waffle

Waffle is a weblog.
The author of Waffle, some guy in Sweden, also occasionally writes stmts.net.

Lately on Waffle

The Forest

Don’t be encumbered by history. Go off and do something wonderful.
–Robert Noyce

The App Store is about to turn 8 years old and everything related to it is still immature. Apps are sold for pittances and mostly developed with the naive hope of a precocious youngster aiming to strike it rich with his combined marble distributor/lemonade stand. (Annoyingly often named following the same lexicon – oh, and backed by some investor’s war chest.) They are still reviewed under the purview of the parodically inconsistent App Review mechanism, renowned for its ability to take issue with minor details that have been there for versions. And they are still restricted to the subjects established by the recent meeting with, and concordant edict from, the True Love Waits club in Kaysville, Utah (nondestructively summarized as “Tits? GTFO!”… where GTFO presumably stands for “God, Thy Father, Obey”).

In short, we’re where we were. Concessions have been made along the way such that people can now build and deploy an application to their own device for free, even with officially sanctioned apparatuses. The mind boggles.

This absurd situation may work itself out in time, but I will spill no more pixels on it here.

The App Store is one half of the New Model, the one that recurring commentator Chucky will shortly refer to derisively as “turning things into consoles”. The other half is the technical restrictions used to uphold this New Model. Sandboxing and isolation. Restrictions out the wazoo. For all we know, ACLs on individual bits of memory.

Sandboxing on the Mac App Store has been an exercise in annoying frustration. By and large, existing apps haven’t been able to cope. Apps have gone into the App Store but had to back out because of all the bugs. I wrote a color picker that stored its preferences in the only place it could, and that broke causing it to ask whether you want to check for updates the first time the color panel’s invoked. This has been a mess from day one.

And yet… I don’t see it as the problem any more. Protected memory and process isolation has been with us for a long time. The problem with these sandbox mechanisms aren’t inherent problems in the idea of sandboxing. Name a security exploit that is not made less severe by inducing isolation around its boundaries. Post-App Store, post-Docker, what is to say that isolation and sandboxing isn’t just treating security with the requisite care that it has deserved for all this time, and that the right thing to do is to keep the goldfish in a bowl instead of a plastic bag?

What is the problem? It is that users haven’t changed. Needs haven’t changed. And too little has been done to make the new solution solve the old problems.

For all the noises made about respecting privacy and integrity, respecting someone’s right to their own data also comes down to the their right to take that data to another app. Yet with sandboxing today, you can’t build an import function from someone else’s app because it’s seen as invasive.

It would be supremely convenient to be able to host other extensions within your own app, or even within your own extension. If Apple wants to so desperately raise their Services revenue, allowing developers to develop more stuff that customers actually want might be worth kicking around.

For better or for worse, we are living in the era of the contained app. It has happened. It may still be happening. What will decide if I will be happy on tomorrow’s OS X/macOS won’t be whether my apps have writing permissions to a path or not, it will be whether I can still do the things I want to do. I don’t want the focus of this discussion to be on whether the locks should exist or not, I want it to be whether there is enough forward motion so that the things that are worth saving can be retained, and for vendors of every closed platform to be pressed on these issues.

(See also: The Tension of Swift.)

Mace Slipup

Mace Slipup is what you get if you rearrange the letters of Apple Music, and that’s just about what it feels like to use it too, sometimes. Burning, itching and meant to save your life but instead making it messier.

I will admit to being a late convert to the benefits of listen-to-anything-at-anytime-without-playing-the-DMCA-“no-Copyright-intended“-YouTube-lottery. Spotify is headquartered not too far from where I live, but I have tried to avoid streaming services in general and ones owned by labels in particular.

It is fun, convenient and still gives me a bit of the sense of living in the future (or, as some would have it, in 2011) where nearly everything is available in a celestial jukebox. And then it turns out that this is still something 1. somewhat hastily thrown together by people who 2. build iTunes, 3. have forgotten most user interface usability principles and 4. under the auspices of people who are artists but not kept in check. Apologies in advance to anyone in the Apple Music team who reads this and had to butt heads just to get it to the point it is right now.

People normally sold on more or less everything Apple – people, indeed, through which Apple leak their event preannouncements – have tried and simply given up. The thing eats people’s files. I keep backups and I avoid turning on iCloud Music Library, so I thought I was safe, but in the year I’ve been using it, it’s been pulling down duplicates of things I bought on iTunes ages ago and inserting them as new entries at the top of my library (sorted descended by Date Added). On iOS, it has “very helpfully” restored some ugly-as-fuck album art that I “Got Info” on ages ago and deleted the album art from. And just a few days ago, it seems to have re-checked a bunch of albums and songs that I for various reasons have unchecked through the ages. (Every song in iTunes has a checkbox, and if you uncheck it it won’t be played unless you manually start playing it. If iTunes is to Winamp/VLC what Excel is to TextEdit/Notepad, imagine silent data loss in the form of formatting, value or formula changes in spreadsheets. Heads would roll.)

Volumes have been written on iTunes’ steady decline. The only reason I persist in using it is because it’s still mostly the good jukebox app and acceptable podcast player it’s been for years. But if it’s news to anyone inside Apple at this point that the moss of complexity and mounting demands to become a fridge—freezer—toaster—shower—18–wheeler–balance—ice–dispenser has eaten the app and shit out the slow-loading, rotund 302 MB memory hog currently in my Applications folder, a pink slip should be contemplated, and the phrase Reality Distortion Field could find new relevance.

Someone needs to sit down and note the 40 or so good ideas about iTunes and build it over again from the ground up. Someone needs to smoothly extend it to where it can also play music from Apple Music and the iTunes Store (with “Buy to keep” buttons on all songs where licensing so allows, and it is ridiculous that it sometimes won’t), and someone needs to take to heart the firm principle of Just Keep My Fucking Music Library Intact or I’ll Fucking Cut You.

I think the odds of this happening are slim to none. It would make me happy and both preserve and restore the utility of a once well-made app, so it seems like the usual asking Apple for a unicorn. Watch as this year’s WWDC is about doing the exact opposite of these things instead.

Hard Ware

It turns out that hardware is not software.

iPhones bend, although not easily, They crack and stop working and some don’t come off the assembly line right. The first iPhone 3G I bought could take five minutes of touches before becoming unresponsive and had to be swapped immediately.

But iPhones do not melt in people’s pockets because the Apple Aluminium service is experiencing downtime or when you, horror of horrors, leave continental USA. If something is wonky you can generally tell just by holding them. Jony Ive and the design team fondle them (their iOS devices, that is) in their hands for thousands of hours before they say go.

Hardware is not easy, but it is simple. It is set in one shape and doesn’t change, except for accessories on the outside and software on the inside. And of hardware and software, only hardware determines the indomitable schedule. Work your asses off to ship what needs to be shipped, and then it’s off to the races with the next product. I’m not going to say that every product is handled like this all the time, but it probably doesn’t help.

Ever since I upgraded (cranks are reminded to add their air quotes here) to El Capitan, dragging something towards the top of the screen is an exercise in frustration, and dragging something to the menu bar in order to cancel the drag is a gesture set in muscle memory that I’m struggling to unlearn. Whenever you get close, Mission Control springs to life. Mission Control is great, if you have five windows open. If you have between 10 or 20 apps open and several of them have state-restoration, let’s-restore-everything, Quit-doesn’t-mean-clean-slate endless amounts of windows, it is an exercise in chugging. It takes half a minute, then you get one frame. It takes ten seconds more for the next. This is a MacBook Pro Retina (Early 2015), so it’s not a 2011 Mac mini with low memory and a slight limp.

This is still better than in various versions since Mountain Lion, where occasionally loginwindow would come crashing down of exhaustion. This. Swiping between full screen windows. Attempting to use full-split-screen. It just doesn’t work. It’s a marquee feature and it doesn’t work if you actually use the thing too hard.

Add to this iCloud Photo Library fucking said library right in the butt on numerous occasions, even though I waited until it was out of beta until I started using it. Sorry, can’t find that file. Sorry, taking fucking forever to upload this. Sorry, here’s a god damn thumbnail the size of a petroleum molecule with body image issues.

Add to this storing all these Numbers documents in iCloud because I might need them one day on my iPhone. Then I do need them, and I open Numbers on my iPhone, and 30 documents start syncing now for the first time, and none of them get anywhere, and there are several duplicates, and I can’t even tell it which to download first, not that it matters because like I said, none of them fucking progress in the slightest.

This is not Haxies. This is not jailbreak. This is not unsandboxed, unencrypted, uncryptographically signed. This is Apple’s own software running on Apple’s own OS, running on Apple’s own hardware, talking to Apple’s own fucking internet services the way Apple pretend it just works if you do. And it just. Plain. Stupid. Fucking. Doesn’t. Work.

I’m not even the only one I know to have half of these problems.

So yes. Hardware is not easy. But apparently, mastering magnetism, CNC machining, sub-millimeter precision tolerances and gold metallurgy is nothing compared to loading up your own software beyond where you think it should be used – or not even beyond sometimes.

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