Apple iPad (2019) review: Apple’s entry-level tablet is boosted by iPadOS, enterprise improvements Review

There is very little surprise or mystery left when it comes to Apple’s iPad lineup. The tablets are a staple of Apple’s hardware range — an experience that’s similar to your iPhone, only bigger, and in many ways more versatile. When it first launched, the iPad was forced into a silo of being viewed as an entertainment device. You install Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, and a couple of games, and you have the ideal consumption device in your hands. 

But for the past few years, Apple has tried to change the narrative around the iPad. The iPad Pro line, the upgraded iPad Air, and now the base iPad have all gained features and capabilities that make the iPad more laptop-like. Physical keyboard support, built into the iPad’s housing, and Apple Pencil support have all made the iPad a device you can use for work and play.

With the recent release of iPadOS, Apple is now tackling the software challenges the iPad has faced as consumers and business users alike try to do more with the tablet. Not only does iPadOS bring an improved browsing and multitasking experience, but Apple also added a handful of new features for BYOD enterprise users that makes the $329 iPad very attractive. 

Design

ipad-2019-2.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The new iPad looks just like the old iPad, but with a slightly bigger screen. The black rectangular frame wraps around a 10.2-inch display size, up from 9.7-inches, with a Touch ID-equipped home button at the bottom. A Lightning port is also on the bottom for charging and syncing the iPad, with a sleep/wake button and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the housing. On the right side of the frame are the volume up and down keys. 

On the left edge of the iPad are three round dots for Apple’s Smart Connector, used to connect and power Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover. The keyboard isn’t included with the iPad. It’s priced at $159, and the Apple Pencil will set you back $99. 

The seventh-generation iPad starts at $329 for 32GB of storage, or $429 for a 128GB model. Both of those prices are for the Wi-Fi-only model, with cellular connectivity costing $459 and $559, respectively. You can get it in gray, silver, or gold.

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There’s not a lot to say about the overall design of the iPad, because it’s very much the same design Apple has used for years now, save for the current-generation iPad Pro lineup. There’s nothing wrong with this design, although I would have loved to see Apple start to expand USB-C beyond the Pro offerings. 

Software and performance

For the past year, I’ve used the latest generation iPad Pro as my main laptop. I’ve grown to love Face ID, the speed of Apple’s A12X Bionic processor, and its 12.9-inch display. Switching to this iPad was a bit of a shock at first, but after a few days, I acclimated to using Touch ID and the smaller 10.2-inch display powered by an older A10 Fusion processor. Battery life has been good enough to get through a full day of use, ranging from writing, triaging my inbox, watching YouTube videos, and scrolling mindlessly on Twitter. 

As I stated nearly a year ago, despite hardware improvements, the entire iPad line has been held back by software. But that’s changing, with Apple giving the iPad its own operating system — iPadOS — paving the way for meaningful software upgrades to the iPad line, and moving the tablet out of the iPhone’s shadow. 

This iPad is the first to ship with iPadOS installed out of the box. At its core, iPadOS is still iOS, with a lot of feature parity between the two platforms. You still get things like dark mode, improvements to Mail, the new Reminders app — you get the point. 

Where iPadOS starts to differentiate itself from iOS is with Safari’s desktop-class browsing experience, making it possible to compose, edit, and review Google Docs directly in the browser (a much better experience than Google’s corresponding apps). 

The multitasking approach in iPadOS has also expanded, with the ability to open multiple windows of the same app, just like you would on a PC or Mac. For example, you can have multiple instances of Apple Notes open in Split View, each one sharing the screen with Mail, Safari, or Reminders. 

The new windows feature streamlines the way I work on the iPad. I no longer have to constantly move around and manage which apps are open and where. 

You can now connect external storage to the iPad, ranging files and folders stored on an SSD or a thumb drive using the Files app. 

In short, iPadOS is exactly what the iPad has needed in recent years. It’s a giant step in the right direction for the platform, and I’m hopeful that Apple aggressively adds more features to the entire iPad line in future updates. And the sooner, the better. 

ipad-2019-3.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Must-see offers

  • Apple iPad Pro (11-inch, Wi-Fi, 512GB, Space Gray) at Amazon
  • Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch, Wi-Fi, 64GB, Silver) at Amazon
  • Apple iPad Air (10.5-inch, Wi-Fi, 64GB, Space Gray) at Amazon
  • Apple iPad (Wi-Fi, 32GB, Space Gray) at Amazon
  • Apple iPad Mini (Wi-Fi, 32GB, Gold) at Amazon

Enterprise features

I touched on the enterprise additions in iOS in my iPhone 11 review, but let’s expand a bit. 

As of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, there are several new features baked into the operating systems that make BYOD with Apple devices easier. Apple Business Manager now has Managed Apple IDs and a new service called User Enrollment.

Managed Apple IDs integrate with Microsoft’s Azure Active directory, removing the need for IT departments to have to manage multiple IDs for a user across different platforms. 

BYOD users can bring their iPad or iPhone to a company and add a managed Apple ID to their device, which will then allow for device management through User Enrollment. The setup process for the user requires installing an enrollment profile and signing in with the Managed Apple ID. The company can then install managed apps, configure work accounts, set password policies, and use app-based VPN connections. 

When User Enrollment is used on a device, your personal and work data is kept separate at all times. Your company can’t see what apps have been installed using your Apple ID, nor can it see any of the information that’s stored outside of the managed account’s storage partition. That means information like your personal notes in the Notes app, which are displayed next to your corporate Notes account, can’t be read by your company. 

In the event of a lost device, the company can only wipe data that is connected to the Managed Apple ID, leaving all of your personal information in place. 

Apple also added a single sign-on extension that, when integrated into third-party apps, will automatically sign you into all corporate apps after you’ve signed in to one. You could, in theory, sign in to OneDrive, Outlook, and Teams by entering your user ID and password only once. Hopefully, developers will begin to adopt the new extension soon. 

ipad-2019-4.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The new iPad is…

A lot of things. It’s an entertainment device at home. It’s a workhorse for churning out emails or editing a Google Slides presentation in Safari. It’s a portable gaming device. It’s a tablet. And, now, it’s a 2-in-1. 

I’ve been spoiled by using an iPad Pro for nearly a year. I said a year ago it was the best tablet ever made, and I still feel the same way today. But with the slow trickle of Pro-like features having reached almost every iPad in Apple’s lineup, you can’t make a wrong choice when it comes to which iPad to get. 

On second thought, you can. Don’t get the 32GB model. You’ll eventually run out of space and regret not spending the extra $100 for 128GB.

By expanding the capabilities of the iPad through hardware and software improvements, including enterprise additions, the standard iPad sitting on my desk right now, is just as capable as the iPad Pro and it’s a fraction of the price. 

Indeed, it’s far more nuanced than that, but for the average user who wants a streamlined computing experience, at home or work, the new iPad is an affordable option that will surely get the job done.

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Use less cellular and Wi-Fi data with iOS 13’s Low Data Mode

Not everyone has an unlimited data plan, and the combination of 4G networks, fast Wi-Fi, and modern smartphones can burn through data at quite an astounding rate. But iOS 13 has a feature to help reduce the amount of data you use.

If you can find it.

Must read: iOS 13: Security and privacy settings you need to tweak and check

The feature is called Low Data Mode, and similar to how Low Power Mode works for the battery, this is a tweak to get you out of a jam, as opposed to something you use all the time.

First, here’s where it is. For cellular data go to:

  • Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options and activate Low Data Mode
Low Data Mode for Cellular

Low Data Mode for Cellular

For Wi-Fi connections, this is a per-connection setting, and to activate this feature go to:

  • Settings > Wi-Fi > click on the “I” next to the connection you want to limit and flip the toggle on Low Data Mode
Low Data Mode for Wi-Fi

Low Data Mode for Wi-Fi

So, what are the implications of activating Low Data Mode?

When this setting is switched on, iOS will turn off Background App Refresh for apps (similar to Low Power Mode) and will no longer download apps and music in the background, FaceTime will lower the audio and video quality, and any media streamed using Apple apps will be degraded.

Third-party apps will be unaffected, except for Background App Refresh being disabled.

I’ve also found that this is a great way to slow down battery usage when I’m somewhere with poor signal strength.

On, and you have to remember to deactivate this when you no longer need it (so make a mental note of where the setting lives so you can find your way back to it).

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Can iOS 13’s Optimized Battery Charging save your battery?

The best new features in iOS 13
With iOS 13 set to roll out on September 19, ZDNet’s Beth Mauder walks you through her five favorite new features and how you can add them to your iPhone. Read more: https://zd.net/2QbuNNR
https://www.zdnet.com/

iOS 13 has a new feature called Optimized Battery Charging which is supposed to slow down battery aging by preventing the battery from charging up to 100 percent until you need it.

How does this work?

The idea is that iOS 13 “learns from your daily charging routines” so it can figure out when is best to top up that last 20%. This is meant to prevent battery wear by not continually keeping the battery at its fully charged state.

But how does this work in real life? The answer here is “it depends.”

Must read: iOS 13: New features you might have missed

If you regularly charge your iPhone at night, and wake up about the same time, then this feature does seem to work as advertised, and fast charges the iPhone to 80%, and adding that final 20% at the last 30 minutes or so before you “normally” take your iPhone off charge.

However… (there’s always a “however” or a “but,” isn’t there?).

The problem is if you are erratic in your charging schedule, or if you are not the sort of person who charges your iPhone overnight. At this point the iOS seems to default to a regular charging regimen of fully charging the battery as fast as it can. Same is true if you charge it during the day.

One possible downside of this feature is if you need to get up earlier one morning then your iPhone might only have 8% charge. Not the end of the world, but that missing 20% could amount to more than an hour of lost run time.

But does this feature help prevent battery wear?

At this point I don’t have anything conclusive to share, but given that not continually charging a battery to full capacity should help reduce wear, this feature could help, and those who keep their phones on charge a lot (like I do) could see greater benefit. But notice how I’ve hedged my bets here with a few “shoulds” and “coulds.” We’ll have to wait to see if this has any meaningful impact in the read world.

But anything that lengthens the lifespan of your battery, and delays that inevitable trip to an Apple Store for a new battery of phone upgrade is a good thing. 

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Quick fixes for annoying iOS 13 problems

Have you installed iOS 13 and are now having problems? You’re not alone! Fortunately, some of the common problems people are having are pretty easy to fix. Let’s take a tour of the common problems iOS 13 users are facing, along with possible fixes.

Must read: iOS 13: New features you might have missed

#1: Can’t connect to Wi-Fi

This is a common complaint. Here is a fix that works most of the time:

  • Go to Settings > Wi-Fi
  • Choose the connection you are having problems with and tap the “i” in the circle
  • Tap Forget this Network at the bottom of the screen
  • Reconnect to the Wi-Fi connection (you will need your password)

If that doesn’t work, there’s a more drastic option that blasts all your network connections available:

  • Go Settings > General > Reset
  • Tap Reset Network Settings

This wipes all your network and Bluetooth settings.

If that doesn’t work, there’s an even more drastic nuclear option that wipes all your settings:

  • Go Settings > General > Reset
  • Tap Reset All Settings

#2: Can’t connect to Bluetooth devices

This is another common problem following an iOS update. If you are suffering from this problem, try this:

  • Go to Settings > Bluetooth
  • Choose the connection you are having problems with and tap the “i” in the circle
  • Tap Forget this Device at the top of the screen
  • Try reconnecting to the device

If that doesn’t work, there’s a more nuclear option that blasts all your network connections available:

  • Go Settings > General > Reset
  • Tap Reset Network Settings

This wipes all your network and Bluetooth settings.

If that doesn’t work, there’s an even more drastic nuclear option that wipes all your settings:

  • Go Settings > General > Reset
  • Tap Reset All Settings

#3: Battery problems

Battery problems are another common complaint after installing a new iOS update. However, many times the problem is fixed by waiting a few days and allowing all the background processes to finish and for iOS to finished calibrating the battery.

So the first step is patience!

Another thing to make sure you’ve done is install any new iOS 13 updates, since one update specifically mentioned improving battery life.

If that doesn’t work, I suggest checking out my tips and tricks for diagnosing and fixing battery problems.

#4: iMessage and FaceTime activation issues

Can’t get iMessage or FaceTime to reactivate after an updater? One trick that works here is to switch off the service you are having problems with, waiting a minute, then turning it back on. Here’s where to go to do this:

  • For iMessage you go to Settings > Messages > iMessage
  • For FaceTime you go to Settings > FaceTime

Have you had any iOS 13 issues? Let me know below!

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Apple creates iOS 13/iPadOS/macOS 10.15 Catalina upgrade mess and potential data loss

Apple newly updated Reminders app comes with a whole raft of new features, such as smart lists, a new quick toolbar, but be careful, because upgrading too hastily could cause you to lose data.

And data loss is one of the worst kinds of issues to be facing.

Must read: iOS 13: Security and privacy settings you need to tweak and check

Here’s the deal. 

Apple’s new Reminders app for iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS 10.15 Catalina isn’t compatible with earlier versions of iOS and macOS. Problem is, the current release version of macOS is the earlier version, so while you can upgrade your iPhones and iPads to use the new Reminders, your Mac will be left out of the equation.

Apple does warn users about this issue, but it’s likely that users either will misunderstand the issue, or not appreciate the severity of the issue.

Reminders app reminding you there's a potential problem

Reminders app reminding you there’s a potential problem

The problem is such that Apple has published a support bulletin to cover this issue, and buried in this is an ominous warning that doesn’t appear on the iOS warning screen.

“iCloud reminders created on a device that’s running earlier software are visible only on other devices running earlier software. When you update that device to the latest software, those new reminders will be lost when you open the Reminders app.”

And that’s not the only way to lose data.

If you create new iCloud reminders on a secondary device that’s running iOS 13 or macOS Catalina, but you haven’t yet opened the new Reminders app on that device—for example, if you used Siri to create reminders—those reminders will be lost when you open the app for the first time. To avoid this, open the Reminders app once before you create any new reminders on an updated device.

Also, if you use the iCloud for Windows app, I’ve got bad news for you.

“You can’t see iCloud reminders in the iCloud for Windows app.”

Sync is also broken, and will have to wait for macOS 10.15 Catalina to drop, likely October 4.

For something as important as reminders, this seems like a really messy, chaotic upgrade process that relies on the end users to seek out a support bulletin to get find out the full impact of the upgrade. If you’re already pushed the button to upgrade Reminders, well, it’s too late for you and you have to wait for Catalina to land (or, if you used the iCloud for Windows app, for Apple to update that… if that ever happens). If you’ve yet to upgrade Reminders, I’d say leave it until the dust settles.

Poor show, Apple. Poor show.

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iOS 13 battery life bad? Top tips to fix battery drain issues

The best new features in iOS 13
With iOS 13 set to roll out on September 19, ZDNet’s Beth Mauder walks you through her five favorite new features and how you can add them to your iPhone. Read more: https://zd.net/2QbuNNR
https://www.zdnet.com/

Finding that your iPhone’s battery life isn’t good after installing iOS 13? Is it not making it to the end of the day without having to recharge? Fear not. It’s unlikely that your battery has gone bad overnight and you need to replace it (or your iPhone), and it’s much more likely to be down to the update.

Here’s what you can do to diagnose and fix the problem.

#1: Be patient!

Following any iOS update — or any operating system update for that matter — a lot has to happen in the background to bring things back to how they were. Everything from indexing photos and files, to recalibrating battery life. This means that not only is there more demand on the battery, but the battery meter might not be reading right.

So be patient! Let the iPhone go through a few recharge/discharge cycles before becoming fixated on there being a problem.

#2: Check for updates

If you’ve installed iOS 13 and are having battery problems, then I have some great news to you. Shortly after this release Apple released iOS 13.1, iOS 13.1.1, and iOS 13.1.2. Even better news is that iOS 13.1.1 contained fixes specifically related to battery life.

Bottom line, if you’ve not downloaded and installed the latest updates, it’s time to do so! Head over to Settings > General > Software Update and download the newest iOS 13 update.

#3: Run app updates

The problem might not be an iOS issue but more a problem with an app, especially when new versions of iOS have been released. That means it’s a good idea to make sure all your apps are updated before you go spending a lot of time trying to diagnose what’s going on.

Fire up the App Store app and click your profile icon in the corner then scroll down to Available Updates to look for updates (I like to pull down this screen to refresh it so I see all the latest updates).

#4: Reboot your iPhone

I know, this seems like a simple fix, but you’d be surprised how often it works!

  • iPhone 8 and later: Click and release the volume up button followed by the volume down button, then press and hold down the power button until the Apple logo appears on the screen.
  • iPhone 7 and earlier: Hold the power button and volume down until the Apple logo appears on screen

#5: Check your iPhone’s battery

Still experiencing problems? Might be a good time to carry out a quick battery check. Go to Settings > Battery > Battery Health. If this screen shows Maximum Capacity over 80% and Peak Performance Capability is showing “Your battery is currently supporting normal peak performance” then you are OK. Anything else then you may have isolated your battery issue and you may be looking at replacing the battery.

#6: What’s eating your battery?

OK, so updating iOS and your apps hasn’t solved the issue, and your battery is showing as fine. What else could it be? It could be a rogue app that’s draining the battery. And fortunately iOS offers you the tools you need to track down misbehaving apps.

Head over to Setting > Battery, and here you will see a lot of data, including Battery Usage By App. Tapping in this area also allows you to switch Activity By App, which shows a breakdown of how much power the app is using while on the screen and how much it is using when in the background.

iOS 13 battery drain

You can use this information to diagnose battery drain issues. Here are some other things you can use this information for:

  • An app going berserk in the background will show lots of activity in the background compared to screen activity (try disabling background activity for that app and see if that helps… more on this shortly).
  • It can spot charging problems (was the battery actually charging when you thought it was?).
  • It can be used to spot poor battery performance (look for battery charge falling rapidly).

#7: Disabling background apps

Background App Refresh allows apps to update and refresh themselves even when they aren’t on the screen. If you discovered an app in step #5 that is doing a lot in the background then this could be the root cause of the battery issue.

Go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and either turn off the setting completely (not recommended but can help) or disable this for individual apps.

#8: Wipe your iPhone and start again

This is the nuclear option, but it can help you ascertain if the issue is a hardware issue or software. I only recommend this as a last resort because it is very time consuming.

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iOS 13: New features you might have missed

The best new features in iOS 13
With iOS 13 set to roll out on September 19, ZDNet’s Beth Mauder walks you through her five favorite new features and how you can add them to your iPhone. Read more: https://zd.net/2QbuNNR
https://www.zdnet.com/

If you use an iPhone for work, then you’ll want to be as productive as possible to allow you to get the most done in the minimum amount of time (and get to your home life or hobbies!). Here are a handful of tips to help make you more productive in iOS 13.

Must read: iOS 13: Security and privacy settings you need to tweak and check

#1: How to activate Dark Mode

It feels like people have been wanting iOS to have a Dark Mode for, well, forever. Well, now you get it… if you can find it!

There are two ways:

Go to Settings > Display & Brightness and choose Dark from Appearance.

Open up Control Center and tap and hold Brightness until it pops up to fill the screen. From there, tap Appearance to switch between Light to Dark modes.

How to activate Dark Mode

How to activate Dark Mode

#2: Cool new volume slider

Have you noticed the new, smaller, more discreet volume slider in iOS 13? No? Well do give the volume buttons a press. 

OK, cool, right? But there’s more. Once the slider is visible, you can interact with it using your finger instead of continuing to press the buttons.

Cool new volume slider

Cool new volume slider

#3: How to rearrange and delete apps

The way to rearrange and delete apps has changed in iOS 13. Now you press and hold down on an icon until Rearrange Apps appears and press on that. This will set all your apps wiggling, ready to be moved or deleted.

#4: Undo

Remember how undo in iOS was a shake of the handset? No, you probably don’t, because people just didn’t use this. Now Apple has added a new gesture — a swipe left with three fingers. And if you want to redo an action, it’s a three-finger swipe to the right.

#5: New formatting bar

Apple has added a new text formatting bar in iOS for apps that support it. You activate it by pressing down on the keyboard with three fingers.

#6: Easy Wi-Fi and Bluetooth access

Now you can access Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings without getting hip-deep in the Settings app. How? Bring up the Control Center pane and press and hold the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth buttons to switch between available networks and devices.

Easy Wi-Fi and Bluetooth access

Easy Wi-Fi and Bluetooth access

#7: Kill unknown callers

Well, not literally. Just prevent them from killing your time by sending them to voicemail directly. To enable this feature, go to Settings > Phone > and toggle to Silence Unknown Callers.

Kill unknown callers

Kill unknown callers

#8: Optimize battery charging

This is a really useful feature that is designed to slow down the speed with which batteries age (we’ll have to wait and see if it lives up to this expectation). This feature is called Optimised Battery Charging and lives in Settings > Battery > Battery Health.

Optimize battery charging

Optimize battery charging

#9: Zip and unzip files

Yes, now you can zip and unzip files using the updated Files app. To zip a file (or files, or a folder), press down and hold and from the popup menu choose Compress. To unzip, press and hold down on a zip file and choose Uncompress.

#10: Screenshot entire web pages

This is a super feature for Safari users. When you take a screenshot (press Volume Up + Power on devices with Face ID, and Power + Home Button on devices that have Touch ID), tap on the preview box to be offered the chance to save the Screen or Full Page.

Screenshot entire web pages

Screenshot entire web pages

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Google: Gmail dark mode for iPhone, Android is rolling out to you now

Do you know these Gmail tips and tricks?
Is Gmail a cornerstone of your work day? Boost your productivity with this selection of tips, tricks, and tweaks.
Read more: https://zd.net/2YmT1Ek

https://www.zdnet.com/

Google is finally rolling out a dark theme in Gmail for iOS and Android, but how to turn it on depends on which version of each mobile OS your device is on.  

Both Google and Apple launched new system-wide settings in the just-released Android 10 and iOS 13 updates. Users who’ve enabled dark mode at a system level on these versions won’t need to do anything to turn on dark theme in Gmail. 

Additionally, on Pixel devices, Gmail will default to its dark theme when battery saver is enabled. 

That makes sense, because Google highlighted last year that dark theme on OLED screen devices can significantly improve battery life. It pointed out at the time that, for example, Google Maps in night mode caused a display’s power usage to fall by 63% compared with normal mode.   

In Android 10, if users enable dark theme at a system level, apps like Photos and Calendar respect that setting, so Gmail is one more app that falls into this group. 

All other Android users can enable dark mode by going to Settings > Theme and then selecting ‘Dark’.  

Users on iOS 11 and iOS 12 can follow the same procedure within the Gmail app. 

Google is rolling out the new Gmail dark-theme option over the next two weeks, so users shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t see it immediately. 

As per 9to5Google, some Android users with Pixel and Samsung devices this week began seeing dark mode enabled on the Search app and Assistant.    

Dark mode support has also become a popular feature request for users for the simple reason that it reduces eye strain. 

Plus, as mentioned, it can save battery life on OLED screens because black pixels are off and the screen is one of the biggest battery drain on a smartphone. 

The feature sticks a black layer on the background and inverts the text from black to white. For Apple, the feature in iOS 13 seemed a natural fit after the company included it in macOS Mojave on the desktop last year.

GmailDarkTheme.gif

Google is introducing Gmail dark theme support on Android and iOS devices.


Image: Google

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How to fix iOS 13 Mail bugs on the iPhone

If you’ve upgraded to iOS 13 then you may have discovered that the Mail app is behaving a little oddly, which is a bit of a nuisance if you rely on this app for work.

Must read: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max: What are the differences?

The most annoying bug seems to be the “no sender” bug, where messages in the inbox show “No Sender” as opposed to the sender’s name for some users. This can turn an already chaotic mailbox into an unmanageable mess.

A fix for this is to kill the Mail app from the multitasking tray and then reboot the iPhone. This should fix the issue, at least temporarily, and should buy you time until the next update lands.

Another interesting bug is that the notifications badge on the Mail icon is erratic and unreliable. There’s no workaround for this, so it’s a case of grinning and bearing it until Apple gets around to fixing it.

Another reported issue is the Mail app not retrieving email. Some users report that deleting the mail accounts and recreating them fixes these, but I’ve also seen reports of some people saying this hasn’t helped, so it might be worth waiting for an update.

Hopefully iOS 13.2, which is scheduled to land September 24, will fix these issues.

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Apple neutered ad blockers in Safari, but unlike Chrome, users didn’t say a thing

safari-engineers-look-at-different-appro-5c58604560b27a4d93a0ea4a-1-feb-07-2019-10-29-23-poster.jpg

There’s been much said about Google’s supposed plans to limit the power of ad blockers in Chrome, but something similar has already happened in Safari, and not that many people have noticed, let alone criticize Apple.

Over the course of the last year and a half, Apple has effectively neutered ad blockers in Safari, something that Google has been heavily criticized all this year.

But unlike Google, Apple never received any flak, and came out of the whole process with a reputation of caring about users’ privacy, rather than attempting to “neuter ad blockers.” The reasons may be Apple’s smaller userbase, the fact that changes rolled out across years instead of months, and the fact that Apple doesn’t rely on ads for its profits, meaning there was no ulterior motive behind its ecosystem changes.

App Extensions and Content Blocker

For Apple users, it all started a few years back when the company announced App Extensions, a mechanism through which apps could extend their functionality into other apps.

Apple said that App Extensions would work in tandem with Content Blocker, a mechanism introduced in iOS 9, in 2013. Basically, apps or app extensions can use the Content Blocker API tell Safari what to block based on a set of rules before rendering a web page.

content-blocker-scheme.png

image: Apple

After letting these two features spread in the app ecosystem for a few years, Apple realized it didn’t need web developers creating extensions for Safari directly, as they could simply leverage the apps in its App Store to provide Safari users with extra features.

These two features made Safari’s older extensions ecosystem obsolete. As a result, in mid-2018, Apple announced it was deprecating old “legacy” extensions and started advising Safari extensions devs to port their code to an “app extension” and upload it on the App Store.

The first move to enforce this came in September 2018 when Apple launched iOS 12, and the OS maker began blocking the installation of legacy Safari extensions from outside the Safari Extensions Gallery.

By the end of the year, Apple stopped accepting legacy extensions in the Safari Extensions Gallery altogether, and also began disabling legacy extensions in users’ browsers with a message of “Safari turned off extensions that slow down your web browsing.”

The message appeared for all sorts of legacy extensions, from simple copy-paste enhancers to ad blockers and antivirus parental control extensions.

blocked-safari-extension.png

Image: Malwarebytes

Many extension devs have said the popup appeared indiscriminately, regardless of what the extension did, and many accepted that this was Apple’s way of nudging users into ditching the legacy extensions for the new Safari “App Extensions”-based add-ons.

Starting this week, with the release of iOS 13, Apple ditched the old Safari Extensions Gallery for good, and offically announced it was deprecating legacy extensions. Currently, Safari users can’t install any legacy extension at all, regardless if it’s hosted on the Safari Extensions Gallery or not, or if they’re using iOS or macOS.

During all this, Apple users didn’t bat an eye at the changes, mainly because they only saw the benefits. They saw universally-working app extensions and the new content blocker API, which Apple advertised as a way to isolate extensions and prevent them from accessing browsing data.

Ad blockers the most impacted

However, the move had some casualties. Ad blockers, VPN, and parental control extensions were the most impacted by Apple’s new “app extensions + content blocker” ecosystem.

Ad blocker AdGuard shut down its Safari extension in July last year. A few days later, it was followed by antivirus maker Malwarebytes, which shut down its VPN extension. AdBlock published a blog post where it said its re-written Safari ad blocker was running faster than before, but also listed a long list of downsides.

Other apps also followed in September 2018, when Apple’s new rules were set in stone with iOS 12’s release.

The latest to fall is uBlock Origin for Safari, another ad blocker, which shut down for good two weeks ago. In a post on GitHub, the extension’s developer recommended that users who care about running an ad blocker either switch to using Firefox for Mac, where ad blockers still work just fine, or remain on an older Safari version, which is not really an option.

The other alternative was that users switch to using one of the new Content Blocker-based ad blockers; however, he described the new Content Blocker system as being “extremley limited in adblocking functions.”

Apple and Google did the same thing

The reason why they’re “extremely limited” in blocking ads is the same reason why Google’s upcoming change for Chrome extensions has been criticized.

In a very simple explanation, the changes that Apple implemented in Safari and the upcoming changes planned for Chrome have taken the same path to the same goal, but with different code and terminology.

Both Chrome and Safari will use a new extensions backend. They will limit how extensions intercept and block web requests by preventing the extension from interacting with the web request directly. Instead, the extension will deploy a set of “content blocking rules” and the browser will do the blocking without the extension seeing any user data.

Google wanted to limit the maximum rules an extension could pass to Chrome to 30,000, which many Chrome extension developers said was extremely low, and wouldn’t even begin to accommodate the likes of ad blockers, parental control or traffic inspection extensions.

The company was immediatelly attacked for trying to “kill ad blockers,” and after months of criticism, Google eventually backed down on its initial plan and settled on a higher limit ranging from 90,000 to 120,000, a number that many extension developers, and especially those managing ad blockers, still consider insufficient.

On the other side, when Apple rolled out the new Content Blocker API, it enforced a maximum limit of 50,000 rules for each new extension that wanted to block content inside Safari. Of course AdBlock was running faster. It had fewer rules to apply than before.

Apple was never criticized for doing what Google didn’t even do

At the time, extension developers, including most ad blockers, migrated their code and didn’t say a peep. With the exception of a few rare complaints, people generally didn’t care that Apple just neutered all Safari ad blockers, a situation that contrasts with what happened to Google in 2019, and the wave of criticism it received.

The reason may have to do with the fact that Apple is known to have a heavy hand in enforcing rules on its App Store, and that developers who generally speak out are usually kicked out. It’s either obey or get out.

Unlike in Google’s case, where Chrome is based on an open-source browser named Chromium and where everyone gets a voice, everything at Apple is a walled garden, with strict rules.

Apple was never criticized for effectively “neutering” or “killing ad blockers” in the same way Google has been all this year. In Google’s case, the pressure started with extension developers, but it then extended to the public.

There was no public pressure on Apple mainly because there aren’t really that many Safari users to begin with. With a market share of 3.5%, Safari users aren’t even in the same galaxy as Chrome and its 65% market lead.

Furthermore, there is also the problem of public perception. When Apple rolled out a new content blocking feature to replace the old Safari extensions and said it was for everyone’s privacy — as extensions won’t be able to access browsing history — everyone believed it.

On the other hand, ads are Google’s life blood, and when Google announced updates that limited ad blockers, everyone saw it a secret plan for a big corp to keep its profits intact, rather than an actual security measure, as Google said it was.

As software engineer Will Lesieutre said this week in a HackerNews comment, Apple’s announcement was “totally believable because it’s in line with the last 10+ years of their product direction.”

But “people are more skeptical of Google’s motives because nearly all of their money comes from selling ads, and for all we know they’re more concerned about their very very very large piles of cash than they are about browser extension security.”

The bottom line

The bottom line is that there’s no way to install a classic Safari ad blocker starting this week, and that Apple is expected to remove or disable old Safari legacy extensions from users’ browsers sometime in the future, for good.

If users have moved to a new ad blocker that they downloaded from the App Store, then it may not be actually blocking all the ads, as users expect.

At this point, as many have pointed out, Firefox for Mac may be the only solution for running an ad blocker on macOS these days, while there’s no way of using an older ad blocker on iOS, regardless of browser.

Google Chrome for Mac still supports ad blockers, but it’s currently unclear if they’ll do so in the future. But that’s another can of worms.



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