Apple’s going to be posting a public beta of Yosemite tomorrow for members of their AppleSeed OS X Beta program (which has, confusingly, not replaced the standard invitation-only AppleSeed program). As best as I can recall, this is the first time Apple has released a public beta of OS X since Mac OS X, well, Public Beta. It’s probably going to be the same build as the current developer build, which is still somewhat buggy, but nowhere near as bad as it was before. I wouldn’t yet use it in a high-risk production environment, but it’s stable enough that you can put it on a machine that gets used mostly for web and email stuff.
What caught my eye, aside from the glimpse of the old six-color Apple logo at the end, was the fact that each sticker is clearly on a different, real machine. It would have been easy for Apple to position one blank MacBook Air in front of the camera and then digitally add the stickers. But no: each sticker is affixed to a different MacBook Air. You can tell by watching the bottom edge, which shifts slightly, and also by the scratches and dings that appear on some models.
Apple is getting better at showing their products in non-showroom condition. Consider the iPhone cases in the “… Every Day” ads, or the iPads in cases in the “Your Verse” spots. But these are super used MacBooks. They’re in worse exterior condition than my (admittedly babied) seven year-old MacBook Pro. But this is clearly how they’re intended to be used. I’ve heard a fair number of people complain about the use of aluminum, and how it doesn’t stay “perfect”. That’s the point.
Also interesting to note is the third-party customizability Apple is showing in a lot of their ads as of late. Whether it’s apps, or cases, or stickers, it seems like they’re getting more comfortable with the idea that people will use these products every day, and not necessarily with the default setup. (Though, I don’t think I’ve seen any ad that features apps that replace the defaults.)
First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it.
Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace “cookies,” the traditional way that users are tracked, via text files installed on their computers.
“We’re looking for a cookie alternative,” Harris said in an interview.
And wrong. Consider the two main ways you may attempt to avoid being tracked by advertisers on the internet:
using the Do Not Track setting in your browser; and,
changing your browser’s cookie settings to block third party cookies.
The first setting is completely optional for advertisers to follow, rendering it effectively meaningless. The second setting does not impact this fingerprinting scheme in any way, which means that this is similar to Google’s workaround for Safari’s default setting to block third party cookies, for which they were fined $17 million.
So how do you opt out of this? Well, cookies are back in style:
He added that the company has only used the data collected from canvas fingerprints for internal research and development. The company won’t use the data for ad targeting or personalization if users install the AddThis opt-out cookie on their computers, he said.
In essence, you’re not opting out of the collection of your data, but instead hoping that AddThis won’t use the data it collects for anything other than internal research. Which is soothing, isn’t it?
[T]he incentive structure [for retention specialists] is really about punishment. Reps start out the month with a full commission, but every canceled product deducts from that amount. Once reps fall below a certain threshold, they get no commission at all. That means a rep could get all the way to the second-to-last day of the pay period only to have a customer cancel four products. Suddenly the rep is below her goal, losing $800 to $1,000 off her paycheck.
Deplorable. And, in many markets, Comcast has no competition — not “virtually no”, but none. Why would they even try to make their customers happy?
John Napier Tye, in a guest column for the Washington Post:
Issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to authorize foreign intelligence investigations, 12333 is not a statute and has never been subject to meaningful oversight from Congress or any court. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has said that the committee has not been able to “sufficiently” oversee activities conducted under 12333.
Unlike Section 215, the executive order authorizes collection of the content of communications, not just metadata, even for U.S. persons. Such persons cannot be individually targeted under 12333 without a court order. However, if the contents of a U.S. person’s communications are “incidentally” collected (an NSA term of art) in the course of a lawful overseas foreign intelligence investigation, then Section 2.3(c) of the executive order explicitly authorizes their retention. It does not require that the affected U.S. persons be suspected of wrongdoing and places no limits on the volume of communications by U.S. persons that may be collected and retained.
The means of intelligence gathering have changed substantially since 1981, but this loophole remains open.
Microsoft’s strategy is focused on productivity and our desire to help people “do more.” As the Microsoft Devices Group, our role is to light up this strategy for people.
I haven’t talked face-to-face with anyone in a non-managerial position since the mid-2000s which explains my jilted language here.
To align with Microsoft’s strategy, we plan to focus our efforts.
Good luck with the job hunt.
The roots of this company and our future are in productivity and helping people get things done.
The Office productivity suite includes Word, which is great for putting together your résumé.
Our fundamental focus – for phones, Surface, for meetings with devices like PPI, Xbox hardware and new areas of innovation — is to build on that strength.
The wide variety of game titles available on the Xbox will help out when you’re waiting around to hear a callback from a potential employer.
While our direction in the majority of our teams is largely unchanging, we have had an opportunity to plan carefully about the alignment of phones within Microsoft as the transferring Nokia team continues with its integration process.
I am burying the lede.
It is particularly important to recognize that the role of phones within Microsoft is different than it was within Nokia. Whereas the hardware business of phones within Nokia was an end unto itself, within Microsoft all our devices are intended to embody the finest of Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences, while accruing value to Microsoft’s overall strategy.
I am stalling.
Our device strategy must reflect Microsoft’s strategy and must be accomplished within an appropriate financial envelope. Therefore, we plan to make some changes.
So many of you are fucked.
We will be particularly focused on making the market for Windows Phone.
My announcement of these layoffs will be drawn out like an X-Factor season finale. Here’s the first commercial break.
In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest growing segments of the market, with Lumia. In addition to the portfolio already planned, we plan to deliver additional lower-cost Lumia devices by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices. We expect to make this shift immediately while continuing to sell and support existing Nokia X products.
I’m using the word “we”, but there’s a really good chance you’re not part of this “we”.
We expect these changes to have an impact to our team structure.
Pack up your desk.
As part of the effort, we plan to select the appropriate business model approach for our sales markets while continuing to offer our products in all markets with a strong focus on maintaining business continuity. We will determine each market approach based on local market dynamics, our ability to profitably deliver local variants, current Lumia momentum and the strategic importance of the market to Microsoft. This will all be balanced with our overall capability to invest.
I was allowed approximately one thousand words for this memo and I intend to use that entire length.
We plan to right-size our manufacturing operations to align to the new strategy and take advantage of integration opportunities.
We are voting “manufacuring” off the island.
We plan that this would result in an estimated reduction of 12,500 factory direct and professional employees over the next year.
Eleven paragraphs in, here’s the news. I am currently updating my LinkedIn profile to add “buring the lede” to my list of skills. Speaking of LinkedIn, hope yours is up to date.
We recognize these planned changes are broad and have very difficult implications for many of our team members. We will work to provide as much clarity and information as possible.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the past several weeks have seen a reduction in the number of posts published daily, and a difference in the typical timing of those posts. I respect your time, reader, so I feel like I owe you an explanation.
I recently completed my post-secondary studies and have begun full-time employment. This has been the single largest factor, among several, that has contributed to the odd and infrequent post schedule.
I intend to keep writing Pixel Envy on a regular (week-daily) basis, and I’m excited to share some longer-form articles that I’ve been drafting. Becoming a moderately-functional adult has slightly got in the way, though. I’m sure you understand.
Marco Arment has released his much-anticipated new podcast app, Overcast, and Macworld’s Jason Snell is mighty impressed:
I’ve used just about every iPhone podcast app out there, most of them for fairly large amounts of time. Overcast is the one I’m going to stick with—for now, anyway. The podcast-app space keeps changing and is quite competitive, but Overcast best fits the way I listen to podcasts today.
Podcast adoption has always been driven primarily by ease of listening, which has improved dramatically with the rise of smartphones, podcast apps, and Bluetooth audio in cars. When it’s easier to listen, not only do more people listen, but listeners find more opportunities to listen. There’s still plenty of potential to help people who already like podcasts listen to more of them.
I’ve been noodling around with Overcast since it was released today, and I am absolutely smitten. I’ve made known my disdain for the rambling style of so many podcasts, so I only really listen to a handful, and not on a regular basis.
For a start, Overcast is an exquisitely designed app. There aren’t many apps this well designed in any category. There are the big things, like the excellent typography and the gorgeous directory view. But there are littler things, like the ability to “scroll” the album artwork on the playback screen and see more information about the episode, as culled from the RSS feed.
There’s one notable design oddity: the toolbar at the top is a little reminiscent of a Mac app’s toolbar rather than an iOS app. I understand the limitations of integrating the playback bar into the lower portion of the app, but that doesn’t make it not entirely odd. Not bad, just different.
Your standard podcast app stuff is all here: subscriptions, time skipping, sleep timer, and so forth. But there are much smarter features, too. Most podcast apps have a playback speed control, but it’s kind of “dumb” — it just makes things go faster. Which is what you kind of expect, but perhaps it doesn’t work quite right. Say you’re listening to an episode of the best podcast of all time, and you notice that Merlin Mann talks hella fast, and Adam Lisagor talks hella slow. Mann squishes words together, while Lisagor tends to leave long gaps. Wouldn’t it be awesome if your podcast app could compensate for both? Overcast has a really great feature called Smart Speed which does exactly that. It works by reducing the amount of dead air, and it’s constantly changing its playback speed to compensate. It’s really, really nice.
The real test for me is going to be over the coming weeks: will I listen to podcasts more? Of course, there are a lot of reasons I haven’t been listening to podcasts; a lack of a favourite podcasting app is just one. But I’ve put Overcast on the first page of my home screen (sorry Strava) and I’m going to give it a try.
Apple’s on-again-off-again relationship with IBM is on again, for the first time since the switch to Intel. This time, it’s a huge partnership between the two companies for big enterprise support. Apple PR:
Apple and IBM’s shared vision for this partnership is to put in the hands of business professionals everywhere the unique capabilities of iPads and iPhones with a company’s knowledge, data, analytics and workflows. Specifically, the two companies are working together to deliver the essential elements of enterprise mobile solutions.
Yeah, I know — *snore*. This is a huge opportunity for Apple to increase their enterprise footprint, which has traditionally been one of Apple’s weakest sectors. As the press release notes, Apple has an okay hold on that market:
[O]ver 98 percent of the Fortune 500 and over 92 percent of the Global 500 [use] iOS devices in their business today.
But this doesn’t say how popular iOS is these environments, just that iOS devices exist in enterprise. This IBM partnership sounds like it’s going to make things better for existing users while significantly increasing adoption among holdouts.
Comcast says it’s very, very sorry. “We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize,” the company said in a statement.
“The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. […] “
It’s vague, but this sort of statement usually means that they’ll reprimand or terminate the employee. While it’s unlikely that this particularly aggressive rep is the standard for contract cancellation calls, it’s also unlikely that this is an isolated case. This is endemic of much greater institutional problems at the worst company in America.
Also, why is Comcast using the word “embarrassed” for this call? That’s the same word I use when I tell the story of the time I was caught eavesdropping on someone in the eighth grade. This is so much greater than petty embarrassment.
Here’s how I think about this to myself: the Romantic era, which started with the Delicious Generation and became dominant with the early iPhone apps, has given way to the Modernist era. Grandiosity gives way to sleekness and honesty.
Remember Disco and its stupid smoke effects?1 There was something fun about seeing particle smoke come off a disc burning app, but it’s the kind of thing that feels more like a trend than a lasting piece of good design. Put another way, does the leopard print iMac feel as lastingly beautiful as the iMac G5? Thought not.
Despite all the buzz surrounding wearables, it isn’t clear who’s supposed to be buying them. Fewer than half of the respondents to a recent Accenture survey said they would consider buying a smartwatch, and even the most optimistic experts predict only 20 million smartwatch sales this year, a pittance compared with phone and tablet sales. The market’s skepticism might be a function of how early smartwatches fared (few lasted more than a year or two before being pulled from shelves). But more likely is that today’s smartwatches remain mysterious, somewhat redundant gadgets. Even the most sophisticated models don’t do anything a phone can’t do, except sit comfortably on your arm. And the Dick Tracy novelty factor is still high. Silicon Valley code jockeys might appreciate being able to order pizza from their wrists—which is, by the way, a real Android Wear app—but the rest of us don’t have much need for another device to lug around, keep charged, and worry about breaking.
Shorter version of the longer answer: not yet, no.
I, as much as anyone, have dismissed the current generation of wearables. They’re basically second notification screens which, for some, makes sense. But I still don’t get their utility for my own use.
But perhaps it’s still too early. Take, for example, this article by Matthew Miller in ZDNet, in August 2009:
I have tried different tablet devices in the past and I see very little benefit from them for the majority of people. The iPhone/iPod touch seem to be just about as big as you need for a productive web surfing and media consumption device and a tablet Apple really does not make much sense to me.
But the iPod looks like it may turn out to be a non-repeatable experience. Look at the historical record. When the iPod emerged in late 2001, it solved some major problems with MP3 players.
Unfortunately for Apple, problems like that don’t exist in the handset business. Cell phones aren’t clunky, inadequate devices. Instead, they are pretty good. Really good. Why do you think they call it a Crackberry? Because the lumpy design and confusing interface of the device is causing people to break into cars? No, it’s because people are addicted to it.
“The Typist” shares their story of why they use a case on their iPhone, and it’s really good. It’s the main link for this post, but I can’t quote anything from it because it’ll spoil everything.
Allow me to share one of my stories, though. In summer 2012, I was walking through Century Gardens when I received an email that I just had to check. I started skimming the email on my iPhone 4S when my foot got caught on a bit of uneven brickwork and my phone was launched into space. I fumbled to catch it and didn’t get a good grip on it, so it flew out of my hand, bounced on a rock, and fell straight into the water feature in the park with the requisite cartoonish bloop. I looked in and it had fallen in screen upwards, and I could read my email through the water. I stepped in, grabbed my phone, and immediately tried to turn it off.1 For some reason, it powered itself back on — a worrying sign.
As soon as I got home, I dropped it into a bag of rice and left it overnight. The following morning, I pulled it out and checked it out. Aside from a few nicks and bumps on the antenna, there was almost no damage. The only major issue was that some sounds weren’t playing through the internal speaker. Here’s a fun test for you, reader: under what conditions would an iPhone play all system noises out of its speaker after being locked for a couple of minutes, but would only do so for a few seconds? Under what condition would the Siri noise always play through the internal speaker, but almost no other system sounds would be audible, despite the phone not being in silent mode?
Answer: when the phone thinks it’s playing audio through the dock connector. It turns out that the dock connector’s audio out pin sits beside one of the ground pins, and these were shorting out. A quick brush with a little bit of rubbing alcohol and my phone worked as good as new for two more years, before I replaced it with a 5S. I still don’t use a case.
I’m usually fairly careful, but when I screw up, I really screw up. I have also rolled my DSLR down a very, very steep hill. Yet, like my iPhone, it emerged pretty much unscathed. I am far too lucky.
In a sobering and slightly embarrassing reminder of financial access, I retrieved my expensive pocket computer in full view of a couple of panhandlers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash on me at all. ↩
Poor or broken accessibility is exactly the sort of problem that Apple’s App Review team should check for: many developers forget to test it, it’s easy for Apple to quickly test when reviewing each app, and it’s easy to fix.
Instead of arbitrarily enforcing silly rules, the Review team should absolutely be testing every app for full accessibility. iOS and OS X may lead their competition in accessibility support, but a similar level of commitment is necessary from third-party developers for the platforms to be truly accessible for all.
On screen, the major studios now open almost every film with a proud, graphic statement of identity. At 20th Century Fox, the motif involves searchlights and a bold fanfare. Universal circles the planet. Disney, in a logo that was clocked by Variety at a full 30 seconds, among the longest, pans a Magic Kingdom, with its fairy tale castle, misty hills, meandering river, fireworks, shooting star and puffing locomotive.
Not to be outdone, Hollywood’s more powerful production companies and financiers have increasingly followed suit with elaborate cinematic logos of their own.
For an independent film with multiple production companies, the identifiers may come in a parade, three, four, five at a time. With studio movies, by contrast, only the very biggest players are typically allowed a logo (and not always, since a filmmaker’s plans for a picture’s opening moments may actually trump branding and vanity).
There’s something about seeing a really great studio logo — the cited 20th Century Fox one, or the early-2000s United Artists logo come to mind — that sets the tone for the film. The classic THX logo and sound is the kind of thing that makes you reach for something with which to strap yourself into your chair.
Some of us have more to fear than others. According to a Business Insider survey, nearly 14% of people choose to go case-less, risking the destruction of their $400 pocket computers at any moment.
Disregarding the fact that the survey’s methodology is, par for the Business Insider course, suspect, I was interested in this because I am one of those 14%. I haven’t used a case on my phone in four years. Why? Well, let’s let Kane explain:
Of the 14% of survey respondents who don’t use a case, most cited aesthetic reasons — 43% because “I like the look of my iPhone without a case,” 50% because “cases are too bulky.”
Avoiding bulkiness isn’t an aesthetic decision, it’s a practical one. I don’t wear super skinny jeans by any means,1 but adding thickness and weight is unwelcome.
Even if you can afford to have your phone fixed or replaced every time it hits the cement, it’s still going to cost you hours of your life securing the fix. And if you’re well enough off that the cost of a few iPhones a year doesn’t phase you, is loitering in the Apple store really worth your time?
I can’t afford to have my phone fixed multiple times per year, yet I have always gone case-less. It’s just nicer.
Nudie’s Grim Tim fit is my favourite, if you must know. ↩
An anonymous writer at the notoriously unreliable Seeking Alpha, “Options Calling”, is unimpressed with iPod sales. And who can blame them? Apple’s certainly selling fewer iPods than they were just a few years ago. But this article is so weak. Let’s start with the title:
Time to Scrap the iPod
Why’s that weak? Well…
The reason behind the fall of the Nano and Shuffle could be the release of the iWatch, which is expected to release in October this year.
Because of the iWatch, it’s time to scrap the iPod. Geddit?
Anyway, let’s get to some bar graphs:
In a recent report, Apple Inc. presented its second quarter earnings’ “unaudited summary data”, and the picture it presented wasn’t much like what people might have expected.
The iPod, for one, posted an extremely dismal 53% drop in sequential change in revenue, and a 54% drop in units sold. Apple enthusiasts would argue that the drop in sales from the first quarter onwards is characteristic of the company…
A 54% drop in unit sales is, indeed, surprising, if this were year-over-year. But this is sequential, and Apple’s first quarter is their holiday quarter. It’s not only “Apple enthusiasts” who would argue that a sequential drop in sales between Q1 and Q2 is characteristic — anyone who looks at the numbers would also make that argument.
The author then makes the argument that the iWatch could cannibalize iPod sales, which is actually not a bad line of thought if the rumours are correct. But they’re just that: rumours. So, to then demand that Tim Cook drop the iPod lineup is absurd. And, yet:
So why not scratch a device out altogether that has been reporting declining sales for five straight years? Why not invest in better projects that would ensure better returns to the company – and its shareholders – than the iPod? Apple Inc. CEO, Tim Cook definitely needs to do some brainstorming, and soon.
Why not? Because in fiscal year 2013, Apple still sold over 26 million of the things. It’s not nearly as big of a business as the iPhone or the iPad, but it’s still really big. They’re still building the iPod Classic, too, which is hilarious to me.
Nick Keppol of MartianCraft took an in-depth look at Yosemite’s new application icons. Most intriguing? This:
Grey scale is out — warm and cool tones are in. It’s been a popular look in Hollywood blockbusters: yellow/orange highlights, blue/teal shadows. The new Yosemite icons use similar tonal shifts with their metal materials. If we consider these icons as materials, this tone represents an environment reflection — not merely a color effect.
Don’t necessarily think of Yosemite’s new iconography as a simplification or reduction of the previous OS X pseudo-photorealistic aesthetic. Think of this design language as pushing the definition of “idealized reality”.
Another expert said that s/he believed that this leak may come from a second source, not Edward Snowden, as s/he had not seen this in the original Snowden docs; and had seen other revelations that also appeared independent of the Snowden materials. If that’s true, it’s big news, as Snowden was the first person to ever leak docs from the NSA. The existence of a potential second source means that Snowden may have inspired some of his former colleagues to take a long, hard look at the agency’s cavalier attitude to the law and decency.
And, since Cory said it, I do not believe that this came from the Snowden documents. I also don’t believe the [TAO catalog][2a] came from the Snowden documents. I think there’s a second leaker out there.
Digression: I know Schneier is a security professional, and that security professionals must be cynical — it’s kind of their job description. But this kind of stuff really gets to me:
I don’t expect this to get much coverage in the US mainstream media.
At best, the “mainstream media”1 just isn’t that interested in covering surveillance of pieces of software that fit into a pretty tight niche. At worst, Schneier is accusing broadcasters of being in league with the NSA to actively suppress this story.
The advantage of Schneier’s vague cynical sentiment is that it leaves a very wide margin. The links above point to mainstream coverage, but it won’t be sufficient. It never is when the goalposts are so mobile.
And just what is “mainstream” today? What is not? If you listen to the broadcasted persecution complex that is Fox, they claim to be outside of the mainstream media, yet they consistently brag about their high ratings. This phrase is meaningless. ↩
Goldman Sachs Group Inc on Wednesday said Google Inc has blocked access to an email containing confidential client data that a contractor sent to a stranger’s Gmail account by mistake, an error that the bank said threatened a “needless and massive” breach of privacy.
This is a fascinating story. I wonder what kind of precedent this will set. Stempel, continued:
Goldman did not say how many clients were affected. It has been seeking a court order compelling Google to delete the email, which it said on Wednesday had yet to occur.
“Google complied with our request that it block access to the email,” Goldman spokeswoman Andrea Raphael said. “It has also notified us that the email account had not been accessed from the time the email was sent to the time Google blocked access. No client information has been breached.” A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.
The bank said a member of Google’s “incident response team” reported on June 26 that the email could not be deleted without a court order.
If Google initially declined to block access to the email without a court order, what made them change their minds? To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented. What’s the threshold for Google to block access to a mistakenly-sent email? Is exposing confidential client data from one of the world’s largest banks the bare minimum?
Let’s imagine a new feature in iOS called “Homebase”. A user would be presented with a simple UI that lets them select a location that’s a “safe” environment. After the setup is complete, your Homebase would be recognized by GPS coordinates and/or available Wi-Fi networks. The important thing here is that the user gets to define where they feel safe with their device.
The lock screen doesn’t need to display a Passcode lock at Homebase. People who use the Remote app with their Apple TV will no longer be annoyed by an unnecessary security precaution, nor will folks forget to turn their Passcode lock back on when they leave for the local bar (where they’re certain to get a Poopin’ tweet.)
No matter how convenient and simple Touch ID is, nothing feels more immediate than having no barriers to unlock your iPhone. Unfortunately, that’s also the most insecure state.
I’ve wanted this feature for a long time, but it’s languished on Hockenberry’s site as a mere idea. Now, it may become a reality, if you’re the special kind of optimist who places any faith at all in the reality of Apple’s patents.
[T]he invention delivers a mechanism to adjust iPhone access levels based on its location, meaning different tolerances can be applied based on the relative security of a location. For example, a user may only need a simple four-digit passcode to unlock a device while at home, but authentication via Apple’s Touch ID when in public areas like a shopping mall.
I guess I’m starting my iOS 9 wish list right now.