New Notarization requirements for macOS 10.14.5

At the 2018 Apple World Wide Developer Conference, a new feature of macOS was unveiled, called Notarization. To quote my macOS Mojave for Users, Administrators, and Developers book:

The concept of Notarized apps mimics the real-world concept of a notary. A notary witnesses the fact that a document has been signed by someone, or multiple parties. zed apps use a notary service that is hosted by Apple that verifies that the application is indeed signed by the developer.

The Notary service will also perform some additional checks on the application. These include security checks that verify the application is doing what it indicates as well as the check for private API usage, similar to Mac App Store apps. However, it should be noted that using the Notary Service is not the same as app review. These checks are merely security related and are only performed to notarize your application.

At the announcement of Notarization, Apple announced that Notarization would be available for developers in the summer of 2018, but would be required for all apps in a “future release”. With the release of macOS Mojave 10.14.5 there has been a step towards notarization being required, but this is just for some apps, not all apps. You will need to notarize your apps if the following applies:

  1. If you are a developer who is creating a Developer ID for the first time.
  2. If you are creating a new kernel extension.
  3. You are updating a kernel extension

Notarization is a security mechanism, not an App Store review. Instead, it is a way of being able to assure that malicious code cannot be injected into your app. Notarizing a macOS app provides more than just peace of mind for end users, but also for you as the developer. One of the additional benefits of Notarization is that the Notarization service will keep an audit trail of each release version of your app. Should the worst occur and your private signing key get compromised, and malicious software be released, you can work with Apple to revoke those apps that you did not authorize and then release a new version of your app.

These are just some first steps in requiring notarization. It would not surprise me if notarization will be required for all apps starting with the next release of macOS, macOS 10.15. This is even hinted at by Apple’s own page:

Beginning in macOS 10.14.5, all new or updated kernel extensions and all software from developers new to distributing with Developer ID must be notarized in order to run. In a future version of macOS, notarization will be required by default for all software.

The phrase “In a future release” most likely means with the next major release, macOS 10.15. Notarization, while it may seem inconvenient, the process can easily integrate into your workflow and will protect everyone involved. I am sure many developers will not like the fact that they will have to notarize apps, but ultimately it will make things better in the long run.

Source: Apple developer site.

Apple forces changes for some Parental Control apps

On Friday, April 27th, 2019, the New York Times posted a story that claims that Apple is crippling competitors to its Screen Time feature, by either forcing changes or removing apps altogether.

The story provides some information from several developers regarding that their applications have been pulled and that their businesses have been shutdown and/or the apps they have created had to be modified because “Apple began purging apps that offered similar services.”

According to one developer,

“They are systematically killing the industry,”

In response to story, Apple has provided its reasoning for the requesting changes, and if the apps were not updated, removing the apps.

Part of Apple’s statement says:

We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk. It’s important to understand why and how this happened. Over the last year, we became aware that several of these parental control apps were using a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management, or MDM. MDM gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history. We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017.

As some quick background, Apple unveiled its Screen Time feature on June 4th, 2018 at their World Wide Developer Conference. The feature is part of iOS 12, which was released on September 19th, 2019.

My Thoughts

I am sure that some will argue that this is Apple abusing its dominant position. However, I do not think this is the case, given that some of the parental control apps were using Mobile Device Management to provide the significant access. As Apple states, third parties have FULL CONTROL OVER YOUR DEVICES. This cannot be understated. For some of these apps, if you install an MDM certificate and agree, that third-party developer now has access to everything on your device. So when Apple says they are requiring the changes due to privacy and security, I think they are being honest about it.

There is a line from the New York Times article from a developer whose app was removed. The reason that the developer received was: “Your app uses public A.P.I.s in an unapproved manner, which does not comply with guideline 2.5.1 of the App Store Review Guidelines”.

Section 2.5.1 of the App Store Review Guidelines states, as of this writing, “Apps should use APIs and frameworks for their intended purposes and indicate that integration in their app description.”. It is the first half of that statement that many developers seem to be reason why they were asked to make changes and/or why their apps were removed from the App Store.

It is only my guess, but it seems to me that the developer was using MDM to provide additional settings, then they were in violation of the rule. The reason they were in violation is because MDM is only to be used by businesses and schools to control devices that they own and provide to users of their company or students. MDM is not designed to allow developer access to end-user devices.

Even though these developers were in violation, it does not seem as though Apple made it clear that the developer’s use of MDM was the reason why their app was being removed.

What Apple Can Do

There are a few different ways that Apple can change things to make robust apps available in the store.

Specifically regarding parental control apps, Apple could provide more granular controls both within the Screen Time section, within the Settings app, as well as allowing developers access to configure these settings. However, I can see the significant reluctance for this to occur. Allowing applications access to change when applications are available, could allow a developer to programmatically limit access to apps, possibly without the user’s consent; which would not be a good situation. If there is no interface for developers, it would honestly not surprise me if there are additional settings with the next release of iOS, possibly with more granular control.

I also do think that Apple could be a bit more explicit when communicating with developers. I understand not wanting to provide exact steps for having applications come into compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines, as there are exceptions to each rule. I also get that indicating exactly how to fix an app might come off as a way of exerting excessive control and explicitly dictating how applications should be created. Even with that, additional information provided to developers can go a long way.

In this case of the removed apps, something along the lines of “The application’s use of MDM certificates violates the App Store guidelines, because MDM is intended for business or school usage”, or something along those lines could have gone a long way to making it clear as to why the apps were being removed.

Closing Thoughts

I think that use of MDM by companies does need to come to light. One of the arguments of the story is that once Apple introduced Screen Time that competing apps were being targeted and removed. However, I do not think this is the case. I take Apple at its word that the reason that they removed the apps was because they were violating user’s privacy and/or abusing the MDM certificates.

The New York Times story does state that some of the developers were contacted in August of last year, about needing to change their apps. Apple likely began looking into these some of the apps, that utilized MDM certificates, after it came to light that Facebook and Apple were violating the use of MDM certificates by doing the same thing. And if Apple is going to revoke Facebook’s and Google’s MDM certificates, then there is no reason why they would not do the same thing for smaller developers.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: A Review

It is not often that a brand new open world action game series is unveiled, and subsequently takes the gaming community by storm. But that seems to be what happened in 2016 with a new game by Electronic Arts titled Tom Clancy’s The Division. The sequel to the best selling game has been released and having played it for a while, I thought I would give it a review. Note: There may be spoilers for the game with this review.

The Story

The basis of the Division series is an interesting one, at least to me it is interesting. To quote Wikipedia:

On Black Friday 2015, a smallpox epidemic, transmitted by a virus planted on banknotes, sweeps through New York City. The disease, known as “Green Poison” or “The Dollar Flu”, causes widespread chaos, and Manhattan is placed under quarantine. The U.S. Government activates sleeper agents in the population who operate for the Strategic Homeland Division, or simply “the Division”, to assist emergency responders, now called the Joint Task Force (JTF), in restoring order. In Brooklyn, the protagonist, a Division agent, assists the JTF before planning to depart for the Quarantine zone with fellow agent Faye Lau.

In the first game you are a Division agent tasked with finding the source of the epidemic. During your travails you need to clear out different factions whom are trying to exploit the chaos and take control of New York City. The Division 2 takes place seven months after the release of the Green Poison from the first game. This time the game is focused on Washington, D.C.

Seven months after the Green Poison outbreak, several Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) agents are defending a civilian settlement from a bandit attack when the SHD Network, the system controlling their advanced technology and communications, suddenly shuts down and they receive a Division distress call from Washington D.C. The player’s Agent makes their way to the city where the Division and the remains of the local Joint Task Force have set up their base of operations in the White House. After defeating an attack on the White House shortly after arriving in the city, the Agent is briefed on the general situation by Manny Ortega, the Division controller for D.C.

There is a lot more to the story, but you will have to play the game to learn more.

Similarities

As with any game series, many aspects of each game will be familiar. This is the case with the Division series as well. As with the first game you are a Division agent who needs to clear out factions attempting to take over Washington D.C. The game mechanics are that you need to complete missions as well as side missions to clear out the factions and take back sections of the city. Throughout the game the enemies you face various levels of enemies.

Each section has a variety of side missions, including Control Point takeovers, target training, hostage rescue, and more.

Just as with the first game, within each area there is a Safe House that must be located. Safe Houses allow you to restock your ammo, health, and armor. Located in each Safe House is your stash, where you can put equipment that you cannot carry but might want to hold on to while storing away the items you may want later.

With both of the Division games you level up your character by completing missions, side missions, finding loot, and eliminating the enemy. Some enemies will drop items upon their death. These items can include weapons, ammo, or crafting materials.

Differences

While the two games are similar in many ways, there are also some differences that create a slightly different game play with the Division 2.

As you progress through the game you earn experience points, gain Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) tech points to gain skills. Skills allow you to employ different items to assist in your quest. These were present in the original Division, but they have been changed around.

With the first game there were three broad categories, Medical, Tech, and Security skills. Now with the Division 2, there are no categories, but there are different options within each skill that can be used. You can equip two skills. Each of these skills can be one of 8 different types of skills. Instead of being a category, these are objects. These objects are:

  • Drone
  • Firefly
  • Hive
  • Launcher
  • Pulse
  • Seeker Mine
  • Shield
  • Turret

There are variants of each of these skills that have different assets. You can select the ones that best match your play style. These unlock as as you play through the game and collect SHD tech.

Specializations

Once you have reached level 30, you will have the option of adding a “Signature Weapon”. A specialty is an additional weapon that will help you in missions. A Signature Weapon is a double-edged sword. With a Specialty, each weapon is extremely powerful, more powerful than standard weapons even with mods. However, with that extra power, your ammunition is quite limited. So it is best to use the Specialized weapon only when it is most needed.

There are three different Specializations to choose from, and each has its own weapon. The Specializations are:

  • Demolitionist has a grenade launcher
  • Sharpshooter has a powerful rifle
  • Survivalist has a crossbow with explosive bolts

Each of the specializations has its own attribute tree that can be unlocked. . You can only employ one specialization at a time, however you can easily swap between them at the Quartermaster within the Base of Operations.

You earn additional specialization points by finishing some missions, after you have completed level 30. You can use these points to unlock different attributes for each specialization.

There is an area of game play that also exists in the Division 2, the Dark Zone. Let us look at that one separately.

The Dark Zone

The Dark Zone is one of the areas of the first Division game that really excited players. The Dark Zone is a separate area than the main game play map. The Dark Zone is a mix of Player vs. Player (PvP), and Player vs. Enemy (PvE). Within the Dark Zone of the Division 2, you try to capture landmarks that are being held by hostile enemies.

Unlike with the first game, there is not a single solitary Dark Zone. Instead there are actually three of them. East, South, and West. Each of them have a minimum level you need before entering each Dark Zone. Each of the zones has a different type of play style.

Just like with the first game, some items that are dropped are “contaminated”. This means that they must be extracted via helicopter. If items are successfully extracted they are delivered to your stash.

There has been a slight addition to the Dark Zone, there are no exploration missions. These are missions that help you explore each of the Dark Zone areas. These provide a way to level up in the Dark Zone.

There are 50 levels for a user in the Dark Zone. This progression occurs much faster than in the main game, and it can help you earn perks that will help in the main game.

One of the differences with the Dark Zone in the Division 2 is the way that you learn about the Dark Zone. With the Division 2, there is a quick walkthrough that helps you explore each of the areas. This allows you to get familiar with the zones and provides you an easy way to gain levels.

Rogue Agents

One of the areas of the Division that some players enjoy is the aspect of “going rogue”. In the first game this was done by attacking other players, stealing their extracted loot, or by other nefarious methods. This could occur both in the primary world or within the Dark Zone. While it occurred in the main mission area, it was definitely more prevalent in the Dark Zone.

There is still the ability to go rogue, if you desire, particularly in the Dark Zone, but it is not something that I have seen as much of as in the first game. I am not sure why this is the case. It could be because there are not as many players, or it could be because going Rogue is not as interesting as in the last game.

Downsides

There have been some changes that are not necessarily for the better, at least in my opinion. The biggest of these is the way that the world tiers work in the Division 2. Once you level up to a World Tier there is no way to go back to a lower tier. You can only go up in tier. This makes it a bit more difficult should you want to do some scavenging or to complete projects.

It is still possible to do the side missions and projects, but significantly harder once you go up a tier due to the increased difficulty.

Even though there have been some changes to the game overall, they are not all downsides. With that through all of my playing I have compiled some tips that might be helpful for any Division Agent.

Tips

There are a few tips that I have learned by playing the game.

Tip 1: While most missions can be done on a solo basis, some missions cannot be completed by yourself. Do not hesitate to use match making to get additional agents involved to help with a mission. You may only be in the group for the one mission, but they can be quite helpful in completing it.

Tip 2: When taking over control points, be sure to make sure you are well stocked with ammo. Some control points will not be easy to take over. Be sure to make sure there are some allies in the area trying to take over the control point in case you die and need to get back to the control point. The allies will keep the enemies busy while you get back. At some control points there are stationary guns. These will definitely utilize these as well.

Tip 3: Use grenades near clustered enemies. If your grenade is powerful enough you could take out a group of enemies with just one grenade. This can save on ammunition should you be running low.

Tip 4: Use Fast Travel. You can fast travel between safe houses, control points, the base of operations, and settlements.

Tip 5: Do as much exploration as you want before you tackle the last mission, which is the Level 30 Stronghold on the east side of the map. Once you complete this, you will be entered into Tier 1, which as mentioned earlier, you cannot undo once done.

Tip 6: Be prepared for anything when going into the Dark Zone.

Tip 7: Use the shooting range to test out different weapons, mods, and difficulties. This will be helpful in finding out what works best with which type of enemy.

Tip 8: Make sure to listen to the audio collectibles, they fill in some of the story.

Closing Thoughts

There is a lot to do within Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. The sequel takes the best parts of the first game and expand upon them. The new Dark Zone exploration missions are nice additions. While there is still player vs. player available, it does not seem to be as prevalent as it was in the first game.

The inclusion of “Signature Weapons” adds to the game play in some interesting ways. Using one of the Signature Weapon can be a game changer at a crucial point.

If you enjoy in-depth games, you cannot go wrong with The Division 2. There are hours upon hours of game play, even after you have finished the main missions of the game, there is still more to do. If you include all of this with the expansions on the horizon, it is not likely that you will have nothing to do in the game. If you enjoyed playing the first Division game, then there it is quite likely that you will enjoy the second one.

There are multiple versions of the game, Standard, Gold, Ultimate, and Gold Steelbook editions. The first three are available physically or digitally, with the Steelbook edition only being available physically. You can buy The Division 2 today for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.

Second Generation AirPods: A Review

Technology affords various things to occur, instant communication, in-depth research, and personalization. This last one has become expected by many users. Instead of getting the same experience as everyone else, users have come to expect that their experience will be different than most others. With that customization comes the need to be able to partake in that personalized service apart from others. One way that this is possible is through the use of headphones. There are a large number of headphones from different manufacturers available. These headphones also come at various price points.

Somewhere on the higher end is Apple’s wireless earbuds, the AirPods. Apple’s first AirPods were announced in September of 2016 and were released in December of the same year. In the more than two years of availability the AirPods have gained popularity and have become more and more common.

Apple released the second-generation of their popular wireless earbuds on March 20th. You could place an order for the second-generation AirPods, with or without the wireless charging case, for delivery between March 27th and the 29th. When I found out there was a new pair, I immediately ordered a set, with the Wireless Charging case. My delivery date was between March 27th and March 29th. However, it seems like I am destined to have issues with my first pair of AirPods for each generation. At least that has been the case for my first generation as well as this generation.

The Issue

As I mentioned above, I ordered the AirPods on March 20th, for delivery on the 27th. UPS attempted to deliver them on the 27th, but I was not home at the time. I was notified that they it could not be delivered and would try again the next day. I knew that I would not be home on the 28th either. So I asked to have it delivered to a UPS store, so I could pick it up from the store.

I went to the UPS Store on the 28th, and they indicated that they did not have it. One of the UPS employees called corporate support to make sure that the package would be delivered on the 29th. This took about 15 minutes on the phone with them. The support person indicated that the package should be there on the 29th. The UPS Staff member who helped me indicated that they typically receive packages around 11:00 am. I figure, okay, I can pick them up then. So I go back to the UPS store on the 29th, again no package. While I was at the store a UPS truck drove up, and a staff member asked if they had any packages for delivery, but they did not. At that point the UPS Store staff indicated that I had to contact customer services and start a claim for a lost package.

So I drove home and then called UPS customer support. After explaining the situation the representative and the story, the representative indicated that the package is considered “lost” and that I could not initiate an investigation, the shipper had to do that, so I would have to call them.

I called Apple and explained the situation. The Apple representative needed to get some information to start the investigation. When Apple initiates an investigation, they refund the money and then handle the issue with UPS. So I got my money back, which is fine, however I did not have a pair of AirPods. To go with this, the second-generation AirPods, at that time, would take 2 to 3 weeks before they should ship.

I looked to see if I could a pair and pick them up from the Apple Store, but no nearby Apple Stores had the AirPods with Wireless Charging case. However, my local Apple Store did have the AirPods and Wireless Charging case separately, for “Pickup Today”. This is the route I ended up going. It cost more, but I was able to get them sooner.

I am disappointed in that UPS manage to lose a package, I know things happen and that the number of packages that end up lost is probably way less than 1, given the number of packages that they deliver. I recognize that it was just my turn to have this happen, but it seems like it should not have disappeared given that it arrived back to the depot. Now, onto the actual review.

Second-Generation AirPods

If you were given a pair of first-generation AirPods as well as second generation AirPods and you were asked to tell the difference just by looking at them, you would not be able to do so. That is because there is no physical difference between the two generations. All of the changes have been inside the AirPods themselves.

I do not use my AirPods the entire day while I am at work. However, whenever I am at home I generally am using them. The second-generation AirPods have an all new wireless chip, called the H1, which is specifically designed for headphones. This replaces the W1 wireless chip present in the first generation.

The benefits of the H1 over the W1 start off with offering 30 percent lower latency and is Bluetooth 5.0, instead of Bluetooth 4.2 with the first generation. This directly translates into one of the most noticeable benefits of the second generation AirPods, faster switching between devices.

It is not often that I switch devices, however there are instances when it does happen. With the first-generation AirPods it seemed like it would take an awfully long time to have the headphones switch. During my testing it is approximately 7 seconds for the switch to occur between two iOS devices. When switching from an iOS device to a Mac, it is a bit longer, closer to nine or ten seconds. In reality this is not a long time, but in today’s fast-paced world it can seem slow.

With the second-generation AirPods, the switching has been significantly improved. When going between iOS devices the amount of time is less than half, at about 3 seconds. When switching between an iOS device and ac Mac it is about half at five seconds. This is a significant improvement and a very welcome one.

The H1 chip also enables an additional feature, Siri.

Hey Siri

Siri is Apple’s digital assistant and now Siri can be with you in your ears. This is the case with other earbuds as well, but only if an iOS device is nearby. With Siri in the second-generation AirPods, your phone does not need to be near by in order to use the digital assistant. That is not the case with the second-generation AirPods.

When you activate “Hey Siri” on the second-generation AirPods, Siri will be activated on the device that the AirPods are connected to and it will use that device to process the Siri interactions.

If you have multiple iOS-based devices and say “Hey Siri, all of them might light up but only one will respond. The devices will determine who has precedence and that device will handle the request. If you are a household that has a HomePod, it will typically be the HomePod that will handle the request. The second-generation AirPods will now also participate in the determining precedence of devices. Specifically, the AirPods will take precedence over all devices, including the HomePod.

This order makes sense given that if you are using the AirPods and want to use Siri you likely want to use the AirPods to handle the request. You can still manually trigger Siri on a specific device if you want that one to handle the request. What would be even better is if you were able to set different trigger phrases for different devices. This could be a selection from a pre-defined list.

Charging

The first-generation AirPods created an interesting take on charging headphones. Whereas most wireless headphones require you to plug in a cable to charge them, the AirPods used the case as the charger. The AirPods themselves charge via induction while in the case. The case itself would have to be charged via a lightning cable.

For the second-generation AirPods, this changes, but not necessarily for everyone. With the second-generation AirPods you have the option of purchasing them with or without a wireless charging case.

The wireless charging case is a Qi-compatible charging case. This means that you can use any Qi-compatible pad to charge your AirPods case. Having a wireless charging case does change things a bit. The case itself is a bit heavier as well as bit bulkier. The differences ar slight, and may not be noticeable.

There is one other change with the case. In order to know the status of case and the earbuds, the AirPods case has an indicator light on it. For the first-generation AirPods this was under the top and in between the two AirPods. With the non-wireless charging case you could connect a lightning cable to the case and then flip the case open. If you did this, the indicator light would stay on indefinitely. This is not a scenario that would occur for most users, however it would occur for some.

The location of this indicator light has changed with the Wireless Charging Case. The light is now on the front of the case. This is necessary in order to be able to quickly see the status when the Wireless Charging case is on a Qi-compatible charging pad.

You might think that with the light being on all the time would be a problem. But Apple has anticipated this and the light will turn off after about 10 seconds. This is the case for either wireless charging or when you plug in the Wireless Charging case to a lightning cable.

Closing Thoughts

If you already own a pair of first-generation AirPods, then it may not necessarily be worthwhile upgrading to the second generation. There are of course some exceptions to this. If you purchased the AirPods when they were first available the battery is not likely as strong as when you first got them, so purchasing the second-generation may be a sound investment.

Right now, if you want to purchase a pair of second-generation AirPods with the Wireless Charging case, you will have to wait for a bit. The second generation AirPods with Wireless Charging case will currently ship in 3-4 weeks, when ordering from Apple, although they may be available for pickup from your local Apple store sooner than that.

As a side note, as of this writing, UPS is still trying to locate the package. You would think that given that their entire business is built on package delivery and tracking that they would be able to find the package, but it does not seem to be the case.