Archive for September 13, 2019

Friday, September 13, 2019

User Tracking via Custom Fonts

Peter Steinberger:

Firebase Crashlytics installs its own font?


Crashlytics will only install the font for users who have registered to install pre-release apps via the Beta by Crashlytics product. The font includes a unique identifier that allows us to determine that a crash has come from an app distributed via our Beta product.

Ben Sandofsky:

Turns out custom fonts can be abused for tracking users.

Jiang Jiang:

Yes, that is why Safari is not allowing user installed font access, and the new iOS 13 font installation feature always require user consent to access any user install font.

John Gruber (tweet):

Most users, I suspect, would just allow this, thinking fonts are harmless — but at least those of you reading this are forewarned.

PLCrashReporter Stewardship Moving to Microsoft

Chris Campbell:

Given that the App Center team was already very familiar with PLCrashReporter, and that they had expressed interest in contributing their changes upstream, it seemed like a natural fit for Microsoft to take over as stewards of PLCrashReporter. To that end, we talked it over and they have graciously agreed to take on responsibility of the PLCrashReporter repository and related sites. To be clear, the licensing of PLCrashReporter isn’t changing, and Microsoft looks forward to working with the community on this open source project.

It’s been said that Microsoft’s core competency is developer tools.


Billing Grace Period for App Store Subscriptions

Juli Clover:

Apple today announced a new billing grace period for subscriptions, which will let subscribers who experience unsuccessful auto-renewals continue to use an app’s paid content while Apple attempts to collect payment.

This is a feature that developers can opt into.


What about the opposite problem?!

I would like a grace period when a subscription I forget I even had renews automatically. Even a single day-long grace period would suffice where you can cancel and get a refund on an unwanted periodic subscription.


AppleCare+ Indefinite Subscriptions

Michael Potuck:

Last year, Apple rolled out the option to pay monthly for some of its two (in some cases three) year AppleCare+ plans for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Today, Apple quietly changed how it works so customers can buy an indefinite monthly AppleCare+ subscription.


This sounds like customers can choose to continue the monthly AppleCare+ coverage as long as they’d like or until Apple can’t service the device anymore.


It’s also good to keep in mind that compared to the normal two-year terms (three years for Apple Watch Hermés and Edition), Apple charges more for the monthly subscription compared to the upfront price. For example, two years of coverage for the iPhone 11 or XR will run $191 if paid monthly versus $149 upfront.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be available for Macs, where it would be an even better fit—both because AppleCare for Macs costs more up-front and also because Macs will likely be in service for more years.


The Apple U1 Chip in iPhone 11

Nick Statt:

One of the understated components of Apple’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro is the new U1 chip. It didn’t get a prominent callout onstage at today’s announcement event, but it will underpin what Apple says are “amazing new capabilities” coming to iOS devices in the future, including a more accurate, directional version of AirDrop coming with iOS 13.

Brian Roemmele (Hacker News):

The “U” in the U1 chip relates to the Ultra-Wide Band Radio Technology (UWB) technology it uses. UWB can be used for many application and use cases. One use case that will become very large for Apple as they move to AR/MR technology and Apple Glasses is to be able to track spatial relationships of objects. One way to do this is using lasers and IR systems, and Apple is already doing this to some degree with FaceID and Animoji. The other way to do this is via the radio spectrum.

The Apple U1 Chip most assuredly uses a variant of the IEEE 802.15 WPAN from the IEEE 802.15.4z Enhanced Impulse Radio group of which Apple is an active member. IEEE 802.15.4z to put in simple terms wants to absorb, in some ways, and extend Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi and other network standards and protocols.

The early concept of this technology was used in an all but abandoned Apple initiative called iBeacons [2]. This technology was centered around Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The idea was sound, however the technology was low resolution, so low that it would be hard to be with-in a few feet without triangularization of 3 or more iBeacons and even then it can drift significantly with heat and obstacle issues.


I feel rather strongly the Apple U1 Chip, over time will be seen as one of the most important aspect of the September 10th, 2019 Apple Event. We will see it as the start of the HyperLocal world of computing that ultimately will lead to less of a need for the cloud.


Update (2019-09-17): Jason Snell:

The Apple marketing copy has it right—UWB’s technological trick is allowing devices to pinpoint one another’s locations in the real world with great precision. From raw data alone, UWB devices can detect locations within 10 centimeters (4 inches), but depending on implementation that accuracy can be lowered to as much as 5 millimeters, according to Mickael Viot, VP of marketing at UWB chipmaker Decawave.


The speed of light and a roundtrip signal allows for a precise measuring of distance, but UWB can also determine the angle of arrival of the radio signals by measuring the phase shift that comes when receiving the signal from multiple antennas. Put the distance and angle together and you’ve got incredible precision—enough for, the rumors suggest, Apple to use an augmented-reality display to mark the precise location of another device.

How Apple Uses Its App Store to Copy the Best Ideas

Reed Albergotti:

Developers have come to accept that, without warning, Apple can make their work obsolete by announcing a new app or feature that uses or incorporates their ideas. Some apps have simply buckled under the pressure, in some cases shutting down. They generally don’t sue Apple because of the difficulty and expense in fighting the tech giant—and the consequences they might face from being dependent on the platform.

The imbalance of power between Apple and the apps on its platform could turn into a rare chink in the company’s armor as regulators and lawmakers put the dominance of big technology companies under an antitrust microscope.

John Gruber:

The thrust of the Post’s story is clear from its headline. But I don’t think it holds any water. What’s the alternative? For Apple never to add any features to the OS that exist in third-party apps?


When Apple implements a feature or app idea, they do it in a way that has the broadest possible appeal (or at least try to). The key to competing with Apple as a third-party developer is to focus on segments of the audience that want more than the basics.


The debate over what’s fair game for Apple (or Google, or Microsoft) to copy from third-party developers has nothing to do with app stores. A popular app is a popular app, and the platform vendors have always known all the popular apps.

Every developer is, in a sense, worried about being Sherlocked. But I don’t think this is anywhere near the top of their list for what to change about the App Store. And, as Gruber says, it’s not clear what the solution would be, anyway. That said, I think app stores do change things a bit, in that the platform vendor can get better data sooner, without having to rely on indirect tactics.


Update (2019-09-17): Jeff Johnson:

The issue isn't Apple competing with and copying other developers. It's that Apple artificially restricts and unfairly disadvantages competition.

Apple software isn't subject to App Store (or OS) restrictions, rules, and rejections. It also doesn't have forfeit 30% of revenue.

Raphael Sebbe:

What’s not fair is this (number 5): they know all past and present market data that even the copied developer doesn’t know himself. About his app. About all similar apps.