Apple’s Use of the Term “Accessibility” on the Mac and on iOS Is Confusing

Apple has long been one of the leaders in accessibility on its computers and mobile devices. Accessibility, in computing, according to Wikipedia:

refers to the accessibility of a computer system to all people, regardless of disability type or severity of impairment. The term accessibility is most often used in reference to specialized hardware or software, or a combination of both, designed to enable use of a computer by a person with a disability or impairment. Specific technologies may be referred to as assistive technology.

Both on the Mac and on iOS, there are a number of accessibility settings, to help users see, hear, and work with their devices.

Accessibility pane

But Apple is also using this term, and the same “human” icon in another location on macOS Catalina. It is found in the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences.

Accessibility security

This section is where you allow apps to control your Mac; you give explicit authorization, through a number of alerts and dialogs, to apps to allow them to interact with other apps.

This latter use of the term accessibility is simply wrong. Yes, it is about accessing your Mac, but this is a term with a very clear meaning in computing. And using the same icon for accessibility in these settings makes it look as though these settings somehow affect how a user interacts with the Mac.

In a chat today, my colleague Craig Grannell, who has written a lot about accessibility, said this:

Accessibility is too often where things go that Apple doesn’t really want you to trigger. On macOS, there is no good reason why the transparency settings aren’t in General.

There are a lot of settings on the Mac that are wedged into the Accessibility preferences that should be more obvious, and Reduce transparency is certainly one of them. (And I’d argue that the term should be “translucency,” not transparency…) Voice control is another. While it is designed for people with physical limitations, the dictation feature can be used by anyone to convert speech to text, especially now that Nuance has discontinued its Dragon software on macOS.

Pointer control should be in the Trackpad and Mouse preferences. This is where you set a double-click speed, and where you adjust the spring-loaded folder delay.

On iOS, there are even more essential settings filed under accessibility, but some of these settings are also found elsewhere. For example, to change the system font size, you can go to Display & Brightness, or to Accessibility. In Accessibility, you can activate auto-brightness, which you cannot access where you would expect (I’d expect that setting to be in Display & Brightness).

Settings for the Magnifier are in Accessibility, whereas this is a feature that is not just for visually impaired people. Reachability, a feature designed for one-handed access to the larger displays of iPhones, is also hidden in Accessibility, as are Tap to Wake and Shake to Undo.

Accessibility is essential, and it’s not just for people with handicaps or disabilities. Apple really needs to make all this more coherent, providing more logic in how settings are organized, and especially changing the way they describe the security setting that allows apps to control your Mac, which has nothing at all to do with accessibility.

Problems Opening Files from iCloud in iOS 13.2

It’s fair to say that this year’s release of Apple’s operating systems has been a lot less comfortable than in the past. There are always bugs in operating systems, but there have been a number of serious bugs both on macOS and iOS that have led many seasoned Apple users to be very critical of these releases. Developer Marco Arment has notably been quite vocal about these issues:

Arment

It’s worth noting that the latest iOS 13.3 beta seems to fix the problem, mentioned above, where apps quit when in the background.

One such issue that has arisen since the release of iOS 13.2 is a situation where it is impossible to open files from iCloud. Here are three users discussing this on Twitter:

Ian Humm of Information Architects, developers of the iA Writer, the text editor I use for most of my writing, told me that he’s been getting a lot of support questions about this, since iA Writer stores files on iCloud Drive, by default. He said that restarting the iOS device where there are problems always fixes the issue, and that:

Reading through a sysdiagnose we received it appears that there isn’t actually a deadlock, but file reading fails with NSFileReadUnknownError.

I asked him if there was a commonality where all affected users has been running beta versions of iOS, as other developers had reported data loss early in the iOS 13 beta campaign, but he said that it is unlikely that all affected users were running iOS betas.

I have not seen this issue myself, but given that it seems fairly widespread, it’s worth highlighting. If you are experiencing this issue, get in touch with the developers of the apps where it’s happened, but it doesn’t look like it’s something they can fix. If anyone is running iOS 13.3 and has seen whether this issue is resolved or not, post a comment below.

The Next Track, Episode #162 – Apple’s New Improved macOS Media Apps

Doug and Kirk spend a half hour or so discussing Apple’s new apps that replace iTunes on the Mac. They rant, they praise, they shrug, they laugh, and they reminisce on what was, while imaging what could have been. It was a very good year.

Find out more at The Next Track website, or follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast.

Opinion: The worst part of Apple TV+ is the TV app – 9to5Mac

The Apple TV+ debut is a mixed affair. It may only have a handful of shows right now, but people seem to be enjoying them (even if most critics didn’t). I know I am anxiously looking forward to Friday for the next episode of The Morning Show and For All Mankind.

However, Apple TV+ content is only available through the TV app. And the TV app is pretty bad, mediocre at best…

The TV app is a bit of a mystery. As the article points out:

The TV app now has to juggle being a somewhat neutral curation of every TV show and movie available and act as the venue for Apple’s TV+ original content. It has to serve dual duty as directory and provider.

I don’t understand why there’s not a tab for Apple TV+, as there is in the Music app for Apple Music, or in the App Store app for Arcade.

I want the TV app to only show me the stuff that I pay for and can actually watch right now. Advertising of the full iTunes store or Apple TV Channels library should be in a separate tab, like a new “Browse” experience. The primary tabs like “TV Shows”, “Movies” and “Kids” should not be thinly-veiled ad platforms.

Yep. Apple is pushing the channels that they can get their commission on rather than making an app that is viewer friendly.

By the way, when are the next episodes of those Apple TV+ series coming out? I can’t find anything about dates in the TV app.

Source: Opinion: The worst part of Apple TV+ is the TV app – 9to5Mac

There Are Too Many Gestures on iOS; Apple Needs a Gestures App To Help Users

iOS has always been dependent on gestures for accomplishing certain tasks, and this is even more the case with iPadOS. But these gestures are hard to discover, and even harder to remember. Do you know how to make the proper three-finger pinch to copy text on your iPad?

Much of the power of iPadOS comes through new gestures, and while Apple offers a Tips app, this app only shows a couple of the new gestures, and none of the older ones. macOS features visual assistance for gestures on the trackpad or mouse, and you can view them in System Preferences > Trackpad, or System Preferences > Mouse. (Of course, you have to know to look there.)

Trackpad

It would be useful if iOS and iPadOS came with similar instructions. They could be in the Settings app, or there could be a dedicated Gestures app, to which users could refer when they want to refresh their memories about how to do something, or to learn about gestures they aren’t aware of. Apple does offer detailed user guides for iOS and iPadOS, but their descriptions of the gestures may not be sufficient for people just learning how to use these devices. The little videos in the macOS preferences, as in the above screenshot, are much easier to understand.

It is a bit of a shame that these powerful features are so hidden. It wouldn’t be that difficult for Apple to provide a more efficient way for users to discover them and get more out of their iPhones and iPads.

Some Thoughts on Apple TV+

I find it interesting to see how many websites that cover Apple’s products – computers, phones, etc. – now also present TV series criticism. Don’t get me wrong; I have many colleagues who skillfully review books, movies, and TV series in addition to writing about technology. But the fact that Apple has now launched its streaming service means that many websites will spend a lot of time writing about these new series; at least when there’s no other news to cover.

I’m not going to do that. While I do review culture on this site – books, music, theater, etc. – I’m not going to write about Apple’s TV series just because they are coming from Apple. I will, however, give some first impressions of Apple TV+ as a service.

Of the half dozen series available at launch, there are only two that interest me: The Morning Show and For All Mankind, both of which are available with three episodes at launch. The former is a mish-mash of of Aaron Sorkinisms and A Star is Born, and I find it interesting to see a mixture of rave reviews and take-downs (five stars from The Guardian; two stars from the BBC), which is generally quite rare with a TV series. It makes one wonder if the journalists writing about these series have some sort of agenda that goes beyond television. For example, the BBC’s Will Gompertz takes nearly 300 words of his 1,500-word review to discuss Apple and its failures in his review of the series, and says things such as:

The opening episode is as bad as anything I’ve seen since we entered this golden age of telly, which, arguably, started in 1994 with Friends (still the most popular show on Netflix).

The other series that I’ve watched is For All Mankind, an interesting alternate history about the space program. In both cases, I won’t give my opinion, because better critics than I will be writing about these series, but it’s the latter that I will follow as new episodes become available.

However, I would like to opine a bit on the Apple TV+ service itself. With a free one-year subscription, because of my recent purchase of a new iPhone, I’m willing to check out some of these offerings, but is this service worth $5 a month to anyone? With no back catalog, and only a limited number of offerings – and, so far, only TV series; no movies – it seems absurd to pay that price. Yes, I know, it’s the same as a cup of coffee, yadda yadda, but with the increased subscription fatigue, and too much to watch already (and with my partner and I both being people who greatly prefer books to TV and movies), there’s little incentive to want to pay for such an offer. Even by the end of the year, how many series can there be, and how much can one expect to see on Apple TV+? Unless Apple licenses some big swathe of back catalog content, Apple TV+ will never rival Netflix, Hulu, or even Amazon (whose Prime Video is available as a part of their broader Prime subscription, which I pay for anyway to get next-day delivery to my rural home). Apple TV+ will not be a destination if you are just looking for something to watch; it will only be there if you want to try out a specific new series or are already following one or more series.

Apple could be playing the long game, investing in prestigious actors and directors to create content that they might be able to monetize later, through rentals and sales in the iTunes Store, or even DVD/Blu-Ray releases. But at $15 million an episode for The Morning Show – with two seasons planned – they’ve put $300 million into a vanity project. All told, it seems that Apple has earmarked $6 billion for content for this service, though it’s not clear how many years this budget will cover, so the company is clearly betting big on this content.

Like any streaming service that produces original content, there will be a few series that stand out, a lot of duds, and some that float a bit above the tide of mediocrity. Perhaps Apple has attracted enough creators to do better than average; or perhaps many of the creators will just be blinded by bigger budgets and end up making a mess of their series. It’s a crap shoot in this business.

Apple is clearly hoping to expand further into content creation as part of their push to increase the company’s services revenue, which was $12.5 billion in the company’s latest reported quarter. Apple is remaking itself, to not depend so much on one or two products, and services are now 20% of the company’s income.

But the risk is that in throwing money at TV series – and potentially movies as well – that their content is no better than that of any other service, without any clear differentiation between Apple TV+ and any premium cable channel. Will they succeed? Who knows; I certainly don’t. And don’t listen to anyone who thinks they can predict how all this is going to turn out.

The Zen of Everything Podcast, Episode 11: The Dokusan Room is Kinda Baloney

Jundo and Kirk discuss the Dokusan room, the place where the teacher tests students and students test the teacher. What goes on can be romanticized and overemphasized, misused and misunderstood (especially by modern westerners), yet greatness sometimes happens too.

Find out more at the Zen of Everything website

Use Your Apple Watch to Unlock Your Mac and Authenticate

You’ve been able to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch for some time now. If your Mac is asleep, and you wake it up, if you’ve activated this feature, the Mac confirms your identity via your Apple Watch and wakes up.

This is an interesting chain of identification. It requires that you have two-factor authentication turned on for your Apple ID, and having authenticated on your iPhone by entering your passcode, your Apple Watch then inherits this authentication (or you can authenticate on the Apple Watch by entering its passcode), and the Mac then accepts this as proof that the watch belongs to you.

To activate this feature, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General and check Use your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac.

Apple watch unlock

This allows you to wake up your Mac, and approve certain secure actions in macOS. For example, if you want to access a secure preference pane – one that shows a padlock at the bottom left of the window – click the padlock then authenticate on your watch by pressing the side button twice (this is the same gesture you use to authenticate for Apple Pay).

Apple watch padlock

Another action where you can use your Apple Watch to authenticate is if you want to delete files in certain folders. For example, to delete an app downloaded via the Mac App Store, you need to authenticate:

Apple watch approve

If you have a Mac with Touch ID, the Mac defaults to using that option for authentication, but if you have an iMac, which doesn’t offer Touch ID, this can make it a lot easier to perform secure tasks.

Note that this feature is only available to recent Macs, ones that support Continuity and Handoff, not all recent Macs can perform all of these operations. See this Apple support document for more information.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 107: admin / admin

Apple has release a whole slew of security updates this week, stretching back quite far, and we discuss some of the changes, and also Apple’s problematic HomePod update. Equifax is sued for using admin as user name and password to protect sensitive data. (Duh.) And we take a close look at the many security alerts and dialogs you see with macOS Catalina.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

New 13.2 Update Bricking Some HomePods [Update Pulled by Apple] – MacRumors

Update: Apple has released an updated version of the software which should resolve these issues.

“Apple today released new 13.2 software for the HomePod with long-awaited features like Handoff and voice detection for different family members, but unfortunately, some users are running into problems with the update.”

This is disgraceful. It’s not just that they don’t work, but that there is nothing users can do. Apple is having them ship them back to the company to get them fixed. All this because there’s no USB port to restore the device.

What a blunder.

(To be fair, it’s not clear how many people this is affecting. As often with this sort of problem, the media attention makes it appear bigger than it is. Mine both work fine after the update.)

Source: New 13.2 Update Bricking Some HomePods [Update Pulled by Apple] – MacRumors