Archive for February 9, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

VLC 3.0

John Voorhees:

Today, VideoLAN, the non-profit organization behind VLC, released version 3.0 of its media player app across several platforms, including macOS and iOS. The update, known as Vetinari, supports a long list of modern video, audio, and streaming technologies such as[…]

The new version can stream (and seemingly transcode) to a Chromecast. Here is the change log.

Update (2018-02-13): See also: MacRumors.

Twitter’s First Profit

Selina Wang (via Hacker News):

The company topped analysts’ average sales estimates in the fourth quarter and for the first time reported a real profit, a milestone in Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey’s turnaround effort. Monthly active users were little changed from the prior quarter at 330 million, a lower-than-projected total that the company attributed in part to stepped-up efforts to reduce spam, malicious activity and fake accounts.


Revenue in the recent period rose 2 percent from a year earlier to $731.6 million, buoyed by data-licensing sales and video advertising.


Twitter said daily active users increased 12 percent from a year earlier, marking its fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit increases. The company doesn’t disclose the specific number of daily active users, arguing that showing growth is more important.


The San Francisco-based company may stand to benefit from Facebook’s recent decision to shift its news feed toward content from family and friends and to focus less on posts from media outlets and businesses. The change is encouraging publishers and online advertisers to increase investment on Twitter, according to some analysts.

Previously: Birdcage Liners.

iOS 9 Source Code Leak

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai (Hacker News, MacRumors):

The GitHub code is labeled “iBoot,” which is the part of iOS that is responsible for ensuring a trusted boot of the operating system. In other words, it’s the program that loads iOS, the very first process that runs when you turn on your iPhone. It loads and verifies the kernel is properly signed by Apple and then executes it—it’s like the iPhone’s BIOS.

The code says it’s for iOS 9, an older version of the operating system, but portions of it are likely to still be used in iOS 11.


“This is the biggest leak in history,” Jonathan Levin, the author of a series of books on iOS and Mac OSX internals, told me in an online chat, referring to Apple’s history. “It’s a huge deal.”

Via Jake Williams:

Remember that debate about the FBI adding backdoors to the iPhone and “don’t worry, it will stay secret?” None of us believed that, ever. But now I’d say we have evidence that even Apple can’t keep backdoor code a secret…

Sean Gallagher:

The DMCA notice required Apple to verify that the code was their property—consequently confirming that the code was genuine. While GitHub removed the code, it was up for several hours and is now circulating elsewhere on the Internet.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The scary part about the iBoot source code leak isn’t that iBoot code leaked, it’s that somebody (from Apple) passed around Apple source code. And if this happens in public, what would you imagine is being sent in private to the most malicious of bad actors or hostile powers?


I happen to have a copy of the System 7 source code that I acquired so long ago that I can’t even remember where it came from. So Apple employees passing around source code is nothing new.

Previously: FBI Asks Apple for Secure Golden Key.

Update (2018-02-09): Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

A low-level Apple employee with friends in the jailbreaking community took code from Apple while working at the company’s Cupertino headquarters in 2016, according to two people who originally received the code from the employee. Motherboard has corroborated these accounts with text messages and screenshots from the time of the original leak and has also spoken to a third source familiar with the story.

Motherboard has granted these sources anonymity given the likelihood of Apple going after them for obtaining and distributing proprietary, copyrighted software. The original Apple employee did not respond to our request for comment and said through his friend that he did not currently want to talk about it because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Apple.

According to these sources, the person who stole the code didn’t have an axe to grind with Apple. Instead, while working at Apple, they were encouraged to use their access to help their friends in the jailbreaking community with their security research by leaking them internal Apple code. And they did.

Update (2018-02-13): See also: MacRumors.

Many Siris

Bryan Irace:

When talking to Siri on my iPhone, she has a certain set of capabilities. These differ if I talk to Siri on my Mac. When talking to Siri through my AirPods, she’ll assume whatever functionality she’d otherwise have on the device that they’re currently paired with. Siri on my Apple Watch can take certain actions when untethered, but different ones when my iPhone happens to be in range. Siri on my Apple TV has a different set of skills altogether, and now, the HomePod will add yet another Siri to the family.


If the Lyft app is installed on your iPhone, you can ask Phone Siri to order you a car. But you can’t ask Mac Siri to do the same, because she doesn’t know what Lyft is. Compare and contrast this with the SDKs for Alexa and the Google Assistant – they each run third-party software server-side, such that installing the Lyft Alexa “skill” once gives Alexa the ability to summon a ride regardless of if you’re talking to her on an Echo in your bedroom, a different Echo in your living room, or via the Alexa app on your phone.

Update (2018-02-17): Steve Troughton-Smith:

Frustrating HomePod ‘feature’: because it intercepts all ‘Hey Siri’ requests in the room, it takes over requests that it can’t perform (like knowledge or search) that your iPhone can, tells you it can’t do that, and the request never gets passed back to the iPhone to continue

Kyle Copeland:

Even more frustrating is when it intercepts a request said at normal volume all the way across the house from a phone right next to my bed.

What I Learned from Watching My iPad’s Slow Death

John Herrman (via Jeremy Daer):

Fifteen years ago, before I would replace a desktop computer or a laptop, it would have quite conspicuously broken down, its fans getting louder, its spinning hard drive grinding to a halt. When I would replace it with something newer or faster or more capable, it would enter a promising second life: it could be repurposed as a spare, a computer for a friend, a terminal for playing old games or for doing undistracted work. It could be given to someone who could make use of it.

As I did when I first got it, I still use my old iPad for passive consumption: reading, watching videos, checking feeds. My routine has barely changed, but one by one, formerly easy tasks have become strained. Social apps have become slow, videos take longer to load and Safari can’t seem to handle the most important and fundamental services of the modern web.

As my iPad has aged, I’ve started to notice it more, not because I’m growing fonder, but because I’m getting frustrated: by the fact that it won’t do what it ought to or even what it used to.

That 30% App Store Tax

Brent Simmons:

Apple’s 30% tax on the App Store is increasingly absurd. Richest company in history, and it’s still taking 30% from your friendly neighborhood indie developers.

Jamie Halmick:

It’s an absurdly large cut for the level of support they give devs given the amount of profit they make on it. Obviously as a biz they can demand it and we will pay it. That doesn’t mean we should shut up and like it. They should either do better or take less or both.

Brent Simmons (tweet):

There’s no sacred verse that says businesses acting lawfully can’t be criticized. Nothing says we can’t advocate for change. In fact, I’d say that that’s part of capitalism, too.


My thinking is that a lower cut provides more incentive for developers to invest in high-quality, long-lived apps — and that that’s good for the platform and good for users, and good for Apple, and so everybody wins.

As hardware progress inevitably slows, software quality and app ecosystems will be increasingly important platform differentiators. The App Store has so many major problems, and I don’t think the 30% is at the top of the list, but on the other hand it’s a really easy knob to turn, with seemingly low downside and possible great upside.

Previously: Dirty Percent, BBEdit Leaving the Mac App Store, Pre-WWDC App Store Changes, Apple to Halve App Store Fees for Subscription Video Apps, Apple Wants 30% of Tips From Chinese Chat Apps.

Update (2018-03-02): Marco Arment:

2. Apple doesn’t get a cut of revenue from third-party ads or privacy-invasion payola networks.

So, in a way, Apple is incentivizing indirect and less privacy friendly methods of app payment such as ads.

Update (2018-08-16): scott:

App Store fees got you down? Meanwhile at Epic, they lowered their take on the Unreal Marketplace from 30% to 12% and retroactively paid back years of fees.

Epic said this is due to the success of Fortnite. If only Apple and Google had successful products to rely on for income.

John Perry Barlow, RIP

Cindy Cohn (Hacker News):

It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow’s vision and leadership. He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance.

Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the Internet could solve all of humanity’s problems without causing any more. As someone who spent the past 27 years working with him at EFF, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth. Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter: “I knew it’s also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls ‘turn-key totalitarianism.’”

Cory Doctorow:

Barlow wrote the Declaration and co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation precisely because he foresaw those possibilities: he saw that the world would be remade by general-purpose networks tied to general-purpose computers, and that unless we committed ourselves to making that network free, and fair, and open, that it would give the powerful and wicked the power to exert unprecedented, near-total control over our lives.

Today, Barlow is dead, and his vision is vindicated: the risks Barlow foresaw (along with other EFF founders like John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor) are more imminent than ever; the organization that he started and the movement he kicked off has never been more badly needed.

Steven Levy:

Over the next few years, I watched with fascination as Barlow became a leading voice in technology. With no engineering experience whatsoever, he became a great explainer, turning his gift for bullshit into a force for comprehension. He could hang around a bunch of cryptographers for a while and two weeks later explain public key crypto (pretty much) to a room of bankers, diplomats, and corporate managers. Even more important, he grasped the soul of the technology, whether the transporting aspects of virtual reality or the glorious disruptiveness of friction-free distribution.

See also: A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Electronic Frontiersmen.

Update (2018-02-14): See also: The Internet Archive.

Update (2018-02-20): See also: Hacker News.

iOS Auto-Correction From Contacts

Wil Shipley:

Imagine being in charge of an algorithm that hundreds of millions of users depend on every day and saying, “Hey, let’s take any word that’s capitalized in your contacts and just always capitalize it in text messages!”

“What could POSSIBLY go wrong? Unless you subscribe to ‘One Medical’ or ‘Capital One’ and you ever want to type ‘one’ to someone. But who would do that?”

Update (2018-02-13): Nick Heer:

It’s not just contact names that inform the autocorrect dictionary: any capitalized word in a contact record will be fed into the dictionary, as will installed apps. So, if you know someone who works at, say, Apple, or you have the Transit app installed, you will find yourself regularly undoing the automatic capitalization of those words when talking about fruit or the very concept of public transit.

Update (2018-02-28): Mark Rogowsky:

Forget privacy concerns, iOS does not ever learn that:

1) I did not want that proper name from my contacts. I always correct its autocorrect.

2) I’ve literally not used that proper name in years.

The algorithm has a default problem and a no-learning problem.