Archive for April 28, 2018

Saturday, April 28, 2018 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Buying an iPhone 8 Plus After Using an iPhone X

Dan Frakes:

App switching: It may sound crazy, but for me, this—not the screen, or Face ID, or the Animoji/Portrait Mode selfie camera—is the very best thing about the X compared to other iPhones.

[…]

Beyond that, there are more times in my daily life when Touch ID is better than Face ID than vice versa. For example, if I need to access my phone when it’s lying flat on my desk or the kitchen counter, or use it while it’s in a mount in my car (when I’m parked, natch), Face ID requires me to contort my body to get my face directly in front of the screen; with Touch ID, I just place my thumb on the Home button, regardless of the relative position of the phone. And while Touch ID doesn’t work well with wet fingers, if there’s moisture on the screen itself, or if I’m wearing certain sunglasses, or if I’ve got something partially blocking my face, Face ID usually fails. And in those situations where both Touch ID and Face ID work perfectly, Touch ID is noticeably faster.

[…]

I also prefer the 8 Plus for reading. While the 8 Plus and X show about the same amount of text, I find that the 8 Plus’s aspect ratio makes it easier to read[…].

[…]

As I noted above, I love the X’s swipe-up gesture to go to the Home screen. Unfortunately, by stealing this gesture from Control Center, Apple had to find a different way to invoke Control Center on the X. And the result, swiping down from the top-right edge of the screen, stinks.

Apple Officially Discontinues AirPort Router Line

Zac Hall (MacRumors, Hacker News):

Apple is officially exiting the wireless router business and selling off its remaining inventory of AirPort products. This includes the AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and both models of AirPort Time Capsule.

[…]

So why discontinue the AirPort line today and not sooner? That’s unclear, but Apple’s formal announcement confirms what was already largely accepted: the AirPort line is dead.

Why indeed, if it’s true that the team was disbanded years ago. This feels like the situation with the Mac Pro (also last updated in 2013), where Apple seemingly stopped working on improvements and let it languish, until it finally decided whether to cancel the line. Was the strategy to keep selling a dead-end product at full price until the money stopped rolling in or their offering became too embarrassingly behind? If there was any chance they wanted to stay in the router business, you’d think they would have been working on the next version as soon as the 6th generation shipped. Apple has a strong track record when it rolls. Any time it stops is a bad sign.

Wi-Fi is somewhat analogous to printers in that Apple needed to help get a new technology started in the market. In time, there were lots of good printers to choose from, but then the market regressed. After buying a number of terrible printers from leading brands, I kind of wished Apple were still making them. (Then I discovered Brother; it turns out its printers are OK.) Printers are not strategic these days, so not having a great one doesn’t hurt Apple; it’s just a minor missed opportunity for differentiation.

How much do routers matter now? I would argue that Wi-Fi is more strategic now than printers were when Apple discontinued them, and that there’s more room for innovation. First, all of its devices depend on Wi-Fi, so it’s an unavoidable part of the product experience. In theory, Apple could offer more reliable hardware and make sure its products are the first to support new standards, even drive those standards. At least this once was the case; by the end, Apple was late patching security flaws in its own routers. But at least it patched them, and I bet more customers were able to update than with many other brands.

An Apple committed to routers seems like a good fit for Tim Cook’s security and privacy vision. Apple is the company that keeps its old devices updated with the latest software. Apple is the company that you can trust with your privacy. But with AirPort dead, I’m now using a Google Wi-Fi. (I wonder why Google chose to enter this market around the time Apple disbanded the AirPort team.) Google Wi-Fi is easy to use and works well, but I don’t really like that it’s tied to my Google account and controlled from the cloud. Eero, from what I’ve read, also requires an account and relies on the cloud. And, unlike Apple, neither offers a Mac app for configuration.

Even after Apple stopped being a market leader, I think there was value in offering an easy, trusted solution. Instead, Apple now offers a very basic guide with the comforting disclaimer: “Information about products not manufactured by Apple, or independent websites not controlled or tested by Apple, is provided without recommendation or endorsement. Apple assumes no responsibility with regard to the selection, performance, or use of third-party websites or products. Apple makes no representations regarding third-party website accuracy or reliability. Risks are inherent in the use of the Internet.”

Then there is the question of the features AirPort offered that its replacements don’t: AirPlay, printer and scanner sharing, file sharing, Time Capsule. Bluetooth is more widely supported than AirPlay, but I don’t think it’s better or easier to use. With no way to connect my printer to Google Wi-Fi, I ended up buying a new one that has Wi-Fi built-in. I’m not aware of any alternatives that make file sharing and Time Machine backups as easy. Directly connected USB drives are inconvenient for laptops, and there aren’t a lot of great online backup solutions available, either. It seems like Apple is just forfeiting some Mac advantages.

I think there’s no doubt that discontinuing AirPort makes the Mac/iOS networking experience worse, at least compared with what it could be if Apple kept the line updated. So the real question is, what are we getting in return? Was keeping AirPort updated a major distraction for the company? Are good engineers so scarce that Apple needs them working on another project?

Previously: Apple Comments on AirPort’s Future, KRACK: Breaking WPA2 by Forcing Nonce Reuse, Apple Abandons Development of Wireless Routers.

Update (2018-05-01): M.G. Siegler:

If Apple wants to get out of the wireless router business — a business they helped kickstart — fine. The problem is that they could have — and I’d argue, should have — been fundamentally changing this business for the better, in a way basically no other company can.

[…]

The bottom line matters. But it’s not the only thing that matters. Apple has surfaced a rather disturbing trend of late of looking right past any strategic implications of their product lines. They’re not only too far in the forest to see the trees, they’re seemingly chopping down said trees to get a better line of sight. It’s really weird.

Rosyna Keller:

Now that Apple has discontinued the Time Capsule, is there an easy alternative to backing up to a network device?

Specifically, a standalone device that supports Time Machine and can only be configured by an app, NOT a website…

A Time Capsule replacement doesn’t need Wi-Fi (just RJ-45) but when Time Machine says “flush to physical disk” it had better do a synchronous flush to physical media…

Does such a device exist? A device without kernel extensions to install?

Halp.

Josh Centers (TidBITS Talk):

Some people seem shocked that I rent a router. When you consider that a good router starts at around $150 these days — Wirecutter’s current recommendation is more than that — and that a router generally lasts about 3–4 years, I’m paying less than $150 every 4 years for a commercial-grade router that will be replaced for free if it malfunctions.

Benjamin Mayo:

For a few years, I had been repeating the same ultimatum when people asked about the fate of the AirPort product range: update it or kill it. At least, this AirPort announcement means Apple has finally divorced itself from one of its skeletons in the closet.

Peter Cohen:

But unless you have very specialized Wi-Fi needs, it’s largely become “set and forget” technology that’s no longer dependent on having the right kind of box made by a specific vendor.

[…]

I still think that Apple is leaving a hole by discontinuing Time Capsule, but network-based backups have become less important for many people as they’ve grown to rely on the “cloud” to take care of everything.

See also: Rich Stevens.

Eric Slivka:

The tri-band Velop system is a bit pricey compared to some other options on the market, but it works well, providing strong coverage throughout your home and offering features such as guest networking, parental controls, and device prioritization.

Jason Sims:

Sad to hear AirPort has been discontinued. I just added an Express to extend my Extreme and don’t regret it. Even in maintenance mode, AirPort Utility is so much nicer than the shitty web config of most other APs. Hope they at least keep it working.

Eventually I‘d like to move to mesh, but there’s no Eero in Japan. Orbi is an option, I guess, but they’re big, ugly, and massively overpriced. AirPort really is exactly what I want/need at home (less-than-ideal powerline Ethernet bridge notwithstanding).

David Sparks:

For the last year, every time I went into an Apple store and saw the Airport on the shelf, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the person who was going to buy that without knowing they could get a much better network with a non-Apple product. I figured Apple was either working on their own mesh solution or they were going to abandon the product entirely.

Update (2018-05-04): John Gruber:

I’m not saying Apple should continue to make mere Wi-Fi routers. I’m saying they had, and missed, an opportunity to make really smart, trustworthy home hubs like nothing else on the market.

Update (2018-05-08): See also: Background Mode, The Talk Show.

Update (2018-05-14): Eric Schwarz:

I went from an AirPort Extreme (the flat, 802.11n model) to an Asus router that had great performance, but had some firmware bugs and had the dead-space-bug look. If anything Wi-Fi needs gigantic antennas, why do almost no enterprise-grade (where functionality is paramount) access points have ten antennas sticking out?

After my day job featured a few projects involving wireless bridges from Ubiquiti Networks, I started looking into their other products. While the interface was web-based, the attention to detail felt like it was there, and the hardware was very Apple-like. It’s not surprising, as their founder and CEO, Robert Pera, got his start on Apple’s AirPort team. I decided to look at their other products for work, and after installing a few UniFi access points in some locations, have been very pleased with the result.