wwdc 2020

Four perspectives: Will Apple trim App Store fees?

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Developer, Extra Crunch, iOS, iPhone, Market Analysis, Mobile, TC, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

The fact that Apple takes a 30% cut of subscriptions purchased via the App Store isn’t news. But since the company threatened to boot email app Hey from the platform last week unless its developers paid the customary tribute, the tech world and lawmakers are giving Apple’s revenue share a harder look.

Although Apple’s Senior Vice President of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller denied the company was making any changes, a new policy will let developers challenge the very rules by which they were rejected from the platform, which suggests that change is in the air.

According to its own numbers, the App Store facilitated more than $500 billion in e-commerce transactions in 2019. For reference, the federal government has given out about $529 billion in loans to U.S. businesses as part of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Given its massive reach, is it time for Apple to change its terms? Will it allow its revenue share to go gently into that good night, or does it have enough resources to keep new legislation at bay and mollify an increasingly vocal community of software developers? To examine these questions, four TechCrunch staffers weighed in:

Devin Coldewey: The App Store fee structure “seems positively extortionate”

Apple is starting to see that its simplistic and paternalistic approach to cultivating the app economy may be doing more harm than good. That wasn’t always the case: In earlier days it was worth paying Apple simply for the privilege of taking part in its fast-expanding marketplace.

But the digital economy has moved on from the conditions that drove growth before: Novelty at first, then a burgeoning ad market supercharged by social media. The pendulum is swinging back to more traditional modes of payment: one-time and subscription payments for no-nonsense services. Imagine that!

Combined with the emergence of mobile platforms not just as tools for simple consumption and communication but for serious work and productivity, the stakes have risen. People have started asking, what value is Apple really providing in return for the rent it seeks from anyone who wants to use its platform?

Surely Apple is due something for its troubles, but just over a quarter of a company’s revenue? What seemed merely excessive for a 99-cent app that a pair of developers were just happy to sell a few thousand copies of now seems positively extortionate.

Apple is in a position of strength and could continue shaking down the industry, but it is wary of losing partners in the effort to make its platform truly conducive to productivity. The market is larger and more complicated, with cross-platform and cross-device complications of which the App Store and iOS may only be a small part — but demanding an incredibly outsized share.

It will loosen the grip, but there’s no hurry. It would be a costly indignity to be too permissive and have its new rules be gamed and hastily revised. Allowing developers to push back on rules they don’t like gives Apple a lot to work with but no commitment. Big players will get a big voice, no doubt, and the new normal for the App Store will reflect a detente between moneyed interests, not a generous change of heart by Apple.

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Apple Maps to tell you to refine location by scanning the skyline

Posted by | Apple, Apple Maps, Apps, Mobile, wwdc, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

With iOS 14, Apple is going to update Apple Maps with some important new features, such as cycling directions, electric vehicle routing and curated guides. But the app is also going to learn one neat trick.

In dense areas where you can’t get a precise location, Apple Maps will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location.

As you may have guessed, this feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you … look around as if you were walking down the street. It’s a bit more refined than Street View as everything is in 3D so you can notice the foreground and the background.

Look Around is only available in a handful of U.S. cities for now, such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Las Vegas. But the company is still expanding it with Seattle coming on Monday and major Japanese cities this fall. Some areas that are only accessible on foot will also be available in the future.

When you scan the skyline to refine your location, Apple doesn’t send any data to its servers. Matching is done on your device.

When it comes to guides, Apple has partnered with AllTrails, Lonely Planet, The Infatuation, Washington Post, Louis Vuitton and others to add curated lists of places to Apple Maps. When you tap on the search bar and scroll down on the search card, you can see guides of nearby places.

When you open a guide, you can see all the places on the map or you can browse the guide itself to see those places in a list view. You can share places and save them in a user-made guide — Apple calls it a collection in the current version of Apple Maps.

You can also save a curated guide altogether if you want to check it out regularly. Places get automatically updated.

Image Credits: Apple

As for EV routing, Apple Maps will let add your car, name it and choose a charger type — Apple has partnered with BMW and Ford for now. When you’re planning a route, you can now select the car you’re going to be using. If you select your electric car, Apple Maps will add charging spots on the way. You can tap on spots to see if they are free or paid and the connector type.

Waze users will also be happy to learn that Apple Maps will be able to warn you if you’re exceeding the speed limit. You can also view speed and red light cameras on the map.

In some cities with congestion zones and license plate access, you’ll be able to add your license plate. The information is kept on the device. It’ll refine directions for those cities.

Image Credits: Apple

Finally, my favorite new feature is cycling directions. It’s only going to be available in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Beijing at first. Apple ticks all the right boxes, such as taking into consideration cycling paths and elevation. Turn-by-turn directions look slightly different from driving directions with a different framing and a more vertical view.

Google Maps also features cycling directions, but they suck. I can’t wait to try it out to see whether cycling directions actually make sense in Apple Maps. The new version of Apple Maps will ship with iOS 14 this fall.

Image Credits: Apple

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iOS 14’s App Clips will save you from always needing ‘an app for that’

Posted by | Apple, Apps, events, iOS 14, Mobile, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

The App Store ecosystem today is home to nearly 2 million apps. That means finding new apps to download is now more challenging than ever. This, in turn, leads app developers to funnel more money into App Store Search ads, traditional SEO and digital advertising in an effort to acquire new users. A new feature called App Clips, arriving in iOS 14 later this year, will give developers another option to introduce their app to users. With App Clips, users can instead load just a small part of an app on demand, when required. And when they’re done, the App Clip disappears.

The concept behind App Clips isn’t new. Google’s Android platform has for several years offered tiny app-on-demand downloads called “Instant Apps.”

Like Instant Apps, Apple’s App Clips are about making apps as seamless to use as the web. They are fast, ephemeral and eliminate the barrier to entry that is downloading an app from the App Store.

Today, many users don’t want to bother with a full app download when they’re in a hurry. For example, if a user is trying to pay for parking, they’re more likely to swipe their credit card in the meter to save time, instead of downloading the city’s parking app.

A customer waiting in line to place a food or drink order also doesn’t want to bother downloading the restaurant’s app to browse a menu and pay — they’ll just speak their order at the counter. And a customer wanting to rent a scooter just wants to tap, pay and be on their way.

Image Credits: Apple

An App Clip would work in any of of these scenarios, and many others, by making it as easy to use apps as it is to tap to check out with Apple Pay or launch a website.

While Apple will allow users to launch clips by way of a QR code, a new “App Clip Code” arriving later this year will offer an upgraded experience to kicking off these apps you find suggested to you out in the real world. App Clip Codes will combine both NFC and a visual code, so users can either tap or scan the code to access the App Clip experience.

Image Credits: Apple

For example, an App Clip Code placed on a parking meter would allow a user to quickly load just the part of the app where they pay for their time. They can even skip manual credit card entry by using Apple Pay, if included in a given App Clip.

The App Clips themselves are less than 10 MB in size and ship bundled with the app on the App Store. They’re built using the same UI technologies developers use today to build apps, like UIKit or SwiftUI. But using an App Clip doesn’t trigger the app to download to the user’s device.

A key advantage App Clips offer is how they address concerns over data privacy. Because App Clips are essentially a way to run app code on demand, they’re restricted from tapping into iPhone’s more sensitive data — like health and fitness information, for example. Plus, the App Clip and all its data will automatically disappear if it’s not used again within some period of time.

However, if a user begins to launch a particular App Clip more regularly — perhaps one for their favorite coffee order at their local shop, for instance — the App Clip’s lifetime is extended and it can get smarter. In this example, the App Clip could cache the customer’s last order and present it as a recommendation, to speed up the ordering process. Eventually, this repeat user may decide to download the full app.

In that case, the hand-off is seamless as well — iOS will automatically migrate the authorizations for things like Camera, Microphone and Bluetooth access, which the App Clip had already requested. Select data can also be migrated.

Image Credits: Apple

There are other ways for users to encounter App Clips besides out in the real world, though that may be a primary use case.

Apple says App Clips can be sent as links in iMessage, popped up as a suggestion when you’re browsing a mobile site in Safari, shown on a business’s details page in Apple Maps or may appear in Siri’s Nearby suggestions.

The idea is that wherever a user may be on their device — or out in the world — the App Clip can be there, too.

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Apple will let you emulate old apps and run iOS apps on ARM Macs

Posted by | Apple, Developer, Gadgets, macos, wwdc, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

Apple has announced a major shift for the Mac. In the future, the company is going to switch from Intel CPU to Apple’s own silicon, based on ARM architecture. If you are a developer or if you run obscure enterprise apps, you may have a lot of questions about how it’s going to work.

First, you’ll be able to compile your app to run both on Intel-based Macs and ARM-based Macs. You can ship those apps with both executables using a new format called Universal 2. If you’ve been using a Mac for a while, you know that Apple used the same process when it switched from PowerPC CPUs to Intel CPUs — one app, two executables.

As for unoptimized software, you’ll still be able to run those apps. But its performances won’t be as good as what you’d get from a native ARM-ready app. Apple is going to ship Rosetta 2, an emulation layer that lets you run old apps on new Macs.

When you install an old app, your Mac will examine the app and try to optimize it for your ARM processor. This way, there will be some level of optimization even before you open the app.

But what if it’s a web browser or a complicated app with just-in-time code? Rosetta 2 can also translate instructions from x86 to ARM on the fly, while you’re running the app.

And if you’re a developer working on code that is going to run on servers, Apple is also working on a set of virtualization tools. You’ll be able to run Linux and Docker on an ARM Mac.

As a bonus, users will also be able to access a much larger library of apps. “Mac users can for the first time run iOS and iPadOS apps on the Mac,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

While the company didn’t share a lot of details, Apple isn’t talking about Catalyst, its own framework that makes it easier to port iOS apps to macOS. You should be able to download and run apps even if the developer never optimized those apps for macOS.

The transition is going to take a while — around two years. The first ARM-based Mac will ship by the end of the year. There will be a quick start program for developers interested in porting apps to ARM-based Macs. In addition to documentation and a private forum, Apple will send you a custom-made Mac Mini with an A12Z system on a chip. This way, you can test your apps on an actual Mac with an ARM chip.

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Apple’s iOS 14 will give users the option to decline app ad tracking

Posted by | Android, app-store, Apple, apple inc, computing, events, Google, iPads, iPhone, iTunes, mach, operating systems, privacy, Security, smartphones, Software, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

A new version of iOS wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of security and privacy updates. Apple on Monday announced a ton of new features it’ll bake into iOS 14, expected out later this year with the release of new iPhones and iPads.

Apple said it will allow users to share your approximate location with apps, instead of your precise location. It’ll allow apps to take your rough location without identifying precisely where you are. It’s another option that users have when they give over their location. Last year, Apple allowed users to give over their location once so that apps can’t track a person as they go about their day.

iPhones with iOS 14 will also get a camera and microphone recording indicator in the status bar. It’s a similar feature to the camera light that comes with Macs and MacBooks. The recording indicator will sit in the top bar of your iPhone’s display when your front or rear camera is in use, or if a microphone is active.

But the biggest changes are for app developers themselves, Apple said. In iOS 14, users will be asked if they want to be tracked by the app. That’s a major change that will likely have a ripple effect: By allowing users to reject tracking, it’ll reduce the amount of data that’s collected, preserving user privacy.

Apple also said it will also require app developers to self-report the kinds of permissions that their apps request. This will improve transparency, allowing the user to know what kind of data they may have to give over in order to use the app. It also will explain how that collected data could be tracked outside of the app.

Android users have been able to see app permissions for years on the Google Play app store.

The move is Apple’s latest assault against the ad industry as part of the tech giant’s privacy-conscious mantra.

The ad industry has frequently been the target of Apple’s barbs, amid a string of controversies that have embroiled both advertisers and data-hungry tech giants, like Facebook and Google, which make the bulk of their profits from targeted advertising. As far back as 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook said its Silicon Valley rivals are “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.” Apple, which makes its money selling hardware, “elected not to do that,” said Cook.

As targeted advertising became more invasive, Apple countered by baking in new privacy features to its software, like its intelligence tracking prevention technology and allowing Safari users to install content blockers that prevent ads and trackers from loading.

Just last year Apple told developers to stop using third-party trackers in apps for children or face rejection from the App Store.

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Apple’s new Translate app works offline with 11 languages

Posted by | Apple, Apps, artificial intelligence, Developer, events, Mobile, translate, Translation, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

Translation is an everyday smartphone task for millions of people, but outside a few minor features, Apple has generally ceded the capability to its rivals. That changes today with a new first-party iOS app called, naturally, Translate, which works with 11 languages, no internet connection required.

The app is intended for use with speech or short written sentences, not to translate whole web pages or documents. The interface is simple, with a language selector, text field and record button as well as a few extra widgets like favorites and a dictionary.

At launch Translate will support English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese and Russian, with others to come. You simply select a pair of languages and paste or record a snippet of text or audio. The translation should show up immediately.

There’s also a landscape mode that further simplifies the interface:

Image Credits: Apple

The best part is that unlike many translation apps out there, Apple’s is entirely offline, meaning you can use it whether you have a good or bad signal, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere in a country where you don’t get service or if you’re just trying to save data.

There were no specific release details, so the app will probably appear when you upgrade to iOS 14.

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Apple unveils iOS 14 with home screen widgets

Posted by | Apple, Apps, iOS, iOS 14, Mobile, wwdc, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

During the virtual keynote of WWDC, Apple shared the first details about iOS 14, the next major version of iOS that is going to be released later this year. The most visual change is that the home screen is getting widgets.

“This year, we spent time rethinking the iconic experience of the iPhone,” SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said. “We’ve rethought some of the core elements of iOS.”

As you know, iOS already comes with widgets in the Today view — swipe left on the home screen to access widgets. Widgets have been completely redesigned. Some of them take the full width of the device, others can be limited to a small square. You can now have two columns of widgets.

But widgets are no longer limited to the Today view. You can drag them out of the Today view and drop them on your home screen. There’s also a new widget gallery that lets you add widgets when you’re moving icons around on the home screen.

Image Credits: Apple

As for home screen organization, Apple knows that a lot of people have an endless list of icons, making the home screen harder to use. Apple is adding some smart organization features.

“Today’s home screen is great but as we get more apps we end up with this — lots and lots of pages,” Federighi said.

At the end of the home screen pages, there’s a new page called the App Library. All the apps that aren’t on your home screen are sorted in automatic categories, such as Apple Arcade.

The other feature that is going to have an impact on multitasking and the home screen is that you can use picture in picture on the iPhone just like on the iPad. You can keep a video in a corner of the screen and do something else on your phone.

Image Credits: Apple

Better group conversations in Messages

Messages is getting a much-needed update to compete with WhatsApp, Telegram and other popular messaging apps. You can now pin conversations at the top to access them more easily.

Conversations themselves are getting an upgrade as you can reply to individual messages. You can then tap on the reply to see the conversation as a separate thread. People can mention you and you can filter your notifications to mentions only.

Each conversation is now more customizable. You can set a photo or an emoji for a conversation. Apple also shows the icons of your contacts in a specific conversation. The most active people get a bigger icon.

Memoji is getting some new options, such as new hair options, new age options and face covers. There are new Memoji stickers as well, such as a hug sticker, a fist bump sticker and a blushing sticker.

Other apps

Apple is also adding new features to Maps. While the U.S. has received updated data, Apple is going to roll out better maps in other countries, based on its own data set. Up next, the U.K., Ireland and Canada will get much more detailed maps. And this is just the first step as the new data set opens up more possibilities.

“In iOS 14, the Maps team will be working with some of the most trusted brands to bring you guides,” Meg Frost, director Product Design of Apple Maps, said. You’ll soon be able to browse information from AllTrails, Zagat and more sources.

In some cities, Apple is going to roll out cycling as a transportation mode. It’ll take into consideration elevation. Cycling will be available in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Beijing at first. For walking directions, you can now say to avoid steps and steep hills.

For drivers, there will be more features as well, such as EV routing and more information about restricted city centers. And if your car supports CarPlay, there will be more types of apps in the future, such as parking apps, EV charging apps and food-ordering apps.

Car manufacturers will also be able to let you use your iPhone as a car key. It leverages the U1 chip on the most recent iPhone models. Interestingly, you’ll be able to share your key with a friend by sending it over iMessage.

Image Credits: Apple

Redesigned Siri and new Translate app

While Siri can be hit or miss, Apple is still iterating on the voice assistant. Siri will no longer take over the entire screen when you trigger it. It’ll be a small bubble at the bottom of the screen, which doesn’t obstruct the rest of the screen. Results appear at the top of the screen and appear like a notification.

You can now ask Siri to send audio messages using iMessage. And if you hate audio messages like me, keyboard dictation has been improved. Your voice is now processed on device, which should help when it comes to speed.

Siri lets you translate words already, but Apple is going one step further by releasing a Translate app. Like Google Translate, you can have a conversation in two different languages. You can translate from voice-to-text-to-voice. If you rotate your iPhone in landscape mode, each person has one side of the screen.

App fatigue

You know that feeling. When your friends ask you to download another app, you don’t want to open the App Store. That’s why Apple is launching App Clips. They are sort of mini apps that you can launch without installing an app. It’s a small part of an app that you can easily share.

There are many ways to share App Clips. You can launch those apps from the web, from Messages, from Maps, from NFC tags or from QR codes. Get ready to see stickers at cafés, on scooters or in museums. Scan a code or tap your phone on it and you get an app-like experience. If you want to dive deeper, you can download the full app from the App Library.

More focus on privacy

Apple is adding a slew of new privacy-centric features. For instance, there’ll be a new dot in the top-right corner to indicate that an app is using or has recently used your microphone or camera. There will be new privacy cards in the App Store description pages to tell you how your data is used before you download an app. Apps will also have to ask before they track you across other apps and websites.

As always, iOS 14 will be tested over the summer and should be available to everyone in September.

Image Credits: Apple

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Watch Apple’s WWDC keynote live right here

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Developer, events, Gadgets, Mobile, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

Apple is holding a keynote today on the first day of its developer conference, and the company is expected to talk about a ton of software updates. WWDC is a virtual event this year, but you can expect the same amount of news, in a different format. At 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. in New York, 6 p.m. in London, 7 p.m. in Paris), you’ll be able to watch the event as the company is streaming it live.

Rumor has it that the company plans to unveil new versions of its operating systems. Get ready for iOS 14 and its sibling iPadOS 14, a new version of macOS and some updates for watchOS and tvOS as well.

But the most interesting rumor of the year is that Apple could announce a major change for the Mac. The company could start using its own in-house ARM systems on a chip instead of Intel’s processors. It would have a ton of consequences for third-party apps running on your Mac as well as Mac hardware in general. Imagine a MacBook with a battery that lasts as long as what you get from an iPad. There could be some more hardware news, such as a new design for the iMac or some Tile-style hardware trackers.

You can watch the livestream directly on this page, as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can download the Apple Events app in the App Store. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones. The app icon was updated a few days ago for the event.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you livestream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Of course, you also can read TechCrunch’s live blog if you don’t want to stop everything and watch a video.

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