From a hobby to a platform: The Apple TV grows up

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple customers say their devices are crashing when they update to iOS 9.

Wednesday’s launch of iOS 9 introduced fully-native mobile adblocking to millions of users for the first time, and they voted with their feet. In among the new apps, fonts, software tweaks and everything else the download offers there was an application program interface (API) – essentially a piece of code – that enables developers to block adverts that appear on sites within Apple’s web browser, Safari.A significant number of Apple Inc customers are reporting their mobile devices have crashed after attempting to upload the new iOS 9 operating system, the latest in a line of launch glitches for the tech giant.

With around 1 billion iOS devices in the world, according to estimates, that means that 160 million upgraded to the software in its first day and a half, according to Mixpanel, an analytics company.Like Facebook and Snapchat, Apple has partnered with news publishers to deliver a beautiful and fast-loading editorial experience on its home turf: iOS devices. One specific ad-blocker, Peace, a $2.99/£2.29 app developed by Instapaper creator Marco Arment, is the number one paid app in the UK, US, Australia and Canada, while two others, Crystal and Purify, are in the top-ten in a number of countries.

This has sparked a huge debate about ad-blocking and the ethics around it – some say it should exist as part of customer choice, while others argue that it threatens the revenue stream of most news sites and online publishers. Twitter and other social media were awash with disgruntled customers reporting two distinct faults, with one appearing to be linked specifically to older models of Apple iPhones and iPads. “It is beyond inconvenient to not be able to use your phone for a day,” said student Pip Cordi as staff in the Apple store in central Sydney looked at her phone on Friday. “I have a lot of apps that I use for school – things like language apps and dictionaries and that’s all really important for my studies.” Another iPhone user, Zorry Coates, said she had spent three hours in the Apple store and had been left with the option of either returning her phone to factory settings — losing any non-backed-up data — or waiting until Apple technicians announced an update. “They said they were aware of the problem and their engineers were working on it 24/7, but they couldn’t tell me when — or how — I would get a solution,” Zorry said. Other users attempting to update their phones have been experiencing an error message, which was “likely caused by servers that were overloaded when too many people tried to download the upgrade simultaneously,” according to tech analysts interviewed by Reuters. A Reuters report suggested that some users were being locked out of their phones and so had to reset them, losing information that hadn’t been backed up.

It doesn’t refer to its new tools as “ad” blocking, but just “content” blocking, and explains to the developers that the feature gives “extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content”. Suddenly this largely unspoken of or confronted part of the digital world is very mainstream, and the numbers of people who are downloading apps such as Peace and Crystal shows just how users feel about online ads in general. Newsstand is gone in iOS 9—while all of your Newsstand apps are still there, and any newspaper or magazine subscriptions remain active, the apps are placed in a regular (read: deleteable) folder instead. Charlie Brown, a technology expert at Sydney-based Cybershack, said any number of dissatisfied customers was significant in the social media era, particularly following the troubled rollout of iOS 8.

Open the News app and you’ll be greeted with a welcome screen and link to read a disclaimer about your privacy. (Apple News collects your information only to enhance your reading suggestions within the app, and Apple “understands that the articles you read are personal,” so your reading activity is not linked to other Apple services). Both are only tangentially related to adverts, instead being a function of the technology that underpins modern “programmatic” advert sales, which is how the vast majority of web ads are sold. Apple released several further updates to iOS8, but some of the bugs were never fully fixed. “The risk to Apple in terms of having dissatisfied customers is that as their customer base grows, so will the number of those dissatisfied customers,” said Brown. When a browser loads up a web page, the advertising company – such as Google, through their DoubleClick subsidiary – looks at the user, and attempts to match them to a pre-existing profile. Many posted screen shots of the error message they received: “Software Update Failed”. “It’s like the Black Friday thing,” said Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research, referring to the major U.S. shopping sale day after Thanksgiving. “Some websites get creamed on the traffic on Black Friday.” Other users, many of them with older devices, reported their devices seizing up on a “swipe to upgrade” page.

The channels that shot up near the top (CNN, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, etc.) were from publications that have signed up for Apple News Format, meaning their stories will have a custom layout and design. Many had difficulties installing it because of the huge amount of space that it required to install, for instance, and then the first version brought problems for some including difficulty connecting to WiFi.

McKay and Brown said they always advised clients to wait several days before downloading any new upgrades from Apple, Google Inc or Microsoft Corp to make sure any glitches had been found and ironed out. Once it has answers to those questions, it looks through bids advertisers have made to sell ads to that particular type of user, selects the highest bid, and pushes that advert to the web page. Apple said on September 14, before the new update was released, that 87 per cent of devices were on iOS 8 — and only 2 per cent were on a version earlier than iOS 7. Many websites have multiple ad networks, as well as share buttons from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and their own internal analytics, all of which can add several megabytes.

You will see stories from The Wall Street Journal and Cosmo, side by side and updated chronologically whenever one of your favorite channels posts a new article. For You also sporadically shows a row of topics “you might like,” but these suggestions—Business, Politics, Entertainment, and Sports—didn’t seem specifically tailored to me.

But the majority of content blockers available on the market position themselves firmly as advertising blockers, going further than just blocking the tracking scripts into actively seeking out the adverts themselves. That’s led to some dismay from publishers who deliberately sought out more ethical adverts, such as those from boutique ad network the Deck, only to find those have been blocked as well. Some, such as 1Blocker, go further than simple adblocking and allow users to block other content, such as sharing buttons, custom web fonts and Disqus comments. Traditional desktop adblockers work by loading a huge list of all ad servers into the computer’s memory and then running the entire content of the website through the filter, removing anything that matches. These publishers worked directly with Apple to format a few feature stories in what Cupertino is calling “Apple News Format.” You can read full articles from all these publishing partners on Apple News, without ever visiting their own websites.

By contrast, the mobile adblocking uses a small list (although “small” is relative, and word from Apple is that it caps out at 50,000 entries), which is then loaded directly into the browser. While developers of the old type of adblocking software initially expressed concerns that their lists wouldn’t be suitable for the new format, those fears seem to have been misplaced.

The other big difference between desktop adblockers and the new mobile breed is whether the list is updated in real time, and users of the iOS content blockers may find the databases are rapidly out of date. The most aggressive advertisers could view that as a sign to start an arms race, employing increasing permutations of their server names to avoid their content being blocked. But large stable organisations will find little to gain from the diminishing returns such an approach would offer, and may be put off by its similarity to the tactics malware authors are forced to employ to bypass anti-virus software. It’s still custom to Wired—using the magazine’s logo, font and iconography—but it’s not as dynamic as its Rashida Jones “enhanced” cover story.

If you’re reading a story from a publisher that has not partnered with Apple News, then the experience is more bare bones, very similar to any other RSS reader—you’ll find the story’s headline with a main image and a two-sentence description before it prompts you to read the rest of the article via a link to the publisher’s website.

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