Archive for September 9, 2021

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Fire TV Omni and 4-Series

Chris Welch:

Amazon is officially in the TV business. The company has announced its first lineup of Amazon-branded 4K Fire TVs, which will begin shipping in October. This is a major expansion from the company’s “Fire TV Edition” collaborations, where its popular streaming software comes preloaded on sets manufactured by other TV makers. But with its new Omni and 4-Series, Amazon is describing these as “Amazon-built TVs.”

The Omni series is the higher-end of the two, and beyond offering better picture quality, its other key selling point is hands-free voice control. Amazon includes far-field microphones in each model of the Omni series, which comes in 43, 50, 55, 65, and 75 inches.


The Fire TV Omni sets also include picture-in-picture for checking your smart home cameras, and you’ll see your Ring doorbell feed whenever someone is at the door. Amazon says it will be adding a “smart home dashboard” later this year for more comprehensive controls over your connected home gadgets.

You can get a 43-inch 4K smart TV for about double the price of an Apple TV 4K box with no screen. Amazon has more details here.

John Gruber:

This privacy report focuses on streaming services, not hardware platforms, but related to the previous post re: Amazon’s new Fire TV Omni Series, it’s also the case that Apple TV is the only platform that makes privacy a priority and doesn’t put ads on your screen.

Except for ads for Apple services.


Security Researchers Unhappy With Apple’s Bug Bounty Program

Juli Clover:

Apple offers a bug bounty program that’s designed to pay security researchers for discovering and reporting critical bugs in Apple operating systems, but researchers are not happy with how it operates or Apple’s payouts in comparison to other major tech companies, reports The Washington Post.

In interviews with more than two dozen security researchers, The Washington Post collected a number of complaints. Apple is slow to fix bugs, and doesn’t always pay out what’s owed.

Reed Albergotti (tweet, Hacker News):

Ultimately, they say, Apple’s insular culture has hurt the program and created a blind spot on security.

“It’s a bug bounty program where the house always wins,” said Katie Moussouris, CEO and founder of Luta Security, which worked with the Defense Department to set up its first bug bounty program. She said Apple’s bad reputation in the security industry will lead to “less secure products for their customers and more cost down the line.”


“The Apple Security Bounty program has been a runaway success,” Ivan Krstić, head of Apple Security Engineering and Architecture, said in an emailed statement.


Payment amounts aren’t the only factor for success, however. The best programs support open conversations between the hackers and the company. Apple, already known for being tight-lipped, limits communication and feedback on why it chooses to pay or not pay for a bug[…] Apple also has a massive backlog of bugs that it hasn’t fixed, according to the former employee and a current employee, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an NDA.


Tian Zhang, an iOS software engineer, first reported a bug to Apple in 2017. After months of waiting for Apple to fix the bug, Zhang lost patience and decided to blog about his discovery. The second time he reported a security flaw, he says Apple fixed it but ignored him. In July, Zhang submitted another bug to Apple that he says was eligible for a reward. The software was quickly fixed, but Zhang didn’t receive a reward. Instead, he was kicked out of the Apple Developer Program.

Dave Mark:

This is a long article, filled with bug bounty stories, many of them anonymously told. Hard to truly know whether this is the squeaky wheel getting all the attention, or something more problematic. […] Definitely reads like Apple puts less money into bug bounties, shines less of a light onto bug researcher efforts and successes than its competitors.

We’ve been hearing a steady stream of these stories, and it almost doesn’t matter whether they’re representative. The perception is that Apple is stingy and a pain to deal with, and that will affect whether researchers choose to deal with Apple at all. Why, other than ethics, go through a process that sounds worse than App Review when you can blog about it for fame or quickly sell to another party for more money?


Update (2021-09-10): Jeff Johnson:

We don’t know for sure that the stories are representative, but we would know a lot more if Apple published any information whatsoever about the bounty payments. Compare the Google Chrome release announcement.

QuickBooks Desktop Subscriptions

Adam Engst:

Unfortunately, AccountEdge was built on a 30-year-old, 32-bit code base that wasn’t compatible with macOS 10.15 Catalina. MYOB tried and failed to update AccountEdge to be a 64-bit app, and eventually stopped selling it. Tonya didn’t mind keeping one of her Macs on 10.14 Mojave so she could keep running AccountEdge temporarily, but we clearly had to switch accounting systems. Such transitions are most easily done at the start of a year, so in late 2020, we started evaluating the alternatives. Two choices immediately presented themselves:

AccountEdge Pro: You have to give MYOB credit for trying. The company’s engineers figured out a way to embed the Windows version of AccountEdge in a custom emulation wrapper, and they made that the official migration path for orphaned Mac users. However, for $15 per month, we weren’t interested in using an emulated Windows app.

QuickBooks: The 800-pound gorilla of the small business accounting world is still Intuit’s QuickBooks. Although the company seemingly sells a $399 desktop version for the Mac, Intuit’s focus is on various cloud versions of QuickBooks Online, with plans starting at $12.50 per month. […] We were also troubled by the idea of working with Intuit, and the company seems to be up to its old tricks, having just announced that it was discontinuing the Mac app that provided direct access to QuickBooks Online without having to use a Web browser.


The QuickBooks Online Windows and Mac desktop apps are no longer supported as of April 20, 2021.


Due to limited use, we stopped supporting these apps to invest in other functionality that matters to you.

TidBITS eventually decided on Xero.

Meanwhile, the situation for QuickBooks Desktop for Mac has changed (via Hacker News):

For 2022, we are introducing QuickBooks Desktop Mac Plus, an annual subscription-based license for small businesses. We will now be selling our Mac product subscription in place of one-time purchase licenses.


Our transition to a subscription-forward lineup will occur at the time of our 2022 product release – scheduled for October 12, 2021.

We will offer a limited time exception for the purchase of our Desktop Pro, Premier and Mac 2021 one-time purchase licenses (supported through May 2024) to avoid disruption to you and your clients. These products will be available via QuickBooks Solutions Providers (QSPs) and Intuit sales agents until December 10, 2021.

$199 for the first year, then $299/year.


Update (2021-09-10): Michael Love:

I was an upgrade-every-couple-of-years only-use-10%-of-the-functionality QuickBooks user - just as I was with Photoshop - so for me the effect of subscription pricing is that I’ll switch to another product.

As with other subscription products, I’m sure Intuit will more than make up for the loss of smaller customers with the increased revenue from larger businesses. But, as with Adobe, this may create an opening for competitors.

21 Years of Apple Home Page Tabs

James Dempsey (tweet):

The tabs at the top of have been around for over two decades now.

Looking at the changes over time shows changes in Apple products, priorities, and design. For long-time Apple watchers it also provides a walk down memory lane.


Why Is There No iPad or Mac Weather App?

Zac Hall:

For some reason, Apple’s Weather app on iPadOS 15 doesn’t have exactly the same design. Information is still organized into blocks, but a lot of the blocks are weirdly not about weather conditions.

The top of the Weather app for iPad includes a giant banner for a subscription version with more features and fewer ads. I missed the announcement about a paid version of the Weather app, but Apple is really into services these days so it’s no surprise.


Something else unique about the Weather app for iPad is a neat tidbit about UPS. According to the Weather app for iPad, you can save 50% on global shipping with code REACH from now through July 19. I couldn’t find this curious but helpful data point on the Weather app for iPhone. Now I’m worried folks who check the weather on their iPhone are overpaying for shipping.


And before you try to tell me this isn’t the Weather app for iPad, hear me out. The Weather widget launches the Weather app on iPhone, and I’m certain the Weather widget launches the Weather app on iPad. That’s just how widgets work!

M.G. Siegler:

Honestly, it’s embarrassing. Apple has outsourced its soul to an absolutely awful webpage. On load, you’ll see crappy ad after crappy ad. Keep scrolling and you’ll quickly be subsumed by shitty click-bait-y ads. “Kill the Goblin!” And go further still and it’s full-on porn-y spam. Apple is sending millions upon millions of their users to this experience. Apple!


The whole situation is bizarre. Apple just redid the Weather app in iOS 15 to be more beautiful. And the widgets reflect that. And they throw it all in the trash compactor when it comes time to drill down on the iPad.

Nick Heer:

A native Apple weather app on the iPad is long overdue, but that also goes for MacOS. The weather widget in Big Sur is, as far as I know, the only widget that opens a webpage instead of an app when you click on it.

The macOS weather widget is particularly annoying. It shows fewer days and hours than the iOS Weather app, amongst other missing information, and isn’t interactive. On Big Sur, the widget system has a tendancy to crash, making all the widgets disappear until I manually re-add and re-configure them, which sometimes requires restarting the Mac.

With the iPhone Weather app now using SwiftUI, hopefully iPad and Mac will get basic ports in the next cycle. Really, they deserve something even better, though. Apple should be leading by example.

Dave Mark:

Is paying for this placement on iPad? Why is the iPhone weather experience so different from iPad? Have long wondered this. Anyone know the real scoop?