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balancing software engineering & infosec

Thoughts on Apples Time Flies event

posted on Thursday 17th of September 2020 in , ,

Let me start with saying that I did not expect much from the event and only followed it via MacRumors.com live feed. And as it turns out I was right. Not because it was a bad event or that there were no announcements, just nothing I expected to be particularly excited about. Yet a few things actually caught my eye.

I will not spend a lot of time on the Apple Watch. More health. Watch faces. The interesting part was that Apple discontinues the ceramic version. When the first version was released there was a stupidly dragged out discussion about the gold version. Which was a nice and well-working marketing stunt back then. But all other premium models did not see the same hype and from what I have heard did not sell that well. Apple and other companies trained their consumers well on thinking they need to update every year (or every other year). And the more frequent you know you will be updating, the less likely most people are to spend a significant premium. It also shows a big difference I always pointed out since the first Watch was released. This is not a watch. It is a fitness tracker. A small phone. A music player. It displays the time, but essentially it is an extension of your phone. An actual watch actually worth spending the amount of money for that Apple wants to charge for their premium version is hand made and can be passed down to your kids.

The new iPad Air is nice and I appreciate Apple putting a TouchID sensor back in. Not because I dislike FaceID, but considering we all will be wearing masks for a long time and that the form factor of the sensor will allow them to ship it in an iPhone will make day to day life easier.

What really excites me is the iPad. An A12 chip, keyboard and pencil support? And with an educational discount $299? This is what I would buy for my kids. Nothing on the market comes close to the value for the price. We can obviously have the usual discussion around closed ecosystems and kids not learning to compile their own kernel, but the outcome will be the same as for the last ten years.

One nice update I feel like pointing out is AppleCare+ now covering 2 accidental damage incidents every 12 month. This just makes it more of a „do not ask, just click the button“ type of purchase for basically any device.

Apple One and Apple Fitness+ are a nice addition to the subscription offering. One makes a lot of sense if you go all in on Apples ecosystem and if you are already on the storage plan and maybe one or two services you will likely be able to safe some money or get other services „for free“. The Premier plan will not be available in Germany as we do not have News or Fitness+, so I am not sure if it will be worth going for the mid tier and paying for the 2TB storage separately. Fitness+ seems like the natural evolution of Apples focus on health and it if the content is well curated it will enable people to train from home with proper directions and without bro-science. (Looking at you YouTube…)

What I did not expect was actually seeing something announced that I will be excited enough about to place an order. Well, I was wrong.

The Solo Loop looks like a great idea for two reasons. When working out I usually wear my watch around the mid section of my arm, as I often wear weight lifting gloves. Regular sport bands are not wide enough for fit comfortably, so this is always a hassle. The other reason is wearing the Watch during the day. I type a lot. And I cannot stand a regular watch band, something about the feeling of it between my wrist and the desk is just off-putting. I do not have this problem with a regular wristband. Curious to see if this means I will be wearing my Watch at home as well.

Apple delays Anti-Ad-Tracking feature

posted on Friday 11th of September 2020 in ,

One of the features I was looking forward to with iOS 14 was Apple taking a hard stance on ad targeting and enabling consumers to get some more control over what they will be exposed to and how their data will be handled. Sadly Apple will be delaying the feature. Ignoring the delay, this feature seems to work as advertised and I am really excited when it becomes available.

Facebook and other advertisers expect that customers will not want to share their IDFA’s for ad targeting purposes and will therefore decline consent for the ad blocking popups that Apple has implemented in ‌iOS 14‌.

It nearly is like people do not want to see targeted ads, have their data collected or be constantly be confronted with advertisement.

Mobile developers that spoke to The Information said that they’ve had little time to prepare for Apple’s change, which was announced in June alongside ‌iOS 14‌. Apple has also not provided a way for them to target ads without using the IDFA.

So the feature is indeed working as intended. This makes me even more sad that it is delayed. It looks like we finally have technical means to do something about the mess we are in. And the only parties profiting off of it are getting really nervous.

What is actually a bit stunning is the fact that advertisers act as they have a right to track people however they want and without consent. It speaks to the whole industry and how they perceive their target audience.

One thing I have often not seen being discussed are the long term implications of this. With ad revenue potentially dropping for all parties new monetization models are needed. Someone has to pay the bills and keep the lights on. Hopefully we go back to an old model, namely developers charging an appropriate amount of money. I am a bit worried that the same people celebrating the anti-ad-tracking feature are the same that believe apps can be developed sustainably for a one time $5 payment.

I could see a hybrid model work well. You either see targeted ads and are tracked across the app or a pay for a subscription. An appropriate one time payment might also work, but considering that the cost of software is not well understood right now this might turn out to not work that well. Find a model which gives people the choice how they want to pay. Including proper education what the implications of both payment options are.

Thoughts On Facebook, Oculus and GDPR

posted on Monday 7th of September 2020 in ,

Facebook decided it is time to force themselves on Oculus users. This is something that was predicted when FB bought Oculus, but fans believed in the promise that Oculus will stay independent. Guess what is next – ads. I am still waiting for an explanation why I need social features when wearing my VR headset playing Skyrim. One of the appeals of single player games is kicking back and enjoying a game. No competition, no other people, some peace and quite while enjoying a great story. „Social features“ are literally the last thing I want anywhere near my games, VR or not. Even in multiplayer games I prefer them to be optional. Funnily, it is also one of the rare occasions in which GDPR is actually used for what it was created – to stop tech giants from behaving customer hostile.

In the wake of this, I hope that people realize (and internalize) who is building or owning the hardware they use – as this is directly tied to the long term viability of a platform.

If you buy a Vive or any other headset from a company specializing in building VR headsets or running a gaming platform it is fair to assume that their long term goal is to make you game more. It is their business. But if you buy an Oculus you are buying from a company whose business it is to show you ads and sell your data.

The same is true for any other hardware you buy. If you buy an iPhone, Apple is obviously interested in selling you other Apple products and services. They are in the hardware and software business. If you buy a Samsung phone they are interested in selling you a new phone each year, they are in the phone business. If you happen to buy one from Google, well, they are not interested in you or the product. They just continue to ignore your existence either way.

Facebook forcing itself onto Oculus users was foreseeable, even during the time of the acquisition. I am actually surprised it took so long. Hopefully it will serve as a lesson and people start paying more attention to the manufacturer and owner of things they buy, and the potential consequences attached to that. The outrage of FB being FB seems to indicate people care and disagree with this move, now they have to start voting with their wallet.

Dockers Subscription Plans

posted on Tuesday 25th of August 2020 in ,

Docker will soon be a subscription based service if you want to pull more than 100 images per six hours. There is obviously some outrage as the service was free so far… well, guess what the easiest way to grow a service is and what a not sustainable business model looks like. But their plans are reasonable. Once you authenticate you double your quota.

And beyond that it is $5 per month for unlimited pulls or $7 per user for an organization. In my opinion this is still more than reasonable and to actually hit the quota you will either run something at scale or did not spend time to understand how your CI works. In both cases it seems more than reasonable to pay a few dollar to keep the lights on.

Another option is hosting a registry yourself and configure it as cache. This will likely not be significantly cheaper than paying Docker, but it gives you the option to have some control over what is going into your final image.

This change also speaks to the way people started using a free service – you just pull and pull and pull. There are no limits. One image requiring ten to be built? Sure. Running CI at scale? Who needs caching, someone else is already paying to keep the infrastructure online, right?

I like Docker finally charging users properly. There are so many individuals and organizations relying on Docker these days that they need a sustainable business model. And charging customers is not only okay, but to be encouraged over the alternatives to monetize a free service. Sure, there will always be edge cases where the five dollars are a problem. But at scale this is the only way to reliably run an company providing a service that is integral for so many companies and products.

Thoughts on the Disney+ Mulan digital release

posted on Saturday 22nd of August 2020 in ,

Mulan will see an early digital release on Disney+. Considering all that is going on right now this is not really a surprise to me. What I find more curious is that so few movies were released digitally so far. Sure, you lose out in the box office, but considering people are sitting at home, with a lot of time looking for something to distract them I am not sure that would have been a big loss. Disney decided that you will have to pay $30 for early access to the movie before it becomes part of the monthly subscription offering.

I still believe the current trend of forcing people into multiple subscriptions will give large scale piracy a revival. And I am also still convinced that splitting platforms is a customer hostile behaviour. Yet all of them who did it, be it gaming or movies, got away with it so far and seem to be doing just fine. So the market spoke. And while I am not yet a Disney+ customer their offering seems appealing.

I have seen some people complain that you have to maintain your subscription to be allowed to pay $30 for the movie. Well, it is a subscription based platform and you are paying for premium access. As someone who grew up with Premiere, later acquired by Sky, and had to pay for blockbusters before they became part of your regular program this seems like a pretty normal thing. But I can also see why people who believe content costs $2 and professional grade software a maximum of $5.99 in an App Store would consider this a rip-off.

My biggest wish would be more publishers doing exactly this. Charge me a premium between $20 and $40 and let me watch the movie at home when it is officially released in my country. I would not go so far and ask for a world wide release on the same date (this seems to be too confusing for movie studios). But simply no more extra waiting time while the movie is running exclusively in cinemas. The moment we get that the price is more than okay to me.

If I do not want to wait 6 month to see a movie – and the amount of movies I am not willing to wait for is declining – I have to drive 25 to 45 minutes to a theatre. Often I have to pay for parking. Now add two tickets. Or make it two really expensive ones ($34 per ticket) if you want to sit comfortably and shielded from the noise and smartphone screens of the rest of the audience. If my wife fancies it add popcorn or a drink as bringing your own water bottle is even more problematic than forgetting to empty it before a checkpoint at an airport.

Watching a movie in a cinema is way more expensive than $20 to $40 (at least if you assume an audience of >1). It is less comfortable. The snacks suck. And our home cinema is better than some of the theatres around here. I would see same day or early digital releases as an absolute win and would most likely watch far more movies at home than I do right now.