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How will Apple replace FaceID now we’re wearing masks?

Apple’s FaceID just isn’t what it used to be. Millions of iPhone users are now wearing masks, which means we need to enter passcodes manually to unlock our phones – making Touch ID more relevant than before.

Apple recognizes the challenge

We know Apple appreciates the problems of wearing masks during the pandemic.

Apple’s iOS 13.5 update now understands when you are wearing a mask and immediately defaults to the manual passcode screen when using FaceID on an iPhone.

This answers a pressing need, but also shows us how great technology can be overtaken by events.

Is the age of FaceID already over?

FaceID is such a useful technology. A glance at your display and your iPhone springs into life.

Want to disable it temporarily? Just press the volume up/down and power buttons together until the Medical ID screen appears.

Most savvy iPhoneistas have been using the latter trick to disable FaceID when wearing masks as they attempt to protect others against accidental transmission of COVID-19. What’s sad about this is that the need to wear masks means FaceID won’t be anything as useful as it once was for some time.

What can Apple do instead?

All of the speculation I’ve seen around the next edition iPhone 12 suggests the company will retain FaceID in the device. The thing is, is that really what you need?

After all, when in transit more people will likely prefer to wear a mask than not, given the cost of treatment, which means they will need to open their phones the old-fashioned way – with a passcode.

With enterprises, service providers and others making more and more use of FaceID for access to important apps and online services, the importance of Apple’s authentication tech can’t be overstated.

That’s why Apple must already be considering how to replace or improve FaceID with a technology that provides convenience, security and works with masks.

There are three solutions it may be exploring.

  • A revised FaceID system developed to work with masks.
  • In-display fingerprint authentication.
  • Retina scans.

Revised Face ID

It is questionable if the 3D sensing technologies Apple has developed for FaceID can deliver the same ‘one in a million’ level of protection the technology now provides if it is given a more limited set of data to use.

Can the top half of a face alone deliver this?

In-display fingerprint authentication

Apple was originally thought to be developing in-display fingerprint authentication in advance of the introduction of iPhone X. Did it stop working on it then? It seems not, given an April 2020 report that suggested the company planned to introduce this technology within at least one 2020 iPhone model.

However, with face mask use making the TouchID-capable iPhone SE 2 an easier to launch device than your $1,000+ iPhone X series device, Apple may want to consider making in-display Touch ID available across a wider range of iPhones. These will likely rely on some form of haptic or ultrasonic under-display sensor.

Retina scans

Apple has another alternative – retina scans. While patents don’t always become products, a recent European patent filing from Apple references a biometric retina scanner in a description of some kind of new Touch Bar system. It is also interesting to note the retina-like appearance of QR designs we were recently told form part of Apple’s AR app, allegedly called “Gobi.”

However, where we are at the moment is that if you are a responsible person wearing a face mask to prevent accidentally infecting others with an illness you may not know you carry, and you are using an X-series iPhone, you’ll be getting used to typing in your passcode manually – which is a real chore when you follow the best securty advice and use a lengthy alphanumeric ID.

Because FaceID is now a solution to a problem from a different time.

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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How to replace Edge as the default browser in Windows 10 — and why you shouldn’t

Microsoft has been struggling to get people to use its Edge browser for years. Even though the company made Edge the default browser in Windows 10, users left in droves, most of them flocking to Google Chrome — and with good reason. Edge was underpowered, had difficult-to-use features, and offered very few extensions compared to Chrome and Firefox.

Now Microsoft has launched a new version of Edge that’s based on the same technologies that drive Chrome. The new Edge is a much better browser, and there are compelling reasons to use it. But you might still prefer to use Chrome, Firefox, or one of the many other browsers out there.

Note that even if you’ve previously set up another browser to be your default, it might have been changed since then. When there’s a major Windows 10 upgrade, the upgrade recommends switching to Edge, and you might have inadvertently made the switch.

Whatever the reason, if Edge is your default Windows 10 browser, it’s easy to switch. to the browser of your choice. As I’ll show you, it only takes a few minutes.

The instructions in this article assume that you’ve installed the latest version of Windows 10 — version 1909, a.k.a. the November 2019 Update. If you haven’t installed it, the screens you see may vary somewhat from what you see here.

Why you might want to stick with Edge

The new Edge will be automatically delivered to most Windows 10 Home and Pro users via Windows Update, while enterprise users will likely get it only when their IT departments roll it out. If you’ve been using the old Edge as your default browser, the new one will be your default as well. If you’ve set another browser as your default, the new Edge won’t automatically override your preference — but like all browsers, it will ask if you want to make it the default.

It’s probably worth at least trying out the new Edge. The browser offers a clean design with intuitive features. The biggest drawback to the old Edge was its paltry selection of browser extensions, but because the new Edge uses the same rendering engine as Chrome, it can run Chrome extensions, which number in the thousands. And unlike Chrome, Edge offers tracking prevention, which blocks ad providers from tracking you from website to website.

In my tests, Edge also feels faster than Chrome and uses on average 14% less RAM. And it has some interesting features worth trying, such as the ability to launch a website as if it’s an app.

All that said, you might not be interested in trying out the new Edge, or you might try it and decide you still prefer Chrome, Firefox, or another browser. You may, for example, like Firefox’s ability to alert you when a website covertly uses your computer’s processor to mine cryptocurrency in the background, without your knowledge. Or you might like the way Chrome’s Omnibox (the place you type URLs and searches) can do things like perform math functions, convert currencies or answer questions such as naming the capitals of U.S. states without having to search the internet.

If you want to use another browser as your default, here’s what to do.

How to designate another browser as your default

The first thing you need to do to switch to another browser as your default is to install the other browser on your system. After that’s done, click the Windows 10 Start button and click the Settings icon that appears on the left-hand side of the screen. (It looks like a little gear.) You can also type “settings” into the search box and click the Settings result that appears at the top of the screen.

change edge default win10 1 settings IDG

In the Settings app, select Apps > Default apps. The Default apps screen appears. It shows the default apps for email, maps, playing music and videos, viewing photos, and more. To change the default browser, you’ll have to scroll down toward the bottom of your screen.

change edge default win10 2 default apps IDG

Near the bottom of the screen, you’ll see Microsoft Edge under the “Web browser” listing. Click the Microsoft Edge icon and you’ll see a pop-up with a list of your installed browsers.

change edge default win10 3 choose new browser IDG

(Side note: The pop-up also has a “Look for an app in the Microsoft Store” option, but if you click it, you won’t find Chrome, Firefox, Opera or any other browser you’ve likely ever heard of. Clicking it launches a search of the Windows App Store for the term “http,” which turns up a motley collection of apps, from file downloaders to an app that dims your Windows background to make it easier to view videos. There are also some little-known browsers listed, such as Super-Fast Browser and BlueSky Browser. Try them out if you like, but keep in mind that they’re Windows Store apps, and as a general rule, Windows Store apps are underpowered compared to desktop apps like Chrome, Firefox and Opera.)

Click the browser that you’d like to be your default browser. No need to restart; your work is done.

This story was originally launched in September 2017 and most recently updated in February 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Rethinking the PC: Why virtual machines should replace operating systems

Discloser: Most of the vendors mentioned are clients of the author.

Technology generally develops linearly even something comes along that should change its progression.  Take PC operating systems, which arrived in the 1980s. One of the big problems they brought with them was the need to keep the OS and applications from breaking every time Intel made a change to its chipset or the firmware. The fix, eventually, was to create Virtual Machines – a virtual hardware layer that would remain constant, regardless of what happened to the underlying hardware. 

Much of the problems we’ve had with deployments over the last couple of decades have revolved around the need for IT to keep the PC image static while the hardware changed. If we instead preloaded a Virtual Machine from either VMware or Microsoft – and then placed the image on that – you could assure a level of compatibility you generally don’t get today. 

Let’s explore rethinking PCs, virtual vachines, and operating systems this week. 

Rethinking PCs

When PCs were first created, the folks that built the OS and the folks that built the hardware were the same. Apple built both, and IBM bought the rights to Windows so it could effectively do the same thing as well. But on the Windows side, the operating system quickly became decoupled. It allowed for a far more competitive market, but also one that was unusually plagued by incompatibilities and breakage because the two halves of the PC weren’t developed together.  

For a time in the early parts of this century – when Intel and Microsoft weren’t even talking to each other very well – we got disasters like Windows Vista and Windows 8, platforms that even Microsoft would like to forget. Things eventually evened out, and most of those problems are history. But in some ways, this problem has worsened  because AMD has risen to be a power and Qualcomm is now providing PC solutions.  This hardware variety is forcing Intel to speed its own development efforts – raising the possibility that maintaining OS reliability will get harder to do.  

One way Microsoft is addressing this with its Surface line; the company is starting to specify processors for the Surface X and the upcoming Surface Neo twin-screen laptop: from Qualcomm and Intel, respectively.  Custom processors are an interesting idea, but were Dell, HP, and Lenovo to go down this path, the resulting hardware complexity – and the chance for OS breakage – would increase dramatically. 

In this new world, there is a need to allow the OS side of the solution from Apple, Google, and Microsoft to advance as fast as those firms can move and for the hardware platforms from AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm to do the same without any resulting breakage.

Enter the Virtual Machine

A Virtual Machine running on hardware generally has a Hypervisor, so you can run multiple virtual machine instances – each isolated from the other because the technology is generally used on servers where you have multiple users on the same hardware. 

On a PC, you could have distinct VM instances for work, school, and personal use with differing levels of user freedom. The company VM would be locked down so that the firm is better protected from the other usage models.  Viruses often come into companies carried by employees who aren’t careful with their personal use of their firm’s PC. You mostly see this kind of behavior with developers who need to keep their dev projects separate from their enterprise image.  

Even with a three-image installation (work, school, personal), you’d be able to optimize on all three support organizations.  Work IT handles the work image, school IT handles the school image, and the OEM helps with the personal image (which they could charge for). You’d get a higher level of security because the two or three usage models would be isolated from each other – and you’d free up the OS vendor and the platform vendor to advance their platforms faster because they could specify a set Virtual Machine configuration.

The VM company, be it VMware or Microsoft, could then work with the hardware vendor to optimize flexibility as a performance factor and hardware development PCs would evolve to become better multi-host clients. Other options could include  creating a VM for your kids on the family PC that could be automatically purged and rebuilt regularly or tuned OSs for things like eSports. You might be able to create games that run native on a VM while suspending other VMs when you compete.  And, of course, IT would get a very stable virtual hardware image that would remain stable across hardware vendors and hardware versions.  

Wrapping up

I think it is time to begin rethinking the relationship between operating systems, hypervisors, and virtual machines to better secure our PCs. (Rootkits would generally become a thing of the past, thanks to the VM.) The result could be more flexible, more reliable, more secure, and better able to deal with our changing future than the way we build the platforms today. 

I think the world is ready for a change; now, it’s time for an OEM who’s willing to take the risk and try something new.   

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Can Best Practice Replace Design Research?

Tempting it may be to skip the consultation process, but a ‘first principles’ approach is not going to cut it with the majority of your clients. The principles of design exist for a reason, but knowing when and how to break them is what separates great designers from good ones.

Heart-warming or not, co-creation with a client—the utopian ideal of shared vision—has its drawbacks. There are only so many times you can hear the words “brand strategy” before actually chewing your own face off. In the age of WordPress, Drupal and, dare I say it, Wix, it’s never been more tempting to pay lip-service to research and consultation. Instead of building a principles framework from scratch, why not roll out something from a template in a fraction of the time?

Well, in fact, there probably are situations where a simple WordPress-type approach will work really well. The trick is knowing when.


What Is “Best Practice” Anyway?

Well, exactly.

Even if you slept through design school, or didn’t go at all, you probably know the fundamentals already. And it’s true. If you stick to first principles, you won’t go far wrong. Here are some examples:

  • Color and Contrast: 2-3 colors maximum, use contrast to highlight important elements;
  • White Space: Use plenty of it, be consistent with proportions above and below;
  • Layout: Symmetric Grid. Err…Always. Work ‘above the fold’;
  • Typography: No more than 2-3 typefaces;
  • Logo: Long, top left, always;
  • Compexity vs Simplicity: Look for balance and visual interest;
  • Visual Hierarchy: Use color, contrast, size and complexity to highlight important elements;
  • Consistency: With all of the above, whatever you decide, be consistent;
  • And so on…

One size, though, doesn’t fit all. By bending and even breaking the rules sometimes, you’ll create designs that stand out and, more importantly, meet the real requirements of the brief.


The One Unbreakable Rule

It’s pretty hard to find a “Best Practice” that really works in every situation, but here’s one:

No matter what you’re doing, make sure you know why you’re doing it.

And, just in case you were wondering, “err…because it looks pretty?” and “because it’s easier than what I probably ought to do instead…” aren’t really reasons.

There are clearly situations where a client—whatever they may think—is best served by a simple off-the-shelf approach. Particularly if their budget is more Scrooge than Soros. The thing is, you probably still need to go through a research process to find out whether that’s the case or not.


When And How To Go Off Piste

Before or just after accepting the job, you’ll likely need to do some research with the client. This process should focus on (you guessed it) brand strategy.

Ideally, in the first instance, you’ll build a design principles framework. Whatever decisions you make after that (whether you’re going to stick to the rules or break them) should be justified with reference to the framework.

Here are some examples of situations where you might consider deviating from “best practice”:

You Want to Send a Particular Message

Take this site for a children’s fitness company, for example.


It clearly breaks all the rules about color and typeface, and a few more besides, but overall gives a sense of vibrance and playfulness, which of course is ideal for this market.

You Want to Draw Attention to Something

By ignoring the imperative to “work above the fold” and putting product and logo front and centre, candle manufacturer Waxxy draws the eye directly to their “product centred” philosophy and creates a sense of light and space:


Natale’s Clothing uses additional fonts and a broken grid layout to emphasise content and create a sense of being “out of the ordinary”.



You Want to Keep Things Clean

Legend has it, if you “put everything on the homepage” it’s good for SEO and easier for users. These days, though, there’s often a lot of information, and we prefer to have more space, even if it means a bit more browsing.


If you visit Toke’s site here, you’ll see that they break the animation taboo in a subtle and effective way as well.

These are just a few examples, there are many more. In each case the key questions to ask are:

  1. How does it meet the brief?
  2. How does it help brand strategy?


When To Stick To The Script

A big consideration here will likely be the client’s budget. With the best will in the world, you’re going to struggle to create a logo, design a custom typeface, and build a multi-page site from scratch on $800. If that’s what the client’s asking for, and can’t understand the limitations, maybe consider saying no!

If, on the other hand, there’s scope to negotiate, where budgets are small and, in situations where, for example, the client has a small number of products and/or services, a single page WordPress site will often be exactly what they need. Here it’s not a question of “doing the bare minimum” but rather “not doing too much”. Even so, there will probably be bespoke elements that you can change to better fit the strategy.

Another important moment to check yourself, is whenever you’re not sure if an idea works. If you can’t justify a decision with reference to your design principles framework—or at least with reference to the client’s brand strategy—then it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.


Research or Best Practice?

In a word, both.

There are definitely situations where a “first principles” approach will be exactly what the client needs. Particularly if their budget is small and their needs are simple. Even in this case, though, a great designer will take the time to understand (or help to develop) the brand strategy, and add whatever tweaks are necessary. Each client and each brand is unique, and a designer’s job, if you think about it, is to reflect just that.

When using a bespoke approach, breaking with convention can, as we’ve seen, produce interesting and stylish results. It’s important, though, that each decision makes sense, and can be linked back to the brand strategy. If it can’t, it probably shouldn’t be in the design.

And whatever you do, don’t chew your face off.


Featured image via Unsplash.

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Why does everyone want to replace Android?

Google’s Android operating system is the most popular OS in history. So why does everybody want to replace it with something else?

(OK, not everybody. Microsoft, which announced its upcoming Surface Duo don’t-call-it-a-phone phone, promised full Android compatibility.)

The Information reported this week that Facebook is working on its own operating system. An engineer named Mark Lucovsky, who helped created the Windows NT operating system, is leading the project for Facebook. The company is also working on a virtual assistant to compete with Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant.

Facebook’s OS is expected to power next-generation devices like virtual- and augmented-reality glasses. These would normally be expected to run future versions of Android. So why not Android? Facebook’s hardware chief Andrew Bosworth says, “We really want to make sure the next generation has space for us.”

(Ironically, this is exactly why Google acquired Android in the first place — to make sure smartphones had a safe space to run Google’s advertiser-supported apps.)

One single Facebook

Another possible motivation is that a new OS could be part of Facebook’s broader moves to inoculate itself from being broken up by governments in the future. If it’s various products, such as Oculus, Instagram and WhatsApp run Facebook’s own OS, then they might be seen as a single product that belong together inside a single company.

Facebook launched previous efforts that revealed its nervousness about relying on Google for the distribution of its apps. The company launched a project code-named Oxygen in 2013 that would offer a Facebook-specific “app store” where users could download Facebook’s Android apps beyond the Play Store.

Facebook isn’t the only company building an alternative to Android

Huawei’s Harmony

Chinese electronics giant Huawei says they’ve built an operating system they can use on Huawei smartphones instead of Android. (Huawei reportedly enjoys 42 percent smartphone market share inside China.) They launched the OS, called HongmengOS in Chinese and HarmonyOS in English, because the company has been blacklisted by the US government, which cited security concerns over Huawei products.

Google services are blocked inside China, so most Chinese smartphone makers use the unlicensed, open source version that does not have access to the Google Play Store.

The HarmonyOS is open source, and could be used by other companies.

The harm to Google would not be that Chinese customers would use HarmonyOS inside China, but that Huawei and other Chinese companies could export HarmonyOS phones globally, thus displacing licensed Android.

It’s clear that Huawei really wants to use Android, no doubt because of its stability and compatibility with apps on the market, and that they’re using HarmonyOS as a threat or bargaining chip. So far it isn’t working. 

Still, the creation of a Chinese-made OS to replace Android is in “harmony” with a Chinese government directive to move the entire Chinese government off all non-Chinese software by 2022.


Another approach to avoiding Android is to use an existing operating system instead of building a new one from Scratch.

The PureOS is a Linux distribution created not only for laptops made by a company called Purism, but also their smartphones. The Librem-branded devices run PureOS for security and privacy beyond what out-of-the-box Android offers — or what out-of-the-box Linux offers, for that matter. PureOS is a Debian-based GNU/Linux distribution. The current version is called PureOS 9.0 Hephaestus, and it can be downloaded and installed separately from Purism hardware.

PureOS also comes with its own web browser called PureBrowser, which is a security-centric version of Firefox that defaults to DuckDuckGo, rather than Google Search, as the search engine.

Another project for running Linux instead of Android is called the PinePhone. The idea is that instead of creating a new or modifying an old operating system to replace Android with Linux, the phone itself is redesigned to run unmodified Linux.


Many companies clearly believe that Android needs to be replaced. And Google agrees. That’s why Google is working harder and investing more than any other company to replace Android. And it appears that Google is serious about Fuchsia. The company hired MacOS pioneer Bill Stevenson to head the project.

Google’s Fuchsia OS, in development since 2016, will replace Android, and possibly the ChromeOS as well, if all goes according to plan.

An online demo version of Fuchsia, which has since been taken down, barely functioned and didn’t really run any software. But Fuchsia has been shown to run on Google’s Pixelbook and Pixel 3 devices. The reason for this compatibility probably has everything to do with internal testing and development.

Fuchsia’s Zircon micro-kernel may enable the OS to run on everything from watches to desktops.

It’s designed to function, in part, the way Chrome does with extensions. It should enable features to roll out across apps instead of only within them. (For example, if you want to add a grammar checker, it wouldn’t just go inside your word processor app but instead would appear in all apps.) Fuchsia also should be more Google Assistant-centric, with Google’s virtual assistant controlling more actions.

Crucially, Fuchsia will run Android apps. The latest Android Open Source Project version shows that Fuchsia will run Android apps via the Android Runtime (ART). Future versions of ART will reportedly be installable as a norma app, and will facilitate the running of Android apps.


Android is a global behemoth that is installed on more devices (more than 80 percent of the market) used by more people, and supported by more apps, than any other operating system in history.

So why do so many companies want to replace it?

In a word: independence.

The control over an operating system conveys far too much power to business rivals (Facebook), political rivals (Huawei) and feature rivals (Purism).

For Google, the replacement of Android is simply a necessity. Android is coming up on 18 years old. It’s probably not suited to next-generation platforms like smart glasses. And it’s probably not suited to Google’s business goals, which may be to both unify its disparate operating systems and also run a single OS on IoT devices, wearables, smartphones, tablets, laptops, cars and desktops.

One way or the other, Android will be replaced. And if I had to bet on the replacement, I’d bet on Fuschia.

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