Safari 10 implements native browser extensions

Daniel Dilger, writing for Apple Insider, via Dave Mark:

On both macOS Sierra 10.12 and today’s El Capitan 10.11.5 (when Safari 10 is installed), Safari will support App Extensions built from a combination of JavaScript, CSS and native code written in Objective-C or Swift.


More importantly, the new App Extensions architecture enables developers to distribute Safari Extensions as part of their app through the App Store.

A clear trend in this year’s WWDC was the number of different extension points and distribution channels Apple is opening up: iMessage Apps, Maps extensions, Safari extensions, third-party Siri, to name just a few. The Safari Extensions, in particular, are a new approach to distributing browser plugins compared to both Chrome and Firefox, as you can write compiled code for them!

Apple discontinue the MacBook, then the Thunderbolt Display

On Monday, Apple discontinued the legacy MacBook Pro:

Apple Stores are beginning to remove the 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro from their showfloors, in what may be a sign the company is preparing to completely phase out the product with a spinning optical disc drive, AppleInsider discovered on Monday.

Now, they’ve discontinued the very underpowered Thunderbolt Display:

Apple today announced that it is discontinuing its Thunderbolt Display, the large external display many use to connect to MacBooks or other Macs for extra screen real estate. This is very likely to fuel speculation (which has been ongoing) that Apple will soon launch a 4K or 5K version of the display.

Both of these are excellent news for people that want new hardware! To be conservative, I’m calling new MacBooks and a 5K external display at least by September but potentially as early as late-July.

Obvious, low-tech, anti-spyware

A key feature of Orwell’s dystopia was the ever-present screens that can never be turned off and were also always recording. Wanting to turn the devices off was met with suspicion. I used to use a sticky note, but now I have a cute bit of swag I got from a meet up. It’s two pieces of plastic, one which slides to cover the camera, with two tiny adhesive strips to keep it comfortably in place. I cover the camera because I’ve occasionally been in front of my computer when I receive a FaceTime call, and my image pops up on the screen. Of course it’s not transmitted, but it’s unpleasant enough of an experience that it made me want to be in control of that. In recent news, Marc Zuckerberg was shown to have tape on his camera and microphone. John Gruber found a 2013 study that found you could hack the camera:

Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, said in a recent story in The Washington Post that the FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years.

You should cover your cameras, because you have your privacy to lose and nothing to gain from having it exposed.

Removing the headphone jack

There’s a lot of buzz around the next iPhone not having a headphone jack. In particular, John Gruber responded to Nilay Patel’s arguments against removing the port:

Nilay Patel, “Taking the Headphone Jack Off Phones Is User-Hostile and Stupid”:

But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!

And let’s compare them to arguments against removing floppy drives from the iMac in 1998.

They both miss the mark, in my opinion. Replacing the headphone jack with another jack doesn’t significantly change user experience, it’s just another way of doing the same thing. In fact Nilay’s right, if it’s just a matter of replacing the jack, it’s kind of stupid.

What I find more interesting is this portion of the discussion:

2. Wireless headphones and speakers are fine, not great

Totally agree. But the rumor is that the new iPhone will ship with wired Lightning earbuds.

Getting rid of the headphone jack and shipping with great wireless headphones would significantly improve the experience. The biggest problem, as is often the case, is charging the headphones, although perhaps the iPhone could charge the headphones?

Perhaps this is one reason I’m not in charge of the next iPhone, but as the owner of Bose wireless headphones, I can tell you that charging your headphones is a small cost to pay for wireless convenience.

Apple’s unique political independence

Hayley Tsukayama from the Wall Street Journal makes the case that Apple is uniquely disposed to take political stances because, unlike Facebook and Google, people don’t look to Apple for neutral information, they buy Apple’s hardware:

Apple, however, is still largely a company that makes phones and the personal stuff that comes with them, rather than dealing in information. Although Apple is making inroads into the publishing business with Apple News, its platform doesn’t have nearly the reach of Facebook or Google — and therefore, people don’t look to it to be an arbiter of information in the same way. And so, despite the growing activism of Apple chief executive Tim Cook, there are still plenty of people who use iPhones and don’t agree with Apple’s stances on political issues.

Before we place Apple on a moral pedestal, be warned that doing business with any of the tech giants is a moral compromise. For instance, while Apple’s political independence and stance on privacy stem from their making hardware, so does their treatment of the makers of that hardware. This independence also grants them the ability to fight against paying corporate taxes.

Being principally a hardware manufacture is part of Apple’s independence in the political sphere and the public eye, but this produces the stronger reason of Apple’s not being incentivized to compromise their users. This is what I think is exceptional about Apple.

Twitter launches Engage

Anecdotally, I think Twitter may be the highest-profile company which makes zero dollars. Its logo sits right next to Facebook on nearly every piece of marketing, and yet Twitter is nowhere near its competitors with regards to profit margin. Today, they announced a new app, which John Vorhees describes for MacStories:

[…] Twitter is different things to different people. For some it’s a public forum for chatting with friends. For others, Twitter is a broadcast medium. For still others, Twitter is all about marketing. Engage is designed to help you maximize the reach of your tweets through analytics. If that’s not your thing, you may view the app as useless, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed out of hand.

It’s an excellent service and this app shows the tremendous engineering and product brainpower they have at Twitter. Ideologically, I dislike where this is going: I wish companies would devise business models which didn’t rely on surveillance. The terms “public forum” and “broadcast medium” make me think Twitter should be owned by the people, kept completely neutral, devoid of surveillance, and run at a loss paid for by a taxes. I don’t see a way forward for this approach however, and I don’t have any hope for Twitter convincing people to pay for the service, however much it ended up being to be sustainable (per Tweet? per Kb?).

Edit: Here’s John Gruber’s take:

Even with a verified account and a fair number of followers, I find this app almost totally useless. Anything you want to actually do, like respond to a tweet, it shoots you over to the official Twitter app. I fear for Twitter — they’re just spinning their wheels.

Exactly. I worry for Twitter. I wonder if this is a play at becoming indispensable to “influencers” in hope for charging them in the future. I struggle to see how this will make them money, even if it seems “kinda cool.” If Gruber’s take is shared amongst high-profile bloggers, this app may go the way of #Music.

WWDC Diary Day 1: Keynote, Platform SotU, and Design Awards

This is my first WWDC, and I’m impressed by how efficiently the 5000 person event runs. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium comfortably hosted every executive, press person, and developer with room to spare. I got a great seat for the keynote, being right up at the front on the second level, and the sound, lighting, and presentation system made the event a pleasure to watch. Everything from the food to the WiFi to releasing the session and lab schedule to making the betas available appeared to happen effortlessly. I’m sure a lot of work went on behind the scenes to make this happen, which I’m grateful for.

Moving on to the content, this WWDC showcased Tim Cook’s Apple at its absolute best: all four of the category-defining products moved forward in titanic leaps. Before we dive into the software, there was no new hardware. This is a grand shame, but I understand why: WWDC is a software event (and Apple are going to refresh their whole Mac line with a press release very soon, right? Right? RIGHT?). In terms of the software, all of iOS, (the newly renamed) macOS, watchOS, and tvOS have many great new features, APIs, and opportunities for app developers.

Let’s go platform-by-platform.

watchOS 3

Glances are gone, long app start up time is gone, and the “Dock” takes advantage of these two changes. The idea here is that apps are now so fast to start that a multitasking tray with the live first screen of your app. Also, there is now a new input style called Scribbles which lets you “write” letters on the watch and it will translate them into letters. Additionally, there are now dedicated watchOS apps for Reminders and Find My Friends, an emergency feature called “SOS”, and Activity sharing.

The structural changes to the interaction model for watchOS is right on point: previously, if I wanted to check the weather, I could: look at the complication, open the glance, or open the app. Now, if the complication isn’t present or doesn’t have enough information, you tap what was previously the “friends” button to reveal the Dock, and you can immediately see new information, or go into the app if you need to interact with it.

The Scribble input method is a welcome change that I’ll need to use to see if it can be useful. If it’s fast and accurate enough for writing short messages without tiring my arm, I’ll be a fan and use it a lot. I don’t think I’ll use Activity sharing at all, in part because I don’t use the Watch for fitness as much as a notification management tool, so I don’t have much to add there. I’ll use Reminders, probably not Find My Friends, and hopefully not SOS.

tvOS 10

Now it’s possible to sign-in to your cable provider once, and all apps get access to that authentication now. In addition to allowing more streaming of previous shows and revealing all the apps provided by your cable deal, they’ve added more live streams. For those people that find the Apple TV interface too bright at night now have the option to turn the interface dark. There was some controversy when the Apple TV first came out that the Remote app didn’t work, which Apple quickly patched while promising a fuller experience, and have now shipped that full Siri Remote app. Finally, there are some improvements to Siri.

Perhaps Apple was hoping to supplant cable providers and so purposely didn’t ship single-sign-on on day one, but as a heavy user of Apple TV, it was by far the biggest pain point that every new app required getting my computer to get up and running. It wasn’t that big a deal, my roommates and I got pretty good at working together every time an app decided we had to authenticate again, but I certainly look forward to not doing that anymore. I also look forward to finding out what other apps are available through the cable service, it’s difficult to discover apps I can use today.

The new Remote app with accelerometer and Siri support is great. It means that any iPhone owner is now the owner of a fully featured remote for the tvOS games. The tone and style of the games on tvOS reminds me of the Wii – casual party games. I hope this catches on with users and the games become more fun, akin to Mario Party. Less casual games also have reason to be excited too, as you can now require that the player of your game have a standard game controller type too. This sacrifices some fragmentation to allow apps to be more varied and take best advantage of whatever hardware they need, and I think it’s a compromise worth making.

macOS 10.12 Sierra

The features that stood out to me about the newly renamed macOS were:

  • Unlock with an Apple Watch;
  • Apple Pay in Safari;
  • Picture-in-picture for videos;
  • Automatic syncing of desktop to iCloud;
  • Automatic syncing of clipboards across devices;
  • Storing unused files in iCloud to download on-demand;
  • Tabs everywhere;
  • and Siri!

It seems to me like macOS lives in the shadow of iOS: these features are great, but I’d argue more drastic improvements are needed. For instance, it didn’t make the keynote, but Apple are updating the filesystem from HFS+ to their new APFS, which is great news. To be fair, the Siri SDK and functionality is exactly the sort of improvement the Mac needs, but it does feel quite late, especially considering that it’s been on iOS so long, and that Cortana and Google Now have long since shipped. I dislike the automatic syncing and optimizing to iCloud features because I like having more direct control and access to my files, but I’m sure people will love those features (I do recommend keeping a separate hard drive and a backup instead, however). This release is a great start, but there is much more that needs to be done: updating OpenGL, modernizing AppKit (have you ever tried using NSTableView?). and making the hardware and software usable by professionals in virtual reality, video, and other fields.

iOS 10

This is a mammoth release for iOS. The biggest focus was in the Messages app, where you can now:

  • Send handwritten notes;
  • Add animations to your messages;
  • Add “likes” to messages;
  • Annotate images before sending them;
  • Attach stickers to messages or images;
  • Automatically replace words with emoji;
  • Download and create apps that run within iMessage.

Messages, more specifically iMessage, has become a platform that strives to compete directly with Facebook’s Messenger. I look forward to using this version of iMessage, and I’m curious about what is possible in iMessage apps. The one fatal downside today of iMessage as a platform is the single-platform-edness of it (Apple platforms). There were rumors that Apple was going to announce iMessage for Android, and there is precedent for something like that now with Apple Music for Android. However, I don’t think iMessage for Android will ever happen, because it’s not a service Apple makes money on and I think it keeps many people on iOS. However, long-term, I’d argue having a truly competitive messaging platform would be good for Apple. Consider that selling apps and services on a cross-platform iMessage would probably make more money long-term than keeping users captive and not having developer interest. This feature will be great for people who only know people with iPhones, but I can’t blame Apple for not expanding one of their most valuable apps to competitors’ products.

Other improvements include:

  • Creating extensions for selling stuff within the Maps app;
  • Improved traffic handling in Maps;
  • Search for stuff on the way during navigation in Maps;
  • A new Home app for controlling your connected home products;
  • Revamped Apple Music;
  • Raise your phone to wake up the OS;
  • Increased use of 3D Touch throughout the system;
  • Interactive notifications withs views;
  • Better predictions above the keyboard;
  • A redesigned news;
  • AI powered Photos improvements;
  • Apple Pay in Safari;

These are all magnificent improvements that users will love, I think Apple did a great job in all-around improving iOS. The iMessage improvements are topical, fun additions that will convince people to upgrade, and the OS-level improvements and new APIs are a welcome change for power users and developers.