Best iPad in 2020: Apple’s tablet lineup continues to go unmatched

Apple’s iPad lineup is arguably something that’s unmatched by any other platform or device maker. The tablets all consistently turn top performance and have 10 hours of battery life, clear and crisp displays, and access to countless apps in the App Store. 

And with Apple’s announcement of iPadOS last year, the company has slowly and methodically released updates with features that differentiate it from the iPhone and push it closer to being more like a Mac. 

Below you’ll find Apple’s iPad lineup and details about what differentiates each model.

10.2-inch display | A10 Fusion chip | Up to 128GB storage | Touch ID

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Apple

Apple’s tried-and-true tablet, the base model iPad, is arguably the best value out of the group. You get all of the same features as the more expensive Pro and Air models, including a larger 10.2-inch display.

Inside is the Apple A10 Fusion chip, either 32GB or 128GB of storage, and either standalone Wi-Fi support or Wi-Fi and Cellular connectivity.

Apple hasn’t expanded its facial recognition hardware beyond the iPad Pro, so the iPad still has a home button with Touch ID. There is, however, a Smart Connector to add Apple’s Smart Keyboard, turning the iPad into more of a laptop than a tablet. And, of course, it supports the Apple Pencil.

Better yet? The iPad starts at $329. It’s incredibly powerful and even more affordable. 

$329 at Apple

10.5-inch | A12 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

The third-generation iPad Air

In the middle of the iPad pack is the iPad Air. Apple mixes and combines some of the features from the standard iPad and the iPad Pro, bringing specs like a 10.5-inch display, but leaving the home button in place. 

Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support is available, and storage space is double that of the standard iPad, with 64GB and 256GB options available. Powering the iPad Air is an A12 Bionic processor, bringing some of that power that the iPad Pro lineup has to a slightly smaller, and less expensive, device. 

Starting price for the iPad Air is $499 for 64GB or $649 for 256GB. You can add cellular to it for an extra $130.

$399 at Apple

11- or 12.9-inch | A12Z | Up to 1TB of storage | Face ID

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The iPad Pro is the most expensive, and the most capable tablet in the lineup. It boasts a completely different design when compared to the standard iPad or iPad Air. Instead of a Lightning port for charging, syncing and accessories, you’ll find a USB-C port.

The Home button is gone, replaced by Apple’s Face ID facial recognition tech. And, unlike on the iPhone, you can use Face ID with the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation.

There are two sizes: 11-inch or 12.9-inch, with storage ranging from 128GB all the way up to 1TB. Pricing also has a wide range, of $799 for the 11-inch 1218GB model, up to $1,499 for the 1TB 12.9-inch model. Add cellular connectivity to either model for $150 more. The Pro uses Apple’s A12Z processor, making it the most powerful iPad currently available.

The Pro also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil, with a magnetic spot on the side to charge it. The Smart Connector is on the back of the iPad Pro, giving you the option to use it with the recently launched Magic Keyboard that includes backlit keys and trackpad, or Apple’s Smart Keyboard.

The iPad Pro, combined with iPadOS, is as close as you can get to a laptop without actually buying a laptop. 

$799 at Apple

7.9-inch | A12 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

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Image: Apple

If you want something smaller and more manageable, the iPad Mini fits the bill. Powered by the A12 Bionic processor, the 7.9-inch tablet comes with all the same bells and whistles as the rest of Apple’s tablet line thanks to a fairly recent update.

The Mini will work with the first-generation Apple Pencil, so you can draw or jot notes in supported apps. With the upcoming release of iPadOS 14, Apple Pencil support is expanding thanks to a new Scribbles feature that lets you write in text boxes, with the tablet converting your handwriting into actual text.

You have the option of 64GB or 256GB of storage, with the former priced at $399 and the latter $549 for the Wi-Fi-only models. If you want to add cellular connectivity, you’re looking at a $130 increase. 

$399 at Apple

9.7-inch | A10 Fusion | Up to 128GB | Touch ID

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Apple

For those who still have one of the original 9.7-inch iPad models, with cases and accessories aplenty, then check out Apple’s refurbished store, where you’ll find the sixth-generation iPad still on sale. It was first released in March 2018, but don’t let that fool you, it can still run the latest OS and do all you’d need a tablet to do.

Inventory in Apple’s Refurbished store fluctuates all the time, but as of right now, the 128GB model with Wi-Fi and Cellular is available in silver, space gray, and gold for $439, marked down from the standard prices of $529.

Apple will support the sixth-generation iPad with iPadOS 14, so you’ll be able to take advantage of all of its new features, and some of the more recently added features like mouse and trackpad support.

Some of the nerdier specs about the sixth-generation model is an Apple A10 Fusion processor, with 10-hour battery life, a Touch ID sensor, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a 2048×1536 resolution display. 

$439 at Apple

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Apple declined to implement 16 Web APIs in Safari due to privacy concerns

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Apple said this week that it declined to implement 16 new web technologies (Web APIs) in Safari because they posed a threat to user privacy by opening new avenues for user fingerprinting.

Technologies that Apple declined to include in Safari because of user fingerprinting concerns include:

  • Web Bluetooth – Allows websites to connect to nearby Bluetooth LE devices.
  • Web MIDI API – Allows websites to enumerate, manipulate and access MIDI devices.
  • Magnetometer API – Allows websites to access data about the local magnetic field around a user, as detected by the device’s primary magnetometer sensor.
  • Web NFC API – Allows websites to communicate with NFC tags through a device’s NFC reader.
  • Device Memory API – Allows websites to receive the approximate amount of device memory in gigabytes.
  • Network Information API – Provides information about the connection a device is using to communicate with the network and provides a means for scripts to be notified if the connection type changes
  • Battery Status API – Allows websites to receive information about the battery status of the hosting device.
  • Web Bluetooth Scanning – Allows websites to scan for nearby Bluetooth LE devices.
  • Ambient Light Sensor – Lets websites get the current light level or illuminance of the ambient light around the hosting device via the device’s native sensors.
  • HDCP Policy Check extension for EME – Allows websites to check for HDCP policies, used in media streaming/playback.
  • Proximity Sensor – Allows websites to retrieve data about the distance between a device and an object, as measured by a proximity sensor.
  • WebHID – Allows websites to retrieve information about locally connected Human Interface Device (HID) devices.
  • Serial API – Allows websites to write and read data from serial interfaces, used by devices such as microcontrollers, 3D printers, and othes.
  • Web USB – Lets websites communicate with devices via USB (Universal Serial Bus).
  • Geolocation Sensor (background geolocation) – A more modern version of the older Geolocation API that lets websites access geolocation data.
  • User Idle Detection – Lets website know when a user is idle.

Apple claims that the 16 Web APIs above would allow online advertisers and data analytics firms to create scripts that fingerprint users and their devices.

User fingerprints are small scripts that an advertiser loads and runs inside each user’s browser. The scripts execute a set of standard operations, usually against a common Web API or common web browser feature, and measure the response.

Since each user has a different browser and operating system configuration, responses are unique per user device. Advertisers use this unique response (fingerprint), coupled with other fingerprints and data points, to create unique identifiers for each user.

Over the past three years, user fingerprinting has become the standard method of tracking users in the online ad tech market.

The shift to user fingerprinting comes as browser makers have been deploying anti-tracking features that have limited the capabilities and reach of third-party (tracking) cookies.

Some browser makers have also been deploying countermeasures to prevent fingerprinting operations through the most common methods — such as fonts, HTML5 canvas, and WebGL — but not all user fingerprinting vectors are currently blocked.

Furthermore, new ones are constantly being created as browser makers add new Web APIs to their code.

Currently, Apple has identified the 16 Web APIs above as some of the worst offenders; however, the browser maker said that if any of these new technologies “reduce fingerprintability down the road” it would reconsider adding it to Safari.

“WebKit’s first line of defense against fingerprinting is to not implement web features which increase fingerprintability and offer no safe way to protect the user,” Apple said.

For Web APIs already implemented in Safari years before, Apple says it’s been working to limit their fingerprintability vector. So far, Apple said it:

  • Removed support for custom fonts. This means only presenting built-in fonts which are the same for all users with the same system.
  • Removed minor software update information from the user agent string. The string only changes with the marketing version of the platform and the browser.
  • Removed the Do Not Track flag, which ironically was used as a fingerprinting vector, adding uniqueness to the users who had enabled it.
  • Removed support for any plug-ins on macOS. Other desktop ports may differ. (Plug-ins were never a thing on iOS.)
  • Require a user permission for websites to access the Device Orientation/Motion APIs on mobile devices, because the physical nature of motion sensors may allow for device fingerprinting.
  • Prevent fingerprinting of attached cameras and microphones through the Web Real-Time Communication API (WebRTC).

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WWDC 2020: iOS 14 kills the biggest iPhone annoyance

Apple has fixed an iOS annoyance that’s been plaguing me since I started using the iPhone.

I’ve long wanted Apple to stop making phone calls and FaceTime calls take over the entire iPhone. iOS 14 does just that.

Now, rather than taking over the whole screen, and busting through whatever you’re doing, Kool-Aid Man style, calls and FaceTime calls appear in a banner at the top of the screen, acting like just another notification. 

From this banner, you can choose to accept the call and hang up. To dismiss a call, you just swipe it up out of the way.

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Must read: iOS 14: Will it run on your iPhone and iPad?

And it’s not just calls but also calls from third-party apps such as Skype, giving users a standardized experience across different apps.

iPad users also get this feature, both for calls made direct to the device and calls handed over to it from an iPhone.

It’s a small tweak, but it’s taken Apple over a decade to finally fix this huge annoyance.

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Apple confirms Mac to Arm with Microsoft and Adobe on board; MacOS will look more like iOS

Apple confirmed it is moving the Mac to the Arm architecture amid a big software design overhaul that brings MacOS, iOS, and iPadOS together in both look and feel.

At WWDC 2020, Apple laid out a roadmap that started with operating systems and went into hardware and processors. Going forward, Apple’s design language across devices and operating systems will be more consistent — as will the hardware that powers them.

The company also outlined a case that revolves around innovation and an easy transition. MacOS native apps already work with Apple silicon and big software partners such as Microsoft and Adobe are on board with the Arm shift. Mac apps that aren’t ready for Apple’s chips immediately will run on virtualization. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook said transition will take two years from Intel to Apple silicon and first Arm based systems will be available by the end of the year. Cook said Apple will support Intel based Macs for the foreseeable future. 

This MacOS release will be called Big Sur and include a cleaner design and consistency with iOS and iPadOS. System-level controls, notifications, and widgets all rhyme with what is typically seen on iOS.

Apple retained some of the details of the well-known Mac icons. Apple said the MacOS is familiar yet entirely new.

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With the overhaul of photos, dock, and grids, it’s clear that Apple is going with a MacOS design that provides a bridge to iOS 14. The code may not be bridged, but the look and feel of the Mac is starting to rhyme with iOS.

Even controls and messages go with what you’ll see on iOS and iPadOS.

You see where this is headed: The MacOS overhaul comes as the Mac will be moving to Apple’s Arm-based processors in the future. Mac Catalyst, a program that enables developers to create Mac apps from iPad apps, also received a bevy of updates to make bridging those applications easier.

Consider MacOS an Arm-ready OS.

With that backdrop, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, set up the announcement nearly everyone in tech was waiting for. Mac goes Arm. CEO Cook said the additon of Arm will take the Mac “to a whole new level.”

Cook said moving the Mac to Apple processors will allow it to better integrate hardware and software. The argument for moving the Mac to Apple’s own processors go like this:

  • Apple can control its innovation cycle and bring low power and better performance to the Mac.
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  • The company has been advancing silicon tools and the Mac can use those technologies with its own custom processor.
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  • MacOS Big Sur is already built to take advantage of Arm and Apple silicon. All of Apple’s native apps are already running on Xcode and equipped for Arm. Developers can make Mac apps work on Arm and Intel with Universal 2 at the same time. 
  • Microsoft and Adobe already have their applications Office and Creative Cloud, respectively, running on Apple silicon. Final Cut Pro is also working on Apple silicon. 
  • Apple will provide a bevy of developer tools as well as a Developer Transition Kit, a Mac mini with an A12Z SoC. 
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Apple Developer Program members can start moving their apps to Apple silicon today by applying for the Universal App Quick Start Program. The program provides access to documentation, forums support, beta versions of macOS Big Sur and Xcode 12, and includes the limited use of a DTK, which will enable developers to build and test their Universal 2 apps. The DTK, which must be returned to Apple at the end of the program, consists of a Mac mini with Apple’s A12Z Bionic SoC inside and desktop specs, including 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and a variety of Mac I/O ports. Developers can apply to the program at developer.apple.com, and the total cost of the program is $500.  

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WWDC 2020: Everything Apple just announced, ranked

Apple’s virtual WWDC conference was highlighted by a plan to transition the Mac to Apple processors over time, but much of the groundwork has already been laid with a redesigned Mac OS. There were also updates to iOS, iPad OS, and watchOS to ponder.

Here is everything announced in order of importance.

1. Apple silicon Mac available to developers

The first Mac based on Apple silicon is available to developers. The Developer Transition Kit consists of a Mac Mini packing an A12Z SoC processor with macOS Big Sur. These systems will be gobbled up as developers prep apps for the new world of Mac. Apple’s transition plan looks solid. Apple said:

“Apple Developer Program members can start moving their apps to Apple silicon today by applying for the Universal App Quick Start Program. The program provides access to documentation, forums support, beta versions of macOS Big Sur and Xcode 12, and includes the limited use of a DTK, which will enable developers to build and test their Universal 2 apps. The DTK, which must be returned to Apple at the end of the program, consists of a Mac mini with Apple’s A12Z Bionic SoC inside and desktop specs, including 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and a variety of Mac I/O ports. Developers can apply to the program at developer.apple.com, and the total cost of the program is $500.”  

Must read:

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2. Processor transition will take two years

Apple’s transition from Intel-based Macs to Apple silicon will take two years — with product support going longer. Apple had no choice but to offer that support, but buyers will have to consider what processor to bet on. (Hint: Apple chips are the correct answer, but you need to wait to see how apps work in the real world.)

Must read:

3. watchOS 7 is a health nag

watchOS 7 will give Apple more of a footprint in health care and even watch your handwashing hygiene. Yes, the Apple Watch is your new nag about handwashing, but given COVID-19, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Here’s to hoping Apple Watch calls people out when they pee and don’t wash hands at all.

Must read:

4. MacOS looking more like iOS

MacOS is starting to look a lot like iPad OS and iOS. The melding of operating systems has begun and the move to Apple silicon is only going to accelerate that journey. 

Must read:

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5. iOS 14 yawner

 iOS 14 didn’t wow anyone. Apple gave iOS 14 some nice perks and the app organization and widgets are handy, but in a lot of ways the operating system was all about incremental updates. That’s why it went first.

Must read:

6. Support for developers

Developers are getting code support, private forums and transition help as Mac moves to Arm. Apple knows it needs applications to transition to two processor support for a few years.

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7. Siri updated

Siri is minimized, but hopefully smarter. The Siri update is worth noting since the digital helper is basically a punchline at this point. But at least Siri won’t have a big jarring presence on the iPad and iPhone anymore. 

Must read:

8. Digital car key

CarKey is going to make the iPhone a digital car key, and that’s going to be a sticky application given Apple’s CarPlay footprint. Where were my keys again?

9. Privacy features

Apple sees privacy as its competitive advantage. Apple announced a series of privacy and security features that will make it much harder for advertisers to track users.

Must read:

10. Where was AR?

AR wasn’t mentioned. Yes, we know that we’re ranking an announcement that wasn’t made, but the silence was a bit deafening.

Best of the rest:

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Apple iPadOS 14 report card: There’s room for improvement

WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference, kicked off Monday, with the headlining news that the company is moving away from Intel processors and will soon use its own Apple Silicon processors in the Mac line.

The Mac may have been the star of the show, but that doesn’t mean Apple didn’t pay attention to the rest of its product lineup. The iPhone is getting iOS 14, with new home screen features and improvements. The Apple Watch has a new sleep app, while TVOS is getting better HomeKit integration.

As for the iPad, well, it’s getting iPadOS 14. Right now, I think the update can best be described as a modest improvement.

Improvements include a new approach to the iPad’s interface within apps, Apple Pencil improvements, and an improved Search feature, but the lack of the same home screen improvements that the iPhone is getting is frustrating.

Below are the features that Apple highlighted in the keynote, and a temporary letter grade from me. As I learn more about iPadOS 14 and get to spend time actually using it, I’ll continue updating this report card.

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The new Sidebar design in iPad apps. 


Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Interface changes: B

There is a new Sidebar interface approach in iPadOS that, once apps update, will move category tabs from the bottom of the screen to the side of the display. For example, in the Music app, there used to be tabs along the bottom of the screen that you’d use to move between your library, new music, listening suggestions, and the like.

With iPadOS, however, all those tabs are now moved to the side, similar to how the Mail app displays all of your mailboxes.

This arrangement makes a lot more sense and should be easier to navigate, especially if you’re using a trackpad or mouse to get around the iPad’s interface. More apps will have to adopt the new design, but at first glance, it looks like this seemingly subtle change will do a lot to make the iPad’s interface look and function more like a normal computer. If nothing else, it will be familiar to users.

Another important change that’s bugged me for years is the fact that incoming calls take over the iPad’s entire screen, instead of showing up as a small alert, similar to new notifications. The iPad and iPhone are both getting smaller incoming call prompts when the device is unlocked and in use.

The same can be said for Siri — the virtual assistant is now a small animation that shows up in the bottom-right corner of the screen when summoned. Results are also displayed as a small popup just above that, which is a huge improvement over Siri dominating the entire display, as has always been the case.

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Home screen improvements: D-

As Apple walked us through the home screen improvements to iOS 14, I couldn’t help but feel excited about what this would look like on the iPad. The updates bring new-look widgets that can be placed anywhere on the screen, and a new App Library that serves more as an app drawer to declutter your display.

And then, as the video turned to the iPad, I didn’t realize Apple failed to mention any home screen changes coming in iPadOS 14. I assumed at the end of the iPad session, when it was mentioned that there was a lot of overlap between iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, Apple’s tablet would get the new app arrangement features.

I was wrong. Shortly after the keynote ended and the developer betas were made public, it became clear the iPad would not get the same treatment. App Library is nowhere to be found, and widgets are still limited to the Today View, a column that lives off the left side of your screen, or can be pinned to the home screen. But, that’s it.

Hopefully, user feedback during the beta process inspires Apple to bring features to the iPad. It makes the most sense for this kind of feature to exist on a smaller display, like the iPhone, but I’m sure many will find it just as useful on the iPad.

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Apple, Inc.

Search: A+

Apple has improved the Spotlight-like Search feature on iPadOS 14. You still activate it by pressing Command+Space Bar within any app, or by swiping down on the main screen. But instead of taking over the entire screen, Search now acts more like MacOS Spotlight, with a small search bar showing up on top of the screen or app you’re currently using, awaiting your search query.

Search acts as a quick launcher for opening apps, searching for information within apps such as a specific file in the Files app, and searching the web and quick facts.

If done right, a responsive and accurate Search tool is a far better method of multitasking, especially if you’re trying to find files and messages while moving between apps. 

I’ve always used Search to launch apps as a calculator replacement on the iPad. The more streamlined look and feel of the Search bar wasn’t something I’d ever hoped Apple would change, but after seeing it in action during the keynote, I’m excited to give it a try.

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Apple, Inc.

Apple Pencil improvements: A

The Apple Pencil is no longer limited to specific apps for specific tasks. Instead, you can now use the Pencil to edit text documents, scratching out a word, inserting or removing a space by drawing a small line between letters, circling a word to select it, or writing a word and having it transcribed into text in near real-time.

I have an Apple Pencil with the iPad Pro, but I honestly rarely use it. Actually, I never use it. I just can’t figure out a way for it to fit in my daily workflow, but the first thing I thought of when I saw Scribble was that it could come in handy when editing longer articles and even my kids’ schoolwork.

I don’t ever see myself using Scribble to write in a text field instead of just typing, but I do see how those who use and love the Apple Pencil will find that a welcomed addition.

Other notable Apple Pencil changes include improvements to selecting text, recognizing written things like phone numbers or addresses, converting hand-drawn shapes into pieces of clipart, and the like.

All in all, the Pencil received a big update on iPad Pro, and developers will be able to take advantage of all the new features after updating to the latest API.

Surely, there’s a lot more to be found and talked about in iPadOS 14, but we’ll have to wait until the public beta launches before we can take a deeper dive.

In the meantime, what do you think about iPadOS 14? Let us know in the comments.

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Apple to App Store developers: Here’s how you can now challenge our decisions

Apple is offering more avenues for contesting its App Store review decisions by allowing developers to challenge the guidelines themselves. And it says it won’t block bug fixes over guideline violations.  

The company’s App Store review processes have been in the spotlight after it blocked an update to Hey, a new email app from developer Basecamp because Hey lacked an in-app purchase option for signing up to its $99-a-year service. 

Instead, Basecamp wanted subscriptions to be processed through its own website, avoiding the 30% revenue share Apple would receive on the subscription’s first year and a 15% cut every year afterwards if it was handled by Apple’s in-app payments.  

Apple yesterday decided to approve the previously blocked bug fix for Hey, even though it still didn’t have in-app purchases. 

Along with approving the Hey update, Apple also announced two key changes to the App Store app-review process for developers. 

Apple said it would no longer delay bug fixes for already-approved apps over guideline violations, except for those related to legal issues. This move is designed to let developers address any issue in their next submission. 

Developers will now also have a mechanism for challenging App Store Review Guidelines, rather than only being able to appeal Apple’s decisions about whether an app violates a guideline. 

Basecamp in the meantime has redesigned Hey approximately in line with a suggestion by Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing. 

Schiller said Hey could “offer a free or paid version of the app with basic email reading features on the App Store, then separately offered an upgraded email service that worked with the Hey app on iOS on its own website”.

Hey’s next update makes it a free iOS app that lets users sign up within the app to a “free, temporary, randomized @hey.com email address that works for 14 days”. 

Whether that change actually meets Apple’s guidelines remains to be seen. Apple is currently reviewing the app, according to Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson.

“We firmly believe we did what @pschiller asked us to do, but Apple still holds all the power. All we can do now is pray that feverishly working the Father’s Day weekend is enough to appease Apple,” he wrote. 

The timing of Basecamp’s dispute with Apple is bad for the iPhone-maker. The European Commission last week opened an investigation into whether Apple’s App Store policies violate European competition law. The commission is looking at how developers are required to use Apple’s in-app purchases following a complaint by Spotify.  

Microsoft president Brad Smith also thinks it’s time for competition regulators in the US and Europe to look more closely at app store business practices.



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WWDC 2020: What’s iOS 14’s secret sauce?

The theme at this year’s WWDC 2020 for iOS is a simple one — fixing annoyances and streamlining the platform.

There’s no doubt that iOS is a mature platform. It’s been around for more than a decade, and over that time, a lot has changed. And that changing landscape has created new problems and annoyances.

For example, take apps. A handful of apps on an iPhone has given way to pages and pages of apps, and the more apps there are installed, the harder it becomes to keep find them and interact with them.

You know what it’s like. You use the apps you have on the Home screen, and maybe the next page, but beyond that, things get vague.

Apple’s solution to this is the App Library.

App Library

App Library

Must read: WWDC 2020: Apple Silicon – What you need to know

App Library lives alongside existing pages and offers a new way to get to the apps you have installed.

Another new app-related feature is App Clips. 

App Clips

App Clips

These are small — under 10MB — streamlined apps that users can access without downloading them from the App Store. These can be activated in a number of ways, such as from NFC tags, cards in Apple Maps, or by scanning special QR-like visual codes.

Do these remind anyone of Android’s Instant Apps?

Widgets also get a revamp, making them bigger and moving them to the Home screen.

Widgets

Widgets

Again, this will be familiar to Android users. In fact, in the on-screen demos, iOS 14 looked so much like Android not that I find it hard to believe that this isn’t deliberate and that it isn’t Apple making a play at getting more Android switchers over to the platform.

Apple has also made countless fixes and tweaks and improvements all across the board, such as fixing the biggest iOS annoyance ever, but it’s interesting to note that there’s no discernible tentpole feature or features. And I think that’s a good thing.

After a decade of new features, stopping to focus on usability, making things easier to discover, and eliminating clutter is not a bad thing.

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Microsoft president Brad Smith: It’s time Apple’s App Store model was probed

Microsoft president and top lawyer Brad Smith has voiced support for an antitrust investigation into the app store model created by Apple and the iPhone. 

Smith made the remarks at a Politico conference in the wake of the European Commission opening a probe into whether Apple’s App Store rules for developers violate EU competition laws, especially with regards to rivals of Apple’s own services, such as Spotify and Apple Music. 

“I do believe the time has come, whether we’re talking about Washington, DC, or Brussels, for a much more focused conversation about the nature of app stores, the rules that are being put in place, the prices and the tolls that are being extracted and whether there is really a justification in antitrust law for everything that has been created,” Smith said.

SEE: Top 10 iPad tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

As Bloomberg reported, Smith said app stores from Google and Apple “impose requirements that increasingly say there is only one way to get on to our platform and that is to go through the gate that we ourselves have created”. 

“In some cases they create a very high price per toll – in some cases 30% of your revenue has to go to the toll keeper.”

As it is, if Microsoft wants to sell its Office 365 subscriptions to anyone who uses an iPhone and iPad, they will need to share a 15% to 30% cut with Apple. 

Google’s Play Store has a similar fee structure, but historically Apple’s App Store generates a lot more revenue for developers.    

Microsoft has the Microsoft Store, but it isn’t popular with Windows desktop users for installing apps and only takes a 5% cut on sales. 

The company also treads more cautiously today in competition after US and EU regulators punished it for tying its Internet Explorer browser to Windows in the 1990s. And with no mobile OS, it’s focusing on building its apps for iOS and Android.  

Companies like Microsoft, Spotify, and Netflix are required to use Apple payment platform if they distribute through the App Store. When iOS users have subscribed to an app for one year, Apple’s commission drops from 30% to 15%. 

SEE: When will your nearest Apple Store reopen, and does it really matter if it is shut?

David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp co-founder and CTO, this week complained that Apple App Store rejected an update to his new email app Hey because it didn’t offer in-app purchases that would be handled by Apple’s payment system and give it a cut of sales. The email service costs $99 a year and Apple is in the position to cut revenues from iOS devices if Hey doesn’t comply with the rule.  

Democrat congressman David Cicilline said in a discussion with Hansson on The Verge’s podcast that Apple was charging “exorbitant rents” that were tantamount to “highway robbery”. 

“It’s crushing small developers who simply can’t survive with those kinds of payments. If there were real competition in this marketplace, this wouldn’t happen,” said Cicilline.

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Microsoft’s Brad Smith: “The time has come, whether we’re talking about Washington, DC, or Brussels, for a much more focused conversation about the nature of app stores.”


Image: Microsoft/YouTube

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