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Hard times inside Apple’s forgotten App Store

Are you one of the many iOS users that ignores the row of apps at the bottom of the message composition window?

Once the appeal of sticker packs wears off, there just doesn’t seem to be much inside Apple’s forgotten App Store for Messages.

In between the hype and the reality…

Apple introduced the App Store for iMessages to its customary forest of hype, as industry watchers predicted great things.

Forrester analyst, Frank Gillet said:

“Opening up the iMessage and Phone apps to third party developers is… a big deal, enabling Apple to offer a more natural fluid experience to customers that builds on chat innovations pioneered by WeChat and others.”

There sits the shadow…

Did it work? It seems fair to ask when you last heard of something you absolutely had to download from that store, or when you last actually used an app that wasn’t GIPHY?

I’m willing to accept that some U.S. users may use Apple Pay Cash to send payments via messages. Nice for you. But let’s just note that it has been over two years since that service was introduced to the U.S. and it still remains unavailable anywhere else.

Which doesn’t bode particularly well for international introduction of Apple’s popular Apple Card credit card.

Take the time to rifle through the contents of the app drawer (which is what Apple calls that row of apps at the bottom of your Message composition window) and you might find a few stars, beyond #Images and Apple Pay.

Power in the darkness

Exploring the store is a somewhat dispiriting experience.

You’ll find apps you know to be really useful on your other devices, only to discover all they offer via the iMessage App Store are a few sticker packs and the occasional relatively useful function.

It’s a place of inspirational darkness, within which you may find a small handful of stars to illuminate the space.

Game Pigeon, for example, is one of the better items you’ll find, in part because it actually does something. The app consists of a vast collection of games (including mini-golf, Checkers and Chess) that you can play with your friends using Messages.  

You may also come across a smattering of tools for knowledge workers, particularly Dropbox, which lets you find and share items with others via Messages.I do find it interesting that there is no iCloud Drive Stickers app to do this, you still have to access the content in Files before you get to share it via the Share pane.

That lack of integration between Files and iMessage makes me question if even Apple  takes its iMessage apps seriously.

Other apps you may find useful may include: iTranslate, which makes it easier to write a foreign language when you need to; Scheduling apps like Doodle, Open Table or Polls With Friends; List apps such as Loopy Lists.

But it’s all a little vacant.

Apple’s forgotten App Store

The overwhelming perceptions I get when I visit this particular App Store are those of inattention and absence.

It feels a little like wandering through an abandoned home.

You can still see how it was laid out. You can still perceive the glorious optimism that went into building the place, but somehow those dreams were shattered as the inhabitants learned that it takes more than this to change hope into reality.

Realistically, the truth seems to be that App Store for iMessages hasn’t moved on much since I curated this collection of iMessage apps in 2018. (With the possible exception of Business Chat, which is actually useful.)

It feels like a lost opportunity.

Given the highly secure nature of iMessages it did once seem possible some developers may have attempted to create highly secure enterprise collaboration systems that used them. Perhaps they did.

So, what would the weakness of the product be?

Perhaps because Messages remains resolutely closed to other platforms.

We are where we are, of course, so let’s hear it for the iMessages App Store: Apple’s forgotten place where all the useful apps sit sad and surrounded by endless collections of sticker packs. Weeping for the cross-platform solutions they should have been. Perhaps you’ll hear them next time you get a message. Or perhaps you’ll tap the App Store icon in the App Drawer and visit with them for a while.

They don’t seem to get many visitors, these days.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Apple’s Mac Catalyst is becoming very, very serious

Apple appears to be setting the table for some interesting moves with the introduction of Swift Playgrounds for Mac and recent news that it’s now possible to offer both Mac and iOS apps as the same app.

What could this mean? Soe thoughts….

The news in a nutshell

These are the two key items in a little more depth:

1. Swift Playgrounds is now available for Mac

Swift Playgrounds is designed to help people learn now to code through lessons that teach coding concepts and introduce people to how to write applications using Swift. This has only been available on iPad, but is now also for Mac.

What’s particularly interesting is that you can begin projects on a Mac and end them on an iPad, or start on an iPad and finish on a Mac, thanks to iCloud integration.

What’s also interesting is that Swift Playgrounds for Mac was built using Mac Catalyst. That means you get many of the iPad features, but with useful Mac version enhancements including Touch Bar shortcuts.

You can download Swift Playgrounds for Mac here.

2. Universal Mac/iOS purchases

Here’s another piece of exciting news:

“Starting in March 2020, you’ll be able to distribute iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and tvOS versions of your app as a universal purchase, allowing customers to enjoy your app and in‑app purchases across platforms by purchasing only once,” Apple explains.

This will make it possible for developers to offer apps across all the platforms for one fee. This will also enable software to be sold across all Apple’s platforms (including the Apple TV) on a subscription basis.

People who make powerful video and imaging apps for iPads may see immediate benefit, as Catalyst could let them quickly create Mac versions of their iPad apps.

It’s an important step that should also benefit customers who may resent paying twice for the same software – and should encourage more developers to think about moving their apps to the Mac. It’s set to become a reality starting in March.

What else happens in March?

Bridging the gap

Apple’s moves to close the gap between its iOS and macOS platforms have been predicted for years, and this new sequence of events means it may even be able to combine its App Stores in one place, as predicted early in 2019.

The effort isn’t trivial.

The company has put lots of weight behind it, and while it says its intention isn’t to replace Macs with iOS devices, it also says it does look to leverage logical synergies where it can.

Todd Benjamin, Apple’s macOS product marketing director in 2019, explained:

“Our vision for Mac Catalyst was always to make it easier for any iPad app developer, big or small, to bring their app to the Mac…. Not only is this great for developers, but it’s also great for Mac users, who benefit with access to a whole new selection of great app experiences from iPad’s vibrant ecosystem.”

There’s a significant benefit to enterprise developers, of course, in that it’s now more likely they will build software first for iPad and port this to iPhone and Mac. 

project catalyst mac iphone Apple

Apple’s Project Catalyst will make it easier for developers

What about ARM Macs?

We continue to hear speculation Apple may migrate Macs to ARM processors, particularly as the company begins manufacturing 5nm A14 processors this year. Macworld has even speculated that the next iPhone chip will deliver as much processing power as you get in a 15-in. MacBook Pro.

Way back in 2012, we learned: “Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops.”

Is this likely?

Apple has already said it has no plans to replace Macs with iPads and consistently says it sees both platforms as different things.

That doesn’t necessarily sound like never, as with iPads now offering (limited) support for external mice, keyboard and external storage and with Catalyst enabling easier export of iPad apps to Macs, at least some of the differences between the platforms are less stark.  

There is the matter of who would gains the most.

There are some immediate benefits:

  • Apple makes its own A-series processors in vast quantities. Migrating Macs to them may help reduce the cost of hardware by lowering chip costs – though it is unlikely to be able to migrate all Macs, particularly at the high-end.
  • For an idea of the consequences of migrating from Intel chips to iOS processors, look at what happened when Apple dumped the Intel chip from Apple TV and began using A-series chips instead: The price of the streaming TV box fell from $300 to $99.
  • Apple’s silicon teams are storming ahead of the whole industry in terms of processor power – the current A13 chips deliver vastly better performance than the A10 chips inside an iPhone 7.
  • These processors could be even faster when optimized for large-form-factor Macs, with bigger batteries and better airflow systems.
  • Apple likes to own the primary technology. What could be more important to control than the chips that power its machines?
  • Of course, it’s important to consider the consequences of alienating a key supplier, confusing users with new limitations in terms of app support and possibly alienating developers who may suddenly find it necessary to introduce new versions of their apps. (Catalyst makes that last one a little easier.)
  • However, is this something Mac or iPad users really need? What is the benefit to them? While it might be good to find some kind of hybrid device that works as a touch-based system when required and a traditional Mac UI the rest of the time, the benefits don’t seem especially obvious.

One thing that is true is that even if Apple has no such plans, the work it has done on Catalyst and A-series processors mean it’s more possible than before.

Otheriwse, what would be its motivation?

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Apple’s Mac Catalyst seems to be becoming very, very serious

Apple appears to be setting the table for some interesting moves with the introduction of Swift Playgrounds for Mac and recent news that it’s now possible to offer both Mac and iOS apps as the same app. What could this mean?

News in a nutshell

These are the two key news items in a little more depth:

1. Swift Playgrounds is now available for Mac

Swift Playgrounds is designed to help people learn now to code through lessons that teach coding concepts and introduce people to how to write applications using Swift. Until now, this has only been available on iPad, but is now also for Mac.

What’s particularly interesting is that you can begin projects on a Mac and end them on an iPad, or start on an iPad and finish on a Mac, thanks to iCloud integration.

What’s also interesting is that Swift Playgrounds for Mac was built using Mac Catalyst. That means you get many of the iPad features, but with useful Mac version enhancements including Touch Bar shortcuts. You can download Swift Playgrounds for Mac here.

2. Universal Mac/iOS purchases

Another piece of exciting recent news:

“Starting in March 2020, you’ll be able to distribute iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and tvOS versions of your app as a universal purchase, allowing customers to enjoy your app and in‑app purchases across platforms by purchasing only once,” Apple explains.

This will make it possible for developers to offer apps across all the platforms for one fee. This will also enable software to be sold across all Apple’s platforms (including the Apple TV) on a subscription basis.

People who make powerful video and imaging apps for iPads may see immediate benefit, as Catalyst may enable them to quickly create Mac versions of their iPad apps.

It’s an important step which should also benefit customers who may resent paying twice for the same software – and should encourage more developers to think about moving their apps to the Mac. And is set to become a reality starting in March.

What else happens in March?

Bridging the gap

Apple’s moves to bridge the gap between its iOS and macOS platforms have been predicted for years, and this new sequence of events means it may even be able to combine its App Stores in one place, eventually, as predicted early 2019.

The effort isn’t trivial.

The company has put lots of weight behind it, and while it says its intention isn’t to replace Macs with iOS devices, it also says it does look to leverage logical synergies where it can.

Todd Benjamin, Apple’s macOS product marketing director in 2019 said:

“Our vision for Mac Catalyst was always to make it easier for any iPad app developer, big or small, to bring their app to the Mac… Not only is this great for developers, but it’s also great for Mac users, who benefit with access to a whole new selection of great app experiences from iPad’s vibrant ecosystem.”

There’s a significant benefit to enterprise developers, of course, in that it’s now more likely they will build software first for iPad and port this to iPhone and Mac. 

project catalyst mac iphone Apple

Apple’s Project Catalyst will make it easier for developers

What about ARM Macs?

We continue to hear speculation Apple may migrate Macs to ARM processors, particularly as the company begins manufacturing 5nm A14 processors this year. Macworld has even speculated that the next iPhone chip will deliver as much processing power as you get in a 15-inch MacBook.

Way back in 2012, we learned: “Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops.”

Is this likely?

Apple has already said it has no plans to replace Macs with iPads and consistently says it sees both platforms as different things.

That doesn’t necessarily sound like never, as with iPads now offering (limited) support for external mice, keyboard and external storage and with Catalyst enabling easier export of iPad apps to Macs, at least some of the differences between the platforms are less stark.  

There is the matter of who would benefit.

There are some immediate benefits:

  • Apple makes its own A-series processors in vast quantities. Migrating Macs to using them may help reduce the cost of its machines by lowering chip costs – though it is unlikely to be able to migrate all its Macs, particularly at the high-end.
  • For some idea of the cost consequences of migrating from Intel chips to iOS processors, take a look at what happened when Apple dumped the Intel chip from Apple TV and began using A-series chips instead: The price of the streaming TV box fell from $300 to $99.
  • Apple’s silicon teams are storming ahead of the whole industry in terms of processor power – the current A13 chips are deliver vastly better performance than the A10 chips inside iPhone 7.
  • How much faster could these processors be if optimized for large form factor Macs, with bigger batteries and better airflow systems?
  • It is worth noting the extent Apple likes to own the primary technology. What could be more important to control than the chips that power its machines?
  • But it is also important to consider the consequences of alienating a key supplier, confusing users with new limitations in terms of app support and possibly alienating developers who may suddenly find it necessary to introduce new versions of their apps. Which Catalyst makes a little easier.
  • However, is this something Apple’s Mac or iPad users really need? What is the benefit to them? While it might be good to find some kind of hybrid device that worked as a touch-based system when required, and a traditional Mac UI the rest of the time, the benefits don’t seem especially obvious.

One thing that is true is that even if Apple has no such plans, the work it has done on Catalyst and A-series processors mean it’s more possible than before.

But what would be its motivation?

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Why every enterprise needs Apple’s Pro apps team

Apple’s Mac Pro delivers plenty of power for its price, but its tight integration with macOS means pro users also get the kind of performance they need.

Putting Metal to the Mac Pro

When Apple announced Mac Pro, it told us that the big names in graphics and video had already or were about to adopt the Metal graphics API framework.

It is fair to say that Apple did its bit to encourage this when it announced plans to deprecate OpenGL and OpenCL, but big names including Adobe, OTOY, Blackmagic Design, Autdesk, Pixar, Foundry and others followed its lead.

Jules Urbach, the CEO and founder of OTOY, stressed his company’s animation industry standard application, Octane X, had been, “Rewritten from the ground up in Metal for Mac Pro, and is the culmination of a long and deep collaboration with Apple’s world-class engineering team.”

Apple’s Pro apps team

Apple hasn’t only explored engineering problems for its high-end Macs. It has also explored what problems its pro users face getting things done.

One small illustration of this approach in Mac Pro is the inclusion of an internal USB slot for dongles. Pros had been concerned these get broken and stolen when left poking out of machines.

To help it identify where improvements can be made, Apple has teams of professional users who help it explore real workflows.

As I understand it, these teams comprise relatively loose groups of professional users working in the real world, creative pros working inside Apple, and groups from the company’s own development teams.

Their mission is to figure out how Apple’s solutions can be improved to help professional users get things done. They look for hardware, software and synergistic improvements that can be made.

More of what you need

Their feedback is why Apple is now able to stress that Mac Pro delivers things users have wanted for years, such as expandability, RAM upgrades and so on.

(I can’t help but observe that professionals in the creative markets have always wanted this. Way back when I attended the launch of the Power Mac G4 all those things were also on the list.)

Apple’s teams also look at how the platform can improve different workflows.

People talk about the pro market as some form of homogenous entity, but that’s not what it is. Photographers need something different than film editors; music creatives use different tools than animators.

They have different needs.

Apple’s Pro Apps team seek out pain points and try to mitigate them.

The evolution of Metal from a graphics layer for iPhones to an API across all Apple’s platforms is a good illustration of this.

Metal now drives everything from the workflow of a video animator or musician to the end user experience of someone accessing that work.

You have to put the user first

In a sense I think it is true to say Apple had to focus on high-end users to help the Mac survive. The new age of computing is pervasive.

Mobile devices handle many of the tasks consumers once used Macs and PCs for, which means those PCs that do get sold are either great for really complex jobs, or cheap machines for trivial tasks.

With iPhones, iPads and wearables cannibalizing the computer market, Apple had to find a way to make Macs relevant in a mobile age.

You can see it as a digital transformation project, if you like.

New technologies changed Apple’s market and in order to survive that change the company needed to focus on its customers and change itself.

It’s a lesson for any enterprise:

In any industry, successful digital transformation requires firms invest the time it takes to ensure digital deployments meet real needs, rather than introducing complexity. You don’t make your workforce more productive by making their lives more complicated.

Which is why every enterprise needs the equivalent of a pro apps team devoted to identifying where friction in existing business processes exist and figuring out technological solutions to improve them.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Is Apple’s iCloud folder sharing a shadow IT problem?

After a long delay, Apple is preparing to introduce iCloud Folder Sharing across both its Mac and iOS platforms. This is a big blessing for collaboration, but is it safe?

What is iCloud Folder Sharing?

iCloud Folder Sharing was first announced at WWDC 2019, but delayed until – well, at present it is still delayed and was only recently made available inside the latest iOS and macOS developer betas. Which means it should be on the way.

Probably.

How it works?

It works in a similar way to iCloud file sharing, except you can define shared folders as well as shared files.

In use, you can choose to make it possible to share a folder with anyone who has a specific link or choose to limit access solely to named parties. You also get to choose if people you share items with can edit them, or just take a look.

It is reasonable to assume these items/folders will also be available to those using iCloud for Windows. Mobile device support on other platforms was also recently improved.

A little bit.

In theory, iCloud Folder Sharing means Apple now offers a relatively cross-platform tool with which teams can share and collaborate on projects – though it isn’t as smooth, feature-rich or as cross platform compatible as Dropbox or Box.

Your company already uses iCloud

The thing is, with tens of millions of iPhone and Mac users in place across the enterprise market, it seems pretty clear that most of your employees are likely already using iCloud.

The new feature just makes it more likely they’ll use it more, including to collaborate on projects. After all, one of the huge benefits of the service is that it’s as easy to use as anything else Apple does – and ease-of-use is one of the big drivers for Shadow IT.

 And that is where iCloud may become a bigger problem for enterprise security chiefs trying to handle the challenge of unauthorized use of apps by their mobile employees.

iCloud and encryption

It is of course true to say that iCloud is a relatively secure system.

Not only are Macs and iOS devices way more secure than any other platform (though no platform is perfect), but iCloud’s two-factor authentication (2FA), deep platform integration, and the nature of the encryption that protects information as it is transmitted to and from the service all provide good protection.

The problem with iCloud is (and always is) the user:

While it is possible to protect your iCloud with complex alpha-numeric passcodes, most people just don’t. Indeed, I can recall reading a recent report that claims around a third of iCloud users still haven’t enabled 2FA on their systems.

That’s up to them, I guess, but when a highly secure iCloud user with complex passcodes and 2FA enabled chooses to share highly confidential enterprise-related documents inside a folder with another user, how are they to know how well secured that other user’s iCloud access actually is?

They don’t.

And this is a problem enterprise security teams will need to address pretty quickly now we know iCloud Folder Sharing is coming.

Update enterprise security policy today

I’m certain some enterprises may ban use of iCloud, just as many already attempt ban use of any consumer-grade cloud-based document services, but I don’t think bans work – they just create a blame culture in which employees become reluctant to seek help when things go wrong.

It seems much more sensible to assume these things will be used, and take steps to manage such use, than to issue terse memos banning use of services you as the head of department are probably also making use of yourself.

What does work is policy.

In this case, it seems sensible for enterprise security chiefs to advise employees who choose to use iCloud for work to protect their account with complex alphanumeric passcodes.

That’s not the only protection that needs to be put in place.

Employees must be encouraged to use 2FA and to keep their devices up-to-date (unless controlled by you with an MDM solution.

This is why. Apple’s iCloud security pages tell us:

“iCloud secures your information by encrypting it when it’s in transit, storing it in iCloud in an encrypted format, and using secure tokens for authentication. For certain sensitive information, Apple uses end-to-end encryption. This means that only you can access your information, and only on devices where you’re signed into iCloud. No one else, not even Apple, can access end-to-end encrypted information.”

Thing is, and this is important, in order for end-to-end encryption to work it is necessary that two-factor authentication is turned on for the Apple ID.

The difference between how Apple protects your information in iCloud and on your device is encryption. iCloud Drive data is protected by “a minimum of 128-bit AES encryption,” according to Apple.

That’s quite strong I suppose, but may not be as secure as what you define in your security policy – and it is important to note that data stored in the drive is not protected by end-to-end encryption while there, though it is encrypted in transit.

If you want data to be kept securely in your or your employee’s drives, it makes sense to encrypt that information before uploading it.

While this adds friction to the sharing/collaboration process it also means your enterprise’s confidential data (or your personal info) has better protection.

(I’ll be looking at good encryption solutions for this task in the next few weeks, so do follow me on social media to learn what I find out.)

You can also deploy MDM solutions to control iCloud and data access across your network. Though the best protection will always be to offer approved secure collaboration spaces that are as easy-to-use as iCloud or any other consumer service.

Final thoughts

Even with all the protection in place – policy, approved collaboration tools, even edge device security, the inconvenient truth is that data will slip, employees with poorly-protected consumer services such as iCloud will use those services, and security problems will emerge.

That’s why it’s so important to ensure everyone at your organization feels sufficiently safeguarded that in the event something does go wrong they’ll not waste time before letting IT security know a problem exists. Because not knowing a problem exists is usually a bigger problem than the problem itself.

Summing up: Employees will use iCloud Drive, they already do and now they’ll use it to collaborate on some tasks. They should be encouraged to:

  • Use 2FA.
  • Use complex alphanumeric passcodes.
  • Keep software up to date.
  • Confirm people they share data with are equally security conscious.
  • Should encrypt data before uploading to the service.
  • Should have some way to ask for help if things go wrong.

I’ll be interested to hear any other good advice on this matter.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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