a Mac or PC, further untethering the iPhone from the computer. I would guess very few purchases were made this way in recent years anyway given how many people likely sync and backup to iCloud.
Thirdly, the Wall Street Journal confirms a detail I pointed to during yesterday’s keynote: Disney is a holdout from the 4K movies that will be available through the iTunes Store, likely because it wouldn’t go along with the pricing Apple wanted. In the end, there was no clean answer on the pricing question I posed in my earlier piece on the negotiations: Apple won with some studios and lost with others, notably Disney, but they may still come around eventually.
Fourth, MacRumors confirms a rumor that wasn’t confirmed on stage yesterday – the new iPhones will support fast charging if charged with MacBook rather than iPhone power adapters, charging to 50% in half an hour, which will be a nice bonus for those that own MBP chargers but won’t affect most others (I find that an iPad charger already generally does a pretty good job with faster charging).
Lastly, Business Insider reports on Apple Watch LTE battery life, which is one hour for calls or four hours for exercising using the GPS and LTE while untethered from an iPhone. That should be perfectly adequate for the most likely use cases, which are exercising without an iPhone or taking the odd call while the phone is out of range while at home, for example. The Watch with LTE certainly isn’t intended to be used all day without a phone, and battery life certainly won;’t support that use case.