Weekend Roundup: Catalina, Capitulation, Contracts, and a Crazy New Phone

It’s been a crazy week in tech. Apple launched Catalina (with Catalyst!) and capitulated on China, and GitHub is under fire for a contract with ICE. Also, there’s a weird new phone coming we’re on the fence about.

Let’s jump right in!

Catalina Woes

Apple launched macOS Catalina on Monday, which honestly felt like a purposeful delay considering the original leaked date was October 4 (last Tuesday). Either way, it’s here, and very iOS-y. In terms of big changes, iTunes is gone, and nobody cares.

Catalina also means the end of 32-bit apps, which is giving many people pause. If you have apps you use regularly, and you fear they will stop working in Catalina, click on the Apple logo on the top left of your menu bar > About this Mac > System Report > Software > Applications. You’ll see a field for 32-bit or 64-bit in the list of apps. (Just keep in mind, this is pre-Catalina; once you load Catalina, it won’t tell you about 32-bit because to Catalina, those don’t even exist.)

Every objective review (re: not one from an Apple-focused blog) we can find relates the same message about Catalina: wait before upgrading. It’s not that Catalina is bad per se, it’s just not worth rushing into. There’s also the problem with Catalyst, which, well…

WWDC 2019 Nailed It Apple Catalyst AppKit UIKit Swift Objective-C Dice

Catalyst Wows Nobody

First, a shameless plug: take our survey on cross-platform apps. C’mon, you know you wanna!

The ‘write once deploy anywhere’ pipe-dream is a fool’s errand. Various languages (couch-cough React and JavaScript) and platforms (Windows Universal, anyone?) have tried to accomplish it, and none have done it well. Apple’s Catalyst, which marries iPad and Mac apps to the same core code-base for release across both platforms, was at least the most reasonable stab we’ve seen at the problem.

And developers were excited about it. And then it launched. And now… not so much excitement. James Thomson, maker of calculator app PCalc, penned a blog post highlighting the issues with porting PCalc to the Mac via Catalyst, including incomplete APIs and problems with standard-fare Mac things such as multi-window support.

The most glaring issue many devs have with Catalyst is a lack of documentation, which feels like a chicken-egg problem. If the APIs are missing or limited, you can’t document them well, and if another bit of tooling references a missing API, you can’t discuss it at all. Maybe Catalyst is Fight Club, who knows.

But Netflix isn’t coming to Mac, which was one of the apps most people hoped Catalyst would snare in its trap. That’s not a great sign of things to come.

Hong Kong is Burning

While Hong Kong tears itself apart, protestors have leaned into technology to organize and stay safe. Apple seems caught in the crossfire.

An app named HKmap.live is at the center of the controversy; it helps protestors know where they are vis-a-vis other protestors, sort of like those tech event apps that help people find each other to meet up for dinner and drinks, only with more tear gas and running from the cops. Apple removed the app without provocation, then allowed it back in the App Store.

Then following a report in People’s Daily, which the New York Times describes as “the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party,” Apple pulled the app again. In the People’s Daily article, Apple was accused of aiding “rioters” in Hong Kong and “letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings.”

There’s no easy path forward, in Hong Kong or otherwise. Communism means obedience, and if Apple wants to do business in China, it’ll have to play nice with the government. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber calls Apple’s move “capitulation,” and it’s a succinct and fair take on the goings-on.

GitHub Works with ICE

That headline, viewed in isolation, may leave you nonplussed. GitHub isn’t unique if it has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); many tech companies do. And, like most tech companies, GitHub’s contract with ICE is basically an enterprise contract any company could sign.

But we didn’t know GitHub worked with ICE until GitHub CEO Natt Friedman penned an open letter saying its $200,000 contract was being renewed, but is “not financially material” to the company.

So, why discuss it at all? Why make the letter to staffers an open one? Why renew a contract you know will be unpopular if it doesn’t matter to the bottom-line? Nobody outside Github was aware of the ICE contract until this. Maybe Friedman is trying to cause outrage so GitHub has to end the contract.

New UI for radically different formfactor pic.twitter.com/Es8hFrTuxx— Andy Rubin (@Arubin) October 8, 2019

Final Flurries

We promised you a weird new phone, and there it is pictured above: the Essential something-something. It’s worth pointing out the phone, which was shared in a tweet by Essential founder Andy Rubin, doesn’t have a release date. But it looks like an Apple Watch slap-bracelet (running Android, of course). A stop-gap between wearable and smartphone? We’re not sure anyone would want that.

Want more Apple news? Well, you’re getting it. the augmented reality headset (AR) we’ve been expecting may come in early 2020, but analysts now think Apple will simply allow third-party hardware to work on its platform, much as it does for virtual reality headwear. We still expect/hope Apple is working on hardware… and delays there could be driving this decision to go third-party. Who knows.

And More…

In Russia, a Soviet museum is being powered by “contraband” Apple II computers. We just like relics of time powering museums celebrating relics of time.

If Hulu is your jam, you can now download episodes to watch offline. Your next cross-country flight will be a lot more enjoyable.

Dyson’s electric car project, which it now says is not “commercially viable,” is dead. RIP to a car nobody was going to buy anyway.

And finally, Twitter says email addresses and phone numbers provided by users for two-factor authorization were “unintentionally” used for advertising purposes. Unintentionally. Sure.

Enjoy your weekend!