Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Trump Said That Tim Cook Says That Apple Will Build Three U.S. Factories

Tripp Mickle and Peter Nicholas, Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Trump, in a 45-minute interview with The Wall Street Journal, said Mr. Cook promised him Apple would build “three big plants, beautiful plants.” Mr. Trump didn’t elaborate on where those plants would be located or when they would be built.

“I spoke to [Mr. Cook], he’s promised me three big plants—big, big, big,” Mr. Trump said as part of a discussion about business-tax reform and business investment. “I said you know, Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I won’t consider my administration an economic success. He called me, and he said they are going forward.”

This is purely my own speculation, but I doubt Trump is representing Cook’s comments accurately, which should come as no surprise. Consider which one of these scenarios is more likely:

  1. Apple, which owns a single factory of its own, in Ireland, is planning a radical change to its supply chain and manufacturing processes by quadrupling their factory ownership; or,

  2. Cook told Trump that their primary contract manufacturer is looking at three factory sites in the U.S. to make products for Apple and, potentially, other companies.

I’m not a gambler, but the second scenario sounds far more likely to me. Not only is it consistent with Alex Webb’s report for Bloomberg yesterday, it also fits with previous geographic expansions by Foxconn in Brazil and India, and Flextronics — another one of Apple’s contract manufacturers — in the U.S..

Furthermore, I’m surprised anyone in tech continues to associate with Trump. I understand that Cook probably felt compelled to placate Trump’s incessant whining about China and delay the implementation of a potential import tariff, but Trump frequently does not accurately represent what he’s told. That’s another reason I doubt it’s the first situation: like everyone else, Cook knows that Trump cannot keep his mouth shut, and — without pretending that I know at all what Cook’s thoughts are — I doubt that he’d want an unpopular president spoiling such a significant announcement.

Politics, Not Necessarily Business, Is Helping Shape Foxconn’s American Manufacturing Plans

Alex Webb, Bloomberg (autoplaying video warning):

A month after Donald Trump was elected president, Taiwan-based Foxconn was one of the first companies to announce plans to invest billions to help create jobs. Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio are fighting to secure the factory, according to people familiar with the process. The logic behind those sites has as much to do with political imperatives as it does business.

[…]

Yet there’s less business rationale for favoring the Midwest over other places, according to Freund and other analysts. The region is isolated from many of Foxconn’s customers, has mediocre transport connections and fewer skilled workers than other regions. Contract manufacturers like Foxconn also lean on extensive supplier ecosystems on their doorstep in Chinese cities like Shenzhen and Zhengzhou. The U.S. Midwest doesn’t have those networks.

According to Webb, Detroit, Columbus, and Racine are the areas being considered by Foxconn. Of these, Detroit has the largest population, at over 700,000 for the city proper and around 4,000,000 for its greater area. Columbus has a similar city population and fewer in its region, while Racine has less than 200,000 people in its entire metro area. For comparison, Foxconn employs over a million people in China alone.

But population doesn’t matter nearly as much as the optics of these factories, especially when you consider that they would be largely-automated affairs making displays, not iPhones:

Bringing display manufacturing to the U.S. may help Foxconn convince the Trump administration not to impose import duties on the iPhone. Since the rationale for such a tax bill would be to create U.S. jobs, Foxconn could argue that it’s already doing this, making levies redundant.

“It’s a politically expedient thing for Foxconn to do, to bring jobs to the U.S.,” said Shannon Cross, an analyst at Cross Research. “It’s trying to head off incremental pressure from the U.S. administration.”

Building factories in the United States will create some real jobs, regardless of their reason for being. But the resulting economic impact — especially when you consider the reported “hundreds of millions of dollars” of tax credits and other incentives that Foxconn is demanding, and the long-term impacts of automation — could be unrewarding, leaving politics as those factories’ only rationale.

See Also: Scot Ross in the Cap Times, a local Madison, Wisconsin paper.

The ‘Million Dollar Homepage’ as a Decaying Digital Artifact

John Bowers, writing for Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab blog:

Over the decade or so since the Million Dollar Homepage sold its last pixel, link rot has ravaged the site’s embedded links. Of the 2,816 links that embedded on the page (accounting for a total of 999,400 pixels), 547 are entirely unreachable at this time. A further 489 redirect to a different domain or to a domain resale portal, leaving 1,780 reachable links. Most of the domains to which these links correspond are for sale or devoid of content.

[…]

What, then, is to be done about the Million Dollar Homepage? While it has clear value as an example of the internet’s ever-evolving culture, emergent potential, and sheer bizarreness, the site reveals itself to be little more than an empty directory upon closer inspection. For the full potential of the Million Dollar Homepage as an artifact to be realized, the web of sites which it catalogues would optimally need to be restored as it existed when the pixels were sold. Given the existence of powerful and widely accessible tools such as the Wayback machine, this kind of restorative curation may well be within reach.

The Million Dollar Homepage is not a beautiful object to be restored to a non-decayed state; its beauty comes from the decay. As Bowers points out, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine already provides a glimpse of its fully-functional state, but its slow death over time is what makes it a unique slice of the web. I would hate to see it changed at all; in fact, the one significant change made to the site since it was fully sold — the addition of a prompt to follow its creator on Twitter — is a scar. Alas, it’s now part of the site’s history; it, too, should not be removed, even if Twitter dies before the Million Dollar Homepage.

Adobe Announces Flash’s End of Life in 2020

Steve Jobs in April of 2010, just as Apple was preparing to ship the first-generation iPad:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 250,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games.

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

Adobe, today:

Adobe has long played a leadership role in advancing interactivity and creative content – from video, to games and more – on the web. Where we’ve seen a need to push content and interactivity forward, we’ve innovated to meet those needs. Where a format didn’t exist, we invented one – such as with Flash and Shockwave. And over time, as the web evolved, these new formats were adopted by the community, in some cases formed the basis for open standards, and became an essential part of the web.

But as open standards like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly have matured over the past several years, most now provide many of the capabilities and functionalities that plugins pioneered and have become a viable alternative for content on the web. Over time, we’ve seen helper apps evolve to become plugins, and more recently, have seen many of these plugin capabilities get incorporated into open web standards. Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once provided by plugins directly into browsers and deprecating plugins.

Given this progress, and in collaboration with several of our technology partners – including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla – Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats.

Flash had its place and time on the web — the place being in games and highly-interactive websites, and the time being in the early 2000s. But we are long past that now, so — for many — this announcement is perfunctory: I bet most people don’t come across a single .swf file in a typical day of web browsing. In fact, I’m genuinely surprised that they set its end-of-life so far in the future. I haven’t had Flash on my Mac for several years now and I’ve only found a handful of sites in that time with a missing element.

I cited Jobs’ letter not because I think Apple caused the end of Flash on the web, but because Apple’s products dramatically accelerated its demise. If you wanted to, you could put the blame on Adobe — or assign them credit, depending on your perspective — for failing to ever ship an acceptable implementation of Flash for any mobile browser. But one of the biggest pushes came in 2007, with the launch of the iPhone and the Apple TV, both of which had a YouTube app; the second push came in 2010, with the immediate success of the iPad. Even by then, it was clear to all but the most stubborn Adobe employees that Flash would eventually be gone.

Photos Posted in Public Are Not Necessarily Free to Use, Obviously

Max Dubler, PetaPixel:

I don’t put huge watermarks in the middle of my photos or charge individual skaters to use them on social media because skaters are mostly broke teenagers, watermarks ruin the picture and don’t stop people from stealing your photos, and I make an okay living from freelance work and my steady gigs. The second-hand stoke is enough of a reward for me. I do charge for-profit companies a fee to use my photos because they are making money off my work. This is a pretty straightforward distinction.

A few days ago an established, successful small longboard brand downloaded one of my pictures from an event in Canada and posted it to their Instagram account.

In the previously-linked article about Instagram-friendly restaurants, Casey Newton of the Verge writes:

Nearly everyone in photos posted from The Riddler looks as if they are having the time of their life. It’s hard to imagine a better advertising campaign; indeed, most of the photos on The Riddler’s own Instagram account were first posted by customers.

I frequently see big-name musicians, personalities, and businesses taking users’ photos and republishing them, often with little more than a username-mentioning credit, as though Instagram were the world’s largest royalty-free stock photo library. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are cool with this — which is why the Creative Commons license and other “copyleft” schemes exist — but permission still needs to be granted first. Businesses love when their customers do their marketing for them; that doesn’t mean that anything those customers do or say with the business in mind is automatically the property of that business.

Restaurants and Bars Are Designing Themselves for Instagram Fame

Casey Newton, the Verge:

For years now, Instagram has sat at the center of trends in food and beverages. Rainbow-colored “unicorn foods” are often designed with Instagram in mind, and entrepreneurs responsible for popular treats like the galaxy donut and Sugar Factory milkshake often see lines around the block after images of their products go viral. Firms like Paperwhite Studio specialize in turning restaurants into Instagram bait by designing twee sugar packets, menus, and coasters bearing slogans like “hello, my sweet” and “hug more.”

Now some entrepreneurs are taking the idea a step further, designing their physical spaces in the hopes of inspiring the maximum number of photos. They’re commissioning neon signs bearing modestly sly double entendres, painting elaborate murals of tropical wildlife, and embedding floor tiles with branded greetings — all in the hopes that their guests will post them.

It’s easy to be cynical about this — I know that I’ve never felt pandered-to more than when I’m sitting in any restaurant or bar and I see clear signs that they want me to post a picture. But the inverse situation — a place that actively forbids customers from taking photos — can feel downright oppressive.

If anything, I’d argue that these restaurants aren’t going far enough. It’s pretty clear that people won’t put their phones away during dinner service so, instead of coaxing customers into taking pictures of the decor, why not make their devices a complete extension of the dining experience? I don’t know how — I don’t want to be served a caper vinaigrette placed on the plate in the form of a QR code — but it would be a more earnest use of technology, in a futurist cooking-esque kind of way.

Verizon Wireless Is Testing Capping Streaming Video at 10 Mbps

Will Johnson — Verizon’s SVP of Federal Regulatory & Legal Affairs — on July 12, the net neutrality “Day of Action”:

But we’re NOT backing off our consistent support for policies that ensure that consumers will always be able to go where they want, and do what they want, online or that allow any innovator to dream up the next big thing.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, today:

Verizon Wireless customers this week noticed that Netflix’s speed test tool appears to be capped at 10Mbps, raising fears that the carrier is throttling video streaming on its mobile network.

When contacted by Ars this morning, Verizon acknowledged using a new video optimization system but said it is part of a temporary test and that it did not affect the actual quality of video. The video optimization appears to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans.

But some YouTube users are reporting degraded video, saying that using a VPN service can bypass the Verizon throttling. The Federal Communications Commission generally allows mobile carriers to limit video quality as long as the limitations are imposed equally across different video services despite net neutrality rules that outlaw throttling. The net neutrality rules have exceptions for network management.

In documentation on their website, Verizon says that they’re throttling indiscriminately:

The optimization techniques are applied to all content files coming from the Internet Port 80 that use the most common compression formats. The form and extent of optimization depends on the compression format of the content file, but does not depend on the content of the file, the originating web site, or the user’s device. No distinction in the application of these techniques is made based on the source website or originator of the content. The system optimizes files based strictly on the type of file and the relevant file formats (recognizing that some file types are not modified). Accordingly, all content, including Verizon Wireless branded content, of the same type will be subject to the same process.

I get what they‘re doing here, but it’s still discriminating against streaming video as a category. And if net neutrality laws were not currently in place for broadband, do you really think that Verizon would hesitate to apply the same throttling across the board, except for their own media? Of course not.

Subscription Blues

Trecento” comments on Michael Tsai’s site:

When developers switch to subscription models, they are putting themselves in the same category as all the other things that send me a bill every month. Comcast. Verizon. The mortgage company. Netflix. Car insurance. Other insurance. Do I enjoy paying those people every month? (No.) Do I have good feelings about the quality of service they provide? (No.) Do I need to have another thing hitting my monthly paycheck, that I have to spend some mental overhead on keeping track of or evaluating the usefulness of? (No!)

Absolutely right, but there are some things that one might feel good about paying for month after month. I subscribe to two newspapers, and I’m very happy to send both my money every month. A subscriber to MacStories, NPR, or a Patreon member — for example — might also feel pretty good about supporting their favourite people and organizations.

But that good feeling doesn’t seem to translate directly for app developers. I had this thought last night, during a discussion on Twitter I had with Jonathan Joelson. I’m very happy paying $10 for a new version of Tweetbot, but I wouldn’t feel as happy paying $1 or $2 per month for it. Likewise, the latest version of Transmit was an instant purchase for me, but I would have to think harder about sending Panic a few dollars per month to use it.

I think there are a few reasons for that. I think Trecento is right — that it becomes yet another monthly bill. But I think there’s something else, too, as Stuart Breckenridge points out:

However, I also believe that people are wary of subscriptions because they don’t know what will happen at the end of their subscription period.

I know what happens when I stop paying my Apple Music bill: I don’t have access to Apple Music. I know what happens when I stop paying my ISP’s bill, too, for that matter, or my rent. So I would expect the same thing to happen with software, and that’s where things become a harder sell. I don’t think I want to feel like I’m renting an app. A service, sure; but an app? No.

See Also: Oluseyi Sonaiya’s piece from 2013, and Riccardo Mori’s piece from just after App Store changes were announced last June.

Productivity Apps and Subscription Pricing

Michael Tsai:

It’s certainly true that people are wary of subscriptions. But I wonder how much of the recent backlash is due to the subscription model itself and how much is due to the fact that, in practice, transitions to subscriptions have effectively been large price increases.

I think it’s absolutely this combination of factors. While Tsai points out that subscriptions have increased the price of software for their typical lifespan, let’s not forget that some people are comfortable using an older version of software for longer. I still run Photoshop CS5.1, which was released in 2011, because newer versions of the software don’t offer additional features that are relevant to me. If Creative Cloud was the only option at the time that I bought Photoshop, I would have committed at least $720 USD. True, I would be running the latest version at any given time, but that isn’t something I value.

Perhaps that price barrier is the goal here. Instead of being able to get away with paying once for software every ten years, customers now need to decide just how valuable the software is to them. But I think one thing a lot of developers might forget is that their subscription is not the only one a user has to make a decision on: as more apps adopt this model, users have to make more decisions about which software they can really afford.

Tsai:

The benefits to the developer are obvious, and provided that development continues at the same pace it seems fair to the customer as well. (Let’s put aside for now the concern that subscriptions change incentives, so that you’d be paying the same price but not getting the type of development that you want.) It may even be beneficial because the costs are more predictable, and you can avoid large up-front payments for big apps.

The concern about changing incentives, as stated by Peter Lewis:

This model ensure that I am working as much for existing customers as for new users, and that I am incented to add new features that add value for existing customers and new customers as fast and effectively as I can.

I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but what happens when software becomes effectively feature complete for some customers? The subscription model also arguably increases the likelihood for bloat to creep in, as new features provide justification for a monthly bill to every user.

I feel the subscription model works especially well when there’s an ongoing service attached to an often-used app. I’m happy to pay $13 every month for my iCloud subscription because I’m paying for synchronization services and cloud data storage; even if the price were increased, the recurring cost would make sense to me because of how tightly integrated it is with the apps and devices I use. It’s harder for me to justify paying a monthly fee for Dropbox because I use it far less.

Applying this same model to apps — the so-called “software-as-a-service” model — means users have to make harder choices about where they spend their money. Few people will commit to a monthly payment for an app they use only occasionally, which means that users will likely seek free alternatives. On the other hand, Adobe — for example — is in a fortunate place with Photoshop, as it is the de facto standard across multiple creative professions; there are few true alternatives, and none which are as universally used. Subscription pricing, therefore, most benefits developers of apps at either extreme: must-use apps, and free alternatives. The apps that are in between — those used infrequently, non-standard apps, and similar — seem like they aren’t a good fit for a subscription-based model.

Update: You can see many of the same concerns in both paid apps and subscription-based apps, but I see the subscription model as exaggerating those concerns. There’s incentive to add bloat in order to justify paid updates, for instance, but an app on a subscription model is expected to be updated more frequently and, as a result, may incentivize greater bloat. Upgrading apps annually is expensive, but paying for smaller upgrades all the time may be even more expensive. And so on.

Apple Launches Machine Learning Journal

Ryan Christoffel, MacStories:

Apple has historically been secretive when it comes to its machine learning research, a stance which many speculated had put the company at a disadvantage in the area of recruiting talent. It’s understandably hard to build a noteworthy reputation as a machine learning researcher if you’re unable to talk about any of your work. But near the end of last year Apple’s director of AI research, Russ Salakhutdinov, signaled that change would be coming to the company’s policies surrounding secrecy. The launch of a public journal featured on Apple’s website is very clear evidence of that change arriving.

Apple’s journal probably shouldn’t necessarily be considered a “journal” in the academic sense — there’s no authorship information, and it isn’t peer-reviewed. It’s more like a journal in a synonym-for-a-diary sense, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If it’s updated regularly, it will provide a glimpse into the ways Apple is developing machine learning technologies in a way that should be beneficial to researchers within the company and those who are working on it in other capacities.

For some reason, the virtually all-text site includes on every page a 1 MB JavaScript file. The first published article is a 4 MB page which, while not an egregious file size generally, is pretty ridiculous for something that’s largely text. A great deal of the additional bulk comes in the form of images that could easily be compressed: the lead image is a 110 KB PNG file, which I losslessly compressed to 30 KB by running it through a basic image optimization tool. It’s a little thing, but the little things stack up to a text-based article that wastes multiple megabytes of bandwidth.

Clips, Four Months Later

Remember Clips, Apple’s little app for making little videos? Ben Lovejoy of 9to5Mac remembered that it exists recently:

But I have to say that I don’t actually know anyone in the real world who uses the app, and I haven’t seen anything created with it shared on social media. Clips so far appears to have largely disappeared without trace.

Searching Instagram for hashtags associated with Clips reveal a handful of posts — 2,300 for “#appleclips”, 2,200 for “#madewithclips”, and a little over 500 for “#clipsapp”. I know nobody who uses it regularly or sends me anything made with it.

Lovejoy:

But the thing that would really bring it to life would be augmented reality features. Instead of static stickers and emoji, and the short-lived novelty of captions, offer people the opportunity to interact on-screen with virtual elements. 3D objects, cartoon characters, you name it.

Sure, that might give the app a little boost, maybe. But here’s the thing: Clips was last updated on May 3. Snapchat and Instagram were last updated yesterday, and they ship new effects on a near-daily basis. As I wrote when Clips launched:

I’d be more concerned with how likely it is that Apple remains committed to delivering updates — other experimental apps they’ve shipped, like Music Memos and Cards, quickly became neglected after launch. Apps like these are hard to get right, and I don’t think Clips is a hit yet. One day, I think it could be really great, but only if Apple sees it as a long-term commitment.

I’m not sure if Clips could ever gain the kind of traction that established players and huge social networks have, but it certainly won’t retain many users if nothing about it changes for months at a time.

Update: As of 16:48 Calgary time, Matt Birchler has sent me the first thing since April that I’ve seen made in Clips. Of course, it was made in April.

Update: A day after publishing this, Apple shipped a Disney/Pixar-themed update. I assume the next update will be Halloween-themed. The app apparently has over a million monthly unique users, which genuinely surprises me.

In ‘Error’, HTC’s Default TouchPal Keyboard Was Displaying Ads

Jon Fingas, Engadget:

It’s one thing to voluntarily put up with ads on your phone in return for a lower price or free apps, but it’s another to have ads delivered without warning… and unfortunately, HTC owners are dealing with that right now. An updated TouchPal keyboard (which HTC uses as its default on some devices) has started serving banner ads to unsuspecting users of phones like the HTC 10. You’re not stuck with the keyboard, of course, but most people would rather not have to switch keyboards just to avoid crass commercialism (and, for that matter, reclaim screen real estate).

TouchPal, the third-party developer behind the keyboard, offers their keyboard with ads by default and a subscription is required to remove them.1 It sounds like HTC has an agreement with TouchPal for an ad-free default keyboard, and the ad-supported version was mistakenly shipped to HTC users.

I know HTC is struggling, but it still seems a bit creepy that the primary text input on some of their phones is provided by a third party developer, and that this error can easily be fixed server-side. That sounds like a privacy nightmare to me.


  1. They also claim in the app description that their keyboard can “boost battery charging speed”, though it’s unclear how a third-party keyboard is supposed to do that. ↩︎

The Lightroom Manifesto

Jim Harmer (via Michael Tsai):

Adobe has made VERY few updates to Lightroom (computer version) in the last two years. The pace of innovation has been so slow that I felt certain they were working behind the scenes on a complete re-write of the program to vastly improve the speed and put it on par with programs like Capture One or Photo Mechanic (for culling). After yesterday’s poll, it seems apparent that they are just now seeing that there is an issue in the first place.

I went from Aperture — RIP, friend — to Lightroom and I remember it being lightning quick at processing RAW files. One of the hardest adjustments I had to make after adopting Lightroom is just how much slower it feels, even when handling RAW files off my phone — never mind how it feels when using the much larger files from my camera. It’s not slow because I have a 2012 MacBook Air; it’s slow compared to other apps that process RAW files on the same machine.

[Since 2015], we have another option for stitching a pano, another way to straighten lines in photos, and a way to compare two photos on the screen. Everything else was just bug fixes and camera/lens support updates. This pace of innovation simply does not warrant paying monthly for a subscription.

Subscription-based pricing isn’t a suitable model for every app, and it places a big burden on developers. They must iterate and update frequently to justify the cost of a subscription, but they must not alienate existing customers by doing too much — consider every angry tweet and status update every time Twitter or Facebook make a major change.

I’m not sure, but I think complaints — even valid ones, like those raised by Harmer — would be less frequently hurled at developers if their apps were not priced on a subscription basis. Shipping apps that can be updated at any time might also set up the expectation that they will be updated all the time.

Panic Launches Transmit 5

It’s a big day for Panic because they’ve just launched Transmit 5, the first new x.0 version of Transmit since 2010. And, because of the app pricing climate of 2017, they are pulling out all the stops to assuage the inevitable complaints:

Q: Is there an upgrade discount?

A: No, it’s one price for all customers. (Fun fact: it’s been seven years since we last charged for an update to Transmit!)

I’ve used half a dozen file transfer clients over the past few years — due to various circumstances out of my control — and none come anywhere close to the elegance, quality, reliability, or speed of Transmit 4. Transmit 5 promises to be even better. The regular price of $45 probably isn’t an impulse buy for a lot of people, but if you rely on file transfer for your job, I can think of no better app.

Also, check out the sweet spinning truck at the top of the app page, if you need something to fidget with today.

Update: One more thing. Sasser:

Q: Is it in the Mac App Store?

A: No, just from us. This allows us to distribute a demo which we think is extremely helpful for people considering Transmit. (We’ll constantly re-evaluate the Mac App Store, though, and hope to return.)

I suspect there are other reasons why Transmit isn’t in the Mac App Store, but — as a well-known high-quality indie app — it’s the kind of app you’d think would be perfect for the App Store. The reality of the App Store begs to differ.

Creation and Consumption

Benedict Evans:

There’s a pretty common argument in tech that though of course there are billions more smartphones than PCs, and will be many more still, smartphones are not really the next computing platform, just a computing platform, because smartphones (and the tablets that derive from them) are only used for consumption where PCs are used for creation. You might look at your smartphone a lot, but once you need to create, you’ll go back to a PC.

There are two pretty basic problems with this line of thinking. First, the idea that you cannot create on a smartphone or tablet assumes both that the software on the new device doesn’t change and that the nature of the work won’t change. Neither are good assumptions. You begin by making the new tool fit the old way of working, but then the tool changes how you work. More importantly though, I think the whole idea that people create on PCs today, with today’s tools and tasks, is flawed, and, so, I think, is the idea that people aren’t already creating on mobile. It’s the other way around. People don’t create on PCs – they create on mobile.

Evans is obviously exaggerating when he says that people don’t create on PCs; he acknowledges that high performance requirements limit some functions — app development, 3D movie making, etc. — to traditional PCs. But most people are using mobile devices to create more stuff, generally speaking. This is a line of thought that I was trying to articulate in my review of the base-spec iPad, and I think Evans does a much better job of it. I encourage you to read his whole piece, as I think it pairs well with my iPad piece.

One thing I’d like to point out specifically is related to the above quote, and expands on something I wrote near the end of my review:

That question is something I’ve thought about a fair bit with this iPad — not in the context of how I use it, but more in the sense of why, specifically, someone would choose an iPad over an iPad Pro, or vice-versa. With the exception of drawing software that supports the Apple Pencil, you can run a lot of the same kind of software on this iPad as you can on the latest iPad Pro. My best guess is that new software built specifically for the iPad Pro’s high-performance processors and capabilities will help materialize a lot of the advantages of choosing one over the other. But, while there are plenty of Mac apps that would be amazing on the iPad, developers have repeatedly pointed out that the economics of building an iPad app just aren’t favourable.

There’s an interplay between how customers actually use these devices and the capabilities Apple can give the devices through hardware, the operating system, and third-party apps. The side effects of the simplification of the iPad — compared to, say, a PC — are making some things1 far nicer to do, but also making other tasks2 more cumbersome. I think that became very obvious over the past few years, as people began using iPads in higher-performance environments — governments and businesses went crazy for the thing.

So I repeat this from Evans:

First, the idea that you cannot create on a smartphone or tablet assumes both that the software on the new device doesn’t change and that the nature of the work won’t change. Neither are good assumptions. You begin by making the new tool fit the old way of working, but then the tool changes how you work

He’s right, but this really only works if there‘s significant encouragement and commitment to a new device. The frustrations many critics — myself included — have expressed with the iPad3 is not that you couldn’t create anything on it; it’s that it didn’t feel like you could create enough on it — or, if you could, that it wasn’t easy enough.4 iOS 11 is the beginning of what I hope is a series of releases that will reinforce Apple’s position that the iPad really is the next generation of computing platforms. The irony is that, to make some complex things simpler, more complexity will be added throughout the system — just in a simplified way.


  1. Web browsing, emails, basic image editing, watching movies, simple games, and the like. ↩︎

  2. Juggling between a few different apps to compile a research paper, for instance. ↩︎

  3. I didn’t mean to transform the framing of Evans’ piece into a rebuttal of the tired the iPad is just for consumption argument, but — in many ways — it serves that purpose well. ↩︎

  4. I admire that Federico Viticci is able to do so much stuff with his iPad, but it will never be truly easy to use URL schemes and scripts to bridge functional gaps. ↩︎

We Are Still in Notification Hell

Om Malik:

For some odd reason “apps” think that every “like,” “message” or “comment” is of life-changing importance and thus needs to be viewed instantly. I mean, if I wanted notifications, I would have turned them on. Like I do for iMessage and Telegram. Those are important and have a time-value attached to them. When there isn’t value, I don’t turn them on. And that is why I find persistent nudging to turn on dumb notifications annoying.

It’s not just how many apps want to light up your phone, but what types of apps seem to think they deserve that privilege. I’m looking through my Notifications settings right now and there are photo editing apps, wallpaper apps, online shopping apps, video streaming apps, and other oddballs that have been denied their request — or, usually, demand — that I turn on push notifications. Why would I want any of these apps to be able to buzz my phone or tap my wrist?

And then there are notifications that amount to little more than ads. Apps from the biggest companies are the worst for this — Steven Aquino received a spammy notification from Amazon, while Pinterest and Postmates send out all sorts of garbage. These sorts of notifications are supposed to be prohibited by Apple’s guidelines:

4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information.

But is Apple really going to take the Amazon app off the store or disable their push notification privileges unless they comply? I think they should, but I also don’t run a multibillion-dollar public company that has to deal with other multibillion-dollar companies.

The 2017 iPad

You know the story. Back in 1998, with the introduction of the first iMac, Steve Jobs presented a two-by-two grid that represented Apple’s product strategy: one consumer model and one professional model in each a portable and desktop format. That thinking has largely remained consistent, even to this day, and it has even spread into their non-Macintosh product lines with the introduction of the iPad Pro. Both sizes of iPad Pro represent Apple’s ideals of what tablet-based computing should look like: responsive, big, wide colour displays, very fast custom processors, lots of RAM, and Apple Pencil support.

So what is the rightful place for non-Pro iPads? What kind of users should they attract? What separates them from the iPads Pro?

I’ve been using a 2017 iPad — the no-suffix, 32 GB, WiFi-only base model that represents the cheapest entry point into the iPad line — since June 5. It is even less expensive than the iPad Mini, because you can’t get a Mini with anything other than 128 GB of storage. It’s the first new iPad that I’ve bought since the Mini 2 back in 2013 because I’ve been confused by the iPad line since. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The 2017 iPad — the fifth-generation product that is, somehow, not necessarily a successor to the iPad Air 2 — is, internally at least, a bit like the kind of one-pot meal you make from whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. It’s a blend of a couple of years’ worth of iOS devices: the A9 processor from the iPhone 6S, the display and chassis from the iPad Air — except with the handsome matte chamfer of the iPhone SE — the same amount of RAM as in the iPad Air 2, a camera similar to that in the iPhone 5S with a slightly different aperture, and the first-generation Touch ID module from pre-2017 iPads.

What that means, though, is that it is a bit of a downgrade from the Air 2. The display is the standard 9.7-inch size for an iPad, and has a full RGB colour gamut. But unlike the Air 2 — or, indeed, the iPad Mini 4 — it isn’t a laminated display, which means that there’s a slight air gap between the cover glass and the LCD. I’ve never owned an iPad with a laminated display, but I’ve used them for long enough that it is noticeable; but, for me, it isn’t a deal-breaker. It’s also a slightly thicker and heavier device than the Air 2, but only slightly.

The first-generation Touch ID module, though, is a very noticeable difference between my iPhone and iPad. I’ve become so used to the speed that my iPhone 6S reads my fingerprint that the module in my iPad feels really sluggish. I regularly fail to keep my finger on the home button for the right amount of time.

The rest of this iPad screams, though. It’s really fast. I rarely feel like I’m waiting for it — even in Safari, which has long been one of my biggest iPad pet peeves — and, as a result, I’ve been using it far more than I have any previous iPad. About a third of what I’ve posted on Pixel Envy in the last month has come from this iPad directly — and that’s a greater compliment than you might imagine, given how much I like MarsEdit on my Mac. This review was, of course, written on my iPad.1 I’m planning my iOS 11 review with Things on this iPad. It really has become an integrated part of my workflow.

None of that is revolutionary any longer, though. That people use their iPads for work is something that really only surprises people who, for whatever reason, are still attached to their computers. And there remain a lot of valid reasons for doing so: many development tools and professional applications are only available for traditional computers, the virtual keyboard and available accessory keyboards are still somewhat clunkier to use than a physical unit — and the virtual keyboard covers half the display area — the cursor gesture is imprecise, and it’s still not as elegant of a multitasking environment as is the Mac.

But despite the potential power of the Mac, it probably isn’t the device many of us use most frequently, or do the most stuff with — that honour would probably go to our smartphone. Even though there’s plenty of raw power inside our computer, we frequently choose our smartphone to send email, browse the web, shop, chat, and lots more. So, it’s only logical that we would gravitate towards a device that combines the user-friendliness of a smartphone with the bigger size and some of the greater power of a traditional computer. That’s a similar point to the one Apple made when they launched the first iPad in 2010, and we bought it.

But things are a little different now, because the iPad line is no longer as simple as the iPad, with the introduction of the iPad Pro:

It used to be that one of the most exciting things about a new iPad is the sense that this is the best that Apple could do in an iPad that year; now, I get the sense that they’re trying to create a division between iPad users and iPad Pro users. Will the standard iPad eventually support the Apple Pencil or sport a ProMotion display? I’m not sure; those features are, so far, reserved for iPad Pro users. I don’t think that’s wrong, but it is a relatively new line of thought for the iOS device lineup.

So what makes these devices different breeds? What delineates the difference between an iPad user and an iPad Pro user? My best short answer to both questions is that it’s similar to the difference between MacBook users and MacBook Pro users, but not the same.

Price is an obvious consideration: much as the MacBook is less expensive than the MacBook Pro, this iPad starts at just slightly more than half that of the least-expensive iPad Pro, which makes it pretty great value for the kind of user who just wants an iPad to be their big screen web-browsing-and-email-device.

Performance is another thing: the A10X SoC in the 2017 iPads Pro performs comparably in single core benchmarks to the 2013 Mac Pro and the 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro; for multi-core performance, it beats that same MacBook Pro model. Both sizes of iPad Pro also pack 4 GB of RAM.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference, though, is that the iPad Pro line is where Apple’s highest iPad technologies ship. They both have ProMotion display controllers, so they support contextual refresh rate adjustments. They both have wider-gamut laminated displays with antireflective coatings and True Tone, to match the display’s white balance to the environment, and, of course, both support the Apple Pencil. The Pro models also come with more speakers, newer Touch ID sensors, better cameras — at the expense of a bump — have Apple’s Smart Connector for accessories, and are available with greater storage options. Oh, and you can get the 10.5-inch model in Rose Gold.

This iPad — and the Mini, but I doubt that will hang around much longer — is presumably for people who don’t know why they would need those things, or aren’t convinced those high technologies will help their workflow. If they are using their iPad primarily for their favourite apps, browsing the web, listening to music, and reading books, they probably aren’t clamouring for MacBook Pro-equivalent power.

And, if I’m honest with myself, I am that user with my iPad. It may not have the processing power of a laptop, but it doesn’t need to have that for me to use it instead of my MacBook Air for many of the things I do daily. If you liked what you could do with an iPad a couple of years ago and you’d like to keep doing those things better and faster, you’ll like this iPad.

That, for me, raises the obvious question of where this type of iPad goes next. What, in that giant list of high technologies in the iPad Pro, fits the context of an iPad for lighter users? Aside from bumps in processing speed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a True Tone, laminated, less-reflective display in a future base level iPad, given how great those things are for text-centric use. At some point, the base iPad could conceivably get a newer Touch ID sensor, better cameras, and greater storage options. All of these things would make the base iPad even better for what I do with it, but they don’t change its function for me. In terms of the technology afforded to it, is the base iPad destined to retain the same kind of role for the conceivable future?

That question is something I’ve thought about a fair bit with this iPad — not in the context of how I use it, but more in the sense of why, specifically, someone would choose an iPad over an iPad Pro, or vice-versa. With the exception of drawing software that supports the Apple Pencil, you can run a lot of the same kind of software on this iPad as you can on the latest iPad Pro. My best guess is that new software built specifically for the iPad Pro’s high-performance processors and capabilities will help materialize a lot of the advantages of choosing one over the other. But, while there are plenty of Mac apps that would be amazing on the iPad, developers have repeatedly pointed out that the economics of building an iPad app just aren’t favourable.

iOS 11 is coming this fall with plenty of enhancements specifically for the iPad, but it will also introduce a new App Store. My hope is that a combination of daily editorial components, greater visibility for non-game apps, better search, and other enhancements will make the iPad a more compelling investment for developers and a more valuable platform for users. In turn, a greater amount of professional software could be available specifically for the iPad Pro, and the case for two unique models should, I hope, become clarified beyond price and pure performance.


  1. Every aspect of this review was made on this iPad, with the exception of taking the photo at the top and transferring it from my camera’s SD card. ↩︎

No, Steve Jobs Didn’t Mislead the Audience at Macworld 2007

Gene Marks, writing for Entrepeneur:

Have you ever purposely misled a customer? The public? The media? Steve Jobs did. And he did it to change the world.

Wow, this guy got “Steve Jobs”, “change the world”, and “misled” into the opening paragraph. This is going to be good, where by good I mean bullshit.

The story goes back to 2007, when Apple was first introducing the iPhone. Jobs knew that he had a product that would have an enormous impact on the way humans use technology — and also have an enormous impact on his company’s future profits.

Unfortunately, Jobs had a big problem: the iPhone didn’t really exist.

Apart from, well, it did. It had been in development for at least two years by this point. There were iPhones on stage. It only “didn’t really exist” if you have the loosest possible definition for the word “exist”. Words have meaning, you know.

Yet in January of that year, he planned to demo the iPhone to an audience at the company’s Macworld conference that included customers, partners, tech media…and the world. All he had to show them was a flawed, unfinished model and some big ideas. So what did Jobs do? He decided to mislead his audience.

Marks is referring to the kludges Apple engineers implemented to ensure that the demo ran smoothly: preprogramming a full signal strength indicator, setting up a so-called “golden path” for a more predictable demo, and having additional phones available onstage in case the current demo phone became unstable. This is framed by Marks not as a way to get a great demo of a product that wouldn’t be shipping or months, but as a deceptive move:

Sure, there was no way that Jobs was fully certain that all the features he promised on the iPhone would actually work in the real world.

The iPhone wouldn’t ship for six months after Macworld. The only feature that was shown onstage but didn’t end up shipping was the split view inbox in Mail. He may not have been certain but he was certain enough to state in the same presentation that the iPhone would ship by the end of June, and it did. In volume.

But he plowed ahead anyway with his fake demonstration. Why? Because he believed he was doing the right thing.

I’m starting to think that Gene Marks really doesn’t know the meaning of the words he uses. The idea that a live onstage demo was, in any way, “fake” is utterly laughable. And he did the demo because the he knew the iPhone was a great fucking product that was capable of being shown publicly.

ISPs Support Internet Legislation Because They Know They’ll Get to Help Write It

T.C. Sottek, the Verge:

There’s one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, and that’s taking money from ISPs. The telecommunications industry was the most powerful lobbying force of the 20th century, and that power endures. It’s no secret that lobbyists in Washington write many of the laws, and the telecom industry spends a lot of money to make sure lawmakers use them. We’ve already seen net neutrality legislation written by the ISPs, and it’s filled with loopholes. It’s not just in Congress — companies like AT&T have deep influence over local and state broadband laws, and write those policies, too.

Some pro-net neutrality advocates are also arguing today that Congress should act, and there are some good reasons for that. Laws can be stickier than the judgements of regulatory agencies, and if you want to make net neutrality the law of the land that’s a job for Congress. But there’s a reason the ISPs are all saying the same thing, and it’s because they’re very confident they will defeat the interests of consumers and constituents. They’ve already done it this year under the Republican-controlled government.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt is the “pro-net neutrality advocate” cited by Sottek, and he addresses the influence of ISPs on lawmakers in the post:

So, the fight at the FCC matters, but the end game is Congress. And we all know that bad stuff can happen in Congress (especially when it comes to broadband providers writing legislation themselves). But (and this is the important part): the best way to stop bad stuff from happening in Congress is to speak up. This is what killed SOPA five years ago, even though a ton of people in Congress had signed on as co-sponsors. We’ve talked about this in the past: lobbyists win in Congress all the time, but only on issues where the public isn’t speaking up. Congress relies on lobbyists to fill in the gaps (and sometimes that’s even okay!). The problems come in when the public interest and the lobbyists’ interest diverge — and if the public isn’t speaking up, then the lobbyists win. But if the public is speaking up — and doing so loudly — it can stop bad bills in their tracks (witness Congress’s recent inability to pass any major bad legislation).

This must be exhausting for Americans to hear, but call your representatives. Of course it’s important to tell the FCC how you feel, but it’s also important to stress to your representatives at the local, state, and federal levels that you support net neutrality. The FCC, under Ajit Pai, will likely vote to strip ISPs of today’s net neutrality rules, but Congress can overrule that and impose strong consumer protections, but only if they know that consumers care enough.

Designed Lines

Ethan Marcotte:

In our industry, we’re getting better at talking about the commercial costs of slow, heavy websites. But there’s a human cost, too.

This is, of course, once we get past the many, many inequalities woven into the institutions and infrastructure that provide internet access to Americans. For one example, take this study suggesting that AT&T has engaged in a form of “digital redlining”, excluding poor Cleveland neighborhoods from quality, reliable broadband.

Because broadband has become far more commonplace, there seems to be a tendency to assume that virtually everyone — with the exception of those in developing nations — has a connection capable of supporting dozens of tracking scripts, autoplaying videos, and gigantic header images. Two observations:

  1. Slow internet speeds persist in developed nations, whether on a temporary basis — such as on a smartphone in a crowded city or low-signal zone — and on a more permanent, designed basis, as AT&T has created in Cleveland.

  2. Why create a website that’s exclusionary to those who do live in developing nations with slower-speed connections? Building lightweight, fast websites benefits everybody.

Comcast and Verizon, Counting on Ignorance, Claim to Support Net Neutrality

David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President1 and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast:

We wanted to reinforce today — to the public, our customers, regulators, and legislators — what we’ve been saying and doing for years. We support permanent, strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules. We don’t and won’t block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content. We also believe in full transparency; you’ll know what our customer policies are.

Apart from that time that Comcast throttled peer-to-peer traffic, or when they fucked up their throttling so badly that it broke a bunch of other applications, or that other time that they were allegedly fiddling with VoIP calls. Apart from that, there’s simply no indication that they would ever employ discriminatory practices. Or remember that time that they paid homeless people to fill seats and prevent critics from attending an FCC hearing?

Will Johnson, SVP of Federal Regulatory & Legal Affairs at Verizon:

Like those participating in the Day of Action, Verizon supports the open Internet. We’ve said so for a long time now – the open Internet is good for consumers and critical for our business. We have invested billions of dollars in dozens of content providers and producers. Our Oath subsidiary includes more than 50 brands reaching more than one billion people every month – including AOL and Yahoo, the Huffington Post, Yahoo Sports, Tumblr, Engadget, and TechCrunch. And our Verizon Digital Media Services keeps online video and other data moving across the Internet in ways that improve consumers’ experience. Like other Internet companies, these businesses depend on the ability to reach customers over other Internet Service Providers’ (ISP) networks. And if ISPs – or other Internet companies, for that matter – started engaging in practices that undermined the open Internet, we would be hurt.

It turns out that Verizon is at a disadvantage here — Comcast owns NBCUniversal, while AT&T has been trying to acquire Time Warner. Verizon, meanwhile, has been buying up whatever 1990s relics they can find for cheap, like AOL and Yahoo. If they were to deeply invest in cable and buy a movie studio, they could play in the same sandbox as Comcast and AT&T.

But that’s the thing: all of these big players want their own traffic to be given priority or, at least, treated equally, but they also want to be able to discriminate against competitors through traffic management or so-called “zero rating” policies.

Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica in December:

Separately, Wilkins sent a letter to Verizon yesterday about the company’s FreeBee Data 360 program, which also charges online service providers for data cap exemptions. The FCC’s wireless bureau “believes that the FreeBee Data 360 offering to edge providers unaffiliated with Verizon, combined with Verizon’s current practice of zero-rating its affiliated edge services for Verizon subscribers, has the potential to hinder competition and harm consumers.”

The “primary participant” in Verizon’s zero-rated data program is Go90, a video service offered by Verizon itself, the FCC said. Ars wrote about Verizon’s treatment of Go90 compared to competing video services 10 months ago.

This FCC investigation was closed earlier this year.

But these are just ISPs being ISPs, right? They’re gigantic and terrible ogres that are slowly increasing their domination of every aspect of communications and entertainment technology. Tech companies aren’t like that, right? Like, for instance, Google:

Internet companies, innovative startups, and millions of internet users depend on these common-sense protections that prevent blocking or throttling of internet traffic, segmenting the internet into paid fast lanes and slow lanes, and other discriminatory practices. Thanks in part to net neutrality, the open internet has grown to become an unrivaled source of choice, competition, innovation, free expression, and opportunity. And it should stay that way.

As I pointed out earlier this year, though, Google has their fingers in so many of the web’s pies that they’re as great of a threat to net neutrality as Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon are. They’re not alone, either: Facebook just crossed two billion active users, owns some of the most popular mobile apps, tries to keep users within their ecosystem by mirroring news articles with Instant Articles, and has one of the biggest advertising networks out there.

The coalescing of control behind a handful of very large companies is a move that’s bad for the web, any way you cut it. Pragmatically, it doesn’t matter whether those companies are ISPs, media conglomerates, or tech companies. An open and distributed net is what’s best for net neutrality. Keeping ISPs regulated under Title II is important, but so too is reducing the power of other very large companies.

One step at a time.


  1. Helluva job title. How many layers of management do you think Comcast has? ↩︎

Google Has Reportedly Been Paying Academic Researchers for Favourable Policy Papers

Todd Haselton, CNBC:

Google has paid researchers and academics who have worked on projects that support the company’s positions in battles with regulators, a report in The Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday.

Google’s practice might not sound all that different from lobbying, but The Wall Street Journal revealed that some of the professors, including a Paul Heald from the University of Illinois, didn’t disclose Google’s payments. Heald is one of “more than a dozen” such professors who accepted money from Google, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Brody Mullins and Jack Nicas, Wall Street Journal:

In some years, Google officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers that included working titles, abstracts and budgets for each proposed paper—then they searched for willing authors, according to a former employee and a former Google lobbyist.

Google promotes the research papers to government officials, and sometimes pays travel expenses for professors to meet with congressional aides and administration officials, according to the former lobbyist. The research has been used, for instance, to deflect antitrust accusations against Google by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, according to a letter Google attorneys sent to the FTC chairman and viewed by the Journal.

There’s a lack of ethics in much of what went on here — including with one of the sources of Mullins and Nicas’ report. The Campaign for Accountability’s 35-page report was published yesterday, and it makes many of the same claims as the Journal article — the Journal cites it as a source.

But the Campaign for Accountability is a kind of sketchy firm itself: they have repeatedly refused to disclose their funding sources, as Google’s Leslie Miller pointed out in a post addressing this study. When I contacted them earlier today to ask for information on their donors, Daniel Stevens, their executive director, simply sent me a copy of their response to Miller, accusing her of deflecting. I haven’t heard back from Stevens with anything more substantial or, indeed, less ironic.

KeyBanc Capital Markets: Next iPhone Might Not Have Apple Pay at Launch, and Other Tales of Fiction

KeyBanc analysts Andy Hargreaves, John Vinh, and Josh Beck, in a note to their clients republished by Tiernan Ray of Barron’s, are among those sounding the alarm on the availability of Touch ID in the next iPhone:

We believe it would typically take 12 weeks from placement of fingerprint IC orders to full volume production of iPhones. Consequently, if Apple is able to solve its fingerprint problems and place orders for fingerprint ICs before August, it would likely be able to reach volume production in late October or early November.

I think it would be extraordinarily unlikely for Apple to bump the traditional late September release of the next iPhone to early November, but it wouldn’t be unheard of for them to delay a highly-anticipated product. Yet, stories of component troubles and difficult engineering circulate every single year and the iPhone is still released like clockwork.

This, though, smells like bullshit:

Further, we do not believe facial recognition would be initially qualified as an acceptable verification method for Apple Pay. While Apple could achieve this over time, the likelihood for an initial lack of Apple Pay could adversely affect demand.

I’m not certain about a lot, but I am certain about this: there’s no way Apple is launching the next iPhone without Apple Pay. No chance.

Major Tech Companies to Participate in Net Neutrality ‘Day of Action’

Jeff John Roberts, Fortune (autoplaying video alert):

Until now, Google and Facebook—which have been staunch supporters of net neutrality in the past—have stayed out of the debate. But this week, they confirmed they will join other companies in telling consumers to oppose the FCC’s plan to tear up the current rules.

The participation of Google and Facebook in the day-of-action campaign could be a game-changer because their sites are visited by hundreds of millions of Americans, and a message from them could rally new opposition to the FCC plan.

The two tech giants have yet to explain what specific actions—such as displaying a banner on their homepage—they will take. In emails to Fortune, spokespeople for Facebook and Google confirmed the companies will participate but declined to provide additional details.

You know who else is participating? AT&T. Yeah, really — here’s their SVP of External and Legislative Affairs Bob Quinn:

Tomorrow, AT&T will join the “Day of Action” for preserving and advancing an open internet. This may seem like an anomaly to many people who might question why AT&T is joining with those who have differing viewpoints on how to ensure an open and free internet. But that’s exactly the point – we all agree that an open internet is critical for ensuring freedom of expression and a free flow of ideas and commerce in the United States and around the world. We agree that no company should be allowed to block content or throttle the download speeds of content in a discriminatory manner. So, we are joining this effort because it’s consistent with AT&T’s proud history of championing our customers’ right to an open internet and access to the internet content, applications and devices of their choosing.

That “proud history of championing [their] customers’ right to an open internet” includes notable moments like when they blocked FaceTime over cellular unless customers were subscribed to one of a selection of very specific data plans — a move which Bob Quinn shamelessly defended — and when they favoured their own DirecTV service over competing streaming video platforms.

Pro

John Gruber speculated last week that this year’s radical nearly-bezel-free OLED iPhone might begin at a far higher price point than iPhones have ever started at. Put another way, instead of the company replacing the iPhone 7 at a similar price point, they might replace the 7 models with 7S versions, and then add the luxurious so-called “Pro” model at a higher price point above the 7S and 7S Plus:

If it’s true that Apple is going to release three new iPhones, my bet is that they’re named the iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, and iPhone Pro. And I hope the iPhone Pro starts at $1500 or higher. I’d like to see what Apple can do in a phone with a higher price.

Gruber justified that reasoning later in the week:

Furthermore, why shouldn’t there be a deluxe “Pro” tier for phones? For many people, phones are every bit as much an essential professional tool as their laptops. For some people, even more so. And I’d bet my bottom dollar there are more people who consider their iPhone a “pro” tool (and be willing to pay “pro” prices) than who think so regarding their iPad, and we’ll have had iPad Pros for two years by the time new iPhones are announced in September. If there are iPad Pros and MacBook Pros, why not iPhone Pros?

Aspects of this line of reasoning are similar to my piece last month on what I called a “boutique” smartphone — a reaction to Andy Rubin’s unveiling of the Essential phone:

That’s what I’m hoping to see from Essential. Maybe it’s all marketing bullshit, but I really like the idea of a company that is more comfortable experimenting with ideas than gunning for sales. It’s early days, so I hope to see the kinds of technologies that can only be built into phones at a scale of, say, hundreds of thousands of units instead of tens of millions. Any market is better when there are more entrants and crazier ideas.

I don’t think Apple can get away with an experiment as unadulterated by sales figures as I’m suggesting here, but — broadly speaking — this is the line of thought I’d like to see from the so-called “iPhone Pro”. If past years are any guidance, the iPhone 7S should be a respectable update, even if it lacks a new hardware design. But the addition of a Pro model should give Apple the opportunity to experiment a little more without worrying about trying to get enough components for sixty million units every three months.1

But I think that the addition of Pro models across Apple’s lineup has also introduced a new question of cost and value. It used to be that one of the most exciting things about a new iPad is the sense that this is the best that Apple could do in an iPad that year; now, I get the sense that they’re trying to create a division between iPad users and iPad Pro users. Will the standard iPad eventually support the Apple Pencil or sport a ProMotion display? I’m not sure; those features are, so far, reserved for iPad Pro users. I don’t think that’s wrong, but it is a relatively new line of thought for the iOS device lineup.

There’s a similar story happening with the MacBook Pro, with Touch Bar models being priced higher than the non-Touch Bar 13-inch. I get the feeling that the Touch Bar models are the true interpretation of what Apple considers a “MacBook Pro” — they just weren’t able to get the price down to where they wanted the MacBook Pro line to start.

The addition of an iPhone Pro would, I think, create a similar sort of bifurcation. Its introduction would make the 7S seem like it’s the best Apple could do for the price, but the iPhone model they really want everyone to have would be the Pro. You can count on it appearing in the vast majority of their marketing materials, and it’s the one that Apple employees will show off. The 7S — if it’s effectively an upgraded but not redesigned iPhone 7 — would effectively be the budget option, even if it’s the same price as the iPhone it replaces.

That’s not to say I don’t think the iPhone Pro isn’t a good idea. I think it could be amazing to see what can be done with a couple-hundred extra dollars’ worth of parts and research per unit. But I’ll be interested to see how Apple navigates the introduction of a truly next-generation iPhone while trying to market a relative spec bump as the everyday choice.2


  1. Some of my favourite supply chain stories come from the fast food industry, like when Wendy’s needed two years to get enough blackberries for their salads. ↩︎

  2. This wouldn’t be the first time Apple tried something like this: they brought out the iPhone 5C and the 5S at the same time, but it was clear that — despite how much Apple showcased the 5C — the 5S was the true next-generation device. But the 5S was introduced at the same price point as the outgoing 5; the rumours, so far, indicate that the Pro will be starting above the price points of the outgoing devices. ↩︎

Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone Misses June Release

Steve Kovach, Business Insider:

When he announced the Essential smartphone at Recode’s Code Conference in May, Rubin said it would start shipping within 30 days, The Verge reported. The company also started accepting pre-orders for the $699 device.

But more than 30 days have passed since then, and Essential isn’t shipping the phone yet.

An Essential spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Harshil Shah nails it:

All you need to know about this story is that it took journalists a full week to realise this.

Essential tweeted on June 28 that they were “working hard to make sure each product meets our quality standards”, which sounds like a PR-friendly way of saying “this product is delayed for an indeterminate amount of time”. They’re still saying that it will be out “this summer”, which gives them until mid-September.

SMS Two-Factor Authentication Doesn’t Protect Against Human Error

Some asshole switched Justin Williams’ cell number to a different SIM card and used that to bypass the two-factor authentication for his PayPal account:

I have spent the morning trying to evaluate my security practices and there’s not much I can think about that I’d do otherwise. Twitter tells me I shouldn’t use SMS-based 2 factor authentication and should use app-based 2 factor instead. I agree! The problem is that some sites like PayPal don’t offer the better security. The alternative is to just go back to single factor, which I am not so sure is the best solution either.

Williams’ security setup is similar to mine: unique passwords generated by a password manager, two-factor authentication switched on everywhere I can, encrypted everything — the usual. But all these barriers seem like they’re simply a minor inconvenience to someone who is intent on breaching my accounts.

Williams:

I don’t even place blame on PayPal for this directly. The fault lies with the AT&T call center representative who let someone manipulate my account without knowing my passcode.

The security questions and secondary authentication mechanisms that users set should prevent anyone from accessing the account without a correct answer, including customer service representatives; a policy like that, however, will likely get pushback from anyone not sufficiently technically-inclined. It’s hard to balance customer service with security, but changes to actual service functionality — cancelling an account, changing the SIM card, updating the address, and so on — should always require a greater level of authentication or be done in person.

Rob Marquardt Buys a Kitchen Faucet

Yesterday, I linked to Lauren Goode’s review of the Amazon Echo Look which, among other things, suggested that she buy a blue blouse similar to the blue blouse she already owns.

Well, Rob Marquardt bought a kitchen faucet a year ago from Amazon and they simply won’t let him forget about it. How many faucets does Amazon think one person needs in their kitchen? Is it two? Is it six? Nobody is quite certain. But I don’t think I’ll be letting the Echo Look pick my clothes in the morning, or do my shopping for me.

Amazon’s Echo Look Reviewed

Lauren Goode tried Amazon’s outfit-picking robot for the Verge, and it didn’t exactly thrill her:

I’m finding as I get older, however, that what I’m wearing is less about what’s cool right now right this minute and more about practicality. Is this item appropriate for a funeral? Is this too casual for an interview, or too precious for a casual coffee? Am I going to be freezing at a friend’s wedding if I wear this? If the answer is yes: why are you not recommending I buy a jacket or shawl for that? Is this something that someone half my age would wear? (Yes, if it’s in the Juniors department.) I’m looking for more context, basically. Amazon, perhaps more than any e-commerce company, has the ability to do this. Amazon says this is “just the beginning” with the Echo Look and that it will get smarter over time, but the Echo Look app is just not there yet.

I sometimes forget to check the weather before getting dressed for the day and end up wearing something grotesquely inappropriate for the conditions. About a week ago, I wore a light sweater because I stepped out on my balcony before work and it was a bit chilly. It ended up being nearly 30°C, which is only sweater weather if you spend a lot of time on the Sun’s anvil.

That’s the kind of thing I feel the Echo Look should be best at doing, but it doesn’t sound like those kinds of recommendations are necessarily reliable.

It seems to be a fairly confused kind of a device. On the one hand, it can keep track of the outfits you wear daily so that you don’t find yourself wearing the same one to meet with the same clients a week apart, which should be appealing to those more fashion-conscious. On the other hand, if you’re fashion-conscious, you probably wouldn’t place much trust in a robot telling you what to wear, or what to buy:

I wasn’t really expecting spot-on clothing recommendations from Amazon just yet, try as it might to establish itself in the fashion world. But it never recommended shoes or accessories (which I am most likely to buy from Amazon), and it had a tendency to suggest I shop for other items in a similar color pattern (if I already have a blue blouse I don’t need another blue blouse). It also once suggested I might be interested in a similar top from the Junior’s department even though I haven’t shopped in that section of a store in a very long time.

Steven Frank in 2015:

“I see you bought a vacuum cleaner. Do youuu… want another one?” — Amazon

I rag on Siri a lot, but Amazon almost certainly has the world’s largest database of shopping trends. Surely they could do better than suggesting stuff that’s identical to what you already own or just bought. If their AI can’t get that right, why would you trust it to dress you every day?

AdAge: Apple to Begin Allowing Third-Party Ads in Apple News

Garett Sloane, AdAge:

At the moment, Apple maintains tight control over ad delivery in its popular news app, and publishers say they are not generating much revenue there.

Publishers can set up ad campaigns to run in their Apple News articles, with all types of ad formats including standard banner ads and videos. “It just takes a lot of additional effort,” said one top publishing executive, speaking on condition of anonymity.

To fix that and keep media partners happy, Apple plans to allow publishers to use the ad tech they already employ on their sites, such as Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers, to deliver ads into Apple News.

The entire reason I — and others — use Apple News is because it sucks a lot less to read articles in there than it does on the web.

John Gruber:

Publishers need to find ways to do ads that don’t interrupt or delay the reading experience. I don’t know why this is so hard for them to understand.

The short answer is that the data tells them otherwise. Enough readers apparently tolerate really crappy ads that move text all over the place to play a thirty second video ad for Frosted Flakes — or, at least, they’re just effective enough to pay for the users who click away and those that run ad blockers.

As long as publishers don’t control their own ads, bad ads will persist. But building the infrastructure for an online advertising department is expensive, especially when compared to copying and pasting one of Google’s JavaScript snippets, and only very major publications can even attempt to do so — the Economist being one example.

Christina Warren:

re: Apple News ad changes, I have to think (and have it on good authority) that without those changes, publishers will leave

So yes, it “junks” up the news experience, but publishers (and I mean big ones) are threatening to leave otherwise.

Apple News is entirely dependent on retaining big publishers; without them, the app collapses. Adding third-party advertising support ought to make publishers happy, but it’s probably going to suck for readers. So what can Apple do?

Sloane:

There also are plans to enable micropayment options so people can access articles for cents at a time, according to another Apple publishing partner.

That’s one way, but I’m not convinced it will work. If people are given the option of paying a single cent upfront for every article they read, I doubt they’ll take that option when an apparently free version exists on the web — even though it might ultimately cost them twenty or thirty times as much.

Haunted by Data, Television News Edition

Joe Flint, Wall Street Journal (Twitter workaround for paywall):

In a game largely sanctioned by TV-ratings firm Nielsen, television networks try to hide their shows’ poor performances on any given night by forgetting how to spell.

That explains the appearance of “NBC Nitely News,” which apparently aired on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend this year, when a lot of people were away from their TVs. The retitling of “NBC Nightly News” fooled Nielsen’s automated system, which listed “Nitely” as a separate show.

Hiding the May 26 program from Nielsen dramatically improved the show’s average viewership that week. Instead of falling further behind first-place rival “ABC World News Tonight,” NBC news narrowed the gap.

According to Flint, this is a not-uncommon practice for broadcast networks because higher average viewership numbers mean a higher commanding price for advertising.

Recall Maciej Cegłowski’s talk from the Strata + Hadoop World conference:

A more recent and less fictitious example is electronic logging devices on trucks. These are intended to limit the hours people drive, but what do you do if you’re caught ten miles from a motel?

The device logs only once a minute, so if you accelerate to 45 mph, and then make sure to slow down under the 10 mph threshold right at the minute mark, you can go as far as you want.

So we have these tired truckers staring at their phones, bunny-hopping down the freeway late at night.

Of course there’s an obvious technical countermeasure. You can start measuring once a second.

Notice what you’re doing, though. Now you’re in an adversarial arms race with another human being that has nothing to do with measurement. It’s become an issue of control, agency and power.

You thought observing the driver’s behavior would get you closer to reality, but instead you’ve put another layer between you and what’s really going on.

If they wanted to, Nielsen could fix this problem with more data. They could do fuzzy matches for similarly-named programs and manually verify viewership numbers for each show. But that’s just increasing the number of steps networks have to take in order to inflate their viewership averages — instead of “Nitely News”, it could become “Lester Holt’s Hour of Power”. Every time Nielsen makes an adjustment, major networks would simply adjust.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that making adjustments to products based purely on analytics data is a futile exercise, and can encourage obviously obtuse behaviours:

NBC in 2015 persuaded almost a dozen of its local TV station affiliates to rerun “Nightly News” after 2 a.m. At the time, NBC said, it was focused “on ways to reach our audience when and how they want to be reached.”

A rival network thought otherwise and alerted NBC advertisers to the practice. After learning of the stunt, many advertisers cried foul. They told NBC whoever was watching the newscast at that hour wasn’t the kind of consumer they wanted to reach. NBC said it quickly discontinued the practice.

You’ve seen similar practices to this on the web, only worse and far more extreme. Remember the era of paginated articles, where you’d get halfway through and have to click through to view the second half? Those were all the rage for two reasons: first, an increase in ad impressions; second, an increase in page views. The latter is part of a pretty typical SEO trick, since Google reportedly boosts rankings for websites that see more page views in a single session. However, this creates a terrible experience for readers. And every time Google makes an adjustment to the way they rank websites, a bunch of people scramble to try to figure out how to game the data for better rankings.

None of this actually helps people, though. Collecting a bunch of user data and blindly following it doesn’t always help make a better product — in fact, it sometimes produces a worse product — and it’s a privacy nightmare.

Intel Inside, Without the Sticker Outside

Ken Segall:

I get that Intel Inside is one of the most successful marketing campaigns in business history. It’s just that after 36 years, that logo starts to feel more like a pollutant than an advertising device.

Thankfully, Macs have remained 100% free of Intel branding since Apple adopted its processors way back in 2006.

We have Steve Jobs’s sensibilities to thank for this. But how it all happened is a fun little story.

Back in August 2007, about a year after Apple began shipping Intel Macs,1 they held an event at their on-campus Town Hall theatre where they launched the first aluminum iMac, iLife ’08, and iWork ’08. After the event, they held a less-formal question-and-answer session between Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, and the journalists in the audience. Bob Keefe of Cox Newspapers asked:

Can you say why you all are not participating in the Intel Inside program, putting the stickers on your new or previous Macs?

Jobs’ reply is now pretty famous:

Uh. What can I say? We like our own stickers better.

He provided cogent explanation of why the branding isn’t necessary, and Schiller jumped in to point out that all the promotional deals that manufacturers have made actually make the products worse for users.

Keefe’s question unfortunately prompted a rash of ridicule. Jason Snell, Macworld (then at Macuser):

Yes, access to Jobs is limited. So I can see why a reporter like Keefe would use the opportunity to ask Jobs a question and get a quote for a story he was working on. It’s not something I think I would’ve done, because to me it’s a selfish act that makes everyone in the room subservient to one writer’s deadline and story idea. […]

But I can’t condemn Keefe for asking the question. I wouldn’t have asked it, and it was a bit moldy and off topic, but damned if its end result wasn’t a great distillation of Apple’s product philosophy.

Segall, again, on the effects of the Intel Macs:

Today, even though some speculate that Apple will switch to ARM processors, one cannot diminish the importance of Steve’s switch to Intel in 2006.

His decision instantly demolished the argument that PCs had a built-in advantage over Macs.

With processor parity, Apple could focus 100% on the things that set Macs apart on a more human level: software, design, quality and simplicity.

If Apple were to switch to ARM processors in the Mac — and, I think, that’s a very big “if” — it would no longer be possible to directly compare specific Mac models against their Windows counterparts, if that was all a buyer may be interested in. But that could work to Apple’s distinct advantage; for the last several years, they’ve been emphasizing things that work better on the Mac because of the hardware and software integration. A custom processor seems like it would fall into that line of thought.


  1. At this time, Apple was also in the middle of creating a fork of Mac OS X that would run on low-performance ARM processors in the iPhone. Wild, right? ↩︎

Password Strength Indicators Help People Make Ill-Informed Choices

Troy Hunt:

Here’s the bottom line with all this: password strength meters which simply run JavaScript in the client and apply basic mathematics are woefully inadequate. Likewise, websites applying similar maths to enforce “strong” passwords in no way guarantee that actual strong passwords will be chosen. All these calculators neglect the human element of passwords and that’s an enormously important part of the picture.

I know blog posts on passwords aren’t super dynamic and fun, but this is a great piece to show friends and family. Password cracking software has adapted to work with the XKCD-style multi-word passphrase format, so pure length isn’t the answer any more; secure passwords are long, complex, and unique. That makes those passwords very hard to remember, but products like 1Password and features like Touch ID are slowly making laboriously typing passwords a relic of the past.

Apple’s Taste in Television

Have you ever watched an event unfold that is so embarrassing for those involved that you get deeply embarrassed? I’ve tried watching more episodes of “Planet of the Apps”, and I’m finding it hard to see the show as anything other than a cynical, merchandise-driven, and tasteless attempt at original programming. The first time that I watched the premiere episode, I was under the impression that it just wasn’t the show for me; after re-watching it, though, I don’t think it’s just me.

Data Brokers Are Pervasive in Daily Life and Growing

A huge, groundbreaking study from Cracked Labs shows the scale of big data collection in nearly every aspect of daily life. Wolfie Christl:

One major reason that corporate tracking and profiling has become so pervasive lies in the fact that nearly all websites, mobile app providers, and many device vendors actively share behavioral data with other companies.

A few years ago most websites began embedding tracking services that transmit user data to third parties into their websites. Some of these services provide visible functionality to users. When a website shows, for example, a Facebook like button or an embedded YouTube video, user data is transmitted to Facebook or Google. Many other services related to online advertising remain hidden, though, and largely serve only one purpose, namely to collect user data. It is widely unknown exactly which kinds of user data digital publishers share and how third parties use this data. At least part of these tracking activities can be examined by everybody; by installing the browser extension Lightbeam, for example, one can visualize the hidden network third-party trackers.

A recent study examined one million different websites and found more than 80,000 third-party services that receive data about the visitors of these websites. Around 120 of these tracking services were found on more than 10,000 websites, and six companies monitor users on more than 100,000 websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Oracle’s BlueKai. A study on 200,000 users from Germany visiting 21 million web pages showed that third-party trackers were present on 95% of the pages visited. Similarly, most mobile apps share information on their users with other companies. A 2015 study of popular apps in Australia, Brazil, Germany, and the US found that between 85% and 95% of free apps and even 60% of paid apps connect to third parties that collect personal data.

Consider that there are thousands of these companies. Consider, too, that many of them share information between themselves, and that you won’t necessarily know when you’re providing information to any of these companies because, oftentimes, the privacy policy on different websites won’t always disclose which trackers and advertising scripts they are using at any given time. Finally, consider that there’s virtually no way to opt out of this kind of mass data collection, because it’s largely beyond your control.

Google DeepMind Trial Failed to Comply With U.K. Data Protection Act

The Information Commissioner’s Office, in a press release:

The ICO has ruled the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust failed to comply with the Data Protection Act when it provided patient details to Google DeepMind.

The Trust provided personal data of around 1.6 million patients as part of a trial to test an alert, diagnosis and detection system for acute kidney injury.

But an ICO investigation found several shortcomings in how the data was handled, including that patients were not adequately informed that their data would be used as part of the test.

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, weighs in on the findings on the ICO blog:

But what stood out to me on looking through the results of the investigation is that the shortcomings we found were avoidable. The price of innovation didn’t need to be the erosion of legally ensured fundamental privacy rights. I’ve every confidence the Trust can comply with the changes we’ve asked for and still continue its valuable work. This will also be true for the wider NHS as deployments of innovative technologies are considered.

Denham makes this point specifically regarding health information, but it should be applied to all kinds of data, particularly when multiple streams of data are collected and connected. It may be harder to innovate in a big data way without collecting information on a big data scale — much like how it may be more difficult to investigate crimes when everyone’s phone isn’t being wiretapped at all times. But we should ensure that we are vigilant about reducing the erosion of our privacy protections in both the public and private sectors, even if that means waiting longer for innovative new technologies.

WSJ: With Bixby Delayed in U.S., Samsung Is Working on a ‘Smart’ Speaker

Timothy W. Martin, Wall Street Journal (work around the paywall via Twitter, or read the CNet summary):

Samsung Electronics Co. is developing a voice-activated speaker powered by its digital assistant Bixby, according to people familiar with the matter, joining a proliferating arms race in tabletop devices.

[…]

One variable slowing Samsung’s progress is the postponed U.S. launch of the English-language version of Bixby, which would operate the speaker much as Alexa operates Amazon’s Echo device, according to people familiar with the matter. Bixby’s voice features were a key selling point for the world’s largest smartphone maker’s latest flagship model, the Galaxy S8, introduced April 21.

The company vowed the English-language Bixby would be ready by spring, but now Samsung internally believes those voice features are unlikely before the second half of July, one of the people said. The Galaxy S8 is Samsung’s first device to feature Bixby.

Previously, Martin reported that Bixby had been delayed because it was having difficulty understanding English. You might reasonably think that mastering English would be trivial for Bixby seeing as Samsung acquired the Viv virtual assistant — that amazing one built by ex-Siri engineers — but, apparently, Bixby doesn’t use any of Viv’s technology yet.

What It’s Like Raising Money as a Woman in Silicon Valley

Some followup on Katie Benner’s brutal New York Times article about widespread sexual harassment from venture capitalists when female founders attempt to raise funding for their companies. And this followup is actually a piece from back in 2014, when Jeff Bercovici of Forbes published an account from a female founder who requested anonymity:

After some small talk, he sat next to me on the couch and commented that I looked stressed. He put down his glass of wine and reached to massage my shoulders. As he slid his hands further, I made a nervous joke, quickly trying to shift my weight away from him. I leaned into the corner of the couch and crossed my legs, attempting to put an obstacle in his way. Undeterred, he continued to reach for me.

I got up and walked across the room. Trying to keep it light, I comment on how often men made inappropriate advances towards me during business meetings, hoping he’d get the message.

“Yeah, that’s tough. You can’t really say anything because it’s one tight knit community,” he said, probably thinking he sounded sympathetic.

If I chose to complain—or make a scene and wake up his children who slept nearby—it would be another case of he said / she said, like the countless harassment cases that have made headlines in the tech community but have not done much to change status quo. Given his standing in the community and his personal wealth, who would believe my claims as anything more than those of a spurned little girl upset that a VC had chosen not to invest in her company?

Anyone who claims that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy is talking out of their ass. If male founders were subject to the same pervasive sexual harassment as women face, reforms would have happened a long time ago.

Yet, despite high-profile resignations lately from men implicated in these reports, I’m not really sure any meaningful reforms are currently taking place. Top venture capital companies are overwhelmingly run by men, and their power allows a festering quiet environment where women are propositioned to exchange sex for funding. The relative dearth female venture capital partners is, quite possibly, a symptom as well for a much bigger and more pervasive problem — women simply aren’t respected or treated as seriously as their male counterparts. That’s something that needs to be fixed everywhere, but for an industry that encourages reinventing the world, it’s especially problematic.

Women Frankly Describe Rampant Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley

Katie Benner, New York Times:

One female entrepreneur recounted how she had been propositioned by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist while seeking a job with him, which she did not land after rebuffing him. Another showed the increasingly suggestive messages she had received from a start-up investor. And one chief executive described how she had faced numerous sexist comments from an investor while raising money for her online community website.

What happened afterward was often just as disturbing, the women told The New York Times. Many times, the investors’ firms and colleagues ignored or played down what had happened when the situations were brought to their attention. Saying anything, the women were warned, might lead to ostracism.

Now some of these female entrepreneurs have decided to take that risk. More than two dozen women in the technology start-up industry spoke to The Times in recent days about being sexually harassed. Ten of them named the investors involved, often providing corroborating messages and emails, and pointed to high-profile venture capitalists such as Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital and Dave McClure of 500 Startups, who did not dispute the accounts.

Journalists often try to get two unaffiliated sources to corroborate claims like these; Benner got over two dozen women reporting their own experiences, many of them attributed to them. Given the culture of Silicon Valley that has been reported in countless articles, including Benner’s piece, that’s a brave move.

This story is well-reported and shocking but, alas, unsurprising. The day before the Times published their piece — and, presumably, around the time that Benner contacted Chris Sacca for a response — he published a thing on Medium to preempt some of the criticism he would inevitably face. It sounds like an acknowledgement of his mistakes but, just a day after Benner’s piece was published, Susan J. Fowler — yes, that Susan J. Fowler — said on Twitter that Sacca messaged her to try to get her to stop tweeting about him. Gross.

Update: Matthew Panzarino and Jonathan Shieber of TechCrunch are reporting that Dave McClure has resigned.

Winners of the 2017 iPhone Photography Awards

This is, naturally, the tenth anniversary of the iPhone Photography Awards, and the winning photographs this year are — as you’d expect — stunning. Be sure you don’t miss the winners and honourable mentions in the sub-categories like news and events, nature, and landscape.

Even with some digging, I know very little about the iPhone Photography Awards, largely because they don’t explain a lot about themselves. There seems to be no published documentation about who the judges are or what they’re looking for, and — combined with its entry fees — I don’t know how respectable it is as a talent-based contest. It may very well be completely legitimate, but they don’t provide a lot of information, which is why I’m a little hesitant to link to it.

But it is the longest-running iPhone-specific photography contest around, as far as I can tell, and that makes for a rare opportunity to compare some of the best iPhone photography of this year against some of the best shot with the original iPhone. That camera may have been nothing to shout about, but it was paired — eventually — with the ability to share and edit those photos directly on the device. That changed everything about what we can do with the camera we always have with us.

Aside from image quality, I think the most noticeable change in recent years is the variety of locations that have been featured amongst the winners. The original iPhone was only sold in seven countries which, even when travel is taken into consideration, severely limited its ability to capture the world. But its availability quickly ramped up with successive generations, and you can now find photos shot with an iPhone pretty much everywhere.

Jay-Z Releases ‘4:44’ Exclusively for Sprint Customers and Existing Tidal Users

Olivia Craighead, the Fader:

JAY-Z’s thirteenth studio album, 4:44, drops tonight at midnight, and it’s an exclusive to TIDAL subscribers and Sprint customers. However, fans will have to sign up for TIDAL before midnight in order to hear the album. After midnight, the album will only be available to Sprint customers, a source close to TIDAL confirmed to The FADER.

I get the motivation for artist to make their new release exclusive to a single platform for a period. Aside from limitations arising from deliberate artistic decisions, they’re a way for a musician to make a little extra money from the deal in a climate of decreasing album sales and low streaming royalties. They also create an opportunity for the platform to get a bunch of new subscribers — the only time anyone talks about Tidal is when they have an exclusive new release.

I don’t get the strategy around this release, though. Why set an arbitrary deadline for subscriptions before the album drops? I doubt anyone is going to switch mobile carriers to get this record — even though it’s probably Jay-Z’s best work since ‘The Black Album’ — and it isn’t like people don’t have options if they missed the signup window. What’s the goal here?

Update: Micah Singleton, the Verge:

In the last four years, Jay Z has released two albums, both through non-traditional means. While most artists would sign with a record label to release their album, the most successful hip-hop artist of all time, a man worth $810 million, has made deals with a smartphone maker and carrier to cover distribution and promotion. The total value of the agreements, which include not just Jay Z’s music, but his businesses is a whopping $220 million.

No matter how good I think this record is — and I do genuinely think it’s one of my favourite Jay-Z records — it will always be a little undermined and sullied by how much of a corporate play it is.

See Also: Anthony Fantano’s take. He doesn’t like this exclusivity arrangement either.

Canada’s Top Court Rules That Injunctions Concerning the Web Can Have Global Effect

Leah Schnurr, Reuters:

Canadian courts can force internet search leader Google to remove results worldwide, the country’s top court ruled on Wednesday, drawing criticism from civil liberties groups arguing such a move sets a precedent for censorship on the internet.

In its 7-2 decision, Canada’s Supreme Court found that a court in the country can grant an injunction preventing conduct anywhere in the world when it is necessary to ensure the injunction’s effectiveness.

“The internet has no borders – its natural habitat is global,” the Supreme Court wrote in its judgment. “The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates – globally.”

This seems like a grave overreach of a single court’s powers with a dangerous precedent. If a less-friendly country did anything like this, it would immediately be seen as a global threat.

I recognize that I’m posting this in the wake of defending the E.U.’s decision to fine Google €2.4 billion for anticompetitive behaviour — a decision that will likely have global consequences. But that was a single finding around a single case, and it doesn’t outright state that Google must change their global practices to comply.

McMansion Hell Is Back Online and Zillow Won’t Sue After EFF Legal Response

Earlier this week, I wrote about the chilling effect money is having on the freedom of the press. As I was in the middle of writing that post, Kate Wagner of McMansion Hell announced that she had received a cease and desist letter from one of Zillow’s attorneys.

The EFF stepped into assist Wagner and, earlier today, sent their legal response to Zillow (PDF), ending in this truly magnificent paragraph:

Our client intends to relaunch McMansionHell.com shortly and will not be deleting any posts. In the interests of compromise, and because Wagner no longer wishes to use Zillow’s website, she will no longer source photographs from Zillow for her blog. Given this, we sincerely hope Zillow will have the good sense not to trouble a court of law with this matter. However, if Zillow does intend to file suit, please be assured that our client is prepared to defend herself against your spurious claims.

Well, Zillow saw the error of their ways — and, probably, how much of a massive PR blunder they made with this — and won’t be suing Wagner:

We have decided not to pursue any legal action against Kate Wagner and McMansion Hell. We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, including with attorneys from the EFF, whose advocacy and work we respect. EFF has stated that McMansion Hell won’t use photos from Zillow moving forward.

It was never our intent for McMansion Hell to shut down, or for this to appear as an attack on Kate’s freedom of expression. We acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our partners – the agents and brokers who entrust us to display photos of their clients’ homes.

It may not have been their intention, but a letter from a lawyer can be powerful enough to make anyone stop what they’re doing — even it’s completely legal. This response sucks, though: Zillow could have at least apologized for being so deeply wrong.

Chalk one up for the indies today.

On the Blame for iOS 11’s Active Location Services Status Bar

Some followup on the blue status bar indicating an app using location services, which will be part of iOS 11. Matthew Panzarino:

Thanks I guess. But this is hurting the user more than it’s helping. It’s Apple pointing fingers on battery life. The Politibar.

I know this came from some bad behavior on behalf of location apps but it puts the onus on the wrong party.

I get where Panzarino is coming from here, but I disagree that this is mis-assigning blame. Some apps should reasonably be granted background access to a user’s location, and the user should be clearly aware of when that’s the case. This status bar isn’t a problem for those apps; it is a problem for apps when they are sneaky about using location services in the background. I don’t see how that can possibly hurt users.

Also, if this is shaming apps that are eating up battery life by displaying which are using location services in the background, so be it: shaming works.

A reasonable argument could be made that Apple should apply more stringent screening to apps that use location services. Even so, they may not catch every instance of nefarious behaviour; this status bar ought to do that. A reasonable argument could be made that the iPhone’s battery should be bigger, but Apple has long tried to balance battery life expectations with thinness and lightness. I’d love to get much longer battery life from my phone, but I also don’t want my phone to have the added thickness and weight of the iPhone battery case.

Your priorities may differ, but I think it’s very helpful for users to tell them when apps may be consuming more of their battery life — particularly when they’re using location services in the background and the user isn’t fully aware of that.

Oversimplifying the E.U. Google Antitrust Case

A bit of follow-up from yesterday’s announcement by the European Union that they are fining Alphabet €2.4 billion for abusing its dominance in search. Ben Thompson:

The implications of saying this is monopolistic behavior goes to the very heart of Google’s business model: should Google not be allowed to sell advertising against search results for fear that it is ruining competition? Take travel sites: why shouldn’t Priceline sue Google for featuring ads for hotel booking sites above its own results? Why should Google be able to make any money at all?

This is the aspect of the European Commission’s decision that I have the biggest problem with. I agree that Google has a monopoly in search, but as the Commission itself notes that is not a crime; the reality of this ruling, though, is that making any money off that monopoly apparently is. And, by extension, those that blindly support this decision are agreeing that products that succeed by being better for users ought not be able to make money.

I think Thompson’s discomfort with the E.U.’s decision comes from an earnest place, but he drastically oversimplifies the rationale for their punishment. He lays it out beautifully: more people use Google because it’s simply better, and it isn’t like users can’t choose a different search engine — they just don’t.

But when Thompson says

Google has a monopoly in search, but as the Commission itself notes that is not a crime; the reality of this ruling, though, is that making any money off that monopoly apparently is

that isn’t what the Commission is saying at all, and it’s a total oversimplification of what they actually concluded.

Rather, per their press release:

Google has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service: Google’s comparison shopping results are displayed, in a rich format, at the top of the search results, or sometimes in a reserved space on the right-hand side. They are placed above the results that Google’s generic search algorithms consider most relevant.

[…]

On the other hand, rival comparison shopping services are subject to Google’s generic search algorithms, including demotions (which lower a search entry’s rank in Google’s search results). Comparison shopping services in the EEA are prone to be demoted by at least two different algorithms, which were first applied in 2004 and 2011, respectively.

The Commission did not find either of these things objectionable on their own; they found them objectionable together, in combination with Google‘s dominance in web search. Even though Google Product Search is a glorified ad unit, it has many of the features of a product comparison website. Contra Thompson, though, my interpretation is that it doesn’t make searching for products better for users primarily because it’s an ad unit — and Google decided to bury the rankings of competing product search sites, where users might find far better deals from companies that don’t advertise with Google.

The Commission’s decision seems very nuanced, and that is potentially a problem when similar cases will be decided in the future. But that nuance might also be relieving to those who, like Thompson, worry that this case may have effects that reach far beyond the Commission’s intentions. In the future, similar cases ought to need Google’s combination of dominance in general web indexing and advertising, their encroachment into different but related markets, and their ability to reduce the discoverability of competitors.

Misleading and Egregious Reporting of Alleged WhatsApp Encryption Vulnerabilities by the Guardian

In January, the Guardian published an alarming report from Manisha Ganguly alleging a serious encryption vulnerability in WhatsApp:

A design feature that could potentially allow some encrypted messages to reach unintended recipients is present within the WhatsApp messaging service.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has about one billion users, has not made it widely known that there is an aspect of WhatsApp that results in some messages being re-encrypted and resent automatically, without first giving the sender an opportunity to verify the recipient.

Campaigners have expressed concern about how this aspect of WhatsApp could potentially be exploited to conduct surveillance.

In the first version of this article, the headline said that this was a WhatsApp “backdoor”, but Zeynep Tufekci quickly pointed out how misleading that description was in an open letter to the Guardian signed by dozens of computer security professionals:

WhatsApp’s behavior increases reliability for the user. This is a real concern, as ordinary people consistently switch away from unreliable but secure apps to more reliable and insecure apps. The imagined attack on WhatsApp, on which your reporting is based, is a remote scenario requiring an adversary capable of many difficult feats. Even then, the threat would involve only those few undelivered messages, if they exist at all, between the time the recipient changes their phone and the user receives a warning.

In the full scheme of things, this is a small and unlikely threat. The preconditions of the attack (which is not a backdoor) would in practice mean that the attacker had many other ways of getting at their target.

Despite this cogent explanation, Tufekci and the co-signers of this letter barely heard from the Guardian. They amended the problematic piece with a link to the letter and removed the word “backdoor” from their reporting, but did not retract the story. The Guardian’s ombudsman was ostensibly on a very long vacation because, try as the letter signers might, the newspaper simply wouldn’t acknowledge how deeply flawed their reporting was.

Today, however, an update in the opinion section of the paper from reader’s editor Paul Chadwick:

In a detailed review I found that misinterpretations, mistakes and misunderstandings happened at several stages of the reporting and editing process. Cumulatively they produced an article that overstated its case.

The Guardian ought to have responded more effectively to the strong criticism the article generated from well-credentialled experts in the arcane field of developing and adapting end-to-end encryption for a large-scale messaging service.

This is about the most honest and straightforward admission that the piece from January — six months ago! — should never have been published. However:

This made a relatively small, expert, vocal and persistent audience very angry.

This sentence deeply undermines the credentials and the rationale of the responsible professionals who brought this issue forward. By framing them as “small” and “vocal”, it makes them sound unreasonably concerned. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Chadwick states in the very next sentence:

Guardian editors did not react to an open letter co-signed by 72 experts in a way commensurate with the combined stature of the critics and the huge number of people potentially affected by the story.

Chadwick also refuses to suggest a retraction of the story, despite effectively stating that none of the concerns presented in the original article are valid — and acknowledging the damage that the article caused in Turkey, in particular. I agree with him stating that the article should not be deleted entirely, but I think that the message added to the top of the original article is far too soft. It should be in a big-ass yellow box, and it should explicitly state that the Guardian found the concerns that they raised to be misleading and damaging. Anything less is a tacit admission that they still stand by their story, even after implying today that they don’t.

iOS 11 Will Show a Blue Status Bar When an App Is Always Using Your Location

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Many apps prior to today only allowed users to pick between “Always” and “Never,” when it came to sharing their location data. Obviously, by selecting “Never,” certain apps that needed location to work would simply be unusable. With iOS 11, the third option – “While Using the App” – can be selected for any app, even if the developer didn’t make it available before.

The blue bar goes a step further to actually warn users when apps set to “Always” are actively tracking location.

Remember when Uber said that they would start tracking users’ location for up to five minutes after their ride had ended? Word on the street is that changes like the blue status bar and forcing an “Only While Using App” option when an app requests location access were directly inspired by that incident. Users should have total control over when an app is allowed access to their location, and they should know exactly when that information is being used.

E.U. Fines Google €2.4bn Over Abuse of Search Dominance

Rochelle Toplensky, Financial Times:

The European Commission ended its seven-year competition investigation on Tuesday, concluding that the search group had abused its near-monopoly in online search to “give illegal advantage” to its own shopping service.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said Google “denied other companies the chance to compete” and left consumers without “genuine choice”.

“Google’s strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn’t just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results and demoting those of competitors. What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules.”

The fine levied against Google — technically, I think, against Alphabet — is record-breaking for the European Union. Rani Molla, Recode:

How big? Well, it’s more than twice as big as the next biggest fine against Intel in 2009. Google, one of the world’s most valuable companies, posted $5.4 billion in profit on $24.7 billion in revenue in the first quarter of this year.

Maya Kosoff, Vanity Fair:

Critics have accused Vestager, the competition commissioner and antitrust chief, of unfairly singling out U.S. companies for anti-trust probes. A year ago, the European Commission ordered Apple to repay $14.5 billion in back taxes, plus interest, to the European Union after spending years funneling its profits through an Irish subsidiary in an attempt to lower its tax bill. In May, Vestager fined Facebook 110 million euros for allegedly providing incorrect or misleading information during the commissions’s probe into its acquisition of WhatsApp. That same month, Amazon reached an agreement with Vestager to conclude her commission’s anti-trust investigation into the e-commerce giant’s e-book contracts.

I think reactions painting this as anti-American or anti-Google are missing the point of the E.U.’s decision. This is about reinforcing that companies with monopoly-like market share ought to behave more cautiously than those without. Google may have the most popular search engine on the planet for a justifiable reason, but it’s not a punishment to suggest that that kind of power ought to be treated with an elevated level of care.

Bob Murray’s Very Silly Lawsuit Against John Oliver

Speaking of rich assholes using the legal system to try to silence critics, Mike Masnick of Techdirt assessed the lawsuit filed by Bob Murray — a rich asshole — against John Oliver, HBO, and Last Week Tonight:

Anyway, when we wrote about the case yesterday, we noted that we had to do it based solely on the reporting of the Daily Beast, as they broke the story and — for reasons I still don’t understand — refused to post the actual complaint. However, now we’ve obtained the full complaint and can dig in on how incredibly silly it is. It appears to be a quintessential SLAPP lawsuit, where the entire point is not to bring a legitimate cause of action, but to chill free speech that criticizes Bob Murray. As Ken “Popehat” White notes, it’s “lawsuit as theater” and “an unapologetic political screed” — that is, apparently designed to rile people up, rather than to present a reasonable legal argument.

Luckily, Oliver has the backing of HBO’s legal department. But imagine if an independent newspaper or website published a similar story: they likely would not be able to afford a basic defence of the truth. This isn’t even about the First Amendment — it’s about whether the press can continue to publish completely factual items critical of wealthy people.

Amazon’s Box With Screen Gets Reviewed

It looks like the embargo lifted for reviews of the Amazon Echo Show. Overall, it sounds like another competent front-end for Alexa, but see if you can spot a trend.

Alex Cranz, Gizmodo:

It even has a camera for video calling! Though it currently only works with other Alexa-enabled devices, including Echo and the Alexa app on your phone. It’s a neat concept, and can be fun to use. When I was testing the Echo Show at the office I shouted “call home” and the Echo in my apartment immediately startled my dog and my roommate, and being able to simply say “call mom” and have your mom’s face appear on screen feels like some Star Trek futurist wonder. But it also means that now Amazon isn’t just listening to everything you do, it’s also watching everything you do, and that can feel… creepy. Particularly if you keep the Echo Show in your bedroom.

Mat Honan, Buzzfeed:

It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give people permission to automatically connect with your device. Here’s how it works. Let’s say my father has activated Drop In for me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, ‘Alexa, drop in on Dad.’ It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father’s device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds of the call, my father’s video screen would appear fogged over. But then there he’ll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he doesn’t answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look nice today.

Ry Crist, CNet:

That brings us right to Alexa’s new “Drop In” feature. Enable it, and you’ll be able to authorize specific contacts to peep in on your camera feed regardless of whether or not you actually pick up the call. When they do, they’ll see a blurred feed for the first 10 seconds, during which you have the option of disabling the camera or rejecting the call outright. You’ll also see a notification on screen whenever someone is actively viewing your feed. The feature pairs with a motion sensor in the Echo Show itself that — again, when authorized — lets your contacts know when it senses you nearby. Seems a bit creepy, but it also sounds like a pretty sensible way of keeping an eye on an aging relative.

Yeah, Drop In does seem really creepy. It may be disabled by default and blur the video feed for the first ten seconds, but it doesn’t do the equivalent of blurring for the audio. And wasn’t it just recently that people were putting tape over their the cameras on their computers just in case?

Matt Blaze:

And if “Drop In” control is implemented at server side, that means even if it’s configured off, it can be turned on remotely.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people fawning over this thing, and I kind of get why — if you’re in the Amazon echosystem ecosystem and you like what Alexa can do for you, this gives you all of that plus stuff that works better on a screen. But I still see it as more invasive than helpful, and it looks like one of those digital picture frames that you could pick up at Circuit City ca. 2007. I’ll pass.

Nobody Speak

Sean O’Neal, with one hell of a lede for A.V. Club:

You wouldn’t assume there’s a connection to be made between Donald Trump and Hulk Hogan’s penis. But such is the world we live in now — a garishly stupid, casually surreal cacophony of professional wrestling posturing, corporate authoritarianism, and open hostility toward the journalists whose job it is to decry those things, guided by the whims of billionaires pretending to be populists, and carried out by people so sick of bad news, they’ve decided news itself is the problem. It’s that ugly morass that writer-director Brian Knappenberger aims to capture with his compelling if slightly lopsided documentary Nobody Speak: Trials Of The Free Press. And it’s a subject that should appeal to anyone who doesn’t wield the words “the media” as an insult.

I watched Nobody Speak over the weekend. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it as a film: it’s clunky and jarring, and is soundtracked with a thumping synth that might have come with whatever editing software was used to make it. But, even with its faults — and there are many — it is an important documentary about the ways wealthy individuals are trying to suppress critical news stories. It’s a topic I’ve covered fairly regularly here — from the Hogan/Thiel/Gawker case to Shiva Ayyadurai suing Techdirt — because I think it’s among the most grave dangers to a well-informed democracy.

As I was writing this, Kate Wagner — creator of McMansion Hell — announced that she had received a cease and desist letter from Zillow. I’m not a lawyer,1 but the architectural critique Wagner offers would almost certainly fall under fair use as held up by a similar 2013 decision. But the only way for Wagner to confirm that her critique falls under fair use is for her to fight Zillow — a company valued at over $9 billion — in court, which would be extremely expensive for her. Zillow can fight Wagner all they want and they’ll come out ahead — even if they lose in court, they will have cost her a fortune in legal fees or force her to abandon her livelihood.

It’s a bullying tactic, plain and simple. I can’t think of a greater threat to independent writers and journalists than wealthy individuals and companies threatening legal action over critical articles.


  1. Great start, I know. ↩︎

Gmail Will Stop Using Emails for Ad Targeting

Google Cloud SVP Diane Greene:

G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalization, and Google has decided to follow suit later this year in our free consumer Gmail service. Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change. This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products. Ads shown are based on users’ settings. Users can change those settings at any time, including disabling ads personalization. G Suite will continue to be ad free.

I know I have a fairly hard-line stance on targeted advertising, but I think even the most generous person could agree that Google should never have been using Gmail users’ emails for ad targeting purposes. Even Google seems aware of that — check out the super defensive tone they take in their Gmail ads support article.

The Apps Are Too Damn Big

Matt Birchler:

“App thinning” is not a magic bullet that erases this problem though, as Facebook Messenger, which shows as being 154 MB, still downloaded 99MB of data for its update.

Of note, Apple does not allow you to download apps or updates that are over 100 MB, and the only app update I was not able to perform was for Facebook. The Facebook app is advertised as being a whopping 251 MB app, and I don’t know what the update size is, but it was over 100 MB. Has Facebook changed so much in the past 3 days since an update that it needed to replace over 40% of its code?

[…]

And of course, Facebook has such great release notes for each of these updates that really justify why these updates are so critical…

I’d hate to add a roadblock for developers issuing app updates, but I really wish Apple would approve their change logs. It could even be automated: if a change log is exactly the same as the previous one, reject it. If any developer wants to send me hundreds of megabytes of updates every couple of weeks, the least they could do is explain what they’re changing.

Snowballing App Sizes

Here’s something that isn’t exactly news at this point: apps are taking up more space than they used to. Randy Nelson of Sensor Tower:

Of the top 10 most popular U.S. iPhone apps, the minimum growth we saw in app size since May 2013 was 6x for Spotify. As the chart above shows, other apps, especially Snapchat, have grown considerably more.

In fact, Snapchat is more than 50 times larger than it was four years ago, clocking in at 203 MB versus just 4 MB at the start of the period we looked at. It’s not the largest app among the top 10, however. That distinction goes to Facebook, which, at 388 MB, is 12 times larger than it was in May 2013 when it occupied 32 MB. It grew by about 100 MB in one update during September of last year.

Gmail is another standout in terms of sudden app size growth, having grown from 41 MB last October to 197 MB in November (an almost 5x or 380 percent increase) after a redesign.

Nelson is far from the only person to observe the egregious sizes of popular apps. Search Twitter and you can find hundreds of complaints about the sizes of Facebook, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Twitter itself, and loads of others. People — especially those who update their apps over a cellular connection — are noticing the sizes of these updates.

But the numbers presented by Nelson are inaccurate compared to the apps’ sizes when they’re on a device. The size shown in the App Store is the total app size including all possible assets and code variants. However, iOS is smart enough to download only the assets needed for each specific device, provided the developer set things up correctly when submitting their app to the store.

For example, Nelson says that Snapchat is now 203 MB which is, indeed, the size shown in the App Store (actually, 213 MB as of the most recent update). But the copy of Snapchat on my iPhone 6S is 121 MB — a little more than half the size indicated in the store. The version of Facebook that I just downloaded to my phone is 159 MB compared to the monstrous 388 MB app shown in the store.

So the situation is not as dire as it appears; yet, these apps are still enormous. For comparison’s sake, I have a version of the Facebook app on my hard drive from April 2012 and it’s just 13.1 MB. Where’s all the extra weight in today’s app coming from? A chunk of it is due to an increased app binary: the 2012 version clocks in at 7.8 MB, while the June 2017 release is 43.3 MB. But the biggest change is in the Frameworks folder, especially because many of today’s Facebook apps include the same FBSharedFramework.framework file, which is over 250 MB in its uncompressed form.

Twitter provides another example of maddening bloat. A version of their app from March 2016 is 64 MB; a version from earlier this month clocks in at 122 MB.1 If you crack them open, you’ll see a 66.4 MB Twitter binary in the old version, but the newer version is just 144 KB — that’s kilobytes. Once again, the culprit for the increased app size can be found in the Frameworks folder — a nearly-200 MB directory. While many of these frameworks are relatively small and named logically, the biggest — the 100 MB T1Twitter.framework — isn’t easy to identify. It appears to be the bulk of the Twitter app in framework form.

One more, just for comparison, is the LinkedIn app. In March 2016, it was 105.7 MB; in June 2017, 200.1 MB — both versions downloaded from iTunes. The binary size has stayed pretty similar at about 1 MB in each, but the newer app’s Frameworks folder has exploded from 177.5 MB to 247.3 MB.

Not all big apps have an over-large Frameworks folder. But when I started examining these apps, I was a little surprised to find that first-party frameworks are a big component of large file sizes for apps from the App Store’s biggest developers. It appears to me that major developers — the Facebooks and LinkedIns of the world — are using frameworks to make it easier for disparate teams to build different components of their apps.

The thing that I don’t get is that all three of these apps are, from a user’s perspective, just windows into websites. Twitter is mostly just text, so it’s hard to understand why a 122 MB app is needed to show a feed. It’s the same thing for Facebook — the vast majority of what will be displayed in the app is downloaded live from a gigantic database, rather than existing within the app itself.

I think that leads to something else we should all remember: users don’t really care about apps — they care what they can do with apps. Nobody is excited to download the Skype app for the application; they’re excited to make a video call to their grandparents. Users aren’t stoked about buying a drawing app — they can’t wait to paint pictures on their iPad. An app should be well-built and a joy to use, but there should be no more application than is absolutely necessary for users.

And that’s what all this comes down to: respect for users. Apps should be as small as possible because users have a lot of other stuff that they want to put on their devices, and the only reason they’ve allowed some of that storage space to be occupied by a particular app is because they want to do something with it. Apps from good developers respect that.


  1. In Twitter’s case, there’s effectively no difference in app sizes between the version downloaded through iTunes on my Mac and the size reported on my iPhone. ↩︎

Susan Fowler Proved That One Person Can Make a Difference

Kara Swisher wrote a tribute for Recode to Susan Fowler and the effects four months after her now-infamous blog post:

Yes, that was it: Susan Fowler showed us the donkeys that were worshiped as kings by the VCs and investors and boards and, yes, the media, too.

But post-Fowler, you could not ignore it, because she pulled off what poet Louise Gluck wrote about in her poem, “Circe’s Power”: “I never turned anyone into a pig. Some people are pigs; I make them look like pigs.”

Which is to say that Fowler did everyone in tech a public service by doing nothing more than making pigs look like pigs.

I doubt anyone in tech will make as much of a difference as Fowler did this year — or, indeed, in the next few years as the effects of her post continue to be felt. Her decision to publish was courageous. But it’s also a reminder that it’s necessary to take concerns like hers seriously every single time, regardless of perceived tone or incredulity. Believe the women and people of colour — and others, of course, but those groups more frequently than not — when they explain the ways that they are isolated, bullied, and unfairly treated at any company.

The Fraught History of FireWire

Richard C. Moss, Ars Technica:

The rise and fall of FireWire — IEEE 1394, an interface standard boasting high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data transfer — is one of the most tragic tales in the history of computer technology. The standard was forged in the fires of collaboration. A joint effort from several competitors including Apple, IBM, and Sony, it was a triumph of design for the greater good. FireWire represented a unified standard across the whole industry, one serial bus to rule them all. Realized to the fullest, FireWire could replace SCSI and the unwieldy mess of ports and cables at the back of a desktop computer.

Yet FireWire’s principal creator, Apple, nearly killed it before it could appear in a single device. And eventually the Cupertino company effectively did kill FireWire, just as it seemed poised to dominate the industry.

The beauty of FireWire is that it had promised, consistent speeds no matter how long the file transfer took. That meant that transferring equivalent data was way faster on a FireWire 400 connection than it would be using USB 2, which made it great for storing large libraries of music, movies, and photos, and especially good for system backups. When I used a mid-2007 MacBook Pro, it was always connected to two FireWire drives: one for Time Machine, and one for my music collection.

Thunderbolt has effectively replaced that niche now — for me, and for lots of others, too — but Apple won’t be making the same mistakes they made with FireWire:

FireWire’s innovations as a technology were drawing attention from the tech press—Byte magazine awarded it Most Significant Technology, for instance—but within Apple, Teener recalls that simply keeping the project alive required a conspiracy between FireWire’s Apple and IBM collaborators. Supporters kept the project funded by each telling their marketing guys the other companies were going to use it.

Getting funded and getting shipped is not the same thing, however. The decision-makers in the Mac engineering and marketing groups refused to add FireWire to the Mac. “Their argument was, ‘Well, show us that it’s being adopted in the industry, and we’ll put it in,'” explained Sirkin. It was their technology, but they didn’t want to be first to push it.

This time, Apple’s going all-out with their commitment to Thunderbolt — the newest MacBook Pros have no other kinds of connectors, aside from the headphone jack. Also, Apple isn’t in a mid-1990s-esque disarray and, this time, Intel has made Thunderbolt 3 entirely royalty-free to try to spur adoption.

Reviewing the First iPhone

Backchannel is now at Wired, unfortunately — I really don’t want my readers to have to deal with Wired’s anti-adblock nonsense — but this is a good piece from Steven Levy:

On a sunny Sunday 10 years ago, I was strolling down Broadway in the Flatiron district of New York, listening to music on my phone. The song was suddenly interrupted by a call. A familiar voice barreled into the earbuds.

“What do you think?”

It was Steve Jobs, asking for my opinion on the yet-to-be-released iPhone, which I had been using for about a week. I was one of four reviewers who received early units, and it turned out that Jobs pestered each one of us. (A couple of days earlier I had gotten a warning that Steve might call, “just to say hi.”) Though Jobs would never admit it — Hey, just a friendly call, buddy! — Apple was under pressure for what might have been the riskiest product launch in its history.

But the pressure was on me and my three colleagues as well. This was arguably the most hyped product of all time—a New York magazine cover was declaring the product “The Jesus Phone,” not as an endorsement but a statement of how this as yet-unvetted slab of glass and aluminum had become a repository of all our hopes and dreams. What if one of us was an outlier — either positive or negative — and his take (yes, we were all guys) proved disastrously wrong?

One of the things Scott Forstall pointed out in his interview with John Markoff is how these initial reviews framed the iPhone in the context of BlackBerrys and other “smartphones” of the era. I get that, but the iPhone was so clearly advanced for its time that early reviews simply weren’t able to capture or contextualize that.

Recall Steve Jobs’ “a widescreen iPod, a mobile phone, and an internet communications device” bit from the Macworld 2007 keynote: big applause for the iPod, huge applause for the phone, and a light golf clap for the internet communicator. It turns out that the third thing was, by far, the most important aspect of the device.

See Also: The Internet Archive has a copy of Steven Levy’s 2007 review.

Update: I have corrected both instances of Steven Levy’s name because not all Stevens are Stephens. It’s been a long week.

John Markoff’s Interview With Scott Forstall and Three Original iPhone Team Members

John Markoff of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California scored an impressive and wide-ranging interview with members of the original iPhone team — including Scott Forstall — to mark the tenth anniversary of its launch. If you’re just interested in the Scott Forstall bit, Philip Elmer-DeWitt posted a trimmed version.

Even though you probably know the short versions of a lot of these stories, I highly recommend watching the full interview. It’s pretty awesome hearing all of them speak at length about such a high-stakes project, but that’s particularly true for Forstall. There are details in every story they tell that you may not have ever considered, like Forstall’s story of demoing the iPhone for the first time for Cingular’s CEO and being concerned about WiFi access at the hotel.

If you have two hours of listening time today and you’re debating whether to spend it on a podcast or this, choose this interview.

Update: I’ve just noticed that Elmer-DeWitt‘s trimmed version omits Forstall‘s heartwarming stories about producing Broadway shows, and a fantastic story about Microsoft sending him a dead fish.

Kalanick Out

Big scoop for Mike Isaac, New York Times:

Travis Kalanick stepped down Tuesday as chief executive of Uber, the ride-hailing service that he helped found in 2009 and that he built into a transportation colossus, after a shareholder revolt made it untenable for him to stay on at the company.

Mr. Kalanick’s exit came under pressure after hours of drama involving Uber’s investors, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, who asked to remain anonymous because the details are confidential.

And a rather excellent piece from the Financial Times’ Alphaville blog:

Uber Technologies Inc is an eight-year-old taxi company based in San Francisco. Its backers include some of the world’s smartest technology investors, like Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The company is at a crossroads. We are looking for a chief executive to replace our famously aggressive founder, who remains on the board and retains a ton of voting rights. Candidates will need to demonstrate experience in putting lipstick on pigs, putting out dumpster fires and leading businesses as they pivot from ‘hot mess’ to ‘performatively woke’.

Just a week ago, Kalanick took what was then a “leave of absence” of indeterminate length; now, he’s out. But unfortunately, even though he’s no longer CEO, Kalanick will still be on the board and, therefore, in a position of power. I’m sure that Uber’s culture has been created from the top down, and Kalanick’s continued board membership, voting rights, and founder status allow him to still be a figurehead for the company.

If he is involved in picking a replacement that is a good “cultural fit”, I doubt there will be many substantive changes. Uber’s internal culture is aptly named — it’s like a toxic mold, and will persist so long as any trace of it remains at the company. They can go through the motions of implementing Eric Holder’s recommendations, but nothing will make a real difference until their people commit to a completely different mental perspective.

Update: It’s worth pointing out that, while Uber has faced constant controversy since it launched, you can draw a direct link between Susan Fowler’s February post and Kalanick’s ousting.

Third-Party Companies Are Collecting Form Data Without User Consent

Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu, Gizmodo:

If you’re daydreaming about buying a home or need to lower the payment on the one you already have, you might pay a visit to the Quicken Loans mortgage calculator. You’ll be asked a quick succession of questions that reveal how much cash you have on hand or how much your home is worth and how close you are to paying it off. Then Quicken will tell you how much you’d owe per month if you got a loan from them and asks for your name, email address, and phone number.

You might fill in the contact form, but then have second thoughts. Do you really want to tell this company how much you’re worth or how in debt you are? You change your mind and close the page before clicking the Submit button and agreeing to Quicken’s privacy policy.

But it’s too late. Your email address and phone number have already been sent to a server at “murdoog.com,” which is owned by NaviStone, a company that advertises its ability to unmask anonymous website visitors and figure out their home addresses. NaviStone’s code on Quicken’s site invisibly grabbed each piece of your information as you filled it out, before you could hit the “Submit” button.

Quicken is just one of over a hundred websites known by BuiltWith that use NaviStone. This technique seems completely unethical to me, but NaviStone isn’t the only company providing tracking services for partially-completed form data: FormStack — which cites Delta Airlines, Netflix, Twitter, and Stanford as clients — highlights their version of the feature on their website. Gravity Forms, a popular WordPress plugin, has available a partial entries add-on. FormRescue has on its homepage a demo of cancelling a form entry and being opted into an email marketing list — something that’s entirely illegal in Canada.

Some of this functionality is optional, such as the Gravity Forms add-on and the FormStack functionality. But you, as a user, would never know which websites you visit are using scripts like these to disclose your partially-completed form entries to third parties without your explicit consent.

Inside Apple’s Fight Against Leaks

The last time anyone wrote about Apple’s “plumbers”, that I can recall, was in 2009, when Gizmodo’s Jesus Diaz called them the “Gestapo” in his usual tone of moderation and subtlety.

Today, though, William Turton of the Outline has the big scoop:

A recording of an internal briefing at Apple earlier this month obtained by The Outline sheds new light on how far the most valuable company in the world will go to prevent leaks about new products.

The briefing, titled “Stopping Leakers – Keeping Confidential at Apple,” was led by Director of Global Security David Rice, Director of Worldwide Investigations Lee Freedman, and Jenny Hubbert, who works on the Global Security communications and training team.

I can’t wait for Thurton to have leaked to him the audio from the investigation into this leaked anti-leaking audio. Got that? Good.

If you’ve been following Apple for any length of time, you might have noticed how little leaked for WWDC this year, as compared to previous years. Specific details — seven tweeters and a woofer, a Mac Pro-esque design, and so on — of the HomePod were known beforehand, but that sort of thing tends to come from the supply chain. In recent years, though, the balance between supply chain leaks and corporate leaks has apparently changed:

However, Rice says, Apple has cracked down on leaks from its factories so successfully that more breaches are now happening on Apple’s campuses in California than its factories abroad. “Last year was the first year that Apple [campuses] leaked more than the supply chain,” Rice tells the room. “More stuff came out of Apple [campuses] last year than all of our supply chain combined.”

I wonder if Apple is including in this the prerelease peek of the black Milanese Loop band, the prerelease ads for the iPhone 7, and the framework leak of the TouchBar-equipped MacBook Pros. Other than those secrecy blunders, it still seems like the vast majority of leaks originate on the assembly line, even recently.

PayPal Says They’ll Soon Begin Supporting Instant Bank Transfers, Including in Venmo

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

PayPal announced this morning a plan to speed up money transfers between its service, Venmo and users’ bank accounts for those with supported MasterCard and Visa debit cards. This new “instant transfers” service will be available at a rate of $0.25 per transaction, and will deliver funds in a matter of minutes, instead of the day or so it typically takes when using PayPal or Venmo.

PayPal has been operating in the peer-to-peer payments business for nearly two decades, but the company has been more recently challenged by a number of newcomers, like Square Cash, for example, whose key advantage has been the ability to “cash out” to your bank account instantly.

PayPal says that they’re going to launch this ahead of the peer-to-peer Apple Pay support arriving with iOS 11, which will presumably launch in September. One of the hangups of peer-to-peer Apple Pay — when compared to, say, Square Cash — is that transferred funds sit on a virtual spending card in Wallet, instead of being immediately sent to a connected bank account.

No word on whether instant transfers, as with pretty much all of the popular peer-to-peer payment apps, will be a U.S.-only feature; I certainly hope it will launch worldwide. I still use PayPal for a few things, and I appreciate any way I’m able to treat it as a silent bridge between my bank account and places where I send and receive money.

Andrew Cunningham Has Left Ars Technica

Two years ago, John Siracusa announced that he would no longer be writing his book-length MacOS reviews. After he stopped, Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson kept up the tradition while Cunningham was also writing equally thorough reviews of every version of iOS since iOS 7.

It doesn’t sound like he’ll be writing any more of his longform reviews. I’ll miss them, but I’m sure his writing over at the Wirecutter will be equally fastidious.

Personal Details of 198 Million American Voters Leaked

The era of big data breaches isn’t stopping — if anything, it seems to be getting worse. In April last year, the Telegraph reported that 50 million Turkish citizens’ details were leaked. At around the same time, the Rappler noted the leak of 55 million Philippine voting records, which was followed shortly by news of over 90 million Mexicans’ voting records.

Now, this, from Dan O’Sullivan of UpGuard:

In what is the largest known data exposure of its kind, UpGuard’s Cyber Risk Team can now confirm that a misconfigured database containing the sensitive personal details of over 198 million American voters was left exposed to the internet by a firm working on behalf of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in their efforts to elect Donald Trump. The data, which was stored in a publicly accessible cloud server owned by Republican data firm Deep Root Analytics, included 1.1 terabytes of entirely unsecured personal information compiled by DRA and at least two other Republican contractors, TargetPoint Consulting, Inc. and Data Trust. In total, the personal information of potentially near all of America’s 200 million registered voters was exposed, including names, dates of birth, home addresses, phone numbers, and voter registration details, as well as data described as “modeled” voter ethnicities and religions.

This echoes a leak of of the information of 191 million voters from December 2015, but this is even worse with the inclusion of ethnicity and religion data, which can be used to target specific individuals. You know all those tech companies promising not to assist with the creation of a so-called “Muslim registry”? Even without Facebook’s enormous data set, this is the next closest thing.

Lyft Invents Bus

Heather Yamada-Hosley of Lifehacker tried Lyft’s new Shuttle service:

I take Lyft or Lyft Line a couple times a week, usually because I’m traveling with other people and it’s the same or cheaper (and much, much cleaner, faster, and more pleasant) than taking public transportation. But Lyfts can add up fast and Lyft Line, while less expensive, can take you out of your way and make your travel time much longer.

Lyft Shuttle addresses both those issues by having you walk to a nearby pick up spot, get in a shared car that follows a pre-designated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop. So, basically, you share a ride with other people (most of the time) so your ride price is lower, but you know exactly how long the ride will take because you’re on a pre-designated route.

Raphael Orlove of Jalopnik had basically the same thought as, well, most Lifehacker commenters:

Lyft is testing out a new service called Lyft Shuttle, which runs at a lower cost than its usual it’s-not-a-taxi app, but runs on a preset route picking up at preset stops. You may be familiar with this concept already, as in other parts of the world that are not Silicon Valley, this is known as a “bus.”

Apart from the sheer absurdity of Lyft claiming innovation to investors by copying and pasting ideas from Manchester in 1824, this seems like an insidious attempt at privatizing public transport. That’s a problem because the goals of public transport — to provide transportation to everyone regardless of income or mobility — tend to run counter to the goals of private companies. Most transit systems in the United States and around the world don’t turn a profit, and that’s okay. We all subsidize them because their goal is for all of us to use them. Besides, it’s better than public transit being subject to the whims of Silicon Valley investors.

I hear the public transport system in San Francisco isn’t very good, so it’s tempting to argue that Lyft could provide healthy competition. But one reason that Bay Area transit isn’t very good is that it’s desperately underfunded — in part because many tech companies based in the region, including Lyft, are engaged in various tax avoidance strategies.

Lyft and their investors can do whatever they want with their money and time. If they want to reinvent the bus, they should go for it. But they should also be contributing their fair share so that everyone may have equal access to safe, reliable, and fast public transportation.

Update: Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

… To spell it out for the tech crowd, what is annoying about Lyft’s new project, to those of us who ride buses, is that it describes and re-creates an underfunded and underappreciated public service as a revolutionary new endeavor. No one doubts that autonomous driving, if and when it actually arrives, will change how buses are operated. But that would happen regardless of Lyft’s invention, or reinvention, of the bus.

I use public transit extensively. I love the idea of making it easier and better to use for everyone. I dislike the idea of making it a VC-subsidized expensive private enterprise operating out of San Francisco.

The Radium Girls

Kate Moore, Buzzfeed:

Ever since the glowing element had been discovered, it had been known to cause harm; Marie Curie herself had suffered radiation burns from handling it. People had died of radium poisoning before the first dial painter ever picked up her brush. That was why the men at the radium companies wore lead aprons in their laboratories and handled the radium with ivory-tipped tongs. Yet the dial painters were not afforded such protection, or even warned it might be necessary.

That was because, at that time, a small amount of radium — such as the girls were handling — was believed to be beneficial to health: People drank radium water as a tonic, and one could buy cosmetics, butter, milk, and toothpaste laced with the wonder element. Newspapers reported its use would “add years to our lives!”

But that belief was founded upon research conducted by the very same radium firms who had built their lucrative industry around it. They ignored all the danger signs; when asked, managers told the girls the substance would put roses in their cheeks.

The biggest difference between women working in chip manufacturing today and the “radium girls” is that the latter were paid well. That doesn’t excuse the toxicity of the work nor the industry’s lies, but it suggests we’ve gone backwards: not only are women once again encouraged to work in a particularly dangerous industry without adequate protections, they’re not even being compensated for the hazards.

(Via Andrew.)

Women Are Paying a Steep Price for Our Digital World

Cam Simpson, Bloomberg:

In 2010 a South Korean physician named Kim Myoung-hee left her assistant professorship at a medical school to head a small research institute in Seoul. For Kim, who’s also an epidemiologist, it was a chance to spend more time on the public-health research she’d embraced as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard five years earlier.

In her new post, a series of cancer cases in South Korea’s microelectronics industry drew her interest, including one particular episode that had caught the public eye: Two young women working side-by-side at the same Samsung Electronics workstation and using the same chemicals contracted the same aggressive form of leukemia. The disease kills only 3 out of every 100,000 South Koreans each year, but these young co-workers died within eight months of each other. And their disease was among those most clearly tied to carcinogens. Activists discovered more cases at Samsung and other microelectronics companies, mostly among young women. Industry executives denied any link.

Kim began compiling and analyzing occupational-health studies about semiconductor workers worldwide, a body of work that had drawn little attention in South Korea despite the industry’s importance there. She found 40 different works published by 2010, and virtually every one mentioned exposure to toxic chemicals. “I had no idea that this is a chemical industry, not the electronics industry,” she says.

This is a heartbreaking story. It’s not news that the electronics manufacturing industry is dangerous; it is news that this danger was known in the United States, but was moved overseas when it became undeniable. Instead of making electronics production safer after studies proved the risks, though, companies simply transferred those risks onto underpaid young women and buried the true cost of their role in the chip production process.

CRTC Rules Against Carrier Locking, Unlocking Fees

Lisa Cumming, Vice:

Now, the age of locked-to-carrier phones is ending in Canada: if you buy your phone, you’ll be able to use it wherever you want, full stop.

As of Dec. 1, carriers can no longer charge an “unlocking fee” to unlock your phone. Moreover, all newly purchased devices must be unlocked from the get-go, according to new regulations from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the federal telecommunications regulator, which came out on Thursday. Last year, telecoms made more than $37 million charging people to unlock their devices, according to a CBC report.

This is an especially important decision in Canada’s oligopolic carrier market. Unfortunately, there are no regulations from the CRTC that prevent carriers from raising their prices to compensate, which is likely what will happen. Because of Canada’s geography and various laws designed to make sure adequate cellular access is not confined to major cities, there’s very little chance this situation will change while the infrastructure is privately owned and operated. Therefore, the CRTC ought to consider proposals to nationalize cellular infrastructure and allow carriers to resell it.

The iPod Hi-Fi

Apple’s prior attempt at a home audio system famously didn’t sell particularly well, but the thought and consideration that went into it indicates that this was a product of real passion and care. Check out the ridiculously thick battery door and the near-seamless body. No matter how much I appreciate the premium quality of today’s aluminum and glass Apple products, a part of me will always miss the glossy white plastic era, and the iPod Hi-Fi might be the truest expression of its ideals.

Wistron CEO Says the New iPhone Will Have ‘Wireless Charging’

Debby Wu, Nikkei’s Asian Review:

iPhone assembler Wistron, a smaller rival to Hon Hai Precision Industry and Pegatron, on Wednesday confirmed that waterproof and wireless charging will be incorporated into the new 5.5-inch iPhones to be launched later this year.

“Assembly process for the previous generations of [iPhones] have not changed much, though new features like waterproof and wireless charging now require some different testing, and waterproof function will alter the assembly process a bit,” [Wistron Chief Executive Robert Hwang] told reporters after the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.

A couple of things of note here. First, Hwang probably got a cracking phone call this morning from Cupertino, and how much would you have loved to be in an Apple SVP’s office when that happened?

Second, Wu says that this concerns the “new 5.5-inch iPhones”, which is curious. Does that mean it’s coming to a new generation of iPhone 7 Plus models — a sort of iPhone 7S Plus? Does that exclude a presumed non-Plus iPhone 7S? Or does she mean that the screen size of the so-called iPhone 8 is 5.5 inches?

Also, an observation: all the way back in September of 2012, I was convinced that Apple wouldn’t implement wireless charging until it was truly wireless. A charging mat or magnetic puck might be cool, but they offer little convenience over plugging a cable into a device. Apple seems to think the same thing — they don’t call the charging setup used by the Watch “wireless charging” — they call it a “magnetic charging cable”.

I doubt the CEO of Wistron is dropping any real hints here, and I have no idea if the new iPhone will sport truly wireless charging, in the same way we think of every other use of the word “wireless”. But I’m looking forward to a day when I can simply pop my iPhone onto my nightstand like I do my glasses and book, go to sleep, and wake up to a charged phone, without a second thought.

With This Year’s OS Updates, Apple Will Improve Encryption of iMessage Backups

Just before WWDC, if you’ll remember, I had a little argument with myself about the nature of encryption for iCloud backups. I was specifically interested in the nature of iMessages within iCloud backups because, as noted by Joshua Kopstein of Vice, Apple has the keys to their own backup system:

It turns out the privacy benefits Apple likes to talk about (and the FBI likes to complain about) basically disappear when iCloud Backup is enabled. Your messages, photos and whatnot are still protected while on your device and encrypted end-to-end while in transit. But you’re also telling your device to CC Apple on everything. Those copies are encrypted on iCloud using a key controlled by Apple, not you, allowing the company (and thus anyone who gets access to your account) to see their contents.

That’s set to change with this year’s round of operating system updates. Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice:

During an interview with Apple blogger and Daring Fireball’s owner John Gruber, Federighi said that the company has figured out a way to do syncing while still remaining unable to read your iMessages. Here’s what he said (this exchange is around the 01:05:30 timestamp in the video):

“Our security and encryption team has been doing work over a number of years now to be able to synchronize information across your, what we call your circle of devices—all those devices that are associated with the common account—in a way that they each generate and share keys with each other that Apple does not have.”

“And so, even if they store information in the cloud, it’s encrypted with keys that Apple doesn’t have. And so [users] can put things in the cloud, they can pull stuff down from the cloud, so the cloud still serves as a conduit—and even ultimately kind of a backup for them—but only they can read it.”

It isn’t clear how they’re doing this, nor is it clear whether this only applies to iCloud syncing of messages or all iCloud backups.

After Gawker’s Demise, the ‘Inventor of Email’ Targets Techdirt

Rather than accepting the fact that he wasn’t the first person to come up with email, and that Mike Masnick has every right to mock him publicly, Shiva Ayyadurai has resorted to petulant, Trumpian bullying tactics to try to buy his way into history, and bury any publication that dares to publish the facts. Even if Ayyadurai loses his frivolous, fact-bending lawsuit, he might still put Techdirt out of business; meanwhile, Techdirt effectively loses either way. It’s shameful.

Charles Thacker, Dead at 74

Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica:

Charles Thacker, one of the lead hardware designers on the Xerox Alto, the first modern personal computer, died of a brief illness on Monday. He was 74.

The Alto, which was released in 1973 but was never a commercial success, was an incredibly influential machine. Ahead of its time, it boasted resizeable windows as part of its graphical user interface, along with a mouse, Ethernet, and numerous other technologies that didn’t become standard until years later. (Last year, Y Combinator acquired one and began restoring it.)

Thacker also helped demonstrate the viability of a tablet-style computer — something bigger than a PDA with PC-like capabilities — when he worked on prototypes for Microsoft’s Tablet PC project in the late 1990s.

Jake Swearingen, New York magazine:

Fellow Xerox engineer Alan Kay had the idea for what he called a “Dynabook,” — a computer with the form factor of a book that would be permanently networked, allowing for its contents to be continuously updated. Thacker took the idea and ran with it, eventually migrating to Microsoft where he worked on their Tablet PC, released in 2002. Again, while Microsoft’s version of the tablet was not a success, it laid the foundation for tablet computers to come — including, of course, the iPad.

That’s a life well lived.

Quirks in Apple’s Mac Pricing Strategy

Riccardo Mori:

I’m a terribly budget-conscious customer, alas, but even if I weren’t, the thing that irritates me the most is how certain components of many Mac base configurations look purposefully unappealing to induce people to upgrade them right away, thus spending more money. I mean, a spinning 5400rpm hard drive in a retina iMac, in 2017? I had a 5400rpm hard drive when I purchased my 12-inch PowerBook G4 more than 13 years ago. Eight gigabytes of RAM in the high-end 27-inch Retina 5K iMac, aimed at customers whose needs very likely demand a bare minimum of 16 GB of RAM? Laptops with a non-upgradable 128 GB SSD? All this with base model configurations that aren’t exactly cheap from the start. It doesn’t strike me as treating your customers respectfully.

This situation feels like a repeat of the longstanding 16 GB entry-level capacity for iOS devices: it’s clearly inadequate. I don’t know what hardware Apple’s executive team uses, but I doubt any of them could honestly recommend that someone should buy an iMac today with a spinning hard drive. Solid state storage might be far too expensive to put in every iMac, but they could at least start with a Fusion Drive which, yes, would eat into margins, but it would be the right thing to do.

By the way, I think that executive test is a good way to benchmark the value of product configurations. I could imagine Tim Cook or Phil Schiller using a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 256 GB SSD; I couldn’t imagine either of them being happy with the base-level 128 GB model.

Adam C. Engst, TidBits:

Thinking about buying one of Apple’s just-updated iMacs? You’ll want to pay close attention while configuring them because you could end up with a worse configuration for the same price depending on how you start, or you might pay more for the same configuration. Alert reader Yasuhiro Sugawara of Sugarwater Brothers deserves the credit for identifying these quirks in Apple’s online store.

I assume these quirks are related to Apple’s affinity for upgrade pricing ending in –00, but it would be helpful if the online store could suggest Macs of the same price in a better configuration.

Mixed Messages in an Excerpt From ‘The One Device’

Vice’s Brian Merchant has a new book coming out about the iPhone’s origins. Called “The One Device”, it will apparently chronicle the development and production on the tenth anniversary of the iPhone’s release. The Verge published an excerpt from the book this morning and it seems to contain a number of inaccuracies or mixed messages.

There are little things amiss. For example, on the “Project Purple” codename:

Why Purple? Few seem to recall. One theory is it was named after a purple kangaroo toy that Scott Herz — one of the first engineers to come to work on the iPhone — had as a mascot for Radar, the system that Apple engineers used to keep track of software bugs and glitches throughout the company.

The mascot for Radar is not a kangaroo; it’s either an anteater or an aardvark because, well, they eat bugs. This is really tiny detail, but it’s the kind of thing that makes me question the depth of research afforded to this book. The Radar mascot is well-known even outside of Apple, particularly in the broader development community.

But then there are bigger things, like Tony Fadell’s on-the-record claim that Phil Schiller demanded a hardware keyboard during planning meetings:

He “just sat there with his sword out every time, going, ‘No, we’ve got to have a hard keyboard. No. Hard keyboard.’ And he wouldn’t listen to reason as all of us were like, ‘No, this works now, Phil.’ And he’d say, ‘You gotta have a hard keyboard!’ ” Fadell says.

Apparently, one of those meetings became particularly heated:

“We’re making the wrong decision!” Schiller shouted.

“Steve looked at him and goes, ‘I’m sick and tired of this stuff. Can we get off of this?’ And he threw him out of the meeting,” Fadell recalls. Later, he says, “Steve and he had it out in the hallway. He was told, like, Get on the program or get the fuck out. And he ultimately caved.”

John Gruber:

So I’ll just say this: this story about Phil Schiller pushing for a hardware keyboard comes one source (so far — if anyone out there can back that up, my window is always open for little birdies), and that one source is the guy who admittedly spent over a year working on iPhone prototypes with a click wheel interface.

Phil Schiller also denies Fadell’s story. Very few people were privy to meetings about the iPhone in 2005, so this will likely remain a he-said-he-said standoff, unless Steve Jobs’ ghost wants to chime in.

For what it’s worth, Merchant’s book will probably be an entertaining read. I’m certainly going to check it out. As usual with ostensibly secret-spilling books about Apple, though, it should be enjoyed with an elevated level of skepticism.

Update: Tony Fadell says that the anecdote about Schiller isn’t correct. But Merchant quotes him directly in the excerpt published on the Verge, so something isn’t adding up here. Either the writer completely botched Fadell’s quote — which raises serious questions about the accuracy of the entire book — or Fadell dramatized it while being interviewed and wishes to walk back from an exaggerated recollection.

The iPad’s Other Shoe Has Dropped

Matt Gemmell’s full-time computer is his iPad, so he has some thoughts on the big changes coming in iOS 11:

The presence of a persistent dock, for example, changes the whole language of the machine. It’s no longer a phone-like launcher, with app sessions sitting on top; it’s a task-focused device, where you can arbitrarily branch to other areas as you wish. The Home screen has been demoted from its hub status, and instead it becomes the Mac’s Launchpad, to which it gave its look and functionality.

Drag and drop, with cross-app persistence, multiple non-modal sessions, and multi-touch adding and stacking, is an example of what iOS and the iPad should be all about: showing how we can not only replicate sophisticated desktop-era interactions on a touch device, but even improve upon them by being freed from the tyranny of the pointer.

Aurélien Che’s recording of stacking multiple kinds of objects and being able to drop them individually really indicates the power of upgrading an old computer paradigm for a device that you can directly manipulate with your fingers. It has been a long time coming, but it’s extraordinary.

Gemmell also posted a slow-motion video of scrolling on his new iPad Pro. It’s so smooth that it makes the 60 Hz display of his old Pro look like a basic animation, rather than pushing the webpage up and down. I hope ProMotion comes to every single one of Apple’s devices, but I’d especially like to see it on the Apple TV — potential technical limitations aside, it would allow movies to be shown at their correct frame rate.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Takes a Leave of Absence

Heather Somerville and Joseph Menn, Reuters:

Chief Executive Travis Kalanick told employees on Tuesday he will take time away from the company he helped to found, citing the need to grieve for his recently deceased mother and to work on his leadership skills, according to an email from Kalanick seen by Reuters.

Kalanick, 40, did not say how long he would be away from Uber, the ride-hailing firm that he helped turn into the world’s most valuable venture-backed company, but has run into problems due to its rough-and-tumble approach to regulations and its own employees.

“During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company,” Kalanick wrote in his email. “I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly.”

Progress — to some degree or another. Not only does Kalanick need to deal with a family tragedy — and rightfully so — the time off should allow the company to start putting in place the recommendations from the report by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarrán. Their suggestions include everything from limiting Kalanick’s power and responsibilities, to reducing a workaholic culture by rescheduling catered dinners to an earlier time.

While Kalanick says that the leadership team will be running Uber while he’s absent, there seem to be very few people left on that team. Who, exactly, is going to be running the company?

Update: Yahoo Finance was sent a copy of the audio from the all-hands internal meeting announcing Kalanick’s leave (autoplaying video warning):

While speaking, Huffington pointed out that Uber was adding a woman to its board, Wan Ling Martello.

“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” she said.

“Actually what it shows is it’s much likely to be more talking,” Uber board member David Bonderman said.

This happened seven minutes into a meeting addressing pervasive sexism within the company. Seven minutes is all it took for one of the assholes in charge of the company to make a sexist remark. Kalanick may be absent, and many of his ilk may have left the company, but their rotten attitudes remain.

Update: Now Bonderman is off the board. Who knows — maybe they are serious about clearing out all the assholes.

User Frustration With Different Online Advertising Techniques

Therese Fessenden of the Nielsen Norman Group:

In 2004, we wrote about the most hated advertising techniques based on research conducted by Christian Rohrer and John Boyd. Online advertising has changed significantly since then, giving us plenty of new formats to test and new questions to ask. With that, we decided to run a study to determine which advertising techniques are most disruptive and detrimental for the modern user experience.

We conducted a survey with 452 adult respondents from the United States who were not employed in an IT- or marketing-related industry. In this survey, participants were shown 23 wireframes corresponding to different types of advertisements and rated how much they disliked them on a scale of 1 to 7.

You won’t be surprised by anything in the top five, but you may be surprised by how many respondents were not as bothered by retargeted ads as most other formats.

When you think about how many of these ad techniques can often be found on the same webpage, it’s no surprise that ad blocking is on the rise. It’s beyond the scope of this survey, but I’d be interested to see some research into the acceptability of anti-blocking techniques, and how likely they are to create paying subscribers or disable ad blockers.

The Talk Show Live From WWDC

This is the third year in a row that John Gruber has hosted Apple executives as his guests on the WWDC version of the Talk Show, and I think it’s the best one yet, despite some funky audio mixing. The conversation between Gruber, Craig Federighi, and Phil Schiller felt more informative and more relaxed. The highlights include Federighi highlighting improved iCloud privacy, the careful choreography of upgrading all iOS devices to APFS, and elaborating on how drag and drop works in iOS 11. It’s worth listening to, but I’d take the ninety minutes to watch the video, if I were you.

Emil Michael, Uber’s SVP of Business, Resigns

Mike Isaac, New York Times:

Emil Michael, Uber’s senior vice president for business and second in command at the ride-hailing company, left the company on Monday morning, according to an email sent to employees.

Mr. Michael’s departure comes after a series of scandals that have rocked the company over the past year, forcing the board of directors to call an investigation into Uber’s culture and business practices.

The results of that investigation, conducted by Eric H. Holder Jr. of Covington & Burling, were delivered to Uber’s board on Sunday. Mr. Holder’s report recommended that Mr. Michael depart the company, and the board said on Sunday evening that it had accepted all of the recommendations.

In 2014, Michael forgot that he was on the record when he suggested to a Buzzfeed editor that Uber could, theoretically, hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on targeted journalists as retaliation for negative coverage. He later stated that those candid statements did not reflect his actual views.

Appholes

Last week, Jason Fried posted a screenshot of an ad for Apple’s new series, “Planet of the Apps”, featuring a quote from Andrew Kemendo, one of the contestants on the show:

I rarely get to see my kids. That’s a risk you have to take.

I don’t have any contempt for Kemendo for saying this; it’s a common sentiment in today’s workforce, particularly in Silicon Valley. The never-ending workday that was once the domain of the CEO has since spread to even the lowest-level employees. David Heinemeier Hansson, Fried’s co-founder at Basecamp, captured “trickle-down workaholism” in a fantastic article:

Neither these athletes [Kobe Bryant and LeBron James] or these writers [Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, and Charles Darwin] were giving up anything on whatever contemporaries that may have put in more time, more hours, or greater sacrifices. Their contributions to the world were in no way diminished by their balanced approach, quite the contrary.

So don’t tell me that there’s something uniquely demanding about building yet another fucking startup that dwarfs the accomplishments of The Origin of Species or winning five championship rings. It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and wellbeing of others like cannon fodder.

It’s critical to understand that Kemendo’s quote isn’t reflecting upon a unique situation for Apple. In 2008, Fred Vogelstein documented the development of the first iPhone in an oft-cited article (sorry about the Wired link):

For those working on the iPhone, the next three months would be the most stressful of their careers. Screaming matches broke out routinely in the hallways. Engineers, frazzled from all-night coding sessions, quit, only to rejoin days later after catching up on their sleep. A product manager slammed the door to her office so hard that the handle bent and locked her in; it took colleagues more than an hour and some well-placed whacks with an aluminum bat to free her.

If anything, this should be read as a cautionary tale rather than a playbook — that, despite the success and ingenuity of the iPhone, this is something that should not happen.

In other words, it’s a circumstance that should not be promoted.

I feel terrible for Kemendo, his fellow contestants on “Planet of the Apps”, and anyone else who is stuck in a situation where they feel pressured to compromise on family and friends because of their job. That shouldn’t happen — ever. Even though the ad in question was eventually deleted, it isn’t a work-life balance that Apple — or any company — should feel comfortable promoting.1


By the way, I sat through the first episode of “Planet of the Apps” — because I work hard for you — and I stand by what I wrote after the trailer was released in February:

I’ve seen more than a few people write this off as a dramatized version of app development — compiling code and funding rounds, as seen through a reality TV filter. I think that’s overly kind. The premise is derivative, and the clips — so far — seem mediocre and dull. What has been shown so far does a disservice to the vast majority of developers, too.

I’ve very little to add beyond this. Without adequate time spent on character development, I’m not invested in the success of any of the participants so far, so every apparent crisis they face seems louder but no more urgent. Even with my knowledge of all of the judges’ backgrounds — especially with my knowledge of Will.I.Am’s Salesforce watch — I don’t buy any of them as serious startup mentors. Very little in the show convinced me otherwise.

Also, there are a lot of indications that this is a TV show, like audible director cues and visible camera booms. It’s super weird and it doesn’t really add anything to the show.

My perception might change later in the season, but this isn’t an encouraging start. I like the idea of Apple making original TV shows; I don’t like this attempt.


  1. Worth mentioning, too, is that Apple was one of several major tech companies — including Google, Intel, and Adobe — that conspired to fix employee wages and agreed not to recruit between themselves. ↩︎

The iPad’s Renaissance

John Paczkowski had the chance earlier this week to speak with Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller about Apple’s new iPad Pro models and the iPad-specific enhancements coming in iOS 11:

For a while — since its inception — iOS has been iPhone-first, with nods to the iPad as well.

This is the first time that iOS has (seemingly) been designed from the get-go with the iPad at top of mind. While last year’s iPad Pro may have delivered on hardware, without a strong OS update to match, it felt incomplete as a “primary” computer. Yet given this new operating system — especially when taken together with this year’s hardware — it feels like the iPad may be at another inflection point.

Apparently, the silicon used to drive iPad displays at 120 Hz took four years to develop. The software features in iOS 11 seem like they’ve taken a couple of years on their own to design and build. Consider, for instance, the drag and drop feature: it seems so simple, but — as noted in this years Platforms State of the Union presentation — Apple paid considerable attention to the security of a drag and drop operation, and it required APFS to be fast enough.

As much as the past couple of years have felt a little bit like a drought for the iPad — iPad Pro hardware aside — the innovations launched this year truly feel like a renaissance for the product line. Apple really is trying to tick all the boxes to make the iPad the best computer for most people, most of the time. I just hope that they can keep up the momentum, and not tick-tock between releases of iOS that seem primarily designed for the iPhone, and releases made for the iPad.

Will Uber Fire Travis Kalanick?

Maya Kosoff, Vanity Fair:

Uber C.E.O. Travis Kalanick has long been the sort of leader that Silicon Valley venerates: brash, unapologetic, and committed to winning at all costs. As his ride-hailing start-up’s valuation ballooned, the press wrote off Kalanick’s jokes about picking up women on demand and thrived on the drama of his secret plans to sabotage his rivals. But as Uber matured into a globe-spanning, $70 billion behemoth, stories of the company’s aggressive, macho culture ran up against evolving expectations for what is acceptable behavior in a tech industry finally grappling with sexism. Now, in the wake of a series of metastasizing scandals, a once unthinkable question is being asked: will Uber’s board fire Travis Kalanick?

Or, to frame it another way, what would it take for Uber to fire Kalanick? At any other company, he’d have been walked out of the building four or five scandals ago; Uber, though, has a uniquely high tolerance for intolerable behaviour. From an ethical standpoint, is there anything Kalanick can do wrong in the eyes of Uber’s board?

WSJ Gains Subscribes While Fading in Search Results

Gerry Smith, Bloomberg:

After blocking Google users from reading free articles in February, the Wall Street Journal’s subscription business soared, with a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. But there was a trade-off: Traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent.

The reason: Google search results are based on an algorithm that scans the internet for free content. After the Journal’s free articles went behind a paywall, Google’s bot only saw the first few paragraphs and started ranking them lower, limiting the Journal’s viewership.

I’m not sure how this effect can last for the Journal, but it goes to show that publications don’t necessarily benefit from being available to search engines. For an established publication — like the Wall Street Journal — the benefits may really only run one way: towards search engines.

Siri’s Complicated and Fraught Life So Far

Tripp Mickle reports for the Wall Street Journal (work around the paywall via Twitter) on Siri’s stumbles within Apple:

Siri’s capabilities have lagged behind those of rivals elsewhere, as well. In tests across 5,000 different questions, it answered accurately 62% of the time, lagging the roughly 90% accuracy rate of Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, according to Stone Temple, a digital marketing firm.

A separate study by Loup Ventures, a market-research firm, shows Siri performs better than rivals on core iPhone functions, so-called command-related queries — making calendar appointments, placing phone calls, sending text messages — but doesn’t do as well answering questions accurately from the web.

Apple has tried to close the gap through acquisitions. In 2015, it purchased VocalIQ, a Cambridge, England-based startup that designed a system to improve a virtual assistant’s conversational ability.

It’s not the inability for Siri to process complex conversational queries that worries me; it’s Siri’s lack of rudimentary contextual understanding. A simple example: Tuesday night, at about 11:00, I asked Siri on my Watch “is it going to rain tomorrow?”; Siri responded by displaying a ten-day forecast. This is wrong for two reasons:

  1. My query was binary, and displaying a forecast does not answer it. Asking the same thing to Siri on my iPhone resulted in a direct answer, so I would expect a yes or no in the more time-constrained context of the Watch.

  2. If I’m asking about what the weather will be like “tomorrow”, it makes far more sense to show me the hourly forecast.

My second objection is, I admit, subjective — a couple of people replied to my tweet asking why the hourly forecast would make sense if no rain is expected. But I think the use of “tomorrow” should supersede that and show me a more fine-grained forecast.1

My first objection, though, seems entirely obvious to me: I’m asking a question, and it should provide an answer. I think it’s fair to limit that expectation to avoid Google’s “one true answer” problem, but this is a question already answered on the iPhone in plain terms.

This is just one example; I’m sure you can think of your own instances of baffling inconsistencies and total disobedience. My experiences with Siri over the years have been mixed, and it’s stuff like this that drives me up the wall. I would love if Siri could start understanding more complex and nuanced questions; I can’t understand why, nearly six years later, it fails to do the right thing with the most basic kinds of queries.


  1. I also think that the hourly forecast should begin at the time I’m usually awake instead of midnight. Siri knows what time my alarm is set for, and I use a sleep tracking app that feeds into HealthKit, so it has more than enough entirely local information to be able to figure that out. ↩︎

Police in China Detain Twenty-Two Over iPhone Information Theft

Yang Jie and Josh Chin, Dow Jones Newswires:

Police in eastern China said they had detained 22 people, including 20 from Apple “direct sales outlets” in China and companies Apple outsources services to. Police said those detained had used Apple’s internal system to illegally obtain information associated with iPhone products like phone numbers, names and Apple IDs, and then sold the information.

[…]

Under earlier laws, companies have largely escaped punishment when employees used their access to internal computer systems to steal users’ personal data, according to Liu Chunquan, an intellectual property lawyer with Shanghai-based Duan & Duan Law Firm.

That has changed under the cybersecurity law, Mr. Liu said, with companies now potentially facing fines and other punishment by regulators unless they can prove their systems weren’t to blame for leaks.

The kind of information that was captured and resold here is the information a customer would regularly provide if they needed to have their iPhone serviced. No word on whether that includes device passcodes as well, which are now used as an authentication measure. Such information, though, should only be made available to an employee for the shortest possible amount of time, and I would hope that only those on a “need to know” basis can access it.

The 2017 Apple Design Award Winners

When I didn’t see the Apple Design Awards anywhere on this year’s WWDC schedule, I became concerned that they were dropping them. They’re a hallmark of WWDC — a recognition of the best work that designers and developers do.

Rene Ritchie, iMore:

Instead of the traditional award show on Monday night, which was great in the moment but often got buried beneath all the keynote news, Apple handed out the Design Awards (ADA) in a small, private ceremony where the developers got to meet with Craig Federighi and other executives.

Now, with the keynote safely behind them, Apple is launching the ADAs to the public with a brand new website and a proper moment for each and every one of the winners — and their apps — to shine.

All of the winners are listed — with stories about the developers and how the apps came to be — on a dedicated webpage. I haven’t had the chance to try every winning app, but I regularly use a few of them, and they’re very deserving. Truly, a showcase of the best of the App Store.

Notable, seven of the ten winners are paid apps — up front, not free with an in-app purchase to unlock. Kudos.

An Uber Executive Accessed and Shared a Rape Victim’s Medical Records

Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan, Recode:

A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources.

He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said.

The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them by this group.

Every time I think Uber has sunk to its lowest possible point, they dig a little further. Or, in this case, a lot: based on Swisher and Bhuiyan‘s report, it sounds like Alexander acquired this report in an attempt to discredit the victim. To make matters worse, Alexander was apparently not part of the twenty-plus staffers fired during yesterday’s company-wide cull:

Alexander had not been among those fired, Uber said yesterday when asked about his status. Now, after Recode contacted the company about his actions, he is no longer employed there. Uber declined to comment further.

I don’t understand how Travis Kalanick is still CEO. This is abhorrent.

A Eulogy For CAPTCHA

Abigail Rowe, the Awl:

So this is how we prove our humanity, by TYPEing-IN the dirty-sock arithmetic on a Tide-branded CAPTCHA. “Prove you’re human.” It’s so blah, so crass — not even a please. And the worst part: CAPTCHA was supposed to be a good thing! Reducing spam? Good! Halting the internet bot takeover? Good! Improving AI technology? Good, hopefully! Stopping one bot from buying up all the whatever and reselling it 500%? Yes! Good again! But CAPTCHA isn’t so straightforward. And through it’s question, and our often incorrect answers, a darker, more dysfunctional portrait of the internet and the economy behind it seems to tip its hand.

The death of the CAPTCHA is encouraging partly because typing an incoherent string of characters is deeply irritating, but also because of some of the unethical economic byproducts that it has created, as Rowe mentions. I doubt very many of the people working on CAPTCHAs considered that the product they were building would create an industry of human beings expected to behave like robots. Similarly, the popularity of mobile app markets and their dependency on top lists created a demand for schemes to manipulate store rankings, resulting in unverified photos of poor working conditions for people manually and repetitively downloading apps.

I’m a designer; you may be a designer, too, or work in some capacity on features intended to prevent automated usage. It’s an ethical responsibility of our industry to recognize if there is a potential for manual abuse, too, by exploiting underpaid workers in places with more lax labour laws.

More on Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention

WebKit security engineer John Wilander explains how Safari’s new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature works:

A machine learning model is used to classify which top privately-controlled domains have the ability to track the user cross-site, based on the collected statistics. Out of the various statistics collected, three vectors turned out to have strong signal for classification based on current tracking practices: subresource under number of unique domains, sub frame under number of unique domains, and number of unique domains redirected to. All data collection and classification happens on-device.

Cookies are then distributed into “buckets” and their behaviour is adjusted based on the user’s interaction with the first- and third-party domains. I’m curious to see how well this works over time, particularly when it’s faced with tracking scripts like those from Criteo and AdRoll, which re-route Safari users’ traffic through their tracking domains in order to create a pseudo first-party interaction.

Uber Hires Bozoma Saint John, Fires Over Twenty Harassers and Bullies

Lots of news at Uber today, starting with a report from TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden:

Last week, ahead of WWDC, there was a ripple of news when Axios discovered that Bozoma Saint John — one of the more noticeable execs at the company for being a woman of color, who led an Apple Music demo at the previous year’s WWDC to some acclaim — was leaving Apple. Now TechCrunch has learned where she’s landing: she’s going to Uber.

We received the news via a tip, and have confirmed the appointment through multiple sources at Uber. The company, we understand, views the appointment as important in helping “turn the tide on recent issues.”

After Axios broke that news last week, I knew that Boz sadly wouldn’t be appearing during the keynote yesterday. She’s a fantastic presenter, and I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about her track record; I’m sure she’ll make a great Chief Brand Officer at Uber. And Uber’s going to need some great people of Boz’s calibre to turn it around.

Eric Newcomer, Bloomberg:

Uber Technologies Inc. said it fired more than 20 people after a company investigation into harassment claims.

Bobbie Wilson, an attorney at Perkins Coie LLP, gave Uber’s more than 12,000 employees an assessment of the firm’s investigation on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the issue, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters. A separate probe commissioned by Uber that’s being led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has given its own recommendations to a subcommittee of Uber’s board of directors, the person said.

In a review of 215 human-resources claims, Perkins Coie took no action in 100 instances as it continues to investigate 57 others; meanwhile, 31 employees are in counseling or training, while seven received written warnings from the company, an Uber spokesman said. The issues deal with harassment, discrimination, retaliation and other HR matters. The company didn’t name the employees who were let go. Some of the people fired were senior executives, according to the person.

Even after a housecleaning like this, there’s still the matter of Uber’s internal culture. It’s hard to imagine really meaningful change happening at the company just because they fired a bunch of people, especially with Travis Kalanick still in charge.

Intelligence Contractor Charged With Leak After the Intercept Publishes Documents

Yesterday, Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle, and Ryan Grim of the Intercept published a blockbuster story about an NSA report concerning Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. However, that story was overshadowed within about an hour by news that the U.S. Justice Department was charging the alleged leaker of that report.

Charlie Savage, New York Times:

The F.B.I. affidavit said reporters for the news outlet, which it also did not name, had approached the N.S.A. with questions for their story and, in the course of that dialogue, provided a copy of the document in their possession. An analysis of the file showed it was a scan of a copy that had been creased or folded, the affidavit said, “suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”

The N.S.A.’s auditing system showed that six people had printed out the report, including Ms. Winner. Investigators examined the computers of those six people and found that Ms. Winner had been in email contact with the news outlet, but the other five had not. In a statement, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, praised the operation.

The Intercept issued a statement earlier today, effectively declining to comment, but it sounds like they failed to adequately protect their source. Scans of the documents published online as part of their story show printer marks that identify the document’s date, time, and printer used.

This isn’t the first time something like this has occurred. In 2014, the New York Times failed to adequately redact a presentation it published as part of the Edward Snowden cache of documents. Their error exposed the name of an NSA agent. In 2012, Vice disclosed John McAfee’s location because they left location data embedded in their published photos.

The complexities of classified documents and journalists’ occasional inexperience with the highly-technical requirements of handling them came up during John Oliver’s interview with Snowden, as reported by Alan Yuhas of the Guardian:

Oliver then asked Snowden not whether his actions were right or wrong but whether they could be dangerous simply due to the incompetence of others. The Last Week Tonight host claimed that the improper redaction of a document by the New York Times exposed intelligence activity against al-Qaida.

“That is a problem,” Snowden replied.

“Well, that’s a fuck-up,” Oliver shot back, forcing Snowden to agree.

“That is a fuck-up,” Snowden replied. “Those things do happen in reporting. In journalism we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty.”

“But you have to own that then,” Oliver replied. “You’re giving documents with information that you know could be harmful which could get out there … We’re not even talking about bad faith, we’re talking about incompetence.”

The difference between the Times’ redaction mistakes and the Intercept’s is that the latter’s mission statement explicitly cites Snowden’s leaked documents as the kinds of stories they chase:

After NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward with revelations of mass surveillance in 2013, journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill decided to found a new media organization dedicated to the kind of reporting those disclosures required: fearless, adversarial journalism. They called it The Intercept.

Based on what has been reported so far, the alleged leaker screwed up by emailing the Intercept at work, and using a work printer to create colour versions of the documents.1 However, it’s also looking like the Intercept screwed up by showing original scans of the documents to the NSA while investigating this story, and by publishing versions that can easily be traced back to the printer used.


  1. Printing or scanning in black and white, especially at a higher contrast setting, will make the dots invisible. ↩︎

New Versions of Safari Block Autoplaying Videos, Remarketing

Apple’s press release:

Safari can automatically use Reader to open articles in a clean, uncluttered format, while Autoplay Blocking stops media with audio from automatically playing in the browser.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari uses machine learning to identify and remove the tracking data that advertisers employ to follow users’ web activity.

It wasn’t mentioned in the keynote, but iOS 11 also includes Intelligent Tracking Prevention. These two enhancements alone are enough reason to try to explain to friends and family what High Sierra is and why they should update once it’s out. Good luck getting anyone used to that name, though.

Google Relaunches Contributor Service

Back in January, Google abruptly shut down Contributor, the U.S.-only service that would allow you to pay to remove ads on websites. And now, contrary to my assumptions, it has returned.

Hannah Kuchler, Financial Times which, I think, might be behind a login, but one that I believe you can bypass with a Google referral:

Google will enable publishers to ask readers who use ad-blockers for micropayments, as part of a push to improve the quality of advertisements and combat the rise of ad blockers.

[…]

Comicbook.com trialled the experience and found it convinced people to “white list” a site so that blockers do not remove its ads. The feature will be available in five countries including the US and the UK now, and more countries later in the year. As each publisher will set their own price, it is not yet clear how much it could cost consumers.

This updated version of Contributor was introduced on a chickenshit minimalist webpage that features an uncompressed 2.2 MB PNG stock photo of a man highlighting the word “Working” on a document, an uncompressed 1 MB PNG stock photo of a plant beside a laptop keyboard, and not a single mention of whether hiding ads will also prevent Google from collecting tracking data.

Currently, just twelve sites have signed up to participate in Contributor, and it looks like each has to be added to the Contributor “pass” individually. In effect, it’s a Google-run site subscription service on a per-page basis. Call me pessimistic, but I don’t see this becoming very successful, and I bet it will be unceremoniously canned within the next two years or so.

MacOS, APFS, and Time Machine Possibilities

Gene Steinberg:

One thing Time Machine does not do is to allow you to boot from the backup drive. So if your startup drive fails, you would have to restore your data to a new drive before you can get back to work. That’s certainly a severe limitation for the busy person or business. The best solution to that dilemma is to install a dedicated backup app that can create a clone drive; in other words, a mirror of your setup drive. You can use an external drive for the backup, or even a partition, but the latter wouldn’t be a good move. If a drive fails, you’d lose both backups.

[…]

Now the existing version of Time Machine was designed with the current file system, HFS+, in mind, recognizing its limitations. With APFS, Apple builds a new version of Time Machine. Does APFS make it possible to boot from a Time Machine volume?

One of the possibilities listed this year in WWDC Bingo is a Time Machine in the Cloud feature. There are plenty of offsite backup companies, but having a la carte restoration of files — from anywhere in the world — integrated with Time Machine would be a dream.

However, there are still times when a local backup is ideal — say, if you don’t have internet access, or your internet connection is slow, or if you’d prefer full encryption that you control. I would love to see enhancements to Time Machine this year that fully take advantage of APFS, if it’s ready to ship in MacOS Malibu, or Monterey, or whatever it is that they’re calling it this year.

WWDC Bingo

Ryan Jones’ gigantic WWDC Bingo spreadsheet returns on Google Docs. So far, fifty-four people — including yours truly — have added their best guesses for what will be announced this year. So far:

  • No single line item is seen by all participants as guaranteed. Yes, there is one person who has guessed that Apple will introduce a new Mac Mini on Monday. Two people do not believe there will be any major iPad enhancements in iOS 11.

  • A couple of guesses are nearly evenly split across all participants: the likelihood of iTunes for Mac being split into at least two new apps, and whether Jony Ive will be physically present.

  • Aside from Phil Schiller, lots of people think that this year’s Talk Show Live guest will be either Craig Federighi or Tim Cook. I wasn’t the only person to guess Jony Ive, but I think it’s a bit optimistic.

  • Participants seem pretty split on how many buttons will be undone on Eddy Cue’s shirt.

  • I’m slightly less optimistic than the median.

If you’d like to participate, hop in. The winner will have the dubious honour of being the best at interpreting Apple Kremlinology.

Pinboard Acquires Delicious

A short history of Pinboard and Delicious, as told in four excerpts by ex-Yahoo/Delicious employee and now Pinboard lord and king, Maciej Cegłowski.

January 2010:

There have been two big surprises in the past six months. The first was discovering that a minimalist paid bookmarking site can effectively compete against delicious, a free service that has all the resources of Yahoo at its disposal, a five year headstart, and until the recent layoffs employed some thirty people. Yahoo management single-handedly created our market with a series of terrible product decisions, and has continued to push the yoke forward and keep the nose pointed straight at the ground.

March 2011:

On December 16th Yahoo held an all-hands meeting to rally the troops after a big round of layoffs. Around 11 AM someone at this meeting showed a slide with a couple of Yahoo properties grouped into three categories, one of which was ominously called “sunset”. The most prominent logo in the group belonged to Delicious, our main competitor. Milliseconds later, the slide was on the web, and there was an ominous thundering sound as every Delicious user in North America raced for the exit.

Delicious was ultimately saved from sunsetting by being passed from one company to another, never staying very long under any particular ownership.

October 2015:

I recently heard from a competitor, let’s call them ACME Bookmarking Co., who are looking to leave the bookmarking game and sell their website.

Cegłowski may be calling them “ACME” here, but he’s clearly talking about Delicious.

Today, June 2017:

Pinboard has acquired Delicious.

[…]

Do not attempt to compete with Pinboard.

A fitting end to a multiyear saga. If I could find a way to do justice to that Italian “kissing fingers” gesture in words, I would.

Inside the U.S. Congressional Campaign to Halt Internet Privacy Rules

Kimberly Kindy, Washington Post:

“While everyone was focused on the latest headline crisis coming out of the White House, Congress was able to roll back privacy,” said former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, who worked for nearly two years to pass the rules.

The process to eliminate them took only a matter of weeks. The blowback was immediate.

Constituents heckled several of the lawmakers at town halls. “You sold my privacy up the river!” one person yelled at Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — lead sponsor of the Senate bill — at a gathering in April. Several late-night comedians roasted congressional Republicans: “This is what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. I guarantee you there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America who asked for this,” Stephen Colbert said.

I still can’t find anyone who thinks that undoing these rules was a good idea. Even the Republicans’ rationale, summarized in Kindy’s article, are so flimsy that they fall apart with even the most cursory questioning:

The industry, Republican FCC commissioners and lawmakers said the restrictions were too broad and should be limited to highly sensitive data, such as personal medical information, not data gathered from activities like online car shopping. The rules, they said, would cause consumers to miss out on customized promotions. And, opponents said, the threat to privacy was overstated — a provider might learn that a person visited a website but would not typically know what the person did while there.

Do Americans want to see more targeted advertising? No. Do Americans want their internet service provider to retain a full record of all of the websites they visit? Hell no. No shit.

Another revelation in Kindy’s article:

By January, trade groups for tech companies such as Facebook and Google had joined the fight to undo the privacy rules, according to records and interviews. Those companies are regulated by a different government body, the Federal Trade Commission, but they worried that Congress might someday find a way to expand the reach of the rules so that they apply to all technology companies.

One can only hope that explicit opt-in rules do become the norm, and are similarly applied to ISPs and technology companies.

Apple’s Aborted Story Arcs

Dr. Drang:

Last week David Sparks wrote a nice little article about text and screen effects in Messages and how Apple is missing the boat by not updating it with new effects, allowing the feature to get stale. It’s a good article in its own right, but it’s also a template. Apple introduces so many things with great fanfare and then forgets to follow up.

There’s a good list in this post, but I have a couple of additions:

  • Remember Live and Dynamic wallpapers? Neither has been updated since their introductions in 2015 and 2013, respectively.

  • Remember the “Learn to Play” feature in GarageBand? It was introduced in 2009, and hasn’t been updated since 2010. The artist lesson store is exactly the same as the day it launched nearly eight years ago.

I get that times and priorities change, but it sort of seems like Apple released all of these things, and then instantly forgot about them in the pursuit of the next big thing.