Archive

April 27, 2015

This is Tim

Serenity Caldwell bringing the mad transcription game for iMore. Tim Cook on Apple’s environmental efforts:

Last quarter, we also announced a major economic investment in Europe, where we will spend two billion dollars to build data centers in Ireland and Denmark. These will be our largest data centers in the world. […]

The two data centers we’re building will run on 100 percent renewable energy from day one. This is just part of the work we’re doing to protect the environment and leave the world better than we found it. Today, 100 percent of Apple’s U.S. operations and 87 percent of global operations are powered by renewable energy.

This really isn’t about the bloody ROI. This is going to cost Apple a shit-tonne of money, but it’s a good move for lots of reasons. And, in their case, $2 billion isn’t a lot, especially when both data centres will be paid for by money that is owned by Apple Distribution International, not Apple Inc.

On lacklustre iPad sales numbers:

So my belief is, as the inventory plays out, as we make some continued investments in our product pipeline — which we’re doing, that we already had planned and have had planned for a long time — between that, the inventory playing out, the enterprise starting to take over, I believe the iPad is an extremely good business over the long term. When precisely it starts to grow again I wouldn’t want to predict, but I strongly believe that it will.

My hunch is that the iPads coming up this year are going to be something really special. Radically different, conceptually, especially in software.

On Apple Pay:

Best Buy, which has been a longtime strong partner of ours, has just announced that it’s now offering Apple Pay in-app, and later this year will offer Apple Pay in all of their U.S. stores.

Remember the halcyon days of Best Buy’s exclusive loyalty to CurrentC, all of six months ago?

Painting the Back of the Fence

At least Samsung improved the horrifically ugly front camera and sensor arrangement of previous Galaxy models. It’s really hard to imagine any of Apple’s competitors developing their own typeface, then using it for, among other places, the serial number on a battery no customer will see, though. They — and pretty much all of their competitors — have got a long way to go before they can even think of mimicking the “Designed by Apple in Cupertino” signature.

April 24, 2015

The New Photos Paradigm

At Macworld 2002, Steve Jobs unveiled iPhoto as an integral part of Apple’s now-legendary “digital hub” strategy. It was billed as “iTunes for photos”, and it was one of the reasons so many people I know bought a Mac. During that keynote, Jobs noted that one of the reasons Apple was building a photo cataloguing and editing app was that six million digital cameras were sold in the United States in 2001. In the first quarter of 2015, Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones worldwide, which means that they alone sold as many digital cameras in every week of their first quarter as the entire US purchased in 2001.

It’s no surprise, then, that the organizational and editing model set by iPhoto is no longer as effective as it once was. You take your camera and a substantial editing suite everywhere with you, and it’s always connected to the internet, so your photos are always somewhere on a hard drive in the sky. They’re automatically geotagged and timestamped, and your favourites will probably end up on Instagram in a 640 × 640-pixel square box. In short: the way we shoot, edit, store, catalogue, and share our photos has completely changed. The software we use to edit them when we get back to our computer also needs to change.

iCloud Photo Library

Remember the days when you had to physically attach your camera to your computer using such ancient technology as a cable? Remember how you had to go through the arduous process of making sure your photos ended up in the right album while importing them, and manually geotagging them while shovelling coal into your computer to make sure it didn’t die in the middle of this process? Or, at least, that’s what it feels like now.

For a company so at the forefront of the “digital hub”, Apple was very much a laggard for advancements to that model, especially in cloud services. Every year brought new printed product designs — which, admittedly, were gorgeous — and new editing tools, but made it appear as though Apple was content to lag behind their competitors in syncing, storing, and sharing in the cloud. These shortcomings were unfortunately showcased in Apple’s flagship product: the iPhone. Despite each generation of iPhone becoming a way, way better camera with loads of networking capabilities, the easiest way to get photos into iPhoto was to plug it in and hit the import button on your Mac.

Apple’s initial remedy for this was Photo Stream, which was introduced as part of iCloud in 2011. Photo Stream stored your last thousand photos from your iPhone or iPad for up to thirty days and synced those photos between your iOS devices and your Macs, all automatically. What made it extra sweet was that it occupied none of your iCloud storage quota.

But Photo Stream was a decidedly stopgap measure, and it felt especially half-assed on the Mac. In iPhoto and Aperture, Photo Stream appeared as an album, but it had very little actual album functionality. You couldn’t edit photos in Photo Stream, for example — you had to drag your favourites from Photo Stream to a local album to edit them. And you couldn’t manually place the photo back into Photo Stream when you were done, making this whole exercise a little silly. It clearly wasn’t designed to be a cloud photo storage library so much as a way to conveniently view your recent iPhone pictures on your iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. And it didn’t store video files.

What I’ve wanted for a long time is pretty simple: I’d like my library of photos to be stored in the cloud, and I’d like to edit my photos locally and have everything sync up at the end of the day. Why? Scott Forstall nailed it when introducing Time Machine at WWDC 2006:

When I look on my Mac, I find these pictures of my kids that, to me, are absolutely priceless. In fact, I have thousands of these photos. If I were to lose a single one of these photos, it would be awful. But if I were to lose all of these photos because my hard drive died, I’d be devastated. I never, ever want to lose these photos.

So what should I do? What does everyone tell you to do to make sure your photos are all secure, and you don’t lose them? “Back it up”. Right? So everyone says it, you’re all saying it, we all know we should back it up. And I know I should back up, uh, but I don’t.

Lack of children notwithstanding, my photo library is pretty precious to me, and probably to you too. Photos are heroin for our nostalgia receptors, if there are such things. They remind us of specific places and moments. They jog our memory for things we want to remember, and remind us of things we don’t even remember forgetting.

So I do what I’m supposed to do: I back up my photos, along with the rest of my files. I have what is probably a better backup regiment for my photos than most people: not only do I have my Aperture library on a drive that backs up with Time Machine, I also have a Vault set up that backs up to two separate drives. I’m in the minority — apparently, only 10% of users surveyed by Backblaze back up their files daily.

But all three of my backups are in my apartment; if I were serious about backing up, I should be using an offsite backup solution, like Backblaze or CrashPlan. Both of those companies manage their own data centres, and both have pretty great track records of doing so. So would you feel comfortable entrusting your precious memories to a company way bigger than Backblaze and CrashPlan combined? A company that has been in business for nearly fourty years? A company that bragged about its media streaming prowess over ten years ago?

Yes, Apple should be the obvious choice for a company you can trust to keep safe your most precious memories. Yet, despite their apparent solidity, Apple has a spotty track record when it comes to cloud and web services. From incomplete and poor data in Maps to the iTunes errors many of us see daily, Apple’s record isn’t great. And now they’re asking us to entrust our photos to them. Gulp.

I wanted to turn iCloud Photo Library (hereafter: iCPL) on everywhere so I could get the best possible experience.1 Switching it on for my iPhone was easy: I already had the 20 GB iCloud storage upgrade, so the 3-4 GB of photos on my phone fit perfectly in that space, with room to spare. But I shoot RAW files with my Canon, and I have about 60 GB of those in Aperture. So my first order of business was to upgrade my iCloud subscription.

Luckily, Apple is no longer criminally insane, so they now charge reasonable prices for their subscriptions. A 200 GB plan for four dollars per month is a no-brainer.

When launching Photos for the first time, you will be prompted to import your existing photo library. The import process creates hard links to your old photo library and uploads everything to iCloud over HTTPS:

cloudd.5391                                                                                 154 KiB          12 MiB      0 B       0 B     562 KiB
tcp4 192.168.0.6:60653<->17.158.10.22:443                        en2     Established        3909 B           5227 B      0 B       0 B       0 B    77.97 ms   256 KiB    39 KiB        BE         -     cubic
tcp4 192.168.0.6:60638<->17.158.10.22:443                        en2     Established        3952 B           4723 B      0 B       0 B       0 B    71.97 ms   256 KiB    39 KiB        BK         -    ledbat
tcp4 192.168.0.6:58478<->17.158.10.22:443                        en2     Established        135 KiB          146 KiB     0 B       0 B    1398 B    68.78 ms   256 KiB    39 KiB        BK         -    ledbat
tcp4 192.168.0.6:60673<->17.158.10.18:443                        en2        TimeWait        6772 B            23 KiB     0 B       0 B       0 B    63.41 ms   256 KiB    39 KiB        BE         -     cubic

Uploading all these photos on my home broadband connection took what I imagine is a long time, but I’m not certain exactly how long because it’s completely invisible to the user. It runs in the background on your Mac and on your iPhone, when you’re charging and connected to WiFi. I can’t find any setting that would allow you to do this over LTE, but I’m not sure why you’d want to — photos taken on my 5S are something like 2-3 MB apiece. (I’m aware that this paragraph is going to sound incredibly dated in a few years’ time, for lots of reasons.)

And this is primarily what sets iCPL apart from backup solutions like Backblaze, or other “automatic” photo uploaders like Google+ or Dropbox: it’s automatic and baked in at the system level. Dropbox can’t do that because it can’t stay running in the background, or spawn daemons to do the same. On a Mac, it’s a similar story. Because Power Nap doesn’t have a public API, competing services can only sync while the Mac is awake. iCPL, on the other hand, can take full advantage of being a first-party app with full private API access, so it continues to sync overnight. Nice, right?

As of writing this paragraph, I have 6,149 photos and 12 videos stored in iCloud. Most of these — about 4,000 photos and all videos — are from my iPhone. The rest are RAW files from my Canon XSI. Both work fine in iCPL; it accepts all the popular image file types, and MP4 video files.

While writing this, I realized that I had an archive of approximately 10,000 photos I had to remove from my phone over the past couple of years to free up space, so I’ve started importing those too. During the import of a second batch of photos, I mis-clicked the option to import duplicate photos. It turns out that Photos doesn’t have a post-import duplicate detection tool, which is baffling to me. In a choice between manually finding and removing about a thousand duplicate photos or just leaving them in the cloud, I’ve chosen the latter. I have plenty of storage, and it’s far less frustrating.

All this iCloud storage also means that you can free up some disk space. By default, your device will likely be set to download and keep original photos. If you’d prefer, though, you can choose to allow automatic disk space optimization. This will place all the original files in iCloud, and each device will download only what it needs, on demand.

Be warned, though: getting photos from the cloud as-need in combination with a cellular connection on your phone can lead to some nasty surprises. I was curious as to whether Photos on iOS would download an original RAW file, or whether it would grab an optimized JPG version. Not only did it grab the RAW version of a 13.2 MB photo, it also downloaded what I can only assume are a couple of buffer files on either side of the selected photo, all of which happen to be RAW files, in this case. Total bill for downloading one photo: slightly over 50 MB of my 1 GB monthly bandwidth allotment. Eek.

Now that I’ve got all my photos on a hard drive in the sky, I should create something.

Photos

So you’ve spent a day out and about, shooting a bunch of photos on your digital SLR and your iPhone in a bunch of different locations. You get home and you want to import, sort, edit, and share these photos. Pretty standard workflow, right? Let’s get started.

For photos taken on the iPhone, the importing is obviously taken care of automatically via iCloud. Importing photos from your SLR is done the old fashioned way, by either connecting your camera via USB, or by ejecting the SD card and plugging it into your Mac. When you do, a new tab — Import — will appear alongside the existing Photos, Shared, Albums, and Projects tabs.

Importing photos couldn’t be simpler. Across the top is a filmstrip of photos you already have in your library; below it are new photos. Select the ones you want, or just click “Import All New Photos”. I’ve found that importing is just as fast, if not faster, than Aperture. Thumbnails build quickly and scrolling is far, far smoother and faster than either of its predecessors.

The Album sorting paradigm still exists in Photos but it’s decidedly subdued. Like on iOS, the default view separates photos automatically based on date, time, and location. Faces are also available as a categorization method, but it’s also not as pronounced as it was in iPhoto.

For being a primary factor in the way photos are grouped, locations seem to get the least amount of love in the app. In order to have a location assigned to a photo, it must have been taken on a camera that automatically adds location data; there is no global map view, and no way to manually assign a location to photos. However, if you do this kind of mixed import with photos taken on the same day and in the same timeframe, Photos will assume that these photos were probably taken in the same location, and place them alongside each other in your collection.

Sorting through your imported photos to find your favourites is even simpler than it was in iPhoto and Aperture, and by “simpler”, I also mean “less capable”. You can tap the heart-shaped button to mark a photo as a favourite, and that’s it. There are no star-based ratings, nor is there a two-up view to compare between similar shots and pick your best.

As you dive deeper into Photos, you’ll notice a pattern beginning to emerge: it does basically the same stuff as iPhoto, but in a far nicer way, and is no match for Aperture. It’s also far more than simply a scaled-up version of its iOS namesake.

By default, the enabled palette of editing tools consists of the Colour, Light, and Black and White editors. Like their iOS counterparts, these three simple-looking sliders are comprised of multiple adjustments that are continuously assessed and modified on a per-image basis. Cranking up the Light adjustment on one image, for example, might significantly increase the exposure while reducing highlight brightness. Doing the same on a different image might instead reduce the exposure while cranking up the shadow brightness. Clicking the small disclosure arrow beside each of these adjustments will reveal all of the subset tools, so you can further tweak each aspect.

But there are far more tools bundled into the Mac version of Photos than its iOS counterparts. Clicking the “list” icon in the top-right of the adjustment palette will reveal a vastly broader range of tools, from levels to white balancing, to sharpness. This is as much an ode to simplicity as it is to needless difficulty. While I understand burying a fairly complex tool like levels from most end-users, most people would probably be comfortable with white balance and sharpness. There are some notable omissions here, too: there is no curves tool, for example, or adjustments for fine-tuning RAW files after import. Even some tools that are in the app, such as the magenta/green tint, are buried within other tools — in this case, the white balance tool. This depth means that an adjustment previously requiring one click now takes a couple more.

The tools that do exist are of a very high calibre. As I mentioned above, the three standard tools are complex and nuanced, adjusting multiple parameters constantly to create a great image. On a RAW file with good exposure, the black and white adjustment doesn’t leave a bunch of blocky noise everywhere.

Unfortunately, unlike in Aperture, these adjustments cannot be layered. You cannot, for example, have two instances of levels. You get one, and you’ll be happy to have it.

Most impressive of all is that these adjustments sync over the air to your iOS device in a non-destructive manner. You can tweak the colour on your Mac, then grab your iPhone and use the same tool. But this ability is limited to Colour, Light, and Black and White, filters, and cropping; additional adjustments are not editable on iOS, and any photo with adjustments beyond this set will appear as “flattened”. That is, if you apply a filter and you also adjust the white balance, you won’t even be able to change the filter.

I’ve found that syncing edits between devices is pretty instantaneous. Usually, by the time I unlock my phone and launch Photos, the edits have synced. Occasionally I’ll run into an issue where I’ll make an edit on my Mac, then view it on my iPhone, then make another edit on my Mac, and the phone copy won’t update. The thumbnail usually will, but the full-size image will be cached. I’ve found that I can usually work around this by force-quitting Photos on my phone, making a small tweak on my Mac, and relaunching Photos after a minute or so. The small tweak will help trigger a re-sync, and the minute will give everything plenty of time to catch up.

There’s one more tool available on the Mac that isn’t to be found in the iOS versions of Photos: a retouch tool. I’ve used a lot of different photo retouching tools, including those from iPhoto, Aperture, various versions of Photoshop, and various iOS apps. I must say that the one in Photos is easily one of the best I’ve ever used. Even in automatic mode, where it guesses the best source area, I’ve found it to be consistently great at matching tones, colours, and textures. This is a hard feature to get right; even the one in Photoshop is often flummoxed. But the one in Photos seems to get it right more often than not. I’m smitten.

There are also the typical tools you’d expect. There’s auto-enhance, which I never, ever use, but I tested it for the purposes of this review and I found that it does, indeed, work. There’s also a cropping tool, which annoys me because it resets the aspect ratio every time you select a photo. So if you want to crop a series of photos to 3:2, you have to manually select it each time.

So, you’ve picked your favourite photos from those you imported earlier, and you’ve edited and cropped them. Now it’s time to share them. Syncing them to your iOS devices is a piece of cake — they’re already there.2 Sharing to your social networks is also easy: it uses OS X’s share sheets, naturally. Sharing to disk, however, is a little bit hidden. It doesn’t appear in the contextual menu, nor anywhere in the apparent UI, but it’s there, under File → Export. You can also create the usual plethora of calendars, greeting cards, and books.3 I didn’t test this beyond creating one, but it’s pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve ever created a printed photo product with Apple before.

Photos gets most of the basics right, and I do like what it does. Yet I can’t help shake the pervasive feeling that this is no Aperture replacement. It’s clearly designed for the way in which most people take most of their photos these days, and that’s fine. If this were solely a replacement for iPhoto, it would be spectacular. But as Aperture was discontinued at the same time, this feels like a product that must fill the shoes of both of its predecessors. I have no doubt that, over time, myriad plugins and extensions will be created for it that make it far closer to Aperture, should you so choose. Apple may allow multiple iterations of the same adjustment tool to be used at once, and they may add features like two-up viewing and duplicate detection, both of which are pretty much essential.

For me, there’s no shaking the fact that this doesn’t feel like Aperture. There was something about editing a photo in that environment that felt like you were creating something really special. It was the kind of application you could get lost in. Photos doesn’t feel like that. It’s not the all-Yosemite UI, I don’t think, nor is it any particular addition or removal of features. It’s just, somehow, not quite as engaging, immersive, or just plain fun.

I like Photos, but I don’t love it. Yet.


  1. True to form, my iCloud Photo Library experience got off to a rocky start. Photos simply wouldn’t sync, so I had 1,600 memories stuck in the void. Furthermore, the Photos “app” on the iCloud web service never appeared for me, even after iOS 8.1 was released. I tried all manner of toggling, restarting, and resyncing. By some fluke, I managed to make the web app appear, but it was stuck in a preparation mode. Manually triggering a sync would throw a “sync will resume when this iPhone has restored from iCloud backup” message, despite never having used iCloud for my phone backup purposes.

    I filed a radar on this, and mentioned its number to anyone who would listen. And it worked. I got a call from a nice person on the iCloud team, who reset some caches on their end and did some other wizardry. This worked on my Mac and iOS devices, but not on the web. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the latter was debugged.

    This is normally the sort of thing I could debug on my end, but as iCloud has been designed as a black box of magic, I couldn’t. When it works, it is magical, but the lack of transparency makes debugging virtually impossible. I’m not sure what kind of verbosity developers see in the console when writing their own iCloud-enabled apps, but if it’s anything like what I’ve seen, I understand their frustration. 

  2. Some data from Photos, like Faces, isn’t very visible on iOS, but it does sync. You can reveal it by doing a search for someone whose face you’ve tagged. 

  3. Based on some early chatter I heard, I was under the impression that printed products were being dropped in Photos. I was wrong, and I regret the error, but I’m delighted that these products are still around. 

Three New Apple Watch Ads

They definitely do what they’re supposed to do: make the Watch look effortless, fast, and of light cognitive weight. Also, the score sounds a little Trent Reznor-y, so that doesn’t hurt.

The Apple Watch Teardown

Some things I noticed while reading through this:

  1. Everything is really, really small. This should be obvious to anyone who’s tried a Watch or caught a glimpse at just how tiny they really are, but it’s worth saying again: the amount of miniaturization Apple has done here is staggering.

  2. Everything is typeset in San Francisco, from the instructional pamphlet, to the warning text on the battery, to the serial number on the back of the Taptic Engine.

  3. iFixit has generally not been kind to Apple in terms of their repairability scores, but they gave this a 5/10. I guess they’re letting a lot of stuff slide since this is a crazy-miniaturized wearable product.

  4. This is arguably one of the more interesting teardowns iFixit has done. Most smartphones are kinda similar inside; this is a radically different product. And, I must say again, it is tiny.

  5. The as-of-now nonfunctional oxygen sensor is intriguing.

April 23, 2015

Samsung’s Next Gear Will Not Look Like an Apple Watch Clone

That’s because it will look like a Moto 360. Alex Dobie, Android Central:

That’s right, it sure looks like the long-rumored circular Samsung Gear watch might finally come to fruition. The move to a rounded watch face would explain the need for Samsung to open up the SDK to developers ahead of launch day, as the move away from a rectangular face would be a significant change for Samsung’s seventh smartwatch.

The weather app they’ve got onscreen sure does look a lot like the weather app on the Apple Watch, though.

Setting aside petty stuff like that, it’s pretty clear that Abdel Ibrahim’s prediction is coming true. Even when it’s off, the Apple Watch is unique amongst the current generation of smartwatches in its shape alone. Google’s also using circular screenshots in their Android Wear feature announcements, which continues to reveal just how bad a circular display is for actually, you know, displaying stuff.

Watch App Store Goes Live

Incredible that the Instagram app for the Watch (finally) gets a modernized icon, but the iOS app is still stubbornly stuck in the iOS 6 days.

Craft at Scale

Jony Ive, as quoted by Scarlett Kilcooley-O’Halloran, for Vogue:

What we’ve done fairly consistently is try to invest tremendous care in the development of our products. It’s not so much about things being touched personally – there are many ways to craft something. It’s easy to assume that just because you make something in small volumes, not using many tools, that there is integrity and care – that is a false assumption.

This is a fascinating concept: craftsmanship in a mass production environment, the scale of which is unprecedented. It’s one thing to precisely cut grooves in a tiny dial once, or make a single display that’s laminated to a piece of sapphire. It’s also one thing to make a million crappy plastic products. It’s a whole different story to try to execute goldsmith-like craftsmanship millions of times over. That’s something Apple is entirely unparalleled at.

Comcast and Time Warner Call Off Their Engagement

Alex Sherman, Bloomberg:

This week, U.S. Federal Communications Commission staff joined lawyers at the Justice Department in opposing the planned transaction. FCC officials told the two biggest U.S. cable companies on Wednesday that they are leaning toward concluding the merger doesn’t help consumers, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Bloomberg’s source says that the decision should be announced tomorrow, but this is Comcast, so it could be next Tuesday for all they care.

April 22, 2015

Delayed Apple Watch Preorders Shipping Earlier Than Expected

With a supply chain as enormous and lengthy as Apple’s, there’s only so much they can anticipate in advance, especially for a product with so many variations. They can research how many people will prefer the Milanese loop over the bracelet, but it’s nothing more than an educated guess. Hence, preorders: Apple’s chance to assess where the actual demand lies and adjusting supply to match.

Bloomberg’s Crappy Reporting on Bulletproof Coffee

Bloomberg’s Gordy Megroz profiled Dave Asprey in advance of the launch of Asprey’s Bulletproof Café in Santa Monica in a report that’s absolutely appalling in its skepticism, or lack thereof. For the uninitiated:

[O]f all his out-there health claims, it’s the coffee he’s drinking—blended with butter made with milk from grass-fed cows and a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil derived from coconut oil—that’s making Asprey most famous.

He calls the mixture Bulletproof coffee. Drink it, the name implies, and you’ll feel invincible. “Fats and caffeine help stimulate the brain,” Asprey says in his office, taking another sip. The coffee, along with the drug cocktail he’s just downed, which includes vitamins K and C as well as aniracetam, a pharmaceutical designed to improve brain function, is intended to provide hours of enlightenment. “There’s a sense of cognitive ease, where everything you want to say is at the tip of your tongue,” he says. “It’s like getting a new computer—you never want to go back to the old one.”

It sounds great. It sounds magical. It sounds citation-free. It smells a bit like bullshit:

As far as MCT oil improving brain function, that’s not a call that can be made yet (sorry Bulletproof). There was a study that used MCT oil to treat people with Type 1 Diabetes and another that used it for Alzheimer’s patients, and both studies found that MCT oil helped to repair some cognitive function. BUT (and it’s a big but), we cannot extrapolate the results from subjects with significant cognitive impairment and pretend to know the impact on subjects with normal cognitive function. It would be nice, but that’s just not how biology works.

Is it possible? Yes, it’s possible, but it’s far from proven. Indeed MCT oil is very controversial in the nutritional community.

Let’s keep going with the Bloomberg story:

A 12-ounce bag of Bulletproof coffee sells for $18.95, more than twice the price of a bag of Starbucks. A small cup will cost $4.25. “Our coffee goes through extensive lab testing to make sure it doesn’t contain toxins,” Asprey says. “You’re paying for quality—something that won’t make you feel bad.”

That’s bullshit, too. Pretty much all coffee is washed before roasting, so there are practically no mycotoxins left on the beans.

This article is about 2,400 words long, but just three paragraphs contain any response from health professionals. It’s mostly bunk, and Megroz bought right into it.

Google Fi

Fascinating new service from Google, as explained by VP Nick Fox:

We developed new technology that gives you better coverage by intelligently connecting you to the fastest available network at your location whether it’s Wi-Fi or one of our two partner LTE networks. As you go about your day, Project Fi automatically connects you to more than a million free, open Wi-Fi hotspots we’ve verified as fast and reliable. Once you’re connected, we help secure your data through encryption. When you’re not on Wi-Fi, we move you between whichever of our partner networks is delivering the fastest speed, so you get 4G LTE in more places.

This is really clever. If the pay-what-you-use pricing model puts the pressure on carriers the way Google Fiber did on ISPs, this should be good for everyone, not just Fi users. Pity we’ll likely never get this in Canada, though; we desperately need a shake-up.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

Juli Clover, Macrumors:

Apple today began sending out emails to iOS developers, offering them a chance to purchase a 42mm Apple Watch Sport with a Blue Sport Band that has a guaranteed shipment date of April 28, 2015, in order to get them a device to begin testing apps on. Quantities of the watch are limited, and developers eligible to purchase a watch will be chosen by random selection.

You read that right: Apple has been so swamped with orders for the Watch that they are emailing random iOS developers offering them a chance to purchase a development unit that will ship only shortly after the first batch arrives on customers’ wrists. That’s two layers of lottery these developers must win in order to acquire one of these.

WatchKit Developer Mistakes

Above all the engineering mistakes made in this list, I think the most egregious developer issue is a sense of urgency. I understand that there are companies and developers who feel pressured to be on Apple’s latest platform on launch day, but it’s a brand new platform, and most developers probably have no idea how they or their users will be using the Watch. Take your time and slow down. Conceptualize reasons why a Watch owner may want your app on their wrist for five seconds at a time. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to be there on the very first day. It’s just getting started.

April 21, 2015

Automakers Want to Use the DMCA to Prevent Unauthorized Servicing or Modification

Chalk another one up for companies using the DMCA in dubious and creative ways. Pete Bigelow, Autoblog:

If there’s a recurring theme in the comments beyond their assertions of ownership, it’s that they say they know the intricacies of these ever-more-complicated software systems better than consumers and third parties. The Association of Global Automakers says the manufacturers and their suppliers “best understand the interdependence of automotive systems and are in the best position to know whether a modification, regardless of how slight, would disrupt another system.”

Comments from equipment manufacturer John Deere took a more condescending tone toward independent and amateur mechanics, noting that circumventing protected technology should be “against public policy because individual vehicle owners do not have the technological resources to provide safe, reliable and lawful software for repair, diagnosis or some dubious ‘aftermarket personalization, modification or other improvement’ that is not directed toward repair or diagnosis of the vehicle.”

It’s fair for companies to deny warranty coverage for a problem in which aftermarket modifications are likely a cause. But tinkerers shouldn’t live in fear of breaking the law just because they modified their ECU. That dispute should remain between the automaker and the owner.

April 20, 2015

How the Apple Watch’s Heart Rate Monitor Works

Apple, via MacStories:

The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses what is known as photoplethysmography. This technology, while difficult to pronounce, is based on a very simple fact: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate.

Clever.

I tried a Watch yesterday and I asked the trainer who was there how accurate the heart rate monitor was. He said that he had no first-hand comparative experience, but added that the development of the Watch was extensive, so he thought it was likely good. He also told me that the Sport model does not feature a laminated display.

In a Galaxy, Some Galaxy, Any Galaxy

Jon Russell, TechCrunch:

The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge go on sale in Japan on April 23, but customers won’t find Samsung’s logo on the devices as usual, instead they will be co-marketed with carrier partners as the ‘Docomo Galaxy’ and ‘au Galaxy’.

This rebrand goes beyond the company’s products. Samsung has also renamed its Facebook Page in Japan to ‘Galaxy Mobile Japan’ — against removing reference to ‘Samsung’ — while the marketing visuals for its new phones are also bereft of its name.

Not much of a gamble here — if you believe Counterpoint, even Fujitsu is a more prominent name in smartphones in Japan than Samsung is. It makes sense to try a new tactic there, but Japan is also a notoriously tricky market. If it’s successful in Japan, this might be the next logical step for Samsung’s smartphone brand worldwide two or three years from now.

A Glimpse Into a Non-Neutral Future

Mahesh Murthy, Quartz:

Here’s how the scheme works. Facebook approaches a telco — in India’s case, Reliance — and offers to pay them the bandwidth costs of serving Facebook site and a small group of other sites.

So when the poor, who in theory can’t afford a net connection come to the Facebook Zero service confusingly called Internet.org, they’re made to believe they’re on the internet while in reality they’re only on Facebook and a few hand-picked sites.

And the sites too are picked in secret under some unknown process. For instance, Facebook chose to offer the distant-second search engine Bing instead of industry-leading Google. Why? Is it rivalry with Google? Or because of Microsoft’s stake in Facebook? And then Facebook’s Zero product features a tiny job site like Babajob instead of the industry-leading Naukri. Why? So that the poor have fewer job options? No one knows. Facebook doesn’t feature YouTube — the largest video site in the world and an immense education resource — but allows its own videos in full. It doesn’t really look like charity any more, does it?

April 17, 2015

Apple Pay Reportedly Launching in Canada This Autumn

Rita Trichur and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Wall Street Journal:

[Apple] is in negotiations with Canada’s six biggest banks about a potential November launch of the service which would enable mobile payments for both credit and debit cards using iPhones and the forthcoming Apple Watch, those people said.

Aside from the dumb references to nonexistent Apple Pay security problems, this is great news for your Canadian writer. Now I can justify upgrading to a new phone later this year. I wonder if it will support our national Interac system in addition to credit cards.

April 16, 2015

Logic

Farhad Manjoo thinks that it’s a waste of time for the EU to charge Google with abusing its monopoly position:

With more than a decade of hindsight, the theories supporting the case against Microsoft have all but fallen apart, and the pursuit of the company that makes Windows may suggest a reason for skepticism about this fight against Google: The tech marketplace is fluid and unpredictable. The giants that look most unbeatable today could falter in ways that may once have seemed unthinkable — and without a lot of help from the government.

Kontra:

Logic: It’s OK to break the law by abusing monopoly; if you wait long enough technology will make it irrelevant. So go ahead, break the law!

If somewhat for symbolic reasons, the EU’s allegations are a valuable demonstration.

April 15, 2015

Dark Web Buyer Bot Returned to Swiss Artists

The haul is entirely what you’d expect: an assorted mix of stuff that doesn’t get sold in retailers or storefronts. The work is absolutely fantastic, though — it’s a fascinating and dangerous take on Randall Munroe’s eBay bot. Instead of buying random crap, though, it’s almost guaranteed to be much more more fascinating, raising new and intriguing questions about what happens when a robot breaks the law.

John Siracusa Has Earned His Aqua Stripes

John Siracusa:

Nearly 15 years ago, I wrote my first review of Mac OS X for a nascent “PC enthusiast’s” website called Ars Technica. Nearly 15 years later, I wrote my last. Though Apple will presumably announce the next major version of OS X at WWDC this coming June, I won’t be reviewing it for Ars Technica or any other publication, including the website you’re reading now.

Carefully reading and digesting every word of John Siracusa’s review was the first thing I’ve done with every release of OS X since Leopard, or thereabouts. While I’m gutted that I won’t get to do that with the release of OS X 10.11, I’m grateful to John for every single word he’s ever written. John, if you’re reading this (you’re probably not, but hey, a guy can dream): thank you, and have a great summer.

The New WWDC Ticket Policy

Dave Mark:

This year, Apple will charge you for a ticket the second you are eligible to purchase it. And that charge is non-refundable. No more cancellations. Which means a fairer distribution of tickets, as people and companies are only signing up if they have a true intent to go to the conference.

The down side of this policy is that it wrings a little bit more of the social from the conference. Two friends can no longer make tentative plans to go to the conference if they both get in. True, they can go solo, but that’s not the same thing, especially for people who only see each other at dev conferences like WWDC.

Update: I’ve done some research and while I could find plenty of conferences that have a lottery-style ticket system, and plenty of other conferences that don’t offer refunds, I wasn’t able to find a similar conference where tickets are distributed at random and cannot be refunded. I understand Apple’s motivation here, but there’s a social aspect to WWDC that takes place both inside and outside of Moscone West. Non-ticketholders can’t participate in any of the fun stuff within the conference; they must plan to meet up elsewhere. And that’s really tough when people only have five days to meet up.

“Google Doesn’t Have Any Friends”

Charles Arthur, on Google’s oft-cited mantra that “competition is just a click away”:

Google has poured huge amounts of money into making sure that people aren’t presented with any other search engine to begin with. The Mozilla organisation’s biggest source of funds for years has been Google, paying to be its default search (until last autumn, when Yahoo paid for the US default and Google, I understand, didn’t enter a bid – because Google Chrome is now bigger than Firefox). Google pays Apple billions every year to be the default search on Safari on the Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Clearly, Google doesn’t want to be in the position where it’s the one that’s a click away. That’s because it knows that the vast majority of people – usually 95% or so, for any setting – use the defaults.

Statement of Objections

Well, it’s now official:

The European Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Google alleging the company has abused its dominant position in the markets for general internet search services in the European Economic Area (EEA) by systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages. The Commission’s preliminary view is that such conduct infringes EU antitrust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumers. Sending a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

I suspect the EU has limited their case to just the comparison shopping tool because it allows them an easier path to demonstrating direct consumer harm, should Google be found to have biased their results.

Amit Singhal, SVP of search at Google, has responded to these allegations.

The EU, continued:

The Commission has also formally opened a separate antitrust investigation into Google’s conduct as regards the mobile operating system Android. The investigation will focus on whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a possible dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices.

Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer has responded to these allegations, too:

The European Commission has asked questions about our partner agreements. It’s important to remember that these are voluntary—again, you can use Android without Google—but provide real benefits to Android users, developers and the broader ecosystem.

This is a little disingenuous. While it’s possible to create and use a version of Android with no strings tied to Google, it will be missing a lot:

If a company does ever manage to fork [the Android Open Source Project], clone the Google apps, and create a viable competitor to Google’s Android, it’s going to have a hard time getting anyone to build a device for it. In an open market, it would be as easy as calling up an Android OEM and convincing them to switch, but Google is out to make life a little more difficult than that. Google’s real power in mobile comes from control of the Google apps—mainly Gmail, Maps, Google Now, Hangouts, YouTube, and the Play Store. These are Android’s killer apps, and the big (and small) manufacturers want these apps on their phones. Since these apps are not open source, they need to be licensed from Google. It is at this point that you start picturing a scene out of The Godfather, because these apps aren’t going to come without some requirements attached.

While it might not be an official requirement, being granted a Google apps license will go a whole lot easier if you join the Open Handset Alliance. The OHA is a group of companies committed to Android — Google’s Android — and members are contractually prohibited from building non-Google approved devices. That’s right, joining the OHA requires a company to sign its life away and promise to not build a device that runs a competing Android fork.

April 14, 2015

WWDC 2015: June 8–12

The “WWDC 2015″ in the invitation is typeset in San Francisco Rounded. The legal text on Apple’s limited edition hardware and its accompanying regulatory filing are also set in San Fransisco. What’s the over/under on iOS 9 and OS X getting San Fransisco as a universal system font?

(The one thorn in this theory is OS X: it just changed to Helvetica Neue. Would Apple do two system font changes in two years? I don’t necessarily think they’d be dissuaded from it; I suspect the main reason OS X doesn’t use San Fransisco today is because it wasn’t finished in time, or they wanted to debut it on the Watch.)

Europe to Accuse Google of Illegally Abusing Its Dominance

Alex Barker and Christian Oliver, Financial Times:

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, is to say that the US group will soon be served with a formal charge sheet alleging that it breached antitrust rules by diverting traffic from rivals to favour its own services, according to two people familiar with the case.

[…]

In a further blow to the US group, Ms Vestager on Wednesday will also launch a separate formal investigation into Google’s Android operating system for smartphones.

The Commission probe will examine whether Google imposes uncompetitive terms on handset makers that ultimately favour its own lucrative apps such as YouTube. Google rejects any allegations of wrongdoing and says Android is an open platform distributed free.

Google has been accused of anticompetitive behaviour in the past, but they’ve always managed to settle. This is the first time charges will be laid against them.

This news breaks in the wake of comments from the EU digital chief, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

The European Union should regulate Internet platforms in a way that allows a new generation of European operators to overtake the dominant U.S. players, the bloc’s digital czar said, in an unusually blunt assessment of the risks that U.S. Web giants are viewed as posing to the continent’s industrial heartland.

Speaking at a major industrial fair in Hannover, Germany, the EU’s digital commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said Europe’s online businesses were “dependent on a few non-EU players world-wide” because the region had “missed many opportunities” in the development of online platforms.

Regardless of the overlap between Oettinger’s comments and the EU’s forthcoming actions, the EU is not without reasonable grounds to file these charges.

iOS 8.4 Beta Brings a Music App Overhaul

From Apple’s release notes:

The iOS 8.4 Beta includes an early preview of the the all-new Music app. With powerful features and an elegant new look, enjoying your music is easier than ever. This preview provides a sneak peek into what we’ve been working on, and what’s to come — the music is just getting started.

I don’t remember seeing redesigned or new features described by Apple in a beta as an “early preview”. The “beta” label implies that it’s an early look at a forthcoming feature anyway, and it’s missing the most-rumoured part: Apple’s new streaming service. This seems peculiar, as if it’s a hint at a different strategy.

April 13, 2015

Google Fiber Plans Expansion, Then TWC Makes Speeds Six Times Faster

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

With Google Fiber preparing an expansion into Charlotte, North Carolina, incumbent cable operator Time Warner Cable is trying to hold onto customers by dramatically increasing Internet speeds at no extra charge.

“The Internet transformation will begin this summer and will include speed increases on TWC residential Internet plans at no additional cost, with customers experiencing increases up to six times faster, depending on their current level of Internet service,” Time Warner Cable announced last week. “For example, customers who subscribe to Standard, formerly up to 15Mbps, will now receive up to 50Mbps, customers who subscribe to Extreme, formerly up to 30Mbps, will now receive up to 200Mbps; and customers who subscribe to Ultimate, formerly up to 50Mbps, will receive up to 300Mbps, at no extra charge.”

That is truly an odd and miraculous coincidence. It’s almost as if an oligopoly operating in siloed environments nationwide with clearly defined boundaries is not typically conducive to consumer-friendly pricing. But yeah, sure, we should nuke net neutrality and let these few and powerful players define the marketplace with little to no oversight, because that’s worked out really well so far.

April 11, 2015

Apple Says “Don’t Use Palmrest or Keycap Covers” on the Retina MacBook Pro

Last week, I was one of several people to write about an issue that surfaced on Retina MacBook Pros. Apparently, the anti-reflective coating on the display has been peeling off for a lot of people, giving the appearance of a “stained” display.

Katie Floyd (via Stephen Hackett):

I received an email from Mac Power Users listener Mark pointing me to this Apple Knowledge Base article warning MacBook Pro with Retina Display users not to use palm rest or keycap covers. The concern is that because Retina MacBook Pro is so thin and the tolerances are so tight, anything between the body and the top of the computer could cause it to rub against the screen.

This doesn’t surprise me. Every laptop I’ve ever seen with a keyboard or palm rest cover has had an outline of the keys or the palm rest caked onto the display. If the display has a coating of some kind, it’s not a big stretch to think that it will rub off if a rubbery keyboard cover is pushing against it whenever it’s closed.

But none of the Retina MacBook Pros on the Staingate site’s gallery show either of these accessories.They could have simply been removed before the owners took the photos, or the tolerances could be so tight that the keyboard on some models rests against the display and, over time, slowly erodes the display coating.

Cloud-Based OS X Accounts

At WWDC in 1997, Steve Jobs described his vision of the future:

I have computers at Apple, at Pixar, at NeXT and at home. I walk over to any of them and log in as myself. It goes over the network, finds my home directory on the server and I’ve got my stuff, where ever I am. And none of that is on a local disc. The server…is my local disc.

A lot of people saw iCloud, remembered this bit of history and, naturally, drew connections between them. But, while iCloud has gotten really good, it’s not exactly the “login from anywhere” experience that Jobs describes here. For that, we need something a little closer to what Dan Moren is proposing:

As wary as I am about Apple’s integration with cloud services—and I am, well, rather wary—I sometimes feel like the company doesn’t take things far enough. So while you can, these days, get pretty far using the web-based iCloud interface to access a lot of your data no matter where you are, I’d love to see Apple take things a step further and offer cloud-based user accounts for OS X.

I’m not quite prepared for a future where my entire home directory is stored on Apple’s servers, for lots of reasons: Apple doesn’t have the best track record with cloud services, the NSA still exists, and so on. But it would be so freaking cool to be able to sit down at any computer and log in as myself, and it would make it that much more manageable to own a very powerful desktop computer and a lightweight, stripped-down notebook. Like, say, the 5K iMac and the new MacBook. And I’d like to point out that a fresh Yosemite setup uses your Apple ID and password for your local user credentials.

Just saying.

Google’s Snapseed Photo App Gets Its First Major Update in Two Years

Did not see this one coming.

This is a pretty big update to an app I noted as one of my favourite photo editors on iOS. For version 2.0, Google has updated Snapseed with a totally Material-ed up UI. It’s an app that looks like it walked directly off Android, complete with Roboto and all the non-native UI conventions that come with that. It really doesn’t fit in on iOS.

But I’ve always liked Snapseed’s selective editing tool; though I use VSCOcam for nearly everything, selective editing is important enough for my workflow that it’s the primary reason I keep Snapseed on my device. The other reason I liked Snapseed was for the totally wild and weird “Grunge” filter. Unfortunately, this filter has been removed with the 2.0 update, but the all-important selective editing tool remains. I guess I’ll be keeping the app on my iPhone.

Apple Fixes Its Felony Hiring Policy

Apple PR, via Julia Love at the San Jose Mercury:

It recently came to our attention that, as part of a background check process unique to the Apple Campus 2 construction project, a few applicants were turned away because they had been convicted of a felony within the past seven years. We recognize that this may have excluded some people who deserve a second chance. We have now removed that restriction and instructed our contractors on the project to evaluate all applicants equally, on a case-by-case basis, as we would for any role at Apple.

Good.

April 9, 2015

Future Present

The past two days have seen the embargoes lift on the first reviews of the Apple Watch and new MacBook. If anything has emerged from the narrative so far, it’s that both products appear cut from the same cloth. Yes, the Watch appears the most high-tech of the two, effectively establishing the precedent for its market, while the MacBook is a take on the decades-old concept of a laptop, albeit an innovative interpretation. But they’re extraordinarily similar in a conceptual sense.

Joshua Topolsky:

So Apple has succeeded in its first big task with its watch. It made something that lives up to the company’s reputation as an innovator and raised the bar for a whole new class of devices. Its second task—making me feel that I need this thing on my wrist every day—well, I’m not quite sure it’s there yet. It’s still another screen, another distraction, another way to disconnect, as much as it is the opposite. The Apple Watch is cool, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and it’s easy to use. But it’s not essential. Not yet.

Nicole Phelps:

In the nine days I’ve worn it, the Apple Watch didn’t replace my iPhone, but I don’t think that’s the intention. Our wrists simply can’t support a device big enough for everything we do on screens these days. I came to think of it as a filter instead, bringing what’s essential or pleasurable to me closer to me and editing out the rest.

Geoffrey Fowler:

Still, in these early sketches of an experience, I can already imagine so much more. I’d like for the Apple Watch to be my train ticket and my office key, for starters.

For now, the Apple Watch is for pioneers. I won’t pay the $1,000 it would cost for the model I tested, only to see a significant improvement roll in before too long.

Farhad Manjoo:

The New York Times announced last week that it had created “one-sentence stories” for the Apple Watch, so let me end this review with a note that could fit on the watch’s screen: The first Apple Watch may not be for you — but someday soon, it will change your world.

The reviews of the new MacBook follow a similar pattern. Joshua Topolsky and Stephen Pulvirent:

The MacBook isn’t for everyone. The Retina display is beautiful but hogs processing power that might be better used elsewhere. And if you do a lot of photo editing or like to multitask, you’ll notice some lag and jitters. Even scrolling quickly through typical Web pages produced a noticeable lag and stutter compared with my standard MacBook Air.

Joanna Stern:

But as ahead of its time as the MacBook is, there’s a slight problem: You have to use it right now. Here in 2015, the majority of us still require two or three ports for connecting our hard drives, displays, phones and other devices to our computer—not to mention a dedicated power plug.

[…]

The new MacBook represents an exciting evolution in portable computing, but at this point it is more a proof of concept than your next computer.

Tech reporter biases of power, expandability, and all that aside, both the Watch and MacBook are seen as visions of the future. They’re not perfect or even truly great yet, but they represent what will be great.

This isn’t new for Apple. Here’s Walt Mossberg in 2007:

The iPhone is missing some features common on some competitors. There’s no instant messaging, only standard text messaging. While its two-megapixel camera took excellent pictures in our tests, it can’t record video. Its otherwise excellent Web browser can’t fully utilize some Web sites, because it doesn’t yet support Adobe’s Flash technology. Although the phone contains a complete iPod, you can’t use your songs as ringtones. There aren’t any games, nor is there any way to directly access Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

Apple says it plans to add features to the phone over time, via free downloads, and hints that some of these holes may be filled.

Here’s Ryan Block in 2008:

The [MacBook] Air is a tough call. On the one hand it proposes to be a no-compromises ultraportable, but on the other hand it compromises many (but not all) the things road warriors want. We’re all about removing unnecessary frills and drives (we rejoiced the day the original iMac bucked the floppy), but laptops are increasingly becoming many users’ primary — often only — machines, which is why the Air’s price doesn’t do it any favors, either. It’s hard to justify almost two grand for a second laptop (or a third machine) just for travel needs — and even then, that’s only easily done if all your data lives in the cloud. Given those sacrifices and that higher-end sticker, it’s more than likely not going to replace most peoples’ current workhorse laptop.

In summary: “It’s a glimpse of the future, but it’s not quite enough yet.” That’s par for the course for first generation Apple products. And that’s okay.

Apple tries to strike a balance between two extremes. The first-to-market companies don’t ever do it right — take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Gear or the scores of thin notebooks released before the MacBook Air. Apple is never the first to market, but neither are they waiting it out until they have a product that’s ideal, like the MacBook Air of 2010 or the iPhone 4.

Apple seems more interested in bringing a product to market that they’re very proud of in a way that defines both the future of the market, and establishes the roadmap for how people will use their devices in two- or three-years’ time. Apple couldn’t do the 2010 Air in 2008 or the iPhone 4 in 2007 for myriad technical and engineering reasons, but also because they didn’t know how customers would actually use these devices. The 2008 Air laid the blueprint for future thin notebooks, but the 2010 Air required everything they learned from the prior two years of customer use. It’s the same for the iPad in 2010, the iPhone in 2007, and will be for the Apple Watch of 2015.

Apple’s unique skill is in understanding the roadmap for several years into the future, and building according to that. If you use a post-2010 MacBook Air today and you enjoy type-A USB ports, it’s easy to see how the MacBook could fit into your life in a couple of years, but perhaps not now.

Today, the MacBook and the Watch are exciting glimpses as to what the future will hold. They’re ready for primetime for the early adopter set — which, by the way, seems to grow with each major new product — and those users will help Apple better understand how these products are used in the real world. And they’ll help define the future.

April 8, 2015

Point Three

iOS 8.3 and OS X 10.10.3 have both been released today.

Surprisingly and happily, the iOS update includes a gigantic list of bugs patched in the release in place of the anemic “bug fixes and performance improvements” notice affixed to pretty much all updates these days.

Not included in this list is a comprehensive fix for that annoying as shit bug where tapping in the space between the keyboard and the Quick Reply box would vaporize anything typed in the box. Now, unless the box is empty, tapping in that empty space will have no effect. If you press the home button or something, the text entered into the Quick Reply box will be there if you enter the appropriate conversation.

On the OS X side of things, I’ve seen significant improvements to the reliability of discoveryd. Both updates include a great new constantly-scrolling interface for inserting emoji, because nobody in the world knows that the “bell” section includes the saxophone, pushpin, and tofu on fire characters.

The biggest across-the-board news is the final release of iCloud Photo Library alongside the new Photos app for OS X. I had a rough start with iCloud Photo Library, but a nice person in iCloud engineering has worked with me over the past month to fix it, and I couldn’t be more delighted with it. The seamless syncing is exactly what Apple promises, and makes the 200GB iCloud plan an easy purchase. I feel vastly more confident that my entire library is backed up without intervention.

The Photos app itself is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s way faster and way better than iPhoto ever was, but if you’re like me and you’re used to Aperture, it’s a bit of a letdown right now. I think it deserves its own article, because there’s a lot to dive into.

Critically, though, both of these releases are far more stable and far better than iOS and OS X have been for months now. In an ideal world, these are the releases that the point-zero versions should have been. Assuming Apple keeps reliability at the top of their priorities for future releases, we’ll look back at the last few months as a turbulent but necessary blip in Apple’s record. They’re presenting a very ambitious view of the future, and now their delivery is catching up to their rhetoric.

Update: 10.10.3 also includes more exciting Notification Centre spam, courtesy of Apple. Awful.

Update 2: Apparently, the spammy Apple notifications are also in iOS 8.3.

Felony Convictions and Construction of Apple HQ

Wendy Lee, San Francisco Chronicle:

Several construction workers who were hired to build the exterior of Apple’s new campus in Cupertino were ordered to leave the site in January due to prior felony convictions, several union officials and workers told The Chronicle. The ban is unusual for construction work, a field in which employers typically do not perform criminal background checks.

[…]

For work on the Apple site, anyone with a felony conviction or facing felony charges “does not meet owner standards,” according to documents from construction companies acquired by The Chronicle.

Lee, again, in a follow-up piece:

Apple’s policy of not hiring construction workers with past felony convictions to help build the tech giant’s new campus has drawn the attention of a state senator.

“There are certain positions where there is some nexus between the crime committed and the position offered. Construction does not appear to be one of those,” said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. “In this situation, I would strongly suggest that this policy be changed.”

And:

A person familiar with the policy said construction workers with felony convictions within the past seven years are not permitted on the site, while those with earlier felony convictions could find work building the campus. People with “felony charges pending court disposition” are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, said the source.

John Gruber thought the “facing felony charges” portion of the articles was unfair, but he also questioned the uniqueness of this policy:

The “facing felony charges” prohibition is worth noting. Whatever your stance on the prohibition against those convicted of a felony within the last seven years, not hiring those merely facing charges seems blatantly contrary to our tradition of “innocent until proven guilty”.

I’m also curious whether these policies actually are “unusual for construction work” — especially for large companies. On Twitter, Greg Koenig says Intel has the same policy for its D1X chip fab in Oregon.

Regardless of what other companies are doing, this policy is discriminatory to a substantial degree, and does not represent what Apple is typically known for. Felons are people too — if they’ve served their time and are attempting to get back on their feet, any construction company and their clients, by extension, should welcome that. I’m not saying that they’ll be greeted with open arms, as it’s understandably a little foreboding to hire a felon, but they’re probably trying to put that life behind them.

Apple Watch Packaging

Looks like someone at IBM got an Apple Watch a little early. Jeremy Gan took some pictures of the packaging for the stainless steel model and the leather band. The Watch box is definitely top-notch, even for the midrange product. I’m curious to see if each model gets a different kind of packaging, though. The Sport might also be sold in this one, but it’s hard to imagine the Edition in a cardboard box. Hat tip to Abdel Ibrahim.

Update: This is more likely the Daily Mail’s review unit.

Update 2: The images have been removed. MacRumors has cached versions.

A Close Watch

Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times:

Apple has invited small groups of developers to its Silicon Valley offices to help them prepare their apps for its Watch, as it gears up for the launch at the end of this month.

Observed by security guards and instructed to cover up the cameras on their iPhones, a few dozen handpicked designers and engineers have each spent a day at Apple’s labs in Sunnyvale, California to test their apps on the device.

The Tech Block’s Abdel Ibrahim:

I see the future of Apple Watch as a product that demonstrates a masterful, seamless aptitude for authenticating our existence to corresponding terminals and locks. Sure, you may need an “app” with your login info to have some of that happen, but actually needing to expend any energy or attention interacting with it seems backwards. If the idea is to remove friction, then part of that mandates at least some removal of the need to touch the display. In fact, the way Apple Pay works on iPhone now is exactly how I’d want all my authentication to work: On iPhone 6, you don’t need to wake up your phone or open any apps. You just raise your phone to the terminal and your card shows up. Then you touch your finger to TouchID, it reads your print, and you’re done. That’s the equivalent of one tap. Much more than that, and you’re looking at more hassle than convenience.

The iPhone ushered in the age of apps; the Apple Watch looks set to usher in the age of completely seamless interaction.

Samsung Hoping to Bounce Back

Jonathan Cheng and Min-Jeong Lee, Wall Street Journal:

With the release on Friday of the Galaxy S6 and its curved-edge variant, the Galaxy S6 Edge, investors will be looking for a pickup in profit margins, which crashed late last year. After 10 straight quarters with margins of 15% or more, the figure halved to 7.1% in the third quarter of 2014 before inching up in the fourth quarter.

On a conference call with investors last year, Kim Hyun-joon, a Samsung mobile senior vice president, said that the company was aiming to push mobile margins back into the “low double-digit” percentage range.

I’m interested to see how the S6 series fares over the year or so. From the reviews I’ve read — and I’ve read a lot — it seems that Samsung took a much more careful look at what they were making.

But I’ve seen a fair shake of commentary that paints Samsung’s troubles similarly to Apple’s stock price drop through 2012 and the first half of 2013. The difference is that Apple continues to deliver viable, unique products, time and time again. “Galaxy” has been the strongest brand Samsung has been able to deliver, but it’s no “Apple”, and the products are nowhere near as special. I think this is an entirely different situation, with a far less predictable outcome.1

Cheng and Lee, continued:

Many analysts think that the S6 Edge could outsell the regular S6, assuming production isn’t interrupted by any supply-chain issues. The S6 Edge uses a highly sophisticated manufacturing process to get its curved screen effect.

What analysts, where?


  1. If you didn’t think Apple would bounce back after bottoming out at sub-$400 prices, pre-split, sub-$60 prices, you were betting with trends, not your head. 

April 6, 2015

Artist Exclusivity Means That Tidal Might Have a Chance

Walt Hickey, FiveThirtyEight:

There is an argument in Tidal’s favor. We’ve seen with Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO and other video streaming services that exclusivity is a very good way to gain and keep subscribers. Just like there are people who subscribe to HBO just for “Game of Thrones,” there’s an argument to be made that people could subscribe to Tidal just for, say, new Rihanna releases.

Look at the people who were on stage with Jay Z on Monday: Alicia Keys, Arcade Fire, Beyonce, Calvin Harris, Chris Martin, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Jack White, Jason Aldean, J. Cole, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher, according to Music Business Worldwide. Do you like any one of those artists?

A major difference between Netflix, et. al. and Tidal is that the video streaming services first built up a core audience in markets nobody else had a stake in. HBO was the first premium home cable channel, while Netflix wrote the book on effortless television and movie streaming.1 It was only after building a substantial subscriber base that these companies created original, exclusive programming.

Tidal isn’t really breaking any new ground with their streaming music service, and plenty of music stores had exclusive content during the iTunes Store’s heyday. None of these alternative stores did very well; most didn’t even survive.

Besides, the music industry seems to have largely given up the fight against file sharing. Record labels will still send automated takedown requests to the bigger sites and distributors, but if you can’t still find free music on the web, I don’t know what to tell you. For how long will a track “exclusive” to Tidal remain that way? My bet is somewhere between one week before the track even debuts, to ten minutes after it’s live.

I’m not writing it off entirely, but I haven’t heard a convincing argument as to why Tidal will garner a respectable market share alongside the already-dominating Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, Beats, Xbox Music, and iTunes Radio services, let alone Apple’s upcoming streaming service.


  1. After they re-wrote the book on DVD distribution, that is. 

Google Glass Is Literally on Life Support

That is, it’s being used a lot in the medical industry. Stephanie Lee, Buzzfeed:

Glass was one of the most talked about trends in wearable computing in 2014, and Google pushed it hard in the hopes of gaining mainstream traction. It instead became a symbol of tech elitism and conspicuous consumption, its users derided and even attacked. Earlier this year, Google stopped selling the first version of Glass and moved the project out of its Google(x) lab into a stand-alone unit.

But while Glass failed to set the consumer space on fire, some clinicians and other medical professionals have embraced it as a hands-free means of sharing and accessing information quickly. As cases like Phelan’s demonstrate, Glass still has promise in enterprise markets like health care. That lends credence to the company’s claims that Glass remains viable, despite its unpropitious beginnings.

Glass was pitched as a product to make everyone’s daily lives easier. In Google’s utopia, you’d wear it just after waking up to see what the weather forecast was like, or to catch up on the news while making breakfast. You’d use it to chat with your friends and be alerted with relevant, location-based notifications. None of that really happened because walking everywhere with a screen and a camera strapped to your face is socially unacceptable, at least so far.

Perhaps Glass’ near-future destiny is in specialized industries: medical, factory workers, pharmacy technicians, and the like. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it demonstrates the extent to which we’ve rejected Google’s plans for putting a computer on our faces, because every other major player is gambling that putting it on the wrist is less obtrusive.

April 2, 2015

EU Regulators to Look Into iTunes Streaming Agreements

Matthew Garraham and Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times:

The commission, which also has contacted Apple’s music-streaming rivals, is said to be concerned that the company will use its size, relationships and influence to persuade labels to abandon free, ad-supported services such as Spotify, which depend on licenses with music companies for their catalogues.

I wouldn’t suggest that the commission is wrong or misguided, but Apple doesn’t exactly have the negotiating power it once did:

According to several music executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private, Apple recently tried but failed to persuade record labels to agree to lower licensing costs that would have let Apple sell subscriptions to its streaming service for $8 a month — a discount from the $10 that has become standard for services like Spotify, Rhapsody and Rdio.

Maybe the EU commission will find evidence of wrongdoing. But most people I know don’t really use iTunes any more; it was “tired” in 2012, out-cooled by streaming services. I’m not sure this is akin to Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, but who knows?

The History of the Apple Watch

Apple is giving a lot of behind-the-scenes interviews and sneak peeks these days; far more than I remember them doing in the post-iCEO era. First, it was an unprecedented look into Jony Ive’s process, granted to the New Yorker. Now, David Pierce at Wired scored an exclusive scoop with a few Apple executives:

Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels famously encourages his staff to work crazy hours because, he maintains, people tend to be most creative and most fearless when they’re deliriously tired. So it went in the Apple design studio: As the team worked away on app-launch animations and the new iOS 7 Control Center, daytime conversations about smartphone software led to late-night discussions about other devices. Questions started coalescing around the idea of a watch: What could it add to people’s lives? What new things could you do with a device that you wear? Around this time, Ive began a deep investigation of horology, studying how reading the position of the sun evolved into clocks, which evolved into watches. Horology became an obsession. That obsession became a product.

Along the way, the Apple team landed upon the Watch’s raison d’être. It came down to this: Your phone is ruining your life.

Intriguing stuff. Included in this feature is a particularly fascinating gallery that gives a taste of the UI design process; you should definitely check it out.

Unintended Consequences

Matt Henderson (via Michael Tsai):

When I switch my Jeep off, its headlights remain on for about 30 seconds. Presumably this was done under the assumption that you’d appreciate the lights in a dark garage, as you make your way to the door.

[…]

I’m never quite sure myself whether I actually turned the lights off or not. And so, inevitably, I end up delaying my departure from the vehicle for the 30 seconds or so it takes to confirm that the lights are actually off. (And you can imagine that bystanders find that—a guy staring at his car, with its lights on—equally odd.)

How would you know if this system were to malfunction?

April 1, 2015

China’s Man-on-the-Side Attack on GitHub

Netresec’s Erik Hjelmvik:

In short, this is how this Man-on-the-Side attack is carried out:

  1. An innocent user is browsing the internet from outside China.
  2. One website the user visits loads a javascript from a server in China, for example the Badiu Analytics script that often is used by web admins to track visitor statistics (much like Google Analytics).
  3. The web browser’s request for the Baidu javascript is detected by the Chinese passive infrastructure.
  4. A fake response is sent out from within China instead of the actual Baidu Analytics script. This fake response is a malicious javascript that tells the user’s browser to continuously reload two specific pages on GitHub.com.

However, not all users loading javascripts from inside China are attacked in this way. Our analysis shows that only about 1% of the requests for the Baidu Analytics script are receiving the malicious javascript as response. So in 99% of the cases everything behaves just like normal.

The attack has ended, for now, but that doesn’t make this any less frightening. If you’re a big-ish website that hosts views contrary to the Chinese government’s liking, your website could get torpedoed. Or you could get caught in the crossfire.

By the way, the two targeted repos were greatfire and cn-nytimes. Both are very clever workarounds for the Great Firewall.

March 31, 2015

Tidal

A while back, Jay-Z and a bunch of other musicians purchased Tidal, which is one of the only streaming platforms around that also offers lossless music. They relaunched the service yesterday, and it was really weird: the unveiling started with a speech from a Tidal executive who introduced all of the major musician backers one at a time, each to tepid clapping and a few shouts, probably from Tidal staffers.1 Then, Alicia Keys took the mic and gave a speech about how music changes everything, closing it with a quote by Nietzsche, which seemed like a depressing turn.

Then, Radiohead’s “National Anthem” played2 while each musician signed a declaration of some kind. The song went on way too long while the artists all sort of hung around, then got a group photo, and walked off the stage. Bizarre.

Then came a prerecorded video of all these artists sitting in a warehouse or some kind of photo studio talking about how this is some kind of revolution. Which seems a little overcooked, to be honest.

The service itself is $10 per month if you opt for high quality 320 kbps streaming, which is pretty much the same as any other streaming service. For $20 per month, you get lossless streaming. As I’ve written many, many times in the past, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between high quality compressed audio and lossless audio. Tidal thinks you can, so they’ve set up an A/B test of five songs. I picked all five lossless files successfully on my first, but if anything, the difficulty with which I had choosing between them — even though I know what to listen for — convinces me that high quality compressed formats are just fine.

The artists say that they want their music heard the way with the quality they intended. But most music made today is terribly mastered and engineered, including much of the music from these artists. Tidal doesn’t make any of this better; it just means you can hear the full sonic range of clipping. Kanye West’s “New Slaves” clips, while Deadmau5’s “Avaritia” just barely skates under the limit. So even if you can tell the difference between lossless audio and lossy audio, what difference does it make to the actual recording quality or the listening experience?

If artists were serious about starting a revolution and trying to get their work heard in a more respectable, high-fidelity way, they’d fire Rick Rubin and Nick Raskulinecz, improve the mastering of their records, and not rip off their peers.


  1. Chris Martin and Calvin Harris couldn’t even be bothered to get on a plane to New York, so they Skyped in. The revolution may not be televised but it will be video conferenced. 

  2. Which, by the way, is cut from all the videos I can find, presumably for licensing reasons. So there’s just this silence while a bunch of people sign a piece of paper. 

Tim Cook Puts His Dent in the Universe

John Paczkowski, of Buzzfeed, on Tim Cook’s public coming-out and Washington Post op-ed:

Note that this is all happening ahead of Apple’s biggest product launch since iPad. Note too, that until mid-2014, Cook had been a very private person. Indeed, in his Bloomberg editorial he cites his desire for privacy as a key reason for not coming out as gay sooner. By penning these op-eds and participating in these interviews he’s forfeiting that privacy. And in doing so, he’s allowing Apple to shape public perception of him as a leader — an altruist, a philanthropist, and a CEO every bit as worthy of leading Apple as Jobs.

A wonderful piece from Paczowski. Cook has managed to retain Apple’s most innovative and technically-brilliant aspects in the post-Jobs era while making the company far more directly philanthropic. Cook himself is setting himself up to be far more giving than Jobs. That’s not a knock on the latter; Jobs famously felt like Apple could be indirectly philanthropic by making products that empower people. But the company has grown significantly since Jobs died, and it’s a responsibility of the largest companies in the world to be role models.

Retina MacBook Pro Display Staining

Topher Kessler:

In order to reduce glare for its various displays, Apple uses anti-reflective coatings that should absorb, interfere with, and redirect reflected light rays while allowing transmitted light emanating from your display to pass through to your eyes. As with any material that is adhered to another, this coating may strip off under certain conditions — including extreme heat or cold, uneven pressure, warping, and cleaning with caustic agents — things generally well beyond the intended and supported use of your Mac.

However, owners of some Retina MacBook Pros sold since mid-2012 are reporting that the coatings on their displays are peeling progressively under normal use. When this occurs, the systems show what appears to be light-colored stains on the display. Since the coating is translucent, the separation can’t always be seen easily in dark conditions with the display on, but it’s more apparent when the display is turned off in a bright environment.

[…]

Though this problem doesn’t necessarily hamper the overall functioning of the Mac, those affected would like their systems to be fixed. Unfortunately, Apple has not (yet) officially recognized the problem. In some cases, Apple has accepted and fixed affected machines, but at other times the company refuses to address the problem, claiming it is purely cosmetic.

As Michael Tsai says, I don’t get why a lawsuit seems necessary for Apple to do something about this. It would be better for everyone if Apple simply replaced affected displays free of charge, so long as no other evidence of significant damage is found. Apple retains loyalty with their best customers and gets a pool of affected devices to try to isolate the problem, and customers are impressed with the great service they receive. And, yeah, it probably costs Apple a fair amount of money: the “Staingate” site claims 1,181 affected people in their database, as of writing, and that a repair costs $800. But, assuming that the display costs Apple something like $400, that’s about a $500,000 repair bill for these users. That’s about what it costs Apple to replace broken entrance glass at one of their flagship stores. In this case, they should just suck it up.

AT&T Is Watching You Browse the Web

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

If you have AT&T’s gigabit Internet service and wonder why it seems so affordable, here’s the reason—AT&T is boosting profits by rerouting all your Web browsing to an in-house traffic scanning platform, analyzing your Internet habits, then using the results to deliver personalized ads to the websites you visit, e-mail to your inbox, and junk mail to your front door.

[…]

AT&T charges at least another $29 a month ($99 total) to provide standalone Internet service that doesn’t perform this extra scanning of your Web traffic. The privacy fee can balloon to more than $60 for bundles including TV or phone service. Certain modem rental and installation fees also apply only to service plans without Internet Preferences.

Deplorable and outrageous.

March 30, 2015

Making Blu-Ray Relevant Again

Keith Phipps makes the argument for the Dissolve that Blu-Ray discs are the new vinyl records:

In a piece headlined, “Who are the 6 million people still getting Netflix by mail? I’m one of them,” Guardian tech reporter Alex Hern lays out the most compelling arguments for films on disc, particularly on Blu-ray. They look better—even a 1080p stream can show signs of compression—they sound better, and they’re not dependent on the reliability of an Internet connection. Beyond this, they still make money, even if it isn’t as much money.

[…]

There were better 2014 films than Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, for instance, but few as fascinating, controversial, or so famously the product of a clash between a director and a studio who didn’t always see eye-to-eye. And while it’s probably too soon to perform a full look at the whole, uncensored story, surely the film’s Blu-ray—which lists at $41.99—should have included more than three 20-minute making-of featurettes. Part of what made DVDs so exciting in their golden age was the wide variety of features found on many discs—and expected of high-profile releases of Noah’s scale. Why should a superior technology be giving viewers less?

Even though I’m an avid collector of physical media, I never hopped on the Blu-Ray train. The artifacts in a 1080p stream aren’t noticeable to me at typical viewing distance, and the typical convenience of a $5 rental1 or Netflix stream outweighs the slightly better quality of a $25-plus Blu-Ray. And many purchased iTunes movies now come with extras, too.

Vinyl isn’t just experiencing a resurgence because of a better perceived quality;2 it’s also about the experience of the product. There’s the careful balancing of the needle on the record, the requirement of flipping it over partway through, and the generous space afforded to creative artwork and packaging. There’s also the warm, analog sound, which isn’t better by any technical merit, but which sounds more human, or just a little bit less precise. Even if they had beautiful packaging, Blu-Ray discs don’t really have any of this. They’re still crisp, digital movies, placed into a mysterious box that reproduces the image in silence and darkness. It’s too cold and too calculated for a vinyl-style resurgence, with the exception, perhaps, of the most dedicated cinephile.


  1. Speaking of which, I tried to rent “Rosemary’s Baby” last night on iTunes and it took several iterations of quitting the app and restarting it to make it work. I kept getting the most perplexing errors, like that my iTunes Library file couldn’t be found, to my momentary panic. 

  2. See also Hydrogen Audio’s vinyl myths article

“This Isn’t a Political Issue. It Isn’t a Religious Issue.”

Tim Cook, in a guest piece for the Washington Post:

A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.

Others are more transparent in their effort to discriminate. Legislation being considered in Texas would strip the salaries and pensions of clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ marriage ban later this year. In total, there are nearly 100 bills designed to enshrine discrimination in state law.

These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.

It takes a lot of guts for the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world to step into the arena and defend what is right and just on an issue that is, for some reason, still controversial.

March 28, 2015

Why Force Touch Matters for Accessibility

Steven Aquino for MacStories:

The part that struck me about using Force Touch was how useful it was in alerting me that I clicked something. Clicking a word did two things: (1) it showed me the definition; but (2) more importantly, I felt the click at the same time. Feeling my action was key because it let me know that I’m clicking without me having to rely solely on my vision to know that I clicked. And that’s the accessible part – the Force Touch trackpad gives me yet another cue (beyond the popover animation and sound of the click) that something happened.

This is an extraordinary invention for those who don’t have the greatest eyesight, but it’s something that will enhance the user experience for all of us. Even if you have all of your senses more or less intact, think of the number of times you’ve mis-clicked a button, or dragged a video clip by the wrong amount. The horizontal-to-vertical translation of axes, combined with the abstraction created by a mouse or a trackpad demands a high level of hand-eye coordination. Any improvement towards making this as natural and intuitive as possible is a win for everyone.

Goodbye, IFO Apple Store

Gary Allen is going to stop writing the venerable IFO Apple Store, but he leaves us with one final, beautiful thought:

My final advice is: don’t overthink Apple. Instead, remember Steve Jobs and his boundless enthusiasm and joy—especially  on stage—for what the products can accomplish and make possible. It’s fine to speculate on sales numbers and stock price. But it’s more pertinent to wonder how FaceTime or other Apple product feature can bring distant people together, to help diverse cultures understand one another to make a better world.

I’m glad that Allen has been able to spend so much time doing something that he truly loves, and grateful that he’s shared it with us for so long. But I’m going to miss the site. I read it daily, and it’s a brilliant and well-written resource. Thank you, Gary.

March 27, 2015

Meerkat and Periscope

Mat Honan, Buzzfeed:

“We want you to see the world through other people’s eyes,” says 26-year-old Periscope founder (one of two) Kayvon Beykpour. “It’s a two-way teleportation device, and interactive enough that viewers can affect the experience.” […]

“The magic moment in Periscope is when you realize you can affect what you’re seeing,” he argues. “This isn’t live-streaming — it’s teleportation.”

It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for this concept to return. Remember Qik? It was an app for jailbroken iPhones that allowed live video streaming and broadcasting to Twitter, albeit without the in-app chat that’s so crucial to the experience of Meerkat and Periscope. What happened to Qik? Skype bought it in 2011 and “pivoted” it away from where the puck was going. Oops.

Making Instapaper’s Tweet Shots

From an engineering perspective, the automatic sizing and spacing is pretty cool. From a user perspective, everything about making a tweet shot in Instapaper is completely invisible and easy. A very clever design.

On Goodwill With Apple, as Currency

Daniel Jalkut has, as usual, a very intelligent take on that ridiculous controversy about whether developers and commenters withhold criticisms of Apple in order to stay in their good graces. But I found this part most telling:

As a company, Apple doesn’t care about individual developers. This works both ways of course: they don’t go out of their way to help, but also don’t go out of their way to harm. When a developer benefits or suffers at the hands of Apple, I believe it’s always thanks to either a wide-sweeping corporate policy that affects all developers, or to an individual at the company whose everyday choices on the job can have a profound impact. An editor who chooses to feature an app on the store, for example, or a reviewer who chooses to notice and raise a fuss about a slightly non-compliant behavior in an app.

There are at least two ways to look at this, and neither are incorrect. On the one hand, it’s great that Apple is made of people who, collectively, generally support developers as a group, but don’t pick on particular developers.

But then there are enough cases where a single individual can make decisions that are so maddeningly inconsistent with precedent that it can ruin any developer’s day. Sometimes, it’s when they reject an app from an indie developer for breaking rules that don’t exist. Other times, it’s when they allow apps from massive developers that fly in the face of actual rules.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: it isn’t the App Store rules themselves that are frustrating for developers, but the inconsistent way in which they are enforced. If Apple wanted to disallow buttons or other interactivity in Notification Centre widgets, that’s fine, as long as it’s in writing and enforced consistently. It obviously limits what developers are able to do, but if there are an agreed-upon set of rules, it’s easy for them to know what to invest their time into building. When a rule is not written, and when it is only sometimes enforced, profoundly stupid things happen.

March 26, 2015

Beats Gets Even Deeper

Ben Sisario and Brian X. Chen, New York Times:

Almost a year after agreeing to pay $3 billion for Beats, the maker of hip headphones and a streaming music service, Apple is working with Beats engineers and executives to introduce its own subscription streaming service. The company is also planning an enhanced iTunes Radio that may be tailored to listeners in regional markets, and, if Apple gets what it wants, more splashy new albums that will be on iTunes before they are available anywhere else, according to people briefed on the company’s plans.

If I’m reading this right, that basically means there will be three iTunes services available: purchasing, streaming, and “radio” streaming. That doesn’t seem right; I would imagine the radio component would be integrated into the streaming component. I also wonder how soon they’ll be able to offer any streaming service outside of the US.

It’s odd to see Apple in a position of trying to make up lost ground in the online music space. That was the space in which they used to lead; now, they’re playing catch-up to far more established companies. However, the big iTunes brand has already allowed Apple to become an established player in the streaming space in the US, even with their relatively limited offering.

Sisario and Chen, continued:

In a sign of how important Beats is in reshaping Apple’s digital music, the company has made a musician a point man for overhauling the iPhone’s music app to include the streaming music service, as opposed to an engineer. Trent Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails frontman who was the chief creative officer for Beats, is playing a major role in redesigning the music app, according to two Apple employees familiar with the product, who spoke on the condition they not be named because the plans are private.

This, though, is very exciting. I use the Music app all day, every day, and it has remained basically unchanged since iOS 1.0, aside from the addition of iTunes Radio.

Instapaper 6.2 Is Out Now

From their blog:

On iOS, you can enable Instant Sync in Settings to allow Instapaper to send you silent push notifications when you save a new article. The silent push notification allows the iOS app to download the new content from the server immediately, and the result is better syncing between your iOS devices and our servers.

[…]

Saving with the iOS extension just got a whole lot faster! We reworked the iOS extension (again) to shorten the time it takes to save an article to just a fraction of a second. The extension will still show for an additional two seconds in case you want to save to a specific folder, but you can dismiss it by tapping anywhere on the screen.

I’ve been using this for a little while now and it’s completely changed the way Instapaper works for me, for the better. It feels completely seamless. I remember being a little worried when Betaworks bought Instapaper, but they’re doing great stuff with the service and its companion apps.

March 25, 2015

The Full FTC Report on Google

The Journal has been steadily drip-feeding stories based on reporting they gleaned from a leaked FTC report. Now, they’ve just dumped the whole 160-page document online, for your reading pleasure. Knock yourself out with these barely-refined internal communications written by employees of an agency that regulates marketplace competition. Oh, the narrative arc that awaits you.

If you’re not the type to go spelunking in long-ass internal reports, Danny Sullivan has found the juicy tidbits for you.

The Tragedy Tag

Parker Higgins:

I was looking at the HTML source of a recent New York Times story about a tragic plane accident — 150 people feared dead — and noticed this meta tag in its head:

<meta property="ad_sensitivity" content="noads" />

There are no Google results for the tag, so it looks like it hasn’t been documented, but it seems like a pretty low-tech way to keep possibly insensitive ads off a very sensitive story—an admirable effort. It’s interesting in part because it’s almost an acknowledgement that ads are invasive and uncomfortable. They cross over into the intolerable range when we’re emotionally vulnerable from a tragic story.

Fantastical 2 for Mac Is Now Available

Federico Viticci of MacStories:

Today, I feel comfortable saying that Fantastical 2 is the best calendar app for Mac I’ve ever used. It’s really simple as that, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t recognize the effort that went into this new version of the app. No other calendar client – not Apple’s Calendar, not Sunrise, and certainly not the original Fantastical – gets close to the masterful blend of simplicity and power of Fantastical 2.

Fantastical 2 fixes my biggest complaint with Fantastical 1: that I couldn’t use it enough because I had to open Apple’s comparatively crummy stock Calendar app to see a full window view. I can’t wait to take this for a spin.

This isn’t a free update, which seems to have rankled a few people on Twitter and Designer News. At $50, it’s definitely not for everyone. But when a company is trying to build sustainable software, that typically requires going against the relentless tide of free or “freemium” apps. Whether it’s worth $50 is up to you to decide. Me? This is an easy buy.

March 24, 2015

Hagiography, My Ass

Emma-Kate Symons of Quartz wrote a truly abysmal op-ed today, in which she dusts off the tired old Apple-as-religion/cult metaphor for another go-around, this time related to the published-today Becoming Steve Jobs bio. Normally, I wouldn’t link to something so awful, but this bears special exception because not only is it spectacularly unclever, it gets downright offensive:

In the new biography Cook even expands on the theological notion of one body, one flesh, linking himself to Jobs, by giving the startling tidbit that he offered to give a part of his liver to the pancreatic cancer sufferer back in 2009.

There’s nothing anyone can really say to such an article that doesn’t presuppose an adherence to the supposed cult. That is, if I find this article offensive or mean-spirited, it is assumed that I am taking offence because I am part of the religion. Denying that only fuels the premise of the article. It’s the style of writing they teach at the “when did you stop beating your wife?” school of journalism.

But this one sentence could only be penned by someone with a truly profound lack of empathy. If all Symons wanted to do was rabble-rouse, I’m sure she could have accomplished that without resorting to extraordinary personal attacks. Shame on Quartz for ever allowing this to be published.

By the way, if you want a far more clever barb at Apple, John Oliver has you covered.

33733

You may have seen on last night’s Daily Show that presidential hopeful Ted Cruz gave a speech at Liberty University in which he implored the attendees to text “constitution” to 33733, with little context. It wasn’t just selective Daily Show editing, either; publications covering the event didn’t offer any additional context, and Cruz’ official Twitter account didn’t either.

I did some digging after watching this and it turns out that 33733 is the vanity number for a company called Tatango:

Tatango comprises of a team of seasoned retail SMS marketing experts located in both Seattle & San Francisco. Our passion at Tatango is to help retailers solve their SMS marketing challenges, while at the same time building easy to use, yet powerful enterprise-grade software to manage the scale of even the largest and complex retail SMS marketing campaigns.

(My, they sure do want to rank well for “retail SMS marketing”, don’t they?)

So they’re a company that provides SMS spam services, something which Cruz didn’t disclose. Nor did Cruz disclose how to opt out of his SMS spam. Tatango, however, does:

Msg&Data rates may apply. To opt out, text STOP to 33733 and 68398.

Not only do you have to text “STOP” to the number you’re receiving texts from, you also have to send it to a completely different vanity number. Seems sleazy for this company, and irresponsible for Cruz not to disclose any of this information.

A New Way to Display

In the Watch HIG, Apple recommends using black backgrounds for application UIs:

A black background blends seamlessly with the device bezel and maintains the illusion of no screen edges. Avoid bright background colors in your interface.

This doesn’t tell the entire story, though, because it’s likely that the Apple Watch uses an (AM)OLED display.

Craig Hockenberry:

One of my first impressions of the [Apple Watch] user interface was that it used a lot of black. This makes the face of the device feel more expansive because you can’t see the edges. But more importantly, those black pixels are saving power and extending the life of the display. It’s rare that engineering and design goals can align so perfectly.

And from what we’ve seen so far of the watch, that black is really really black. We’ve become accustomed to blacks on LCD displays that aren’t really dark: that’s because the crystals that are blocking light let a small amount pass through. Total darkness lets the edgeless illusion work.

As with iOS on the IPS LCD displays of the iPhone and iPad, the Apple Watch uses the inherent qualities of the display technology to define the choices behind the UI. Black doesn’t show quite as well because, as Hockenberry says, a small amount of light still gets through. There’s no hit to power consumption when the display is entirely white because the backlight is always on, and the subpixels merely change the arrangement of the crystals to vary their brightness. That’s one reason why iOS is basically made of white.

On the flip side, subpixels of (AM)OLED displays are also its backlight, as it were. The colours used in the onscreen content determine how much power is being used; when white is used, it means all of the subpixels in the white area are turned on, which makes the display use far more power than it would outputting darker colours.1 Therefore, the Apple Watch’s UI is mostly black. (AM)OLED displays also typically display colours with far greater saturation than LCD displays, so Apple is also using a lot of very bright colours in the Watch UI.2

I’d love to see the Watch display under a microscope. Can’t wait until the Anandtech crew get their hands on one.


  1. Most Android phones use (AM)OLED displays, so I find Google’s “Material” design language and its use of all-white backgrounds incongruent with its likely deployment. 

  2. In hindsight, this also explains the greater use of bright colours in iOS, and Apple’s focus on making iPhone displays that have a full sRGB colour gamut to reproduce those colours as precisely as possible. Apple likes consistency. Sometimes. 

“He Could Be a Jerk, but Never an Asshole”

Steven Levy read an advanced copy of Becoming Steve Jobs and he seems impressed:

In their new tome, [Brent] Schlender and co-author Rick Tetzeli capture the thoughts of the people closest to Jobs in rare interviews seemingly granted to get the record straight. The subjects include [Jony] Ive, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple’s former head of communications Katie Cotton, Pixar CEO Ed Catmull, and Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs. Others who were otherwise uninclined to cooperate did so at the urging of some of the aforementioned insiders. The implicit message seems to be that although almost all of those people participated in the official biography, they very much feel that the Steve Jobs they knew has still not been captured. Catmull’s authorized quote about the new book is telling: “I hope it will be recognized as the definitive history.”

Becoming Steve Jobs is the anti-Walter.

Walter Isaacson’s authorized bio didn’t just over-emphasize the negative aspects of Jobs’ personality, it grossly misrepresented the way Apple works and thinks. Consider the amount of times in the book where Isaacson portrayed a battle between “design” — as an aesthetic pursuit — and “engineering”:

“Before Steve came back, engineers would say ‘Here are the guts’ — processor, hard drive — and then it would go to the designers to put it in a box,” said Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller. “When you do it that way, you come up with awful products.” But when Jobs returned and forged his bond with Ive, the balance was again tilted toward the designers. “Steve kept impressing on us that the design was integral to what would make us great,” said Schiller. “Design once again dictated the engineering, not just vice versa.”

On occasion this could backfire, such as when Jobs and Ive insisted on using a solid piece of brushed aluminum for the edge of the iPhone 4 even when the engineers worried that it would compromise the antenna. But usually the distinctiveness of its designs — for the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad — would set Apple apart and lead to its triumphs in the years after Jobs returned.

  1. The iPhone 4’s edge was the antenna itself, and it was made of stainless steel, not aluminum.
  2. The “antennagate” thing was overblown to begin with.
  3. This wasn’t some kind of battle between hardware engineers concerned only with functionality, and designers only concerned with the way the product looks. Both designers and engineers at Apple are obsessed with making great stuff. I have no knowledge of how the company arrived at the use of external antennas, but what I do know is that the iPhone 4 came with a much larger battery and a tightly-packed set of internals. Maybe the antenna drove the size reduction; maybe what seems like cause was actually effect. Maybe, therefore, it was an engineering decision that allowed the company to achieve their hardware goal of near-impossible thinness. But we don’t know this because Isaacson doesn’t explain it, or even really acknowledge it.

    Isaacson did not fully grasp this core, fundamental thought: that design is not purely aesthetic, but an all-encompassing term to define how a product works, feels, and — yes, sure — looks. It’s not the thing that happens last; it starts, ends, and accompanies a product throughout its entire development cycle. Beyond Jobs’ personality, that’s what Isaacson’s bio failed to capture.

If Isaacson could not understand what design meant to Jobs, how could he write the book of record about Jobs’ professional life? Correcting that fundamental flaw is what I hope Becoming Steve Jobs achieves.

Update: In his own words (via Steve Troughton-Smith).

March 20, 2015

With Great Power Comes Great Assholery

The Wall Street Journal (accidentally) got their hands on some internal FTC documents surrounding the Google antitrust case, and they’re amazing. Brent Kendall, et. al., reports:

In discussing one of the issues the FTC staff wanted to sue over, the report said the company illegally took content from rival websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor Inc. and Amazon to improve its own websites. It cited one instance when Google copied Amazon’s sales rankings to rank its own items. It also copied Amazon’s reviews and ratings, the report found. A spokesmen for TripAdvisor didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

When competitors asked Google to stop taking their content, Google threatened to remove them from its search engine.

From a separate report by Brody Mullins:

One way Google favored its own results was to change its ranking criteria. Google typically ranks sites based on measures like the number of links that point to a site, or how often users click on the site in search results.

But Marissa Mayer, who was then a Google vice president, said Google didn’t use click-through rates to determine the ranking for its own specialized-search sites, because they would rank too low, according to the staff report. […]

Instead, Google would “automatically boost” its own sites for certain specialized searches that otherwise would favor rivals, the FTC found. If a comparison-shopping site was supposed to rank highly, Google Product Search was placed above it. When Yelp was deemed relevant to a user’s search query, Google Local would pop up on top of the results page, the staff wrote.

Everyone suspected this. Now we know.

I would never argue that Google is an altruistic organization, or that what they’re doing here isn’t in their obvious business interest. But Google has huge market share, and any company that has a vastly dominant market share has a responsibility to not be an anticompetitive dickhead.

The 160-page critique concluded that Google’s “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

Exactly. So why did this case — which, by the way, recommended a lawsuit against Google — result in no charges and no suit?

Google was the second-largest corporate source of campaign donations to President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.

Yet another example of just how well the system works.

March 19, 2015

Russell Brandom Is Contradictory and He Should Feel Bad or Maybe Good Probably

The Verge’s Russell Brandom thought the New York Times was rather harsh on smartwatches:

Could your smartwatch be GIVING YOU CANCER? That’s the claim made by a new article in The New York Times by Nick Bilton, originally titled “Could wearable computers be as harmful as cigarettes?” Editors have already changed the headline to the more anodyne “The health concerns in wearable tech” in the face of substantial criticism, but the problems with the piece go much deeper than a bad headline.

[…]

Bilton quotes a single qualified physician before moving on to an osteopathic physician named Dr. Joseph Mercola who “focuses on alternative medicine.” Mercola has been outspoken on the link between cell phones and cancer, occasionally as a guest on the Dr. Oz show, and has a lucrative side business selling homeopathic products on his website, Mercola.com. He has been the subject of four separate letters from the FDA for mislabeling products or promising health benefits that are not supported by the medical literature. The fact that he’s being quoted as a health expert by The New York Times is astounding, as some have already noted.

Brandom thought Bilton’s article was so bad that he titled his debunking article “The New York Times’ smartwatch cancer article is bad, and they should feel bad”, and subtitled it “Cram it, Bilton”. Cute.

But what about if the Verge was able to gin up page views with its own hyperbolic and poorly-reported story? And what if Russell Brandom were the author of said story? How would that look? Well, how about a similarly snappy headline for starters?

The new MacBook’s single port comes with a major security risk

Perfect. Brandom, or his editor, was able to tie a potential security risk in USB ports to Apple’s hot new product. That’s a guaranteed win for page views.

So, Russell, tell me more about this security risk:

But while the new port is powerful, it also comes with serious security problems. For all its versatility, Type-C is still based on the USB standard, which makes it vulnerable to a nasty firmware attack, and researchers are also concerned about other attacks that piggyback on the plug’s direct memory access. None of these vulnerabilities are new, but bundling them together with the power cord in a single universal plug makes them scarier and harder to avoid. On a standard machine, users worried about USB attacks could simply tape over their ports, but power is the one plug you have to use. Turning that plug into an attack vector could have serious security consequences.

The biggest concern is the BadUSB vulnerability, first published last year. The attack lives in the firmware of a USB device and infects computers during the earliest stages of the connection, long before users get a chance to see what’s on the device or decide whether to open it up.

Judging by its permalink, that link goes to an article, also by Brandom, that was originally titled “This published hack could be the beginning of the end for USB”, but which has been retitled with the more tame “USB has a huge security problem that could take years to fix”.

Now what if the “MacBook” article was found to be wildly inaccurate?

These articles are pure clickbait. The main exploit in question, called BadUSB, was discovered 8 months ago. In theory, it could be used to attack most USB devices, including Macs, iPads, Windows PCs, and more. But making it seem like the new 12-inch MacBook, and to a lesser degree, the new ChromeBook Pixel, has some sort of new vulnerability because of using USB-C is disingenuous at best.

[…]

Gizmodo seems to believe the 12-inch MacBook is vulnerable to this direct attack, even going so far as to suggest that the NSA will distribute hacked USB-C power adapters designed to take over your notebook. But unlike Thunderstrike on vulnerable Macs (see “Thunderstrike Proof-of-Concept Attack Serious, but Limited,” 9 January 2015), the USB port uses Intel’s xHCI (eXtensible Host Controller Interface), which can’t be placed into a DFU (device firmware upgrade) mode to overwrite the MacBook’s firmware. Thus the MacBook itself can’t be infected with BadUSB, so plugging in an unknown power adapter can’t give someone control of your MacBook.

If I were an asshole, I’d use Brandom’s “cram it” subtitle against him, but I’m not, so I won’t. I will, however, point out that staffers at the Verge seem to have internalized clickbait. They’re pretty good at writing it themselves, and pretty good at calling it out. But which side they’ll take seems to depend on the kind of page views they can expect.

Update: The difference between the Times and the Verge is that when the former screws up, they usually admit it.

March 18, 2015

An Extensive Interview With Tim Cook

I’ve noticed that Cook does a lot more interviews than Steve Jobs typically did. It feels like an extension of his unique style. Jobs was a showman, and enjoyed doing entire keynote presentations on his own; Cook is slower, quieter, and more deliberate in the way he speaks. An interview format suits Cook’s style really well.

Unscrupulous Website Adverts Again Redirecting Some Users to App Store From Safari

As long as App Store links opened from Safari automatically open the store itself, scummy advertisers will find a way to abuse it. Perhaps the elegant solution would be to open Store links from iTunes, iBooks, or the App Store in a sheet, instead of redirecting to the stores themselves. It would certainly feel less jarring than being thrown into a different app entirely.

March 17, 2015

Force Touch

Thomas Brand:

This weekend I had the opportunity to try out the new Force Touch trackpad on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. The sensation of a physical click is so good I had to turn the computer off, disabling the haptic engine, just to make sure I was using the new trackpad. With the MacBook Pro turned off the trackpad doesn’t move. (Clicking on it gives you the same sensation as pressing on the palmrest.) But after turning the MacBook back on, clicking the trackpad gives you the same sensation as the old trackpad where the surface is depressed.

This sounds almost impossibly good. I can’t wait to try one of these.

Welcome to Macintosh

About a year and a half ago, a few notable writers started to give the vibe that they were a little disillusioned with the state of tech podcasts. First, it was Harry Marks; then, Ben Brooks. And I agreed with both of them: I think tech podcasting was in a pretty serious rut that it has had a hard time climbing out of. The genre has largely consisted of lightly-edited conversations about the week’s tech news between people whose blogs you already read. Yours truly:

I appreciate the craft that [Myke] Hurley and others bring to the space. But a time commitment of two hours per podcast per week is arguably a lot, and I often don’t get the sense that podcasters respect listeners’ time. I will sit through an album from start to finish, and it will take about an hour; a podcast can be twice that length, and if it’s unedited conversational rambling, I will struggle to finish the episode. It’s simply not worth that amount of time.

Happily, I think the tech podcasting space is finally starting to get interesting.

First up is the recently-reimagined Inquisitive from Hurley. The episodes marked “Behind the App” offer a well-crafted, succinct look at the challenges and rewards facing app developers today. It’s wonderful; you should check it out.

But Mark Bramhill’s podcast “Welcome to Macintosh” is in a league of its own. There have been two episodes so far, and both feature great interviews with people you know and trust, edited and put together in a really slick package.

Both of these shows are fantastic. They feel like the This American Life of tech podcasts, insomuch as they’ve both raised the production value to an all-time high. I highly recommend them both.

New NYT Style Guide Now Available

This is the first update to the Manual of Style and Usage since 1999 and, naturally, the vast majority of the updates reflect the changing ways in which we use the English language, and the addition of brand new words created since then. Some highlights, courtesy of Benjamin Mullin of Poynter:

friend. Do not use as a verb, as in friended, except for special effect when writing about social media.”

web, the. This form (lowercase) is acceptable in all references to the World Wide Web.”

iPad, iPhone, iPod. But uppercase as the first word of a sentence or headline.”

abbreviations “…abbreviations popular in online and texting slang should be used only rarely, for special effect, and should be rendered as readers most often see them: BTW, FYI, LOL, OMG, tl;dr, etc.”

Some of these fly in the face of the way language is actually being used, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s particularly interesting that the Times will continue to capitalize camelcase brands at the beginning of sentences; to my eyes, “IPod” looks less correct than “iPod”, even following a period.

This is also the first time the Manual of Style has been available in digital formats. If you’d like to support the site, you can buy it in Kindle or iBook formats using the magic of affiliate links. If you’d rather not give me a slice of your purchase, you can find those books yourself. Jerk.

Google Has Added Human Reviewers for Apps

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Google Play, Google’s marketplace for Android applications which now reaches a billion people in over 190 countries, has historically differentiated itself from rival Apple by allowing developers to immediately publish their mobile applications without a lengthy review process. However, Google has today disclosed that, beginning a couple of months ago, it began having an internal team of reviewers analyze apps for policy violations prior to publication. And going forward, human reviewers will continue to go hands-on with apps before they go live on Google Play.

The most incredible part of this? Nobody seems to have noticed. The only comment I could find about any kind of delay in the approvals process was this tweet, and I’m not even sure it’s directly related. That’s really impressive. I’m not sure how Google is doing this — whether they’re just throwing a lot of people at this, or if it’s mostly automated with a slight human touch — but it’s a target that Apple can aspire to with the App Store.

March 16, 2015

Bumpy Pixels

Alex Gollner:

When I dragged the clip to its maximum length I did feel a little bump. Without looking at the timeline and looking at the viewer, I could ‘feel’ the end of the clip.

This feature presages the ability for UI pixels to be ‘bumpy’ – for user to feel the texture of application UIs without having to look at where the cursor is. This means that seemingly textured software keyboards and control layouts will be able to be implemented on future trackpads, iPhones and iPads.

This is a game-changer. Imagine how this can be implemented as an accessibility feature, too.

Update: Craig Hockenberry:

The iPhone showed us how amazing touch could be as an input device, [Apple Watch] will show us how awesome it can be as an output device.

To Pimp a Butterfly

I promise this has a tech angle.

One of the most-anticipated new albums this year — Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” — was released a little earlier than anticipated: today, instead of the scheduled March 23 release date. I had preordered the album earlier this month, so I downloaded it right away. Apparently, this was accidental, according to reporting by Lars Brandle of Billboard:

Seems the early release also came as a surprise for some of Lamar’s inner sanctum. Anthony Tiffith, the CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, which represents Lamar, was less than impressed. He tweeted. “I WOULD LIKE 2 PERSONALLY THANK @Interscope FOR FUCKING UP OUR RELEASE… SOMEBODY GOTS 2 PAY 4 THIS MISTAKE !!!! #TOP”

Tiffith has since deleted that tweet, but kept a few others indicating that he wasn’t happy with the early release. A few hours later, Apple switched the album back to preorder status, and Spotify buried the album deep inside search results. Then, another couple of hours later, I guess all parties involved figured the album was as good as released, so the iTunes copy was put back on sale, and Spotify stopped deep-sixing it.

This debacle revealed why I choose Spotify as a way to augment my local library instead of replacing it. Instead of hiding the record, Spotify could entirely revoke access to it, but Apple can’t remove my local iTunes files. Score one for the old-school local library.

However, this situation also reminded me of just how maddening the iTunes preorder experience continues to be. I’ve preordered a fair amount of albums — because I am apparently an idiot — and something goes wrong every time. A few years ago, I didn’t get the notification that my album was available to download until nearly a day later. On another preorder, I had to do the repeated sign-out-restart-sign-in-reauthorize dance to get it to download.

With today’s release, I am unable to download “The Blacker the Berry”, which is odd because it’s the first single from the album and was made available for download when I preordered. It simply says “Purchased” beside the song, in place of the “Download” button, and does not appear in my purchase history. I’ve tried every trick I can think of, and nothing is working, so I’ve put in a request with iTunes support.

The iTunes Store was supposed to be the saviour of online music. It was supposed to be the legal version of Napster: easy access to millions of songs that can be bought and downloaded with one click. But it’s this kind of shoddy user experience that makes it needlessly difficult to keep supporting artists.1 What’s particularly bizarre is that iTunes is Apple’s most prominent software product for Windows. One would assume Apple would work their hardest to bring the best user experience possible to these potential customers, but the results don’t support that.

By the way, the album is fucking great. You should buy it.


  1. I also recently purchased a few gifts for some friends that didn’t use the credit I had on my iTunes account. 

March 13, 2015

Weekend Reads

It’s a very warm and sunny Friday here in Calgary, so I’m not ready to dive into heavy think pieces. I’m sitting here sucking up an iced cappuccino. So, with that in mind, here are a few lighter reads.

Kevin Fanning, wrote a great piece for the Lifted Brow called “Now That’s What I Call Brand Engagement”:

He didn’t notice you – he was holding a giant neon slushie up to his face and taking a picture of himself kissing it. Making out with it. Licking it and tonguing the sides of the cup, his eyes rolled back in the throes of passion, while his other hand held out a phone. You watched as he took the selfie in one shot, like it wasn’t even complicated, like the angle and the light and the framing of the face weren’t witchcraft at all, but merely incontrovertible laws of physics.

He flipped and one-thumbed the buttons on his phone while pulling on the straw with his teeth. He suddenly looked up, caught you staring, and smiled. A smile like a bright new billboard, popping up to save you from the unending boredom of the horizon.

“I’m very excited about my Flavorberry slushie,” he said.

“Yes,” you said. “I can definitely tell.”

“Very. Excited.” He held your stare.

Why Every Gadget Feels Like Shark Dick”, written by Claire L. Evans for Vice:

This texture is somewhat undefinable. It’s variably described in plastics industry literature as “silky” and ”soft-touch,” but the way my friend’s vaporizer felt wasn’t new to either of us, nor is it likely unfamiliar to you. Shark dick, if you will, is everywhere. My iPhone case is made of the stuff, as are the buttons of all the remote controls in my house, the ridges of my earbuds, and my FitBit wristband. Start groping and you’ll find instances in every room of your house.

I’m using “shark dick,” of course, as an umbrella term, under which fall a variety of texturally similar materials: silicone, thermoplastic elastomers, polyurethanes, and rubbers. These share physical properties—hydrophobia, biocompatibility, durability, heat resistance, grippiness—that make them highly desirable for consumer applications from design and engineering standpoints alike. And while not all these materials are created equally, they all provoke the same reaction.

They practically beg us to touch them.

And Casey Johnston wrote “All The iPhone Apps You Can’t Delete Are There For Rich People”, which is spectacularly unquotable for all the right reasons.

Update: One more link that I meant to share: “Your Favorite Photoshop Experts Open Photoshop 1.0”. I complain about Adobe and Photoshop a lot, but I’ve got it good compared to early ’90s designers.

March 12, 2015

How Apple Makes the Watch

A truly wonderful in-depth exploration of the production processes of the Apple Watch, as documented in the material films. Greg Koenig:

Jonny Ive often speaks of care. It is an odd word to use as it doesn’t imply the traditional notion of “craftsmanship” in the classic, handmade sense. Nor does it imply quality or precision in the way a Japanese car manufacturer or German machine tool maker would. “Care” implies a respect for the raw materials and end result, with little concern about what it takes to link those two ends of the production chain together, and we see that highlighted with the Watch. Apple could very easily have forgone forging to create stainless steel cases, just like everyone else. Hardening gold alloy with cold working could have been eliminated, putting them on par with the rest of the industry. Nobody will see or feel the inside pocket for the microphone on the Sport, yet it has been laser finished to perfection.

I see these videos and I see a process that could only have been created by a team looking to execute on a level far beyond what was necessary or what will be noticed. This isn’t a supply chain, it is a ritual Apple is performing to bring themselves up to the standards necessary to compete against companies with centuries of experience.

The FCC’s Rules for Net Neutrality Are Now Public

And, surprising absolutely nobody, they’re perfectly reasonable. If you don’t want to read all 400 pages (PDF), Jacob Kastrenakes of the Verge has a decent summary:

The order focuses on three specific rules for internet service: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. “A person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management,” the order states, while outlining its rules against throttling.

This is absolutely reasonable. I get that some people in the United States are especially cynical about regulatory bodies, but this is agreeable.

The Transit App on Apple Watch

Excusing my mild obsession with this app — hey, I take public transit a lot — this is one of those cases where the Apple Watch makes sense. It takes the thing you use for checking the time and repurposes it to show you something immediately related to the current situation. Apple isn’t articulating this well, possibly for a good reason, so it’s up to us seeing it live, in person, to make the connection.

March 11, 2015

Beginning the Conversation

Jim Ray:

Today, though, I can’t figure where this fits in my life, and I’m someone who’s owned the first-gen of every product Apple has released this century (I waited in line an hour for the first iSight camera). Maybe it’s because I’m a dad now with income that’s hardly disposable. Maybe it’s because I own several mechanical watches that I never wear because they don’t quite match my personal style and not a single Apple watch is something I’d consider a complement. Maybe because I’ve become increasingly wary and weary of the surge of notifications and the drain on my own cognition and mindfulness and I’m skeptical that another device is going to help solve that.

This is the way I’m feeling too, but I’m also intrigued to try it and see how real people are using it in real life. There could be something to turning off all notifications on your phone, and just getting a handful of important ones passed through to your watch. We shall see.

Ray, continued:

The Edition watch is hardly Apple at its best. If anything, the Edition feels like a manifestation of the kind of empty criticism Apple has endured for decades: that they hermetically seal commoditized components in a veneer of design, packaged with slick marketing and a powerful brand. I hope the Edition becomes truly limited and is dropped in future generations.

Scathing, but Ray isn’t wrong. Imagine if Rolex made watches that ranged from $350 to $17,000 with the exact same internals. Do you think the buyers of the priciest watches wouldn’t feel slightly cheated? Do you think that people spotting on the street a $17,000 version of their $350 watch wouldn’t feel like that person is just showing off?

I don’t know if the pricing of the Edition is right or wrong; I’m clearly not part of the target market for them. Apple probably doesn’t know for sure, either. There are people out there who might lap these things up, and that’s fine. But it feels so conspicuous, ostentatious, vulgar, and — most importantly — so unlike Apple. They don’t really do expensive for expensive’s sake.

But even though this is clearly something completely new for Apple, they don’t jump into markets without conducting some research first. I’m intrigued to see how it pans out.

The Mandatory Apple Watch App in iOS 8.2

Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech (via Michael Tsai):

During Monday’s Apple press conference in San Francisco, Tim Cook announced that iOS 8.2 would immediately begin rolling out to compatible iDevices—as in, any device that could already run the original version of iOS 8. Along with expected bug fixes, the update’s biggest addition was support for the upcoming Apple Watch. It’s a fact that users are now being bonked over the head with thanks to the creation of a dedicated, mandatory app.

Machkovech also notes that owners of Android Wear or Samsung Galaxy Gear devices download an optional app to manage the device. This is pretty callous of Apple. It’s yet another app that you can’t uninstall, so it — like Tips, Newsstand, Compass, Game Centre, and perhaps Health and Podcasts — is likely to end up in a user’s junk apps folder. This seems like an awfully hard sell for a product that Apple is aiming to take a soft sell retail strategy with. It doesn’t even have a very pretty icon, either.

At least I’m running the 8.3 beta, so I don’t have to deal with it. Yet.

Assorted Additional Thoughts on Monday’s “Spring Forward” Event

As with practically every Apple event, Monday’s produced a lot to think about. Despite my longer, more focused missive, I have not exhausted my opinion bank. Aren’t you lucky, reader?

Apple TV

The price drop on the Apple TV combined with language that Tyler Poage noticed makes me think that a more significant Apple TV update is imminent.

MacBook

The new MacBook does everything — including charging — with the sole USB-C connector aboard, but I know a lot of people who will want to charge their iPhone from their MacBook. There is no Lightning-to-USB-C cable, for perplexing reasons. I’m surprised that Apple’s solution to this is for the user to also purchase and lug around a $19 adapter, especially when the power brick could have an additional USB-A port on it for power only. I get that it’s not particularly ideal; it would be more convenient and safer if your phone were connected to your laptop instead of both to the wall. But it’s a feature that would be desperately appreciated in a pinch.

Watch

Tim Cook’s awkward interview with Christy Turlington Burns brought global attention to a great charity, albeit looking a little tone-deaf when placed in the same segment of the presentation as the unveiling of a solid gold watch. But this was significant for another reason: it might be the first time a woman has been onstage at an Apple event since Microsoft’s Roz Ho back in 2007, as far I can recall. It’s both a positive development, and a comment on the anemic state of Apple’s recognition of the role of women in their company.

According to Jony Ive’s profile in the New Yorker, the Watch will require significant changes to Apple’s retail stores:

The table previously covered with a flat cloth was now uncovered: it was a glass-topped Apple Watch display cabinet, accessible to staff from below, via a descending, motorized flap, like the ramp at the rear of a cargo plane. Ive has begun to work with Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice-president of retail, on a redesign—as yet unannounced—of the Apple Stores. These new spaces will surely become a more natural setting for vitrines filled with gold (and perhaps less welcoming, at least in some corners, to tourists and truants). Apple had not, overnight, become an élite-oriented company—and it would sell seventy-five million iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, many of them in China—but I wondered how rational, and pure of purpose, one can make the design of a V.I.P. area. Ive later told me that he had overheard someone saying, “I’m not going to buy a watch if I can’t stand on carpet.”

According to Asymco’s Horace Dediu, the display cabinets that Apple has been using for Watch promo events will be very similar to the cabinets installed in retail stores. This retail update was not acknowledged and only barely previewed at the “Spring Forward” event, which makes me question just how much of a makeover the stores will be getting. Is it just an additional table and a safe for the Edition models? What about that “carpet” comment in the quote above? Why not invite Angela Ahrendts onstage to preview those changes?

Also, Apple will apparently be selling it through third-party retailers, but it so far seems as though the third-party retailers will be limited to department stores and boutiques, at least at first. It’s likely that a display setup similar to that of the ones at Apple retail stores will be used. I wonder when and how such a setup will come to existing Apple retail partners, like Best Buy. Will they even be allowed to sell the Edition model? I wager not; nobody goes into a Best Buy looking to drop ten grand on a watch.

Also, the Watch marks the return of the black tax. The stainless steel model starts at $549, but you have to go all the way up to a $1,049 link bracelet model to get a “Space Black” stainless steel model. It’s even $100 more expensive than a standard link bracelet stainless steel model. But — damn — does it ever look good.

It’s All Broken

If it’s an Apple online service, it’s probably been down for much of today. The App Store? Down. iTunes Store? Down. The dev portal? Down. Apple’s in-store credit card processing? You bet that’s down. Why? A DNS mis-configuration. What a mess.

A Hard Case to Make

And I’m not talking about the physical case of the Apple Watch. Josh Dzieza, the Verge:

But how do you get up on stage and say that the best thing about this new gadget is that it lets people use this other gadget, the one you spent the last eight years turning into a fetish object, less frequently? Of course you still need an iPhone for the Apple Watch, so it’s not like the watch threatens to replace the phone — but rhetorically it’s a tricky argument to make. You’d have to acknowledge that people can have fraught relationships with their phones, and that their attachment to them is deeply ambivalent. True, I feel relief when I check my phone and anxious when its battery dies, but that’s a very different type of obsession than the sort Apple encourages in its lavish videos of cold-forged steel watch cases. It’s much more compulsive and dependent. Making the best pitch for the watch would mean acknowledging that devices can be burdens, not just tools for empowerment.

Brilliantly said. This is what Apple failed to articulate clearly at Monday’s event. It’s not that they don’t know what the use case is, but if they can’t find a way to communicate this, it becomes a little like Twitter, insomuch as it’s impossible to explain it in a nutshell, but quickly becomes indispensable. Maybe word of mouth from real-world use will be what it takes.

March 10, 2015

The CIA Campaign to Steal Apple’s Secrets

Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept:

Studying both “physical” and “non-invasive” techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware. This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption. […]

The security researchers also claimed they had created a modified version of Apple’s proprietary software development tool, Xcode, which could sneak surveillance backdoors into any apps or programs created using the tool. Xcode, which is distributed by Apple to hundreds of thousands of developers, is used to create apps that are sold through Apple’s App Store.

These allegations are absolutely staggering. The US spy machine isn’t targeting specific individuals’ communications; they simply want to mass-collect everyone’s data, regardless of whether it’s remote, local, or in transit. If any other country were exploiting loopholes like this in an American country’s products, there would be an international outrage. If any other country’s spy agency was doing this to products made in their own country, it would be unacceptable:

When the Chinese government recently tried to force tech companies to install a backdoor in their products for use by Chinese intelligence agencies, the U.S. government denounced China. “This is something that I’ve raised directly with President Xi,” President Obama said in early March. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States.”

If you’re surprised by this hypocrisy, I can’t help you.

What’s equally worrying is that the bugs that the CIA and NSA are exploiting are real security problems affecting real people, and it’s very likely that countries — both allied and not — have discovered and are using the same bugs to snoop on US citizens. The United States can’t both ensure the security of their citizens and seek to exploit security loopholes.

So, make sure you have Gatekeeper turned on, keep your OSes updated, and tell the CIA to fuck off.

March 9, 2015

A Very Limited Edition

An intriguing thought from Marco Arment:

Wouldn’t surprise me if the Apple Watch Edition is a one-off that doesn’t return for Watch 2.

Spring Forward, Indeed

Apple is truly a company in a class of one. It is consistently unafraid of redefining expectations and the boundaries of what a tech company is seemingly supposed to do. Today’s “Spring Ahead” event once again put this skill on show for the press, testing our collective ability to — at the same time — embrace our dreams, and to accept the upheaval of our fundamental beliefs.

ResearchKit

In some ways, this was the most impactful news of the event. It wasn’t leaked; it wasn’t even anticipated. But ResearchKit could very well profoundly shape our understanding of a wide variety of medical conditions, simply because no other company, and certainly no medical company, has the kind of reach that Apple does to devices that can track and analyze movement. This means more people participating in studies, which means more data, which means a lower margin of error, which should translate into far more accurate analysis.

ResearchKit supports tests (PDF) for motion, fitness, screen tapping, memory, and voice. That’s a lot of data to collect, which is understandably concerning. But this is Apple, not Google: your health data won’t be sold for ads. In fact, Apple apparently won’t even see the data because it goes straight to the universities, hospitals, and institutions conducting the studies.

This probably isn’t the news you tuned in to hear, but it was a nice surprise. Jeff Williams presented extremely well for his first keynote appearance, and the news was equally impressive. It’s easy to imagine the possibilities of ResearchKit in the future, with likely Apple Watch integration and a myriad of third-party products.

MacBook

I was really looking forward to this announcement. Ever since Mark Gurman’s prescient report from January, this has felt like my next computer. What was revealed was even more impressive than I imagined.

The MacBookjust the MacBook — is, for all intents and purposes, an updated version of the 12-inch PowerBook, but it is way, way better than just a thinner, narrower, and taller 11-inch MacBook Air.

Based on the hands-on reports I’ve read, the display is stunning. It’s a Retina display, of course, and it’s the full IPS, laminated, ridiculously thin kind of display that they’re getting really good at making. The display alone is tempting me to upgrade from my mid-2012 MacBook Air, which is equipped with a truly mediocre screen. (I think a portable device should have way better viewing angles than this display has.)

The new keyboard also appears to be a significant development. Apple switched from scissor switches to their own proprietary “butterfly” switches, which they say results in a firmer, more accurate key actuation. It also has individual key backlighting, which is something The Godfather has long wished for, and the key labels are now printed in San Francisco instead of VAG Rounded. If I don’t get one of these Macs for a while, I at least hope this new keyboard will find its way into a new Bluetooth keyboard, because this looks terrific. It appears to combine the short key travel of a chiclet keyboard with the precision of mechanical switches. That sounds like quite the recipe.

Best of all, the new MacBook has no fan, so it’s totally silent, and that’s a small miracle in of itself. The processor I’m guessing they’re using is rated for a Turbo Boost of up to 2.6 GHz; the new MacBook only goes up to 2.4 GHz, which makes me think that Apple is limiting the top end, probably for thermal reasons. But the fact that Apple has built a full MacBook into something of near-iPad weight and thickness is remarkable. I do wonder how this processor will perform while encoding video or playing games, though.

The biggest surprise for people who didn’t read Gurman’s preview was that the new MacBook lacks virtually all of the ports you would expect: there’s no Thunderbolt port, no SD card slot, and no MagSafe. It even lacks the “standard” USB port we’re all used to. All of these ports have been replaced by a single USB type C port, which joins the headphone jack to create the entirety of wired peripheral connection possibilities for this Mac. The USB-C port supports charging, USB data, and DisplayPort output. With a couple of ugly-ass adapters, you can output to HDMI or VGA, too.

But I own a Thunderbolt Display. It wasn’t released that long ago, and most of Apple’s computers support Thunderbolt. But this one doesn’t, and I don’t think it will for a while, because USB-C doesn’t yet support generic PCIe or Ethernet data, like Thunderbolt does. Apple hasn’t given up on Thunderbolt — the updated MacBook Airs and Pros are a sign of their ongoing commitment — but it hasn’t really made the kind of splash in the consumer market that I think Apple hoped it would. It’s probably destined to be this decade’s FireWire 800: a protocol that I, along with professionals in some markets, absolutely love, but which isn’t widely adopted. That’s fine; it still connects to an HDMI display. But I really, really like my Thunderbolt Display, and I really like this new MacBook, and I wish the two could talk to each other.

The new MacBook is also being offered in colours for the first time since the first iBook, and it’s a mirror of their iPhone and iPad colour lineup (and, in a way, that of the Watch, too): aluminum, “space grey”, and gold. I’m far too self-conscious to own a gold laptop, but I saw a lot of people on Twitter lusting after it. Apple sure knows their market. The back of the display looks even more like an iPad or an iPhone than ever before, because it has lost the glowing Apple logo; a polished metal logo contrasts with the bead-blasted aluminum instead.

Also iPad-like is the pricing. It comes in two models, separated only by capacity and processor speed, and only very slightly on the latter. The built-to-order options seem to be limited to processor speed; at this stage, it doesn’t appear that you can change RAM from the 8 GB standard configuration, nor can you increase storage capacity. Unlike the iPad, though, the MacBook starts with a respectable 256 GB of storage.

The whole time I was watching this part of the keynote, I couldn’t help but think that this felt an awful lot like the MacBook Air introduction in 2008. This is a product that’s way, way ahead of the curve — even Apple’s own USB-C-to-USB adapter feels like they’re copping to that. This is a future with the bare minimum of wired connectors, but without losing any of the software capability of a modern Mac. I think the name — “MacBook” — encapsulates this vision. There’s no suffix; it’s not a “Pro” or an “Air”. It’s the Mac notebook.1

You can bet you’ll be seeing PC copies of this in a year or two, once it has proved that it — like the Air before it — is the future of the consumer notebook.

If you like the sound of the new Force Touch trackpad2 and really fast RAM, you can get that in the updated 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, too. The Air lineup was also updated today but, curiously, not the 15-inch Retina Pro. WWDC should be exciting.

Apple Watch

Today’s main event, as it was, was undeniably the new superstar of Apple’s lineup. Kevin Lynch spent an awful lot of time recapping stuff we already knew: there are fitness capabilities, messaging capabilities, you can use Siri on it, and all that stuff. Lynch demoed a bunch of third-party apps this time around, too, showing notifications you might expect from a hotel app, or notifications from Uber, or notifications from a myriad of first-party apps. There was a lot of notifying going on today. Much like the hellish way notifications worked on iOS pre-5.0, I wonder how well this will scale. It’s become clear that many developers are not cognizant of the power they wield to make users’ pockets vibrate, so users will need to be selective of which apps post notifications to their wrist.

Of note, there was little talk today of technology. Nobody mentioned the S1, nor the display technology; Lynch said “Bluetooth” one time, by my count. Also unmentioned only briefly mentioned at the keynote but announced on the web was battery life, and it’s better than I thought it would be. Apple claims 18 hours of typical use, which is perfectly serviceable provided you charge it nightly. This underscored Apple’s intent of this being a fashion accessory first, and a digital device second.

But a whole lot of questions were answered today, chief among which was pricing. The $10,000 Edition dominated much of the post-keynote chatter I saw, surprising the uninitiated. And, it must be said, the pricing of the Edition looked especially egregious after introducing the Watch act of the keynote with a video of the product — though, not the Edition model — being used in a half marathon in one of the poorest countries on Earth. Oh, yes, it was also for a nonprofit that absolutely deserves the kind of attention an Apple keynote can bring. But there wasn’t nearly enough time between that video and the showcasing of an 18-karat gold watch with a $10,000 starting price for me to forget that the money spent on an Edition could instead buy a thousand pregnant Ugandan women two trips each to a hospital.

The Edition itself is a bit of a mystery to me. There are plenty of Patek Philippes, Rolexes, and Omegas available for that kind of money, and they have handcrafted movements that can be passed down for generations. The Edition shares its internals with the other two models in the lineup, but is over nine times more expensive than the next most pricey model, the 42mm black stainless steel. It’s a product for the people with that kind of money to blow on a first-generation device, who aren’t necessarily sure what they’re going to use it for.

And that brings me to the big unanswered question of today: what problems, specifically, does the Watch solve? Apple has traditionally introduced products to the market that addressed specific shortcomings in existing product categories. They have refined and defined markets time and time again. The iPod solved the question of what CDs to bring with you for your Discman, and the iPhone defined the future of the phone in myriad ways, creating the perfect convergence device. They created the perfect travelling or kick-back-on-the-couch companion with the iPad.

But the Watch doesn’t have an easy story like these. There are a bunch of ways Apple suggests you use it: you can now have your calendar chime on your Mac, your iPhone, your iPad, and your Watch at approximately the same time; you can track your workouts; you can use miniaturized versions of your iPhone apps on it; you can pay for stuff with it; and you can communicate with other Apple Watch wearers in subtle ways. Perhaps this is a compelling package — I certainly have never wanted one more than I do today. But I’m still not confident enough to drop over $400 Canadian on one, I don’t think.

In some ways, I think Android Wear is a clearer vision for the watch. It utilizes the time-sensitive nature of the “watch”, but adds contemporary features to the space. You look at your wrist to see what time it is, often to jog your memory of what’s next in your calendar, or what time the next train arrives, or to estimate how far away you are from a meeting point. This functionality seems to come more naturally via Google Now than it does on the Apple Watch.

The crazy part of this whole thing is that I think I would vastly prefer using an Apple Watch. Based on everything I saw today — admittedly, from a distance — it has a much more elegant look and feel, and it’s nowhere near as nerdy as most Android Wear devices. But, if I’m honest with myself, I’d probably only wear it as a health tracker. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; health is clearly one of the focus areas of the Watch. Much of the other functionality, though, seems wasted on me and, much as I think the stainless steel model looks stunning, I simply don’t yet find it compelling. For now, for day-to-day wear, I think I’ll be sticking with my trusty seven year-old Boccia.


You may be reading this thinking I was let down by today’s event. I wasn’t. The new MacBook is almost exactly what I want in a notebook, and ResearchKit looks like it will make a profound impact. The Watch was even huge; as I said, I have never wanted one more than I do now. What was significant about the event today for me, however, was not the products themselves, but what they represented: Apple’s singular ability to entirely upend markets and pave new ground.

Think about it: how many other companies would create a brand new power connector, then update it a few years later, only to abandon it with a product that was surely in the pipeline around the same time as the update? How many other companies would enter a market with a product that ranges in price between $350 and $17,000? How many other companies would create entirely custom materials and techniques for a product that probably won’t have the reach of their flagships? And, crucially, how many companies would be alright doing this?

Apple is in a class of one in stepping out on a limb like this, and fully embracing what they think comes next. They’re not going into the wearable space with a half-baked product; they’re going full-bore into it with a solid fucking gold luxury offering. If nothing else, that takes guts.

I’m not convinced yet that the Watch represents the future of the company, but what I do know is that the most feared aspect of post-Steve Apple — that it would sit still — shouldn’t be a fear at all. They’re doing what they’ve always done: create viable markets with compelling products. We’re about to find out if they still have that magic and, judging by my Twitter timeline and searches today, the outlook is promising.


  1. It’s probably the closest the Mac and the iPad have come to converging, and likely the closest they will come. Very few “normal” people will likely own both one of these and an iPad. 

  2. Which, by the way, Apple touts as being pressure sensitive and perfect for drawing. Something tells me an iPad with a pressure-sensitive display might be in the cards this autumn. 

March 6, 2015

The Apple Watch Is Time, Saved

I swear this is the last Apple Watch thing I’m going to post before Monday’s event, but Matthew Panzarino has put something really good together that I just have to share:

People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.

One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

I think there’s something valuable here, but also something very telling: we don’t have self-control. When our phone buzzes, we can’t just leave it in our pocket or purse. We must remove it to see if it’s anything important, and if it is, to act upon it. A smartwatch removes the part where you must remove your phone, which means you can see the importance of notifications as they arrive, and deal with the ones that are important right away.

But what are we doing that gets so interrupted by a pending notification?

Are we talking to someone? A smartwatch is not really any better there; it still looks a bit rude if you’re constantly checking your wrist throughout a conversation.

Are we reading a book? In that case, a smartwatch would certainly make it less cumbersome to respond to a notification, particularly in an age of giant phones.

Perhaps the generic smartwatch, as exemplified by all of the Android Wear devices out there, isn’t the best example. Perhaps, in typical Apple fashion, the user experience sets the Apple Watch apart from all the other smartwatches out there.

I do have a quibble with this part of Panzarino’s report, though:

For now, the iPhone is a dominant business for Apple and the smartphone is a domineering force in our daily lives. But one day something will come along to destroy it. And, as Apple has expressed many times in the past, it is willing to be the one that finds that thing. With the Apple Watch, we could be seeing the beginnings of that process.

Perhaps someday, the Apple Watch could do the impossible: it could make you stop using your phone.

Not to be shortsighted, but the smartphone is kind of the perfect convergence device. It’s small enough to take everywhere, but big enough to comfortably watch movies on. It combines constant communication with always-available information. For many people, it’s all they need, everywhere. Reading the news on a smartwatch would be uncomfortable at best; integrating a camera would be impractical, not to mention a little creepy. Photo editing? Forget about it. These are things everyone uses their smartphone for.

But the smartwatch will do things the smartphone never could. One day, it will be able to operate entirely untethered from a smartphone, so you’ll be able to track your exercise — including GPS tracking and streaming music — without lugging your phone with you. You’ll be able to use your phone a lot less. It won’t be banished entirely for most people, I don’t think, but you’ll use it differently. And that’s very interesting.

Press Junk

If even the Apple Watch Edition is below your pay grade, Hoptroff wants to cater to your tastes with a smartwatch that looks nothing like a smartwatch, to the tune of no less than $21,700. That’s the starting price; the platinum version costs an eye-watering $54,000. It does include a rather unique feature, though, as explained by 9to5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy:

It syncs with your iPhone to access your calendar data, then one dial points to the time of your next appointment while another points to the first letter of the appointment title–for example, the name of the person you’re meeting. Delightfully clever, if perhaps questionable in usability.

Of course, for $54k you don’t just get a standard alphabet for those letters, that would be common. Each client gets a bespoke arrangement of the letters on the top dial.

The company has chosen to illustrate this functionality with press photos that spell out, in part, “WALTZED BY JUNK”. Make of that what you will.