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Connected, Episode 235: Stephen’s Hellish Nightmare of Dates

The boys take some time to mark National Ravioli Day, then dive into Apple's new iPads and iMacs before making predictions for the company's upcoming media event.

On this week's episode of Connected, we share our predictions for next week's Apple event – with a special twist that involves our future WWDC predictions. You can listen here.

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A Peek Inside Apple’s Music Apps Studio

In celebration of Garageband's 15th anniversary this year, Rolling Stone was granted special access to the studio where Apple's music apps come to life. If I had one major takeaway from the article, it would be that the amount of thought and effort Apple's team expends in Garageband's development is remarkable. Rolling Stone's Amy Wang writes:

In the first media visit Apple has ever allowed to its under-the-radar Music Apps studio, the team of engineers showed Rolling Stone how the creation process for Garageband’s two types of sounds — synthetic and “real” — can span weeks or sometimes months per instrument, with new hurdles at every turn. Synthesized sounds (i.e. the type of obviously artificial notes often heard in EDM) are made from code and tweaked by code; “real” sounds have to be recorded in a drop-dead-silent studio setting, dozens of times, then pieced together like patchwork to form single perfect notes, one by one.

Some instruments are extra excruciating. In the digital reproduction of an American upright bass, a player in the studio plucks a string, holds his breath for seven seconds to ensure there’s no extra noise on the recording whatsoever as the note shivers into the air (engineers have custom-coded an app to time the duration precisely), and repeats the endeavor at different finger positions, volumes and pressures, day in and day out. After wheeling each of the cavalcade of instruments out of the studio, the team pores over the hundreds of recordings to pick out the best. When adding a suite of East Asian instruments in a recent product update, the engineers consulted with designers across the world to pick out the specific color of wood and font of a poem that would make a Chinese guzheng appear the most authentic. Engineers also constantly browse music-making forums for complaints, suggestions and thoughts on what to tweak next.

Garageband's continued development over such a long period of time is a testament to music's importance to Apple, a point that's reinforced several times in the full article.

Besides highlighting the work that goes into making Garageband a better tool for creators, one other interesting tidbit from the article involves Apple's future direction for the app:

“Without getting into specifics, I think machine learning — as in, systems and software that will enable more ability to help anticipate what someone wants to do — will be of value,” [Phil] Schiller says about what’s in the works.

Perhaps before the year's out we'll see the fruits of Apple's efforts to apply machine learning to music creation.

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Phil Schiller Interviewed on ATP

Apple's Phil Schiller was a guest on the latest episode of ATP. I listened to the interview this morning, and I think Marco, Casey, and John did an excellent job in getting Schiller's perspective on how Apple approaches WWDC, the relationship with indie developers and bigger companies, and more. I strongly disagree with Schiller's thoughts on the ideal box lunch, but it's a fantastic interview and you should listen here.

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Apple Illustrates iPhone Privacy with Real-World Analogs

Finding a way to convey the benefits of privacy isn’t easy, which is why I like Apple’s ‘Privacy on iPhone – Private Side’ video so much.

The video, which runs under a minute, opens with images of several ‘No Trespassing,’ ‘Keep Out,’ ‘Beware of Dog,’ and other signs. In a series of quick cuts, the video shows two people who pause an intense conversation when interrupted by a waiter as well as people locking file cabinets, closing blinds, locking doors, shredding documents, and more. Near the end, a woman rolls up the window of a car when she sees someone nearby watching her put on makeup.

As Apple’s description of the YouTube video says:

Your privacy matters. From encrypting your iMessage conversations, or not keeping a history of your routes in Maps, to limiting tracking across sites with Safari. iPhone is designed to protect your information.

Every clip of the video, which adds a bit of levity to an otherwise serious topic, reinforces the closing message that ‘If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.’

The video is an effective rebuttal of the ‘I have nothing to hide’ argument against privacy. Even the mundane aspects of day-to-day life aren’t something that you necessarily want to broadcast to the world, which this video is very effective in conveying.

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Connected, Episode 234: Photo Manage Spotify Out of Existence

Stephen introduces his co-hosts to a groundbreaking iPad drawing application, Federico starts a new mini-series and Myke buries the lede concerning Spotify.

On this week's episode of Connected, we started a new mini-series about improvements we'd like to see in Apple services, starting with Apple Music. You can listen here.

Also, do not miss our new merch, available here for a limited time.

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Spotify Files Complaint Against Apple with the European Commission

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, writing on recent actions the company has taken against Apple:

Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission (EC), the regulatory body responsible for keeping competition fair and nondiscriminatory. In recent years, Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience—essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition.
[...]
What we are asking for is the following:

  • First, apps should be able to compete fairly on the merits, and not based on who owns the App Store. We should all be subject to the same fair set of rules and restrictions—including Apple Music.
  • Second, consumers should have a real choice of payment systems, and not be “locked in” or forced to use systems with discriminatory tariffs such as Apple’s.
  • Finally, app stores should not be allowed to control the communications between services and users, including placing unfair restrictions on marketing and promotions that benefit consumers.

In addition to Ek's note, Spotify has also launched a website, TimeToPlayFair.com, that outlines in greater detail its grievances against Apple. The site contains a timeline documenting Spotify's working relationship with Apple, highlighting things such as Spotify's inability to integrate with Siri, the long delay before they could offer an Apple Watch app, and Apple's frequent App Store rejections when Spotify added language promoting its Premium service. The full timeline can be viewed here.

Spotify's aim is to promote a level playing field between Apple's apps and services and those of third parties. One example Spotify highlights at several points in its timeline is that they were unable to create an Apple Watch app until after watchOS 5 launched. Apple Music has been on the Watch for years, so there's clearly a disadvantage to Spotify there – however, that disadvantage was due to the limitations of OS-level APIs provided to all third-party developers, not just those who compete with Apple services.

watchOS is still a relatively young platform. At what point should Apple be forced to prioritize development of frameworks that better equip third-party services to exist on its platform rather than developing other important enhancements to its software? These complexities are going to make it very interesting to see how the European Commission views this case.

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Niantic Previews Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the Studio’s Follow-Up to Pokémon GO

Later this year the team at Niantic will launch a new game based on a very popular IP: Harry Potter. The game's full title is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and it will come to both iOS and Android as an AR-centered gaming experience in the vein of Pokémon GO, Niantic's biggest hit.

Today Nick Statt of The Verge published his impressions of Wizards Unite following a preview Niantic hosted recently. Statt writes:

The core activity in Wizards Unite involves collecting a mix of artifacts and sometimes saving notable characters from the series who are stuck in a bad situation, like the titular Harry being pinned down by a spooky dementor. From there, you play a little tracing mini-game, to evoke the casting of a spell and then collect the item or free your friend. Afterward, you’re able to add that item or character to your collections book, earn experience points, and level up.
[...]
Beyond traversing the map, collecting those artifacts, and visiting inns to eat food, players of Wizards Unite will have a few more advanced activities to keep them busy. Those include leveling up your character, picking a subclass (called a “profession”) to learn new abilities, and then teaming up with up to five other players to compete in a fortress (what Niantic has designed to be this game’s version of gym battles from Pokémon Go). These team challenges feel like a cross between a traditional strategy game and something similar to Nintendo’s Fire Emblem, where one-on-one battles take place simultaneously after players select an enemy from a top-down map.

Based on Statt's article, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is going to have a lot more depth and complexity to it than Pokémon GO, which I'm excited about. Pokémon GO has scaled over time to become more of a gamer's game than it used to be, but with Wizards Unite it sounds like that added depth will be there from the start for those who want it.

There's still no firm release date available for Wizards Unite, but a 2019 launch is confirmed.

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