The Apple Watch may support third-party watch faces in the future

Third-party watch faces for smartwatches allow users to express more of themselves while also letting them have a bit more fun with their tech. The Apple Watch already has a number of Apple-made watch faces, many of which are customizable, but third-party developers haven’t been able to make their own. A report from 9to5Mac suggests that might change soon, thanks to code found in watchOS 4.3.1 hinting at third-party watch face compatibility.

The interesting log message states: “This is where the 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen.” It’s part of the NanoTimeKit framework in the wearable software beta, which gives developers access to watch face components. While the feature doesn’t appear to be active yet, it seems to refer to an inactive developer tool server that may allow communication with Xcode on macOS.

It’s unclear if Apple would make this feature active in watchOS 5, the next version of the Apple Watch’s software that’s expected to be announced at WWDC this June. Even if Apple doesn’t announce it as a feature in watchOS 5, the mere mention of it means it’s possible that the company would allow third-party developers to create clock faces for its wearable sometime in the future.

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The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

In defense of the HomePod

My HomePod, Google Home and Amazon Echo all live within about 15 feet of each other in my apartment.

This is as much a testament to my obsession with smart home crap as it is to my inability to buy into a single tech giant’s hardware ecosystem. I’ve gone all-in with each assistant at various times but now my entire connected life is run through a series of commands that are held together by specific intonations, exact phrasing and speaking volumes of which I alone fully grasp. I solely hold the recipes to my MacGyvered connected life. (This has made life difficult for my roommate who sometimes has to ask me to turn the lights on, but truthfully he should have known what annoying techiness laid ahead when he saw me unpacking my VR rig as we moved in.)

This amalgam of chatty smart assistants has made me pretty in tune with each of these product’s faults, but it’s also helped me gain a deep appreciation for the individual strengths of the platforms themselves.

This week, Bloomberg reported that times are tough for the HomePod. Apple is cutting production, some of its retail stores aren’t breaking double digit sales of the device on a daily basis and it only has a small sliver of the smart speaker market. This report brought a lot of critics out of the woodwork who heralded the ignorance of Apple’s product strategy and harped on the smart speaker’s general dumbness and lackluster feature set.

Now, I’m not in the habit of defending near-trillion dollar companies, but I think much of this criticism is misplaced. The HomePod is probably the best-functioning smart speaker of the bunch, and I’d also contend that the company’s overall strategy is far from being “years behind” its competitors. Apple’s AI strategy needs some TLC to strengthen Siri, but with the AirPods and HomePod, Apple is building a unified front on audio hardware that will weather the gimmicks of a market that seems artificially mature to begin with.

A misunderstood market

First off, I’ve always found the “smart speaker market” to be a pie that’s sliced in a bizarre way. For as intimately tied to smartphones as voice assistants are, saying that Amazon remains the clear winner in a category that excludes the billions of mobile devices with deep voice assistant capabilities seems accurate but deeply wrong at the same time.

It’s also why I don’t think Apple needs to be as worried about getting a $50 product like the Home Mini or Echo Dot out there, because while Amazon desperately needs a low-friction connection to consumers, Apple doesn’t gain as much by putting a tinny speaker into a can that will do even less than what “Hey Siri” on your iPhone could do.

$349 is pretty far (too far) in the other direction, but the high-end hardware is the sell for Apple and the concept that consumers are going to default to another smart assistant than what their phone uses is only a problem that will exist in the early days of Siri and Google Assistant. Amazon’s technologies can get better and better but if Google Assistant is the only one with intimate knowledge of your Google Account activities and Siri is the only one that you can send iMessages with, there’s not much of a conversation to have.

Listen up

The dumbest answer from a smart speaker is always the one you’re waiting on that never comes. Just as the Airpods have succeeded in their approach thanks to the less sexy connectivity advances, the HomePod wins on the intelligence of its listening capabilities via a microphone array that can hear me at a whisper’s volume even while loud music is playing. It’s an overlooked feature in hardware comparisons, and it’s honestly one of the most important in practice.

I’ve yelled so many “Hey Google’s” while the TV is playing that never registered. Meanwhile, I’ve learned that I don’t really have to raise my voice to talk with the HomePod. That, along with its much blogged-about location-aware features of the HomePod, make it a device that feels like more of an ethereal presence in my apartment and less tied down to a physical location where I point my head and yell. While Amazon’s tech here has long been impressive as well, I’ve found the HomePod to be a bit more effective when tunes are blaring while pretty much laying waste to Google’s smart speakers (including the Max) which have always seemed to be hard of hearing in noisy environments from my experience.

Unskilled intelligence

Now, Siri is absolutely less good than Google Assistant when it comes to being a phone assistant, but a lot of these shortcomings don’t translate as jarringly to the HomePod. Apple has made the wrong calls with third party integrations for Siri on iOS but the current state of Alexa Skills and Google Assistant Actions suggests that Apple isn’t missing a ton on the smart speaker third-party platform front yet.

Something like ordering a pizza with Domino’s on an Echo or Google Home requires a bizarre amount of effort that is only easy if you do most of the work on your phone ahead of time. I wouldn’t say that Apple missing this feature has torn a hole in its core intelligence, likewise most of these “skills” generally don’t give me the context I need to make a decision.

I don’t get why there’s so much love thrown at these smart speaker development platforms. The fact is, they’re largely outlets for brand marketing budget dollars, rather than bastions of consumer utility. Sure, some of these apps are fun and may ultimately make the Echo a more family-friendly device than the HomePod, but the bloatware eventually becomes an afterthought as the gimmick wears off. Amazon needs this right now, not consumers.

Limitations

Making calls, distinguishing between multiple users and accessing calendars are all pretty baseline features that one hopes that the HomePod receives updates for soon. Nevertheless, the HomePod is not an unfinished product as some have said, and is certainly not “years behind” its competitors. It certainly feels more finished than some of the hardware products in Amazon’s divergent smart speaker cornucopia.

They’ve made some annoying decisions regarding music streaming support; Apple Music is an absolute necessity to enjoy this product. I’ve been a Spotify listener in the past, but I’ve never been a power user of playlists which left me pretty vulnerable to switching if it made life easier with the HomePod and my AirPods, which it did.

Apple Music is just one more exclusive element of the ecosystem, and by extension, Siri. Despite Spotify’s sky-high market cap, I don’t really see a good reason not to be bullish on Apple Music. The service is rapidly growing and — if trends hold — will overtake Spotify in paid subscriber count sometime this summer. It seems unrealistic that Apple will bring Apple Music support to the Echo or Google Home, but it’d be nice if some skeleton support came to Spotify on HomePod in the meantime, though I kind of doubt this as well.

End-game

It’s all about the ecosystem; the “smart speaker market” doesn’t matter and never will as we define it now. What Google gains with a cheap entry point of a Google Home Mini is a way to drive people to features they didn’t know their phones had. Apple is using the HomePod to set a baseline while they look to build up these features that Siri doesn’t have yet. Amazon’s Alexa may have a chance in the context of the connected home, but it’s hard to imagine a world where you don’t want your mobile device and home assistant hub being intimately tied at an OS level.

The AirPods and HomePod are very good examples of OS-integrated hardware, and while Siri needs a facelift and perhaps some brain surgery, Apple’s thinking with the HomePod is about where it needs to be. It’s a platform that should really be a bit experimental for the time-being. These things were pushed into people’s homes so quickly by an Amazonian quest for market domination, but so much of the utility of smart speakers is still tied up in their frustrations.

Like the AirPods, the HomePod has isolated the right challenges to tackle first. “Winning the smart speaker market” isn’t going to happen for this product, but I get a sense that Apple’s thinking with the HomePod is tied up in a healthy self-awareness that its competitors lack.

Apple memo warning employees about leaking gets leaked

Apple recently sent a lengthy memo admonishing employees against leaking. As you might have guessed, that memo got leaked.

On Friday, Bloomberg News published what it described as being an “internal blog” post in full. The memo warned that Apple “employees, contractors, or suppliers—do get caught, and they’re getting caught faster than ever.”

The post also reportedly noted that, “in some cases,” leakers “face jail time and massive fines for network intrusion and theft of trade secrets both classified as federal crimes,” adding that, in 2017, “Apple caught 29 leakers, and of those, 12 were arrested.”

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Apple details its crackdown on leakers…in a leaked memo

In an internal memo to employees, Apple threatened severe consequences for leaking confidential company information – reminding staff that those who leak can lose their jobs, have difficult finding future employment, and even get arrested. Last year, Apple claimed to have busted 29 leakers, 12 of whom were arrested.

The memo itself was leaked, and its content was published by Bloomberg this afternoon.

Apple has always cultivated a culture of confidentially about its work, as a means of maintaining a competitive advantage over the competition.

Given how large Apple has grown over the years – the memo says there are “135,000 people” working there – it’s become more difficult to keep things under wraps. By the time a new iPhone launches, for example, people already know what to expect. That can give rivals a head start on catching up with Apple, ahead of an actual public unveiling of the device. Leaks can also impact sales of current devices, as consumers hold off on buying as they know something better is soon to arrive.

Apple more recently has had problems with leaked iOS source code, as well as leaked details about the iPhone 8 and X, Apple Watch Series 3, Apple TV 4K, HomePod, and more. And that was just in 2017.

The new memo is not the first time Apple has tried to plug its leaks. Last year, the company held a meeting with employees where it discussed how it plans to prevent leaks, talked about how leakers were caught, and answered employees’ questions.

That meeting was secretly recorded and leaked to the press too.

In reality, some leaks can be harder to track or stop. A company-wide meeting or email, for instance, could be leaked by anyone.

The new memo begins by informing Apple employees that the person who leaked details about Apple’s software roadmap earlier this year was caught and fired last month:

Last month, Apple caught and fired the employee responsible for leaking details from an internal, confidential meeting about Apple’s software roadmap. Hundreds of software engineers were in attendance, and thousands more within the organization received details of its proceedings. One person betrayed their trust.

The employee who leaked the meeting to a reporter later told Apple investigators that he did it because he thought he wouldn’t be discovered. But people who leak — whether they’re Apple employees, contractors or suppliers — do get caught and they’re getting caught faster than ever.

The memo then goes on to stress how damaging leaks are to the company itself, those who worked on a project, and other employees.

It reminds employees that when they’re approached by press, analysts and bloggers they’re “getting played.”

The establishment of a very us-versus-them culture when dealing with outsiders is notable because it means Apple employees may fear becoming whistleblowers. Employees will likely also fear leaking to correct inaccurate information being passed around publicly. Today, there are reports that Apple’s own comms teams won’t respond to, when asked by press – unless the report reaches a critical mass, or worse – is unflattering to Apple.

But unlike at other companies where a PM or staffer may reach out to privately correctly a detail or give background outside of official channels, Apple staff would be fired for crossing that line.

The memo also points to more examples of how Apple’s internal security has caught people who believed they could get away with it – including the person who leaked the link to the gold master of iOS 11, and those who leaked within the supply chain.

It concludes by sharing the news that 12 of the leakers in 2017 were arrested.

“Leakers do not simply lose their jobs at Apple. In some cases, they face jail time and massive fines for network intrusion and theft of trade secrets both classified as federal crimes,” the memo read. “These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere.”

There’s a certain kind of person who will find language like this a challenge. But the majority will likely take heed.

The memo was published as an internal company blog post.

The full memo can be read on Bloomberg’s site.

Leaked Apple Memo Warns Employees About Leaking Info to Media

Apple recently posted a “lengthy” cautionary memo on its internal website that uses aggressive scare tactics to warn employees against leaking details about future products to the media, reports Bloomberg.

In 2017, Apple said it caught 29 leakers and that 12 of those people were arrested. “These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere,” the company said in the memo.

Images of iPhone X components that leaked well ahead of the device’s launch


The memo details several instances where sensitive data had been leaked to the media, such as the leaked iOS 11 GM, which divulged details on the iPhone X, and meetings where Craig Federighi detailed delays to planned functionality in iOS 12 to focus on improving existing features. The employees who leaked this info were caught and fired, said Apple.

It also warns Apple employees against befriending members of the press, analysts, and bloggers and “getting played.”

Apple told employees that leaking information about an unreleased product can impact sales of current models, lead to fewer sales when the product is released, and give competitors more time to mimic product features. “We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else,” Apple’s Greg Joswiak said in the memo, the full text of which is below, courtesy of Bloomberg:

Last month, Apple caught and fired the employee responsible for leaking details from an internal, confidential meeting about Apple’s software roadmap. Hundreds of software engineers were in attendance, and thousands more within the organization received details of its proceedings. One person betrayed their trust.

The employee who leaked the meeting to a reporter later told Apple investigators that he did it because he thought he wouldn’t be discovered. But people who leak — whether they’re Apple employees, contractors or suppliers — do get caught and they’re getting caught faster than ever.

In many cases, leakers don’t set out to leak. Instead, people who work for Apple are often targeted by press, analysts and bloggers who befriend them on professional and social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and begin to pry for information. While it may seem flattering to be approached, it’s important to remember that you’re getting played. The success of these outsiders is measured by obtaining Apple’s secrets from you and making them public. A scoop about an unreleased Apple product can generate massive traffic for a publication and financially benefit the blogger or reporter who broke it. But the Apple employee who leaks has everything to lose.

The impact of a leak goes far beyond the people who work on a project.

Leaking Apple’s work undermines everyone at Apple and the years they’ve invested in creating Apple products. “Thousands of people work tirelessly for months to deliver each major software release,” says UIKit lead Josh Shaffer, whose team’s work was part of the iOS 11 leak last fall. “Seeing it leak is devastating for all of us.”

The impact of a leak goes beyond the people who work on a particular project — it’s felt throughout the company. Leaked information about a new product can negatively impact sales of the current model; give rival companies more time to begin on a competitive response; and lead to fewer sales of that new product when it arrives. “We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else,” says Greg Joswiak of Product Marketing.

Investments by Apple have had an enormous impact on the company’s ability to identify and catch leakers. Just before last September’s special event, an employee leaked a link to the gold master of iOS 11 to the press, again believing he wouldn’t be caught. The unreleased OS detailed soon-to-be-announced software and hardware including iPhone X. Within days, the leaker was identified through an internal investigation and fired. Global Security’s digital forensics also helped catch several employees who were feeding confidential details about new products including iPhone X, iPad Pro and AirPods to a blogger at 9to5Mac.

Last year Apple caught 29 leakers.

Leakers in the supply chain are getting caught, too. Global Security has worked hand-in-hand with suppliers to prevent theft of Apple’s intellectual property as well as to identify individuals who try to exceed their access. They’ve also partnered with suppliers to identify vulnerabilities — both physical and technological — and ensure their security levels meet or exceed Apple’s expectations. These programs have nearly eliminated the theft of prototypes and products from factories, caught leakers and prevented many others from leaking in the first place.

Leakers do not simply lose their jobs at Apple. In some cases, they face jail time and massive fines for network intrusion and theft of trade secrets both classified as federal crimes. In 2017, Apple caught 29 leakers. 12 of those were arrested. Among those were Apple employees, contractors and some partners in Apple’s supply chain. These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere. “The potential criminal consequences of leaking are real,” says Tom Moyer of Global Security, “and that can become part of your personal and professional identity forever.”

While they carry serious consequences, leaks are completely avoidable. They are the result of a decision by someone who may not have considered the impact of their actions. “Everyone comes to Apple to do the best work of their lives — work that matters and contributes to what all 135,000 people in this company are doing together,” says Joswiak. “The best way to honor those contributions is by not leaking.”

Apple has always been an intensely private and secretive company, but as it has grown, leaks have become harder to contain, both among its own corporate employees and from its supplier partners. In 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple was going to “double down on secrecy on products,” but each and every year, details on new products manage to leak out ahead of launch.
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Mastercard, Discover and Amex Ending Signature Requirement for Purchases Tomorrow, Visa to Follow Later This Month

Starting tomorrow, the major credit card companies in the United States are officially eliminating the signature requirement for purchases, marking an end to a long running but increasingly unnecessary policy.

American Express, Visa, Discover, and Mastercard first announced plans to end credit card signatures late last year, but have now confirmed to The Verge that the policy change will go into effect starting on April 13. American Express, Mastercard, and Discover all plan to stop requiring signatures tomorrow, while Visa plans to follow later in the month.

Credit and debit card companies have long required signatures for purchases as an added security measure, but with technology improvements that include contactless payments and the adoption of EMV chip technology, signatures are an outdated authentication method.

Officially eliminating signatures when making a purchase will allow for a more consistent, streamlined, and speedy checkout experience for both merchants and cardholders. It should also streamline the Apple Pay experience in the United States, as a signature can on occasion be required for purchases over $50 when using Apple Pay, a step that will be eliminated when the signature changes become official.

American Express plans to end the signature requirement in the United States and other countries around the world, while Mastercard will eliminate it in the United States and Canada. Discover plans to end signatures in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and Visa is making signatures optional in North America for companies that offer chip systems.

All merchants continue to be able to collect signatures if required to do so by an applicable law in a particular jurisdiction.
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Apple Reminds Developers App Updates Must Support 64-Bit Starting June 2018, Warns Customers About Unoptimized Apps

Apple today reminded developers about upcoming changes being made to the Mac App Store. Starting on June 1, all new app updates submitted to the Mac App Store must support 64-bit.

Apple already requires new apps submitted to the Mac App Store to offer 64-bit support, a change that went into effect in January of 2018, so this upcoming policy shift will only affect older apps that have not yet implemented 64-bit support.



Along with the warning to developers, Apple says customers who are running the latest macOS 10.13.4 update will begin receiving warning messages when launching a 32-bit app for the first time to let them know that the app is not optimized for their Mac. According to TechCrunch, these warnings will start at midnight Pacific Time on April 12.

With the recent release of macOS High Sierra 10.13.4, the first time users launch an app that does not support 64-bit they will see an alert that the app is not optimized for their Mac.

As a reminder, new apps submitted to the Mac App Store must support 64-bit, and starting June 2018, app updates and existing apps must support 64-bit. If you distribute your apps outside the Mac App Store, we highly recommend distributing 64-bit binaries to make sure your users can continue to run your apps on future versions of macOS.

Apple used a similar warning system when phasing out 32-bit support on iOS before eventually ending support with iOS 11, and the company has said the same plan will be used as 32-bit Mac apps are phased out.

Apple first warned developers and consumers about the impending Mac App Store changes starting last June at the 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple is slowly ending support for 32-bit Mac apps and has said macOS High Sierra will be the “last macOS release to support 32-bit apps without compromises” and “all future Mac software will eventually be required to be 64-bit.”
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