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Who watches the watchmen? Apple vs. The FBI

The confrontation between the FBI and Apple over decrypting an Apple iPhone 5C used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino terrorists, who murdered fourteen and injured twenty two more on December 2, 2015, is a very interesting story.

At first blush the story seems quite simple. The FBI clearly wants to know what is on Farook’s phone, as it could potentially tell them if the terrorists had accomplices, as well as if they were in touch with other potential terrorists before the attack. Everyone involved (other than perhaps their accomplices if they exist) wants the FBI to get the information on the phone.

In fact, Apple assisted the FBI in getting all the information backed up to iCloud, and offered advice on how to retrieve the data from the locked iPhone. That advice was simply to plug in the phone in the presence of a known WiFi network, which might have triggered an automatic backup to iCloud of the more recent data. This would not have been affective if Farook had disabled backups, but otherwise would have sent a backup to iCloud that Apple would have been able to provide the FBI.

The reason this method didn’t work for the FBI was that they had the Farook’s employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, change the iCloud password for Farook’s phone “in the hours after the attack”. That action prevents the iPhone from automatically backing up to iCloud. In this case, it means that the most recent six weeks of data is not backed up, and now cannot be accessed without the user’s screen lock passcode. As part of the iPhone’s security, Apple automatically disables the phone is too many wrong passcodes are entered into the phone. That means the FBI cannot just enter the 10,000 possible passcodes sequentially until they get the correct one. It is this security feature – the disabling of the phone for repeated passcode attempts – that the FBI wants Apple to remove from the phone.

Let’s take a step back. Apple offers very clear guidelines to law enforcement, explaining what data Apple can provide them with with a proper warrant. The guidelines provide the exact text which they say needs to be in the search warrant for Apple to be able to comply, which is the following:

“It is hereby ordered that Apple Inc. assist [LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY] in its search of one Apple iOS device, Model #____________, on the _______ network with access number (phone number) _________, serial3 or IMEI4 number __________, and FCC ID#_____________ (the “Device”), by providing reasonable technical assistance in the instance where the Device is in reasonable working order and has been locked via passcode protection. Such reasonable technical assistance consists of, to the extent possible, extracting data from the Device, copying the data from the Device onto an external hard drive or other storage medium, and returning the aforementioned storage medium to law enforcement. Law Enforcement may then perform a search of the device data on the supplied storage medium.

It is further ordered that, to the extent that data on the Device is encrypted, Apple may provide a copy of the encrypted data to law enforcement but Apple is not required to attempt to decrypt, or otherwise enable law enforcement’s attempts to access any encrypted data.

Although Apple shall make reasonable efforts to maintain the integrity of data on the Device, Apple shall not be required to maintain copies of any user data as a result of the assistance ordered herein; all evidence preservation shall remain the responsibility of law enforcement agents.”

Note that Apple writes in the text that they “may provide a copy of the encrypted data to law enforcement but Apple is not required to attempt to decrypt, or otherwise enable law enforcement’s attempts to access any encrypted data.”

The FBI clearly already had such a search warrant issued, and Apple clearly already complied with it and provided them with the data that was more than six weeks old from the iCloud backup. Now the FBI wants that encrypted data, which Apple is fighting. Why is Apple fighting this? If they could access the data, then why wouldn’t just hand it over to the FBI like they did the iCloud backups? The answer is complicated. The short version is they have never done it, and if they do it now, they’ll be opening up the floodgates to probably thousands of iPhones in the possession of law enforcement that they want hacked.

The long version is that Apple looks at this as a civil rights issue. Apple has worked hard to make their devices secure for their customers. People trust their phones with all kinds of personal information, and don’t want that information available to the outside world. In addition, the FBI has used the All Writs Act of 1789 to pursue their unprecedented request for Apple to break into the iPhone in question. Apple feels that this is an attempt by the FBI to expand its powers using the 1789 law in a way that was never intended.

Apple responded with a letter to it’s customers, as well as a letter to it’s employees, outlining its opposition to creating such a backdoor to the iPhone.

Now begins the real battle. I think a few scenarios are worth taking a look at here.

  • Recently there have been a number of articles written wondering what would have happened if the phone in question had been an Android phone. The general consensus seems to be that the security of Android isn’t as strong as the iPhone’s, and it’s likely the phone would have been able to be broken into by the FBI without any help from the manufacturer. Part of the problem is that Android phones are not updated as regularly as Apple devices. Many Android phones get stuck at a certain Android version and never get updated. Apple has a much better record of getting their older phones updated with newer operating systems. In fact, the iPhone 5C in question here was released with iOS 7, which did not offer the level of encryption that is dogging the FBI right now. Only when the phone was updated to iOS 8 did the stronger encryption features kick in that are at the center of this case.
  • The cost of Apple to create an alternate version of their OS that is hackable is never really discussed. How many people work on iOS? How many people would be needed to implement this change? How much would it cost to keep such a version secure from other users cost? Apple wouldn’t have any problem doing any of this, but what if the device in question had been created by a startup? What if complying with the request would make them miss a market window (perhaps shipping in time for the holidays) and that could potentially send them into bankruptcy?
  • What would happen in the hacked version of iOS got out into the wild? Apple could build all kinds of safeguards into the software, such as only enabling it to work on Apple’s internal network, needing to get permission from a central server to operate, being linked to specific hardware, etc. but all of those things could be circumvented. It’s also clear that if it did get out into the wild, the people using it would be criminals, not the FBI. Criminals pay a lot better than the FBI.
  • The WSJ is reporting that the Justice Department already has a dozen iPhones it wants cracked by Apple, and none of those phones have anything to do with terrorism. This is the crack in the dam that Apple wants to make sure gets plugged. Apple knows they cannot offer to crack the phone in this case, and not crack the others if their requests are all based on the same All Writs Act.
  • This out out there, but worth considering. What if this is all an act? What if Apple already agreed to crack the phone, but wants cover from the FBI to insure their customers don’t know they’ve done it? In this stream, criminals and terrorists would probably switch to iPhones over Android phones, knowing Apple had fought the FBI successfully to prevent access. If Apple was secretly providing the data to the FBI, then this would be a great way to encourage switching to the devices that the FBI already has access to via Apple. If it seems the FBI and Apple are both making too big a deal of this issue, dragging into the public sphere what is usually very discrete, then this makes a lot more sense. For the record, I don’t believe this is the case, but in some ways it makes a lot more sense.

In light of the above, I thought it curious timing when I plugged in my iPhone to my computer and was presented with the following pop-up:

Apple Encryption Pop-Up

Now it’s possible this is coincidence. I don’t always have an iPhone cable in my office to connect to my computer. Maybe I haven’t plugged in my iPhone to my computer in a long time. The timing does make me wonder if other people have been asked by iTunes if they want to turn on backup encryption since San Bernardino entered the news. Have you seen this message recently? What are your thoughts on the Apple, FBI, and encrypted data?

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ETA A07-211 Movement

What if Apple made watch movements instead of watches?

I’ve written what features I think future all-in-one wearables will have, took a second look at that on the eve of the Apple Watch launch, and had some questions about what Apple left out of their presentation after they launched. All things considered, if you look at what features I think need to be in a smart watch, and what Apple delivered, there are some gaps. Most important to me are the following:

  • Battery life needs to last longer.
  • Battery charging needs to be simpler.
  • Real water resistance would be nice.
  • More health sensors are needed to replace the need for a separate fitness band.
  • There are definitely improvements possible in the looks department.

Let’s take a look at these in turn:

Battery Life

Until the watch launches early next year we won’t know for sure, but it seems clear the battery life of the Apple Watch is not particularly good. Apple reps have mentioned charging overnight, meaning the battery likely doesn’t last more than 24 hours (and possibly not even that long). Considering fitness bands generally last a week or more, and that some people want to monitor their sleep patterns, this is particularly annoying.

Weloop Tommy
Weloop Tommy

Not that one can compare these watches directly, but just days after the Apple announcement a new smart watch out of China launched called the Weloop Tommy. It doesn’t have a color screen, nor even a touchscreen. It doesn’t have a heart rate monitor. It doesn’t have the metal case of the Apple Watch. It does, however, last up to 3 weeks on a charge. It can operate up to 50m (that’s 164ft) under water. It can control the music and camera on your iPhone (or Android phone). It can track your steps and sync to fitness apps on your phone. The kicker – it costs $75 including shipping anywhere in the world. It’s probably more of a problem for Pebble than for Apple, but still – water-proof and three weeks of battery life is a good deal at this price. I wish Apple had been able to squeeze out some more juice.

Charging the Battery

Apple’s magnetic charging dongle is cute, but also quite annoying considering you need to remove your watch to charge it. Maybe there’s no getting around removing one’s watch to charge it, but coupled with having to do it every day, this is annoying. Lots of rumors swirled around what Apple was going to do with alternative charging methods, from solar to kinetic to wireless, etc. It’s a shame that none of those came to fruition.

Water Resistance

Plenty of watches are not water-resistant, but Apple is actually pitching one of the three models of their watch as a Sports model and yet you can’t go swimming with it? or take a shower after playing a round of tennis? Apple didn’t add water resistance to their iPhone this round either, when both Samsung and Sony offer that with their flagship phones, but this is a watch, and I think a watch should be water resistant, especially one that focuses on fitness and health – which brings us to the next issue…

Health Sensors

Apple has hired a slew of health and medical experts over the past few years gearing up for the launch of wearable devices. Apple has developed a framework, HealthKit, to act as a single hub for sharing health data. Apple can use this expertise to develop new ways to analyze and present health data to users and their doctors. In order to do that, however, they need to have sensors in their wearable device that can collect that data. Right now they can track movement and heart-rate. Since the wearable is supposed to be charged at night, there’s no way for it to be used as a sleep tracker. Other sensors that people guessed at include body temperature, blood oxygen, and glucose sensors. Glucose might not yet be possible in a consumer device, but certainly temperature (useful for detecting fevers, but also useful for fertility tracking) seems within Apple’s reach. It’s possible that the Battery Life is again the culprit here, forcing Apple to cut back on the number of sensors due to their effect on battery life.


The Apple Watch looks nice, but if one compares how it looks to the watches made by the companies Apple SVP Marketing Phil Schiller follows on Twitter, such as Patek Phillipe and Panerai, it doesn’t really compare. Jean-Claude Biver, who heads LVMH’s watch division (which includes the brands Tag Heuer and Hublot among others), says about the Apple Watch that it “has no sex appeal. It’s too feminine and looks too much like the smartwatches already on the market.” Just to make sure he wasn’t misunderstood, he added “To be totally honest, it looks like it was designed by a student in their first trimester.” For some more from Biver, check out this Forbes interview.

Patek 5140 Watch
Patek 5140 Watch, Front and Back

Sure, he’s a competitor (of sorts). He has an agenda in making those statements. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything he says is wrong. Compared to a Patek Philippe or a Panerai, the appearance of the Apple Watch is boring. Compared to a Tag Heuer or Hublot, there is no question the Apple Watch is more feminine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but when appealing to an early-adopter group that is undoubtedly skewed male, it does have an effect.

Watch Movements

Which brings us to the topic of this article. What if Apple didn’t manufacture their watches? Rather, what if they didn’t exclusively manufacturer their own watches. Let’s not get distracted by the ancient Mac Clone experience that Apple went through, those were desktop computers. In the world of watches, it’s very common for a watch manufacturer to use a movement (the core of the watch) that was manufactured by a separate company. Swatch Group owns the largest watch movement manufacturer, ETA SA, which has existed in some form since 1793.

Certainly some watch companies design and manufacture their own movements. That gives them a competitive advantage, especially in the world of ‘complications’ which unlike the negative connotation usually associated with the word, are advanced features that become increasingly difficult to add as the number of complications increases. Complications in watches are anything beyond standard seconds, minutes and hours, and can include day, date, month, moon phrase, perpetual calendar, chronograph, alarm, etc.

ETA A07-211 Movement
Front and Back of ETA A07-211 Movement

What if Apple decided to design the core movement, but allow other watch manufacturers to manufacture the actual watches? This would have several advantages:

  • The cheapest Apple Watch is slated to cost $399. If Apple sold their movement for $399 to other companies, they would actually get a larger margin on the movement (since they would not need to include the watch body, strap, battery, etc. Even at that cost, there’s plenty of margin for a high-end watch manufacturer to design a a profitable watch. Of course, larger companies would get cheaper costs in volume, so it’s possible to get the cost of Apple-core watches down to the same prices as Apple Watches themselves.
  • If another watch company made the watch bigger to accommodate a bigger battery or extra sensors, that doesn’t reflect badly on Apple, but still allows Apple to have watches using its technology with more sensors and longer battery life.
  • Most watch companies don’t want to be technology companies. Watch companies know design. They know how to make watches rugged and water-resistant. Plenty of watch companies would be happy to outsource the tech to Apple.
  • Even if the Apple Watch has more design variations than any smart watch that came before it, it can’t compare to the variety of watch designs that come out of traditional watch companies.

There are certainly some disadvantages to this approach for Apple:

  • While Apple gets more of a markup at the lower-end, it probably loses out on the high-end watches which probably brought in a higher profit-margin.
  • Apple loses total design control, not something Apple really has ever done. This is probably the biggest obstacle.
  • While a bad review of an Apple-core watch should probably reflect more on the watch manufacturer than Apple, Apple will still get some of the blame when bad reviews inevitably come in for some partner watches.

One of the biggest problems is actually how to integrate the touchscreen. If Apple includes the crystal with their integrated touchscreen technology, that will limit the designs possible by watch manufacturers. If Apple doesn’t integrate their screens, then there could be all kinds of integration issues. If Apple does include their screen it will make it harder for the watch companies to waterproof and ruggedize the devices, another important issue.

This is really just a thought experiment. Letting other companies make watches with an Apple movement could solve all the initial problems I mentioned above, but it’s not likely to happen in a world where Apple has total control over their designs. I would hope Apple would realize watches are a totally different type of device than they’re used to manufacturing, but I suspect that won’t move Apple much in the direction of partnering with watch companies.

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What was not said about the Apple Watch

Apple Watches

So the keynote just ended. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were about as expected. Other than the obvious screen resolution and battery differences, it seems the only functional difference between the two is Optical Stabilization for photography in the 6 Plus. Apple Pay is a great solution for payments that Apple has already gotten many large retailers on board for, something it seems they are uniquely capable of doing. I don’t remember other companies getting that kind of traction from the stay with a new payment method. The real announcement of the event was, however, the Apple Watch.

Some things about the watch which are interesting:

  • The Digital Crown is a great user interface coup for Apple. Being able to navigate through some features without ones fingers blocking the screen is important for such a small screen.
  • There is some intelligence in the messaging app that allows it to suggest answers to texts which is really interesting if it works. i.e. if You receive a text asking ‘Do you want to get Sushi or Burgers for lunch?’ it should be able to suggest Sushi and Burgers as quick-response options.
  • Apple is clearly leading in physical options for their watch. They offer two screen sizes (38mm and 42mm), three materials in two finishes each (Stainless Steel, Space Black Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Space Grey Aluminum, 18K Yellow Gold, and 18K Rose Gold), and numerous watch bands. Pebble’s Steel bracelet, or Samsung’s recent offering of a Swarovski crystal band for their Gear S smart watch, seem amateur in comparison.

Apple Watch Finishes

  • Apple did not offer a round screen. I didn’t really expect they would, as it is a very inefficient use of screen real estate, even if it does look good. There are plenty of traditional watches that are rectangular, not round.
  • The watch seems to have a fairly sophisticated heart rate sensor on the back on the watch, and very good integration with their Health app, and through that all HealthKit-connected apps.
  • The reliance on other sensors in a connected iPhone, and the requirement to have an iPhone, are disappointing.

The presentation does leave some gaping holes it the description of the watch and its capabilities. Here are a few, in no particular order:

  • Will the watch support connecting to Bluetooth devices such as headphones?
  • How does the watch connect to the iPhone? WiFi? Bluetooth?
  • The Maps app was heavily shown in the presentation, but does the watch need to get GPS from the iPhone?
  • Unlike some competitors, the watch band connection is non-standard. Will Apple be allowing third-party manufacturers to make watch bands?
  • Apple showed the watch being used to make a payment with Apple Pay at an NFC terminal. When paying with an iPhone the user needs to authenticate using TouchID. How does the user authenticate on the watch? HeartID? or is the watch nearby the phone, both which are registered with Apple, considered a form of authentication?
  • How long is the battery life? If the watch needs to be charged with a magnetic dongle stuck to the back of the watch, how long does that take? I guess you’re not tracking your health, or sleep, while that is going on…
  • Is the watch water-resistant? Enough to take it into the shower? To go swimming?
  • Which sports can be tracked using the new Fitness app?

Overall, there are some very impressive things about the watch, and a few disappointing things. We don’t know everything yet, as the watch won’t be out for several months, but it seems a few downsides are clear:

  • You will need an iPhone to use the watch. Presumably to use GPS features like maps, and also for Apple Pay.
  • There are not many health sensors in the watch, or at least they were not discussed. Angel doesn’t need to close up shop before their launch.
  • Charging the watch is going to be an issue. They haven’t said how long the battery lasts, but it seems if you want this to replace a fitness band that can track your sleep, it probably won’t be able to do that while it charges.

That doesn’t mean they won’t sell a gazillion of these things (or that I won’t be one of the people buying one), but it does mean that there are definitely niches available to other companies, and definitely room for other companies to innovate. Wearables that track fitness and sleep and whose batteries last a week have a place. Wearables with multiple sensors like Angel have a place. Certainly companies that can solve the charging problem will have a strong differentiator.

The game, it seems, is still afoot.

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Asus ZenWatch and Sony SmartWatch 3

On the brink of an Apple wearable

Moto 360 and LG G Watch R
Moto 360 and LG G Watch R

Back in April I wrote a post titled One Wearable to Rule Them All? Not likely. predicting where I thought the wearable market was heading. My basic idea was that there are essentially three types of wearables – the all-in-one, the single-purpose, and the multi-position.

The all-in-one is where the smart watch category is headed. These wearables will look like watches, have sensors to track many different health issues (steps, motion, heart rate, temperature, blood oxygen, etc.), and be able to assist in authentication and commerce. This is in addition to an array of information-realted apps, and an optional link to your smart phone.

The single-purpose is best represented by fitness bands that track health data or bands like the nymi that can be used for security applications. These bands are almost always worn on the wrist, and are focused on a single application. These wearables can be wholly replaced by an all-in-one wearable.

The multi-position is a variation on the single-purpose, is usually focused on health, but can be worn in several positions, such as your wrist, your ankle, etc. and be used for many sports such as running, biking, swimming, etc. The best example of this is the Moov, although wearables like the Sony Core and the Fitbit Force are moving in a similar direction. These wearables can’t be easily replaced by a wrist-worn wearable such as a smart watch, although some aspects of what they might be done better by an all-in-one.

In April the first Android Wear watches had already been announced, but had not all shipped yet. The flagship of the early announcement was clearly the Moto 360, Motorola’s round-screen smart watch. That only shipped in the past week or so, and immediately sold out online. Selling out sounds great, but I suspect it is more about constrained manufacturing than success in selling their wearable.

In the intervening months other Android Wear watches have been announced, several in the past couple of weeks in the lead-up to Apple’s presumed announcement of their entry to the wearable space (in just a couple of hours as I write this).

Asus ZenWatch and Sony SmartWatch 3
Asus ZenWatch and Sony SmartWatch 3

Sony released the SmartWatch 3, now based on Android Wear. Samsung seems to have rushed the announcement of their Gear S watch, which has a curved screen and health functions, but has no release date in the US any time soon. Asus announced their ZenWatch which has one of the most refined looks of any of the Android Wear watches. Perhaps the most interesting is the LG G Watch R, which competes directly with the Moto 360 as a round-faced watch. The LG G Watch R is a major improvement on LG’s earlier announced G Watch from April, with the round face, metal bezel, water resistance, health tracking, etc.

Interestingly, the G Watch R is the first Android Wear watch to have a completely round face, as the Moto 360 has a small portion of the bottom of the round face that has no screen. Motorola has argued that in order to have a fully round face, you need to add a bezel around the edge. LG indeed did need a bezel, but turned lemons into lemonade and made the bezel similar to those on metal sports watches, giving it a traditional look that no other smart watch currently matches.

Google has been hard at work trying to add features to Android Wear, the operating system all of these watches are based on (except the Samsung Gear S, which runs Tizen). Future releases of the OS will support connecting to other Bluetooth devices such as headphones, support GPS (although I don’t think any current hardware has a GPS chip), and will amusingly support easier-to-build watch faces. Even so, there are some gaping holes across the Android Wear ecosystem such as a unified health tracking system and commerce/authentication features.

The Elephant in the Room

Elephant in the Room, from the Banksy Barely Legal art exhibit in 2006

Apple of course is strongly suspected to be launching its entry into the wearable space, and even when leaks surround the next iPhone have been more numerous than for any Apple product I can remember, there has been almost nothing leaked concerning Apple’s wearable, generally called the iWatch, but for which even the name remains unknown.

It is suspected, however, that Apple will tick off almost all, if not all, of the features I predicted back in April in their wearable. In particular, it is expected that the Apple wearable will support commerce applications, and will introduce NFC-support in order to do so. Apple already announce their HealthKit framework for supporting health sensors and applications, and it is expected that the Apple device will contain many sensors to drive HealthKit applications. It goes without saying that Apple has taken on the issue of the user wanting the wear their device, and if LG currently holds the title for most refined-looking smart watch briefly, that is likely to be lost quite soon.

So here is us, at the raggedy edge, waiting for Apple to announce their entry. If they support gps, payments, health and authentication, will all current smart watches be immediately obsolete? Perhaps not, but the elephant in the room will be stepping on a lot of current contenders for the smart watch throne.

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Samsung looking to Israeli tech to compete with Apple’s iBeacon

A couple of months ago I tweeted about an Israeli startup named ShopCloud that was showing off some fairly amazing retail technology:

The interesting thing to me was that it enabled much of the functionality of Apple’s iBeacon technology, without the need for physical iBeacons to be in place.

It seems this fact wasn’t lost on Samsung, which is now rumored to be trying to buy ShopCloud for about $80-90M. This was originally reported by the Israeli tech blog Geektime, and followed up by Israeli business news site Globes.

ShopCloud INSIDE
Navigating using ShopCloud’s INSIDE

This is particularly relevant if you look back at my post Who do you trust with your identity? which among other things looks at how Apple is using iBeacons to position itself as the preferred partner for mobile payments in the future. It’s a smart strategy, giving the retailers powerful technology to engage their customers, while at the same time giving Apple access to those same customers. Google and various other companies have tried to use NFC to similar effect, but these efforts have largely failed.

ShopCloud could allow Samsung, or whomever ends up purchasing it, an end-run around iBeacons and NFC. ShopCloud’s INSIDE technology allows malls and store to map everything to a 1-meter accuracy, and let the user navigate through the store or mall easily. Just like iBeacons, the app could make offers based on location. If the technology works as advertised, then the costs for deployment are significantly less expensive than deploying iBeacons, with many of the same benefits. This gives the owner of the technology a leg up on Apple’s iBeacon, and similar access to retailers.

I think Samsung would be very smart to buy ShopCloud, as the competition for who will control mobile payments is definitely heating up and in the next few years we’re going to see a handful of companies controlling those payments. Samsung definitely wants to be one of those companies. If a bidding war erupts over the company, I think you’ll see some of the other companies interesting in mobile payments also getting involved.

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UX Note: Apple needs to get in sync

Apple IIe (Wikimedia Commons)
Apple IIe (Wikimedia Commons)

The first computer I used was an Apple II in a computer lab in my elementary school. My first computer was an Apple IIe. I am forever thankful to my father who convinced me that replacing it with a Mac SE was the smarter move than getting the Apple IIgs. Except for a few companies that had me working on Windows machines, and some development on Linux boxes, I’ve been using Macs ever since. I’ve been on the iPhone since the first one in 2007. I love Apple and most of their products (the Mac Portable should never have come out, and the Pippin…let’s not go there).

I love that their products ‘just work’ and are consistent in design (due to their ‘Human Interface Guidelines‘). That’s why it pains me when they don’t work. Some things should work better, and just don’t (and don’t get fixed). In particular, I’ve found that Apple has a problem keeping things in sync with their iTunes/iCloud services.

Let me just preface this with saying technically there are no iTunes accounts and iCloud accounts, there are really just Apple IDs that are associated with iTunes or iCloud. I understand this, but we use these IDs in general for two reasons, for iTunes and iCloud. For that reason I call them iTunes accounts and iCloud accounts.

Here are a few examples of these problems:

De-Authorizing Computers

You probably know you can link up to five computers to a single iTunes account. In a small family these can get used up fairly quickly. Especially with tech-heavy families, where one or more parents might work in high-tech and have 2-3 computers they’re using themselves. More importantly, you need to de-authorize computers you no longer are using. If you still have the computer you no longer want to use, you can de-authorize the computer from within iTunes on that computer. What happens if you don’t have that computer? Like if the computer died and you replaced it? Certainly there must be a way to de-authorize a computer you no longer have, right? Well no, not directly. The only way to de-authorize a computer you no longer have is to de-authorize ALL your computers at once. There’s also a catch. You can only de-authorize all your computers once a year.

Doesn’t it make sense that you’d be able to see all your computer that are authorized on your iTunes account and could de-authorize specific ones whenever you want? Apparently not, according to Apple.

Using iTunes and iCloud on the Same Account

If you are a single person and pay for your own service, then this probably never occurred to you. Most people when they set up iCloud set it up with their existing iTunes account. Makes sense. That is, it makes sense as long as you have complete trust in everyone with whom you’re sharing. For example, let’s say you want to share your iTunes account with your children. Great. Save some money. However, it also means your children can now log in on, read your e-mails, check your calendar, read your notes, check out your Pages, Numbers and Keynote documents, locate your devices on a map, etc.

The solution is simple – don’t use your iTunes account as an iCloud account. However, if you’ve already done so, is there a way to shift your identity from one iCloud account to another? Certainly no simple way.

Multiple iTunes Accounts

iTunes was revolutionary in allowing users to share bought music among multiple computers and devices. When the App Store was launched, this spread to apps as well. Finally, a family could buy an app once, and use it on all their devices. Some developers hated this idea, but most embraced it (even if reluctantly). For those with a single account, this works pretty well. As someone who lives straddled between two countries, I can attest that when you have two accounts, not so much. I am required to have two accounts, because some apps are only available in one store or the other. For example, many transportation apps are different or only available in one country or another, and thus are not available in both.

In general, there is no problem with running apps from multiple accounts on the same phone. What happens is that you need to log into the correct store and purchase the app you need. It downloads and is linked to the device. Your single device is just taking up slots in two different iTunes accounts, not a real problem. Where things start to go wrong is when you are updating apps, particularly on the desktop. When downloading apps on your desktop in iTunes, it gets tripped up by the fact that there are apps from multiple accounts. It stops and makes you log in to the different account. Why? Why not allow one to be connected to more than one account? Just like you can have multiple e-mail accounts in Mail, you should be able to have multiple iTunes accounts in iTunes. Sure, one needs to be Primary, so it knows which store to show you, but when downloading apps you should not be made to switch back and forth. It’s inane and definitely cannot be described as ‘just works’.

While I was writing this I came across an even stranger occurrence. I had a mix of apps from both stores in my update queue, but if I clicked on apps from store A, it told me I was logged into store B, and needed to switch to store A. If I clicked on apps from store B, it told me I was logged into store A, and needed to switch to store B. Basically damned if you do, damned if you don’t. What was going on? I have no idea. I rebooted and everything updated quickly without having to switch stores at all. This kind of impossible problem is not something I’ve run across too much with Apple products, and it is therefore that much more disappointing.

Multiple iCloud Accounts

While multiple iTunes accounts might seem a minor issue that only afflicts people who spend significant time in more than one country, the issue of multiple iCloud accounts is a much more widespread problem. While a couple or family might share an iTunes account to share apps and music, they can’t share an iCloud account. Which iCloud account you’re connected to determines the identity of your phone in reference to iMessage, FaceTime, your calendar, your e-mail, etc. If a couple shared their iCloud account, they wouldn’t be able to message each other.

A pretty common problem, so you’d think there would be an elegant solution to managing your identities on your iOS devices and Mac OS X computers. No so much. That a single account can be both an iTunes account and an iCloud account is possibly the root of the problem. It would be nice if there was a way to associate multiple iCloud accounts as sub-accounts to your iTunes accounts, allowing them access to your apps, music, books, etc. but not accessing your personal data.

The iBooks Conundrum

iBooks and iCloud

I have my computer and iDevice set up with my iTunes/iCloud account. My wife has her computer and iDevice set up with my iTunes account and her iCloud account. This is how it’s supposed to work. We share apps, and that works great. I wanted to share iBooks as well, and here’s what happened.

I added some books manually to my iBooks on my Mac. These were books in epub format. I created several Collections to divide the books. In theory the books should then sync my my iPhone, and my wife’s Mac and iPhone. Right? No. Here’s what happens. The Collections, which are essentially folders, sync everywhere. What was in them, not at all. So I find empty Collections spread all over the place. If I delete the empty Collection on my wife’s computer, it deletes it on mine (and all my books get thrown into the general ‘Books’ section).

You might be thinking that I need to set ‘All Books’ in the Books section of iTunes on my Mac. You’d be right, partially. I went into iTunes and realized that only a few books were set to sync (from a previous attempt to use iBooks no doubt) and I set it this time to ‘All Books’. I synced and lo and behold all my books were on my iDevice. Great. Well, sort of. The first thing I noticed was that while I had ordered the books in their Collections a specific way manually on my Mac, they were not ordered that way on the iDevice. You can re-order them again on the iDevice, but why if you took the trouble to order them on your Mac should you have to do it again on your iDevice?

So they’re on my iDevice. What about my wife’s? No, of course not, because iTunes manages the connection to your specific devices. My wife has her own iTunes and iDevices. So why do the Collections sync over? Of course Apple let’s you sync books that you bought through the iTunes between devices. If I had bought the books via iTunes they’d show up happily everywhere. Since I didn’t but them via iTunes, they’re not ‘in the cloud’ and thus do not sync. Why can’t books you add yourself be synced to the cloud? You can pay for extra iCloud storage, but Apple’s own iBooks won’t store those books in your iCloud storage space?

Keep in mind, this is how Apple advertises iCloud on their site:


I guess the emphasis is on ‘Your’ and not on ‘everywhere’. Perhaps there should be a footnote to the above that reads:

“As long as your music, movies, apps and books were purchased through the iTunes Store. Any content added directly to your device using the supported features in iTunes or iBooks will not be synced through iCloud, but must be manually moved to each device”

Not as sexy as ‘just works’.

Consolidation of iMessage and FaceTime

Not so long ago, you could chat using text and video with your friends using Apple’s AIM-compatible iChat client. iChat went even further and allowed screen-sharing in a very simple way. When Apple started deploying it’s own messaging and video solutions to the iPhone, it left iChat behind and created iMessage system (using the Messages app) and FaceTime for video (and later audio) conversations.

As Apple sought to bring the Mac in line with what is was doing with iOS, it dropped iChat altogether, and replaced it with a Mac version of Messages. It appears that Messages does have some of the legacy support of iChat, including support for video chat with AIM members, and screen-sharing, although I’ve had trouble getting my AIM account working in Messages. I can log in using the web to my account, but not via Messages. No idea why.

It also brought FaceTime to the Mac, but like on iOS, as a separate app that shared only its identity points (your phone number, e-mail address, etc.). If you’re video chatting with a friend through FaceTime, you can’t automatically send them a text message (such as a link to a web site) without opening another application altogether.

This is frankly just silly. Why have two apps that link to the same identities, but not work together? Why have two apps that do video chat? It’s a bit absurd. I understand that Apple’s initial goal was to built these features as system-level features. FaceTime was actually working like that on the iPhone initially, but eventually they went back on that and added an actual FaceTime app. Apple needs to work to bring all of the text/audio/video chat technology under one spot, and let it all work together. If I’m on FaceTime, why can’t I initiate a screen share? or send a link? Why can I initiate a FaceTime audio call from my iPhone but not my computer? These inconsistencies need to be resolved.

So what are your thoughts on iTunes, iCloud, and using them with multiple people, accounts, devices, etc.? What works for you and what doesn’t?

The end