Archive for Apple

Review: Apple AirTag

Posted in Products with tags on May 3, 2021 by itnerd

They have been rumored for about a couple of years now, and it got to the point where they were as mythical as a unicorn. But the Apple AirTag has finally been released. This is Apple’s Bluetooth LE and Ultra Wide Band tracking device that fully integrates with the Apple ecosystem.

The AirTag is composed of white plastic with a stainless steel top. You can get the plastic part engraved with initials or an emoji. The stainless steel part is a fingerprint magnet and scratches insanely easily. It that bothers you, DBrand will be able to help you with that with a selection of skins to cover the stainless steel section of the AirTag. It weighs as much as a couple of Canadian quarters. The AirTag is IP67 water resistant which means it has been tested to work for up to 30 minutes while under 15cm to 1m of water.

For size comparison purposes, here’s an AirTag next to a Canadian $2 coin (a.k.a. a “toonie”):

In terms of thickness, it’s about slightly more than two “loonies” in thickness.

Now the AirTag can’t be attached to anything by itself. You need some sort of holder to attach it to anything. Which to be honest is a bit of a #Fail as Tile and other don’t need accessories to be attached to anything. Apple can of course help you with that with a suite of accessories. I chose the cheapest one that was available:

This is the Belkin Secure Holder with Key Ring for AirTag. It is two pieces of plastic which comes with either a keychain or a strap. It is easy to assemble and holds the AirTag securely. And at $16 CDN, it’s by far the cheapest option for AirTag users. But Apple has more expensive options all the way up to the Hermes stuff which is insanely expensive.

Now setting the up is insanely easy. Unwrap the AirTag and pull this wrapping out of the battery compartment. A sound should play which means the AirTag is live. At that point you bring it next to your iPhone. This is the next thing that should happen:

You should see this prompt. Simply click Connect and follow the prompts. It will walk you through naming the AirTag and tying it to your Apple ID. The process takes about a minute and is insanely easy. It will then show up in the Find My app under the Items tab.

Once I did that, I was able to do some initial testing. The first thing that I did test how loud it is. Using my Apple Watch Series 6 I got a measurement of 80dB. For comparison purposes I used a Tile Pro and it got 85dB. So it is loud, but not as loud as the Tile. Having said that, the sound that the AirTag generates is high pitched and the frequency of the sound will modulate which will get your attention.

The next thing that I did test is how easy it is to find items. To make it interesting, I enlisted the help of my wife and her iPhone XR. The plan was that we would put AirTags on our house keys and leave them in our car. Then take a walk for a few kilometers, put the AirTags into Lost Mode which will enlist the help of Apple device users to find them. Then we will try to find them. So we parked the car, left the keys in the car, walked about 2.5 kilometers away, and then activated Lost Mode. Now once we activated Lost Mode, it required you to enter a phone number and it locks the AirTag to stop people from pairing it to their Apple ID. After activating Lost Mode, it took three minutes for me to see this prompt on my Apple Watch:

My wife got this a minute later on her iPhone:

This illustrates the AirTag’s greatest strength which is the number of iPhones that are out there who are passively looking for AirTag and other iOS and macOS devices. There are 1 billion or more Apple devices made up of iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and the like out there which can help you to find your lost devices. And the fact that it took four minutes or less to find the AirTags was impressive.

If you click on this notification, it will show you the general location of the item and you can navigate to it using Apple Maps. Once you get close, you can use your phone to find the exact location. I did a screen recording of my experience on my iPhone 12 Pro using the Precision Finding feature and you can see it below in real time:

Now I had to be close to the car for it to be able to connect to it and find it. Roughly 7M or 23 feet away to be specific. Then it was able to lead me right to it. And the fact that the closer that I got to it, the more haptic feedback the phone produced was a great help. But it was less cool for my wife as she could only get as far getting into the general area. But because she doesn’t have a U1 Ultra Wide Band chip in her iPhone XR, she had to play a game of “Marco Polo” using the play a sound feature to find it. Thus if you really want to leverage the full abilities of the AirTag, you really need an iPhone 11 or 12. I should also note that if someone else finds an item with an AirTag on it, it has an NFC tag that can be used by an Android or iOS device to get information to return it to that owner. On top of that, there is also a function within the Find My app that allows the easy identification of a found AirTag. A cool party trick is that you can use Siri to find your keys for you. Ask her to find your keys for example and she will play a sound on the AirTag in question. And if you have multiple items with the word “keys” in them, she will clarify which one you want her to find.

Some other notes. The AirTag appears to have upgradable firmware. Let me show you:

If you pull up the AirTag in the Find My app and tap on the battery icon, you will see the serial number and the firmware version. Thus to me, it implies that the firmware will be updated from time to time, likely in a similar way that AirPods are updated. Which is that they do it in the background via Bluetooth. But I couldn’t find anything confirming that so this is just a guess on my part.

Another thing that I will note is that the battery is user replaceable:

The AirTag uses a very common CR2032 battery which is easy and cheap to source everywhere. Taking the AirTag apart is similar to opening a pill bottle with a child proof cap.

Finally, to stop some low life scumbag from using an AirTag to track you, Apple has a number of features to stop that from happening. Specifically:

  1. If you have an iPhone and an AirTag that doesn’t belong to you is detected on your person moving with you and separated from its owner, you will get an alert on your iPhone. You can then find the AirTag, get the serial number off of it (which law enforcement with the right warrant can use to get info on the owner seeing as AirTags have to paired to an Apple ID), and allow you to disable it by walking you through removing the battery.
  2. The AirTag will play a sound after “a period of time” in the same scenario whether you have an iPhone or not.

While this is a unique feature as Tile and Samsung in the case of their SmartTracker device have nothing like this, it to me seems that Apple largely focused this feature around the Apple ecosystem. I think that they really need to do more in terms of evolving this into something that ensures your safety regardless of what device you happen to carry.

I should also mention that Apple did get the privacy features that Apple did get right. Each AirTag sends out a unique encrypted Bluetooth identifier. Other Apple devices can detect it and relay the location of the AirTag directly to an owner’s Apple ID account. This entire process is end-to-end encrypted so that no one but the owner of the AirTag ever has access to the AirTag’s current or past location. Or to put it another way, the person who passively relays the lost AirTag’s location to you never actually knows it happened and even if they did, they can’t get to the location data. And in typical Apple fashion, Apple doesn’t have access to that data either. Furthermore the Bluetooth identifiers that AirTags emit are not only randomized but are rotated many times a day and are never reused. In short, this will protect you from scenarios like this one, or this one that were related to being tracked via WiFi which forced Apple to do something to protect their users. That’s a complete non-issue with the AirTag.

Gripes? Beyond the things that I have pointed out earlier, I do have three other things to mention:

  • There aren’t alternate form factors available for specific use cases. For example, Tile has a credit card sized tracker called the Tile Slim which makes it easy to slip into a wallet. Slipping an AirTag into a wallet will make it bulge. I would like to see Apple make an AirTag in a slimmer form factor with the same feature set.
  • The second thing to mention is that the experience is inconsistent or non-existent depending on the Apple device. By that I mean that if you use the web version of the Find My app, you can’t see your AirTags at all. Also if you have an Apple Watch, there’s no Find My app at all that allows you to see your AirTags. On top of that the Apple Watch Series 6 has a U1 Ultra Wide Band chip in it which would be perfect for helping you to find things from your Apple Watch. But that functionality is simply not present. Hopefully it will be. Someday.
  • Finally, there’s no way for my wife and I to see each others AirTags despite the fact that we’re set up on Apple Family Sharing. That’s strange as thanks to Family Sharing, we can see each others iPhones, MacBooks, and Apple Watches. So why not AirTags? That simply doesn’t make sense. Especially since Tile allows you to share your Tile devices with others.

AirTags come in a one pack at a cost of $39 CDN each or $129 CDN for a four pack. Assuming you have an iPhone 11 or 12 which fully leverage the features of the AirTag, this is the best tracking device that’s available despite the flaws that it have which I assume will be ironed out over time.

The Europeans Say That Apple Has Broken EU Competition Law

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 30, 2021 by itnerd

As of late, Apple has been facing a lot of scrutiny over issues related to anti-trust. And their problems just got worse as Apple has been found to be in breach of competitive law by the European Union. This came about via a lawsuit that Spotify filed against Apple a couple of years back. The European Commission has released a statement stating that Apple “has “abused its dominant position for the distribution of music streaming apps through its App Store.” The commission has found that Apple’s App Store policies give the company an unfair advantage. Effectively, they are a monopoly.

Apple for its part, rejected this charge:

“Spotify has become the largest music subscription service in the world, and we’re proud of the role we played in that,” it said in a statement.

“They want all the benefits of the App Store but don’t think they should have to pay anything for that. The Commission’s argument on Spotify’s behalf is the opposite of fair competition,” it added.

Apple will be called before the commission to defend its actions. If found guilty, Apple could be fined up to 10% of its annual revenue from the App Store. But you should keep in mind that this sort of thing takes years and Apple will appeal any ruling that goes against it. So if you’re Spotify or even Tile who are among a number of companies who have issues with Apple, a speedy resolution to this isn’t going to happen. But we should all stay tuned anyway as this is sure to have far reaching effects elsewhere.

App Tracking Transparency – What It Is And Why Facebook Would Rather That It Didn’t Exist

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 27, 2021 by itnerd

iOS 14.5 was released yesterday and brought a brand new feature that purports to protect your privacy. It’s called App Tracking Transparency. The feature was announced a year ago, but Apple is now starting to make it mandatory that apps adhere to this new feature by displaying prompts if they track you. Let’s dig into that for a second.

Apple has a feature called IDFA or Identifier for Advertisers which is a unique identifier for iOS devices and is used to target and measure the effectiveness of advertising on a user level across mobile devices. This can be used to track your activities inside an app or beyond. And this data can be sold to third parties. So because Apple markets itself as a privacy focused company, Apple last year revealed new features of iOS 14 which included large changes to privacy management. Specifically Apple has announced that it will give users the ability to choose to block the sharing of this unique identifier at the App level. Previously, consumers had to opt-out. Now when a user installs or updates an app, a prompt will appear alerting the user to opt-in or opt-out of the sharing of this information. For people who choose to opt-out, it doesn’t mean you will no longer see ads, it just means the ads you will see will just not be personalized to you and potentially irrelevant. Now to be clear this isn’t a new feature as such. Limited Ad Tracking (LAT) has been a feature on iOS devices for years, albeit buried in the settings of iOS. What this new privacy prompt does is aligns this to the previous privacy initiatives Apple already put in place on its Safari browser, where it restricts third party cookies and limits the use of first-party cookies.

Facebook is so freaked out by these changes took out ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post declaring that it’s “standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation in response dismissed the campaign as “a laughable attempt from Facebook to distract you from its poor track record of anticompetitive behavior and privacy issues as it tries to derail pro-privacy changes from Apple that are bad for Facebook’s business.” The reason why Facebook is so freaked by this is that they are afraid that if you give consumers the choice of whether they want to be tracked all over the place, most will say no. And they’re likely right about that. Currently, about 70% of iOS users share their IDFA with app publishers. And after this change it’s estimated that this number will drop to 10% to 15%. Which means that if you’re Facebook, and your entire revenue model is based on making sure consumers share as much information about themselves as possible, this will freak you out because you’re about to lose a lot of cash. Here’s my view on this. As frequent readers of this blog will know, I am no fan of Facebook. And when it comes to this issue, they’re on the wrong side of it as consumers care about privacy and are sick of being tracked all over Hell’s half acre.

Now if you don’t want to be tracked, you have a couple of choices. If you head over to Settings –> Privacy –> Tracking you will see this screen:

If you turn this off, no app will be allowed to track you in any widespread and systematic way. That’s the way I have my iPhone set up. And as I said earlier, you will receive less relevant ads as opposed to highly targeted ads. Now if you leave this setting the way it is in the picture above, you will get a prompt from apps that want to track you across websites and apps asking if you want to allow this or not. Now there may be some apps that you may want to allow this behavior, and others that you may not want to allow this behavior. The choice is yours and that’s the point of this feature. This feature puts you in control of how your personal information is used by third parties. Even if they don’t like that fact that you are in control.

Now it has come to light that some are already looking to get around this any way they can, and Apple is strongly suggesting that they don’t do that or bad things will happen to them. So you can expect a game of cat and mouse to ensue. And the odds are that Apple will likely win that game. On top of that, to make sure that app makers don’t encourage users to allow app tracking, Apple updated its Human Interface Guidelines with a new section titled “Accessing User Data.” In this section, offering a mix of new and previously known information, Apple outlines the design policies that all apps must follow when they attempt to ask a user for their permission to access personal data, device capabilities such as microphone and camera, and consent to track them across apps and websites. But they also added this:

Don’t offer incentives for granting the request. You can’t offer people compensation for granting their permission, and you can’t withhold functionality or content or make your app unusable until people allow you to track them.

Don’t display a custom message that mirrors the functionality of the system alert. In particular, don’t create a button title that uses “Allow” or similar terms, because people don’t allow anything in a pre-alert screen.

Don’t show an image of the standard alert and modify it in any way.

Don’t draw a visual cue that draws people’s attention to the system alert’s Allow button.

And:

If you display a custom screen that precedes a privacy-related permission request, it must offer only one action, which must display the system alert. Use a word like “Continue” to title the action; don’t use “Allow” or other terms that might make people think they’re granting their permission or performing other actions within your custom screen.

In other words, Apple is extremely serious about this. And app developers as well as companies like Facebook should take heed. Because App Tracking Transparency is here to stay, and iOS users will benefit from that in the long term.

Revisited Review: Apple Fitness+

Posted in Products with tags on April 27, 2021 by itnerd

When I originally reviewed Apple Fitness+, I had this to say about the one fatal flaw that it had, which was the inability to use AirPlay to broadcast Fitness+ sessions to your AirPlay compatible TV:

But not being able to AirPlay to a big screen TV, which is inside Apple’s ecosystem without buying another piece of hardware is inexcusable. Especially, seeing as Apple’s main competition in this space which is the Peloton fitness app works with AirPlay with no issues whatsoever. For that reason, and that reason alone, when the three month trial is up for Apple Fitness+, we will discontinue it. Which is unfortunate as Apple has pretty much nailed every other aspect of this app, and they could dominate the fitness app space with ease. But they have to fix this one fatal flaw.

Well, Apple has now released iOS 14.5 and they have fixed this issue. But they also added some extra features to improve the user experience.

But first, let’s talk about this AirPlay thing.

iOS 14.5 introduced the ability to use AirPlay to broadcast a Fitness+ session to your AirPlay compatible. It’s simple enough to do and works very well. The only catch is that you can’t see any of your Apple Watch metrics on the TV which is a different experience than what you get with the Apple TV. The reason for that is that Apple has the Apple TV make a Bluetooth connection to your Apple Watch to get those metrics on screen. Seeing as I don’t know of an AirPlay compatible TV that has Bluetooth, Apple can’t make that work. And my wife and I are both fine with that as it’s a lot easier to do these workouts on a TV than on an iPhone. And it really doesn’t really take a whole lot of effort to look at your Apple Watch to see how hard you are working.

A new addition to the Apple Fitness+ workouts is Time To Walk. These are original episodes that last 30-40 minutes where users to immerse themselves in a walk alongside influential and interesting people as they share thoughtful and meaningful stories, photos, and music. Time to Walk can be enjoyed anytime and anywhere with Apple Watch and AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones. I tried a couple of these out via walks with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace and I very much enjoyed them. The visual content is prompted by haptic feedback and is glanceable on your Apple Watch without being distracting. The production quality is high and I found it to be extremely engaging.

Other changes to Fitness+ include:

  • New workouts specifically for women who are pregnant
  • New workouts for “Older Adults”
  • New workouts for beginners

All of those will help to broaden the appeal of Fitness+ and make it more approachable. The bottom line is that these are welcome changes and have made me change my mind about Fitness+. Prior to these changes there was a major flaw which was the lack of AirPlay support that made it not quite worth the $12.99 a month CDN. But now they’ve fixed that and added additional value that makes it totally worth that price. My wife and I will continue using Fitness+ as Apple has now truly nailed the home fitness experience.

Does Tile Have Anything To Worry About When It Comes To Apple’s AirTags? Yes…. But It’s Not For The Reason That Tile Is Focused On

Posted in Commentary with tags , on April 22, 2021 by itnerd

Earlier this week at the Apple “Spring Forward” event Apple finally announced the long rumored AirTags tracking device. I did a story on why Tile can’t or won’t jump onto Apple’s Find My network which allows third party devices to work within the Apple ecosystem. But the real question is this. Now that AirTags actually exists, does Tile have anything to worry about?

Tile clearly thinks so. Almost the second that the “Spring Forward” event was over, Tile called Apple out:

Our mission is to solve the everyday pain point of finding lost and misplaced things and we are flattered to see Apple, one of the most valuable companies in the world, enter and validate the category Tile pioneered.

The reason so many people turn to Tile to locate their lost or misplaced items is because of the differentiated value we offer our consumers. In addition to providing an industry leading set of features via our app that works with iOS and Android devices, our service is seamlessly integrated with all major voice assistants, including Alexa and Google. And with form factors for every use case and many different styles at affordable prices, there is a Tile for everyone.

Tile has also successfully partnered with top brands like HP, Intel, Skullcandy and fitbit to enable our finding technology in mass market consumer categories like laptops, earbuds and wearables. With over 30 partners, we look forward to extending the benefits of Tile to millions of customers and enabling an experience that helps you keep track of all your important belongings.

We welcome competition, as long as it is fair competition. Unfortunately, given Apple’s well-documented history of using its platform advantage to unfairly limit competition for its products, we’re skeptical. And given our prior history with Apple, we think it is entirely appropriate for Congress to take a closer look at Apple’s business practices specific to its entry into this category. We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues further in front of Congress tomorrow.

Let’s think about this for a second, Apple has opened up the Find My network to third parties. Sure that might be an optics exercise. But it also shows that if Tile really wanted to, they could join the party. But they’re either choosing not to, or they can’t. Something to consider is that if they did participate in the Find My network, they would have to have at least the trackers that are part of that network exclusively inside Apple’s ecosystem. Which means that they would be excluded from the Tile network. Something that I am sure isn’t palatable to Tile.

The other thing that I will say on this front is that Apple would be completely stupid to not allow Tile into the Find My party given how much scrutiny that they’re currently under from the US Congress among others for anti-trust reasons. Thus I have to wonder if this is all about the fact that Tile has just seen their life flash before their eyes because Apple just came out with a product that is potentially better.

Now if you ask me, here’s what Tile should really be worried about. Privacy. Apple as part of the Find My network has some pretty extensive privacy features. Here’s a paragraph from the Apple press release announcing AirTags:

AirTag is also designed with a set of proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking, an industry first. Bluetooth signal identifiers transmitted by AirTag rotate frequently to prevent unwanted location tracking. iOS devices can also detect an AirTag that isn’t with its owner, and notify the user if an unknown AirTag is seen to be traveling with them from place to place over time. And even if users don’t have an iOS device, an AirTag separated from its owner for an extended period of time will play a sound when moved to draw attention to it. If a user detects an unknown AirTag, they can tap it with their iPhone or NFC-capable device and instructions will guide them to disable the unknown AirTag.

Tile has nothing like this to stop unwanted tracking. And unless they get something like this as privacy matters to users these days, they may face mass defections of users that exist inside the Apple ecosystem who care about privacy. In my case, this feature alone is making me consider switching over my investment in the Tile ecosystem to AirTags because I care about privacy. But I will have to get one in house and test it out before I pull that trigger. Which if you clued in that this means that I will be reviewing AirTags, you get to move to the front of the class.

If anything, Tile needs to worry about being one step behind Apple in terms of privacy rather than go to congress and complain about any perceived anti-trust issues that it has with Apple. If they worry about the former, they have the chance to go head to head with Apple because:

  • Tile was in this market first and has sizable lead.
  • Tile has a cross platform product while Apple has a Apple centric product with limited Android support in the form of tapping an AirTag with an NFC enabled Android device to get directions to kill it or return it.

Let’s see if Tile chooses to do the right thing and match Apple in terms of privacy, or go down a path that will likely end in doom for them.

Apple Just Dropped Their New iMac…. And You Need To Be Careful About How You Buy It

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 22, 2021 by itnerd

A couple of days ago, Apple announced new iMacs which promise performance that will simply destroy any Intel based iMac based on the performance that I saw on the M1 based MacBook Air. But you have to be careful about how you buy this iMac when sales start later this month, otherwise you might limit your options in the future. Thus here’s my suggestions for how to buy it:

  1. Skip the base model: The base model is a complete and total waste of your time and money. It only comes with a 7 core GPU which means that there will be a hit in performance. But the bigger issue is that it only comes with two Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports. Every other model comes with those ports and two USB 3 ports. That will limit what you can connect to it. On top of that, you won’t get the option for Gigabit Ethernet built into the power adapter. And as a result it limits your flexibility as to connecting to the Internet via Ethernet or WiFi. Then there’s the fact that Touch ID is available only on the 2 higher end models. If you care about upping your security game, that’s a factor to consider. Finally, only 4 of the available 7 colors are available on the base model. For reference, the next step up in the lineup has 6 of the available 7 colors. Finally the top end option has all 7 colors available. What’s weird is that the US has all 7 colors available in the top two models. So if you are in a location other than the US, you might want to keep an eye out for that. The bottom line is that unless you can’t afford to go up to at least the next step up in the iMac food chain, you should skip this model.
  2. Get 16GB of RAM: Seeing as like the other M1 Macs you can’t upgrade the RAM after the fact, getting 16GB of RAM is a must. That way you future proof your iMac and will ensure that you can run anything as your needs evolve.
  3. Get the most amount of storage that you can afford: 256GB is really not enough storage and like the RAM you cannot upgrade later. I would recommend 512GB or more as that too will future proof your iMac and will also ensure that you can run anything as your needs evolve. Here’s my rule of thumb:
    • If you currently have a computer with 256GB of storage, get 512GB. 
    • If you currently have a computer with 512GB of storage, get 1TB.
    • If you currently have a computer with 1TB of storage, get 2TB.

Hopefully that helps you to configure the right M1 based iMac for your needs. If you still have questions, email me and I will help you as best as I can.

Apple Supplier Pwned By Ransomware…. Unreleased MacBook Schematics Are Now Being Held For Ransom

Posted in Commentary with tags , on April 21, 2021 by itnerd

Apple dropped a bunch of new hardware yesterday in a product launch event that was streamed to the world. The long awaited AirTags, a new iMac, and a new iPad Pro all were announced. But the story that you should actually care about is that according to Bloomberg, Apple supplier Quanta was hit by a ransomware attack perpetrated by the ransomware group called REvil. And what’s more, they claim to have in their possession 15 images and or schematics of unreleased MacBooks. And all of this came to light while the event was going on:

By the time Apple’s product launch was over, REvil had posted schematics for a new laptop, including 15 images detailing the guts of what appears to be a Macbook designed as recently as March 2021, according to the documents reviewed by Bloomberg.

REvil is now attempting to shake-down Apple in its effort to profit off the stolen data. They’ve asked Apple to pay their ransom by May 1, as was first reported by Bleeping Computer. Until then, the hackers will continue to post new files every day, REvil said on its blog.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on questions about the compromise.

Now Quanta makes computers for a number of brands such as HP, Lenovo and Dell among others. And Bleeping Computer has reported that REvil might be trying to shake down other companies as well. But this is gong to cause a lot of alarm over at 1 Apple Park as Apple is the type of company that really tries to lock things down so that it can fully control the message and it can limit product leaks. Clearly that didn’t work in this case, and now they have a major problem on their hands. One has to wonder if they will cut a cheque or take some other form of action. Like not pay and whatever happens next, is whatever happens next.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

UPDATE: Justin Fier, Director of Cyber Intelligence & Analytics for Darktrace had this to say:

Following today’s news of the attack on Quanta, we can be in little doubt that complex digital supply chains are a hacker’s paradise. Today, a company’s critical data is fluid, often being handled outside the organization itself. This complexity offers those with criminal intent with many points of vulnerability that may be exploited. 

Across our global customer base, AI is stopping more and more attacks that target intellectual property or commercially-sensitive information for the purposes of extortion or corporate espionage. In this case, attackers accessed Apple’s design blueprints via a trusted third party – and the full extent of the data taken is not yet known. 

Suppliers need to be held to higher standards, and recent calls from the Biden administration and DHS for more stringent requirements for cyber security transparency and vetting are welcome.  Organizations also need to embrace technology that can respond at computer speed in the face of fast moving attacks like ransomware. Those that are being successful against fast-moving threats are protecting their systems with artificial intelligence, capable of detecting the subtle, unusual activity that precedes a full-blown attack, and crucially, which responds at computer speed – before data is held to ransom. 

So Why Wasn’t Tile Included In Apple’s Find My Network Announcement?

Posted in Commentary with tags , on April 8, 2021 by itnerd

Yesterday Apple announced Find My Network integration with third party products including products from Belkin, Chipolo, and VanMoof. But weird thing to many was that Tile who by far was the originator of creating trackers that can be found using crowdsourced info, and by far has the largest network to help you to find lost items if you use their trackers. You have to wonder why that was the case as surely there are tens of thousands of Tile users out there who would love to have this functionality. So why isn’t it there? Well, seeing as Apple isn’t the type of company to be forthcoming with this sort of information. So that leaves us to guess what the reason why this might be.

My first guess, and the most likely reason in my mind is this paragraph from Apple’s announcement:

Today Apple is also announcing a draft specification for chipset manufacturers that will be released later this spring. With this, third-party device makers will be able to take advantage of Ultra Wideband technology in U1-equipped Apple devices, creating a more precise, directionally aware experience when nearby.

Tile devices use Bluetooth. So it appears that based on the above, Tile devices won’t work with the Find My Network as they don’t support Ultra Wideband technology. At least not at present. Perhaps that will change in the future. And to add further weight to that argument, Chipolo has a new tracker that is shipping in June that supports the Find My Network. There’s few technical details that I can find about this tracker. But their existing trackers use Bluetooth so it suggests that this new tracker is Ultra Wideband enabled. Which also means that if Tile came out with an Ultra Wideband enabled tracker, they too could jump onto this bandwagon.

Now that’s the non-sinister reason behind this. Now over the sinister reason. Tile has accused Apple of anti-trust behavior because of some of Apple’s requirements that users give permission for the Tile app to track items in the background among other things. Apple may not have been thrilled about that and decided to exclude them from this announcement to send a message to Tile.

Finally a number of people online have suggested that Tile might have some sort of privacy issue that Apple wasn’t thrilled about. I did some research on this and didn’t find any evidence of this. For example, Mozilla has a privacy report that didn’t ring any alarm bells with me. So I doubt that’s the reason.

Whatever the reason, the omission of Tile is curious. And it will be interesting to see if Tile ever joins this program. This will be something that I will be be watching very closely.

Apple Partners w/Benedict College, USC And Gov For South Carolina Education Initiative

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 31, 2021 by itnerd

Today Governor Henry McMaster announced that the University of South Carolina system and Benedict College are working with Apple to provide critical infrastructure support to students and communities throughout South Carolina, who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Governor McMaster approved the use of $6 million out of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund – part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 – to provide underserved communities additional resources, including technology and educational programing, to help those whose education or economic situation has been disrupted by COVID-19.

The collaboration will build a new network of learning labs that will feature Apple products and curricula. The network will include hubs in Columbia’s BullStreet District and at Benedict College, along with satellite labs at six sites of UofSC’s regional Palmetto College campuses. UofSC Palmetto College campuses are all located within 15 miles or less of a broadband desert, according to the South Carolina Broadband Map, providing reliable technology and internet access to these communities. These labs supplement the statewide efforts undertaken by the Office of Regulatory Staff, which utilized CARES Act funds to expand broadband technology to over 100 South Carolina schools and over 200 communities. This initiative reflects a statewide effort to level the playing field and ensure that all South Carolinians have access to top-tier computing and educational resources.

UofSC serves the entire state of South Carolina, and this investment in traditionally underserved communities reflects that mission. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted these communities and has made the issue of access to technologies such as broadband even more apparent. Studies have confirmed that students from economically stressed areas are more likely to be attending school remotely during the pandemic. By leveraging the expertise of the UofSC system and Benedict College, students and community members will be able to take advantage of educational programming designed to close the computer literacy and skills gap.

Each of the campuses will provide computer lab space and will design educational programming to serve the communities in which they reside. The collaboration chose Apple products including Mac and iPad to facilitate ease of use and access to unique curricula and experiences that will power the future workforce, including coding and app development, creativity and content creation. Each site will be available for use by faculty, staff, students, and community members on a regular and recurring basis at no cost. Availability of the labs and programs will be advertised in each community. Indeed, it was the focus on community impact which drove UofSC and Benedict College to partner and propose this initiative to Governor McMaster.

Why Is There Suddenly A Profile Section In System Preferences On My Mac & Why Is There An iMovie Profile In It?

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 22, 2021 by itnerd

Recently, I got a few calls from clients who run Macs who noted a new system preference option appear in System Preferences.

As you can see here, the system preference in question is called Profiles. Every client that I had talked to had never seen it before. But it gets better, when you look in Profiles, this is what you will see:

What you see above provisioning profile. A provisioning profile is used by Xcode to determine if the app can be installed on a particular device, what services from the operating system the app will have access to (iCloud, Keychain, Push Notifications, etc), and some other information to get the app installed on the device or shipped to the App Store. This is true of iOS apps and true of macOS apps. They also allow developers to test apps that aren’t published on the App Store.

Another use of profiles is to allow Enterprise Mobility Management software, aka EMM software to manage your Mac in an environment where one might have dozens or hundreds of Macs and touching each one by hand is impractical. In this case the profile could be used to deliver anything from software updates, configuration changes, or lock the Mac down to limit what the user could do.

The thing is unless you fit either use case, you as an end user should never actually see a Profile pane in system preferences. So this is clearly weird. I looked at my Mac and my wife’s Mac and sure enough, we had a Profiles pane and this profile in it. It took a bit of detective work, but I think I know what is going on. I think that Apple screwed up when they published iMovie 10.2.3 a couple of weeks back and left the profile in the product when they published it to the App Store. That to me makes sense as these profiles are usually stripped out before the app hits the App Store. But for whatever reason that only Apple can explain, not that we should expect them to explain anything, that didn’t happen in this case. So when end users downloaded this version of iMovie, they also get this profile installed. And here we are talking about it.

The good news is that removing the profile if you choose to do so won’t harm your system, it won’t keep iMovie from starting, and as a bonus, it makes the Profiles system option disappear as long as there are no other profiles present. Conversely, if you leave it there, nothing bad will happen to your system either. So I will leave it to you to choose what course you want to take. But if you want to remove it, here’s what you should do:

  • Open the Profiles Preference
  • Highlight the iMovie_27_Sep profile
  • Click on the minus (-) icon at the bottom left corner of the screen.
  • A dialog box will pop up asking you to confirm that you want to remove this. Do that and then authenticate when prompted to do so.
  • Declare victory and have a beer.

One last thing. A few of the people who reported this to me asked if they had been hacked. While profiles have been known to install malicious software, and in the case of Facebook bypass the app store entirely, that isn’t the case here. There is no security risk here that is present. So you need not worry about that.