Major Bugs with FaceTime

Benjamin Mayo at 9to5Mac:

A significant bug has been discovered in FaceTime and is currently spreading virally over social media. The bug lets you call anyone with FaceTime, and immediately hear the audio coming from their phone — before the person on the other end has accepted or rejected the incoming call.“

It’s pretty ironic that such an outrageously anti-privacy bug by Apple would be revealed on “Data Privacy Day”.

Just four hours before this story broke, Tim Cook tweeted:

We must keep fighting for the kind of world we want to live in. On this #DataPrivacyDay let us all insist on action and reform for vital privacy protections. The dangers are real and the consequences are too important.

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Now, it’s not that Apple purposely allowed this bug into iOS 12. Nobody can say in good faith that this is a result of malicious intent on Apple’s part. Apple is one of the only major tech companies that actually concerns themselves with proper data privacy protection and has even turned that stance into a major selling point for many consumers. What this does reveal is that Apple has a horrific quality assurance problem. Apple was plagued with software bug scandals throughout 2018; from the MacOS root login scandal, unintentionally throttled MacBooks, to non-charging iPhones. For some reason, Apple has been seriously struggling with its software reliability.

As with the bugs of 2018, Apple released a statement saying that they’ll release a software update “later this week” to patch what is statistically likely to be their first of many software security bugs of 2019. 

Time Tracking with Toggl and Shortcuts

Inspired by the Automators podcast’s most recent episode on automated time tracking (which you should definitely listen to if you’re reading a tech-automation blog), I’ve decided to delve into the world of automated time tracking via the Toggl app in conjunction with Shortcuts for iOS. While Toggl does have a few native Siri Shortcuts, they’re all fairly lacking in true automation functionality. Instead, I use a series of custom shortcuts that pull from Toggl’s API. It should be said that time tracking automation would be classified as a “manual automation,” as it requires user input to activate and deactivate timers.

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There are several collections of time tracking shortcuts out there to be downloaded, such as the one found in the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. Personally, I follow the guide posted to the Shortcuts subreddit by u/RKIV. After following the instructions laid out in this Reddit post, what you’re left with is a series of individual shortcuts that each activate a particular timer within Toggl. Rather than have each timer displayed individually in the Today Screen widget, I bundle each timer shortcut into a singular shortcut called “Start Timer” that displays a list of activities. The activity I then select is the timer that becomes active.

But the true power of automated time tracking isn’t from having a list of timers on your iPhone’s Today Screen. The power of automated time tracking comes from tying those timer shortcuts to other shortcuts already in use. For instance, I have a shortcut called “Good Night” that turns off the living room lights, turns down my screen’s brightness and volume, and sets a morning alarm based on what time I go to sleep. But with the inclusion of time tracking, this shortcut now also activates my timer shortcut for “Sleep”, allowing me to track how much time I spend sleeping. In the morning, my “Good Morning” shortcut deactivates the “Sleep” timer, among other things.

Additionally, I’ve also begun to use shortcuts with Toggl to track my time on social media. Rather than opening Twitter or Instagram via an app on the Home Screen, I now slide over to the Shortcuts widget on the Today Screen and activate my “Social Media” shortcut. Activating this shortcut displays a list of social media apps to choose from. Upon selecting which app I’d like to visit, the shortcut then stops the current Toggl timer if one is active, starts the “Social Media” timer, and opens the selected app. Not only does this track my time on social media, but by both not having social media on my Home Screen and adding additional barriers to entry, I’m systemically discouraged from using social media as often without completely deleting it from my phone.

Unfortunately, not every timer can be tied to other shortcuts. Some timers require manual activation. This means that mistakes will be made. Timers will run for longer than intended and some things simply won’t be timed at all. That being said, time tracking can be made easier to use with Shortcuts. Time tracking in conjunction with automation is ultimately a skill that requires discipline. The more it’s done, the easier it becomes.

Verizon Now Offers a Free Apple Music Subscription

As of today, Verizon is offering a free Apple Music subscription to new and current users on their Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. Users of the Go Unlimited plan are still offered the old service add-on of 6 months free, followed by the standard Apple Music subscription fee of $9.99/month.

If you or your family has multiple users on either the Beyond Unlimited or Above Unlimited plans, all you have to do is go into the My Verizon app and activate the free Apple Music subscription for each line, individually. From there, Verizon will text you with a verification and a link to open Apple Music. If you’re an existing Apple Music subscriber, Apple will detect your overlapping subscription and open a Safari web page prompting you to cancel either the Verizon or Apple subscription. Obviously, at this point you’d cancel the one that isn’t free.

My wife and I were both subscribed to the Apple Music Family plan, costing us $15.00/month. With Verizon’s add-on, we now each have free individual plans, but it works entirely the same way as the family plan.

Now that we’re beyond the age of carrier subsidies and 2-year contracts, and well into the age of no-strings attached $1000 iPhones, it’ll be interesting to see how the major carriers compete with one another for the consumer via add-on benefits. Currently, every major carrier offers some form of service add-on, with T-Mobile offering a free Netflix subscription, Sprint offering a free Hulu subscription, AT&T offering a free subscription of its live-TV streaming service, AT&T WatchTV, and now Verizon offering an entirely free subscription to Apple Music. Consumers certainly have their benefit options to choose from and those options are likely to improve over time.

Philips Hue Bulbs: Better on the Apple Home App, but Not Perfect

I’ve recently set up my home with the Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit. While I’m still in the early stages of setting routines and specific lighting scenes that are convenient for my particular home-life, I’ve already noticed several issues with the native Philips Hue app. That being said, the Philips Hue app is powerful. In it, you can set lighting routines based on specific times of the day or even sunrise and sunset, you can have lights trigger as you leave or arrive home, and most importantly you can change the brightness and color of the bulbs to 50,000 different shades of white. But the most underrated feature within the Philips Hue app is the ability to automatically fade your lights to a pre-set state over the course of 5 to 30 minutes.

The Philips Hue App

For instance, I’ve set up a custom routine in the Philips Hue app that automatically fades my living room lights from the “Bright” state at 9:45pm to a dim, red-toned color called the “Relax” state at 10:15pm. Between those 30 minutes, the bulbs in my living room slowly shift from a standard yellow-tone to a red-tone while simultaneously decreasing from 100% brightness to 56%. This routine helps prepare me for bed as the house gets darker and feels calmer without suddenly changing from 100% brightness to 0% in an instant.

But here’s the issue: the Philips Hue app routines activate a change of state regardless of several very important parameters. The Philips Hue app doesn’t care about the prior state of the bulbs before activating a change of state. I could have my lights set to “Off” while watching a movie with my wife and at 9:45pm they’ll begin increasing the brightness from 0% to 56%. The app doesn’t ask if it should be increasing or decreasing its brightness. It only knows to change to a set brightness percentage, regardless of whether or not it needs to increase or decrease. That’s bad functionality but even worse, the app doesn’t even care if the user is home. Ideally, the Philips Hue app would allow users to automatically trigger a routine on the condition that 1) the user is home (or not) and 2) that the bulbs are in a specific prior state. While I could just open the Philips Hue app and turn my bedtime routine off in preparation for a movie night, that completely nullifies the ambitions of proper home automation.

The Apple Home App

Surprisingly, Apple’s Home app can do almost all of these things with the same Hue bulbs. By setting up scenes in the Home app that reflect specific color-tones and brightness percentages, Apple allows the user to change the state of the bulbs at specific times of day or even at sunrise and sunset. Not only that, but Apple even allows the user to input specific parameters such as:

  • When somebody is home

  • When the first person arrives home

  • When the last person leaves home

  • When nobody is home

Apple’s automation features within the Home app are truly powerful with the inclusion of these highly-specific parameters. For instance, I’ve created an automation within the Home app that activates my living room lights to 100% brightness at sunset, but only if at least one person is home. Additionally, our lights turn on when either my wife or I arrives home first, but only after sunset. Practically, this means that if my wife comes home from work after sunset, the lights will turn on for her when she arrives. If she were to then turn all of the lights off to watch a movie, those lights would not then turn on once I arrive home from work after her. They only respond to the very first person to arrive home.

There is just one major shortcoming to using the Philps Hue bulbs in conjunction with the Home app. Apple doesn’t allow bulbs to fade over time. As discussed above, the Philips Hue app has the wonderful feature of fading lights over the course of 5 to 30 minutes, but the Home app only allows for an instantaneous change of state. I’d love to have my living room lights slowly fade into the “On” state as the Sun fades below the horizon, but it’s impossible. This is particularly frustrating considering the Home app does allow the user to manually adjust the brightness-level of Philips Hue bulbs. I suppose Apple just never bothered to add it as one of the many parameters of automation.