Archive for July 12, 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple Music: Connect

Dave Wiskus:

Someone asked why I believed that Connect would ever be better than Ping, Apple’s previous attempt at socialifying iTunes. Ping’s mistake was that it tried to connect listeners to each other, as a way of discovering new music. Apple Music has re-thought that problem in some very interesting ways, and early indications are that the new approach works. For the social component, Connect wants to be about connecting artists with their listeners, but at the moment, it falls short.

Nick Heer:

Based on Wiskus’ documentation, it looks like it lacks the litheness of Twitter, the scale and engagement of Facebook, and the demo tape feel of SoundCloud. I don’t quite know what to make of it yet.

John Gruber:

Why not let artists pick songs from iCloud Drive, for example? Having to sync via iTunes on your Mac to post from your iPhone is so 2008.

Manton Reece:

If Apple Music can be thought of as Beats Music 2.0, then the Connect tab is probably a little like Ping 2.0, an update on Apple’s first attempt to build a music-only social network. As Daniel and I discussed on Core Intuition 187, any service that demonstrates a network effect — everything from eBay to Twitter — needs some critical mass of users to reach its potential. I was curious whether Apple could achieve this if the Connect feature was locked behind a paid subscription after the initial 3-month trial.

What I missed is that Connect and even Beats 1 will be free.

Jonathan Poritsky:

Artists postings thus far have been less than stellar. I think Apple has made a massive mistake billing Connect as a place to follow musicians. Connect is actually a wonderful service being squandered by Apple. The things that Apple is expecting artists to post just aren’t that interesting. Links to their own music and original photos or videos are relatively weak sauce, and the posts have been few and far between for most artists.

However, Connect is great for sharing exactly what I came to the Music app for: music. The trouble is most artists aren’t posting music; they’re promoting themselves in a fairly bland manner. I’ve found the best people to follow are DJs and performers with shows on Beats 1, as well as Apple’s in-house “curators.”

[…]

Right now anyone can share playlists through Apple Music. However, not anyone can get an account that can be followed. When that happens, I think Connect will be, unabashedly, the best music social network on the planet. The trouble right now is that Apple wants it to be a “a place where musicians give their fans a closer look at their work, their inspirations, and their world.” That’s not an interesting enough proposition.

Nick Heer:

By default, iTunes Connect auto-follows all the artists in your music library, regardless of how much you listen to them, whether they’re on a compilation, or whether you even want to see posts from them. For example, because of that whole U2 fiaso, you’re probably automatically following them, too. Turning that behaviour off is a little hidden, as Steven Troughton-Smith and Anthony F Waller found.

Update (2015-07-20): Kelly Hodgkins:

Connect isn’t for everyone, and you can remove it from Apple Music if you’re not interested. Once removed from Apple Music, the Connect tab is conveniently replaced by Playlists. Here’s how to make the switch.

Update (2015-08-21): Mitchel Broussard:

Following an interview yesterday with Evening Standard, Wired today posted an interview with Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine, in which the Beats co-founder admits the company’s need to work to make Connect a better platform for artists and fans alike, and even hints at a possible curation aspect for Apple TV, similar to that of the company’s new streaming music service.

Apple Music: For You

Jim Dalrymple:

Many of the problems I had before with iTunes Radio are completely gone. Selecting genres of music or even something like “70s Rock Hits” or “80s Metal” gives you exactly what you want—great music.

With the integration of Beats, you also get curated playlists and the ability to stream artists’ music, if you become a member of Apple Music. The selection went from not having much to choose from with iTunes Radio, to having so much great content from playlists and radio stations that I had to start saving them all so I could listen to them later.

Dr. Drang:

This is not what I want from For You. I already have my musical brain sitting between my ears, and I have a 10,000-song representation of it in my iTunes library. But there are 30 million songs in Apple Music, and even if a huge swath of them can be eliminated because I hate Christian rock or speed metal or whatever, there will still be millions of songs left. For You should be my guide into the unexplored areas of those millions of songs. Right now, it’s not.

Christina Warren:

It’s hard for me to over-stress how much I like For You. From the very beginning, the recommendations in playlists and albums that the app showed me were dead-on accurate, reflecting my various musical interests.

Kirk McElhearn:

What’s also odd is that three of those albums are already on my iPhone; that’s not trying very hard.

Apple knows a lot about my musical tastes. It knows what I’ve bought from the iTunes Store, and it knows what’s in my iTunes library through its Genius feature. So it should get a lot better than that.

Khoi Vinh:

The playlists include a whole bunch of stuff I can’t stand, along with a smattering of albums from acts that I’m okay with but not particularly passionate about, and one so-so album from a band I quite like but rarely listen to. Nothing from my current heavy rotation of artists appears here, and nothing new or surprising that I’d never encountered before does, either. Overall, the selection lacks any real surprise or inspiration.

[…]

Apple does, in fact, have all the data that they need to make great recommendations to me. I’ve been using their iTunes Match service for two years, which stores all of my iTunes library’s metadata in the cloud. Moreover, I’ve been using iTunes for almost a decade and a half now, migrating the same music library from computer to computer and device to device. Few other services have as much data on my media consumption habits as Apple does—not Netflix, not Amazon, not Google. Plus, Apple is the most successful technology company in human history. When you combine those factors, shouldn’t it be realistic to expect more from Apple than what is basically the same out-of-the-box experience that the original Beats app offered?

Ben Lovejoy (via Nick Heer):

I gave my first impressions of Apple Music on day two, and my main disappointment remains: despite putting both owned and streamed music into a single app, there is absolutely no real integration between the two. All the evidence suggests that Apple Music has no awareness of my owned music.

I’ll get past that in a moment, but bear with me first for a couple of paragraphs. Because this is, in my view, more than just a missed opportunity: it’s almost criminally negligent. iTunes knows more about my musical tastes than my girlfriend. More than my neighbours, who have sometimes been more familiar with my musical tastes than they might wish. More than any of my friends – even the one who kindly ripped all my CDs for me on his high-end PC with multiple DVD drives.

Jim Dalrymple:

I use the “Like” system in my music services all the time because I want it to learn from my listening habits and be more personalized for my tastes. However, it seems that every service uses this system in different ways, so I talked to Apple about how you should use likes with Apple Music.

[…]

When you play a radio song, you will notice a heart—this is the like button. If you tap the heart, indicating you like that song, it does absolutely nothing to “tune” that station. Since the stations are human curated, there is no need for a tuning algorithm.

Tapping the heart does affect “For You,” the section of Apple Music that’s custom built with playlists, albums and songs tailored to your individual tastes. For You also takes into account music you add to your library and full plays you listen to. Skips aren’t really taken into account, because there are so many reasons you may skip a song—maybe you’re just not in the mood for it right now.

You can further tune the For You section. If you go to For You and there is a recommendation for an album that you just don’t like, tap and hold on the album. A menu will popup where you can choose “I Don’t Like This Suggestion,” allowing Apple Music to further learn about your musical taste.

Brian Webster:

One thing that I always wished Beats Music had (or if it did, I could never manage to find it) was the ability to see a complete list of songs that I had already “loved”.

This is now possible under Apple Music, by creating a smart playlist with a rule reading “Loved is true”. That will list all the songs that you’ve marked as loved in a single convenient playlist. Note that there doesn’t appear to be any way to create smart playlists on iOS, so you’ll need to create the playlist using iTunes on your Mac or PC, but that playlist will then automatically sync over to your iOS device (assuming you have iCloud Music Library enabled, of course).

[…]

On a related note, Beats also had a “don’t love” button (heart with an X through it) that you could press if you didn’t like a particular song very much. There doesn’t appear to be an equivalent button in Apple Music though.

Update (2015-07-20): Dieter Bohn:

I have started calling the menus spawned by 3-dot buttons in Apple Music “BlackBerry Menus” and I’m never stopping.

Apple Music: Beats 1 and AirPlay

Kirk McElhearn:

This has to be one of the more ridiculous “features” of Apple Music. A user in my iTunes forum pointed out that he couldn’t play Beats 1 Radio over AirPlay from iTunes on his Mac. I thought this must be wrong, but I tried it. The AirPlay icon is visible in the iTunes toolbar when you’re playing anything else. But when you start playing Beats 1 Radio, it disappears.

Peter Cohen:

If you’re accustomed to streaming music from your Mac to an AirPlay music source like AirPlay-equipped speakers, an Apple TV, or an AirPort Express connected to a speaker system, this might seem like a deal-breaker. But it’s not.

Hopefully the disappearing AirPlay button is just a weird bug that Apple will patch in a forthcoming iTunes update. Until then, there’s a fairly easy workaround. Just bear in mind that this sends all of your Mac’s audio to your AirPlay speaker, not just iTunes.

Paul Kafasis:

Unfortunately, when you tune in to Beats 1 in iTunes on your Mac, you’ll notice that iTunes’ built-in AirPlay sending is not offered. It’s also unavailable for other stations including NPR and ESPN radio. No explanation for this is given, though it’s likely due to licensing issues on Apple’s end. Whatever the cause, Airfoil is here to lend a hand!

[…]

Finally, we’ve had users ask us about timed recording of Beats 1. Of course, our audio recorder Audio Hijack can help you there. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t currently provide a tune-able link to the stream, which is what a timed recording requires. Thankfully, it appears that mirrors of the stream are popping up, and you can certainly tune in with those.

Apple Music: Home Sharing and Families

Kirk McElhearn:

iTunes and iOS have a feature called Home Sharing, which lets you, for example, share an iTunes library to an Apple TV, or to another computer running iTunes on your local network. Prior to iOS 8.4, it also allowed you to share your iTunes library directly to your iOS device; when it worked.

[…]

This feature is not part of iOS 8.4; at least not for music. It’s still there for videos, in the Videos app, and, as I write this article, I’m attempting to load my video library on my iPhone.

Serenity Caldwell:

If your family members have already signed up for an Apple Music free trial, this won’t work; you’ll have to wait until after their free trial period is over to sign them up as part of your Family plan.

iPetitions:

With the introduction of iOS 8.4 and Apple Music the feature called “Home Sharing” for iTunes Music was silently removed by Apple.

Thousands of users loved to build their home music library over years to play back their music on several Apple devices, including their iPhones, iPads and Apple TV’s. Overnight Apple decided to silently remove this functionality from iOS in order to promote the newly introduced service Apple Music with monthly costs (fear remains the same will happen to Apple TV, when it gets an update to work with Apple Music in fall 2015)

Andrew Cunningham:

Last night, Apple’s Eddy Cue stated on Twitter that the company is “working to have Home Sharing in iOS 9,” confirming that the feature’s removal is only temporary. That’s of small comfort to the people who like Home Sharing and need to wait for the final release of iOS 9 in the fall before they can use it again, but it’s better than nothing.

Apple Music: iTunes Match and DRM

Kirk McElhearn:

Eddy Cue also informed a user that Apple Music will start with a match limit of 25,000 tracks, but that this will increase to 100,000 tracks with the launch of iOS 9.

It’s not clear whether this number will also be applied to iTunes Match, but one can hope that it will. Like many iTunes users, I have been clamoring for an increase in the iTunes Match limit from 25,000 tracks to something allowing me to use my music library with iTunes Match.

Kirk McElhearn:

Apple Music files cannot be copied to an iPod nano.

I guess it makes sense, that these files only play on iOS devices, but I hadn’t actually considered this before. Since the DRM on the files links to a time-limited account, you can’t copy them to a device that can’t check if your subscription is still active.

Kirk McElhearn:

The whole iTunes Match and Apple Music thing is confusing. Apple says they are “independent but complementary,” and, on first glance, they look quite similar. But when you look closely, they are very different.

[…]

When you match and download files from iCloud Music Library (without having an iTunes Match subscription), however, you get files with DRM; the same kind of files you get when you download files from Apple Music for offline listening. (These files should have DRM, so you can’t just download and keep all the music you want for $10 a month.) But if you’re using Apple Music, and not iTunes Match, Apple doesn’t make a distinction between which files were originally yours, and which you downloaded for offline listening from Apple Music.

This means that if you’ve matched your library with Apple Music and iCloud Music Library, you need to keep backups of your original files. If not, you’ll end up with files that you can’t play without an Apple Music subscription.

Serenity Caldwell:

Yes, Apple Music has a DRM component. Yes, it sucks, but it’s similar to every other streaming service. No, it does not overwrite the files on your Mac to make all your music DRM-laden.

[…]

If you use both Apple Music and iTunes Match, the Store catalog supercedes the Music streaming catalog; you should always be getting DRM-free files if you subscribe to Match. If for some reason you’re getting Apple Music files, don’t panic: it’s a bug. Try logging out and logging back in again, or deleting and redownloading the file.

[…]

So Kirk’s post is getting misinterpreted by a bunch of people—he’s a buddy, and we talked on Twitter about this with a few other folks. Here’s the deal there: He doesn’t have a hard copy of his tracks on that computer, so when he upgraded, he downloaded matched tracks and they came down as Apple Music tracks. That’s a bug, and can be fixed by deleting the track and redownloading, and worst-case logging out and logging back in again.

Nick Heer:

iTunes lacks DRM; Apple Music has DRM. That’s the difference: it’s subtle, and it’s poorly-explained. iCloud Music Library is a completely different pitch to that of iTunes Match and iCloud Photo Library, despite sounding similar, if not identical.

[…]

Apple Music and iCloud Music Library are pitched so closely, and the nuanced differences are not explained very well. Yet, these differences are incredibly important to know, because a normal person could reasonably consider their library to be safely off their computer, readily accessible when it’s needed, and largely recoverable if they were to switch to a different service.

This is an article that Serenity Caldwell should not have had to write. Not because of some of the FUDdier articles around, but because Apple should be more clear about the difference between Apple Music and iTunes. I would bet actual money that Apple wanted to — in essence — add these features onto the existing iTunes library, but were prohibited from doing so by record labels.

Serenity Caldwell:

iTunes Match isn’t the same as Apple Music. With Apple Music, for $9.99 a month, you can stream Apple’s song catalog. With iTunes Match, for $24.99 a year, you can upload up to 25,000 songs from your iTunes music library to iCloud, where you can then stream and download them—DRM-free—to up to ten other registered devices in your possession. Here’s how it works, how you can subscribe, and how you can get the most out of it!

Marco Arment (via Nick Heer):

I bet iTunes Match gets Google Readered within a year. Don’t get too attached…

Update (2015-07-14): Kirk McElhearn:

Apple has released iTunes 12.2.1, which claims to fix the problems with iTunes Match tracks being DRMed.

I installed the update, and it hasn’t fixed anything for me. Here’s an example of some albums that still show as Apple Music, and still have the incorrect artwork[…]

Nick Heer:

Let me get this straight: the bug could taint portions of a local library with DRM, and the removal procedure requires exact steps that are counter to what you may be expecting, and that following the steps you may expect instead will nuke the track almost entirely unless you use another workaround explained by Horwitz in his post? This isn’t acceptable at all.

Update (2015-07-20): Kirk McElhearn:

As you can see above, the problem was not iCloud Music Library in general, but the way it added tracks from my iPhone. I was not alone in having this problem, and, since so many other tech journalists also had these issues, I speculate that many of them are in situations similar to mine. They have multiple devices, and even, perhaps, test libraries, and iCloud Music Library did what it was supposed to do, but that behavior, designed for the “average user,” caused problems for people whose music libraries are complex.

A DJ site reported these problems, a long MacRumors forum thread discusses them, and a musician reported that Apple Music “screwed up [his] entire discography”.

Apple Music: iTunes 12.2 and iCloud Music Library

Josh Centers:

While Apple Music in iOS is a pretty good experience, it is a train wreck on the desktop. And I stop at “train wreck” only because TidBITS is a family friendly publication.

[…]

Start with iTunes 12’s labyrinth of an interface. Now, add three new tabs when Music is selected on the left: For You, New, and Connect. That’s the baseline.

From there, add in the fact that Apple Music was clearly designed as mobile first, with the desktop a distant afterthought.

Then, stir in a good dose of bugs.

Kirk McElhearn:

iCloud Music Library is a disaster. It changes artwork, alters tags, and many tracks are unavailable, having the “Waiting” iCloud status. Here’s an example of how much of a mess it is.

Kirk McElhearn:

I’ve never before recommended that you don’t upgrade to the latest version of iTunes, but I am doing so now.

[…]

I installed iTunes 12.2 on my test computer, a MacBook Pro, and quickly found that it changed a lot of my artwork and tags.

Ronald Chavez:

After I updated to the new iTunes 12.2, I was asked to enable iCloud Music Library, which is supposed to sync your tracks across your devices. Once it was enabled, iTunes randomized the majority of my roughly 25GB library. Tracks moved across albums, album art didn’t match music and artists were listed up to seven or eight times.

[…]

But it gets worse. If you’ve set up Apple Music on an iOS device, and iCloud Music Library is enabled, all of the erroneous changes are reflected in the new Music app, too.

Wil Shipley:

Unremovable, huge banner advertising YOUR station in MY iTunes makes me think @AppleMusic doesn’t care what I think.

Jeff Gamet (via Nick Heer):

iCloud Music Library was introduced with this week’s iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music release, and it’s turning out to be a big bag of hurt.

[…]

iCloud Music Library’s problems start showing up after installing iTunes 12.2 on your Mac or Windows PC. Apple’s forums are full of comments from users saying their album art, song names, and album titles get jumbled. The Who’s Quadrophenia album art, for example, could be replaced with Billy Holliday’s Lady Sings the Blues. Try to play Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, and you might hear Vertigo from U2 instead.

Some forum posters are saying other metadata for their songs and albums has been scrambled, too, and multiple copies of songs are appearing in their libraries.

Clark Goble:

To really enjoy and make use of Music put your preconceptions behind you. Otherwise you, like me, will be constantly raving about the horrible buggy frustrating UI of iTunes.

First things first. When viewing your music switch to artist view. Yes viewing by artist is a pain when you have a nice playlist. Trust me though. If you don’t you’ll hate Music.

[…]

The biggest weakness of Music definitely is the interface. Hopefully by next year the interface is more refined. I do fear for those of us who prefer to organize our own music. It’s clear that Apple’s shifted focus away from us the past few years. Making your own playlist is just far too convoluted. However I suspect that is the traditional power user vs. typical user scenario. If one thing has become clear the last decade it is that power users are not really a concern for Apple.

Update (2015-07-14): Kirk McElhearn:

iTunes Artist View Interface Adds Content, Obscures Music

Update (2015-07-16): Jason Snell:

In any event, what I’ve discovered is that for me, Apple Music’s killer feature is that it’s completely integrated into iTunes. Not just integrated in the sense that the iTunes Store is integrated, with a separate set of pages that don’t really resemble the iTunes Library. I mean integrated in the sense that, when I find new music I like, I can click the plus icon and add it to my iTunes Library.

I don’t know what I was expecting from Apple Music integration. I guess I assumed that when I added a track to “my library” from Apple Music, it would go to some special Apple Music tab, or playlist, or library. Nope—that music just shows up in the My Music section of iTunes, mixed in with all of the stuff I’ve bought over the years.

[…]

I can also see just how insidious this approach is. My music library is no longer pristine, no longer a collection owned by me. Now I’m acquiring albums and tracks not by buying them, but by clicking that Add to Library button.

Update (2015-07-20): Doug Adams:

The current track and current playlist properties return a -1731 “unknown object type” error when run against a currently playing Apple Music track. That’s going to be a problem for scripts and apps that use those properties to identify a playing track. I couldn’t say if this is intentional or a bug.

The iTunes XML reports the main Library name as “####!####”. This is not necessarily AppleScript related, but several of my scripts may refer to this “Master” playlist by obtaining its name from the XML.

Apple Music: General

Samuel Hulick made a great slideshow called “How Apple Music Onboards New Users” (via Steven Woolgar).

Serenity Caldwell:

Here’s what Apple Music is, what it’s not, how it compares to other services, and what you’ll be able to find on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or PC.

Nick Heer:

It’s only been a day since Apple launched their newest streaming music service, so the thoughts I have about it are fairly preliminary and would probably comprise several shorter posts. For convenience, they’re here in a bulleted list.

Eli Schiff:

The iOS Music icon again evolves—or devolves? Originally the iPhone music app was called iPod, but that soon went out of fashion and Apple opted for the title “Music,” which remains today. The most impressive shift of course was between iOS 7 and iOS 8 in which Apple designers went to the trouble of reversing the gradient.

David Pogue:

In Apple’s glory years, Steve Jobs turned simplicity into an art form.

“Being focused means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that are out there,” he once said. “You have to pick carefully. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

It’s starting to seem as though Apple no longer abides by that religion. The first two major post-Jobs initiatives from Apple are powerful and important, but they’re also bogged down by too many features and a confusing design. First, there was the Apple Watch — and today, there is Apple Music.

Cezary Wojcik (via Mike Rundle):

Unfortunately, I don’t see myself switching from Spotify anytime soon. I really tried to convince myself to give it a chance, but Apple Music is just simply awful to use. Everything I would want to do would either take forever or is simply not possible.

[…]

So, every song I had to delete required 4 taps, most of which had to wait on some kind of animation to finish. Just when I thought that it couldn’t get worse than deleting the songs individually from the playlist, I found something literally twice as bad (4 taps vs 2 taps).

Justin Blanton:

Want to turn off Apple Music Connect and replace its tab with a Playlists tab?

Joe Rosensteel:

I started poking around with Apple Music, and I’ve been particularly interested in how it has functioned offline in comparison to its predecessor. Like, 1 in 5 buttons in the main interface show you a white screen with gray text saying that you are, in fact, offline. It’s a barrel of fun, turn on Airplane Mode and give it a whirl.

Fortunately, you can make tracks, and albums, available for offline listening, but there’s no genius playlist functionality. Finding it in an ellipsis menu (not all ellipsis menus offer the function) yields a modal dialog that you need to be connected to cellular or WiFi to create a genius playlist.

This was not a problem in the previous iteration of the app, because the genius data was updated when you synced your phone, and available offline.

Collin Allen:

Was going to comment on how well Music’s color sampling works, then got this. Thought UI was disabled.

Nick Bradbury:

The fact that Apple usually does a phenomenal job with UX makes things like this such a disappointment.

Dan Moren:

My favorite tidbit, though, is from Mossberg’s piece:

Siri was able to effectively respond to commands like, “Play the top hits from 2007″ or “After this song, play ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’”

I have wanted the ability to easily queue up the next song on my iPod and iPhone since, oh, 2001.

Kirk McElhearn:

You can’t stream everything that in the iTunes Store on Apple Music. There are lots of labels, and artists, who aren’t playing the streaming game. Notable labels that are missing are ECM, the jazz label, and Hyperion Records, the classical label, both important independent labels in their genres.

But there are also individual tracks, or parts of albums, that are unavailable. I came across a few of them yesterday.

Kirk McElhearn:

For starters, many parts of Apple Music are not designed for classical music. The whole playlist aspect of the service is clearly not ideal for this type of music, which doesn’t contain “songs,” but rather works, often of multiple movements. So the For You section of Apple Music, which offers playlists and albums to check out, won’t be of much help.

[…]

Apple Music fails as far as presenting metadata about classical music. Looking at a number of albums in the New section, I find that many of them don’t display the names of the composers whose works they feature.

Kirk McElhearn:

I know Apple Music is just getting started, but they can certainly do better than just provide “Classical Music for Elevators.” Maybe Apple needs to hire some classical music “curators.”

Kirk McElhearn:

When you visit the Music app on the Apple TV, there is still a tab for iTunes Match, which is all but invisible in iTunes and on iOS. But nothing about Apple Music. It’s as though Apple forgot about the Apple TV.

[…]

It’s clear that video is going to be a part of Apple Music – you can already view music videos, if you can find them – but will Apple try and make a new MTV? I don’t buy the idea of live streams of DJs, but they do already have the iTunes Festival, and could certainly add more.

Adam Jackson:

My only issue that remains with streaming music…It requires a data connection.

[…]

The thing is, I don’t see any reviewers mentioning this. I guess everyone but me has 4G / LTE everywhere?

Update (2015-07-14): Kirk McElhearn:

Apple Music Doesn’t Display Your Listening History and This Is a Big Mistake

Safari Content Blocker and Web Advertising

Dean Murphy:

Ok, so the website I decided to try “fixing”, is one that I see linked often, iMore. Let me start this by saying I really like the content that iMore provide and enjoy the personas of their staff on their many podcasts (Debug is one of my favourites!), but I hate the experience of their mobile website as it has several ad’s by many different providers, all tracking me across all different sites. They have super tiny ‘close’ buttons that are near impossible to hit, they follow you as you scroll and there is a slow loading full page interstitial that loads on every page refresh. Urgh!

[…]

With no content blocked, there are 38 3rd party scripts (scripts not hosted on the host domain) running when the homepage is opened, which takes a total of 11 seconds. Some of these scripts are hosted by companies I know, Google, Amazon, Twitter and lots from companies I don’t know. Most of which I assume are used to display adverts or track my activity, as the network activity was still active after a minute of leaving the page dormant. I decided to turn them all off all 3rd party scripts and see what would happen.

After turning off all 3rd party scripts, the homepage took 2 seconds to load, down from 11 seconds. Also, the network activity stopped as soon as the page loaded so it should be less strain on the battery.

Rene Ritchie:

I don’t block ads because, as someone who works for a site that has ads, I understand the cost of content and the current realities involved in paying for it at scale. (I don’t skip podcast sponsorships—the ultimate in native, intercept ads—for the same reason).

Both via Nick Heer:

His “response” article — which, I should point out, is entirely text-based, unlike a media-heavy review — weighs in at a whopping 14 MB with 330 requests.

John Gruber:

Rene Ritchie’s response acknowledges the problem, but a web page like that — Rene’s 537-word all-text response — should not weigh 14 MB.

[…]

With Safari Content Blockers, Apple is poised to allow users to fight back. Apple has zeroed in on what we need: not a way to block ads per se, but a way to block obnoxious JavaScript code. A reckoning is coming.

Rene Ritchie (via John Gruber):

First, the content size issue. 14MB is infuriating. My guess is that he was getting a video ad on the page that’s no longer being served. We’ve been testing internally and getting consistently under 4MB for that page, which is still hefty.

[…]

While we sell premium ads directly to advertisers, that only fills a small subset of the required “inventory” to support the network. Some 85% of ads we served last month were “programmatic”—provided by ad exchanges like Google Adx and Appnexus. Those exchanges are pretty much black boxes. We get a tag, we insert it, and ads appear.

[…]

Each ad gets its own iframe, so load is asynchronous and, if one fails, it doesn’t kill the entire site. Unfortunately, that also means each one fires its own trackers, even if those trackers are identical across ads. It’s terribly inefficient.

[…]

We also have no ability to screen ad exchange ads ahead of time; we get what they give us. We can and have set policies, for example, to disallow autoplay video or audio ads. But we get them anyway, even from Google. Whether advertisers make mistakes or try to sneak around the restrictions and don’t get caught, we can’t tell. It happens, though, all the time.

Glenn Fleishman (via John Gruber):

Advertising, analytics, social media, and other tracking networks use JavaScript, tiny images, and other embedded methods to install tracking IDs on your browser when you visit sites that incorporate their signals. This might be a site that uses Google Analytics, Doubleclick, GeoTrust, or dozens of others—or even dozens on one site.

All legitimate networks offer some kind of opt-out method, but many work poorly, and you have to opt out often for every browser by network, and sometimes only for a limited period of time. And, as with the Do Not Track quibble, opting out of tracking can mean you’re tracked with a promise to not use identifying information.

Because of all this, users have increasingly installed ad-blocking software, which throws the baby out with the filthy bathwater. Poor baby! The baby is the revenue from advertising that allows sites such as Macworld and hundreds of thousands—or maybe millions—of others to pay the bills that make publications go from a part-time self-employed blogging gig to a newsroom of hundreds of reporters.

[…]

I like [Firefox] Tracking Protection because of its integration and seemingly light hand in what it does. But Disconnect (which helped provided the blocklist for the feature), Ghostery, and others offer similar or better features. Ghostery, for instance, shows you a count of how many tracking elements on a site when the page loads, and lets you block whichever you like. Ghostery is focused on privacy, not malice. Disconnect has its feet on both pedestals.

Previously: Introduction to WebKit Content Blockers.

Update (2015-07-12): Nick Heer:

The rise of content and ad blockers has required companies to get creative about how they show us ads. Buzzfeed has mastered the art of “native” advertising on the web, but that also kinda sucks for readers because it feels deceptive. The short sponsor posts popular among many sites feel more honest, but they’re straddling a fine line between a clearly-marked sponsor post and a native ad.

It’s a hard question: how do you get paid on the internet in a way that feels respectful to readers? Is it as simple as clearly labelling sponsored content as such? Is there a better way?

Update (2015-07-22): TJ VanToll (via Chris Johnson):

This article makes for a good showcase of web cruft. All I wanted to do was read about psycopaths, as one does, but before reading I had to sift through a bunch of junk that I don’t care about—like social buttons, the temperature, and a terms-of-service modal — all for an article that’s about 2,000 words. I can’t even see the start of the article on my oversized iPhone 6+.

Loading this article took 200+ HTTP requests and used ~2MB of data. The article took about 3 seconds to load on my WiFi, and web page test says it would take about 13 seconds to load on an average mobile network.

I don’t bring up this example to single out CNN, because, as sad as this is to say, this article is now representative of the average web experience. According to the http archive, the average web page surpassed 2MB this May, and is now at 2.08MB. It’s not hard to find a far worse example out there.

Update (2015-07-29): See also this episode of The Talk Show with Jason Snell.

System Integrity Protection (a.k.a. Rootless)

WWDC 2015 Session 706 (video, PDF, tweets):

And for the same reason that you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in the same basket, you shouldn’t rely on a single layer of protection to defend the device, because no matter how bulletproof, or water resistant, or shock absorbent this layer is, when it starts failing you, then it’s complete game over.

Instead, you should rely on multiple layers of protection, ideally with different security properties that will delay the advance of an attacker and reduce your attack surface.

[…]

So the reality is that once you have code running on the Mac, it’s actually not that hard to become root, and once you are root, you have full control of the machine.

Which means that any piece of malware is actually one password, or one vulnerability away from taking full control of the device.

[…]

We need a layer that will eliminate the power of root on the machine and protect the system by default, as it was installed by Apple on the machine.

[…]

This is what System Integrated Protection is.

It is a new security policy that applies to every single process running on the system.

[…]

If you install anything in /bin, or /sbin, or anywhere under /usr like /usr/bin, /usr/lib, /usr/libexec, then you need to move this content into the appropriate subfolder of the /usr/local folder, because that’s the only location that is now available to third-parties.

[…]

For one, the task-for-pid and the processor-set-tasks SPI will now fail if they are called on a restricted process.

And will set an 0 to EPERM.

Which means that if part of your product relies on being able to attach to a system process at runtime, for instance, the Finder, and that you expect to be able to inject code into the Finder, that is not going to work anymore.

[…]

And finally, if you use dtrace, all dtrace probes that target a restricted process will not be matched anymore, which means you won’t be able to see an interaction between the process and the kernel.

[…]

If you try to invoke lldb even as root and try to attach to the Finder, then this is going to fail.

[…]

Now, because root can actually set a NVRAM setting and we can’t trust root to do the right thing here, it means we cannot have the configuration mechanism in the OS itself.

If you want to change the configuration, you need to reboot your machine in Recovery OS, and you can do so by holding the Command+R key on boot.

Then all you have to do is launch the Security Configuration application from the Utilities menu, and check the System Integrity Protection box, apply and reboot.

Daniel Jalkut:

It’s awful restrictive. I ended up needing to disable it to even to attach to Dock with lldb.

Landon Fuller:

Add Dropbox – which used Finder code injection – to the list of things that’d be impossible to ship on today’s OS X.

Landon Fuller:

Mac OS’ original support for running multiple applications at once started life as a 3rd-party Finder extension.

Karsten Weiss:

However, one of DTrace’s selling points is/was that you can use it anytime on a production system (without reboot).

Dave Nanian:

In our investigation, we’ve found that a new Extended Attribute -- com.apple.rootless -- is used to mark files and folders with this new protection. No process other than certain Apple-signed-and-authored ones can remove or write this attribute, and files and folders marked with this attribute cannot be changed.

[…]

Since we can’t write the com.apple.rootless EA, SuperDuper removes it during the copy. That means the backup -- while fully functional and bootable -- is not an “exact copy” of the source. Specifically, SuperDuper! must disable the system protection feature on the backup, and cannot recreate it when you restore.

[…]

It’s easy to regain full system protection features: you simply need to reinstall the OS from the App Store. You can do this at your leisure, but doing it as soon as possible means you’re less vulnerable (even though that vulnerability is quite small). It’s a painless process, and it writes the fresh OS under your existing applications and data. As an added benefit, it will speed up your boot process, since it’ll recreate certain caches that non-special-Apple-programs can no longer update.

Rootless also affects DropDMG, since it installed its command-line tool in a folder that is now off-limits. I’ve released a public beta that adds compatibility with Mac OS X 10.11.

Gwynne Raskind:

Getting compilers and associated tools to be independent of the traditional UNIX path structure is brutally hard.

Rosyna Keller:

rootless is likely going to cause issues with badly misbehaving Linux/POSIX software.

Jonathan Wight:

also seen issues with some python modules (lxml) too. Ended up filing bugs all over the place and told “not our problem”

I’m worried about compatibility with LaTeX, as well as the long tail of Unix tools, which will probably not be adapted for a long time, if ever.

Update (2015-07-12): Gwynne Raskind:

Also notice that the EA mentioned by Dave Nanian is, at least conceptually, just a reimplementation of chflags(SF_IMMUTABLE);

chflags() can only unset SF_* in single-user mode, whereas the EA appears to be gated by entitlements. The result is the same.

Landon Fuller:

Real difference is unrelated to security: EA is tied to Apple’s code signing approval rather than local admin control.

Gwynne Raskind:

That’s what inspired a new impl in the first place: Local admin control is assumed to be too stupid to be safe.

Gwynne Raskind:

I actually think it’d be much harder to social-engineer users into turning off SF_IMMUTABLE than into booting Recovery

Gwynne Raskind:

Use of the existing options for this kind of control would keep them from being able to bypass it for themselves.

Landon Fuller:

Yes, and keeping it Apple-only makes it easy to flip a switch and make it mandatory, like iOS.

I have to assume that’s the end-game. They’re whitelisting/grandfathering in user reqs that would cause blow-back while at the same time making it impossible for new entrants to introduce new requirements. Hard to see any other end-game

Update (2015-07-15): Dave Nanian:

Apple fixed the problem with copying the “com.apple.rootless” attribute in the Public Beta! So, with the release of our Beta 2 (download below), we’ve included the ability to copy with that EA preserved, and thus system protection is maintained on the copy as well. Plus, there’s no need to erase when restoring.

This is all great news for users: basically, copying will work as it always has.

Landon Fuller:

The “security” of blocking code injection vs. the loss of productivity in only being able to use solutions Apple invents.

BinaryAge (tweet):

Both TotalFinder and TotalSpaces2 work by injecting code into processes that are part of OSX. They change the way those processes work, but they don’t change the underlying system - they just add features whilst they are running. If you quit TotalFinder or TotalSpaces2, those processes restart and system returns to its original state.

However, in El Capitan OSX 10.11, this kind of modification will be disallowed by a new feature called “System Integrity Protection”. It is also known as “Rootless”. The feature prevents both modifications to your system files, and to system processes whilst they are running (even if you enter your password for administrator access).

So in a normally configured Mac, TotalFinder and TotalSpaces2 cannot run.

Frederic Jacobs:

What Apple is doing with this new OS X is the same thing they’ve been doing on iOS, protecting the boot chain by signing the whole boot process. This prevents (in theory) an attacker from hijacking the boot process to inject persistent malware. But unfortunately, this makes it really difficult to monitor your own machine against compromise. The only forensic analysis you can apply on such a system are black box analysis techniques since you can’t have any insights about what’s going on outside of user space. Malware becoming incredibly hard to track down if it used an exploit to enter kernel space. The hope is that it would not be able to find a persistence mechanism given that the boot chain is signed.

[…]

For now you can still disable most of these protections as a user/developer, but most of your users won’t (and it’s probably safer for them not to). As on iOS, the Mac’s distribution channels might be entirely controlled by Apple some day. It will be increasingly difficult to provide any feature that is not blessed by Apple. Something like randomizing your MAC address or verifying that your filesystem is encrypted like it should be might become impossible. How much of a “general-purpose computer” does it become if Apple acts as a gatekeeper to what operations can be ran on it?

Update (2015-07-16): Will Robertson:

The MacTeX people are already on top of the changes in El Capitan -- TeX Live will in the future be located inside /Library

Update (2015-07-29): Craig Hockenberry:

The OS X “rootless” mode has benefits, but it’s going to make things very tough for the next generation of designers.

Update (2015-08-13): See also Accidental Tech Podcast #128.

Mac OS X 10.10.4 and Apple TV

Marco Arment:

It’s been almost two weeks since my Apple TV refused to see my iMac’s iTunes share, or since I had to restart iTunes and reboot the Apple TV or disable and re-enable Home Sharing to get them to (maybe) see each other.

In fact, it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve seen nearly any of the annoying, recurring problems that made me write, back in January, that Apple’s software quality had lost the functional high ground.

Not coincidentally, it’s been almost two weeks since Mac OS X 10.10.4 was released, which replaced the problematic discoveryd with the older, more reliable mDNSResponder. These system processes are responsible for tracking the network’s computers, names, and shared services, and discoveryd’s unreliability in these tasks caused erratic network problems like mine for a huge portion of Apple’s customers.

Currently, neither of our Apple TVs can stream video from the iTunes Store, either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Restarting the Apple TV no longer helps. The only workaround seems to be to use AirPlay from an iOS device. So hopefully there is another update forthcoming.