WWDC'19 Summary

This was a big one.

The dev conference started with a TV series announcement trailer πŸ˜‘

WWDC-2019

tvOS 13

  • PS4/Xbox One controller support
  • New wallpapers

watchOS 6

  • New watch faces
  • Hourly beeping sound
  • Audiobooks, voice memos, calculator
  • Independent standalone apps
  • Audio streaming API
  • Own App Store
  • Activity trends
  • Noise app to monitor noise pollution
  • Cycle tracking
  • Health summaries
  • New bands

iOS 13

  • Speed improvements
  • Dark mode
  • Improved Safari, Mail, Notes, Reminders
  • Improved Maps with Street View (SF only as usual?)
  • β€˜Just once’ location access option
  • Sign in with Apple - private social login
  • One-time email address generation
  • HomeKit secure video
  • iMessage avatar pictures
  • Enhanced Memoji with earrings, teeth, eyeshades, etc.
  • Memoji stickers
  • Improvements to photo capture and post-production
  • Rotate videos, filters and effects for videos
  • ML to remove photo dupes and choose the best of them
  • Improved Photos.app to remove clutter and let focus on important moments
  • AirPods reading and replying to messages
  • AirPods audio sharing
  • HomePod handoff
  • Siri live radio support with iHeartRadio, TuneIn, etc. 100k stations.
  • Updated CarPlay
  • CarPlay integration with 3rd party apps
  • Neural TTS - much better sounding Siri voice

iPadOS 1?

  • Much improved multitasking
  • Multi-window support for the same app
  • Improved Files.app
  • iCloud Drive folder sharing
  • SMB File sharing
  • Mass Storage Device support
  • External device support via usb-c
  • Desktop class browsing on Safari iPad
  • Download manager
  • Custom fonts
  • Working with text is now much easier
  • Apple Pencil latency down to 9ms from 20ms
  • New notes app
  • PencilKit

New Mac Pro

  • 28-core Xeon CPU
  • 12 DIMM slots
  • PCIe expansions
  • Special dual-core Vega II GPU
  • Custom designed video processing card
  • 1.4kW PSU
  • Optional wheels
  • New 6k, HDR, anti-reflective, 1000 nits display
  • Mac pro starts at $5999, new display at $3999/$4999

MacOS 10.15 Catalina

  • iTunes now broken down into Apple Music, Podcasts and Apple TV apps
  • iPhone sync moves to Finder
  • Podcasts will have content search
  • Apple TV 4k HDR playback on Mac
  • Sidecar - wireless connectivity tablets as second screens/tablets
  • Voice control
  • Improved find my Mac even when it’s offline
  • ScreenTime

Dev Tools

  • iPad apps migration tool to Mac
  • RealityKit - kit for building photorealistic scenes, includes 3d scene tools
  • ARKit3 with real-time people occlusion, motion capture
  • Real-world Minecraft
  • SwiftUI - new UI framework written in Swift - less code, live preview in sim and device (sic!)
  • Native UI framework for watchOS

It was probably the most packed WWDC I've seen. I hope all of the new stuff will be working reliably when it's out πŸ™‚

FB Messenger iOS dark mode hack

For the last year of using an unofficial Messenger Mac client Caprine that has an unofficial dark mode I just couldn't understand why the official iOS Messenger app doesn't have dark mode for years. But now it's there. Sort of.

FB-Messenger-dark-mode

Overall I wonder how this have been found in the first place, but it works:

  1. In the messenger send anyone the πŸŒ™ (moon) emoji
  2. Accept the dark mode prompt
  3. Switch it on
  4. Enjoy

Can't wait to have it in more apps and hopefully system wide in iOS 13 this summer-autumn. But for now it's the best I can have for an app I probably use the most often among others.

You're overpaying for your phone's camera

If you're using your phone camera for posting on social media, which cram the photo quality a lot, you might be overpaying for your phone's camera.

Camera-blind-test

The recent objective winners backed up by thorough tests in the phone camera department are:

  1. Google Pixel 3 XL
  2. iPhone XS
  3. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

But as MKBHD's blind camera test shows - buying a more expensive phone with a presumably better camera is not worth it if you mainly use the taken photos to post on social media. Like me, all of MKBHD's friends were blown away with the results.

If you take photos to keep the best, more natural version of the moment for a long time, then the more expensive phones are for you. But if you use your phone's photos to post on social media, and because of how they compress the images and their quality, you can actually achieve even better results with cheaper smartphones rather than posting photos from a more expensive ones.

The thing is that people assess pictures based on how they look in general, not based on the theoretical or technical details. And nowadays you can go really far just by improving the pictures with software. This is where the cheap phone shined in this review. Not only you can't see all the tiny details that more expensive phones provide because of the photos being compressed, but the over-exposed (usually just brighter) pictures from the cheap phones which use a ton of software enhancements actually feel better than the more precise photos taken with more expensive devices.

The winner of this test, Huawei Mate 20 Pro which is not a cheap phone by any means and actually has a really great hardware camera setup won because Huawei is known for their software processing for the photos. And the Pocophone F1 (Xiaomi's sub-brand) which costs only $300 came second out of 20 phones, beating the iPhones and Samsungs of this world also mostly because of improving the pictures with its software. Pocophone's camera lacks details if you zoom in the uncompressed version, but no one cares about those details when they're looking at the compressed pictures on Instagram or Twitter.

The bottom line is you can take a visually much more pleasing picture with worse hardware but then improve it with software. In fact, photo filters and manual adjustments have been there for a while enabling people posting awesome shots from not that great devices. So next time when a brand sells you how truly great their camera is, if you're doing photos just for social media, you can easily ignore that. That is what most people actually do already. Because hardware means less and less, and software wins again. But even Google who is great with their image processing algorithms lost with their Google Pixel 3 XL in the first round of comparison. And two top spots in the test won two Chinese companies, usually not very well known for their software achievements. But tables have turned.

iOS 12 release πŸŽ‰

Best features:

  • Group notifications
    iOS12-1

  • SMS passwords filling in
    iOS12-2

  • Password suggestions
    iOS12-3

  • Siri shortcuts
    iOS12-4

  • Runs faster even on older devices

Setting up Fastlane for mobile automatization on Mac OS

Fastlane is used to automatize different routines in mobile development. In this note (or serious of notes) I'll describe how to use Fastlane to automize your iOS project builds and uploads to TestFlight.

You start by installing latest Xcode tools
xcode-select --install

Next, you install Fastlane via RubyGems
sudo gem install fastlane -NV

or via brew
brew cask install fastlane

Then cd to your project and initialize Fastlane:
fastlane init

Last, edit fastlane/Fastfile to this:

platform :ios do

  before_all do
    ENV["FASTLANE_DONT_STORE_PASSWORD"] = "1"
    ENV["FASTLANE_USER"] = "<Your App Store Connect email"
  end

  desc "Build and upload to TestFlight"
  lane :beta do
        build_app(scheme: "<Your project's scheme>",
                      workspace: "<Your project's>.xcworkspace",
                  include_bitcode: true)
        upload_to_testflight
  end
end

If you want to store your password in the Keychain, just remove ENV["FASTLANE_DONT_STORE_PASSWORD"] = "1"

If you want to store your password in the Fastfile, add ENV["FASTLANE_PASSWORD"] = "<yourPassword>" into the before_all do / end section.

Now run 'fastlane beta' in your Terminal and enjoy an automatic build and upload to TestFlight πŸ™‚

You can use this manual on your own computer. For running it on a remote machine look out for part 2 of this series.

Universal data+notification FCM payload for iOS+Android

In case you're following my FCM payload saga, here's a happy ending that covers most usecases with one payload which will allow you sending basic FCM messages with data and notification in them. And such messages are universal and will produce the same result on both iOS and Android. On iOS this will work out of the box, whereas on Android a small hack is neccessary to be added to the app itself.

With the payload below, you'll be able send a unified FCM message to iOS and Android and on both platforms you will receive a notifcation pop-up/heads-up message as well as pass some data to the callback method of the app which then may use it to do something meaningful in the background:

{  
   "message":{  
      "token":"<device registration id>",
      "apns":{
         "payload":{
            "aps":{
               "content-available":1,
               "alert":{
                  "title":"title",
                  "subtitle":"subtitle",
                  "body":"body"
               },
               "badge":7,
               "sound":"default"
            }
         }
      },
      "data":{
         "account":{
            "first-name":"Igor",
            "last-name":"Z"
         },
         "androidTitle":"title",
         "androidBody":"body"
      }
   }
}

iOS will use the apns part to display the notification, and pass data=>account to your app for further use. And essentially ignore the androidTitle and androidBody part.

Android on the other hand will ignore the whole apns branch, pass data=>account to the app as well and with the small hack mentioned above use androidTitle and androidBody to display a local notification.

That's a lot of power in a single payload. I hope you find it helpful πŸ™‚

Firebase iOS push payload

If you're using Firebase and its FCM (Firebase Cloud Messaging) server directly to send out notifications to iOS users, you might wonder what kind of payload you should send to Firebase in order for the information to be delivered.

So wonder no more πŸ™‚

{
   "message":{
      "token":"<device registration id>",
      "apns":{
         "payload":{
            "aps":{
               "content-available":1,
               "alert":{
                  "title":"title",
                  "subtitle":"subtitle",
                  "body":"body"
               },
               "badge":7,
               "sound":"default"
            }
         }
      },
      "data":{
         "account":{
            "first-name":"Igor",
            "last-name":"Z"
         }
      }
   }
}

In case you need, here's an example of the payload for Android

Custom DNS on iOS via DNSCrypt

DNSCrypt

In previous posts about adblockers and VPNs for iOS I covered all the pros and cons of both approaches. TLDR: on iOS adblockers help you only in the browser but barely improve your privacy, whereas VPNs do both well but at the expense of your Internet speed, both on cellular and Wi-Fi.

After going through blockers, I mentioned setting custom DNS servers as a mean of filtrating ads and trackers on the domain name level. And you can do that fairly easily on Mac, iOS and Android while being connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi but you can't do that on cellular.

...Actually there is a chance and it's called DNSCrypt. In short this is a way of communicating with a DNS server not via regular DNS protocols which your carrier and your mobile device don't let you adjust. The connection to a DNS server of your choice is established via HTTPS, so it's secure, and you can customize it. The only requirement is that your DNS provider of choice should support resolving domains via HTTPS (usually 443 port) in addition to the usual 53 DNS port.

Luckily, my 1.1.1.1 DNS server of choice (provided by CloudFlare) supports DNS queries via HTTPS as well. So the only thing I had to do is to install DNSCloak for iOS, find 1.1.1.1 in the supplied list of DNSCrypt-enabled DNS servers and push 'start'. That establishes a 'VPN' connection which is not actually VPN since it doesn't send all your traffic to another server, just the DNS queries. And as a result you get your ads and trackers filtered on a domain level, without the downside of speed decrease which all traditional VPNs have in common.

As a recommendation you can make your DNSCrypt connection to be more stable. To do that open Settings.app, then go to General -> VPN, tap the 'i' button next to 'DNSCloak' and then switch on 'Connect On Demand' at the bottom.

In case you have your own pi-hole DNS server facing the open Internet (which you should do carefully or don't do at all), or you know a public one you can trust - you can enable it in DNSCloak and have even more strict DNS filtering than Google or CloudFare provides. They are public DNS servers and they are more conservative on filtering out stuff not to accidentally block websites used by the general public (e.g. blocking Facebook's tracking 'like' buttons may block Facebook at all). But that doesn't mean your pi-hole DNS server of choice can't be more strict πŸ™‚

VPN (mobile and desktop): the good and the bad

If you want the best privacy protection as well as great ad tracking prevention on iOS, VPNs are your best bet, although without some caveats.

VPN-on-iOS

First off, let's start with what a VPN means. VPN is a Virtual Private Network which means connecting your remote devices into a single private but virtual network since the devices may not actually be connected directly to each other.

Usually when your device makes a connection to any service, the data you're sending and retrieving travels through dozens of nodes until it reaches the server on the other end. And you can't be sure none of the nodes in between aren't compromised and for example aren't storing your data without your consent. The main advantage of using VPNs is that all of your Internet traffic travels encrypted and is available only to you and the server and no one in between. Of course it's not a bullet-proof solution but it's the best and easiest way to make your data as much unusable as possible to non authorized middleman parties. Especially if you're controlling your VPN, since paid or public VPNs which provide transparency and security might not actually do it and do the exact opposite - log all of your data for their own benefit.

For most of the people, and even for advanced users using a VPN might be overwhelming and hard, especially if you decided to set it up yourself and not to use a public one. And without specific knowledge such setup may be leaking your data even more than no VPN at all. But the manuals like this cover the security basics quite well, as well as some of the public VPN providers hold many years of trust without being revealed in scandals of (un)intentional data leaks.

So using a VPN generally is a good idea - you get your traffic encrypted which keeps your private data safe and as a side effect you get even some ad tracking prevention since even your basic data stops being available to the advertisers who keep their trackers on many websites and services you visit. And if you're using your device to access sensitive data by using public wifi or in countries with regulated Internet access - VPNs are a must for you. Also if you want to access country specific/restricted resources, there is not much choice except using a VPN at all, which in this case would make you have an external IP address that belongs to that country and you will appear like you're browsing from within that region - that's another advantage of using VPNs.

If you plan on using VPNs, secure the most important devices first. But if you can - use VPNs on all of your devices. I tried going this route, but here are some downsides that made me stop using them:

  • Using VPNs on any of the device will make the Internet feel slower. The reason for it is that instead of your packets going directly to the server you're trying to reach they go a longer route through your secure server first, and that adds up delay to each of your web request and as a result everything loads noticeably slower.
  • Also your max speeds might take a hit. With my 250/20 Mbit speeds at home I was getting about 20/10 Mbit using a public VPN since they are often sharing their channels within many users. Setting up your own VPN somewhere with high speed Internet access should make it better, but the delays mentioned before still won't improve much and will also cripple your speeds.
  • The speed hit affects mobile devices connected via cellular the most since those already have a pretty high delay of transferring data through the air. So on mobile the speed slowdown is noticeable the most.
  • The other problem (at least with iOS) is that the device might disconnect from the VPN in the background and leave portions of your background traffic unsecured as well as some traffic before it reconnects after unlocking the phone. From what I understand the VPN disconnects to preserve battery which it uses 10-15% more of than without having an active VPN connection - this in my opinion is also a significant problem with VPNs on the go.

That said, if you need your connections to be secure and untraceable - you still have the option even though it would cost you Internet speed and some battery life, but if you need it in certain circumstations, that's a fair tradeoff.

In my tests I was using Tunnelbear (loved its cuteness and service, until it was purchased with a not very trust McAffee recently), SurfEasy and my new favorite PIA because of their high long standing reputation. And you should care about the reputation of the company that keeps your traffic private πŸ™‚ As for setting up your own VPN - I used DigitalOcean's manual from the link above but with Ubuntu 16.04 instead of 18.04.

If you don't need that level of security and just want to browse the Internet without ads, here's my breakdown on the best iOS and Android adblockers as well as a post on what privacy concerns you should consider while using and adblocker in the first place.

But if you want something better for filtering ads outside of Mobile Safari on iOS and on other devices, you can switch your DNS server on them to have better filtration all the time without any penalty on the battery. And if you want to have custom DNS servers for your iOS device not only in your local Wi-Fi area, you can setup DNSCrypt and have ads filtering on the DNS level everywhere you go!

Custom DNS Servers

In my summary of iOS adblockers I brought up a topic of using custom DNS servers as a better way of limiting ads and tracking and here's why. On iOS this method allows to limit them even outside Safari, which is very good news, since there are no actually working ways of keeping other apps and services from tracking you unless you jailbreak your device.

DNS

I'll be getting into details of setting custom DNS Servers and DNSCrypt on iOS since it's the most limited platform in terms of options. All of the steps below are available on Windows, Mac and Android as well, which makes it the most versatile option for the most devices possible.

So what is a DNS? DNS is abbreviated from Domain Name System - it's a special network of servers which purpose is just to resolve domains. What that means is that when you enter any address in your browser, or any app or service that you're using connects to its service via a domain, your device which allows that connection connects to its DNS server and asks for the IP address of the domain you're connecting to. If you open google.com, your computer or mobile phone asks the IP address of the domain, receives 216.58.215.78 and connects your browser to it. But if for some reason the DNS server doesn't resolve your DNS request, your browser won't know where to connect and as a result you won't see anything. This is exactly what can be used not to see ads.

DNS is a hierarchical network with few root servers at the top. The system is built to be fail safe with backup servers in each node, but from its nature there were times when a portion of them went down making parts of the Internet inaccessible to some users. For that reason ISPs (Internet service providers) have their own copies of the main DNS servers in case they might temporary fail. They keep those copies up to date with the main servers so when there's an outage the IPSs' users won't feel anything since their DNS queries will still resolve on the ISP servers. Also potentially resolving your DNS queries in place speeds up your loading speeds comparing to the situation when your DNS query would go further than your ISP servers which would just take longer to do.

Usually when you connect your device to any router, it will give you static IP addresses of the DNS servers the router is set up to share. The routers of your ISP are pre-set with their DNS servers, the same happens when your phone gets cellular connection - phone's DNS servers are also set for you. And most ISPs in order to keep users away from messing up with their Internet keep those DNS IP addresses hidden from change.

But why would you want to change your DNS servers? Well there are few reasons for that:

  1. Your DNS provider (most often your ISP) has his own non-objective interests in mind. If it's a governmental ISP in Russia, they might wanna block their subjectively harmful websites, and not resolving the DNS query for those domains is an easy way of doing it. Your browser would just tell you that it 'couldn't resolve host name'. Or if your ISP provides additional services, they might just block their online competitors that way, leaving you out only with the options they want you to have. These examples are a bit extreme, but worth mentioning since all of the scenarios are easily possible. Even though when blocking, ISPs do a bit further and just block all the traffic to specific resources and not just DNS queries. And in that case only VPNs are your only option to get around the limitations.
  2. Your DNS provider has less incentive than you on blocking ads and trackers since it sometimes might break the website you're watching or maybe your ISP shareholders are also partial owners of an advertising group, etc. And this is where your custom DNS server might help you out when your ISP won't, by setting up few rules not to resolve the domains which usually serve ads or track your online behavior and identity and afterwards sell that information again to advertisers.

As mentioned before the DNS system consists of root and other big servers that resolve people's queries from all over the world. But not only your ISP has a copy of the domain names and their IP addresses. Any private company or even regular people can set up their own DNS server. The only difference is that the root servers are operating mostly independently, following objective rules and are considered safe to be used by everyone, unlike some Joe's public DNS server. Big companies also have their own DNS servers, in particular Google with its 8.8.8.8 and CloudFare (cloud service provider) with 1.1.1.1. And even though Google is a trusted company, I wouldn't trust them to resolve my DNS queries, even though they probably filter out malicious ones for good reasons, but their core business is about ads, so they may be doing that for competitive reasons, filtering competition out, and leaving only their own domains responsible for tracking πŸ™‚

That's why after CloudFare revealed their DNS few months ago I started using them right away, since their core business relies on making the Internet faster and safer not as a byproduct of serving ads. I couldn't switch my router to serve their DNS to all my home devices since my ISP hid the option, so I had to setup all my devices manually.

DNS-Mac

It's very easy doing it on Mac OS: you go to Settings.app -> Network, push 'Advanced' on your connection of choice (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, etc.) and on the 'DNS' tab add 1.1.1.1 and confirm the changes - that easy! You can repeat it on all of your Macs and PCs and this setting will stay even while connecting to other wireless or wired networks, neat!

On Android and iOS the DNS setting is per each wireless network. So if you use few on a constant basis - unfortunately you will have to repeat this process for each of the networks: open Settings.app -> Wi-Fi, tap on the 'i' icon next to your connected network and then on 'Configure DNS' at the bottom, select 'Manual' and enter 1.1.1.1 as well. Save changes, enjoy your faster and more secure Internet πŸ™‚

DNS-iOS

The setup on Android is almost identical and I'm sure you will find it after going through the same sequence.