Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Reading Between the Lines of Next-Generation iPhone Rumours

Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

Nikkei Asian Review is adding to recent reports that Apple will move to an all-glass design with the iPhone 8 next year, while reporting that the lineup will add a 5-inch model. Apple previously used an all-glass design with the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s, but switched to aluminum backs with the iPhone 5 through iPhone 7. And a 5-inch iPhone 8 would add a new option to the current lineup which includes 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch flagship models.

I don’t know anything about this, but adding a third iPhone model makes no sense to me. Much like the rumoured 10.5-inch iPad, my guess is that this is a misinterpretation by a source or an analyst.

Ming-Chi Kuo claimed in March that Apple has been working on a 5.8-inch model, which is the same 0.3-inch difference as between the rumoured 5-inch model and the existing 4.7-inch model. My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that these rumours describe larger displays that sit within the same two case sizes as the existing lineup.

AirPods Release Delayed

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

“The early response to AirPods has been incredible. We don’t believe in shipping a product before it’s ready, and we need a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers,” an Apple spokesperson said to TechCrunch.

Apple did not say whether hardware or software updates are what is at the heart of the delay so I couldn’t conjecture which. My experiences with the AirPods have been very positive this far but the pre production units that were given out to press are not without their foibles and bugs. I have seen a variety of small software/hardware interaction issues that have caused some frustration – but have taken them in stride because they are not final products.

What a pisser.

Such is the danger of announcing products before they’re ready, something which has happened a couple of times in the past two years: the Retina iMac in 2014, and now the AirPods. You could also argue that launching the iPhone 7 Plus without its standout Portrait mode feature could constitute a “delay” of sorts.

Back in 2012, Apple delayed the release of iTunes 11 for about a month. When it was released, though, it was one of the best versions of iTunes in a long time. Postponing a product launch sucks, but it’s better that it’s released right instead of quickly.

No word on whether any Beats models are also being delayed, though their release dates have always been a more nebulous “this autumn”.

Update: The Beats Solo and Powerbeats models with W1 chips have been shipping for a while, apparently — thanks Erik. The BeatsX in-ear headphones — the ones I was looking at — haven’t been released yet.

Apple Reports Q4 Results

Apple’s reported numbers were well within — and even at the upper bounds of — their guidance from last quarter, but that doesn’t make for a stellar quarter. They sold fewer iPads this quarter than in any quarter since 2011, while “other” product revenue, which includes the Apple Watch, was down year over yearno surprises there.

But it’s not all bad news. CFO Luca Maestri said that iPhone sales were mostly supply-constrained:

We’ve seen a strong iPhone growth in many markets around the world including Canada, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India, and South Asia. iPhone sales in Greater China declined during the quarter, but initial customer response to iPhone 7 and 7 Plus gives us confidence that our December quarter performance in China will be significantly better on a year-over-year basis than our September quarter results, even as we lap the all-time-record period from a year ago.

Worldwide demand for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus has significantly outpaces supply, particularly on iPhone 7 Plus. And we’re working very hard to get the new iPhones into the hands of our customers as quickly as possible.

Pretty solid for a phone derided by plenty of tech journalists as a recycled design. And — did you hear? — it doesn’t have a headphone jack. Crazy. Apple also reported solid growth in services, though they didn’t release an updated subscriber count for Apple Music.

Guidance for Q1 2017 forecasts revenue of $76–78 billion, which is a similar range to their Q1 2016 forecast, and slightly above actual revenue for that quarter.

Kara Swisher on Tech’s White Male Problem

Kara Swisher, as quoted by Karis Hustad at Harvard’s Tech Conference 22:

When you look up at a board room and you look around and you see 10 white men and you don’t understand you have a problem, I want to know what happens to you. How can’t you see it? It’s a huge problem, and from a business point of view it is ridiculous. If half the women are using the Internet and half of people of color are using it, that’s how it should be represented. My god, how can you make a product for half the human race and not have half the human race be represented?

The goal is not just about numbers, but about equal representation of ideas and equal consideration to issues raised. But it is impossible to get to a point where equal thought is given to the specific concerns of women or people of colour if boards and employees are overwhelmingly white and male. Diversity is not — and cannot — be a checkbox item, as Swisher points out:

They’re not trying. They’re not looking hard enough. [They say] “Oh, it’s hard.” I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck if it’s hard. You need to bring me 10 great candidates and you have to be thinking hard about different kinds of candidates, different ages, different races — and we’re not always going to be successful, but I think from the very top you have to say, you’re being lazy about this. You’re being easy. You’re pattern matching.

The Wirecutter Acquisition Is Validating for Atypical Business Models

Matt Haughey:

I’ve spent the last seventeen years blogging, and for some of that time I ran PVRblog and for 15 years I ran MetaFilter, both of which are ad-supported sites. I’ve had lots of ups and downs with both, and at some point in the mid-2000s I built a whole Amazon product recommendation subsite for MetaFilter that never launched. Readers of PVRblog back in its heyday used to ask me to write a “buyers guide” every holiday season and though I recognized the utility of such a thing, I never made one, fearing it would constantly need updating to stay current with the latest news.

I don’t think I’ve ever met Brian Lam face to face, but we’ve talked online a handful of times but I’m immensely impressed with what he’s built. I don’t think any news I read today about this deal gave him enough credit for what he did, so I want to break it down.

I used the word “atypical” in the title of this post very deliberately. The Wirecutter and the Sweethome didn’t utilize a brand new business model, but they managed to become one of the most effective implementations of affiliate linking — something which has been around for ages. But it is a model that’s atypical amongst today’s VC-and-PPC-ad-funded media companies. Lam deserves a lot of credit.

Updates Available for MacOS, WatchOS, and iOS

Earlier today, Apple released software updates for the Mac, Watch, iOS devices, and Apple TV. iOS 10.1 includes the new Depth Effect mode and brings public transit to major Japanese cities, amongst lots of other bug fixes and adjustments. I’ve also noticed better battery life over iOS 10.

WatchOS 3.1 mostly has “bug fixes and performance improvements”. I’ve noticed a significant improvement in battery life compared to 3.0. I recommend installing this at your earliest convenience, provided you don’t fuck up your stand goal.

MacOS 10.12.1 contains all sorts of tweaks, including improvements that will become relevant on the MacBook Pros that will be unveiled on Thursday. However, adjustments to the keyboard framework seems to have messed with some third-party keyboards. You can try restoring defaults in your keyboard preferences to fix it; if that doesn’t work, you can roll back IOHIDKeyboardFilter.plugin.

Also in this release:

Adds an automatic smart album in Photos for Depth Effect images taken on iPhone 7 Plus

A smart album is still missing for Live Photos on iOS and MacOS. I get the implication that Apple wants you to leave it turned on all of the time, but I don’t think most people keep it on. Regardless, it remains unforgivable that you can’t search for photos by type: screenshot, panorama, Live Photo, and so on.

IDC: Over 50% Decline in Year-Over-Year Smartwatch Sales for Q3

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Maybe not everyone is convinced they need a smartwatch? According to a new industry report from IDC out this morning, smartwatch shipments experienced “significant” declines in the third quarter, as total shipments were down 51.6 percent from the same time last year. Just 2.7 million units were shipped in Q3 2016 versus 5.6 million in Q3 2015. While IDC offers several explanations as to why sales are dropping – including issues related to launch timings, Android Wear delays, and more – the numbers still indicate how smartwatches are having a hard time finding traction among a majority of consumers.

Of course, we need to keep in mind that Apple Watch is the market leader among smartwatches – its Series One device accounted for the majority of shipments in the quarter (1.1 million units shipped, a 72 percent year-over-year decline). That means its ups and downs will have an outsize impact on the industry’s numbers at large.

To make matters worse, the new Apple Watches didn’t go on sale until two weeks before the end of the third quarter, and the Nike+ model won’t be available until this Friday.

Still, these numbers aren’t great. I still think it’s a nascent market, the potential for which will be revealed over time as more people get their hands on smartwatches — or, well, smartwatches on their wrists. It’s certainly not a market that’s going to be a smartphone-sized yet or, possibly, ever, but there’s definitely something catching buyers’ eyes. Anecdotally, I’ve had more people ask me about how much I wear and like my first-generation Apple Watch over the past month than I had in the previous year.

Regulating the Internet of Things

After last week’s massive web outage was understood to have been the result of a botnet originating from insecure web-connected devices — DVRs and cameras, mostly — a number of people, including me, pointed to Bruce Schneier’s Vice article on why it’s important to regulate the security of these devices. In short:

The market can’t fix this because neither the buyer nor the seller cares. Think of all the CCTV cameras and DVRs used in the attack against Brian Krebs. The owners of those devices don’t care. Their devices were cheap to buy, they still work, and they don’t even know Brian. The sellers of those devices don’t care: they’re now selling newer and better models, and the original buyers only cared about price and features. There is no market solution because the insecurity is what economists call an externality: it’s an effect of the purchasing decision that affects other people. Think of it kind of like invisible pollution.

Robert Graham of Errata Security disagrees with Schneier:

The persistent rumor is that an IoT botnet is being used. So everything is calling for regulations to secure IoT devices. This is extraordinarily bad. First of all, most of the devices are made in China and shipped to countries not in the United States, so there’s little effect our regulations can have. Except they would essentially kill the Kickstarter community coming up with innovative IoT devices. Only very large corporations can afford the regulatory burden involved.

Like public school textbooks in Texas, regulating large markets can have the effect of regulating every market. There are lots of significant markets for these devices, but the United States and Europe are certainly two of the biggest. If those two regions — and, ideally, China and Korea — were to impose security screenings for these devices, manufacturers would likely comply worldwide, since it costs less for them to deploy the same software in every sales region.

Of course, this raises the question of how it would be most efficient to secure devices like these. A penetration test before an import certificate is granted would probably do a good job of weeding out the less-secure products, but it’s unrealistic for such a test to be imposed with every software update.

It’s a tricky problem. The solution that Graham tweeted is to have the NSA brick vulnerable devices, but that seems like a hard overreach of power. The influence of imposing regulations is softer, but I think it reduces the “Team America” feeling of the NSA acting as the global internet police.

AT&T Reaches Deal to Buy Time Warner for More Than $80 Billion

Thomas Gryta and Keach Hagey, Wall Street Jorunal:

AT&T Inc. has reached an agreement to buy Time Warner Inc. for between $105 and $110 a share, with a deal likely to be announced as soon as Saturday evening, according to people familiar with the plans.

The boards of the two companies are meeting on Saturday to approve the transaction, the people said. The deal is half cash and half stock, according to one of the people.

Of note, this does not include Time Warner Cable, which was acquired by Charter Communications. Time Warner owns CNN, HBO, DC Entertainment, and 10% of Hulu, amongst a huge list of other brands. It is one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.

AT&T, meanwhile, is the highest-earning telecommunications company in the world, with over 130 million customers (PDF) and a market capitalization of $226 billion. Should that remain consistent, the combined valuation of over $300 billion would make the resulting company worth more than Comcast and Disney combined.

Meanwhile, CBS and Viacom are reportedly exploring a merger that would create a company with a combined worth of $40 billion, and just three years ago, Comcast completed their acquisition of NBC.

I’m unconvinced that the slow merging of many news and media organizations is in the best interests of the general public. What net positive arises for consumers from having large telecommunications companies also in control of what gets delivered over their wires? If anything, the effect of this will be to create a vastly larger, more powerful, and more influential entity, capable of gobbling up some of the largest companies in the world.

Update: Dennis K. Berman has posted a graphic of the composition of today’s AT&T. The near-reversal of the 1982 breakup of Bell’s monopoly is pretty astonishing.

DDoS on Dyn Impacts Popular Websites, Services

Brian Krebs:

Criminals this morning massively attacked Dyn, a company that provides core Internet services for Twitter, SoundCloud, Spotify, Reddit and a host of other sites, causing outages and slowness for many of Dyn’s customers.

It’s incredible — and more than a little irresponsible — that we’ve taken something as decentralized as the web and made it largely dependent upon a handful of popular providers.

Krebs, on the cause of today’s attacks:

According to researchers at security firm Flashpoint, today’s attack was launched at least in part by a Mirai-based botnet. Allison Nixon, director of research at Flashpoint, said the botnet used in today’s ongoing attack is built on the backs of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies. The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Nixon said, noting that Flashpoint hasn’t ruled out the possibility of multiple botnets being involved in the attack on Dyn.

Bruce Schneier just two weeks ago for Vice:

What this all means is that the IoT will remain insecure unless government steps in and fixes the problem. When we have market failures, government is the only solution. The government could impose security regulations on IoT manufacturers, forcing them to make their devices secure even though their customers don’t care. They could impose liabilities on manufacturers, allowing people like Brian Krebs to sue them. Any of these would raise the cost of insecurity and give companies incentives to spend money making their devices secure.

Of course, this would only be a domestic solution to an international problem. The internet is global, and attackers can just as easily build a botnet out of IoT devices from Asia as from the United States. Long term, we need to build an internet that is resilient against attacks like this. But that’s a long time coming. In the meantime, you can expect more attacks that leverage insecure IoT devices.

Be sure to read Krebs’ article on the cause of today’s attack. In it, he notes that many of the devices used in the attack are vulnerable to a ridiculously obvious flaw: a hardcoded root password for Telnet and SSH. Any security researcher worth their salt would find this problem in a heartbeat, but it’s up to the manufacturers of these devices to do their due diligence in getting them tested. Perhaps a rudimental penetration test should be part of the certification process by consumer protection agencies.

Google Has Quietly Dropped Their Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking

Julia Angwin, ProPublica:

The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on the keywords they used in their Gmail. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

Google also happens to run the most popular website analytics suite, estimated to be used on tens of millions of websites. They say that they are currently keeping browsing data separate from other Google activity, but they’re leaving the door open for that to change in the future.

I’m not trying to spread F.U.D., but Google’s change to their integration of DoubleClick data is significant. Datanyze estimates that DoubleClick holds a 75% market share within the top million websites, as ranked by Alexa. That’s more than enough to get a remarkably accurate picture of a user’s browsing history. If you use Chrome in signed-in mode, there’s already an option to make the websites you visit part of your Google profile. If Google is willing to reverse their stance on DoubleClick and has an option to track your Chrome history, a quiet policy shift towards blending analytics data doesn’t seem that far off.

There is no company that can do a better job of tying your name to nearly everything you do online. If any other company — or, indeed, a government — were to do this, there would be outrage. Yet, Google has largely managed to avoid deep concerns. Most people still use Google search, Android phones, watch YouTube videos, and trust Google Maps to get them where they’re going. What would it take for users to recognize just how risky this is? If this year has shown us anything, it’s that even the largest companies are susceptible to catestrophic breaches of security.

‘Anniversaries Are About Getting Old’

John Gruber:

A lot of this 10th anniversary of the iPhone speculation is regarding the rumors that next year’s new iPhones might sport a new industrial design, with edge-to-edge displays that eliminate both the top and bottom bezels from the front face. If such a design does appear next year, the timing will be purely coincidental.


I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple never even mentions next year that 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. And if they do mention it, I think it will be a brief passing reference on stage, not a part of any advertising or marketing campaign.

If they do mention it, I think it will be a lot like the way Phil Schiller alluded to the original Mac when introducing the 27-inch Retina iMac:

It’s the thirtieth birthday of the Mac this year, and [this lineup is] the best ever. […] I think [the Retina iMac is] the perfect fitting to the thirtieth birthday of Macintosh.

Today’s Retina iMac is obviously different from the original Macintosh in pretty much every way. But if you put them side-by-side, you’d notice the familial similarity. The Retina iMac is that original Macintosh with every single element pushed to the ragged edge.

If the next iPhone is similar to what the rumours say, it’s going to be that kind of upgrade. It’s very likely that you’ll be able to place it beside the original iPhone and acknowledge the similarities, while seeing it as possibly the purest expression of what a smartphone can be. Yet, while it may be a fitting tribute on the iPhone’s tenth birthday, that’s not why it’s being released next year. Whatever the case for the iPhone next year, it’s because that’s the best of what Apple can do.

Reported Performance Discrepancies Between Intel and Qualcomm Modems in the iPhone 7

Jeff Benjamin, 9to5Mac:

The report from Cellular Insights finds that iPhone 7’s equipped with Qualcomm’s MDM9645M modem, which powers the (A1660, A1661) Verizon, Sprint, and SIM-free models, features better cellular performance than the (A1778, A1784) Intel version. Not only that, but the Qualcomm version’s ability to take advantage of Ultra HD Voice has been disabled as well according to the report.

I wouldn’t read too much into this report. Remember last year’s brief controversy about the performance differences between the dual-sourced A9 SoCs? It quickly fizzled out after Apple noted that all iPhones experience slight differences in processor performance and battery life due to variances in manufacturing processes. There’s no reason to suspect that Apple has dual-sourced their modems this year without assuring comparable real-world performance.

Computational Photography and the Pixel

Of all of the features of Google’s new Pixel phones, the camera is receiving perhaps the loudest praise. It’s no wonder: most of the images I’ve seen look fantastic, especially in low light.

Sam Byford of the Verge spoke with Google’s Marc Levoy about how they used software to eke out the best photos they could from a fairly standard smartphone camera sensor:

The traditional way to produce an HDR image is to bracket: you take the same image multiple times while exposing different parts of the scene, which lets you merge the shots together to create a final photograph where nothing is too blown-out or noisy. Google’s method is very different — HDR+ also takes multiple images at once, but they’re all underexposed. This preserves highlights, but what about the noise in the shadows? Just leave it to math.


Google also claims that, counterintuitively, underexposing each HDR shot actually frees the camera up to produce better low-light results. “Because we can denoise very well by taking multiple images and aligning them, we can afford to keep the colors saturated in low light,” says Levoy. “Most other manufacturers don’t trust their colors in low light, and so they desaturate, and you’ll see that very clearly on a lot of phones — the colors will be muted in low light, and our colors will not be as muted.” But the aim isn’t to get rid of noise entirely at the expense of detail; Levoy says “we like preserving texture, and we’re willing to accept a little bit of noise in order to preserve texture.”

This sounds like a very clever workaround for getting great images from a sensor smaller than a postage stamp, and the results so far seem to support that.

However, some reviewers seem to prefer the warmer tones of the iPhone’s camera, and the Pixel doesn’t have the wide colour capture of the iPhone. While the former benefit is preferential, the latter benefit is becoming increasingly noticeable: the iPads Pro, the iMac, the iPhone 7, and — likely — next week’s MacBook Pros all support a wider colour gamut.

Of course, there’s a followup question worth asking: which of those is more important for a smartphone?

Hello Again

It’s official: Apple’s next event will be held at 10:00 Pacific on October 27 at their campus in Cupertino. They’re giving this event a pretty bold title, again. Maybe there will be iMac-related news at this event after all.

In the words of Tim Cook, “this is probably the last product introduction in the Town Hall ever” all over again. Mark your calendars.

Update: Mark Gurman says that an update to the iMac has been in development.

Two Twitter Offers Rumoured to Have Dissolved Due to Trolls

Alex Sherman, Chris Palmeri, and Sarah Frier, Bloomberg:

Walt Disney Co. decided not to pursue a bid for Twitter Inc. partly out of concern that bullying and other uncivil forms of communication on the social media site might soil the company’s wholesome family image, according to people familiar with management’s thinking.

Eugene Kim, Business Insider:

But according to CNBC’s “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer, Salesforce was turned off by a more fundamental problem that’s been hurting Twitter for years: trolls.

“What’s happened is, a lot of the bidders are looking at people with lots of followers and seeing the hatred,” Cramer said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” citing a recent conversation with Benioff. “I know that the haters reduce the value of the company…I know that Salesforce was very concerned about this notion.”

It would be awful if the only reason Twitter decides to get a handle on the worst parts of their service is because the company is unsaleable otherwise. Awful, but entirely expected.

Good Design, Inside and Out

Om Malik, writing for the New Yorker:

Porsche’s and Apple’s design philosophies are similar. Much like the 356, the original iPhone was about defining a foundation for the future. It was different from other phones on the market — it made a rectangular touchscreen the main way to interact, displacing buttons and keypads. Now the iPhone is the essence of a phone.

This is not a new argument, but it is a very good one. There is an expectation of what an iPhone should look like and, though it has morphed in form and materials since its debut, the iPhone 7 still looks like an iPhone, and that’s right. So is this:

The seamless interaction between the technologies hidden behind the screen, the software, and our services is good design. Apple thus far has made sure that it gets most of that experience right — especially the stuff under the hood. Perhaps the next time someone criticizes its designs, we should remember: good design means your phone doesn’t explode.

I’ve written a fair bit about Siri over the past month or so: in my iOS 10 review, in response to Walt Mossberg’s piece, and in response to a piece from Stephen Hackett. I think it’s important to keep bringing it up because I think Siri is currently fundamentally flawed in its design.

The way I see it, Siri requires three streams of improvement that can roughly be prioritized in terms of their complexity and perceived intelligence. At the highest level, it should be able to maintain context over the course of several requests. That is what a good human assistant would be able to do, and it’s a request for Siri that I’ve often seen expressed in tech circles.

Something slightly less complex but, arguably, of similar value is to improve the number of things Siri knows and can do. Frustrations with Siri’s limited knowledge have partially been alleviated through the introduction of SiriKit, but it is a limited set of APIs. Trivia and news items should be more frequently updated, and that’s something only Apple can do.

But there are usability concerns that run much deeper. For example, holding up my Apple Watch and saying “Hey Siri, text Michel” will return an onscreen button that must be tapped in order to dictate my text. I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ll bring it up again because it grates on me for a couple of reasons. First, a task initiated by voice should continue using vocal interaction because the user has indicated that their hands are occupied. Second, this is something Apple already knows because the same command on an iPhone responds with an audible prompt for dictation. On the iPhone, this is an example of good design; on the Apple Watch, it’s poorly-designed in a pretty obvious way.

If Siri is to be the interaction mechanism of the future — as is indicated by bringing it to the Mac, using it as a primary user interface for the Apple TV, and the introduction of the AirPods which can’t even adjust the volume without depending on Siri — it ought to deserve an appropriate amount of attention to its design and functionality.

Apple’s most recent hires and acquisitions indicate that, behind the scenes, Siri is being given a high priority within the company. Yet, it’s hard to square those acquisitions with Siri’s age: Apple has had five years to work on this stuff. It would be ridiculous to argue that they blew their chance — not with over a billion Siri-capable devices in active use — but there’s definitely an impression that Apple isn’t yet good enough at augmented reality and machine learning. More worrying for me is that the user interface component of Siri — a field where Apple typically excels — simply isn’t good enough.

Mac-Focused Apple Event Rumoured to Be Held October 27

This event has to be one of the closest to the winter holidays in Apple’s recent history. I’m excited.

Update: Realistically, I’m expecting a significant update to the MacBook Pro line, with a minor update to the 13-inch MacBook Air. I doubt we’ll see updates to the iMac or Mac Mini, let alone the Mac Pro. Mark Gurman is hinting that the 11-inch MacBook Air isn’t being discontinued.

Field Notes: Lunacy

Field Notes’s quarterly edition is called “Lunacy” this time around, and it looks gorgeous. However, I’m more interested in another product they launched today: the Brand’s Hall pen:

We’ve partnered with Allegory Goods of Chicago to produce a limited-edition, fine rollerball pen using wood reclaimed from an iconic Chicago building, which was constructed in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1871. The body of the Brand’s Hall Pen is made from salvaged Old-Growth White Pine (likely from Western Michigan) that has been turned by hand on a lathe and then individually sanded, embossed and polished in Chicago. No two are exactly alike.

Accompanying the pen is the history of Brand’s Hall, and it’s fascinating — it’s what this post links to. The pen is a little spendy, but I’ve ordered one. I’m a sucker for stuff like this.

New MacBooks Still Rumoured for October

We all know that Project Titan is one of the most difficult ideas Apple has undertaken, second only to updating their Mac lineup. But relief is, reportedly, nearly here, according to Mac Otakara:

Furthermore, it seems that they are also going to announce the new MacBook Pro at the same time [in October], which will go on to replace the entire MacBook Pro series.

It seems all of these models are developed with support for the USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports in mind, and will no longer be compatible with the USB-A connector, and the MagSafe 2 and Thunderbolt 2 ports.

The MagSafe is such an Apple-y connector: it brings so many improvements over a standard power connector that it justifies its nonstandard design.

Dropping it ten years after its introduction is equally Apple-y. If the MacBook is anything to go by, they’re basically saying that charging your computer is something you should do so infrequently that tripping over your cable is a thing of the past, because you’re probably asleep.

Speaking of the MacBook, Mac Otakara also says that the 11-inch Air might be dropped, which makes sense, given the amount of overlap between the little Air and the 12-inch MacBook. Mac Otakara has no news on any other Macs, and it appears that the iPad won’t be refreshed until springtime.

Update: As Macs slowly move from USB-A to USB-C, at what point does the iPhone start shipping with a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box?

A Profile of Tracy Chou

Miranda Katz, writing for Backchannel:

Chou had spent her twenties working at places such as Google, Facebook, and Quora before landing at Pinterest as an engineer, and as she expanded her networks she started informally keeping track of the number of female engineers at tech firms. It was deeply ironic, she thought, that in a data-driven industry that prides itself on running experiments, performing A/B testing, and measuring outcomes, there was no official, easily accessible data about the number of women actually working in the field. And so she wrote:

As an engineer and someone who’s had ‘data-driven design’ browbeaten into me by Silicon Valley, I can’t imagine trying to solve a problem where the real metrics, the ones we’re setting our goals against, are obfuscated. Vanity metrics are dangerous; just pointing to the happy numbers, like those on Grace Hopper conference attendance, doesn’t do anything except make people feel good while the real issues fester, unaddressed.

With her employer’s blessing, she then shared the number of female engineers at Pinterest — 11 out of 89 — and encouraged her readers to do the same. They did. Within a week, employees from over 50 companies had submitted data, including Dropbox, Rent the Runway, Reddit, and Mozilla — and the companies kept on coming.

In the three years since Chou first coaxed tech companies into releasing their diversity figures, the motivation to do so has somewhat fizzled out. Of the eight large companies that I compare annually, four — Amazon, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Twitter — haven’t released their numbers for 2016. Countless smaller companies also haven’t; I spot-checked Reddit, Mozilla, and Dropbox, and the most recent report from those three companies is Dropbox’s, from January.

A lack of diverse employees clearly remains a defining issue of most of the tech companies that we rely upon daily. Chou’s work laid the foundation for every company to be transparent and to do better. But, without constant pressure, it seems that many major tech companies would rather avoid releasing their internal stats.

Shame on Y Combinator

Marco Arment:

[Peter Thiel], a non-employee (a ‘part-time partner’), is directly supporting Donald Trump at a massive scale — over a million dollars! — after we’ve learned even more of Trump’s horrendous statements, positions, and past actions than we could’ve ever imagined.

This isn’t voting for an economic or social policy — this is literally paying a huge amount of money to directly support a racist, sexist bigot with rapidly mounting allegations of multiple sexual assaults.

Much like Brendan Eich’s contributions to the “yes” vote on Proposition 8, this isn’t merely a difference of opinion. I will always stand up for the ability for others to have political opinions that differ from my own, but I have no tolerance for those who purchase the power to discriminate.

Update: Erica Joy:

Power doesn’t surrender power w/out a struggle. In this struggle to end or uphold straight/white/male/cis supremacy, actions do the talking. Peter Thiel’s actions have demonstrated where he falls in this struggle. YC’s actions should demonstrate the same.

Ellen Pao:

We have hope for YC; YC has openly acknowledged bias and harassment problems in tech, and it has made progress in diversity and inclusion in its own organization over the last few years. We saw an opportunity to work with YC companies interested in building vibrant and diverse organizations, and we actively invited YC as a contributor to our VC Include program to gain access to its nearly 1,000 companies and CEOs, who are greatly admired and emulated.

But Thiel’s actions are in direct conflict with our values at Project Include. Because of his continued connection to YC, we are compelled to break off our relationship with YC. We hope this situation changes, and that we are both willing to move forward together in the future. Today it is clear to us that our values are not aligned.

Project Titan Reportedly Scaled Back

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car, according to people familiar with the project. […]

New leadership of the initiative, known internally as Project Titan, has re-focused on developing an autonomous driving system that gives Apple flexibility to either partner with existing carmakers, or return to designing its own vehicle in the future, the people also said. Apple has kept staff numbers in the team steady by hiring people to help with the new focus, according to another person.

Apple executives have given the car team a deadline of late next year to prove the feasibility of the self-driving system and decide on a final direction, two of the people said. Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr declined to comment.

If Apple elects to just build the software platform, does that mean they license it to other car companies? That seems unlikely to me. More likely, if this report is accurate, would be a collaboration — or series of collaborations — that give Apple some control over the car itself, similar to their co-branded Watches.

A collaborative path still feels unlike Apple. But, perhaps due to the nature of a product like this, that may prove to be a good thing.

Update: A collaborative strategy might also make it easier to do multiple price points, particularly at the higher end. After the performance of the first-generation Apple Watch Edition, it might make more sense to work with an automotive brand already positioned to sell high-end cars.

‘Welcome to Macintosh’ Season 3

Mark Bramhill announced today that he’s bringing back his podcast, Welcome to Macintosh, for a third season. Regular readers here will know that I’m not a big podcast guy, but Welcome to Macintosh is one of the few that I love. It’s a well-edited, fast-paced show, and every episode revolves around a single narrative.

Bramhill wants to raise $10,000 to bring it back. He needs money to travel, license music, and more. I’ve contributed. If you like the show, I hope you will too.