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Googler demolishes one of Apple’s monopoly defenses – that web apps are just as good as native iOS software • The Register

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Epic Games and Apple faced off in an Oakland, California, courtroom on Monday to resolve the gaming giant’s antitrust claim that Apple’s App Store represents an illegal monopoly.

Epic last year sued Apple after being denied the ability to sell digital goods for its Fortnite game using its own payment service rather than Apple’s In-App Payment API. If Epic prevails and Apple’s inevitable appeals get rebuffed, the power of digital platform owners to dictate the terms of market participation will be significantly diminished, in America at least.

On Friday, Alex Russell, a software engineer at Google – and the big G is also being sued by Epic for Play Store restrictions – personally published a rebuttal to one of the central tenets of Apple’s defense – that developers can compete with iOS apps by making web apps.

Apple has argued as much to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [PDF], starting that Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) represent a viable distribution alternative to the App Store. Apple CEO Tim Cook made a similar claim last year in Congressional testimony. He said that Apple is not the sole decision maker for web apps, suggesting the web offers a viable alternative distribution channel to the iOS App Store.

And Apple put forth that same argument in its opening materials for Epic v. Apple, with a slide that declares, “Epic’s Theory is Based on a False Premise.”

It depicts The Financial Times’ web app and native iOS app side by side, the almost identical designs suggesting the two are interchangeable.

Epic v. Apple slide showing similar web app, native app

Apple’s slide defending its position … Click to enlarge

In fact, web apps and native apps are distinctly different in their technical capabilities, and Russell contends Apple’s glacial pace of integrating modern web APIs into Safari and its WebKit rendering engine have left web apps, on iOS devices at least, unable to compete with native iOS apps.

“Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered,” he writes. “Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.”

Certainly among web browsers there’s limited room for competition and differentiation on iOS – Apple requires all mobile web browsers on iDevices to use its WebKit rendering engine. This makes the iOS versions of Brave, Chrome, and Edge (Chromium-based, with the Blink rendering engine), and Firefox (based on the Gecko rendering engine) essentially clones of Safari under the hood.

But where web browsers face a level playing field upon which no competition is allowed, web apps risk being tripped up by Apple’s indifferent groundskeeping while their native app counterparts race in paved lanes.

For Russell, performance isn’t really an issue. He concedes that all modern browsers are fast because there’s not that much more speed to be eked out after two decades of web tech rivalry.

Rather, he points to Safari’s lack of compatibility with web standards and claims it’s holding the entire web ecosystem back. Not only does Safari fail when it comes to compatibility with numerous web standards – illustrated by this Web Platform Test graph– but Russel contends Safari’s implementation of these features is often wrong.

“In almost every area, Apple’s low-quality implementation of features WebKit already supports requires workarounds,” he writes. “Developers would not need to find and fix these issues in Firefox (Gecko) or Chrome/Edge/Brave/Samsung Internet (Blink). This adds to the expense of developing for iOS.”

Apple’s web gap can also be measured in terms of APIs. By Russell’s count, Safari has been failing further and further behind in implementing web APIs, which make specific technical features available to developers. Safari is now something like 1000 APIs behind Chrome, double the gap measured in 2016, and 300 or so behind Firefox.

Russell allows that in some instances, Safari has outpaced Chrome, like implementing the Storage Access API as a privacy measure. However, he takes the opportunity to skewer Apple for botching the job, noting that its initial implementation created a worse tracking vector before it was repaired.

Glossing over the privacy improvements driven by Apple (and Brave and Mozilla), he enumerates various other API where Safari’s lack of support has hindered web apps. Among them are: getUserMedia(), WebRTC, Gamepad API, Audio Worklets, IndexedDB, Pointer Lock, Media Recorder, Pointer Events, Service Workers, WebM and VP8/VP9, CSS Typed Object Model, CSS Containment, to name a few.

“These omissions mean web developers cannot compete with their native app counterparts on iOS in critical categories like gaming, shopping, and creative tools,” Russell argues.

There are, Russell insists, multiple crucial features available on every other operating system that Apple doesn’t support in iOS. These include things like: Push Notification, PWA Install Prompts, Media Session API, Navigation Preloads, and maybe 20 other technologies that have the potential to enable new classes of applications on the web and new businesses.

Russell concludes that Safari/WebKit lags the competition in terms of compatibility and features, “resulting in a large and persistent gap with Apple’s native platform.”

Epic has advanced a version of this argument in its case against Apple by citing a deposition from Scott Forstall, former Apple SVP of iOS Software, in which Forstall asserts that native apps provide a better experience than web apps.

An in his opening day trial testimony, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney made a similar point. “Web apps are not nearly powerful enough to run a modern 3D experience such as Fortnite,” he said.

If District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers – who will decide the case instead of a jury – finds merit in this claim and concludes the App Store is an unlawful monopoly, Apple’s iOS walled garden and others like it could crumble.

The Register asked Apple for comment and also inquired to /dev/null. Both responded exactly the same way. ®

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Netflix employees join wave of tech activism with walkout over Chappelle controversy | Netflix

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Employees at Netflix halted work on Wednesday and staged a protest outside the company’s Los Gatos, California, headquarters to condemn the streaming platform’s handling of complaints against Dave Chappelle’s new special.

The actions – which hundreds participated in – are the latest in a string of highly visible organizing efforts in the tech sector, as workers increasingly take their grievances about company policies and decisions public.

“Three years ago, a worker walkout at a major tech company would have been unthinkable,” said Veena Dubal, a labor law professor at the University of California, Hastings. “White-collar workers across the world now understand their labor power, and their ability to change the unethical practices of their employer by withholding their labor.”

On Monday, the transgender employee resources group behind the walkout released a list of specific demands of Netflix, including more funding for trans creators, recruiting more diverse employees and flagging anti-trans content on the platform.

Tensions at Netflix started in early October, when Netflix leaders doubled down on their support for the comedian Dave Chappelle following criticism from viewers, the queer media watchdog Glaad as well as some employees that Chappelle’s new show contained jokes that were anti-trans.

As internal criticism grew, Netflix leaders continued to defend the special. Reed Hastings, the co-chief executive, reportedly said on an internal message board: “I do believe that our commitment to artistic expression and pleasing our members is the right long-term choice for Netflix, and that we are on the right side, but only time will tell.”

Ted Sarandos, the other co-CEO, claimed in an email obtained by Variety: “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” He added: “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking standup comedy – without it causing them to harm others.”

The Sarandos memo in particular fueled the walkout, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “The memo was very disrespectful,” a staffer told the outlet on the condition of anonymity. “It didn’t invite a robust conversation about this hard topic, and that’s normally how things go.”

Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix.
Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix. Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

Meanwhile, Netflix temporarily suspended Terra Field, a trans employee, who had tweeted that Chappelle “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness” and tied such comments to real-world violence. The company said Field was suspended because she had attended a meeting she was not invited to, but it later conceded she had “no ill intent”.

Netflix fired another trans worker who had been involved in organizing the walkout on allegations of leaking internal documents to the press.

“We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company,” a Netflix spokesperson told the Guardian about that decision last week.

The employee on Tuesday identified themself as B Pagels-Minor in an interview with the New York Times and denied “leaking sensitive information to the press”.

Social media event pages for the walkout have advertised a rally outside the Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles featuring public figures and speakers.

Staffers participating in the virtual walkout have vowed to halt work and focus on efforts to support the trans community.

‘A wave of worker walkouts’

In this week alone, there are protests at Netflix, the grocery delivery platform Instacart and at Facebook by its content moderators. Uber drivers globally went on strike in 2019. Hundreds of Amazon workers walked out to protest against the company’s climate policies in 2019.

Walkouts have become an increasingly common tactic among tech employees. “We are seeing a wave of them,” said Jess Kutch, executive director of the Solidarity Fund, which raises money to support employees engaged in workplace organizing – including at Netflix.

Google employees were among the first to deploy the strategy on a large scale in 2018, when more than 20,000 workers around the world walked out over the news that the company had given a $90m severance package to an executive who was forced to step down over sexual misconduct allegations (which he has denied).

The incensed workers decried a culture of silence about sexual harassment and systemic racism and demanded Google make concrete changes to address such issues within the company. In particular, they targeted Google’s use of forced arbitration – a practice common in the tech industry in which workers settle legal disputes in a private forum, making it almost impossible for workers to sue their bosses in court and keep repeat offenders from being publicly recognized.

Google employees stage a walkout in Mountain View, California, in 2018.
Google employees stage a walkout in Mountain View, California, in 2018. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

The November 2018 action changed the way workers in the tech industry organize, experts said. “Workers are observing their peers to see what is effective in moving decision makers, and replicating that in their own companies,” Kutch said.

Kutch noted tech employees studied other protest movements to determine the most effective forms of action, learning, for example, to release specific demands tied to their walkouts. “There is a degree of depth, commitment and planning that was not present even just a few years ago,” she said.

Organizers have particularly taken aim at the tools tech companies had long used to keep dissent internal. Faced with employee pressure, companies such as Google, Airbnb, Facebook and eBay were compelled to end forced arbitration practices.

Employees have also fought companies’ use of non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, which were initially meant to protect trade secrets, but later allowed companies to keep accusations of wrongdoing from becoming public.

Last month, California passed a law that makes it illegal for firms to prevent employees from speaking out about such issues through the use of NDAs.

Organizing gained another boost when the Black Lives Matter movement and protests laid bare some of the huge inequities in tech and revealed the power of protest to change them.

“Workers woke up at that moment to the fact that if employers are able to discriminate against any one part of the workforce, it hurts everyone,” said Anastasia Christman, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

“There have been isolated examples of this kind of thing for years, but employees are increasingly using the leverage of their labor to stand up for diversity and equity,” she added.

The price of whistleblowing

For some employees, the price of speaking out has been steep. Leaked memos showed that in early 2020, Amazon discussed smearing a warehouse worker who spoke out against the company’s Covid-19 practices and was later fired. (Amazon said the employee was fired for putting other employees at risk of Covid-19.) In September 2021, Amazon reached a settlement with two other employees who said they had been fired over their climate activism within the company.

Other whistleblowers have narrated how their lives were upended by speaking out against major tech companies. The worker behind the walkouts at Google, Claire Stapleton, left the company after 12 years of working there, due to perceived retaliation for her role in organizing.

Netflix told the Guardian in an email that it “respect[s] the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out” and recognizes “we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content”.

“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” the spokesperson said.

In a public blogpost, Field outlined much of the vitriol she has sustained for speaking out about the special. She said she did not necessarily want the show removed from the platform, but wanted accountability from Netflix to its workers and viewers.

“We’ve spent years building out the company’s policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work,” she wrote. “A place can’t be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so.”

Netflix CEO Sarandos told the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday that he handled the situation poorly, but that he remains supportive of Chappelle’s work. He said that his previous memos “lacked humanity”, and did not acknowledge that “a group of our employees were in pain”, but said that his stance “hadn’t changed”.

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Raspberry Pi 4 in price rise first, chip shortage blamed • The Register

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The price of a 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer is going up $10, and its supply is expected to be capped at seven million devices this year due to the ongoing global chip shortage.

Demand for components is outstripping manufacturing capacity at the moment; pre-pandemic, assembly lines were being red-lined as cloud giants and others snapped up parts fresh out of the fabs, and the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak really threw a spanner in the works, so to speak, exacerbating the situation.

Everything from cars to smartphones have felt the effects of supply constraints, and Raspberry Pis, too, it appears. Stock is especially tight for the Raspberry Pi Zero and the 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 models, we’re told. As the semiconductor crunch shows no signs of letting up, the Raspberry Pi project is going to bump up the price for one particular model.

The 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 will now once again set you back $45, an increase of $10 from its previous retail price. It used to be $45, then was brought down to $35 early last year when the 1GB model was discontinued. Now it’s back up again. This is the first time the project has hiked its prices, the trading arm of the Raspberry Pi Foundation said.

Don’t worry, however, the bump is said to be temporary and the module will eventually return to its original price of $35, company CEO Eben Upton announced on Wednesday.

The 4GB Raspberry Pi 4 and 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 versions will remain at $55 and $75, respectively. For those relying on a supply of $35 2GB boards, the project will bring back those 1GB Raspberry Pi 4 modules, priced $35.

“This provides a degree of choice: less memory at the same price; or the same memory at a higher price,” said Upton. 2GB for $45 or 1GB for $35. A choice, but not one people might expect.

“As many of you know,” he continued, “global supply chains are in a state of flux as we (hopefully) emerge from the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. In our own industry, semiconductors are in high demand, and in short supply: the upsurge of demand for electronic products for home working and entertainment during the pandemic has descended into panic buying, as companies try to secure the components that they need to build their products … At Raspberry Pi, we are not immune to this.”

The project is expected to make around seven million of its computer boards total this year, maintaining the same level of production as last year as the pandemic took hold of the world. This is unlikely to increase much next year either, Upton said. Judging from his explanation, this figure is lower than hoped: “Despite significantly increased demand, we’ll only end up making around seven million units in 2021.”

Pis containing 40nm chips will feel the chip crunch the hardest over the next year, meaning there will be limited supplies of devices older than the current generation of Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi 400, or Compute Module 4.

“In allocating our limited stocks of 40nm silicon, we will prioritise Compute Module 3, Compute Module 3+, and Raspberry Pi 3B, and deprioritise Raspberry Pi 3B+ … Our guidance to industrial and embedded users of Raspberry Pi 3B+ who wish to optimise availability in 2022 is to begin migrating your designs to the 1GB variant of Raspberry Pi 4,” Upton said.

The biz expects to be able to make enough systems using 28nm silicon – namely the Raspberry Pi 4 and Compute Module 4 – over the next 12 months to hold their price… bar the aforementioned 2GB model.

“These changes in pricing are not here to stay. As global supply chain issues moderate, we’ll keep revisiting this issue, and we want to get pricing back to where it was as fast as we can,” Upton concluded. ®

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Irish fintech Swoop secures £2.5m from major UK bank firm’s bailout fund

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UK headquartered Swoop was one of three finance companies to have received funding from RBS, which has previously given the start-up £5m in 2019.

Irish start-up Swoop Finance has received £2.5m from a fund established by banking giant RBS.

In 2019, it was awarded £5m by the banking firm, which accepted a £45bn bailout from the UK government at the height of the financial crisis in 2018. The bailout programme came with the condition that RBS would set up a £775m fund to boost competition in the region’s finance sector.

Swoop is one of three companies to have benefitted from that fund, with the others being UK finance companies Codat and Cashplus. The three start-ups will receive a combined £12.5m in grants from RBS.

Codat and Cashplus will both receive £5m from the fund.

Swoop was founded in 2017 by former KPMG chartered accountant and corporate financier Andrea Reynolds along with Ciarán Burke. Reynolds spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event last year about the process of launching Swoop. She said she founded it after she spotted a gap in the market for a virtual “finance buddy” aimed at SMEs seeking financial advisers and lenders.

Today, Swoop is headquartered in the UK and it employs around 60 people. It recently launched in Canada, adding to its existing locations in Dublin, London and Sydney.

The fintech’s backers include Enterprise Ireland and Velocity. It has raised around €1.6m so far. Speaking last year, Reynolds said the pandemic’s digitisation of the finance industry – and most other industries – had benefitted the company.

She added that the ongoing changes in the industry would hopefully “democratise finance” and “open up opportunities” to companies seeking funding no matter where they are located.

“The future is that you won’t need to know who the lender is,” Reynolds said.

“All decisions will be made through your data and you’ll get those decisions instantly. So you could have a lender in Barcelona lending to a business in Ballyjamesduff, for example. It won’t matter where you are. It’s what your profile is and does it match to their algorithm.

“This means it’ll open up opportunities. It’ll democratise finance further because businesses, regardless of where they’re located, will not be disadvantaged. Everybody will have this at their fingertips,” she added.

Reynolds said she had seen “a 30pc increase in businesses moving online” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Swoop also recently announced its partnership with UK automated cashflow and credit management company Itsettled.

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