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Dark Sky Predicts Its Last Storm

With the turn of the New Year, Apple closed down Dark Sky for good. Apple acquired the app in 2020 and left it up and running until January 1st as it incorporated the app’s radar and real-time forecast features into its own Weather app. Dark Sky’s API, which was used by many third-party weather apps, was discontinued at the end of 2021 and was subsumed within Apple’s own WeatherKit API, which debuted last fall.

Over the holidays, Slate took a look at the app’s indie success story, which began with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011 that raised $40,000. One thing that I didn’t realize about Dark Sky is that its short-term precipitation forecasts were based solely on analysis of radar images, which didn’t win it fans among meteorologists:

Indeed, Dark Sky’s big innovation wasn’t simply that its map was gorgeous and user-friendly: The radar map was the forecast. Instead of pulling information about air pressure and humidity and temperature and calculating all of the messy variables that contribute to the weather—a multi-hundred-billion-dollars-a-year international enterprise of satellites, weather stations, balloons, buoys, and an army of scientists working in tandem around the world (see Blum’s book)—Dark Sky simply monitored changes to the shape, size, speed, and direction of shapes on a radar map and fast-forwarded those images. “It wasn’t meteorology,” Blum said. “It was just graphics practice.”

I hadn’t used Dark Sky in years when Apple bought it, except as a data source in other weather apps. Its forecasts may not have been as nuanced or accurate as a meteorologist’s, but there’s no denying its cultural impact on the world of apps, which is why I’ll be tucking this story away in my app history archives.

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Apple Has Stopped Development of System to Identify Child Sexual-Abuse Material

Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal, who interviewed Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, in connection with the new security features coming to its platforms, reports that Apple has abandoned its efforts to identify child sexual-abuse materials in its devices. According to Stern:

Last year, Apple proposed software for the iPhone that would identify child sexual-abuse material on the iPhone. Apple now says it has stopped development of the system, following criticism from privacy and security researchers who worried that the software could be misused by governments or hackers to gain access to sensitive information on the phone.

Federighi told Stern:

 Child sexual abuse can be headed off before it occurs. That’s where we’re putting our energy going forward.

Apple also told The Wall Street Journal that Advanced Data Protection that allows users to opt into end-to-end encryption of new categories of personal data stored in iCloud, will be launched in the US this year and globally in 2023.

For an explanation of the new security protections announced today, be sure to catch Joanna Stern’s full interview with Craig Federighi.

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AppStories, Episode 308 – Gone but Not Forgotten

This week on AppStories, we explore the Apple apps and features that have disappeared from its platforms in recent years.

Sponsored by:

  • Pillow – Sleeping better, made simple.
  • Kolide – Maintaining endpoint security shouldn’t mean compromising employee privacy. Check out their manifesto: Honest Security.
  • Memberful – Monetize your passion with membership.

On AppStories+, I work on a portable video streaming setup, plus country-ambient music release announcements and other email we contend with.

We deliver AppStories+ to subscribers with bonus content, ad-free, and at a high bitrate early every week.

To learn more about the benefits included with an AppStories+ subscription, visit our Plans page, or read the AppStories+ FAQ.

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Stable Diffusion Optimizations Are Coming to iOS and iPadOS 16.2 and macOS 13.1 Via Core ML

Today, Apple announced on its Machine Learning Research website that iOS and iPadOS 16.2 and macOS 13.1 will gain optimizations to its Core ML framework for Stable Diffusion, the model that powers a wide variety of tools that allow users to do things like generate an image from text prompts and more. The post explains the advantages of running Stable Diffusion locally on Apple silicon devices:

One of the key questions for Stable Diffusion in any app is where the model is running. There are a number of reasons why on-device deployment of Stable Diffusion in an app is preferable to a server-based approach. First, the privacy of the end user is protected because any data the user provided as input to the model stays on the user’s device. Second, after initial download, users don’t require an internet connection to use the model. Finally, locally deploying this model enables developers to reduce or eliminate their server-related costs.

The optimizations to the Core ML framework are designed to simplify the process of incorporating Stable Diffusion into developers’ apps:

Optimizing Core ML for Stable Diffusion and simplifying model conversion makes it easier for developers to incorporate this technology in their apps in a privacy-preserving and economically feasible way, while getting the best performance on Apple Silicon.

The development of Stable Diffusion’s has been rapid since it became publicly available in August. I expect the optimizations to Core ML will only accelerate that trend in the Apple community and have the added benefit to Apple of enticing more developers to try Core ML.

If you want to take a look at the Core ML optimizations, they’re available on GitHub here and include “a Python package for converting Stable Diffusion models from PyTorch to Core ML using diffusers and coremltools, as well as a Swift package to deploy the models.”

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What Wreckfest Tells Us About the Future of iPhone and iPad Gaming

In November, HandyGames released Wreckfest for iPhones and iPads. The demolition racing game was originally released by Bugbear Entertainment on PC in 2018 and the following year on PS4 and Xbox One. Since then, the game has been brought to current-generation consoles, streaming, and now, mobile platforms.

Although Wreckfest is several years old, it’s one of the more demanding console games brought to mobile recently, which makes it a good test for Apple’s latest SoCs. That’s what MrMacRight did on his YouTube channel, testing the game on everything from an original iPhone SE with an A9 chip to a 12.9” iPad Pro with an M2 chip.

There’s a lot of the sort of technical detail in MrMacRight’s video that I love, along with settings recommendations if you want to get the most out of whatever device you’re using to play the game. To me, though, the most interesting part of the video is the point in the Apple silicon lineup where the game’s performance drops off and how the choices the publisher made to bring Wreckfest to mobile affect the game.

The M1 and M2 SoCs handle Wreckfest well, maintaining an almost steady 60fps throughout. The first dip comes when trying to run the game at 60fps on an iPhone 14 Plus with an A15 SoC that ran into thermal throttling issues. Still, with tweaks to the game’s settings, it remains playable on a wide variety of iPhones and iPads thanks to quality reductions of some graphics assets, which also serve to reduce the size of the game and its memory footprint. Those graphical compromises made by HandyGames are understandable but also a bit disappointing for anyone with an M1, M2, or A16 device, which could handle better graphics and textures.

Wreckfest on mobile compromises on some assets to reduce the size and memory footprint of the game.

Wreckfest on mobile compromises on some assets to reduce the size and memory footprint of the game.

Big picture, MrMacRight’s analysis of Wreckfest suggests that we’re still in the early days when it comes to games that approach console quality coming to the iPhone and iPad. Plus, the sheer size of the gaming market that is still on older A-series SoCs means the sweet spot for game development will likely take a few more years before the performance that is possible on M-series and A16-based devices becomes the norm for most mobile gamers. Whether Apple silicon gets to that point before another solution, like game streaming, takes widespread hold, it will likely be one of the most interesting stories to follow in mobile gaming.

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Last.fm Turns 20 – and People Are Still Scrobbling

I enjoyed this story about Last.fm’s 20th (!) anniversary by Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge:

I was a little surprised to see that Last.fm was still around when I first started writing this story, let alone that it had new communities flourishing around its data. (The company didn’t respond to a request for an interview.) But I suppose in a world where most services close off and hide your data, there’ll always be people looking for a way to track it and analyze it themselves. And in exchange, they get the joy of arguing about music stats every day — and not just once a year when Wrapped comes out.

My co-hosts on Connected like to make fun of me for being One of Those People Who Still Scrobbles, but I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve done for my music consumption in the past few years. (That, plus having an offline library with albums I own that I can enjoy with my favorite headphones and amp – which I also scrobble via Roon.) Ever since I started scrobbling again last year thanks to Marvis Pro on iPhone and iPad (and NepTunes on the Mac), I’ve been able to enjoy some fascinating monthly and annual breakdowns of my music listening habits that go much more in depth than Apple Music or Spotify would ever want to.

An example of a monthly Last.fm report.

An example of a monthly Last.fm report.

In Internet years, it’s pretty wild for anything to turn 20 – let alone a service that faces competition from the likes of Apple and Spotify. And yet Last.fm has been able to carve a niche for itself by appealing to people like me, who want to know more about the music they listen to. Maybe it’s a weird thing to say in 2022, but if you listen to a lot of music every day, I can’t recommend dusting off your old Last.fm account enough.

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Rogue Amoeba’s Loopback Was the Key to Creating a Budget 12-Channel Dolby Atmos Surround Sound System

If you’ve ever dug into setting up a surround sound audio system, it gets complicated and expensive fast. But, DMS, a YouTuber who covers headphones and other audio gear, managed to pull off something extraordinary: a 12-speaker Dolby Atmos surround sound speaker setup for under $2,000. The secret sauce? Loopback by Rogue Amoeba.

DMS bought 12 speakers and a bunch of DACs, but immediately had trouble getting the system to decode a Dolby Atmos signal without buying an expensive decoder. Ultimately, the solution was to use Loopback to combine the DACs into one virtual multichannel DAC, a far cheaper solution than trying to handle 12 channels at once.

DMS’s setup has been documented for anyone who wants to try it themselves. What struck me about it is how well Loopback handled an incredibly complex setup and saved DMS thousands of dollars by creating a software version of what otherwise would have required expensive hardware. This is a terrific example of why so many people turn to Rogue Amoeba’s apps when they need to do something with audio on the Mac, whether it’s as simple as recording a live track of their favorite band streaming in Safari, or as complex as a 12-channel Dolby Atomos surround sound system.

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AppStories, Episode 306 – Nerding Out for the Holidays (Part 1)

This week on AppStories, we share the nerdy holiday season projects we’ve lined up in part 1 of a two-part series.

Sponsored by:

  • RevenueCat – Subscription management built for mobile apps.
  • Kolide – Maintaining endpoint security shouldn’t mean compromising employee privacy. Check out their manifesto: Honest Security.

On AppStories+, Federico has questions for me about using Logitech keyboards and mice with a Mac and iPad.

We deliver AppStories+ to subscribers with bonus content, ad-free, and at a high bitrate early every week.

To learn more about the benefits included with an AppStories+ subscription, visit our Plans page, or read the AppStories+ FAQ.

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Apple’s Taken the Joy out of its Books App with iOS 16

I enjoyed this article by Mitchell Clark, writing for The Verge, about the removal of the classic page-turn animation from the redesigned Books app in iOS 16:

Apple Books has been my main reading app for years for one very specific reason: its page-turning animation is far and away the best in the business. Unfortunately, that went away with iOS 16 and has been replaced by a new animation that makes it feel like you’re moving cards through a deck instead of leafing through a digitized version of paper. And despite the fact that I’ve been trying to get used to the change since I got onto the beta in July, I still feel like Apple’s destroyed one of the last ways that my phone brought joy into my life.

I forgot to mention this in the Books section of my iOS 16 review. The Books app received a major redesign this year, and I’ve heard from quite a few people over the past few months about why, for serious readers like them, the new UI layout of the Books app is a regression from iOS 15. All that aside, however, I don’t understand why the page-turn animation – a fun, whimsical aspect of the Books UI that felt uniquely Apple – had to be taken away.

I agree with Mitchell on this: the page-turn animation should come back – if anything, as an optional setting.

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