eXtensions - Wednesday 25 October 2017


eXtensions - The Wednesday File (28): Complying with Laws; Disaster Looming or Averted; Necessary Updates

By Graham K. Rogers


Several months after Tim Cook received a freedom award, and several months after Apple removed VPN app from the App Store in China, Senators are up in arms, perhaps more concerned about their own PR. Rumours have Apple failing on all fronts again, just in time for the quarterly results, although the cavalry are on the way.

Apple was criticised by a Senate committee and its members last week when - months after the event - they sent a letter demanding to know why it removed VPN apps from the Chinese App Store. This was covered in several outlets but the comments of Steven Sande on AppleWorld Today will do to give an outline, although his opening salvo on hypocrisy should be put into context. A Google search will find several other articles that also look at this removal.

Wednesday28 Apple had accepted a free speech award at Newseum's 2017 Free Expression Awards, but then, Senators Leahy and Cruz complain, that Apple is guilty of hypocrisy by removing VPN apps from the Chinese Apple store. By doing this, the corporation "may be enabling the Chinese government's censorship and surveillance of the Internet".

Of course it is: that is one purpose of VPN apps and the Chinese do not want any of their citizens to have the free access that we (allegedly) have. With the amount of surveillance carried out by US and UK authorities (to name two), that inclusion of "surveillance" in the letter is a bit rich, but let that ride for the moment. Cruz is also not known for total transparency, but we can let that ride for now too.

In any country, including where I am, distributors of software and services are bound by the laws of that country - including the USA - and if a country applies restrictions, any company had better comply or run the risk of losing its ability to sell, or have its staff arrested. So calling Apple out on this veers in the direction of grandstanding, which so many politicians seem to favour.

As Sande includes in his text that Apple notified developers "apps were removed because they included "content that is illegal" in mainland China" does this really look as if Apple had any flexibility or choice in the matter? A copy of the letter is included in a TechCrunch item (Jon Russell) that was put online in July when this first occurred, so those Senators were not exactly rushing to query this. Perhaps they reacted more to Al Franken's letter to Apple on FaceID. Russell comments that the Chinese change in Internet access law "appears to be why Apple was forced to remove" such apps: clearly suggesting that there was no choice here.

Note also that the 2017 Free Expression Awards were April 18, 2017, a full three months before the Chinese government demanded the VPN apps were removed, and Cook was nominated for his continuous championing of free speech, which includes not kow-towing to the US authorities when they illegally demand iPhones are unlocked. When law enforcement obtains a legal warrant, Apple complies. It took me 30 seconds to find the Russell article (and others) and the link to the Free Expression Awards site to confirm the dates in both cases. Steven Sande (as well as Messrs. Leahy & Cruz) could easily have confirmed the dates. And the facts.

Calling Apple out for hypocrisy on this is hypocritical in itself. Does anyone remember what happened to Facebook in China? And also remember that the Google Play store is not available in China, so access to Android apps is even more tightly controlled through the local online sources. This is really an old story that has been given new life by the granstanding senators. Tim Cook explained this when it first came to light and (as per my comments above), "said the company was simply following new government regulations, as it would for any country in which it operates" (Mikey Campbell, AppleInsider).

Wednesday28 While we are on double-talk, the FAA seems to have done an about-face with new comments on packing laptops for flights. You may remember a few months ago the insistence that US authorities had for users on some flights from the Gulf states particularly, to pack laptops and tablet computers in luggage rather than have them in the cabin. A credible threat was cited: such devices might have explosive packed in them and prove a risk. We are just expected to accept that the law enforcement agencies know best and comply with their latest silliness.

As it was pointed out at the time, putting Li-ion batteries in unsupervised luggage containers (these are like large aluminium boxes on wheels) then putting these in the hold would be a bigger risk if one of these devices was not shut down properly or had an unstable battery, which could cause a fire. That could spread to other devices and no one would know, perhaps until it was too late.

Now, the Detroit Press (Joan Lowy, AP) reports that the "U.S. government is urging the world airline community to ban large, personal electronic devices like laptops from checked luggage because of the potential for a catastrophic fire." It was the US authorities that insisted on the cabin ban in the first place (Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY - and many others).

Well, here we are again: just on the downhill run to the next quarterly results and the doom and gloom rumours have started. The pundits have had it easy this time with the iPhone 8, expected (they say) to lose sales against the iPhone X, and the rumours from the supply chain that the iPhone X will be in short supply.

One of the reasons that is also put forward is that the iPhone 7 is still selling in good numbers, although if that is the case, then an iPhone is an iPhone is an iPhone and Apple is still making money hand over fist. So with the real buying season about to begin (Thanksgiving, New year) and this quarter having only just released the iPhone 8 in some markets, the trolls of Wall Street are already talking the shares down.

Wednesday28 The FY17 Fourth Quarter Results are out on 2 November at 14:00 Cupertino time, which is about 4am here. There will be an audio webcast of the proceedings, but Apple leaves that online for a week or two, so I will listen when I get up; and I will also read the press release which should be in my mailbox by breakfast time.

Actually, the fall that Apple was experiencing was apparently so bad that, at the end of last week, Joe Ciolli (Business Insider) blamed Apple for a slide in both the S&P 500 and NASDAQ. As I was putting the finishing touches to this on Tuesday evening, AAPL shares were among the highest risers of the day, with a report on Market Insider (CNBC) including the point that initial shipments of the iPhone X will only be 20 million units which they put as half the original estimates, but considerably higher than the 2-3 million other sources had suggested only last week.

By the end of the week, other reports had begun to appear (as magically they always do) that averted the major crash that was on its way and there was a little more perspective. A fairly balanced look at what Apple is experiencing with the two phones and supply chain constraints, came from Dimitra DeFotis (Barrons) who was not overly worried about delays or the iPhone 8. As it appears, and users experience the device, the critics alarms are dismissed (as always) and people actually like what they have in their hands.

In the meantime, online commentators who are actually paid for making such stuff up, are now referring to the iPhone 8 as "an S year" as if those devices were somehow inferior. All had faster chips and better cameras along with other enhancements, but these are ignored, in the same way that the A11 chip was said to be no improvement over the A10 by more than one writer,

An objective report on supply chain came from Tim Culpan on Bloomberg, who is not so sure that Apple is seeing a temporary problem and sees this as due to the decision to switch to OLED for displays; but does expect things to return to normal.

Late Tuesday I saw a report that followed an interview with Tim Cook who had claimed that the iPhone X will be available for walk-in customers. As Joe Rossignol (MacRumours) reports that the release is to be in 55 countries (and these are listed in the article) on 3 November, that suggests more phones may be available than the rumours would have us believe. I can hardly wait for the Q1 2018 financial report. This quarter may also have a surprise as - again, despite rumours - there are reports that the iPhone 8 is the largest seller in September, with a 26.1% share and Samsung second with 21% (Patently Apple)

Another report (Killian Bell, Cult of Mac) told us that COO Jeff Williams was headed for a chat with Terry Gou, Foxconn head about the iPhone X mainly, but I am sure other ideas will be broached. It does look as if there are 2-3 million units available at the release of the iPhone X, these will be spread thinly, and as I discovered this weekend, none are likely to be available here.

The iPhone 8 should be released in Thailand at the beginning of December, but this is not an important market - I usually think of this as being 3rd (or even 4th) tier; and Malaysia already knows the price of the iPhone X, if not the release date. We don't even know the price of the iPhone 8 yet.

I was less than happy with one of my favourite developers this weekend. I tend to use Apple's Photos a lot, especially now that extensions allow me to access certain applications directly. A couple of these are misbehaving with HEIC images that are synchronised to the Mac from the iPhone. There is always some overlap, but I needed to make sure. I wrote email to Macphun whose Luminar was missing a beat here (Tonality and Intensify are fine) and had an automated reply, then a follow up: situation being examined. Fine.

I find Affinity Photo to be an exceptional piece of work on the Mac and now on the iPad. The extension for Affinity Photo is also not able to work with HEIC images and I dropped a note via Twitter on Friday. Over the weekend I looked for other ways to make a suitable comment, but there is no direct Support email address shown on the website. I did however, find a message link via Facebook on Monday evening.

Wednesday28 I sent a message outlining the problem. Within a couple of minutes, I had a reply, but not to the Facebook message, to the 4-day old Twitter message, asking me to post to the Forum. If the Twitter feed and the forum are both run by the same company, why is this necessary? I was busy then but tried quickly only to find I was not able to access the forums.

Later on Monday I did register and point out the HEIC problem and the reply, within a couple of hours was not totally reassuring: "The desktop app currently does not support the HEIC file type at this time [which I knew], we only support it on iPad at the moment. The team are aware of this and may add support in the future but it is not in the app currently". It was that "may" that hit me. The app is on the Mac app store, and although there is now a Windows version, I expect many users will be using the prize-winning app on Macs. To infer that an update to file types may (or may not) be dealt with, does sap the confidence.

Late Tuesday afternoon, I had a reply to the Messenger comment I had made some 24 hours before, with pretty much the same comments as had been made in the forum: HEIC doesn't work with the current app, the team are aware, and may add support in the future. I am disappointed with the slowness of support from Affinity, particularly as I met some of the devlopment team last year. I found them energetic and highly motivated.

I note that Affinity have begun to mention the workflow application they have in development and also note that Macphun are also taking this road following the announcement by Adobe on changes to Lightroom: now in the cloud (John Aldred, DIY Photography). I did try Lightroom when it first came out, but preferred Aperture and stuck to that. Now that Apple is no longer developing this, I am keeping my eyes open for alternatives, although the way it is being developed, Photos could fit the bill in the end which would simplify things.

I have been continuing with the re-writing of my System Preferences comments, and I am now up to iCloud. I have missed Displays preferences for the time being as I need access to other monitors to report on this effectively. The current list is:

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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