Archive for May 5, 2021

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Punitive Measures for Netflix IAP Test

Chance Miller (tweet, MacRumors):

As part of the Epic vs. Apple trial, a detailed new email thread has come to light showcasing internal communication at Apple once the company became aware of Netflix’s plans to roll out an A/B test focused on use of the App Store’s In-App Purchase system.


The “voluntary churn issue” that Oliver refers to is that Netflix has a higher amount of “voluntary churn” among those paying via the App Store.

This is interesting since I’m always reading that App Store subscriptions are more sticky because the payment information is more likely to be up-to-date.

Also in the email, Oliver questioned whether Apple should take any “punitive measures” in response to Netflix’s planned test to remove IAP support in certain markets. “Do we want to take any punitive measures in response to the test (for examples, pulling all global featuring during the test period)?” Oliver wrote. “If so, how should those punitive measures be communicated to Netflix?”


Update (2021-05-06): Ian Carlos Campbell:

Internal emails revealed during the Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit show that employees at Apple were considering giving Netflix special treatment to convince the streaming service to not abandon in-app purchases. In the run up to Netflix removing its subscription offering to avoid Apple’s fees, a presentation circulated within Apple proposed to advertise Netflix in its retail stores, use a portion of its cut of App Store commission fees to pay for search ads, and even bundle Netflix with other Apple services.


What this whole email saga is illustrative of is how Apple’s policies for developers seem to have exceptions.

Nilay Patel:

I think anyone could look at this and fairly wonder why an operating system vendor is mucking around so deeply inside the business of a popular app

Apple here is wondering what else it can do to justify taking a 30 percent cut of Netflix signups on iOS. The only reasons it’s doing that are 1. it knows it’s not doing enough to keep Netflix from removing IAP and 2. it has the threat of Netflix app signups going down to rely on

Extended Mac AppleCare+ Coverage

Joe Rossignol:

In addition to making AppleCare+ available for the Apple TV for the first time, Apple is now allowing AppleCare+ coverage for Macs to be extended indefinitely in the United States, according to an updated support document.

Joe Cieplinski:

I wouldn’t be surprised if AppleCare becomes subscription-only. It makes so much more sense to be able to cancel it whenever you let go of the item. And for them to keep getting monthly revenue past the three-year point. It’ll more than make up for the loss in repairs.

Rich Fletcher:

Apparently you can cancel AppleCare and get a prorated refund! I know this because I didn’t get around to it for a stolen iPhone 😠


Facebook Educates About App Tracking Transparency

Sami Fathi (also: Ashkan Soltani):

As a way to convince users to enable tracking across other apps and websites, Facebook is deploying the tactic of telling users that they must enable tracking as part of the App Tracking Transparency framework in iOS 14.5 if they want to help keep Facebook and Instagram “free of charge.”


In an updated blog post, Facebook calls this updated prompt an “educational screen” that will “help people make an informed decision about how their information is used.” Instagram, owned by Facebook, will show a similar prompt to users asking them to enable tracking to “Help keep Instagram free of charge.”

John Gruber:

That’d be just adorable if Facebook and Instagram started charging users because of mean old Apple. I’m sure that’s really on the table and this isn’t utterly shameless.

Even if Facebook were serious, Apple would prohibit that, too.

Sami Fathi (tweet):

Apple says that it will ban and reject apps on the App Store that attempt to offer users monetary incentives to enable tracking through App Tracking Transparency (ATT), one of many measures the company is taking to ensure developers follow through with the new framework.


Following ATT’s release, Apple also updated its Human Interface Guidelines with a new section titled “Accessing User Data.” In this section, offering a mix of new and previously known information, Apple outlines the design policies that all apps must follow when they attempt to ask a user for their permission to access personal data, device capabilities such as microphone and camera, and consent to track them across apps and websites.

Nick Heer:

You think Facebook’s threat of having to pay to use its services is bad? Wait until you see what Canada’s own Weather Network has cooked up.

Francisco Tolmasky:

These tracking dialogs don’t make sense in iOS. Unlike permissions dialogs, you don’t get an obvious direct feature out of it, like the camera. Seems like Apple should just disallow tracking, not create a contest to see what tricks companies come up with to get you to click it.

This is kind of a microcosm of all @AppStore policy, which has to ride this absurd line where Apple doesn’t actually get to implement what it really wants, but the experience still suffers for it.

Jun Harada (via Sebastiaan de With):

[Signal] created a multi-variant targeted ad designed to show you the personal data that Facebook collects about you and sells access to. The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea.

Facebook is more than willing to sell visibility into people’s lives, unless it’s to tell people about how their data is being used. Being transparent about how ads use people’s data is apparently enough to get banned; in Facebook’s world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you’re doing from your audience.

Ken Harris:

As with iOS 14.5, the most damning evidence against @Facebook isn’t that they collect data. It’s that they insist on hiding the extent of the data they collect.

It’s an asymmetric relationship, and the corporation wants to exploit that. Does that ever end well for the public?


Update (2021-05-06): Facebook says that “this is a stunt by Signal” and that it never rejected the ads or banned their account (via Timothy Buck).


We absolutely did try to run these. The ads were rejected, and Facebook disabled our ad account. These are real screenshots, as Facebook should know.

Joe Osborne:

These screenshots are from early March, when the ad account was briefly disabled for a few days due to an unrelated payments issue.

The ads themselves were never rejected as they were never set by Signal to run. The ad account has been available since early March, and the ads that don’t violate our policies could have run since then.

Night Shift Sleep Study

Tim Hardwick:

Now found on most smartphones in some form, Night Shift is based on studies that have demonstrated that blue light can negatively impact sleep by altering the body’s circadian rhythm. However, the results of a new study from BYU published in Sleep Health have undermined that premise.

To test the theory, BYU psychology professor Chad Jensen and researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center compared the sleep outcomes of individuals in three categories: those who used their phone at night with the Night Shift function turned on, those who used their phone at night without Night Shift, and those who did not use a smartphone before bed at all.

John Gruber:

My theory all along has been that Night Shift just makes your screen look hideously mis-colored.

Sleep benefits or not, I do find it more comfortable. Perhaps BYU’s results differ from previous studies because Night Shift shifts the colors much less than f.lux or blue light glasses.


Update (2021-05-06): f.lux:

The first thing to show is any difference between using a phone and not using one - this study doesn’t show any difference, with P>0.5. So that’s the headline really.

We don’t know if this is just underpowered, or if dimming + night modes are “enough” for most people.

Even so, Night Shift is not doing very much - f.lux is about 7x stronger by default.

To sum up: If you can’t even show you have a problem, you cannot fix it, and making a very minor change probably won’t fix it anyway.

I like Night Shift because I run my devices in Light Mode. But I bet it offers much less blue light benefit for those running in Dark Mode all the time, or in Automatic mode where the phone automatically switches to Dark Mode at night. With so much less white content in Dark Mode, the effect of Night Shift is much more subtle. If most users are using Dark Mode at night, anyway, that could also explain why the study found no significant difference vs. not using a phone at all.

John Gruber:

I’ve long heard from friends and readers who enjoy Night Shift (and f.lux) simply because they feel it reduces eye strain. Comfort is comfort — if you Night Shift feels easier on your eyes, go ahead and use it. What I object to is the “may help you get a better night’s sleep” claim. Apple should keep the feature but change the language describing it to remove any suggestion that it’s a sleep aid, unless subsequent studies suggest otherwise.

Verizon Sells Yahoo and AOL

Edmund Lee and Lauren Hirsch (via Hacker News):

Yahoo and AOL, kings of the early internet, saw their fortunes decline as Silicon Valley raced ahead to create new digital platforms. Google replaced Yahoo. AOL was supplanted by cable giants.

Now they will become the property of private equity. Verizon, their current owner, agreed to sell them to Apollo Global Management in a deal worth $5 billion, the companies announced Monday.


Yahoo and AOL still generate plenty of revenue. Verizon’s media division recorded $1.9 billion in sales in the first three months of 2021, a 10 percent gain over the prior year.

John Gruber:

In January 2000, AOL acquired Time-Warner for $182 billion to form a mega media company then valued at $350 billion.


Epic v. Apple, Day 2

Adi Robertson (tweet):

Apple did support cross-wallet play before banning Fortnite last year — and on the trial’s second day, that fact became a serious pitfall for Epic. Apple continued a long cross-examination of Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, whose hours of testimony included a digression on whether Fortnite counts as a true metaverse or simply a big free-to-play game that has concerts. (Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers suggested, and Sweeney concurred, that “the most readily acceptable analogy” might be Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.)

Sweeney was followed by two witnesses from outside Epic: the founder of an iOS yoga app, followed by the product manager for Nvidia’s cloud gaming service. All argued that Apple’s tightly managed App Store forced customers to use clunky workarounds. Meanwhile, Apple argued that the workarounds weren’t necessarily worse — just different.

Nick Statt (tweet):

The theme emerging from both days of testimony is that Sweeney sees this as a fight that goes well beyond a single game and even a single platform. In Epic’s eyes, suing Apple is an existential fight for the future for media, computing and software distribution, and maintaining the status quo would represent a major setback for Epic’s ambitions.


Doren raised a number of questions about Sony’s negotiations with Epic. The most important of those was how Epic paid Sony additional revenue over the standard 70-30 revenue split on PlayStation to compensate for cross-play, a feature Epic received significant pushback over and which it had to carefully orchestrate across all major console platforms.


[Sweeney] also repeated his argument that game consoles, which are largely single-purpose devices and not general computing ones, are often sold at a loss and make up the difference through software sales. In Sweeney’s eyes, that justifies a higher commission. […] The point of the exercise, including a hypothetical from Epic’s lawyer over checking a bank balance at the doctor’s office using a game console, was that phones are multi-purpose, general computing devices and that game consoles are not valid substitutes.

Nilay Patel:

Apple’s insistence on comparing the iPhone to game consoles at trial is also really interesting -- do they want the iPhone to be considered a console-like device, or a general purpose computer? What about the iPad?


Adding to this from a pure policy perspective - we know there are huge numbers of people, especially lower-income people, where a phone is their only computing device.

Tom Warren:

Apple’s attorneys are using retweets from a personal account as a form of defense of Apple blocking cloud gaming apps like GeForce Now, Google Stadia, and Microsoft xCloud 🙃

Jason Snell:

The big question is, will Apple be able to bargain with the powers that be, offering smaller changes that will take pressure and scrutiny off of the rest of the company’s practices? Or will it be forced to change in ways it absolutely doesn’t want by judges and regulators who have decided that its behavior is in violation of the law?

This is complicated stuff. There’s no way to tell how it’ll turn out. But it’s worth considering some of the possibilities, which I’ll rank from most likely to happen (and generally, least catastrophic to Apple) to least likely (and most catastrophic).