Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Tidal May Have Inflated Its Subscription Numbers

Anna Washenko, for Radio & Internet News:

Tidal is facing allegations that it has inflated subscriber numbers. Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv claimed that it has obtained internal reports that show Tidal only had 350,000 subscribers in September 2015. That same month, owner Jay-Z had tweeted that Tidal was “1,000,000 people and counting.” The publication also said that in March 2016, Tidal had 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 subscribers, even though it announced publicly that it had 3 million subscribers. Tidal has not issued a comment yet about the claims.

For comparison, Apple Music has twenty million paying subscribers and Spotify has over forty million. It’s not looking good for Tidal. Also of note: I can’t find any information on the number of Pono Music subscribers, but their homepage has been “under constructionsince July.

Hands-On Impressions of the Leica M10

Leica just launched their replacement for the M9, and it looks like a worthy entry in their illustrious history of rangefinders. I really like the sound of the new ISO hardware dial, as described by Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape:

The ISO dial is new. It is nice to have the ISO dial on top of the camera. You lift the dial, turn it to your selection, and push it back down. In other words, it won’t be possible to change this setting by accident. I do wish the dial was a bit bigger. You have to pinch the dial to lift it up. The way the dial is positioned, there is very little space, which is inconvenient if you have large fingers (like me). Once again, this was a hard setting to change with cold fingers. Leica should have thought twice before sending me out on one of the coldest days in NYC. You can change the ISO using the menu, which seemed to be easier at times.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using the menus, but I’ve found that having hardware controls available keeps you in the moment. I generally have ISO set to automatic and use the hardware shutter speed and aperture dials on my camera, but there are times when I really want to be able to set the ISO. A physical control sounds like a worthy addition.

Barney Britton of DP Review was brave enough to take his review model to a rock show and the results look great. His impressions:

For all that, I’ve never really enjoyed the digital M-series models. The M8’s APS-H sensor felt like a compromise, and both that camera and the full-frame M9 always felt a little bloated, their shutters a bit too loud, their images a bit too noisy. Things got better – the Typ 240 and Typ 262 are very good cameras, and the Monochroms are fun – but neither they nor their predecessors ever really truly felt like a continuation of the classic film models. Leica claims that adding a movie mode to the Typ 240 was in response to demand from its customers, but the idea of shooting video on a rangefinder always seemed a bit silly to me.

The M10 can’t shoot video – let’s just get that out of the way. If you really need video in an M-series body, the Typ 240 is still available.

Personally, as you might be able to tell, I like the M10 a lot more than the Typ 240 and 262. There’s no single major change which makes all the difference, but rather a raft of little tweaks which add up to (in my opinion) a more attractive product than the the digital Ms which came before it.

At nearly $6,000 USD for the body alone, plus over $5,000 for an appropriate lens, the M10 is eye-wateringly expensive. But if you’re comfortable with that kind of outlay, it looks like it delivers in spades.

Google Contributor Has Been Shut Down Without a Replacement

Remember Google Contributor? It was a U.S.-only service where you could pay Google to remove their ads, with the money being distributed to the ad-supported websites you visited. Well, like so many of Google’s pet projects, it’s dead.

Andrew Martonik, Android Central:

After announcing back in December that its pay-to-remove-ads product would be replaced with something new come January, Google swiftly and abruptly shut down the service in a less-than-graceful manor. Now, it’s completely dead.

[…]

Despite claiming that Contributor would be replaced with something entirely new, we haven’t heard a peep. At this point it seems as though whatever may replace Contributor will more than likely have a new name, otherwise this whole process of shutting everything down would seem like a bit of unnecessary work. But then again, perhaps that’s a bit of foreshadowing that nothing, in fact, will replace Contributor.

Contributor wasn’t widely promoted and was never expanded beyond the United States. I wouldn’t hold your breath for a new version.

Apple Releases iOS UI Templates for Photoshop and Sketch

It has only taken nine years since the release of the iPhone OS 2.0 SDK for Apple to offer an official PSD file for mockup purposes, but it’s here, at last.

There’s a lot in this package: individual UI elements like toolbars and keyboards, blank app UIs, the iOS colour palette, and a copy of the San Francisco typeface. Some parts of this are rather familiar — San Francisco and the app icon template were both previously provided for download — but unlike the first release of the official app icon template, I’m not seeing any obvious discrepancies between these resources and the real iOS interface.

Requiem for the Thunderbolt Display

Every nerd I know can name a component of their workstation that they feel is indispensable. That one thing that, should everything else in their workflow be switched out, they’d fight to keep. Many would probably fight for their computer, while others feel an affinity towards a specific keyboard or headphones.

For me, that one special thing is my Apple Thunderbolt Display. I know: it’s crazy to spend a thousand bucks on a 27-inch display, even back when I bought it in 2012. It has other faults beyond price, too: there’s an air gap between the glass and the panel, so the image isn’t as sharp as it could be, and it’s heavy. Really heavy. I bent the desk I used for three years because of the weight of this display.

Yet, it remains the thing on my desk that I would fight the hardest to keep.1 There are a lot of reasons why, but I’ll give you just two.

First, a bit of personal history: when I was in my early teens, I saw a 30-inch Cinema Display in a local reseller’s store, and I coveted it immediately. I wanted to work on a display that large, with enough room in virtually any application for any kind of task. Its horizontal resolution was great enough that you could fit full HD video onscreen with some room left over for a clip bin. Its vertical resolution was enough to keep webpages and documents open in a more comfortable portrait orientation. My Thunderbolt Display is missing 160 pixels of vertical space, but it still feels massive — and it didn’t cost me the nearly $5,000 Apple was asking for the 30 inch Cinema Display when it was introduced in Canada.

Even better, though, is what the Thunderbolt Display does for a laptop. There are a great many complaints I’ve had with Apple’s computers over the years, but one thing I think they get absolutely right is their relentless pursuit of lightness and thinness in their portable products. When you lug a laptop around all day long, the last thing you want is for it to be heavy, or to take up more than its fair share of space in your bag. This is doubly true when travelling with it.2

However, when that laptop stops being a portable and is plopped onto a desk, the priorities of the computer change. Where overall smallness is desirable in a bag, a desk makes it possible to attach something as large and heavy as a gigantic display. Photo and video editing benefits most obviously, of course, but even something like web development is nicer on a big screen: you can have your IDE and two browser windows open at the same time, instead of juggling between windows.

While a computer is at a desk, it should be able to take advantage of a few other things that laptops aren’t very good at, too. A terrestrial gigabit Ethernet connection, for instance, better speakers, and external hard drives can all be connected. And no other product makes this as seamless as the Thunderbolt Display. Indeed, connected to my display are an Ethernet cable, two external hard drives, a Lightning cable, and a USB DAC. That’s a lot, and I have to connect just one cable to get all of those peripherals on board when I get home with my MacBook Air. I think that’s amazing.

Alas, Apple no longer makes the Thunderbolt Display. That’s probably for the best — who wants to pay $1,000 for a 27-inch display that has a density of just 109 pixels per inch? But instead of replacing it with that long-rumoured 5K Thunderbolt Display, they’ve elected to collaborate with LG on a plastic fantastic that accomplishes some of the same goals, and even improves upon Apple’s displays in some ways. It obviously features a much higher resolution — 218 pixels per inch — and a wide P3 colour gamut, and it’s priced competitively with other 4K and 5K displays on the market. It also offers even easier connectivity: because Thunderbolt 3 can provide much more power, just one cable is required to connect a new MacBook Pro to the display for both charging and data.

Unfortunately, the best reason to buy a Thunderbolt Display over its competitors hasn’t been carried over to the UltraFine 5K: it is no longer the amazing docking station that the Thunderbolt Display once was.

Instead of an assortment of ports on its back, LG’s display features just three USB-C ports. And that kind of makes sense: the future, as evidenced by Apple’s new MacBook Pro lineup, belongs to USB-C. Except the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have four USB ports; it has four Thunderbolt ports, with far greater speeds and capabilities than the standard USB spec offers, like daisy chaining.

It’s not just the variety of ports, but the quantity. Three ports is pitiful on a product like this, especially if you’d — logically — like to keep your peripherals permanently connected to it. And, while you can pick up a hub, the ports on the back of the display are apparently throttled, so a hub will be splitting an already-weakened connection. That’s disappointing on a product that’s explicitly designed to connect to Apple’s most professional notebooks.

If I were to swap my setup for a new MacBook Pro and LG’s 5K display, I’d need an Ethernet dongle, and three USB-A adaptors for my hard drives — my carefully-chosen Thunderbolt-connected drive would be getting a serious downgrade there — and DAC. I’d also want to pick up a USB-C Lightning cable, and a hub to have enough ports to run it all, and I’d have to tolerate everything running at a reduced speed.

Don’t let me get you down — LG’s 5K display might work just fine for your setup. But it doesn’t seem like an adequate replacement for the Thunderbolt Display. It doesn’t have the same hardware quality as an Apple product, it doesn’t have comparable functionality, and it has an ugly “forehead” to house the camera. Unfortunately, it seems like Apple won’t make a true successor to the Thunderbolt Display because they’re not making displays any longer. For a niche of Mac users, that’s a big loss.


  1. I recently picked up one hell of a camera, though, so it might be a tough call. ↩︎

  2. While there’s a market for the “portable workstation”, I’d wager that the discontinuation of the 17-inch MacBook Pro several years ago indicates that said market is rather tiny. Then again, perhaps the discontinuation of the Thunderbolt Display indicates that its market is also tiny. ↩︎

Secure and Trusted Phishing

Eric Lawrence:

One unfortunate (albeit entirely predictable) consequence of making HTTPS certificates “fast, open, automated, and free” is that both good guys and bad guys alike will take advantage of the offer and obtain HTTPS certificates for their websites.

[…]

By December 8, 2016, LetsEncrypt had issued 409 certificates containing “Paypal” in the hostname; that number is up to 709 as of this morning. Other targets include BankOfAmerica (14 certificates), Apple, Amazon, American Express, Chase Bank, Microsoft, Google, and many other major brands. LetsEncrypt validates only that (at one point in time) the certificate applicant can publish on the target domain. The CA also grudgingly checks with the SafeBrowsing service to see if the target domain has already been blocked as malicious, although they “disagree” that this should be their responsibility. LetsEncrypt’s short position paper is worth a read; many reasonable people agree with it.

Josh Aas of Let’s Encrypt writes in that position paper:

Let’s Encrypt is going to be issuing Domain Validation (DV) certificates. On a technical level, a DV certificate asserts that a public key belongs to a domain – it says nothing else about a site’s content or who runs it. DV certificates do not include any information about a website’s reputation, real-world identity, or safety. However, many people believe the mere presence of DV certificate ought to connote at least some of these things.

The impression that a site with a DV certificate is, technically speaking, secure is largely the fault of the browser UI. Specifically, it’s the fault of Chrome’s UI, which displays a green lock icon and the word “Secure” in the address bar for sites with DV certificates. A site with an EV certificate — the kind of certificate that “guarantees” that a site is from a specific company — is displayed in the same green, but the “secure” text is replaced with the company name. This treatment is overly generous towards vouching for DV certificates, to a misleading extent. And that’s a problem, because Chrome is the world’s most popular browser.

Other browsers treat the two types of HTTPS certificates with a little more care. Both Safari and Microsoft Edge display a grey lock icon in the address bar when a site has a DV certificate, and a green lock icon with the company name when the site has an EV certificate. Firefox, on the other hand, displays the same green lock icon for sites with DV or EV certificates, but EV certificates also display the company name; DV certificates have no additional wording at all.

I think the approach that Apple and Microsoft are taking here is much clearer than what Google and Mozilla are offering in their browsers. In that sense, Aas’ position is correct. But I think that there’s more that certificate authorities could do as well. For instance, Let’s Encrypt could automatically flag any signing attempt with words like “bank”, “PayPal”, or the names of well-known companies and their products — “Google”, “iCloud”, and so forth. Let’s Encrypt could then revoke that certificate if it is being misused.

However, even with better protections in place to restrict the use of HTTPS certificates on phishing sites, I’m not sure how much difference it will make. Plenty of people who should know better have been convinced by phishing attempts.

Google’s Custom Server Security Silicon

Simon Sharwood, writing for the Register [sic]:

Google has published a Infrastructure Security Design Overview that explains how it secures the cloud it uses for its own operations and for public cloud services.

Revealed last Friday, the document outlines six layers of security and reveals some interesting factoids about the Alphabet subsidiary’s operations, none more so than the revelation that “we also design custom chips, including a hardware security chip that is currently being deployed on both servers and peripherals. These chips allow us to securely identify and authenticate legitimate Google devices at the hardware level.”

That silicon works alongside cryptographic signatures employed “over low-level components like the BIOS, bootloader, kernel, and base operating system image.”

Via Charles Arthur who quipped:

Google is paranoid about people penetrating its security because it relies on peoples’ trust; without that it would be Yahoo.

Last year, Apple was rumoured to be designing its own server infrastructure with similar hardware-level verification and security components. I haven’t heard anything about the project since. I wonder if we’ll hear something about it later this year.

Chelsea Manning’s Sentence Commuted

Charlie Savage of the New York Times breaks the news:

President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration and made WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures, famous.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

The act of clemency could be seen as a reversal, at least in part, of the Obama administration’s unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaking: The administration has brought charges in about nine cases, about twice as many as under all previous presidents combined.

In addition, Gen. James Cartwright was pardoned today, as reported by Katie Bo Williams at the Hill:

President Obama on Tuesday pardoned retired Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused of lying to the FBI about his conversations with reporters regarding U.S. efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.

Cartwright pleaded guilty in October to one felony count of making false statements during the FBI’s investigation into leaks about the government’s role in a highly classified operation known as Operation Olympic Games.

The clandestine effort — untaken with Israel — deployed a computer virus known as Stuxnet that destroyed Iranian centrifuges used in creating nuclear fuel.

Both of these cases were troubling when they were first heard, and helped set the precedent for the treatment of leakers that the president-elect has already pledged to continue. Nevertheless, this is a positive development. Your move, Julian Assange.

Dribbble Acquirrred

Andrew Wilkinson:

When I first started MetaLab, Dan Cederholm was my hero. Bulletproof Web Design was the first book I read when I was learning the ropes, and I regularly reverse engineered his stylesheets on SimpleBits to learn CSS tricks. Anything he did, I did, and I drove my early frontend developers nuts, getting them to implement every little 1-pixel detail I’d learned from Dan.

[…]

For years, I’ve been bugging Dan and Rich, begging them to let me invest in Dribbble. I’ve been like Dennis The Menace, poking them every month or two asking them to let me know if they ever think about partnering with someone or selling the business.

This September, my moxie finally paid off. Dan sent me an email saying that he and Rich were thinking about taking on a partner. My business partner Chris and I hopped on the phone with Dan and Rich, and they told us that while they loved running Dribbble, they had been at it for eight years and were ready to team up with someone who could help them take things to the next level.

MetaLab — you’ll know them as the designers of Slack — has also restructured and is now a child company of Tiny, a la Google and Alphabet. Aside from Dribbble, Tiny also owns Designer News and Flow, a Slack-ish project management service. All from a relatively small company based in Victoria, BC. Very cool.

The Mac Mini Family Tree

Stephen Hackett, in a guest piece for MacStories:

For some long-time fans, the Mac mini brought back memories of the Macintosh LC, Apple’s low-cost Mac in the early 1990s. While totally adorable, the LC was hamstrung to hit a price point, something that Apple managed to avoid with the Mac mini, at least at first. The Mac mini was slower than other desktop Macs at the time, but I thought the compromises made were perfectly fair.

[…]

Currently, the Late 2014 Mac mini is the newest model available. While it may look like the 2011 and 2012 machines, Apple made several changes that have made its smallest Mac noticeably worse.

[…]

From its humble beginnings as the BYODKM Mac to its role as a server, the Mac mini has been a faithful workhorse for 12 years now. It deserves another chance.

I can’t help but think that the days of the Mac Mini are numbered, even more so than the Mac Pro’s. Its price points compete with the iPad line, which Apple has long said represents their vision for the future of the computer. I would love for there to be another Mac Mini, in the vein of the upgradable 2012 model, but I’m not convinced it’s likely.

South Korea Prosecutor Seeks Arrest of Samsung Chief

Ju-min Park and Se Young Lee, Reuters:

South Korea’s special prosecutor on Monday sought a warrant to arrest the head of Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, accusing him of paying multi-million dollar bribes to a friend of President Park Geun-hye.

Investigators had grilled Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee for 22 straight hours last week as a suspect in a corruption scandal, which last month led to parliament impeaching Park.

The special prosecutor’s office accused Lee of paying bribes total 43 billion won ($36.42 million) to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president who is at the center of the scandal, in order to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.

This sounded awfully familiar, so I did a little digging and found this Times article by Choe Sang-Hun, from 2007:

Prosecutors are investigating three major allegations of criminal behavior: the creation of a slush fund; bribing prosecutors and government officials; and an effort by the chairman, Lee Kun Hee, and his aide to illegally help his son take over control of Samsung.

“We are ready to unveil the truth through a stern, fair and thorough probe,” said Kim Kyong Soo, a prosecution spokesman. He said prosecutors would also investigate colleagues who allegedly received bribes from Samsung.

In previous scandals that have plagued Samsung, several executives have been convicted of illegally trying to help Lee’s son, Jae Yong, take control of management, and of bribing politicians.

But Lee’s family has escaped largely unscathed. This has lead critics to charge that Samsung runs a vast network of bribery and influence-peddling through the government, the judicial branch, and the media, making the Lee family “untouchable” – a claim vehemently rejected by Samsung.

Sam Byford of the Verge summarized the outcome of that bribery case based on “Thinking About Samsung”, a book by the company’s former legal chief Kim Yong-chul:

Lee Kun-hee resigned from Samsung in 2008 after being indicted and found guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion in Samsung’s infamous slush funds scandal. Kim Yong-chul alleged that the company had a 200 billion won (roughly $200 million) budget for bribing prosecutors and politicians into turning a blind eye to its legal misconduct. Despite prosecutors seeking seven years in jail with a fine of 350 billion won ($350 million), Lee was handed a suspended three-year sentence and fined just 110 billion won ($100 million) — a relative pittance for the world’s 106th richest man. Months later, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak gave Lee Kun-hee a second personal pardon so that he could remain on the International Olympic Committee; the Samsung chairman went on to lead a successful bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang. Amidst widespread criticism that the incident highlighted the favorable treatment given to corrupt chaebol executives, Lee returned as Samsung Electronics chairman the following year.

Like father, like son.

Barack Obama on Reading and Writing

Barack Obama, in an interview with the New York Times’ chief book critic Michiko Kakutani:

I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

Writing — by which, of course, I mean really good writing — forces both the writer and the reader to slow down and focus on what is being conveyed and in what context. That requires dexterity, but it can also lead both parties to create connections between ideas in ways that otherwise could never happen. The same thing happens in speeches; for example, Martin Luther King Jr., accepting the Nobel Peace Prize:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

In one paragraph, King manages to point out that the award he has been given is both in recognition of his ability so far — to peacefully yet forcefully fight for equality — and also alludes to the prescience of the award’s shortcomings; the need for recognizing that we are not equal is not over, even today, and the fight for equality will not always be without violence. Yet, through great effort and empathy, we can approach these ideals.

Canadian Apparel

Ellie Shechet, Jezebel:

The charred remains of long-embattled retailer American Apparel were bought at auction for $88 million by Canada’s Gildan Activewear, which plans to close its 110 remaining U.S. stores and shutter its Los Angeles manufacturing facilities. At its height in 2007, American Apparel was valued at nearly $1 billion, and late last year at between $180 and $270 million.

Around 3,500 factory and headquarters workers are expected to lose their jobs.

I’m a huge fan of American Apparel’s basics, so this news is pretty heartbreaking. The fashion industry is particularly unethical, but AA challenged aspects of that (while, of course, creating its own ethical quandaries). If you’re looking for basics made in countries with stronger employee protections, you might be interested in Stanfield’s, Reigning Champ, and Royal Apparel.

Andy Rubin’s New Venture: ‘Essential’

Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen, Bloomberg:

Rubin, creator of the Android operating system, is planning to marry his background in software with artificial intelligence in a risky business: consumer hardware. Armed with about a 40-person team, filled with recruits from Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Rubin is preparing to announce a new company called Essential and serve as its Chief Executive Officer, according to people familiar with the matter.

[…]

The centerpiece of the system is a high-end smartphone with a large edge-to-edge screen that lacks a surrounding bezel. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January, Rubin discussed the smartphone with mobile carrier executives, including some from Sprint Corp., people familiar with the talks said.

[…]

While still in the prototyping stage, Rubin’s phone is aimed at the top of the market where Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Alphabet Inc.’s new Pixel reside. It’s expected to include high-end materials and the ability to gain new hardware features over time, the people said. Representatives for Rubin and Sprint declined to comment.

That sounds a little bit like a modular phone. Consider me skeptical.

Behind the Scenes of the Project Ara Modular Smartphone

Harrison Weber, reporting for VentureBeat:

“We had a philosophy that this phone was not for the iPhone-carrying, latest Samsung Galaxy-carrying smartphone owner in the U.S.,” said Makoski. “We wanted to bring access to the internet, to the smartphone space, to those who previously didn’t have it. And part of the ways to do that is to create a platform where an India telecom could put customized radios into Ara for a $50 price point or a $100 price point, or it could scale all the way up to something for Latin America or the U.S.”

[…]

At the start of 2015, Eremenko’s dream of a $50 phone had evaporated. “The evolution of what Ara was supposed to be had changed so much because of the big question mark around what consumers actually wanted,” a source who worked on Ara told VentureBeat. “And a $50 [smartphone] is just not technically possible. That’s the truth. Anybody who makes smartphones can tell you that.”

So Ara pivoted.

“Pivoted” is a curious euphemism for “tanked”. The article also features the headline “Inside the rise and fall of the world’s most revolutionary phone”, but I’m not sure something can be called “revolutionary” when the smartphone market has moved towards more singular products, not the modular ideas of Ara. It’s a novel idea, but nobody I know was even remotely interested in assembling their own smartphone.

The Influence of Partisanship on Gullibility

Amanda Taub, New York Times, in a section with the subheading “how partisan bias fuels fake news”:

“If I’m a rabid Trump voter and I don’t know much about public affairs, and I see something about some scandal about Hillary Clinton’s aides being involved in an assassination attempt, or that story about the pope endorsing Trump, then I’d be inclined to believe it,” Mr. Iyengar said. “This is reinforcing my beliefs about the value of a Trump candidacy.”

And Clinton voters, he said, would be similarly drawn to stories that deride Mr. Trump as a demagogue or a sexual predator.

There’s a lot that can be drawn from this story, but this false equivalence masks that value. The pope never endorsed Clinton, and her aides are not assassins. But Trump said — on tape — that he could grab women by their genitals and that he “[doesn’t] even wait” to kiss someone because he’s famous and can get away with it. That’s not fake news; that’s sexual assault.

Consumer Reports Retests the New MacBook Pro Lineup

Consumer Reports:

We first evaluated the MacBook Pro laptops in December, and found that battery life results were highly inconsistent from one test to the next. (They ran anywhere from a low of 3.75 hours up to 19.5 hours between charges.) That led the laptops to receive low overall scores, despite strong showings in areas such as display quality and performance.

The process we followed with Apple is the same process we follow with any manufacturer when we discover a significant problem. We shared our test results with the company so it could better understand our findings and deliver a fix to consumers. Since Apple made a fix, we retested the laptops.

The new tests show battery lives far in excess of Apple’s estimates and anything I’ve heard from MacBook Pro owners, which suggests that Consumer Reports’ battery test is not an effective real-world benchmark. But now, at least, its results are consistent.

App.net and Micro.blog

Dalton Caldwell, cofounder of App.net:

In May of 2014, App.net entered maintenance mode. At that time we made the difficult decision to put App.net into autopilot mode in an effort to preserve funds and to give it ample time to bake. Since then every dollar App.net has charged has gone towards paying for the hosting and services needed to keep the site running. Unfortunately, revenue has consistently diminished over the past 2+ years, and we have been unable to return the service to active development.

We will be shutting down the App.net service on March 14, 2017. We are immediately turning off new signups and any pending subscription renewals. We are also going to open-source the code behind App.net on our GitHub page. You will have until the shutdown date to export your data. At that time, all user data will be deleted.

I’m surprised that App.net lasted as long as it did in “maintenance mode”, but this news isn’t exactly shocking. Even its most ardent users — by which I mean any user who has regularly opened the site in the past two years — saw this coming.

App.net’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Manton Reece launched a Kickstarter campaign for his in-development Twitter alternative Micro.blog. Reece’s campaign is off to a flying start, but I wouldn’t blame you for having lingering doubts about its future. The biggest difference between App.net and Micro.blog is that the latter can be self-hosted, and is entirely decentralized. If Reece were to stop development of Micro.blog in ten years, existing installations would continue to work as long as the programming languages that power it remain compatible.

Because of that, I think Micro.blog can have a future where App.net couldn’t. There’s less requirement for mass adoption. I hope it works out.

Apple’s 2016 Report Card

Thirty of Jason Snell’s closest friends graded Apple’s 2016, and it went about as well as you can expect:

Judging by my panel’s responses, Apple had a rough year — which I think most close observers of the company would probably agree with. While opinions on the Apple Watch, Apple’s cloud services, and developer relations were improved, there were strong negative trends for the Mac and Apple TV.

On the Mac:

“The Mac was almost entirely neglected this year,” wrote Accidental Tech Podcast’s John Siracusa, who called the never-updated Mac Pro “an embarrassment.” Many Tricks co-founder Rob Griffiths called it “a horrid year,” and most of our panelists had similar bad things to say.

The iPad was seen as generally positive in 2016, which surprised me. I tend to align more with Engst and Ritchie’s feelings here:

“It doesn’t feel as though Apple has followed through on the iPad’s promise by driving its evolution more quickly,” said Adam Engst.

“While Apple is finding its groove with technology like Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Case, they’re still not telling a compelling story,” said Rene Ritchie.

The Apple TV didn’t have a terrific year either:

“Apple just can’t seem to bring the content deals together to make the Apple TV my primary box,” said Mac Power Users podcaster Katie Floyd. “Unfortunately, if you’re a cord cutter (like I am) there’s still not a whole lot of traditional network content accessible on the Apple TV unless you buy it show-by-show through iTunes.”

And the remote still sucks.

Cloud services, software quality, and HomeKit were also on the receiving end of some pretty harsh comments, though not consistently. However, highlights in Apple’s year included the Apple Watch, iPhone, and social issues — Tim Cook’s handling of the FBI incident was a standout moment for this panel.

From my perspective, Apple’s 2016 was uneven, at best. Unlike the panel, I thought the iPad had a pretty poor 2016: the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was introduced in the spring, and then it seemed like they forgot all about the iPad’s hardware and software for the rest of the year. My Apple TV gets lots of use, but mostly as a Netflix and YouTube box; very few streaming services are available in Canada. The Mac story is frustrating, and software quality is still rough. Over the course of many of the products and updates introduced this year, I’ve also felt that Apple has struggled to establish clear narratives and compelling rationales.

On a positive note, the reliability of Apple’s cloud services have noticeably improved, iOS 10 fixes many of my biggest complaints — while introducing some new ones — developer relations seem improved, and the company’s commitment to privacy is a particular highlight.

I don’t think that 2016 is the new normal, and I’m sure the internal dialogue in Apple’s executive offices would echo many of the panel’s observations. It seems like a year in flux, and I think the fruits of it may start to be seen as soon as March. I’m not expecting a lot this year, but new Macs and a stronger commitment to the iPad as the future of computing ought to be high priorities.

For me, the critical question is how different is Apple’s lineup at the end of 2016 compared to the end of 2015?, and the answer is “not much”.

Be sure to read the panelists’ unedited comments.

Techdirt’s Fight

Mike Masnick of Techdirt makes an official response to a nasty lawsuit filed by Shiva Ayyadurai:

There is a larger point here. Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs. Ayyadurai’s attorney, Charles Harder, has already shown that this model can lead to exactly that result. His efforts helped put a much larger and much more well-resourced company than Techdirt completely out of business.

So, in our view, this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like.

As I wrote when Gawker filed for bankruptcy, the ability for the wealthy to use the legal system to bleed publications dry is deeply concerning. If the only media organizations that can survive this precedent are those that either only publish anodyne stories, or those that can afford a regular battering from billionaires, then public figures and governments will not be held to account for their actions. Smaller, independent publications — like ProPublica, Mother Jones, and Techdirt — are at least as vital as more well-known entities. I can think of little worse than accelerating the conglomeration of media companies through the bullying of independents.

If you can, throw a couple of bucks at Techdirt. They’re going to need it.

The Logic of a Rumoured 10.5-Inch iPad

Just a few months ago, I wasn’t sure about the logic of a 10.5-inch iPad; now, Dan Provost presents a compelling case:

The math works out perfectly. This new 10.5″ iPad would have the exact same resolution as the 12.9″ iPad Pro (2732 x 2048), but the same pixel density of the iPad mini (326 ppi instead of 264 ppi). Crunch the numbers, do a little Pythagorean Theorem, and you end up with a screen 10.5″ diagonal (10.47″ to be precise, but none of Apple’s stated screen sizes are exact). In terms of physcial dimensions, the width of this 10.5″ screen would be exactly the same as the height of the iPad mini screen.

Alongside some presumed software improvements,1 this would also create a more logical delineation between the “standard” iPad line and the iPads Pro. I’m very curious to see how the entire iPad lineup evolves this year, and whether Apple’s plans will enable a more central role for the iPad in my workflow.


  1. If a major iOS release this year doesn’t fix that scrolling list of rectangular app tiles in the multitasking popover, I’m going to lose my shit. ↩︎

Apple Reportedly Loses Another High-Profile Employee to Tesla

Seth Weintraub, 9to5Mac:

Chris Lattner isn’t the only high profile Apple executive who departed for Tesla over the past month, rather than sticking around to work on Titan. 9to5mac has learned that Matt Casebolt, a high profile Senior Director of Design for Apple’s Mac lineup left the company last month for a role at Tesla as Sr. Director Engineering, Closures & Mechanisms.

Casebolt is credited on patents related to the design and engineering of the MacBook Air and Mac Pro. From the outside, it sure seems like Apple’s car project isn’t retaining top talent that is interested in working on the future of transportation.

Chris Lattner Is Leaving Apple

Chris Lattner, in a post to the Swift Evolution mailing list:

I’m happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as “Project Lead” for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I’ve made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. This decision wasn’t made lightly, and I want you all to know that I’m still completely committed to Swift. I plan to remain an active member of the Swift Core Team, as well as a contributor to the swift-evolution mailing list.

That “other space” that Lattner alludes to is, according to Mark Gurman, a VP position at Tesla.

Also making news today is Daniel Gross’ announcement that he’s leaving Apple for Y Combinator. Gross directed many of Apple’s machine learning initiatives, while Lattner created Swift; these are two of the highest-profile initiatives within the company.

Update: Tesla confirms:

We would like to welcome Chris Lattner, who will join Tesla as our Vice President of Autopilot Software. […]

It must be a weird day at Apple for Project Titan team members.

Update: A fun thought experiment is to consider whether Tesla offered Lattner the position, or if Lattner sought it out.

Google Pulls Ads From Fark for Five Weeks Over Misinterpretation

Fark founder Drew Curtis:

You would probably assume that Google, a company that makes nearly all of its money from advertising, has a crack team of ninjas instantly handling issues in their publisher network. That assumption would be totally wrong.

This past October we suffered a huge financial hit because Google mistakenly identified an image that was posted in our comments section over half a decade ago as an underage adult image – which is a felony by the way. Our ads were turned off for almost five weeks – completely and totally their mistake – and they refuse to make it right.

Apple’s Statement on Consumer Reports’ MacBook Pro Battery Tests

Apple PR, in a statement provided to news outlets:

We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab.

The statement goes on a little longer, but the nutshell version comprises these three sentences. And I have issues with all of them.

Calling the Disable Caches setting “hidden” seems, at best, misleading. While it’s true that a user has to switch on the Develop menu in Safari’s preferences to expose this setting, that’s all done through Safari’s GUI. A “hidden” setting would be one that requires a Terminal command, wouldn’t it?

At any rate, arguably no battery test can truly reflect “real-world usage”, since all tests are — by definition — simulations of some kind of usage. Someone browsing the same three or four websites all day long with little else running would likely get very good battery life, while a user editing RAW photos that are synced to iCloud Photo Library would see pretty poor life. That’s just how it works. As the product becomes more targeted towards power users, the gap between the extremes of battery life will only get wider — you can bet that the number of users running Final Cut on a 12-inch MacBook is very, very low.

Consumer Reports’ browser-based battery test is, as Apple says, inconsistent with typical web browser usage. Most users will leave their cache on. But they’ll also probably browse more than ten web pages repeatedly, and might have iTunes, Messages, a couple of Finder windows, and Mail all running in the background.

We could argue about the validity of Consumer Reports’ test all day long. The third sentence in the excerpt I quoted above is the part where Apple admits that there is a flaw, but it seems pained and couched. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how a bug like this, when combined with a disabled cache, could lead to Consumer Reports seeing some test results with less than half that of Apple’s estimates, while other results were nearly double what Apple says. That’s a massive chasm, and I haven’t seen any MacBook Pro owner claiming to get battery life at the upper end of that spectrum.