iOS Accessibility Milestones

The impact of the accessibility features built into iOS cannot be understated. Accessibility has opened doors to computing that were previously shut to many people with disabilities. With iOS 10 launching soon, Steven Aquino takes a look at iOS accessibility milestones in a guest post on 512 Pixels that focuses on five key features: VoiceOver, Guided Access, Large Dynamic Type, Switch Control, and Magnifier.

It feels like VoiceOver has been around forever, so it was interesting to be reminded that it didn’t debut until the introduction of the iPhone 3GS and has its roots in the short-lived buttonless iPod Shuffle. Of the other accessibility feature covered, the one that will probably be the least familiar to most readers is Magnifier, which is coming in iOS 10. Aquino believes that when we look back at iOS 10 in the future, Magnifier will be viewed as one of the greatest enhancements to iOS:

The reason I’m so effusive about Magnifier is the handiness of it. So often, I’m reading a restaurant menu or looking at price tags in the grocery store, and the print in set in small font. Where previously I would strain my eyes in order to see, now all I need to do is pull out my phone and triple-press the Home button to launch Magnifier.

Steven has written a lot about the accessibility of Apple products, including here at MacStories, and does a wonderful job putting each accessibility milestone into historical context. I encourage everyone to read the full article on 512 Pixels.

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Apple Acquires Health Care Start-Up Gliimpse

One of the most interesting quotes from Fast Company’s interview with Tim Cook a couple of weeks ago was his comment about healthcare:

When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.

Today, Fast Company is reporting that Apple has confirmed that it acquired start-up Gliimpse earlier this year. According to Fast Company:

Silicon Valley-based Gliimpse has built a personal health data platform that enables any American to collect, personalize, and share a picture of their health data. The company was started in 2013, and funded by serial entrepreneur Anil Sethi, who has spent the past decade working with health startups, after taking his company Sequoia Software public in 2000. He got his start as a systems engineer at Apple in the late 1980s.

Gliimpse feels like a natural fit with the Health app, HealthKit, ResearchKit, and CareKit, especially considering Apple’s focus on data privacy. It’s still very early days, but between recent keynotes featuring the health-related features of the Apple Watch and acquisitions like this, Apple’s commitment to exploring healthcare opportunities is unmistakable.

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Game Day: Linia

Linia from Black Robot Games is fiendishly difficult, but strangely relaxing in its complexity. The challenge is to draw a straight line through a series of colored shapes that intersects the shapes in the order of the color sequence at the top of the screen. Here's the thing though, the shapes are moving, rotating, shrinking, growing, and changing color all at once. The movement follows a regular pattern, but it gets complicated fast.

Linia is a creature of the post-iOS 7 design aesthetic. Each of its 80 levels is composed of brightly-colored geometric flat shapes. What's ingenious about Linia and makes it particularly difficult is that it requires pattern matching, careful timing, and quick reflexes simultaneously. As you draw a line it appears white but fills in behind where you started in red, which is part of the timing element. You have to lift your finger to commit to your line before it turns completely red. If you wait to long, you'll have to start drawing your line all over, but if you release at the wrong time, you may be unable to hit the right color sequences.

I've played Linia on both my iPhone 6s Plus using my finger and on my 12.9 inch iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil. I give a slight edge to using the Pencil to play Linia on the iPad because you can draw such a precise line, but the difference between playing on the iPad and iPhone was much less than I expected.

The soundtrack that accompanies Linia plays a big role in minimizing the frustration of some of the harder puzzles. There's something inviting about the electronic vibe of the soundtrack that feels like it's encouraging you to stay a while to keep trying to beat even the hardest puzzles.

Black Robot has done a great job bringing something fresh and clever to the crowded puzzle genre on iOS. It's especially impressive given that this is Black Robot's first iOS game. With such a great start, I look forward to seeing what else Black Robot comes up with in the future.

Linia is available on the App Store for $1.99.


Emojis Explained

There's a lot of confusion about what actually constitute emojis, in no small measure due to the term's liberal use by apps like Kimoji. Owen Williams sets the record straight, dropping some emoji knowledge over on Emojipedia. Williams starts with a little history:

The term "emoji" originates from Japan, and it's a generic term there, similar to emoticon in English (though the fact they sound similar is purely coincidental). They started life as a set of pictures out of a research laboratory, and introduced nationwide after DoCoMo i-mode shipped with the first set.

Emoji evolved into the term used to describe the characters approved by the Unicode Consortium that work on any device. As Williams explains:

Put simply: [an emoji is] actually a universal code set that translates from machine speak into the pictures you see when you send a 🙃 to your friends and they know what you're talking about.

What's cool about emoji is that they work like a letter of the alphabet. Sending an emoji doesn't send an image, just the code, which each device translates into the corresponding image.

As Williams explains, Kimoji aren't emoji at all, they're image-based stickers wrapped in a custom iOS keyboard app. Twitter hashflags are also custom images that are even more restrictive because they only work on Twitter.

With iOS 10's adoption of sticker packs in Messages, the distinction between emojis and stickers is likely to get even blurrier, but remember emoji are free, built-in, and cross-platform, which makes them the most flexible way to express yourself to your friends.

(Image by Emojipedia.org).

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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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Faster RSS Subscribing with Feed Hawk

Sometimes a simple, single-purpose utility makes all the difference. Feed Hawk by John Brayton of Golden Hill Software is exactly that type of app. The app’s functionality is encapsulated in a share extension that makes it easier to subscribe to RSS news feeds in several major RSS services, including:

  • BazQux Reader,
  • Feed Wrangler,
  • Feedbin,
  • FeedHQ,
  • Inoreader,
  • Minimal Reader,
  • NewsBlur, and
  • The Old Reader.

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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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Apple Announces Environmental Progress in China

Apple made two announcements about its environmental initiatives in China today. First, it announced that Lens Technology, which produces glass for Apple, has committed to using 100% renewable energy for all of its Apple operations by the end of 2018. Lens, which is the first Apple supplier to commit to using fully-renewable energy sources, has entered into agreements with local wind energy suppliers to fulfill its commitment.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, said:

We want to show the world that you can manufacture responsibly and we’re working alongside our suppliers to help them lower their environmental impact in China. We congratulate Lens for their bold step, and hope by sharing the lessons we’ve learned in our transition to renewable energy, our suppliers will continue to access clean power projects, moving China closer to its green manufacturing goals.

Second, Apple announced that all of its fourteen final assembly sites in China comply with UL’s Zero Waste to Landfill standard, which “certifies all of their manufacturing waste is reused, recycled, composted, or, when necessary, converted into energy.” Foxconn met the Zero Waste to Landfill standard earlier this year at two of its assembly sites. Twelve other sites were added more recently.


Google Duo Launches

At Google I/O in May, two related mobile products were announced – Duo, a FaceTime-like video calling app, and Allo, an instant messaging client. Earlier today, Google began rolling out Duo worldwide to iOS and Android users. Duo is available in the US App Store now and, according to Google's blog, will appear in other countries over the next few days. I've only just begun to try Google Duo, but it seems to fulfill the promises made onstage at Google I/O, though with a few launch-day hiccups.

Duo is limited to one-to-one calling and is tied to your phone number. As a result, unlike FaceTime, you won't be able to use Duo on anything but your phone. However, because Duo is on iOS and Android, you will be able to make calls to people on both platforms.

Setting up Google Duo.

Setting up Google Duo.

Duo is extremely easy to set up and start using - all you have to do is verify your phone number and grant the app access to your contacts and camera. The app starts with a live view from the front facing camera. There’s a button to start a call and another that shows your most recently called contact. Settings are available from the familiar three dots in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Google says that video quality will adjust automatically based on the quality of your network connection.

The most unique feature of Duo is ‘Knock Knock,’ which displays your video stream to the recipient of your call as it rings on their end. In my brief tests, Knock Knock worked as advertised, but if you don’t like it, the feature can be turned off in settings.

I have only used Duo a couple of times. It worked as advertised on strong WiFi, but my subsequent attempts to make calls have failed, probably because the rest of the world is simultaneously trying Duo too. Given Google's infrastructure, I expect connection issues should settle down over time.

Google Duo is available on the App Store as a free download.

You can watch Google’s promotional video after the break.

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