It’s Time For iOS To Allow Apps From Outside the App Store

Recently, Apple started removing VPN apps from their iOS App Store in China in order to comply with local laws. That may be something they have to do as a business, but it’s time to allow apps from developers outside of the App Store. Gruber:

To me, the more interesting question isn’t whether Apple should be selling its products in China, but rather whether Apple should continue to make the App Store the only way to install apps on iOS devices. A full-on “install whatever you want” policy isn’t going to happen, but something like Gatekeeper on MacOS could.

Keep iOS App Store-only by default. Add a preference in Settings to allow apps to be downloaded from “identified developers” (those with an Apple developer certificate) in addition to the App Store. In that scenario, the App Store is no longer a single choke point for all native apps on the device.

The App Store was envisioned as a means for Apple to maintain strict control over the software running on iOS devices. But in a totalitarian state like China (or perhaps Russia, next), it becomes a source of control for the totalitarian regime.

Gruber doesn’t think this will happen, but it should. These pocket computers are supremely important to communications and it’s well past time for Apple to open things up.

Tacoma Looks Great; Out August 2nd

The creators of Gone Home have a new game coming out. This time you are playing the role of protagonist Amy Ferrier on the Tacoma space station. Here’s part of Andy Kelly’s review at Windows Gamer:

The first wing of the station I can access is Personnel. Now pinned to the floor by artificial gravity, I walk into a communal dining area and an AR recording flickers to life. A timeline appears on the HUD allowing me to scrub through the memory, pausing, rewinding, or fast forwarding at my leisure. The crew, represented as digital silhouettes, are preparing for a party, and I’m immediately struck by how believable the dialogue is. It has a natural, conversational flow, never feeling contrived or overly expository.

The crew, despite appearing to Amy only as faceless, transparent figures, have nicely rounded personalities. This is thanks to the game’s impressively expressive animation and superb voice acting, which combine to create characters who buzz with life. At first the recordings don’t seem to be anything more than elaborate audio logs, passively relaying a story to you in a way games have been doing for years now. But the clever thing about Tacoma is how they cover a large area, with conversations spread between many different rooms. Say you’re observing an argument between three people and one leaves the room. If you stick around you might hear them talking about her quietly behind her back. And if you decide to follow her, she might confide in someone in another part of the station about what just happened.

The thing I love about these games from Fullbright is that they take something that is kind of ridiculous at this point, the audio log, and turn it into the centerpiece of their game. Taking an overused piece of gaming mechanics and turning it into something special drew me to O E S and Black Shades when their original developers took the escort missions that everyone loathes and made it the focus of their games.

Tacoma will be $20 and available on August 2nd for Windows, macOS, and Linux* via Steam and gog, as well as the Xbox One.

I’m looking forward to playing it.

Sick Crowdfunding

Step 1) Never increase the minimum wage, which peaked in 1968 at (adjusted for 2014 inflation) $10
Step 2) Strip healthcare away from 32 million people even when they get it through their workplace.
Step 3) Invest in tech startups and profit on suffering!

Bloomberg’s Suzanne Wooley:

Crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe and YouCaring have turned sympathy for Americans drowning in medical expenses into a cottage industry. Now Republican efforts in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare could swell the ranks of the uninsured and spur the business of helping people raise donations online to pay for health care.

[…]

With enough volume, the business of helping people raise money for medical care has a lot of profit potential. GoFundMe takes 5 percent of each donation, 2.9 percent goes to payment processing, and there’s a 30¢ transaction fee. Smaller sites, such as Fundly and FundRazr, charge much the same. YouCaring donors pay just a 2.9 percent processing fee plus the 30¢.

[…]

For more and more Americans, vying in a popularity contest for a limited supply of funds and sympathy may be the only way to pay the doctors and stay afloat. House Republicans passed a bill last month to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. As is, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, it would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured in 2026 than under the ACA. Even a law just resembling the bill is likely to raise the cost of health care for older and sicker Americans and for those with preexisting conditions, bolstering the medical crowdfunding business.

Call your represenatives.

Apps Dropping from iOS 11

Cyrus Nemati for Slate in an article titled “iPhone Gamers, Brace Yourselves for the App-ocalypse”:

If you’re an iPhone user still addicted to Flappy Bird, be ready to experience withdrawal symptoms.
When Apple launches iOS 11 in September, the company will drop support for old 32-bit applications—which is most apps released before 2014. Apps that haven’t been updated by their developers to run on the more efficient 64-bit architecture will cease to work

That’s true, but this article is also completely ridiculous in its conclusions. Here’s one of the solutions that Nemati suggests:

One obvious move: Create an emulator. By creating what amounts to simulators of old iOS versions, Apple could keep its past alive indefinitely. It’s something we saw recently when Nintendo released NES Classic, a replica of its stocky first gaming system loaded with 30 cherished early games. At 2.3 million units sold, it’s a good example of an emulator being used to make a quick buck (or more) on the back of nostalgia.

Emulating the Nintendo Entertainment System is easy today on low-powered, cheap, hardware. The Classic Edition kind of made sense for Nintendo as a product, but it is unlikely that Apple would ever release something similar.

Planned obsolescence is Apple’s modus operandi. It needs to keep customers buying new iPhones with updated specs. It’s unfortunate for consumers, who may have grown attached or even paid for these soon-to-be-defunct apps, and a shame for the creators who may see their work disappear.

The idea that Apple wants people to be unhappy with their devices on a schedule is almost as ridiculous as the idea of the iPhone Classic. Would you continue to buy things from a company that make you unhappy? I think you should replace things when they no-longer meet your needs or when there are new features that would dramatically change the experience of using that object in your life.

I agree that there should be some effort to archive these old applications, Apple is rich enough to do something about it, but it is going to be difficult to do that in today’s software environment.

Here are some of the software and hardware hurdles anyone who wanted to archive old iOS software would have to overcome:

  1. What’s the definitive article? With desktop software and older console games you could pack something up in an ISO or a copy of a cartridge’s ROM and say “this is the definitive article.” That’s difficult to do with networked software that is constantly being updated. You might say that the final version of the software released to the public by the original developer is the definitive article, but I bet some people would want a prior version because it did something differently, or the first version because it represented the most raw and original idea the developer had.
  2. An iPhone Classic that is running an out-of-date version of iOS for using old applications would probably be inappropriate for a general audience as it would lack modern security and networking features for accessing any data online. Any exploits that enable jailbreaking also enable bad people to do bad things to that device.
  3. What about the iPad, would there have to be an iPad Classic Edition? An Apple TV Classic Edition? An Apple Watch Classic Edition?
  4. Could you imagine Apple going on stage during an event to try and explain a custom version of the iPhone that exists solely to run historical software? “Here’s the iPhone Classic, it only runs iOS versions up to 10.” It would confuse their messaging around whatever iPhone they’re actually trying to sell. That’s not our problem as users and developers, but it’s another reason why they would be less likely to have anything to do with such an effort.
  5. This old App Store. They’d also have to maintain an older version of their app store and review software updates for those 32bit apps that couldn’t be transitioned to 64bit.
  6. Users would be frustrated when something doesn’t work right because an underlying piece of infrastructure is gone like an API server for logging into games.
  7. Developers who are still around would be stuck attempting to support versions of apps that they haven’t worked on in years. Is every app in this Classic App Store going to have a “probably unsupported” label on it?
  8. Apple still needs to encourage developers to transition to 64bit. All of that infrastructure would have to exist while they’re also encouraging developers to update old apps to 64bit.
  9. Apple has offered emulators for desktop software to run during transitions in the past, but desktops have the power and the room to explain what is going on with older software running in emulation or virtualization.
  10. I’m not sure if a modern iPhone even has the potential performance to virtualize an older device without destroying the performance of modern software running on the same device at the same time.
  11. How do you explain what is going on in any way that makes sense to a regular person?

Honestly, I think the only people in a position to solve this are software pirates, and they are still going to have a difficult time trying to do that for all of the games and other software out there on mobile platforms. Any other group would have hurdles that are too large to jump over in keeping this old software alive. It’s a problem for every modern online software distribution mechanism. Sony’s and Microsoft’s online stores for the PlayStation and Xbox both have this issue. Nintendo’s laughable online shop couldn’t even give you access to software you purchased previously without calling their support line and begging for it until they released the Switch and you’d still lose your game saves if your Switch is lost, broken, or stolen.

Software preservation is well and truly fucked.

Behold the Kickmen

Dan Marshall of Size Five Games (Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please!) has put out Behold the Kickmen. It is loosely about the sport of football (Soccer in our state of America). In which you can play a single-player story mode or quick games of something very clearly inspired by football, if you had never watched a game or bothered to learn about it.

I’ve spent a little bit of time with Behold the Kickmen, about 40 minutes, and it is definitely a thing where you can play a game of sport and also manage a team if you so enjoy. It’s a little unpolished. Pausing the game gives you no options besides quitting the match and doesn’t display the control scheme, you can’t control the menus with your gamepad, and there is no multiplayer, but it’s also incredibly cheap.

Behold the Kickmen is only $4 for Windows or Mac on Steam, (Linux version in beta) so you don’t have much to lose if it is at all interesting to you.

Valve Games Were Vulnerable to Software Exploits When Your Character Died

The One Up Security firm, who must be very new because this is their only published research article and their domain name appears to have been registered about 8 months ago, has released information on a vulnerability that Valve patched in their Source engine back in June.

It’s an amusing vulnerability because the exploitation of it occurs when your character dies on a game server, and your character model’s ragdoll is replaced with an exploitative payload that the researcher was able to exploit because certain security flags weren’t set on portions of Steam. This is what you see in action when you watch One Up Security’s video embedded above.

Telling Lies

Sam Barlow of the incredible Her Story FMV game is working on something new, it’s called Telling Lies. Todd Spangler has the exclusive over at Variety:

“Telling Lies” is a “spiritual follow-up” to “Her Story,” he said, but will have a completely new story with more characters and locations. Shooting will likely begin at the end of 2017 or early 2018.

Barlow is tight-lipped on what, exactly, “Telling Lies” is about but said it’s in the vein of a political thriller with 3-4 key characters. A movie he’s watched extensively for reference is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 mystery thriller “The Conversation,” starring Gene Hackman.

“Imagine Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ mashed up with ‘The Conversation,’” Barlow said. For movies, he said, the 1970s “were such a golden age exploring the intersection of government, society and individuals.”

Indie Video Game Stores in 2017

Matt Leone of Polygon has this incredibly in-depth feature on the stories of video game stores that are still operating in 2017:

…we recently dug into the specific costs of running an independent game store in the U.S., and talked to more than 15 store owners and managers about the process. From telling stories of Amazon selling games for less than wholesale distributors, to opening their books and showing the costs of everything from insurance to paper towels, they paint a picture of an industry doing its best to keep its head above water.

It’s one of those things that I imagine a lot of people have thought about doing, and then dismissed. The photography in this article, by Jonathan Castillo, is just as good as the writing. This is probably the best game-related article I’ve read all year, strong contender for SOTY.

The Best iPad

Before this year’s WWDC, and especially before the iPad Cheap was revealed, Apple’s lineup of iPads was super confusing. Which was the “best” depending very much on which iPad features you valued more than others, but it wasn’t clear at all if you went down the lineup.

New readers may notice that I round the prices of each iPad up because they are deceptively priced a dollar lower than the actual pre-tax cost. Apple is nice enough to not do the penny-lower scam ($1.99) that almost everyone else does with their pricing, It would be good if Apple would also drop this bullshit that a $399 object is closer to $300 than $400, so I’ve gone ahead and fixed that for you.

Here were your options if you were trying to pick out an iPad in January:

  • iPad Air 2 at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($400) or 128 GB ($500) wifi only
    • 32GB ($530) and 128GB ($630) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($400) or 128GB ($500) wifi only
    • 32GB ($530) and 128GB ($630) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 2 at 7.9″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A8 processor
    • 1GB RAM
    • 32GB ($270)  wifi only
    • 32GB ($400) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($800) 128GB ($900) 256GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 128GB ($1030) and 256GB ($1130) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 32GB ($600) 128GB ($700) 256GB ($800) wifi only
    • 32GB ($730) 128GB ($830) 256GB ($930) with cellular

There were other differences between the 9.7″ and 12.9 inch iPads that made the 12.9″ seem outdated as well. It was that true tone and wide color gamut that made the 9.7″ preferable in many respects to the 12.9. Except the 12.9″ also had twice as much memory as the 9.7″. Then, in March, Apple introduced the new iPad Cheap and eliminated the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2, and a few memory configurations, from the lineup. This made the situation a little less confusing for the non-Pro models but was the first to do away with the notion that a bigger screen is more expensive.

Here’s the iPad lineup on March 31st:

  • iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A9 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($800) 128GB ($900) 256GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 128GB ($1030) and 256GB ($1130) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • A9X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($600) 128GB ($700) 256GB ($800) wifi only
    • 32GB ($730) 128GB ($830) 256GB ($930) with cellular

Anyone that bought a 12.9″ iPad Pro would have ended up with something missing features unless they waited until June for WWDC 2017 when the 9.7″ iPad Pro was discontinued in favor of an upgraded 10.5″ iPad Pro and the 12.9″ finally got display technology feature parity.

Here’s the roster of iPads today, post-WWDC:

  • iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A9 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 64GB ($800) 256GB ($900) wifi only 512GB ($1100)
    • 64GB ($930) 256GB ($1030) and 512GB ($1230) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 10.5″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 64GB ($650) 256GB ($750) 512GB ($950) wifi only
    • 64GB ($780) 256GB ($880) 512GB ($1080) with cellular

All of the 32GB options were dismissed in the Pro line. Apple added 64GB and 512GB options to replace 32GB and 128GB, respectively. Prices were raised for the 10.5″ memory storage tiers versus the old 9.7″ iPad Pro. The final Pro storage tier jump goes from $100 to $200.

The 9.7″ iPad Pro also had half the RAM of the 10.5″ and 12.9″ models. The 12.9″ also had USB 3.0 transfer speeds over the lightning connector if you had the right adapter. The 10.5″ finally got that feature as well as the fast charging option from the 29 watt power adapter that is designed for USB-C MacBook laptops.

Both Pro’s also got upgraded A10X processors and that new ProMotion display technology that should be familiar to any gamer as Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s Freesync variable framerate technologies to reduce tearing in games. Tearing is when you’re playing a game with fast motion and you see the image split with a horizontal line for a very brief period of time because the computer couldn’t render the game fast enough. In Apple’s case these variable framerates now mean that movies look better in motion, animations throughout the operating system and apps are smoother and clearer, and drawing with Apple’s Pencil stylus can now get the display up to 120Hz, which should be super responsive. Apple is typically not very interested in appealing to game players or developers, and it still isn’t clear to me yet if there is any benefit to games with Apple’s ProMotion variable framerate solution.

If a regular person had been trying to figure out which iPad to purchase, and was trying to follow along with the news, they might have been extremely confused until after WWDC.

At this point it should be clear that the Pro line is “the best” in terms of computing power and display technology, and if you’re interested in replacing a laptop then you know to get a Pro.

One final issue that might put someone over the edge to the Pro is that both models have four speakers instead of the two on the iPad Cheap and Mini. Otherwise, it’s not as confusing anymore to pick a model of iPad out unless you’re interested in the iPad Cheap or the Mini 4. The Mini hasn’t been updated with new technology since 2015.

The good news, for almost every iPad that can run it, is that iOS 11 is going to be a huge update with big multitasking features for anyone trying to get work done.

I’m increasingly curious about how those new features will translate to my old 2nd generation iPad Mini, I suspect the answer will be almost not at all since it didn’t receive many of the split-view features that newer iPads have.

This Play Has Everything

 

Speaking of monkeys, Jesse David Fox has a great interview with some of the people behind the fantastic Planet of the Apes musical episode from way back in the Simpsons’ 7th season. The Simpsons’ musical composer, Alf Clausen, discusses how he tries to bring some seriousness to the show:

I hearken back to something that was said to me a long time ago by a trumpet player who worked in the studios. He said to me, “You can’t vaudeville vaudeville.” The reason for that particular directive is that he said if you wanted to make something funny, you don’t use funny music to go there. You use music that is extremely serious.

Clausen expands on that with his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross:

GROSS: When you’re writing a song parody are you trying to write it as if it were serious, as if it were really a Broadway show or really a movie theme?

CLAUSEN: Absolutely, not only in creating the songs, but in creating the underscore music for “The Simpsons” and trying to give credence to the emotional content of what the characters are saying. I’m always extremely serious, and I think what happens is that the the listener and observer gets pulled into the situation more effectively once the music is serious, so that when the gag finally comes, the gag then becomes twice as funny.

I think about the musical underscore for shows a lot, how they ham it up during emotional moments to further draw you in. It works.

Fresh Air recently recompiled their old interviews with Simpsons creators and you can read the rest of that episode’s transcript, but really you should listen to it. Here’s the Overcast link for the episode.