eXtensions - Sunday 29 August 2021


Sunday Notes: Product Expectations; Apple, Security and the App Store; Copyright the Moon

By Graham K. Rogers


Speculation on upcoming Apple announcements. Security and child protection is a nest of thorns. Expected app store changes following a legal compromise. Some online sources are shocked that Tim Cook will receive $750 million in shares after 10 years at the helm: it was a good investment. A photographer found his Facebook video posting blocked because a large organization claimed copyright of the moon.

As we approach the potential release of the iPhone and other devices from Apple, speculation is mounting. In the last few days I saw one rumor that put the announcement of the iPhone 13 at 17 September which sounds about right, while another puts it a week later at 24 September. That is a good day for deliveries to start, but I prefer the 17th partly because of the chain of events that may follow. The iPhone release is usually initially to a top 10 or 15 countries, including USA, UK, China, Japan, Singapore and certain European countries, with maybe a couple of outliers added on.

When the products go on sale a week later, the next round of countries is usually announced. Thailand is usually in the third round, which gives a mid-October date for deliveries although this has been up to the end of October in the past. In the meantime other products are expected to be announced with a new iPad mini highly favored in the rumors lineup as well as a selection of Macs, with specifications depending on which rumor you read. One of the oddest of these concerned a new 16" MacBook Pro, purportedly with an M1X processor that would not outperform the upcoming 14" model (as reported by Christian Zibreg, iDownload Blog and others).

With the same processor, if the M1X is the true designation, there will of course be similar specifications, but the MacBook Air does not perform the same as my MacBook Pro, which in turn does not have the same performance as my iPad Pro, all of which run the M1 chip. Also in that article we are told that the "Apple M1X will be upgraded to a 12-core CPU and a 16-core or 32-core GPU" which sounds probable, but whether one will be throttled or there are other differences is unknown. Other related speculation concerns the return of the SD card slot which does little for me as I (and other camera users) have moved on to the XQD card (and more), while we are also expected to see the end of the Touch Bar, which I will miss.

M1 chip
The M1 chip: what comes next - Image courtesy of Apple

The current M1 Macs are running processors that were created with the 5nm process, there has been much investment, particularly by TSMC in more refined 3nm chips, although, along with a lot of chip production currently, the company has announced that there is expected to be a delay in their rollout. Arne Verheyde (Seeking Alpha). Delayed or reduced production of chips may have an effect on the prices of new iPhones and perhaps Macs too.

A number of Big Tech CEOs met with President Biden recently, among them Tim Cook. One of the main concerns is cybersecurity, particularly after the recent attacks, some of which included ransomware demands. The risks to infrastructure and to individuals' health in some cases needs a concerted and perhaps joint effort from all those involved. Apple has committed to strengthening the infrastructure in the supply chain Filipe Espósito reports (9to5Mac). Other CEOs made similar promises. It may well be that during the discussions with the president, other items related to security were aired. Apple's main concern in the last few weeks has been the identification of child abuse images, but this has opened something of a hornet's nest that seems to have caught Cupertino by surprise.

While a lot of the more strident comments on the images and Apple's apparent disregard for privacy - which Apple strongly denies - have subsided, there are still one or two significant commentators making noises. This will probably all flare up again when (or if) Apple makes the system go live with the release of iOS 15. It will only affect users in America and then only if they are using iCloud Photos.

Photos library

It is not simply that images are to be examined, which is already being done by other social networking sites, for example Facebook, but that Apple has tried to automate the process allegedly for simplicity and to reduce human involvement. The process of examining images on the iPhone before upload to iCloud, by means of a hash number that links to a database of known abuse images, sounds alright, until it is pointed out that this could be used to also identify other types of images: and there goes Apple's claims to superior privacy that it has fought so hard for.

In a newsletter last week, Edward Snowden writes scathingly of what Apple has planned with CSAM detection. It is clear that, while Apple may believe that this is as far as it goes, Snowden writes that whatever Apple may promise (or hope) there is no way to trust politicians. What they say now and what they come up with next month may well differ: a week in politics is a long time.

The only partial hope that Snowden holds out, which others have mentioned, is that this is part of a longer term strategy to switch over "to end-to-end encryption for everything its customers store on iCloud". As he notes, however, Apple backed away from this a while back under pressure from the FBI. Snowden explains how this all might work, but is depressingly less hopeful on Apple ever carrying this out. I would recommend subscribing to this newsletter.

On a related note, there has been some criticism of Apple concerning the ways in which young people can gain access to certain grown-up apps, including BDSM related content. Alex Herb (The Guardian) explains how, even though Apple knows the age of the users involved, the sign in processes for some of the apps are outsourced and "reveals major holes in the App Store's child safety measures". Although the article initially outlines the BDSM apps, there is a wider series of sex-related apps that younger people can also sign into fairly easily. These include "adult apps that offer dating, random chats, casual sex and gambling".

There are expected to be several changes to the App Store following a settlement in a court case that took Apple to task over the way it polices the distributor fees and the 30% charge it levies. The charge was decided when the App Store first appeared in 2008 providing a complete ecosystem for app delivery to iPhone users. This expanded to include the iPad system with the different needs that this device allowed.

Apple App Store As iOS (later iPadOS) developed, so more features (by way of APIs) were available with the numbers of apps, and developers, expanding far beyond what Apple had ever expected. While that 30% was reasonable for the zeitgeist of 2008, the ways in which users, developers, apps and risks have changed suggests that some flexibility is needed. Apple did make some changes to subscription levies a while back, but has been under considerable pressure from politicians worldwide and from litigation.

With court approval pending, Apple has agreed to make several changes to the ways in which the App Store is run and these are outlined by Evan Selleck (iDownloadblog). Some of the changes are far reaching and this is quite a significant move. Selleck writes about the seven key priorities that Apple has come up with after some extensive discussion.

One of the seven in the list covers a point that has irked developers for a while and Apple will allow developers to share information about payment methods outside of their iOS app. There will also be an improved process to appeal against rejection of an app. Apple is being realistic here and in part is making an effort to end off the inevitable legislation that has been heading its way for months. Whether or not there will be other app stores on iOS and Android is a matter for the legislators.

money While we are on money, there was some shock expressed this week over Tim Cook's remuneration. When he took over as CEO he negotiated a contract with the Board that gave him certain benefits if he stayed for 10 years. A company needs stability and as many note, in the time he has been in the position, Apple has grown quite considerably. As many never fail to mention, some of the seeds of that growth were planted by Steve Jobs, but the ways in which Cook took the reins and grew the company far outpaced what Jobs had begun.

This week he will be eligible for a stock payout of around $750 million, which seems to be some sort of scandal in the minds of some commentators. Bloomberg for example (reported by Joe Wituschek, iMore), describes the payment as a "haul", giving it a negative connotation. They seem to let payments to other CEOs pass without such implied criticism. Cook is expected to give most of it away.

There were reports earlier in the week that a plane had to be evacuated in Alaska after a mobile phone started smoking and burst into flames. At that time there were no reports of the brand, so I guessed (rightly) that it was not an iPhone. A couple of things unrelated to brand did disturb me, as it was clear that the phone had been turned on, despite regulations that warn against this. I remember taking a trip from Singapore to Bangkok a few years ago when many of the passengers were still making phone calls while the plane was accelerating down the runway. As soon as the plane touched down again, out came the phones. As this phone, which turns out to have been a Samsung Galaxy 21 started to overheat after it was turned on, the battery becomes an immediate suspect as has been the case before. There are some good general comments in an article on Mashable (Alex Perry).

When a new iPhone arrives in its packaging, it is sealed in a box and positioned on a raised cardboard area in an effort to isolate the LI-ion battery in case anything goes wrong in transit. Apple ships thousands of phones on one plane like this. An effect from the risk is that it is sometimes difficult to have these batteries shipped. I bought a couple of dozen LR44 batteries recently from Amazon. These are the type used in calculators and some watches. A lot of film cameras use these too and I just used my last one when my Nikon F3 went dead (I think I left it turned on). With the shops closed here, there was little chance of finding one locally, so I went online. With the price on Amazon, compared to the prices I paid for these locally, the two dozen purchase was only slightly more than my usual price for two batteries.

LR44 batteries

A few years ago I loaded up some of my student video output to my YouTube account, but not too long after there were take down notices. The students had added soundtrack using music they linked and these sample were copyright. I deleted the offending clips right away. The Thai composer, SP Somtow, puts his performances online, but has had several similar take-down notices as they are identified (wrongly) as being from other performances. He has had some long and frustrating fights dealing with the online automatons. This week, Michael Zhang (PetaPixel) reports that a photographer, who posted a video he had taken of the moon to social networking sites, was peeved to find his video removed after a takedown notice after a copyright infringement claim by Universal Music Group: his "video matches 30 seconds of video owned by UMG".

He of course appealed, but UMG have time on their side and they do not need to respond until 28 August. If I take a photograph of the moon, I own the copyright of that photo and in the same way, Philip Bloom owns the copyright of the video he posted to Facebook. Universal Music Group cannot copyright the Moon, but may need to invest in some better algorithms.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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