Links and Notes - April 22nd 2021

India’s massive COVID surge puzzles scientists

With cases declining after last September’s peak, “there was a public narrative that India had conquered COVID-19”, says Laxminarayan. In recent months, large crowds have gathered indoors and outdoors for political rallies, religious celebrations and weddings.

If I had to pick my bets before reading the article, this would have been the reason I had picked. A cricket tournament called the Legends World Safety Series concluded recently. It was a T20 format tournament where various countries created teams comprised of players who were legends of the past. Strangely, the tournament allowed spectators throughout. And the crowds grew every match with minimal masks. Crowds of people cheering amongst each other without true physical distancing implemented. The tournament was played in India through the month of March. My wife and I both wondered if this kind of event would eventually result in a tragic spike in cases of Covid in India.

I'm not a scientist. I'm not an expert in Covid. Maybe this spike was caused by something else other than relaxed feelings around the threat of the pandemic. But for now, all signs point to people letting their guards down. My heart breaks for the people of India who are now under a cloud of doubt and fear. I hope they pull through.

I worry too, that Sri Lanka is about to discover similar consequences. Over the past months I've seen more and more people relaxing and partying and enjoying themselves at large crowded events with not a mask in sight. And now our numbers are climbing steadily again. The future of this is worrying.

Apple's App Store Scam Machine

The Verge has run this article titled "Apple's 64B USD a year App Store isn't catching the most egregious scams". It's yet another big bucket of evidence that despite all its grand proclamations, Apple has been unable or unwilling to do what a single developer with 3rd party data has been doing. I previously wrote how Apple should embrace the grind with regards to catching scams. It turns out that I'm not even close to being the first person to do this:

By the way: you know that app that John Gruber helped draw attention to in 2019, the one that reportedly charged $10 every week for wallpaper you could find free online? It’s still on the App Store. Never got removed.

It currently has a 4.1 rating, despite countless negative reviews, and SensorTower estimates the app still makes its developer $10,000 a month.

That quote right there is as damning as it can get. It's bad enough that David from Basecamp actually questions if this could be felony style fraud. To have reported scams continue to be up for years, netting large sums of money for Apple, is an incredibly bad look for Apple. All of this is heading in a direction that feels like a "walls are closing in" moment. I don't know what the end looks like here for Apple.

When I wrote about Epic vs Apple I placed a bet saying that if push came to shove, Apple would likely go with allowing alternative app stores:

worst case for Apple, would they opt between not controlling payment methods and logins? Or would they allow alternative app stores?

As long as we are just theory crafting, I'd go for alternative app stores. It fits better with Apple's model of maximum friction for elements that go against their best interests. Put the option between several settings screens and some kind of devil's alternative terms and conditions, and Apple could still get what it wants.

Since then, Apple has kind of closed that door by saying that signficant hardware and software integrations prevent them from allowing alternative app stores. So they've gone and closed that door by the looks of it. If that holds true, then the only logical alternative here is allowing for alternative payment methods and allowing companies like Epic to have their in client virtual app stores. If that does happen, the best case for Apple might be allowing alternative payment methods while being allowed to make it mandatory that Apple payments are always supported in mobile.

Of course, I could be completely off mark here. My track record here isn't stellar. I did predict Oracle winning against Google in their patent case and Windows Phone finding the second place or at least a significant place in the mobile world. I was... very wrong 🤦🏽‍♂️

Apple announces podcast subscriptions

I don't use iTunes. I don't own an Apple mobile device. At the same time, I do believe this is huge news. There are better people than me to explain why it is so. Ben Thompson of Stratechery has a great article on why this is a big deal as well as potential downsides.

For me I'm just excited to see a giant leap made by Apple in improving something of theirs in a competitive manner. This move towards enabling creators to earn money easily for their podcasts is great for the industry. I just hope that they don't try to do a Spotify and create a marketplace of "exclusives". That's a thought that Ben seems to share as well.

This announcement did make my brain start ticking in another direction however. I've had this idea for a while of creating a feed aggregator site which would provide a reading experience similar to Except instead of playing host to the actual content and the publishing software, my site would only publish content from RSS feeds. This would allow writers to maintain full control of their own websites and content while still enjoying the "discovery" benefits that Medium promises people who use their own platform.

If that site ever happened, then the natural route that I'd want to take would be allowing people to access subscriber only feeds. Apple's announcement today gives me hope that it's possible to create this kind of subscription layer on top of an existing open format like RSS. I wonder whether its worth moving quickly on this.

This blog doesn't have a comment box. But I'd love to hear any thoughts y'all might have. Send them to [email protected]

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Posted on April 22 2021 by Adnan Issadeen