In Hong Kong Protests, Faces Become Weapons →

July 31, 2019 · 08:14

Paul Mozur, reporting for The New York Times:

The police officers wrestled with Colin Cheung in an unmarked car. They needed his face.

They grabbed his jaw to force his head in front of his iPhone. They slapped his face. They shouted, “Wake up!” They pried open his eyes. It all failed: Mr. Cheung had disabled his phone’s facial-recognition login with a quick button mash as soon as they grabbed him.

Apple is not always on point but their implementations of Touch ID and Face ID are spot on.

Apple Working on Updated Macs →

February 3, 2018 · 16:31

Mark Gurman, for Bloomberg:

Apple is working on at least three updated Mac models with custom co-processors for release as soon as this year, including updated laptops and a new desktop, according to a person familiar with the plan.

We have the T1 in the Touch Bar MacBooks with Touch ID, the T2 in the iMac Pro, and I can’t help but wonder if the the next generation chip (or perhaps the current T2) will introduce Face ID to macOS. I have been living with this tech on my iPhone X for w few months now and it’s so much better than Touch ID, especially during winter, when I often have gloves on. Granted, I wouldn’t have this problem with a Mac, but by constantly and transparently authorising the user whenever a password is required, even when the Mac is already unlocked, should make things much more secure.

The Future of the Touch Bar and Touch ID →

August 29, 2017 · 08:54

Chuq Von Rospach, writing down his thoughts about facial recognition replacing Touch ID:

With the iPhone 8, it looks like that new technology is here. And if this is true, that explains at least in part why the Touch ID sensor was downplayed in last fall’s announcements (don’t want to oversell something they know is going away) and why we don’t have a Touch Bar keyboard. It made no sense to build that product since a year later it would be replaced.

If I’m right, future Macs will use the infrared facial recognition, and they can embed those sensors in the bezel of the monitor on both the iMac and the laptops. This simplifies the problem of needing to secure the communication between the sensor and the Secure Enclave; by moving those sensors into the device and off the keyboard, everything gets a lot cleaner. And they can build a much less expensive keyboard with a Touch Bar on it that doesn’t require the level of communication security that would be required if it also had the Touch ID sensor.

There were also rumours about Apple being surprised about the number of older MacBook Pro (2015) orders when the late 2016 models came out. When added to the fact that the Touch Bar wasn’t universally well received, perhaps they re-evaluated their stance on the future of keyboards and will either scrap the Touch Bar entirely1 or make it optional. Either way, the Touch Bar is neither the future of keyboards, nor is it a sensible stop-gap to on-screen keyboards. In my use case, where I can’t even see it without moving my hands off the keyboard, it’s just an annoyance and I consider it to be bad design.

In retrospect, I believe had Apple just added Touch ID to every MacBook and keyboard2, skipping the Touch Bar entirely, they would have garnered much more praise, instead of the mixed reviews, which mostly focused on the Touch Bar itself, often mentioning Touch ID only in passing.

  1. Which is my hope.
  2. Perhaps making it optional, so as not to freak people out with higher prices.

Touch Bar: Optional →

August 28, 2017 · 18:51

Chuq Von Rospach:

The current laptop line forces users to pay for the Touch Bar on the higher end devices whether they want it or not, and that’s a cost users shouldn’t need to pay for a niche technology without a future. So Apple needs to either roll the Touch Bar out to the entire line and convince us we want it, or roll it back and offer more laptop options without it. I’m going to be curious what they do if/when they announce updated Laptops this fall.

I still believe the Touch Bar should be optional and customers should be able to specify every model with or without it, depending on their needs and preferences. At the same time, Touch ID should be integrated into the models with ‘real’ keyboards, although having it as another option would be preferable.

I wrote my ‘quick review’ of the 13“ Escape in January and I still stand by my words:

Not having the Touch Bar is such as relief. I was actually surprised, when I realised it, about 5 minutes into configuring this Mac. I felt complete, having the function row back. The Touch Bar is most definitely not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I get why some people like it, but I try to keep my hands on the keyboard at all times, using shortcuts to get what I need done. This allows me not to take my eyes off of the screen. Unfortunately, I could not get used to shifting my eyesight down at the Touch Bar from the display, which was made worse by the fact that when using the MacBook Pro on my lap, my hands would block it.

I truly hope that the Touch Bar will become an option in the future — I’m a diehard keyboard fan and I do not want to change my habits for what I consider a gimmick. I want to be able to buy any MacBook Pro and specify whether I want a Touch Bar or not, like RAM or the CPU.

The Guardian’s Click-Baity Article on the ‘Error 53’ Which Bricks iPhones →

February 5, 2016 · 20:42

Miles Brignall, for Guardian Money, details the problems that iPhone users have been having after updating to iOS 9 with ‘error 53’, which results in bricked phones:

Thousands of iPhone 6 users claim they have been left holding almost worthless phones because Apple’s latest operating system permanently disables the handset if it detects that a repair has been carried out by a non-Apple technician.

Technically, a phone which is worth 50% of its original value (see below), is not ‘worthless’.

(…) The issue appears to affect handsets where the home button, which has touch ID fingerprint recognition built-in, has been repaired by a “non-official” company or individual. It has also reportedly affected customers whose phone has been damaged but who have been able to carry on using it without the need for a repair.

Ahh… so it concerns Touch ID — the thingamajig which reads fingerprints — one of the few elements of the iPhone which is extremely important for privacy reasons.

But the problem only comes to light when the latest version of Apple’s iPhone software, iOS 9, is installed. Indeed, the phone may have been working perfectly for weeks or months since a repair or being damaged.

An update to iOS 9 seems to be the cause of the ‘error 53’, which bricks the iPhones.

After installation a growing number of people have watched in horror as their phone, which may well have cost them £500-plus, is rendered useless. Any photos or other data held on the handset is lost – and irretrievable.

I’m sure they watched the whole iOS update process in horror, knowing that it will brick their phone. Enough with the drama already.

Also, a properly configured iPhone (if the user bothered to read the on-screen information when they first started configuring it) has all of its data backed up to iCloud every night (this usually happens at night, when the phone is charging). It their fault if they didn’t bother backing everything up (it’s automatic once an iCloud account is created). Would you go blaming Apple if you lost your phone, making your data ‘irretrievable’? Or if someone stole it? No.

Tech experts claim Apple knows all about the problem but has done nothing to warn users that their phone will be “bricked” (ie, rendered as technologically useful as a brick) if they install the iOS upgrade.

I assume this kind of information is in the EULA/TOS/warranty — see section 1.7 here.

Freelance photographer and self-confessed Apple addict Antonio Olmos says this happened to his phone a few weeks ago after he upgraded his software. Olmos had previously had his handset repaired while on an assignment for the Guardian in Macedonia. “I was in the Balkans covering the refugee crisis in September when I dropped my phone. Because I desperately needed it for work I got it fixed at a local shop, as there are no Apple stores in Macedonia. They repaired the screen and home button, and it worked perfectly.”

He says he thought no more about it, until he was sent the standard notification by Apple inviting him to install the latest software. He accepted the upgrade, but within seconds the phone was displaying “error 53” and was, in effect, dead.

What Antonio describes seem to be a new set of rules in iOS 9, which make sure that the Touch ID part of it is indeed safe to use — if not, the phone is ‘bricked’.

When Olmos, who says he has spent thousands of pounds on Apple products over the years, took it to an Apple store in London, staff told him there was nothing they could do, and that his phone was now junk. He had to pay £270 for a replacement and is furious.

My friend dropped her iPhone once and was also asked to pay 50% of the price of a new iPhone to receive a brand new one — she was also ‘furious’. At herself though.

“The whole thing is extraordinary. How can a company deliberately make their own products useless with an upgrade and not warn their own customers about it? Outside of the big industrialised nations, Apple stores are few and far between, and damaged phones can only be brought back to life by small third-party repairers.

Imagine what would happen if repair shops started replacing the Touch ID buttons with fake ones, which stole the fingerprints and data of the owners. I assume someone would write a ‘Apple fails to protect users’ privacy’ article.

Could Apple’s move, which appears to be designed to squeeze out independent repairers, contravene competition rules? Car manufacturers, for example, are not allowed to insist that buyers only get their car serviced by them.

I am pretty sure it would at the least it would void all warranties if a buyer changed out any of the car’s mechanical systems, which are designed to keep the driver and passengers safe, for an unauthorised third-party system, eg. ESP, ABS, etc.

A spokeswoman for Apple told Money (get ready for a jargon overload): “We protect fingerprint data using a secure enclave, which is uniquely paired to the touch ID sensor. When iPhone is serviced by an authorised Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated. This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to touch ID remain secure. Without this unique pairing, a malicious touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.”

She adds: “When an iPhone is serviced by an unauthorised repair provider, faulty screens or other invalid components that affect the touch ID sensor could cause the check to fail if the pairing cannot be validated. With a subsequent update or restore, additional security checks result in an ‘error 53’ being displayed … If a customer encounters an unrecoverable error 53, we recommend contacting Apple support.”

I’m glad Apple is verifying if the Touch ID assembly in my iPhone is authentic and not tampered with. My fingerprints, which are stored in the secure enclave, are used to access my bank accounts and many other (slightly less sensitive) forms of data. Other people also use Touch ID for Apple Pay, which is not yet available over here. I do not want someone to hack me were I to stupidly replace the Touch ID sensor, cable, and what-not, with an unauthorised part. My data is worth much, much more than 50% of the price a new iPhone. That’s why I back it up every day. Or rather, my iPhone does that for me.

I’m quite disappointed with The Guardian deciding to run this article, which is unnecessarily sarcastic, click-baity and misguided. The author obviously doesn’t understand how Touch ID works, why its hardware implementation is so important, and how the whole system is securely integrated with the hardware, designed to keep the users’ fingerprints and data safe.