The Need for iOS Recovery

The Mac has long had the ability to restore macOS without the need for separate install media, a feature known as macOS Recovery:

macOS Recovery is part of the built-in recovery system of your Mac. You can start up from macOS Recovery and use its utilities to recover from certain software issues or take other actions on your Mac.

macOS Recovery makes it easy to reinstall macOS if there's been a major software issue. If the Mac's hard drive has been wiped or the Recovery system isn't working, it can even connect to the internet and download the necessary macOS installer:

Newer Mac computers and some older Mac computers automatically try to start up from macOS Recovery over the Internet when unable to start up from the built-in recovery system. When that happens, you see a spinning globe instead of an Apple logo during startup. To manually start up from macOS Recovery over the Internet, hold down Option-Command-R or Shift-Option-Command-R at startup.

iOS devices, unfortunately, don't have such a feature. If iOS needs to be reinstalled (a somewhat rare occurrence), the device must be connected to a Mac or PC and restored using iTunes. I had to do this just a few months ago as my iPad Pro became sluggish and unresponsive. After trying to restart it, the Apple logo appeared but it would never get any further. The only option I had was to put the iPad into recovery mode, dust off my Mac, and restore it using iTunes.

Requiring a Mac or PC to restore an iPad, a device that even Apple touts as a replacement for a traditional computer, makes it extremely difficult to complete the transition to a post-PC era. Ultimately, iOS (and by extension, the iPad) is still treated as an accessory.

Apple could break the shackles of iTunes for restoring iOS by either:

  • Implementing some form of iOS Recovery, similar to macOS Recovery
  • Using APFS Snapshots

With iOS Recovery, the device could either have a recovery volume containing the installer for iOS (space permitting) or be able to connect to the internet and download the necessary files, even if iOS isn't working—just like macOS Recovery.

Apple's new file system, APFS, is used on all iOS devices running iOS 10.3 and above. A notable feature of APFS is Snapshots, a read-only version of the file system taken at a point in time that can be reverted to. There isn't much documented about this feature but, in theory, iOS could take regular snapshots or even just one after a successful boot. If there's a problem (e.g., failed iOS update), iOS could simply restore to that point. It's not as robust as an iOS Recovery solution as it likely requires the file system to be intact.

In either case, there are possibilities of implementing some form of recovery process that doesn't require iTunes. After all, this is a process that hasn't changed since the launch of the original iPhone over ten years ago, so it's long overdue for a change.

Two New Keyboard Shortcuts in iOS 11

This first beta of iOS 11 has a small number of new keyboard shortcuts, though more may be added as we get closer to release. Two particular shortcuts are worth highlighting.

  • Instead of swiping up to see the Dock, it can be shown at any time using + + D. It seems quite buggy for now and seems to toggle the Dock's visibility, rather than only show it, so invoking it on the home screen seems to causes the Dock to disappear.
  • Another screenshot shortcut has been added, + + 4. This takes a screenshot but immediately opens it in the markup editor instead of leaving it for you to action. If you're regularly marking up screenshots, this is a particularly useful shortcut to familiarize yourself with.

As usual, you can view a list of available keyboard shortcuts for every app by holding down the ⌘ key. Not every app may include all available shortcuts in this list (e.g., Safari), so there may be new shortcuts that are not yet documented.

A Review to a Kill

Apple is now requiring app developers to use their recently added API for review prompts and is no longer going to allow custom options. This means that developers cannot create their own prompts to ask users to leave a review, nor control how often and when they appear. From the App Store Review Guidelines:

Use the provided API to prompt users to review your app; this functionality allows customers to provide an App Store rating and review without the inconvenience of leaving your app, and we will disallow custom review prompts.

This guideline change is good for two reasons and is part of a wider change to how reviews are going to work. First, it'll put a stop to apps that practically beg for a review every time they're updated. Second, a consistent user experience that allows for in-app reviews is going to make it much easier for users to leave a review, eliminating the need to nag in the first place.

Ryan Christoffel at MacStories shares what might be a concern among developers:

Apple's solution certainly provides a better user experience than custom alternatives, particularly since it allows rating an app without needing to visit the App Store. But the concern from developers may be the loss of control over when, or how often, that prompt is presented.

Ask yourself this: how many apps have you actually reviewed? If you're honest, I bet that number is low. The annoyance of review prompts is largely because of the hoops that users have had to jump through to actually leave a review. This compels most developers to repeatedly ask for reviews, especially when reviews were hidden when a new version of the app was released, because many users simply won't bother.

I think the loss of control is a good thing for everyone involved. The trade-off is that the new prompt allows users to leave a review directly within the app. This is giving developers exactly what they want: a frictionless way for users to leave reviews.

Touchscreen or Not Touchscreen, That Is the Question

Last week, Mark Gurman and Alex Webb wrote a piece for Bloomberg about Apple's upcoming Siri speaker and whether it would have a screen of some kind:

Ahead of Apple's launch, the competition has upgraded their speakers with support for making voice calls, while Amazon's gained a touchscreen. Apple's speaker won't include such a screen, according to people who have seen the product.

After the HomePod was officially announced, John Gruber called Claim Chowder on their claim:

HomePod has a touchscreen on top.

Earlier this evening, Cabel Sasser tweeted a video of the HomePod that includes a close-up of the HomePod display with the following caption:

BTW, here's the "screen" on the HomePod. I'd guess it's RGB LEDs under a diffuser maybe? — ambient, not a display, but a cool "awake" vibe.

I posted a few tweets about this yesterday where I expressed skepticism that this could be considered a touchscreen, especially one that's in some way comparable to that on Amazon's Echo Show.

Whatever the display on the HomePod is, it does support touch controls (as stated on the product page but I'd argue it isn't a screen. Given the context in which Mark and Alex compared the purported screen to the Echo Show, I think it's fair to assume that whatever type of display the HomePod has it certainly isn't something that's supposed to clearly display text or make video calls. It does indeed have no such screen, though that doesn't preclude it from having any sort of display surface.

There's a lot we don't know about HomePod and it's still several months away from shipping, so a lot could change. It could very well be a fully-fledged touchscreen but, if it is, why does Apple not mention it in the tech specs? The only reference to the top of the speaker is:

Tap the top of HomePod to play, pause, or adjust the volume. The top also shows you when Siri is listening, with an LED waveform that animates with your every word.

I'm skeptical it is anything more than just an ambient light show. The ergonomics of a horizontal display would also be a terrible way of communicating information and it limits where it can be positioned. We're still several months away from shipping, so things could change. However, based on the hardware that Apple demoed I don't think Mark and Alex deserve the Claim Chowder as it doesn't appear they were wrong.

The High Cost of iPad Servicing

The display on my 12.9" iPad Pro has been suffering from a noticeable flicker for quite some time, so I made a Genius Bar appointment at my local Apple Store. This is the first fault I've had with any iPad I've owned and within five minutes of arriving and speaking to a Genius, I left the store with a replacement iPad Pro.

The only service option for the iPad is, still, a whole unit replacement. Whatever hardware issue an iPad is suffering from, the solution is to replace the entire device—just like an iPod or Apple Watch. In comparison, hardware issues with a Mac typically involve a repair, with any affected components replaced. The iPhone sits somewhere in the middle as there are some issues that can be resolved by a repair instead of simply swapping the device (e.g., battery, display).

If my iPad Pro hadn't been under warranty, the service cost would've been $599 to replace it through the Genius Bar. Gulp.

In comparison, Mac repair costs are much more favorable. The Apple Store typically charges a labor cost (around $100) and either the cost of the affected component(s) or a flat-rate fee of $475 to send the Mac to their repair facility. This fee covers the cost of any parts needed, so for expensive repairs (e.g., multiple component failure) it's often cheaper1.

If Apple is serious about the iPad Pro being a PC replacement, the time has come to rethink their strategy and pricing around iPad servicing. A faulty Smart Connector or camera shouldn't cost the same to fix as an iPad that doesn't power on, and it certainly shouldn't be more expensive than a Mac that went for a swim.

Considering how the iPad is constructed, it's unlikely we'll see in-store repairs conducted by Apple, at least not in a similar way to the Mac or iPhone. An alternative would be for Apple to be more flexible with the replacement cost so it's appropriate for the issue reported. For example, it could cost $100 to replace an iPad if the volume button is faulty, whereas a shattered display or liquid damage could cost the full $599.

This isn't a concept that Apple would be unfamiliar with as they already offer battery replacement pricing. If the battery is worn out, Apple will replace the iPad for just $99. Similarly, AppleCare+ customers can replace a damaged iPad (a maximum of twice) for the meager sum of $49.

Given the longevity of the iPad, I hope that Apple considers offering more affordable service options. AppleCare+ for iPad offers only two years of coverage and I don't have any intention of replacing my iPad Pro for quite a long time after that. If it does develop a fault after those two years are up, it's going to be very costly.

  1. My wife's 12" MacBook also needed to be taken to the Genius Bar recently as the USB-C port wasn't working correctly. Since it's covered by AppleCare, the Genius specified the flat-rate fee and sent it off for repair.