Graham Spencer

916 posts on MacStories since January 2011

Graham is a regular contributor to MacStories, a law and economics student at university, and a fan of great TV shows. With a particular passion for telling stories with the aid of data and visualizations, there is a high likelihood that he wrote a story if you see a graph on MacStories.

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Enter the Studio Turning Deus Ex and Lara Croft Into Awesome Mobile Games

Andrew Webster, writing for The Verge:

With the Go series, Square Enix Montreal has carved out its own niche, creating something unique in the game development space. Studios often fall into one of two camps: on the one side you have the massive, 1,000-person teams that create blockbuster games, and on the other there are the tiny indie studios that build creatively ambitious games with few resources. Square Enix Montreal straddles the line between those two extremes. It has the resources of a big company, but the size and some of the creative freedom of an indie. It’s a studio that can make weird new games but attach them to hugely popular franchises.

It is great to see that Square Enix Montreal has found success in its series of Go games built on the larger franchises of Hitman, Tomb Raider and now Deus Ex. The first two Go mobile games, Hitman Go and Lara Croft Go, are genuinely great and feature a lot of creativity – so it is great to see they have continued to invest in this (critically-acclaimed) series with yesterday's launch of Deus Ex Go. This is particularly the case when so many other large mobile game publishers are instead focusing on churning out what are largely uninspired free games with in-app purchases.

To that end, Webster notes in his story that Square Enix Montreal has made some indie hires that suggests it fully intends to stay the course on its current approach to mobile games:

Outside of Deus Ex Go, Square Enix Montreal isn’t saying what it’s working on right now. But the studio has made a few recent hires that hint at desire to keep the indie-like feeling it has carefully cultivated. Those pick-ups include Teddy Dief, an artist and designer best known for his work on the crowdfunded hit Hyper Light Drifter, and Renaud Bédard, the sole programmer on seminal puzzle-platformer Fez, who most recently worked at Below developer Capy Games in Toronto. Both were tempted to join by the idea of combining the creative freedom of an indie studio with the structure and resources of a big publisher.

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Apple’s Presentation at Black Hat Now Available to Watch in Full

Ivan Krstić, Apple's Head of Security Engineering and Architecture, gave a presentation at the Black Hat conference a few weeks ago, and it is now available to view in full on YouTube.

With over a billion active devices and in-depth security protections spanning every layer from silicon to software, Apple works to advance the state of the art in mobile security with every release of iOS. We will discuss three iOS security mechanisms in unprecedented technical detail, offering the first public discussion of one of them new to iOS 10.

HomeKit, Auto Unlock and iCloud Keychain are three Apple technologies that handle exceptionally sensitive user data – controlling devices (including locks) in the user's home, the ability to unlock a user's Mac from an Apple Watch, and the user's passwords and credit card information, respectively. We will discuss the cryptographic design and implementation of our novel secure synchronization fabric which moves confidential data between devices without exposing it to Apple, while affording the user the ability to recover data in case of device loss.

It was at this presentation that Apple announced that it would launch a bug bounty program for those who discover vulnerabilities in its key products. Also discussed by Krstić during his presentation is how the Secure Enclave Processor enabled Apple to adopt a new approach to data protection, as well as a new security feature in iOS 10 that makes iOS Safari JIT "a more difficult target".

(via MacRumors)

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Microsoft Office for iPhone Gets Drawing Support

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Microsoft was quick to optimize its Office suite of apps for the iPad Pro and Apple's Pencil stylus, but the company held off on any inking support in Office for iPhone. Starting today, Microsoft is updating Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for iPhone to include a new drawing tab option. Just like the Windows and iPad variants, Office on iPhone will now let you use your finger to write, draw, and highlight documents.

Another great update for Word, Excel and PowerPoint on iOS.

Because space is limited on an iPhone screen, these drawing features are a little hidden. So in order to access these drawing features on the iPhone you'll need to tap the icon on the top navigational bar that looks like an A with a pencil cutting through it. That will trigger a pop-up on the bottom half of the screen. From there, on the top-left of the pop-up should be a drop-down menu, tap that and choose "Draw".

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Apple Responds to Australian Banks’ Request to Collectively Boycott and Negotiate Over Apple Pay

Late last week Apple made a preliminary submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in relation to the request for permission from various Australian banks to boycott Apple Pay and collectively negotiate with Apple. Apple's submission is comparatively brief at just three pages, but it clearly highlights the approach Apple will take in opposing the banks' request.

In its submission, Apple is quick to highlight the collective dominance of the banks in Australia which account for 66% of credit card balances in Australia, whilst characterising itself as the "new entrant to the Australian market" having only launched Apple Pay in November 2015.

The other angle of attack from Apple is more surprising, and in the submission it appears quite clear that Apple is asserting that the closed nature of the NFC antenna in the iPhone is pivotal to maintaining the security of its users.

Now they ask the ACCC for explicit permission to negotiate with Apple as a collective group. The goal of which is to force Apple and other third party providers to accept their terms, allow them to charge consumers that choose to use Apple Pay, and force Apple to undermine the security of its mobile payment service by opening access to the NFC antenna, placing at risk the consumer experience of a simple, secure, and private way to make payments in store, within, applications, or on the web.

Apple notes that it will make a further, more comprehensive submission, at a later date. But a key purpose of this prelimary submission was to persuade the ACCC that the banks should not be given any interim approval, and that the ACCC should take the "normal 6 month statutory period for assessment".

A few other interesting tidbits from Apple's submission:

  • Apple's discussions with Australian banks in relation to Apple Pay began in "late 2014". Apple Pay launched in the US in October 2014.
  • One of the applicant banks "has refused to even enter into a confidentiality agreement with Apple to allow for preliminary discussions about the terms under which it would participate in Apple Pay".
  • Apple argues that "interim authorisation of a collective boycott will have a lasting and irreversible impact on the adoption of Apple Pay and other third party wallets, and the Australian payment market".
  • Apple suggests that Apple Pay is not a competitive threat to the banks; "Unfortunately, and based on their limited understanding of the offering, the applicants perceive Apple Pay as a competitive threat".
  • Apple writes "These banks want to maintain complete control over their customers", I would wager the banks would say the exact same thing about Apple.

(via AFR)


Pocket Casts 6

When it comes to podcast apps on iOS, we are really spoiled for choice. There are many options, but I would say that there are four podcast apps in particular that rise above the rest; Apple's own Podcasts app, Overcast, Pocket Casts, and Castro. Narrowing that field of four to determine which is objectively the best is an almost impossible task from where I stand. Instead, which one is best will depend entirely on which app's design and feature set most closely aligns with how you want to manage and listen to podcasts.

Keeping that in mind, just over a week ago was the release of a major new version of Pocket Casts. Now on version 6 for iOS, Pocket Casts is the podcast app that has been around the longest (out of those four listed above), first launching in January 2011. It's also the one with the most cross-platform support, running on iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Windows Phone, and on the web.

So, what's new in Pocket Casts 6? The tl;dr version is that the user interface has been redesigned in various ways, most notably with the addition of a dark theme and "up next" queue improvements. There are new audio effects to trim silences and volume boost for those podcasts which sound too quiet. The iPad version now supports multitasking (Split View and Picture in Picture), and whilst it isn't noticeable to users, almost the entire app has been re-written in Swift.

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Homescreen.me Adds Track, Follow and Notifications

Homescreen.me, which we first covered in June, has today received a big update which significantly enhances the utility of the website. Préshit Deorukhkar writes:

Ever wondered how your Homescreen has evolved over time? What if you could go back in time and see which apps you were using a month ago? Well, now you can.

You can now browse all your Past Homescreens on the site. All the screenshots that you’ve uploaded since you signed up here are available for your perusal. So go ahead, take a trip down memory lane.

I love this feature, and although I've only uploaded four Home screens to Homescreen.me so far, I look forward to regularly uploading my Home screen and seeing how it changes over a longer period of time. I'm still hoping that the folks at Homescreen.me implement a reminder system that sends me an email once a month reminding me to upload a new Home screen. But until that happens, I've created a recurring reminder in Due.

The other big new feature to come to Homescreen.me is the ability to follow your favorite users. Home screens from the people you follow will appear on the Timeline page of Homescreen.me. Also, because Homescreen.me is a website that you may only visit occasionally, you'll also get an email notification for when someone you follow posts a Home screen.

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Australian Banks Ask Competition Regulator to Allow Collective Boycott of Apple Pay

In a rather extraordinary move, four of Australia's largest banks have written to Australia's competition regulator requesting permission to join together in a collective boycott whilst they negotiate with third-party mobile wallet services including Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay. The banks seeking permission include 3 of the 'Big 4' banks in Australia, being the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, and Westpac Banking Corporation, but it also includes Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. Notably, the fourth bank in the 'Big 4' absent from this request is ANZ which reached an agreement with Apple earlier this year to launch Apple Pay for its customers.

In a lengthy, 121-page submission, the four banks have written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) requesting such permission for a period of three years. The banks also flag the possibility that the arrangement could be extended to other card issuers in Australia who wish to participate in the collective negotiation and boycott. The banks argue that the collective negotiations will be limited so as to encourage the introduction of mobile wallet and mobile payment services in Australia that best promotes competition, best practice standards, and efficiency and transparency.

At the heart of their request is the claim that third party wallet providers have the power to "impose highly restrictive terms and conditions". The banks point out that 90% of smartphones sold in Australia run iOS or Android, and Samsung is the leading manufacturer of Android phones. Therefore, they claim, Google has significant bargaining power over Android, Samsung over Galaxy phones, and Apple over iPhones. But it is Apple that the banks say "has particularly significant bargaining power in negotiations relating to Apple Pay due to its control of both a key operating system and key mobile hardware". They point out that in Australia the iPhone has a share of 41.2% of the market and Apple sells the two most popular phones on the market.

The banks also make the argument that Apple has refused to permit third-party apps from accessing the NFC functionality contained in recent iPhones, unlike other manufacturers. They argue that it is inconsistent with other hardware and software features Apple has introduced such as the iPhone camera, accelerometer, and Touch ID sensor which are available to third-parties. Unfortunately, the banks also cite concerns over high rates of fraud which have since been debunked as spurious and unrelated to Apple Pay. The final key arguments from the banks relate to regulatory asymmetry - the fact that banks are faced with regulatory obligations in relation to fees and charges, but third-party wallet providers are not.

The objective of the banks here is to reach a deal with Apple that would allow them to use their own mobile payment solution on top of the NFC technology in iPhones and other smartphones. That seems to me to be highly unlikely given Apple's desire to control its platform, grow its services revenue and protect the privacy of its users. Besides, Apple has already been willing to negotiate for nearly 2 years since Apple Pay launched, it seems likely that they are content with playing the long game. Nonetheless, this submission from the Australian banks will likely concern Apple if it is approved as it may inspire banks in other regions to undertake similar actions.

You can read the banks' full submission to the ACCC here.

[via @TapDownUnder]


Apple Music Buys ‘Carpool Karaoke’ TV Series

Cynthia Littleton writing for Variety:

Apple has emerged as the surprise buyer of the unscripted TV series based on the “Carpool Karaoke” segment of CBS’ “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”

The tech giant’s Apple Music service will distribute the series to its members in 100 countries worldwide. Apple sees the show as a natural vehicle to drive online activity for its streaming-music venture.

This is not Apple's first foray into original video content, and at this point it is quite clear that Apple is actively exploring the idea. For now at least, most of the focus (including today's announcement of Carpool Karaoke) has been on video content that can be part of Apple Music, but if these early projects go well it's likely that we'll see Apple's video ambitions expand in scope and scale. In the last year Apple has reportedly approved a scripted series from Dr. Dre, launched a music docu-series from Vice, partnered to produce the 'Planet of the Apps' reality competition series, and exclusively streamed a Taylor Swift concert from her 1989 world tour.

“We love music, and ‘Carpool Karaoke’ celebrates it in a fun and unique way that is a hit with audiences of all ages,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services. “It’s a perfect fit for Apple Music — bringing subscribers exclusive access to their favorite artists and celebrities who come along for the ride.”

It should be noted that James Corden, who has hosted the Carpool Karaoke segments as part of 'The Late Late Show' will not be hosting these standalone episodes of Carpool Karaoke for Apple - though he will be an executive producer. The new host and premiere date has not yet been announced, but Variety reports that production is expected to begin soon. Apple has licensed 16 episodes of Carpool Karaoke and they will air the episodes weekly to members of Apple Music in over 100 countries.

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Apple Q3 2016 Results: $42.4 Billion Revenue, 40 Million iPhones, 10 Million iPads Sold

Apple has just published their financial results for Q3 2016, which covered the three months from April to June 2015. The company posted revenue of $42.4 billion. The company sold 10 million iPads, 40 million iPhones, and 4 million Macs, earning a quarterly net profit of $7.8 billion.

“We are pleased to report third quarter results that reflect stronger customer demand and business performance than we anticipated at the start of the quarter,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We had a very successful launch of iPhone SE and we’re thrilled by customers’ and developers’ response to software and services we previewed at WWDC in June.”

“Our Services business grew 19 percent year-over-year and App Store revenue was the highest ever, as our installed base continued to grow and transacting customers hit an all-time record,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s CFO. “We returned over $13 billion to investors through share repurchases and dividends, and we have now completed almost $177 billion of our $250 billion capital return program.”

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