iOS

Apple defends decision not to remove InfoWars’ app

Posted by | Alex Jones, Android, app-store, Apple, apple inc, Apps, hate speech, Infowars, iOS, iTunes, online marketplaces, play store, Policy, Social | No Comments

Apple has commented on its decision to continue to allow conspiracy theorist profiteer InfoWars to live stream video podcasts via an app in its App Store, despite removing links to all but one of Alex Jones’ podcast content from its iTunes and podcast apps earlier this week.

At the time Apple said the podcasts had violated its community standards, emphasizing that it “does not tolerate hate speech”, and saying: “We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

Yet the InfoWars app allows iOS users to live stream the same content Apple just pulled from iTunes.

In a statement given to BuzzFeed News Apple explains its decision not to pull InfoWars app’ — saying:

We strongly support all points of view being represented on the App Store, as long as the apps are respectful to users with differing opinions, and follow our clear guidelines, ensuring the App Store is a safe marketplace for all. We continue to monitor apps for violations of our guidelines and if we find content that violates our guidelines and is harmful to users we will remove those apps from the store as we have done previously.

Multiple tech platforms have moved to close to door or limit Jones’ reach on their platforms in recent weeks, including Google, which shuttered his YouTube channel, and Facebook, which removed a series of videos and banned Jones’ personal account for 30 days as well as issuing the InfoWars page with a warning strike. Spotify, Pinterest, LinkedIn, MailChimp and others have also taken action.

Although Twitter has not banned or otherwise censured Jones — despite InfoWars’ continued presence on its platform threatening CEO Jack Dorsey’s claimed push to want to improve conversational health on his platform. Snapchat is also merely monitoring Jones’ continued presence on its platform.

In an unsurprising twist, the additional exposure Jones/InfoWars has gained as a result of news coverage of the various platform bans appears to have given his apps some passing uplift…

Well, the bans were great for Infowars app downloads. It’s the No. 4 news app in Apple’s App Store today, ranking above all mainstream news organizations.

(And yes, Apple and Google deleted some Infowars content but kept their apps available.) pic.twitter.com/NrJf0IIbnd

— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) August 7, 2018

So Apple’s decision to remove links to Jones’ podcasts yet allow the InfoWars app looks contradictory.

The company is certainly treading a fine line here. But there’s a technical distinction between a link to a podcast in a directory, where podcast makers can freely list their stuff (with the content hosted elsewhere), vs an app in Apple’s App Store which has gone through Apple’s review process and the content is being hosted by Apple.

What percentage of people who discussed Infowars today understood the distinction between a podcast directory, actual file hosting, and whether software would allow manually adding a feed or listening to content?

— Ricky Mondello (@rmondello) August 7, 2018

When it removed Jones’ podcasts Apple was, in effect, just removing a pointer to the content, not the content itself. The podcasts also represented discrete content — meaning each episode which was being pointed to could be judged against Apple’s community standards. (And one podcast link was not removed, for example, though five were.)

Whereas Jones (mostly) uses the InfoWars app to live stream podcast shows. Meaning the content in the InfoWars app is more ephemeral — making it more difficult for Apple to cross-check against its community standards. The streamer has to be caught in the act, as it were.

Google has also not pulled the InfoWars app from its Play Store despite shuttering Jones’ YouTube channel, and a spokesperson told BuzzFeed: “We carefully review content on our platforms and products for violations of our terms and conditions, or our content policies. If an app or user violates these, we take action.”

That said, both the iOS and Android versions of the app also include ‘articles’ that can be saved by users, so some of the content appears to be less ephemeral.

The iOS listing further claims the app lets users “stay up to date with articles as they’re published from Infowars.com” — which at least suggests some of the content is identical to what’s being spouted on Jones’ own website (where he’s only subject to his own T&Cs).

But in order to avoid failing foul of Apple and Google’s app store guidelines, Jones is likely carefully choosing which articles are funneled into the apps — to avoid breaching app store T&Cs against abuse and hateful conduct, and (most likely also) to hook more eyeballs with more soft-ball conspiracy nonsense before, once people are pulled into his orbit, blasting them with his full bore BS shotgun on his own platform.

Sample articles depicted in screenshots in the App Store listing for the app include one claiming that George Soros is “literally behind Starbucks’ sensitivity training” and another, from the ‘science’ section, pushing some junk claims about vision correction — so all garbage but not at the same level of anti-truth toxicity that Jones has become notorious for for what he says on his shows; while the Play Store listing flags a different selection of sample articles with a slightly more international flavor — including several on European far right politics, in addition to U.S. focused political stories about Trump and some outrage about domestic ‘political correctness gone mad’. So the static sample content at least isn’t enough to violate any T&Cs.

Still, the live stream component of the apps presents an ongoing problem for Apple and Google — given both have stated that his content elsewhere violates their standards. And it’s not clear how sustainable it will be for them to continue to allow Jones a platform to live stream hate from inside the walls of their commercial app stores.

Beyond that, narrowly judging Jones — a purveyor of weaponized anti-truth (most egregiously his claim that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax) — by the content he uploads directly to their servers also ignores the wider context (and toxic baggage) around him.

And while no tech companies want their brands to be perceived as toxic to conservative points of view, InfoWars does not represent conservative politics. Jones peddles far right conspiracy theories, whips up hate and spreads junk science in order to generate fear and make money selling supplements. It’s cynical manipulation not conservatism.

Both should revisit their decision. Hateful anti-truth merely damages the marketplace of ideas they claim to want to champion, and chills free speech through violent bullying of minorities and the people it makes into targets and thus victimizes.

Earlier this week 9to5Mac reported that CNN’s Dylan Byers had said the decision to remove links to InfoWars’ podcasts had been made at the top of Apple — after a meeting between CEO Tim Cook and SVP Eddy Cue. Byers’ reported it was also the execs’ decision not to remove the InfoWars app.

We’ve reached out to Apple to ask whether it will be monitoring InfoWars’ live streams directly for any violations of its community standards and will update this story with any response.

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Google plans to roll out digital wellness features in Pie but Apple’s already got ’em

Posted by | Android, Apple, digital wellness, Gadgets, Google, Health, iOS, TC | No Comments

Google hopes to add a few digital wellness features to its latest desserted update, Pie (out today) but Apple is already on this health track with its latest update for iOS 12.

Digital wellness allows users to keep track of time spent on and unplug from your digital device when needed. Google announced the new wellness features coming to Android at I/O in May, including a dashboard for digital wellness, or the ability to track just how much time you spend on your device, an app timer that lets you set time limits on apps, a new Do Not Disturb feature that silences pop-up notifications and Wind Down, a feature to help you switch on Night Light and Do Not Disturb when it’s time to hit the hay.

Apple is also making digital wellness a focus. New features in this space were announced during its WWDC conference earlier this summer and the company has included an updated “Do Not Disturb” feature in the iOS 12 update, also out today.

Several studies have suggested the importance of unplugging and breaking our addictions to our smartphones for our sanity’s sake, and it seems Google would like to help us do just that with these new features. However, the new digital wellness features aren’t quite available in the latest Pie update, out today. We’ve asked Google why not and will update you when and if we hear back on that.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to roll ahead, adding its own controls to help iPhone owners curb their app and screen time usage. Similar to Android’s future offerings, iOS 12 includes a dash with a weekly report on how you spend time on your device. A feature called Downtime helps you schedule time away from your screen (versus just leaving your phone somewhere, seeing a notification and being tempted to pick it up), a feature to set time limits on apps and a way to block inappropriate content from reaching your screen as well.

Apple beats Android in this department for now, but those features will supposedly be made available to everyone with a Google phone eventually. For those wanting to check out the new digital wellness features for Android, you can still do that today, but only if you happen to have a Google Pixel — and only if you’ve signed up for the beta version.

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Google Maps’ location sharing will now share your phone’s battery status, too

Posted by | Android, Apps, Google, Google-Maps, iOS, TC | No Comments

Early in 2017, Google added a feature to Google Maps that lets you opt to share your location in (near) real time with your close friends and family. Now they’re fleshing out that info with another important little detail: your phone’s remaining battery charge.

It looks like this:

Wondering why anyone might care about the status of your battery?

If you try to ping someone’s location and their phone is dead, there’s not much an app can do. Most location-sharing apps will just sit there and spin while they wait for some sort of response, leaving you to worry about all the reasons their phone might not be responding with a current location. Did they lose signal? Did someone steal their phone?

By clueing you in on whether someone’s phone is just about to die, you’ve at least got a better idea as to what’s going on when the updates go silent.

The folks over at AndroidPolice spotted this in a Google Maps APK teardown back in February, so we knew it was on the way. A few people have mentioned seeing it pop up on their devices since (including variations that only showed when the battery was low), but today it seems to have gone live for a much larger audience.

While the feature is clever, Google isn’t the first to think of it. For example: Zenly, the social map app acquired by Snapchat last year, had a similar feature at launch back in 2016.

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Apple releases third iOS 12 beta to everyone

Posted by | Apple, Apps, iOS, iOS 12, iOS beta, Mobile | No Comments

Apple just released the third version of the iOS 12 beta as part of the public beta program. It means that everyone can now install a development build of iOS 12, the next major version of the operating system for iPhone and iPad.

Don’t forget this is still a beta version. Things will crash, things won’t work. Don’t be surprised if you lose data in your Photos, Notes or Messages apps for instance.

But if you have an iPhone or iPad that you don’t use every day, you can get a glimpse of the future of iOS right now. While the final version of iOS 12 should be released near the end of September, Apple is going to release beta versions every few weeks over the summer.

Before installing the beta, don’t forget to back up your device to iCloud and/or your computer using iTunes. You can then head over to Apple’s beta website, sign up with your Apple ID and download the beta profile.

The profile is just a tiny file that tells your iPhone to check for public betas. After restarting your device, you can open the Settings app and install the iOS update just like any normal software update. If you already installed a previous beta, it’s time to update.

In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 12 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 12. The main feature of iOS 12 is a performance improvement, especially for older devices. If you have an iPhone 6 or an iPad Air for instance, you should see a big improvement when it comes to launching apps, triggering the camera and entering text.

The other big theme of the year is new features to help you spend less time using your phone. There’s a new Screen Time feature to see and control how much time you spend using each app. Notifications are now grouped and you can silence them from the lock screen. You also can turn on Do Not Disturb when you’re in a meeting, for a few hours or for longer.

Apple didn’t stop there, and added new power features as well. Developers will be able to take advantage of a new file format for augmented reality and new features in ARKit 2.0. Apple is releasing the Workflow app as a new Siri Shortcuts app. Developers will be able to add information to Siri, as well, so that you can add a boarding pass or a music playlist to Siri.

The Photos, News and Stocks apps have been improved, as well as Apple Books (the app formerly known as iBooks). Apple is introducing Memoji on the iPhone X. It’s a customized avatar that you can use in iMessage and FaceTime to represent you.

If you want to learn more, read my iOS 12 preview to get my thoughts on this update.

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With Lockbox and Notes, Mozilla launches its first set of mobile Test Pilot experiments

Posted by | Android, Apps, Firefox, iOS, Mobile, mobile apps, Mozilla, note taking, password manager, TC, test pilot | No Comments

Mozilla’s Test Pilot program for Firefox has long been the organization’s way to trial some of its more experimental ideas for new browser features. Now it’s expanding this program to include mobile apps, too, with the launch Firefox Lockbox, of a password manager for iOS and Notes by Firefox, a note-taking app for Android.

Both apps have a connection to Firefox (hence their names), but we’re not talking about Firefox plugins here. These are standalone apps that sync with Firefox on the desktop and mobile and share its branding.

Lockbox gives you access to passwords you’ve saved in Firefox and then lets you use them in their respective apps (think Twitter or Instagram). To unlock the app, you can use Face ID or your fingerprint.

If you’re not a Firefox user, you probably won’t get a lot of value out of Lockbox, but if you are, then this now allows you to use Firefox’s native password manager instead of a third-party app. That’s a smart move by Mozilla, which doesn’t necessarily have a lot of market share for its browser on iOS but still wants to keep iOS users involved in its ecosystem.

Notes by Firefox does exactly what you think it does. It’s a note-taking app for Android that stores your encrypted notes and syncs them between your phone and the browser. If this sounds a bit familiar, that’s probably because the Notes browser plugin itself is a Test Pilot experiment that launched back in 2017. Now Mozilla is complementing it with a mobile app. Notes in the browser offers all the basic note-taking features you’d want (with support for Markdown if that’s your thing), though we are talking about pretty basic functionality here. Don’t expect a Microsoft Onenote or a similarly fully featured service.

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Apple’s Shortcuts will flip the switch on Siri’s potential

Posted by | Amazon, Android, app-store, Apple, apple inc, apple tv, Apple Watch, Apps, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Column, computing, Craig Federighi, Google, google now, iOS, iPad, iPhone, iTunes, mobile devices, operating system, screen time, siri, Software, virtual assistant | No Comments
Matthew Cassinelli
Contributor

Matthew Cassinelli is a former member of the Workflow team and works as an independent writer and consultant. He previously worked as a data analyst for VaynerMedia.

At WWDC, Apple pitched Shortcuts as a way to ”take advantage of the power of apps” and ”expose quick actions to Siri.” These will be suggested by the OS, can be given unique voice commands, and will even be customizable with a dedicated Shortcuts app.

But since this new feature won’t let Siri interpret everything, many have been lamenting that Siri didn’t get much better — and is still lacking compared to Google Assistant or Amazon Echo.

But to ignore Shortcuts would be missing out on the bigger picture. Apple’s strengths have always been the device ecosystem and the apps that run on them.

With Shortcuts, both play a major role in how Siri will prove to be a truly useful assistant and not just a digital voice to talk to.

Your Apple devices just got better

For many, voice assistants are a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have.

It’s undeniably convenient to get facts by speaking to the air, turning on the lights without lifting a finger, or triggering a timer or text message – but so far, studies have shown people don’t use much more than these on a regular basis.

People don’t often do more than that because the assistants aren’t really ready for complex tasks yet, and when your assistant is limited to tasks inside your home or commands spoken inton your phone, the drawbacks prevent you from going deep.

If you prefer Alexa, you get more devices, better reliability, and a breadth of skills, but there’s not a great phone or tablet experience you can use alongside your Echo. If you prefer to have Google’s Assistant everywhere, you must be all in on the Android and Home ecosystem to get the full experience too.

Plus, with either option, there are privacy concerns baked into how both work on a fundamental level – over the web.

In Apple’s ecosystem, you have Siri on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, HomePod, CarPlay, and any Mac. Add in Shortcuts on each of those devices (except Mac, but they still have Automator) and suddenly you have a plethora of places to execute these all your commands entirely by voice.

Each accessory that Apple users own will get upgraded, giving Siri new ways to fulfill the 10 billion and counting requests people make each month (according to Craig Federighi’s statement on-stage at WWDC).

But even more important than all the places where you can use your assistant is how – with Shortcuts, Siri gets even better with each new app that people download. There’s the other key difference: the App Store.

Actions are the most important part of your apps

iOS has always had a vibrant community of developers who create powerful, top-notch applications that push the system to its limits and take advantage of the ever-increasing power these mobile devices have.

Shortcuts opens up those capabilities to Siri – every action you take in an app can be shared out with Siri, letting people interact right there inline or using only their voice, with the app running everything smoothly in the background.

Plus, the functional approach that Apple is taking with Siri creates new opportunities for developers provide utility to people instead of requiring their attention. The suggestions feature of Shortcuts rewards “acceleration”, showing the apps that provide the most time savings and use for the user more often.

This opens the door to more specialized types of apps that don’t necessarily have to grow a huge audience and serve them ads – if you can make something that helps people, Shortcuts can help them use your app more than ever before (and without as much effort). Developers can make a great experience for when people visit the app, but also focus on actually doing something useful too.

This isn’t a virtual assistant that lives in the cloud, but a digital helper that can pair up with the apps uniquely taking advantage of Apple’s hardware and software capabilities to truly improve your use of the device.

In the most groan-inducing way possible, “there’s an app for that” is back and more important than ever. Not only are apps the centerpiece of the Siri experience, but it’s their capabilities that extend Siri’s – the better the apps you have, the better Siri can be.

Control is at your fingertips

Importantly, Siri gets all of this Shortcuts power while keeping the control in each person’s hands.

All of the information provided to the system is securely passed along by individual apps – if something doesn’t look right, you can just delete the corresponding app and the information is gone.

Siri will make recommendations based on activities deemed relevant by the apps themselves as well, so over-active suggestions shouldn’t be common (unless you’re way too active in some apps, in which case they added Screen Time for you too).

Each of the voice commands is custom per user as well, so people can ignore their apps suggestions and set up the phrases to their own liking. This means nothing is already “taken” because somebody signed up for the skill first (unless you’ve already used it yourself, of course).

Also, Shortcuts don’t require the web to work – the voice triggers might not work, but the suggestions and Shortcuts app give you a place to use your assistant voicelessly. And importantly, Shortcuts can use the full power of the web when they need to.

This user-centric approach paired with the technical aspects of how Shortcuts works gives Apple’s assistant a leg up for any consumers who find privacy important. Essentially, Apple devices are only listening for “Hey Siri”, then the available Siri domains + your own custom trigger phrases.

Without exposing your information to the world or teaching a robot to understand everything, Apple gave Siri a slew of capabilities that in many ways can’t be matched. With Shortcuts, it’s the apps, the operating system, and the variety of hardware that will make Siri uniquely qualified come this fall.

Plus, the Shortcuts app will provide a deeper experience for those who want to chain together actions and customize their own shortcuts.

There’s lots more under the hood to experiment with, but this will allow anyone to tweak & prod their Siri commands until they have a small army of custom assistant tasks at the ready.

Hey Siri, let’s get started

Siri doesn’t know all, Can’t perform any task you bestow upon it, and won’t make somewhat uncanny phone calls on your behalf.

But instead of spending time conversing with a somewhat faked “artificial intelligence”, Shortcuts will help people use Siri as an actual digital assistant – a computer to help them get things done better than they might’ve otherwise.

With Siri’s new skills extendeding to each of your Apple products (except for Apple TV and the Mac, but maybe one day?), every new device you get and every new app you download can reveal another way to take advantage of what this technology can offer.

This broadening of Siri may take some time to get used to – it will be about finding the right place for it in your life.

As you go about your apps, you’ll start seeing and using suggestions. You’ll set up a few voice commands, then you’ll do something like kick off a truly useful shortcut from your Apple Watch without your phone connected and you’ll realize the potential.

This is a real digital assistant, your apps know how to work with it, and it’s already on many of your Apple devices. Now, it’s time to actually make use of it.

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Next iPhone could be available in grey, white, blue, red and orange

Posted by | analyst, Apple, apple inc, electronics, Gadgets, iOS, iPhone, iphone 5s, iPhone SE, LG, macintosh, ming-chi kuo, oled, Samsung, smartphone, technology, Video | No Comments

According to a supply chain report, Apple is preparing to release three iPhone lines this fall. One, a 5.8-inch iPhone X with improved specs and lower price. Two, a new 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus with an OLED screen. And three, a 6.1-inch iPhone with Face ID, which is said to come in a variety of colors including grey, white, blue, red and orange.

Ming-Chi Kuo reports, via 9to5mac, that the 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus is said to take the $1000 price point from the iPhone X. This will cause the next iPhone X to be less expensive than its current incarnation. The colorful 6.1-inch iPhone will be the least expensive model with a price tag around $700. Information about storage was not included in the report.

The least-expensive iPhone is said to resemble the iPhone X and include FaceID though Apple might concede the dual-camera option to the higher price models. The analyst expects this $700 option to account for 55% of new iPhone sales and increase through 2019.

If the part about the colors is correct, Apple is set introduce a slash of color to the monochrome phone market. Currently, phones are mostly available in greys and blacks with most vendors offering a couple of color options through special editions. That’s boring. Apple tried this in the past with its budget-minded iPhone 5c. Making its best-selling model available in colors is a distinct shift in strategy. It’s highly likely other firms such as Samsung and LG will follow the trend and push the smartphone world into a rainbow of colors.

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This could be Apple’s next iPhone USB-C fast charger

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, computing, electronics, Gadgets, iOS, iPhone, macbook, Mobile, technology | No Comments

Right now, the cable that comes with a new iPhone does not plug into a new MacBook Pro without a dongle. #donglelife is for real. If this leak is correct, though, that wrong might soon be righted.

Photos have surfaced showing what is an engineering prototype of an Apple 18 W USB-C charger, which is supposedly to be bundled with the next iPhone. If correct, this will let owners take advantage of the iPhone’s fast charging capabilities without purchasing anything else. Plus, it will let users connect the iPhone to a MacBook Pro out of the box.

This rumor surfaced last year, too, though no photos ever surfaced to back up the claim.

If true, this adapter will mark the first major change in the iPhone’s wall charger. Apple has long bundled a 5W charger with the iPhone. It works fine, but does not supply the phone with the necessary power to charge at its fastest possible speed. Even if the photos here show something other than an official Apple product, chances are Apple is readying something similar. Previous leaks show something similar.

Apple included fast charging in the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X but didn’t include the necessary charger to take advantage of the technology. Owners have to buy a third-party charger of the $50 30W charger from Apple.

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The new Google Maps with personalized recommendations is now live

Posted by | Android, Apps, Google, Google-Maps, iOS, mapping, Mobile, recommendations, TC | No Comments

At its I/O developer conference last month, Google previewed a major update to Google Maps that promised to bring personalized restaurant recommendations and more to the company’s mapping tool. Today, many of these new features started rolling out to Google Maps users.

The core Google Maps experience for getting directions hasn’t changed, of course, but the app now features a new “Explore” tab that lets you learn more about what’s happening around you, as well as a “For you” tab that provides you with recommendations for restaurants, lists of up and coming venues and the ability to “follow” neighborhoods and get updates when there are new restaurants and cafes that you would probably like. The main difference between the Explore and For you tabs is that the former is all about giving you recommendations for right now, while the latter is more about planning ahead and keeping tabs on an area in the long run.

While most of the other features are rolling out to all users worldwide, the new For you tab and the content in it is only available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and Japan for now. Content in this tab is still a bit limited, too, but Google promises that it’ll ramp up content over the course of this week.

Both of the new tabs feature plenty of new features. There is the “foodie list,” for example, which shows you the hottest new restaurants in an area. And if you feel completist, Google will keep track of which one of these places you’ve been to and which ones you still have to visit. Like before, the Explore tab also features automatically curated lists of good places to go for lunch, with kids or for a romantic dinner. It’s not just about food and coffee (or tea), though; those lists also include other activities, and Google Maps can now also highlight local events.

With this launch, Google is also releasing its new “Your Match” scores, which assigns a numeric rating to each restaurant or bar, depending on your previous choices and ratings. The idea here is that while aggregate ratings are often useful, your individual taste often differs from the masses. With this new score, Google tries to account for this. To improve these recommendations, you can now explicitly tell Maps which cuisines and restaurants you like.

It’s worth noting that there are still some features that Google promised at I/O that are not part of this release. Group planning, for example, which allows you to create a list of potential meet-up spots and lets your friends vote on them, is not part of this release.

The updated Google Maps for iOS and Android is now available in the Play Store and App Store.

If you’d like to read more about Google’s rationale for many of these changes, take a look at our in-depth interview with Sophia Lin, Google’s senior product manager on the Google Maps team, from I/O.

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iOS 12 is all about making your phone work better

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Gadgets, iOS, iOS 12, iOS preview, Mobile | No Comments

The pace of iOS innovation has been so intense that even Apple couldn’t keep up. In some ways, iOS 11’s main feature was that it was packed with bugs, with autocorrect bugs, messages arriving out of order and the Calculator app not calculating properly. iOS 12 is a nice change of pace.

“For iOS 12, we’re doubling down on performance,” Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said at WWDC.

While there are a few interesting new features, iOS 12 isn’t a splashy release like the ones that were released over the past few years. It doesn’t change the way you use an iPad and it doesn’t open up apps with new hooks across the board.

It’s clear that all the low-hanging fruit has been addressed. Now, Apple is mostly adding new frameworks for specific categories of apps instead of releasing major platform changes that affect all third-party apps.

And for the rest, it’s all about refinements, bug fixes and optimizations. Apple released the first public beta of iOS 12 today. I played a bit with early beta versions of iOS 12, so here’s what you should be looking for.

Operating system changes

Let’s start with the updates at the operating system level. iOS 12 should be faster than iOS 11, including on older devices.

You know that feeling of instant regret when you update your old iPhone or iPad to a new version of iOS. Everything seems much slower. Apple wants to reverse this trend and make iOS 12 faster for the iPhone 5s or the iPad mini 2.

Apps should launch faster, the keyboard should appear more quickly, the camera should be more reactive and more. It’s hard to feel that with a beta version of iOS 12, so we’ll have to look at that statement again in September.

Other than that, there is another major theme for iOS 12 — making you look at your phone less often. And this goal is reflected with three new features — Screen Time, better notifications and a more granular Do Not Disturb mode.

Screen Time is a brand new feature that lets you see how much time you wasted scrolling through feeds. You’ll get weekly reports and parents can set up app limits that sync across all your iOS devices.

Do Not Disturb is now more granular as you can set it up for an hour, until the end of an event or until you leave a location. Many people didn’t want to use this feature because they forgot to turn it off.

As for notifications, they are now grouped by default. In my experience, it takes a while to get used to it, but it’s a big improvement for noisy apps. You can also swipe on a notification to disable notifications from a specific app or turn them into silent notifications. You’ll feel more in control of your iPhone instead of feeling like your iPhone is controlling you.

App updates

Apple couldn’t stop at those improvements and had to release app updates for its own apps. Let’s look at the most memorable ones.

You can finally ditch Skype for good as FaceTime now supports group conversations — at least if all your friends are using iPhones. This feature alone will definitely increase iPhone stickiness, just like the fact that you can’t participate in iMessage conversations on Android.

Talking about Messages, most iPhone users won’t see a difference this year as Apple focused on the iPhone X. In addition to new Animojis, you can now create your own avatar using Memoji. I have to say that I really like Snap’s Bitmoji, so I’m quite excited to use it. The only issue is that it feels like a one-way conversation if you’re not messaging someone who is using an iPhone X. It’s the kind of features that will start to make sense after a few years when everybody has Face ID on their iPhone.

Four other Apple apps got an update. Stocks and Apple News received some design improvements. Voice Memos will now store your memos in iCloud and sync them with your iPad and Mac without using iTunes (finally). Lastly, iBooks is now called Apple Books, and it now looks more like the updated App Store.

Apple’s two bets

With iOS 12, Apple is pursuing its big bet on augmented reality and starting something new with Siri. Those platform changes could resonate well with developers and users or could become a distraction for everyone.

Apple’s augmented reality SDK is getting a major update. With ARKit 2, developers can create apps that share the same augmented reality world between multiple users. You can imagine multiplayer games and shareable worlds. Apple also worked on improving the overall performance of the framework.

But does it really matter? It feels like many geeks like you, TechCrunch readers, tested ARKit apps after the release of iOS 11. But there hasn’t been a mainstream hit so far. It’s still unclear if people actually want to use their iOS device to power an augmented reality experience.

And the second big thing is Siri Shortcuts. After Apple acquired Workflow, the automation app for iOS, many people wondered what it would mean for automation fans. The good news is that Apple is completely embracing Workflow with a set of features.

App developers can now configure Shortcuts to let users add to Siri a restaurant booking, a favorite Deliveroo order or a favorite sports team. On paper, it’s quite powerful and limited at the same time. It sounds like bookmarks for Siri.

Most users will stop at suggested shortcuts. But power users will be able to configure multi-step workflows in the new Shortcuts app. It’s just like Workflow, but with a new name and new home automation features.

This is great news if you’re a power user, but I wonder if Shortcuts will find a mainstream audience. I couldn’t test those features as it’s not yet available in the beta. Maybe Shortcuts will be added with iOS 12.1 or 12.2.

There are many small refinements in iOS 12 that I haven’t listed there. For instance, Portrait Mode has been improved and the Photos app is getting better at showing you personalized recommendations. Or if you have an iPhone X, you’ll be able to add a second face to unlock your phone.

iOS 12 looks especially promising if you consider your iPhone as infrastructure. Many people want a device that is as reliable as possible. And iOS 12 should stand out on this front.

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