Mastodon Technology – Josh Hrach

Facebook’s App Privacy Label

Ben Lovejoy, 9to5Mac:

Apps have to show what data is used in what way — categorized by such things as third-party advertising and developer marketing. Some data is shown in more than one category, but it was easy enough to de-dupe them in the above apps. With Facebook Messenger, in contrast, the list is so long I have to list it in full.

Does anyone other than Facebook leech so much of our personal information?

Paper by FiftyThree

Lauren Goode at Wired: FiftyThree, Maker of Popular Paper and Paste Apps, Gets Acquired:

BACK IN 2012, a Seattle-based startup named FiftyThree launched a drawing app designed exclusively for iPad, with a name that sounded like it was designed specifically for an Apple crowd: Paper. Despite its simplicity and also because of it, Apple crowned it the iPad App of the Year. Tech writers described it as “the next great iPad app”, “a superbly designed sketching app,” and “a fresh canvas ready and waiting for your ideas, inspiration, and art.” FiftyThree later expanded to include an iPhone app, an optional subscription called Paper Pro, and Paste, a collaboration app.

Today FiftyThree announced its apps and team have been acquired by WeTransfer, a cloud-based file transfer company with headquarters in Amsterdam and Los Angeles.

I’ve been a Paper user off and on ever since they launched in 2012. It’s been my go-to app for a lot of drawing projects, is one of our son’s favorite apps on his iPad, and is popular with my wife, who uses it for a lot of wonderful sketches. Like with any acquisition, there’s a little hesitation as to whether or not it will be a good thing for an existing company and its products. But I’m hoping we’ll see Paper stick around for years to come.

Accidental Obsolescence

This post originally appeared at NotedTech on 5 September 2016.

Years ago, I remember hearing the term ‘planned obsolescence’ being thrown around. The context was typically surrounding Apple and their upgrade cycle. The idea was that Apple would not support their devices for more than two years, forcing users to upgrade to continue to receive support.

If you look at the first few iOS devices, it could be easy to see that. The original iPhone receive its last software update, iPhone OS 3.1.3, in February 2010, just over two and a half years of availability. It didn’t stand a chance of receiving iOS 4. In fact, if you look at the history of iOS releases in general, each has typically left behind some device or another.

Yet, despite older devices eventually having to fall by the wayside, something interesting began happening with the iPad 2.

In March 2011, Apple unveiled the iPad 2. It was thinner than the original iPad, included both a front and rear facing camera, and packed the Apple designed A5 chip. While not incredibly more powerful than iOS devices sold in the previous year, the iPad 2 currently holds an incredible distinction: it supported six iOS releases! Only now, five years after introduction, is Apple letting the A5-family go. It launched with iOS 4.3.5 and will end with iOS 9.3.5, the most current stable release of iOS.

iOS 9 stands as a unique iOS release: it is the only first major iOS version to not drop support for a device. In other words, all iOS 8 capable devices were able to get iOS 9. Given these recent trends, it’s likely that a good number of iOS devices, especially the 64-bit ones running the A7 chip or newer, will be supported by iOS releases for years to come.

That all said, I’m sure any iPad 2 owner can tell you: The device ran smoothest with iOS 4 and slowest with iOS 9. But given that each release adds new features of some kind, it’s only an eventuality that hardware cannot keep up with the software running on it. But to support major OS releases for six years is quite a lot, at least in the mobile space. Apple, thankfully, has the advantage of controlling both the hardware and software that goes into their devices, allowing them to tweak and manage every aspect. Because of the limited hardware options, it’s also easy for them to maintain support for older devices if need be.


By comparison, take a look at the recent news regarding Android devices running certain Qualcomm chipsets:

Not all of the big Android phone makers have announced their plans for the Nougat update [Android’s latest OS release], but if you look at Sony’s and Google’s and HTC’s official lists (as well as the supplemental lists being published by some carriers), you’ll notice they all have one big thing in common. None of the phones are more than a year or two old.

After doing some digging and talking to some people, we can say that it will be either very difficult if not completely impossible for any phone that uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 or 801 to get an official, Google-sanctioned Nougat update (including the Z3). And that’s a pretty big deal, since those two chips powered practically every single Android flagship sold from late 2013 until late 2014 and a few more recent devices to boot.

This situation has far-reaching implications for the Android ecosystem. And while it can be tempting to lay the blame at the feet of any one company—Google for creating this update mess in the first place, Qualcomm for failing to support older chipsets, and the phone makers for failing to keep up with new software—it’s really kind of everybody’s fault.

While the Android ecosystem allows for a great amount of variety and customization, it also can lead to situations like this. In this case, it looks likely that Qualcomm themselves have decided to stop supporting that chipset. Given that Android updates require sign-offs from multiple parties, just one can provide a roadblock.

This sets off a vicious cycle—OEMs usually don’t update their phones for more than a year or two, so chipmakers don’t worry about supporting their chipsets for more than a year or two, so OEMs can’t update their phones for more than a year or two even if they want to. It turns the 18-month minimum target that Google has been silently pushing for the last half-decade into less of a “minimum” and more of a “best-case scenario.” And people who don’t buy brand-new phones the day they come out are even worse off, since most of these update timelines are driven by launch date and not by the date the phones were taken off the market.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a premium or flagship handset losing support before the intended date. But for smartphone users, does the idea of an 18-month support window make you feel comfortable? I know I wouldn’t like that.

Google’s (soon to be rebranded) Nexus line might be the best supported for Android updates, but I wonder if Google will do more to tighten down the Android experience on their own devices. Will they move to take more control of the entire experience and limit situations like this? Can that even be done? One thing’s for sure: I doubt Google intended for Nougat to be limited in release. Yet, through no direct fault of their own, this is the current situation.

Microsoft changing OneDrive storage plans

This post originally appeared on NotedTech on 12 November 2015.

Earlier this month on the OneDrive blog:

Since we started to roll out unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 consumer subscribers, a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average. Instead of focusing on extreme backup scenarios, we want to remain focused on delivering high-value productivity and collaboration experiences that benefit the majority of OneDrive users.

Here are the changes:

  • We’re no longer planning to offer unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscribers. Starting now, those subscriptions will include 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
  • 100 GB and 200 GB paid plans are going away as an option for new users and will be replaced with a 50 GB plan for $1.99 per month in early 2016.
  • Free OneDrive storage will decrease from 15 GB to 5 GB for all users, current and new. The 15 GB camera roll storage bonus will also be discontinued. These changes will start rolling out in early 2016.

Looks like a few bad apples ruined it for the rest of the OneDrive user base. The new plans seem very similar to Apple’s iCloud pricing, which currently is: 5 GB free, 50 GB for $.99/month, 200 GB for $2.99/month, and 1TB for $9.99/month. If you’re new to cloud storage, it looks like the determining factor is which platform are you working with most: Apple’s or Microsoft’s?

Interestingly, Microsoft will seemingly just offer 2 options: 5 GB free, or the addition of 50 GB of storage for $1.99/month. If you want 1 TB, you’ll need an Office 365 subscription. That is, if you want an Office 365 subscription. I don’t know of many people that have one outside of a work created account.

Limiting Distractions: Notifications

Sometimes, especially if you’re like me, you’ll be on a roll when it comes to work, perhaps figuring out a program you’re working on, when you suddenly get interrupted. And just like that, your mental focus is gone. What were you doing? You’ll figure that out after a few minutes.

Notifications can sometimes be that interruption. Sure, it may be cool to have your iPhone docked next to your computer. But if the constant comments on Facebook are distracting you, is that a good thing to keep in sight?

The better question: are you in control of your device, or is it in control of you?

While I’m not one to disable all of my notifications ((Yet)), as some have done, earlier this week I started disabling notifications that I had set up for some time. In particular, anything with a social element has been muted. My iPhone and iPad no longer have permission to display notifications, play sounds, or show a badge icon. In short, if I want to know what’s going on there, I’ll find out when I manually check those platforms.

Even if you’re a heavy Twitter user, is there any reason why you need to be disturbed with every mention? Is something so urgent that a social media message should disrupt your life? I’m doing my best to say no to those questions. My iOS devices are useful. To me. They respond to what I want to use them for. And that’s how this relationship will stay.

Understanding podcasts

This post originally appeared on NotedTech on 28 January 2015.

If pop culture is anything to go by, 2015 is the year of the future. It’s also the year of the present. And I’d like to kick the year off by learning about something from the past: Podcasting.

Podcasting is a foreign term to a lot of people, but the medium has certainly seen a resurgence in mainstream media in recent months. As a result, many are unsure about whether podcasts are something they would be interested in or not. When I first heard of podcasts ten years ago, I didn’t fully understand what they were. When I was asked to help put together sound effects and mixed in content for a podcast, I thought it was a one-off, one-time thing. In reality, though, podcasts are much more interesting.

Photo: Patrick Breitenbach/Flickr
Photo: Patrick Breitenbach/Flickr

In computer terms, podcasts are surprisingly old. The term itself emerged in 2004, referring to a music or talk program made available digitally. Most podcasts are episodic, with new episodes being released on a regular basis. Typically, podcasts are in audio format but instead of listening to shows live like you would on the radio, you would download or stream episodes to your device.

Since Apple added podcast support to iTunes in 2005 shows have become convenient to download and listen to. You also can find numerous podcast apps for your tablet or smartphone to listen to podcasts. With the ease of current technology, it’s no wonder that there are now likely as many Americans listening to podcasts as there are Twitter users in America.

If you’ve never heard of podcasts before, or if you’ve never listened to one, you may think that podcasts are for geeks. But in fact, there are podcasts for any and every topic. And you don’t have to be a nerd to listen to them. For instance, my mother-in-law just recently started listening to podcasts on her iPhone. She found some travel related podcasts, a food podcast, and audio podcasts for her favorite magazines.

Working with software, certain podcasts that I listen to, such as Developing Perspective, help give me new ideas about technology and development that I may not have thought about before. Having these insights helps give me new ways of approaching what I do.

When I’m not listening to technical podcasts, I have several more entertaining ones that I’ll turn on. For instance, as a fan of Star Trek, I’ve come to enjoy Random Trek, a podcast where the host and his guest discuss random episodes of Star Trek. I also have a few episodes of Writing Excuses that I have enjoyed.

Because of the wide variety of available podcasts, there’s no doubt that you could find one that interests you. And, unlike a radio show that you may miss and never catch again, podcasts live online. Even if a podcast you’re interested in no longer produces new episodes, you can still catch the show from the very beginning. So whether it’s a podcast about travel, food, tech, comedy, or anything else, you can find something to fit your tastes. You can even listen to drama in podcast form, with the likes of Serial proving to be uber-popular.

So, where do you start? First, identify how you will listen. If from your computer, iTunes is the easiest way to get started. If you’re using a mobile device, you can find numerous podcast apps on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

No matter which app you end up using, most typically have a directory that you can search through. Start by searching for a particular topic. You can then look at the shows covering those topics and see the various episodes they’ve released. You typically will have the option to either download a single episode of a podcast or to subscribe to all new episodes. Whatever you choose, podcasts are free to download, free to subscribe to, and free to listen to.

At the very least, check some podcasts out. If there is even one podcast that you are interested in, it may introduce you to a new, informative, and entertaining medium to enjoy.

A Danger to Liking Everything?

Showing support? Like.

Think something is funny? Like.

Wish your cat looked as funny as that one? Like.

It’s so easy for us to like just about anything and everything on Facebook. Yet, there can be a negative to this, as Adam Oram noted while talking about an article by Mat Honan at Wired:

By reinforcing the Facebook algorithms via likes, you end up begin presented with more of the same. Your Facebook News Feed becomes increasingly niche as you continue to express an interest in the same things through your liking behavior.

As we know, Facebook provides a catered news feed based on what you view and what you like. (( “How does this algorithm work? Backstrom explained that factors include: how often you interact with a friend, page or public figure; how many likes, shares and comments individual posts have received; how much you have interacted with that kind of post in the past; and whether it’s being hidden and/or reported a lot.” –The Guardian )) But what will Facebook create for you?

Not only can you create a news feed that interests you, but you can also create one that overwhelms you with information, or one that even can reinforce your bad behavior.

Check out the rest of Adam’s article to read more about the potential impact your likes can have.

“The Apple World, the Android/Samsung World, and the Windows World”

Re/code posted an interview with Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly in which he talked about tablets, computers, and the current tech market. The interview itself is an interesting read, especially to see inside the mind of a CEO whose company has been affected by the global technological shift that we have seen across phones, tablets, and computers over the past few years.

One item that caught my eye was his response to a question about ‘stores within a store’. For a while now, Best Buy has had dedicated areas in their stores for Apple, Samsung, and Windows devices. When asked about those areas, he responded:

What we’ve done is, we’ve made Best Buy the place where customers can discover, understand, these different ecosystems. There’s these giant ecosystems: The Apple world, the Android/Samsung world, the Windows world. And so, for the customers, it’s a very unique opportunity to see it in one place, and in the space of half an hour, to be able to talk to our various specialists, and touch, feel, experience these products.

When it comes to Apple and Microsoft, each has created a very unique and identifiable ecosystem. Interestingly, in his comment, he included Samsung right along with his mention of Android. If you walk into a Best Buy store today, what Android device manufacturer is clearly visible? I’ve only ever seen Samsung with some attention.

I also thought it was an interesting response given how Samsung has come ahead, at least in mindshare, of other Android manufacturers with their devices, including their line of Galaxy devices. For some, when they hear Android, that’s the first thing to come to their minds.

When it comes to operating systems, it very clearly is Apple’s iOS versus Google’s Android. But with the iPhone competing against Samsung’s various Galaxy S phones, it’s easy to see why even Best Buy’s CEO would remark Android’s world as belonging to Samsung.

My Thoughts on NFC

For some time, there has been some talk about where near-field communication (NFC) might be going. If it is to take off, many people see it as something that people will use to pay on the go. Want to buy that cup of coffee? Purchase office supplies? Pay for your gas? Just swipe your phone.

While several companies are working on ways to do NFC payments, I don’t know if that is where NFC might take off initially. As noted in two articles I read [here and here], the option for NFC payments as a replacement for other payment forms isn’t the key. Rather, it is the features on top of that which will convince consumers and merchants to participate.

Where I think this could see some use is in marketing. More and more companies are putting themselves on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare, among other servers. Some businesses even have stickers and banners telling their customers that they are on these networks and services, too.

So why not link up NFC technology with these services?

Let’s say I want to check in to a store I enter. All I would have to do is swipe my phone near their (let’s say) Foursquare banner. My phone would bring up a dialogue asking if I want to check in or not. With one tap on the screen, I’ve checked in.

The same could be done for any number of things. Do I want to like their Facebook page? Do I want to connect via LinkedIn? Do I want to follow their Twitter account? If those options could be given to me with the swipe of my phone, I would be able to easily keep up with that business online.

If this business is using social media or location based services to offer promotions and deals or to stay in touch with their customer-base, this would be an easy way for their customers to take part and stay in touch.

Or let’s say I go into a deli but have no idea what I want. Why not let me swipe my phone and link me to a menu that I can read for myself? I wouldn’t have to bring up any QRCode app to scan/photograph a code.

In short, there are many options that can be explored with this technology. Will it see wide acceptance? Probably not for a while. Will mobile NFC payments take off? No way to know. But payments aren’t the only option for this technology, and there are many avenues that can be taken with it.

Personally, I would rather use NFC for this type of ability than payments. If someone were to steal my phone, I wouldn’t want them to be able to pay for things with it. But I would be perfectly okay with them checking me into Foursquare.