Apple purposely disables a feature on your phone during unrest.
Anti-government protests flared in several Chinese cities and on college campuses over the weekend. But the country’s most widespread show of public dissent in decades will have to manage without a crucial communication tool, because Apple restricted its use in China earlier this month.
AirDrop, the file-sharing feature on iPhones and other Apple devices, has helped protestors in many authoritarian countries evade censorship. That’s because AirDrop relies on direct connections between phones, forming a local network of devices that don’t need the internet to communicate. People can opt into receiving AirDrops from anyone else with an iPhone nearby.
That changed on Nov. 9, when Apple released a new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 16.1.1, to customers worldwide. Rather than listing new features, as it often does, the company simply said, “This update includes bug fixes and security updates and is recommended for all users.”
Hidden in the update was a change that only applies to iPhones sold in mainland China: AirDrop can only be set to receive messages from everyone for 10 minutes, before switching off. There’s no longer a way to keep the “everyone” setting on permanently on Chinese iPhones. The change, first noticed by Chinese readers of 9to5Mac, doesn’t apply anywhere else.
But why did Apple rush out the change unannounced, in an unassuming update to iOS in early November, and apply it only to Chinese iPhones? One clue may lie in what happened the month prior, when Xi Jinping’s anointment to a third term as China’s leader was met with rare displays of public dissent.
In the most visible protest, a dissident now known as Bridge Man lit a fire on a bridge in Beijing to draw attention to his protest banners. One read, “Go on strike at school and work, remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping.” References to the banners were quickly censored across the Chinese internet, but photos still made their way through private channels. Vice reported that Bridge Man’s messages were spreading on the Shanghai subway via AirDrop.
The unannounced update has, as always, been twisted as a useful update to “protect the users”.
Besides all the power they already hold “curating” the app stores, imagine, next time, Apple (or any other Big Tech Corp) decides to disable your camera when the police put their knees on the neck of a poor guy, or they decide to disable the keyboard inside certain Telegram chat rooms, or disable Wi-Fi and data inside certain geo-zones, etc…
Shan uses her iPad a lot, but a lot of the more serious (interior design) work needs to happen on AutoCAD or Photoshop. That is just not going to work on an iPad.
When we’re travelling (read: holiday) she’s carrying an old Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (great device!) just “in case” she needs to open AutoCAD and edit something minor or read the drawings/dimensions. But honestly, most of the time that device is turned off and dead weight.
But all the above is just an excuse to “I was bored, and I wanted to test something”: can I use an old Raspberry Pi (zero W) to remotely wake her Intel NUC, and then use Tailscale to use RD on her iPad? Well, yes I can.
I completed this using:
Tailscale to remote desktop from anywhere to home
Cloudflare Tunnels, Access and DNS to have a web interface to wake the desktop
A Linux device that’s always on and in the same LAN, and that’ll run a PHP script.
Prep work: enable WOL
First off: enable Wake-on-LAN (WOL) in the BIOS and in your Windows settings. This article explains it for Intel NUCs, but would be similar enough for most devices. The Device Manager pane looked different on our i5 NUC, but was close enough.
On Mac, you just need to enable it in the Energy preference pane, for Linux I have no clue. 🤷♂️
Second step: have a working Raspberry Pi (or any Linux device) in the same LAN. This device needs to be turned on 24/7, so use something that uses very little power.
I do have a more powerful RPi4 I wish I could've reused (running Docker and some other "serious" stuff; however it's currently in a different VLAN, and it's quite crucial the Linux device is in the same LAN as the device(s) you want to wake up), so I went with an old Raspberry Pi Zero W that was collecting dust (it used to run pwnagotchi).
On the Linux device, install etherwake. The command to run is quite simply etherwake aa:bb:cc:11:22:33 (= the ethernet MAC address of your device).
If this doesn’t wake your desktop, something is wrong and there’s no point continuing. Go and troubleshoot.
Install Tailscale and RD
On the (Windows) desktop and your iPad, install Tailscale. Login, and make sure it works by pinging from one to the other.
Then set up Remote Desktop on both (Windows, iPad). You should test and make sure you can properly connect using the LAN IP address and then the Tailscale IP address.
Fun fact: I create a DNS record for all my devices using Cloudflare DNS with the syntax of device-name.ts.yeri.be, so I don't need to ever remember IPs, and can easily ssh or ping devices without having to look up IPs.
Fun fact side track: I actually have a dynamic script that runs (on Linux) and creates hostname.ts.yeri.be for the Tailscale IP, hostname.wg.yeri.be based on the Wireguard IP, hostname.lan.yeri.be based on the LAN IP. This dyndns script runs every so often and updates IPs if needed. All this is running using Cloudflare DNS and their API. Super convenient.
Nginx, php and etherwake
I'm a 80s kid, so I'll use dirty PHP to run this script. I'm sure I'll go straight to hell for this, but yolo.
Optionally, but recommended: lock down Nginx to only allow connections from localhost (127.0.0.0/8 and ::1) if using Cloudflare Tunnels, or Cloudflare IPs if using port forwarding with Cloudflare Access in front.
We used Tailscale to create a VPN network between the desktop and the iPad. The big benefit is that Tailscale works effortlessly across NAT networks without having to open ports,
We used Cloudflare DNS so we don’t need to remember hostnames :),
We used Cloudflare Tunnels to make sure the RPi web interface is accessible across NAT (without port forwarding) and from anywhere,
We used Cloudflare Acces and locked down access to the right people using ACLs,
We used etherwake running on a RPi to wake up devices that are hibernating or turned off.
And that’s it really.
PS: technically WoL works with WiFi, but when I enabled WoL on the WiFi adapter, the NUC refused to hibernate/sleep for more than a minute, and kept waking itself up. So, there seems to be some kind of trigger in my network that keeps waking it up. Also, not sure if WoL via WiFi would work if the device is turned off (as opposed to sleep or hibernate). I just ended up using ethernet.
PPS: both Cloudflare Tunnels and Tailscale use Wireguard tech in the background, so that's really cool.
And of course the actual ad (how iPhone is super mega amazing) 🤷🏼♂️ but nice to see how they did it. And neat to see how tech evolved since my first iPhone 3G. What they fail to mention is the insane time it takes to film all that, and the post production editing… 😉
Interesting to see that many years after Apple started creating their CPUs for the iPhone (and now laptops/desktops), so many companies are following. Google is not new to building their chips (TPU, Titan (used in security keys and as encryption module for servers/Pixel phones), and likely more), but quite new to more generalised computing CPU for phones and laptops.
And it makes sense — a lot of the generic CPUs were too generalist and not that great at their job (and are plagued with bugs). It came with heavy power usage. Having a ML/AI chip, a GPU chip, a generalist CPU chip (or two, one focussing on high performance, and one on efficiency, like the M1), one for security/encryption (Titan/T2), etc.
Curious to see how much of a head start Apple really has, and very eager to finally see some real innovation in the CPU space (sorry AMD with Ryzen: too little, too late).
Let’s see if Intel and AMD will be able to adapt and reinvent themselves and what it means for ARM (and the ARM IP issue in China), and if other architectures like MIPS are making a chance.