Graham Spencer

917 posts on MacStories since January 2011

Former MacStories contributor.

Plex Cloud: Unlimited Media Storage in Amazon Drive

Plex yesterday announced a new Plex Cloud service:

Run your always-on Plex Media Server in the cloud without the need for an always-on PC or network-attached storage device (NAS). With Plex Cloud, you’ll be ready to go in 60 seconds or less, easily streaming and accessing your media remotely on all your Plex enabled devices. Too easy!

Plex Cloud is invite-only for now, and priority is being given to Plex Pass subscribers. The cost of Plex Cloud is $60/year in the US, and that gives you unlimited storage in Amazon Drive for your media. This is a great new initiative from Plex, and it seems like a fantastic deal – even if you just use it as a backup of your local copy of your media.

If you’re interested in learning more, the Plex Blog has even more details on Plex Cloud.


System Haptics on the iPhone 7

Apple introduced the Taptic Engine with the iPhone 6s, where it replaced the old vibration motor and was also used to provide haptic feedback for when you activated 3D Touch. This year with the iPhone 7, Apple has improved the Taptic Engine and it plays a critical role in simulating the press of the Home button, which is no longer a physical button. But the Taptic Engine in the iPhone 7 goes even further with the introduction of System Haptics, where a number of UI elements in iOS will now also provide tactile haptic feedback when you activate them.

I have had my iPhone 7 for nearly a week now, and these new System Haptics have been a great delight to discover, and use. These System Haptics are mostly subtle and feel very natural, so you may not have even noticed them. Below I’ve compiled a list of all the places in iOS that I’ve noticed them appear.

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James Corden Stars in New Apple Music Ad

Airing for the first time last night during the 2016 Emmy Awards, Apple debuted a new extended 2 minute advert for Apple Music featuring James Corden.

The tongue-in-cheek advert sees a serious Corden attempt to pitch ideas for an Apple Music advert to Apple executives Jimmy Iovine, Bozoma Saint John, and Eddy Cue. Corden’s ideas range from the bizarre, with Corden impersonating famous musicians, to the melodramatic, swimming through 40 million Apples. The trio of Apple executives rebuff Corden’s extravagant ideas, simply pointing out that Apple Music is available offline, that there are over 40 million songs, and playlists are handpicked for users.

This is not Apple’s first collaboration with Corden. Earlier this year Apple bought the Carpool Karaoke scripted TV series which was based on the segment that began in the The Late Late Show with James Corden. Corden also appeared with Tim Cook in a Carpool Karaoke skit for the opening video of Apple’s September 6 keynote earlier this month.

YouTube via MacRumors

Club MacStories: Year One iBook

A year ago we launched Club MacStories, and since then we have published 60 newsletters across MacStories Weekly and the Monthly Log.

We realised a few weeks ago that as we’ve built up this archive of newsletters, there is a lot of content, and we wanted to create a distilled version of the archive. With that in mind, we have created this interactive iBook which contains a small selection of the best content we have published over the last 12 months in MacStories Weekly and the Monthly Log.

Our goal in this was to give new members a more easily digestible highlight of what they can expect over the coming weeks and months as they begin their membership. But equally it is for existing members who want to revisit some of the content we’ve published, or to catch up if they missed a few newsletters. So whether you’re a new member, or an existing member, we hope you enjoy reading this iBook.

We’re excited to begin the second year of Club MacStories, and we hope you are too.

Thank you for being a Club MacStories member.

– Federico, Graham, and John

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Apple News in iOS 10: Greatly Improved

Apple News: Greatly Improved

Apple News launched last year in iOS 9, and despite my early enthusiasm, I found the experience at launch to be deeply flawed and disappointing. However, in the past twelve months I have been pleasantly surprised by a number of improvements that Apple has made to News. These improvements go a long way in addressing nearly all of my major complaints about News from last year.

Shortly after completing my review last year, I stopped using News regularly – only checking in occasionally. But since installing the iOS 10 beta in late June I decided to give News another go, and this time, I’m finding it both enjoyable and useful.

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The Man Behind Mario Explains Nintendo’s New iPhone Game

Matt Peckham, writing for Time, spoke with Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto shortly after today’s Apple keynote where it was announced that a new game, Super Mario Run, would be coming to the iPhone this December.

Time: When I asked [late Nintendo CEO Satoru] Iwata back in early 2015 about Nintendo’s smartphone plans, he said “that being ‘unique’ or ‘unprecedented’ was appreciated far more than being ‘better’ than the others.” How are you working to differentiate Super Mario Run from existing mobile runners?

Miyamoto: That’s true. So the basic premise this time was, we started by wanting to make a Mario game that you play one-handed. And if you think about Mario games up until now, generally Mario games are very simple and anyone can play them. But as you get deeper into the mechanics it gets more challenging. For some people, they have a hard time running, using the ‘B’ button to dash, or jumping while trying to run and dash at the same time. So the approach we took was, “How can we take that essence of the simplicity of Mario and bring it to mobile devices?” And that meant thinking about a game that would run automatically, on its own, but where there’s still the challenge of jumping and things like that, that are uniquely Mario.

We’ve also prepared the battle mode, as you saw, and this is really geared toward people who just have a few minutes to play. It’s a short mode you can play very quickly. And the other thing is we’re bringing in a number of elements that add skill and technique. As you get better at those skills and techniques, you’ll have a lot of motivation to compete for high scores and things like that.

Despite the fact that this was quite a brief interview (comprised of 5 questions), Miyamoto’s answers are quite detailed and provide some real insight into Nintendo’s thinking with this new Mario game. Super Mario Run has been designed to “take advantage of the uniqueness” of the iPhone and “perfect for that sort of simple interface and broader user base”. Nintendo is hoping that new people will discover the joy of Mario and seek out other Mario games that exist on Nintendo’s own hardware.

So of course as you’ve seen with Pokémon Go, we have millions of people who may never have played a Pokémon game, or maybe just knew the name Pokémon, who are now playing that game and learning the names of each individual Pokémon. And the result of that is that we’re also seeing sales of things like our original Pokémon Red and Blue games on the rise as a result of that. We think we’ll see a similar effect with Super Mario Run, and especially as we continue to develop Mario games for our own platforms that have more robust action and those sorts of elements, we think those will be appealing to the audience playing Super Mario Run on mobile devices.

If you’re interested, be sure to read Matt Peckham’s full interview with Miyamoto on Time.


Apple Ordered to Pay Up to 13 Billion Euros in EU Tax Crackdown

Dara Doyle and Stephanie Bodoni, writing for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. was ordered to repay a record 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) plus interest after the European Commission said Ireland illegally slashed the iPhone maker’s tax bill.

The world’s richest company benefited from a “selective tax treatment” in Ireland that gave it a “significant advantage over other businesses,” the European Union regulator said Tuesday in its largest tax penalty in a three-year crackdown on sweetheart fiscal deals granted by EU nations.

The European Commission is not saying that Apple has not paid its taxes. Rather, they have said that two tax rulings handed down to Apple by the Irish government in 1991 and 2007 had “no factual or economic justification” and constituted illegal state aid. That’s a problem in the eyes of the European Commission because profits from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India were attributed to Apple’s corporate entity in Ireland.

“Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple, which enabled it to pay substantially less tax than other businesses over many years,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in an e-mailed statement. “This selective treatment allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1 percent on its European profits in 2003 down to 0.005 percent in 2014.”

The European Commission now wants the Irish government to claw back 13 billion Euros from Apple. Whilst this ruling is a significant development, it is far from the end of the story, Apple and the Irish government have already signaled their intentions to appeal the decision of the European Commission. If they do appeal, it is likely to take years for a final decision to be reached.

Update: Apple has posted an open letter from Tim Cook on their website, responding to today’s European Commission decision.

The European Commission has launched an effort to rewrite Apple’s history in Europe, ignore Ireland’s tax laws and upend the international tax system in the process. The opinion issued on August 30th alleges that Ireland gave Apple a special deal on our taxes. This claim has no basis in fact or in law. We never asked for, nor did we receive, any special deals. We now find ourselves in the unusual position of being ordered to retroactively pay additional taxes to a government that says we don’t owe them any more than we’ve already paid.

The Commission’s move is unprecedented and it has serious, wide-reaching implications. It is effectively proposing to replace Irish tax laws with a view of what the Commission thinks the law should have been. This would strike a devastating blow to the sovereignty of EU member states over their own tax matters, and to the principle of certainty of law in Europe. Ireland has said they plan to appeal the Commission’s ruling and Apple will do the same. We are confident that the Commission’s order will be reversed.


Government Hackers Caught Using Unprecedented iPhone Spy Tool

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, writing for Motherboard:

This is the first time that anyone has uncovered such an attack in the wild. Until this month, no one had seen an attempted spyware infection leveraging three unknown bugs, or zero-days, in the iPhone. The tools and technology needed for such an attack, which is essentially a remote jailbreak of the iPhone, can be worth as much as one million dollars. After the researchers alerted Apple, the company worked quickly to fix them in an update released on Thursday.

The question is, who was behind the attack and what did they use to pull it off?

It appears that the company that provided the spyware and the zero-day exploits to the hackers targeting Mansoor is a little-known Israeli surveillance vendor called NSO Group, which Lookout’s vice president of research Mike Murray labeled as “basically a cyber arms dealer.”

A great story from Motherboard that is equal parts fascinating and absolutely terrifying. The malware from NSO is able to effectively steal all the information on your phone, intercept every message and add backdoors to every method of communication on your phone. Evidence suggests that NSO has likely been able to hack iPhones since the iPhone 5.

The security researchers who first became aware of the security bugs notified Apple about 10 days ago, and Apple today released iOS 9.3.5 which fixes the bugs. Suffice to say, you should immediately install the update onto your iOS devices.


Apple Music Festival 10 Running From September 18 to 30

Apple today announced details for its 10th annual Apple Music Festival which will once again be held at the Roundhouse in London. Headlining the festival this year will include performances from Alicia Keys, Bastille, Britney Spears, Michael Bublé, Calvin Harris, OneRepublic, Robbie Williams, The 1975 and Elton John.

“Over the past decade, the Festival has brought the biggest and best artists from all over the world to London and into the homes of millions of music fans,” said Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of International Content. “This year’s Apple Music Festival builds on that incredible legacy and we couldn’t be more excited to have another amazing lineup to celebrate our 10th birthday.”

Like last year, the Apple Music Festival will run for 10 nights from September 18 to September 30. Additionally, every performance will be made available, “live and on-demand” to Apple Music members, as well exclusive playlists, artist news, and backstage interviews throughout September.

For more details, including how UK-based fans can win tickets to attend, visit the Apple Music Festival website.