The week of iOS 14-based leaks continues, with hints about new Apple hardware and a new home screen view. The rumored list for apps on the home screen view strikes me as particularly interesting and particularly likely. Cracks about it copying Windows Phone aside, it seems likely to me because it also mimics a lot of the minimalist/time-well-spent launchers I’ve seen for Android.
Maybe Apple will also let us put apps in arbitrary places on the home screen, too, instead of forcing them all to start at the upper left and flow down. Or maybe not! The interesting thing is that for the first time ever, Apple is reconsidering its grid-of-apps homescreen model.
I want to complete a thought I started in yesterday’s newsletter about Sherlocking. The pertinent issue these days isn’t so much that Apple, Google, or Microsoft would make a first-party app that duplicates an pre-existing third party app. To me the issue is that those first-party apps get access and integration into the core OS in a way that those third party apps never did and likely never will. Call it “self-preferencing.”
In Apple World, examples include Apple Podcasts getting integrated into Siri so deeply that Siri can’t “play the latest news” without it. The Apple Watch can reply to iMessages, but no other smartwatch can. And iPhones are only able to do their fast pairing tricks with Apple’s own headphones — with a hand-wavy excuse that a specialized hardware chip is necessary for that to happen. I could make a similar list for Windows 10 and Bing or OneDrive or Google search and Google Ads.
Anyway, I’m revisiting it a day later because it came up today in a congressional antitrust hearing! Adi Robertson covered it in a tweetstorm and in an article on our site. Senator Amy Klobuchar mixed up self-preferencing and Sherlocking while she spoke, which hit me because yesterday I was tempted to say we should resurrect the term Sherlocking but tweak it for the specific context of special first-party platform access.
I recognize that it’s easy to ride my high horse to a moral high ground and look down my and my horse’s nose at any app a platform creator may make and tut-tut. But the issue is actually more complex — these big tech companies shouldn’t be precluded from making their own apps at all, as Adi notes:
Grocery stores, for example, sell store-brand products that compete with other items on the shelves. Amazon does this too, but Open Markets Institute expert Sally Hubbard argued that its size and ubiquity make the situation different. Likewise, under a completely “neutral” ecosystem, Apple and Google wouldn’t preinstall any apps on your phone — but antitrust enforcers don’t want to go that far.
It’s worth drawing out the exchange that led to that first sentence. Adi has it in a tweet:
Okay, somewhat back on track: Lee is asking how something like AmazonBasics differs from Costco selling a store-brand product.— Adi Robertson (@thedextriarchy) March 10, 2020
Hubbard: “The difference is that Costco is not nearly as dominant as Amazon is."
And that right there is the crux of it. At a certain point the sheer size and power of these companies make us feel in our guts that the rules ought to be different. But what those rules should be is unclear. And it’s even less clear how big and powerful a company has to be in order to be subject to them.
This is why The Verge covers tech policy the way it does, by the way. We got from a rumor about iOS 14 to congressional testimony about Kirkland — and I think those things are deeply connected.
You may rightfully find this congressional testimony abstruse and boring and I would be the last person to blame you. But it will eventually help determine whether pairing your next set of Bluetooth headphones is a pain in the ass or not. Or it will determine what hotel you stay at because the rules for how Google shows ads next to search results could change.
I came at this from the angle of Apple’s upcoming OS, but I could have just as easily talked about Google’s search page results redesign flip-flop earlier this year or even Microsoft’s back and forth on Bing integration in Windows.
The point is that in addition to worrying about data privacy, regulation is also going to touch your experience of these products. Hopefully for the better.
More from The Verge
┏ Google Pixel 4A hands-on reveals specs, camera, and a possible release window. The leak confirms a Snapdragon 730 processor and suggests a 3,080mAh battery. If those specs are accurate I expect this will have better battery life than the Pixel 4 — and since it’s a Pixel we can also expect a good camera. If Google prices this aggressively it could really help its flagging hardware efforts. Though I have to admit that if the Pixel 4A is really good, then the Pixel 5 will need to be simply stupendous.
Look at the cadence of the past couple years: Pixel 3, then the 3A comes in cheaper with the same camera. Now Pixel 4, with the 4A repeating the pattern (with a side of better battery life to boot). So when the Pixel 5 comes out, it’s going to be pretty tempting to just wait for the 5A version.
┏ Microsoft to detail Xbox Series X and xCloud in new live stream next week. I know there’s still plenty more to learn about the Xbox Series X, but I am starting to get just a little fatigued with the drip drip drip of information. It seems like Microsoft is experimenting with having an announcement season instead of an announcement event. Given that there are going to be very few tech events in the coming months because of the coronavirus, it might end up being retroactively genius.
Microsoft’s hour-long live stream will be focused on how game developers can leverage its next-gen Xbox hardware, and we’re likely to hear some new details. The company has been revealing Xbox Series X features and hardware specs in a gradual way, and that’s likely to continue next week.
┏ NASA’s future monster rocket is once again over budget and behind schedule. Loren Grush on the many problems besetting the SLS:
All of the contractors have experienced technical problems and setbacks, resulting in $2 billion of cost increases and two years of delays, the report said. In fact, the entire SLS program is over budget and behind schedule by more than 33 percent, compared to the baseline figures NASA gave Congress for 2019. And that will probably grow to 43 percent, the report says, as more schedule delays occur.
┏ Arlo and Blink cameras are boosting security to beat hackers. If you have a cloud-connected camera and haven’t turned on two-factor authentication, set yourself a reminder to set it up today. Literally just pull your phone out and tell Siri or Google or whatever. Good on Arlo and Blink for requiring it, all cameras should. Microphones, too!
┏ The art and craft of scientific glassblowing. Wonderful video from Verge Science
Correction: the original version of this article implied that Siri cannot be used to start podcasts on Spotify. That line has been replaced with the note that Siri needs Apple Podcasts simply to play “news.”