Siri & Shortcuts in iOS 12

Easily the most impressive feature of iOS 12 is the integration of Workflow into the operating system as the recently-rebranded Siri Shortcuts. Apple’s on-stage demos of Siri Shortcuts have consisted of people explaining a half-dozen different actions these shortcuts perform, as funneled through one simple command. However, Siri shortcuts are also tremendously helpful at drilling down into an application to complete one task without opening that application when it would be inconvenient to do so.

For example, when I’m playing Clash Royale, which has been filling a strategic hole in my heart for some time, I often want to skip Overcast to the next chapter of the podcast I’m listening to. You can only take so many SquareSpace ads.

Before iOS 12, this meant flipping over to Overcast in the multitasking switcher, expanding the current podcast to fill the whole screen, and then tapping the next chapter arrow. Finally, I’d flip back to the game to see that I had lost one or all of my towers and the game was probably over.

In iOS 12, with Overcast 5, you can configure a list of shortcuts within the app to handle practically any function of the app from changing the playback speed to skipping the current chapter. That changes the scenario to one step, “Hey Siri, Overcast next chapter.” Siri isn’t always fast, but she is definitely faster than swapping to Overcast app and attempting to do the same thing.

There is a lot more functionality in Shortcuts that I haven’t even tried yet, and this example was only simplifying one task into one command instead of several tasks, but it feels obvious at this point that these programmable actions can alleviate some of the burden placed on users to adapt to iOS.

My main gripe with the Shortcuts functionality as it exists today, and with Siri in general, is that Siri takes over the whole screen when it isn’t necessary to do so. Many Siri activities that aren’t even shortcuts only necessitate a small confirmation that the requested action took place. The iPhone 6 Plus-sized devices (and especially the XS Max) cry out for a small window of the screen to pop-up a Siri response, then nobody will miss out on their game of Clash Royale just to skip a podcast ad.

Part of the problem that causes Apple to dedicate the entire screen to Siri may be the low confidence we all have in Siri to hear us correctly. Even today I couldn’t get my (Series 1) Apple Watch to understand a simple request for a timer (CW: misogynistic slur in text). The misunderstanding turned the request for a timer into a nasty message that I was surprised to read, then a few tries later it became a request for information about a movie I don’t want to see. Finally, I gave up and set the timer myself. On the iPhone a full-screen Siri response gives you the ability to see and edit the request if it was misunderstood like my 20 minute timer was on the Watch.

Once Apple’s confidence in Siri is higher, we may get that partial-screen response to our requests. I recommend keeping up with Shortcuts via MacStories.

Portable Frustration With Bennett Foddy

Getting Over It is Incompatable with all of my devices

I’ve already written about how much I love Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, but I hadn’t written about the iOS version which has gotten much better over time and today there is an Android version on Google’s app store if you’d like to learn to master your frustration on a portable device. They’re both $5 and highly recommended. Although you might want to have a case on your device if something happens while you’re playing.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Out on iOS and Android

I've never been more excited to get pants on.

You can call it PUBG, you can call it plunkbat, but the mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is out on iOS and Android. Now we know what you’re paying for when you buy the $30 Windows version on Steam, pants, and a shirt and shoes. This free-to-play-as-heck mobile PUBG doesn’t include any of those to start, you’re going to have to find them in the game or in the exploitative loot boxes you get for playing it. At least if you don’t want to be an exhibitionist non-conformer, which if you do, go right ahead.

I’ve played one match and it was perfectly cromulent PUBGeeing, players are still getting used to the controls so I managed to get four small victories before losing in 16th place.

It’s out for free now on Android and iOS, it doesn’t cross-play with the Windows version at all.

Meltdown & Spectre: Update Everything

There are two big computer vulnerabilities that were announced recently, Spectre and Meltdown attacks. These are significant because they affect almost every desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, and game console. Almost anything with a processor can be exploited to give attackers passwords and whatever other private information is on a device.

The attacks work because of the way that computer processors attempt to speculatively work ahead of their current point in executing a computer program. My understanding is that even code executed in your web browser could execute these attacks.

There are already patches available through Apple operating systems, Microsoft’s Windows, some Android devices, and many Linux operating systems.

The workarounds that operating systems are implementing may slow these devices down because the attacks utilize performance features of the processors, but the performance effects of the mitigation might not be noticeable outside of specific workloads.

Bruce Schneier:

These aren’t normal software vulnerabilities, where a patch fixes the problem and everyone can move on. These vulnerabilities are in the fundamentals of how the microprocessor operates.

It shouldn’t be surprising that microprocessor designers have been building insecure hardware for 20 years. What’s surprising is that it took 20 years to discover it. In their rush to make computers faster, they weren’t thinking about security. They didn’t have the expertise to find these vulnerabilities. And those who did were too busy finding normal software vulnerabilities to examine microprocessors. Security researchers are starting to look more closely at these systems, so expect to hear about more vulnerabilities along these lines.

Update to iOS 11.2 Immediately, Apple’s Bad Bug Week Got Worse

Apple has another serious software flaw, this one isn’t a security vulnerability but it causes some iOS devices (iPhones, iPads) with third-party apps installed that use local notifications to get stuck in a reboot loop on December 2nd. iOS 11.2 is out now and resolves the issue along with adding other features like Apple Pay Cash to send money to your friends and family, and resolves other issues. If you’re already experiencing the reboot loop then Apple has some steps for you to do before updating.

Other workarounds include setting your time back by a day or disabling notifications for the apps that cause it, but it’s better to just update.

Some people have an idea that staying on an older version of the software is more stable or more secure, this is always a bad idea in our day of networked devices that are constantly under attack from governments and other bad actors.

It must really be crappy to be on the teams responsible for these issues this week but it’s difficult to blame anyone specifically for them. With the root exploit it looks like a reasonable mistake that could happen to anyone. We don’t have all the details of the December 2nd bug yet, but both of these issues require an extremely specific set of things to go wrong before they happen. I have no doubt that Apple’s QA processes will change to include testing for these kinds of issues, but there isn’t any perfect software. What they have done well is the delivery mechanism for getting those updates out to users.

When Android has issues like these they are difficult to resolve because so many different companies have to get involved in order for updates to get released to end-users. I don’t envy anyone trying to resolve that issue at Google.