New iPads, Alexa laughing at us, and the FBI trying to get backdoors into iPhones —all of these things, and more, happened to Apple and technology in March 2018
Apple invites the press to its education launch
It’s peculiar how well the events and talking points of one year will usually divide into months but there was an exception this time. March 2018 began with a follow-up news to a February report about employees walking into the glass walls of Apple Park.
Cupertino building official Albert Salvador told the San Francisco Chronicle that he and others had warned Apple about the problem some nine months before Apple Park opened.
“We did recognize that this is going to be an issue, especially when they clean the glass,” Salvador said. “When you clean the windows, you can’t even tell some of them are there.”
He also said that at the very time they were discussing the problem with a contractor on the site, another worker walked into one of the walls.
One thing that still hasn’t come out is whether the glass is bullet-proof. Your average office block doesn’t need this kind of protection, but Apple doesn’t have average anything —and in March 2018, the company was being shot at.
Or more specifically, its shuttle buses were under fire from pellet guns. Many large companies run their own bus service between their various sites and between January and March 2018 there were 20 shooting incidents at these charter buses. No one had been injured, the shootings had so far caused dents and shattered glass.
Apple and Google were among the companies using the charter busses being hit and in March the California Highway Patrol introduced decoy vehicles. At the same time the FBI revealed that it was placing undercover officers on the shuttles.
Maybe just announcing this was enough to stop the problem because all these months on, there don’t appear to have been any more reported incidents. Equally, though, there’s been no official statement of anyone being apprehended, either.
Few security issues in technology involve guns of any sort, and in March the bigger story was about MoviePass. This is the app and service that gets you an impossibly cheap way to watch a movie a day in theaters and of course it turned out that impossibly cheap means the app gathers information about you.
“We get an enormous amount of information,” Mitch Lowe, MoviePass CEO said at something called the Entertainment Finance Forum. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”
“Netflix buys $8 billion of content a year, and believe me, they have to borrow the money to do it,” he continued. “Or companies like Facebook — it’s free, but they’re monetizing all the advertising and all the data about you. That’s exactly what we are [doing].”
If there wasn’t a crisis team in MoviePass before, there surely was now and it responded to a tsunami of complaints very quickly. “We will not be selling the data we gather,” he said. As if they would.
Perhaps the company just likes knowing that you got home safely from the movie theater. In the meantime, while they were looking out for us with location tracking, the FBI was trying to get public support for a completely sane idea.
The way to make iPhones and others safer is to break their encryption, said FBI Director Christopher Wray
“We need them to respond to lawfully issued court orders, in a way that is consistent with both the rule of law and strong cybersecurity,” said Wray, about Apple and Google. “We need to have both, and can have both. I just don’t buy the claim that it’s impossible.”
Seemingly at least one US police department agrees with him, too. Indiana State Police bought a forensic tool called GrayKey in order to hack into devices running iOS 11.
They spent $500 for the initial purchase plus $14,500 for a one-year licence that lets them unlock 300 iPhones. Hopefully they got their money’s worth in the first six months because AppleInsider reported that GrayKey exploited security problems in iOS 11 and you can presume Apple fixed those for iOS 12.
Although Apple was a bit tied up in other legal issues. That company is never out of court and this month it was a case about Siri.
Portal Communications, which appears to make nothing but money, filed suit against Apple for allegedly infringing three patents related to natural language voice systems. It wasn’t that Portal had just noticed you can speak to Siri, it was more that the company got the patents from its previous owner in January.
The wheels of justice don’t always grind slowly, though. Portal filed its original complaint at 20:19 on Thursday March 8 and then filed its intention to voluntarily dismiss the whole thing at 16:59 on the following Monday, March 12.
The court signed or shrugged or does whatever it does when a case is being withdrawn and declared that it was dismissed without prejudice on Tuesday March 13. That was at 16:12, if you’re wondering.
It’s not funny
Maybe it was the revolving-door speed of that case going away, but something caused Amazon’s Alexa to giggle at users in March 2018.
Amazon’s logo is a smile, but Alexa laughing was a bit much
After AppleInsider pressed the company, it admitted that it was investigating.
“In rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh.’ We are changing that phrase to be ‘Alexa, can you laugh?’,” said Amazon. “We are also changing Alexa’s response from simply laughter to ‘sure, I can laugh’ followed by laughter.”
Just don’t ask why someone programmed this into Alexa in the first place. And definitely don’t ask why users who heard this mysterious, unbidden chuckle say that it sounded more evil and creepy than Alexa’s regular laugh.
To be fair, you can tell Siri to laugh too. It will respond with phrases like “LOL” or “Hee hee”. We checked so you don’t have to.
That said, at the same time Amazon was addressing Alexa’s plans for stroking cats and ruling the world, it was also significantly improving how you interact with your new emperor. Rather than having to prefix every sentence by calling out the name “Alexa”, a new Follow-Up Mode meant you should be able to issue multiple commands in a row.
Follow-Up Mode was one of Amazon’s efforts to keep Alexa competing with the likes of Apple and Google with their walled gardens. In March we could’ve learned just how hard it will be for Amazon to beat its rivals because a report said so.
The headline on a survey by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners claimed that Android is “beating iOS in smartphone loyalty“.
Just because it’s a graph, it doesn’t mean anything
We’ve often suspected that people only read headlines but this time people who wrote about Android beating iOS even quoted evidence to prove the opposite. This CIRP group that you only hear about when they make claims about Apple, actually reported that “iOS gains more former Android users, than Android does former iOS users.”
AppleInsider did point out some statistical absurdities in the group’s methodology but maybe the truth is just that Android users are more fed up than iOS ones.
In March, we rounded up the reviews of the new flagship Samsung Galaxy S9 and if we’d done a word cloud, “predictable” and “safe” would be the biggest entries. There were comments about Samsung’s version of Apple’s Animoji feature were “creepy” but otherwise it was a release that didn’t seem to interest many.
You’ll notice that we make no mention of Samsung phones having previously caught fire. That’s partly because, weirdly, users don’t seem quite as bothered by the more than 100 events in just a few months as you’d expect. And because this time, Apple allegedly had a similar issue.
Remains of iPhone charging cable, from the Township of Langley Fire Department Field Report
The fire was actually in 2016 and it became news now because the couple, Cathy and Ian Finley of Langley, B.C, had gone public. Having received $600,000 in insurance money, they were hoping to get Apple to pay as much again because they say the house burned down because of a charging cable plugged into an iPhone 6.
The cable was found in the wreckage of the house and an investigators’ report said that “it would appear that the phone or charger generated enough heat to ignite” a chair it was on.
After a year of talks with Apple, the couple launched a petition on change.org. “We are releasing every phone call, letter and email that has gone between us and Apple. There will be complete transparency. It’s ugly,” they say on the petition site. “There’s phone calls where you just hear us cry and eventually hang up. It’s extremely personal, embarrassing to share and not fun to listen to.”
There’s been no further news of what’s happened. The couple’s petition is still active, currently showing 2,537 signatures. It also includes links to their documentation but the last entry in that is to do with the decision to go public.
It’s not just consumers
The Finleys weren’t the only people unhappy with Apple in March this year. WiseWear, a San Antonio wearable device startup, filed for bankruptcy and blamed an Apple design decision.
The original Apple Watch included a diagnostic port which WiseWear used as a way to charge the Watch from what they called a Reserve Strap. This was a way of getting an extra battery band for the Apple Watch, like an external charger but permanently part of the strap.
WiseWear claimed in March that “Apple turned off the port through an operating system change” and that this action made their product unusable.
Speaking of the Watch
Apple launched a new Activity Challenge for Apple Watch users on International Women’s Day, March 8. To earn an achievement badge for this challenge, you had to double your regular move goal.
Women using iPads just like regular people
It wasn’t the first time that Apple has tied fitness to events but this time it was part of a wider move to acknowledge International Women’s Day. More than just a Watch challenge, Apple marked March 2018 by running events around the world including one that was focused on recruiting women to the company.
Hopefully this was a success but if you talk about Apple events in March 2018, none were bigger than the one that saw out the month.
On March 27, Tim Cook to the stage in Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago to announce a renewed drive into education.
Detail from Apple’s press invitation to its March education event
“We know our products can help bring out the creative genius in every kid,” said Cook. “That’s why education is such a big part of who we are as a company, and has been for 40 years.”
He was followed by Susan Prescott, vice president of product marketing. “”We do know that the best products alone can’t create great learning experiences,” she said. “Teachers are the heart of the classroom, and we know it takes dedicated, passionate teachers to fuel students’ curiosity, and to guide them to their full creative potential.”
A nice A10 Fusion-powered iPad with Apple Pencil support and free iCloud storage increased to 200GB does help, though.
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