Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Chris Ziegler Took a Job at Apple While Working for the Verge, and Then Things Got Weird

Nilay Patel of the Verge:

Chris began working for Apple in July, but didn’t tell anyone at The Verge that he’d taken a new job until we discovered and verified his dual-employment in early September. Chris continued actively working at The Verge in July, but was not in contact with us through most of August and into September. During that period, in the dark and concerned for Chris, we made every effort to contact him and to offer him help if needed. We ultimately terminated his employment at The Verge and Vox Media the same day we verified that he was employed at Apple.

I have so many questions about this, but I have just one big one: how did nobody notice this? If I didn’t turn up for work for a month, people would notice. People would ask questions. Heck, I would ask questions like How am I maintaining two full-time jobs at the same time? and Why am I trying to maintain two jobs that have a clear conflict of interest for both parties?

I’m sure Patel and the rest of the Verge’s editorial staff are furious about this, but I bet a small part of them is a little bemused by Ziegler’s pluck.

I don’t know what Ziegler is doing at Apple, but he’s not the first journalist they’ve hired over the past couple of years: Anand Lai Shimpi and Chris Breen both left their publications for Apple, and the company has sought more journalists for Apple News, too.

Update: John Gruber:

No word on what Ziegler is (or was? — several little birdies have told me Ziegler is not listed in the company directory) doing at Apple.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

…that’s not normal. Even the Proj Titan people are in Directory.

Update: The ATP Tipster:

Ziegler is indeed not in the directory. Maybe he’s working an an Apple Story?

Safari and Chrome Updated to Autoplay Muted Videos on Mobile

Jack Marshall, Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. and Google made tweaks to their popular mobile web browsers recently to enable video content to play automatically in web pages, provided audio is muted.

The changes could result in a boost in mobile video consumption for online publishers if they allow their videos to play automatically, and it could unlock new revenue opportunities as a result.

Looking forward to my cellular carrier finding more revenue opportunities for all of the data this is going to use. Canadians already pay the highest prices for cellular contracts in amongst developed countries. I certainly don’t want to pay for overages when a website like Mic or iMore decides to load an autoplaying video ad somewhere on the page.

I’ve set up a rule in 1Blocker, in the Hide Page Elements package, to block video[~autoplay]. This is broad, but it should prevent autoplaying video elements from loading in Safari.

Apple Responds to Allegations of Toxic Work Environment

Ina Fried of Recode had the opportunity to sit down with Apple’s head of HR Denise Young Smith last week to discuss allegations of a toxic work environment:

“We take these things not just seriously, but personally,” said Young Smith in an interview in the atrium of 1 Infinite Loop. “I have been grieved over this … that someone may have had this kind of an experience.”

[…]

“Commensurate actions have been taken,” Young Smith said, noting that disciplinary actions can range from an informal conversation to dismissal. She declined to say what was done in these specific cases, citing privacy concerns.

I certainly hope circumstances like these are not as pervasive at Apple as Mic’s Melanie Ehrenkranz initial report suggested. However, a followup report contains new allegations that are somewhat evocative of that Amazon article from last year. That’s concerning.

Yahoo’s Three Hacks

The massive 2014 breach disclosed today by Yahoo is just one of three reported hacks from the past four years. As noted previously, there was also a 2012 breach of 200 million accounts, and Emptywheel has pointed to an individual account hacked earlier this year.

There’s something very unsettling about the way tech companies are responding to these big security breaches: none of them informed their users with anything resembling a sense of urgency. Dropbox waited four years to tell users about their 2012 hack, and only did so after lying about why they were resetting users’ passwords. Tumblr waited three years.

And then there’s Yahoo. They didn’t tell users about the breach in 2012, even after Vice‘s Joseph Cox asked about it earlier this year. Today, Kara Swisher and Kurt Wagner of Recode have a comment from Verizon — who are currently in the process of acquiring Yahoo — stating that they didn’t know about the 2012 breach until two days ago, and they only discovered the 2014 hack while investigating the one from 2012.

All of these responses are incredibly irresponsible. Nobody should be finding out that their personal details have been floating around underground message boards for years. These breaches ought to have been publicly acknowledged immediately.

Yahoo Confirms Breach of Over Half a Billion User Accounts

Earlier today, Kara Swisher reported that Yahoo would be confirming the breach of 200 million accounts said to have been compromised in 2012. Swisher was, unfortunately, wrong — the breach turns out to have occurred in 2014, and the size of it is unprecedented.

Bob Lord of Yahoo:

Based on the ongoing investigation, Yahoo believes that information associated with at least 500 million user accounts was stolen and the investigation has found no evidence that the state-sponsored actor is currently in Yahoo’s network. Yahoo is working closely with law enforcement on this matter.

This far eclipses the impact of the previous record-holding breach — a set of nearly 360 million MySpace accounts, ostensibly leaked by the same hacker, “Peace” (PDF), responsible for the 2012 breach.

Also, you read that right: Yahoo is blaming this attack on a “state-sponsored actor”. They haven’t disclosed any more than that, but in a June interview with Wired, Peace claimed to be Russian and working on behalf of a Russian “‘team,’ if you want to call it that”.

Peace is also responsible for the earlier leak of 65 million Tumblr accounts, originating sometime in 2013. It’s unclear whether there’s some overlap between the two data sets, as Yahoo acquired Tumblr that same year.

Update: Clarified the role of Peace in the 2012 attack.

As Google Launches Allo, It Retreats on Privacy Protections

Russell Brandom, the Verge:

The version of Allo rolling out today will store all non-incognito messages by default — a clear change from Google’s earlier statements that the app would only store messages transiently and in non-identifiable form. The records will now persist until the user actively deletes them, giving Google default access to a full history of conversations in the app. Users can also avoid the logging by using Allo’s Incognito Mode, which is still fully end-to-end encrypted and unchanged from the initial announcement.

[…]

According to Google, the change was made to improve Allo’s smart reply feature, which generates suggested responses to a given conversation. Like most machine learning systems, the smart replies work better with more data. As the Allo team tested those replies, they decided the performance boost from permanently stored messages was worth giving up privacy benefits of transient storage.

Or, to put it another way, Google made their development of Allo easier by making it significantly less friendly to your privacy.

Apple Previews iOS 10.1 With ‘Portrait’ Camera Mode

Earlier today, Apple pushed out a developer preview1 of iOS 10.1, which includes the “Portrait” camera mode for the iPhone 7 Plus.

Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch got an early look at the feature:

If you’ve skipped here to see how the heck it works, I don’t blame you. The short answer: incredibly, miraculously well in many instances. And pretty rough in others. Apple says this is still in beta and it is. It has trouble with leaves, with chain link fences and patterns and with motion. But it also handles things so well that I never thought possible like fine children’s hair and dog fur, shooting pictures with people facing away and objects that are not people at all.

Panzarino’s test shots look decent, but when Serenity Caldwell posted a side-by-side comparison with a DSLR, it was obvious to me which was which. There is an inherently more natural fallout from the point of focus that can’t be simulated with the nine slices of depth generated by the iPhone’s dual cameras.

But these photos are extremely impressive, especially from a smartphone. It’s a simulation, sure, but a very convincing one when these photos are shared on Instagram or Facebook.

William Wilkinson also posted some tests on Twitter — featuring a cat instead of a baby — that are worth taking a look at. I’d love to give this a try, but I’m not sure it’s enough to convince me to choose the Plus model over the regular iPhone.

Update: According to Jeff Benjamin at 9to5Mac, Portrait mode works with inanimate objects:

I was almost sure that it would be a people-only thing, at least initially, due to the way Apple was wording the feature during its event and in its press materials. As Apple often does, it under-promised and over-delivered; that much is obvious, even in this early beta stage of the game.

That’s impressive.


  1. If you’re part of Apple’s public beta program, you should be getting this update by the end of the week. ↩︎

Novelty and Legacy

There is a familiar set of rituals the tech press follows in the weeks after an Apple event. It starts as a keynote happens, with hurriedly-written takes on the lack of surprises, written by someone who kept up with industry rumour blogs leading up to the event. Initial impressions from the hands-on area follow, most of which seem to laud the quality and impressiveness of the products just announced. Then, after one-to-two weeks of mixed takes and boredom, the reviews follow, bringing with them an enthusiastic bout of excitement for the products.

And then, shortly after the first round of product delivery, a mood sets in that I like to call the “Post-Launch Hangover” — a sort of But what have you done for us lately? feeling that takes over the editorial pages of major tech publications.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Here’s Ben Woods writing for ZDNet a couple of months after WWDC 2012 and about a month before the introduction of the iPhone 5:

While Apple says it has hardware to beat all-comers, I’d argue it doesn’t: it has beautifully designed devices with close to, but not quite, top-of-the-range specs. It’s true, though, that this has been good enough for it to maintain excellent margins on massive volumes of sales and to keep people eager for more.

But to my mind, Apple is in danger of becoming boring.

I’m not sure why Woods hedged his assessment of Apple with an “in danger of” clause. His article is almost entirely about how tired he is of Apple’s hardware in the present, rather than in the future.

Then, in February of 2013, Ashraf Eassa wrote an article for Seeking Alpha about his boredom with Apple:

The point here is that everyone is busy trying new things and really pushing the boundaries while Apple sticks to the tried-and-true formula. While in the short term Apple’s momentum will continue and the profit train won’t suddenly crash, the long-term picture is somewhat grim given that the company derives over 50% of its operating profits from the iPhone.

Dan Nosowitz repeated a similar notion in a 2014 article for Fast Company:

There’s nothing wrong with embracing Apple’s style; It uses fine, sturdy materials which are very functional and very inoffensive. This aesthetic signifies “hip” without alienating anyone; who could possibly object to the style of a MacBook Air? It’s all black and silver and glass. It goes with everything. It is a slim pair of dark jeans. It is fine. But design is a creative field built around evolving ideas, and when it comes to consumer technology, things have become stagnant.

For proof of that, you need look no further than Apple itself. Read any iPhone 6 review, and the design talk paints Apple in the same light as always; Apple design is good. The iPhone is beautiful. But new iPhone designs have typically brought new ideas with it. The iPhone 6 simply adopts the pre-existing design language of the iPads and covers it in ugly antenna lines.

Then, in a January 2015 Engadget article, Aaron Souppouris expressed the same sentiment:

In less than a decade, Apple completely changed the world of personal computing, and the music industry in the process. First came the iPod and the iTunes Store; then the iPhone and App Store; and then the iPad. The Apple of the 2000s was an exciting company to follow. It’s just not that company anymore. Instead, it’s spent the past few years slowly improving its admittedly great cash cows, iterating and iterating and iterating. It’s made cheaper iPhones, bigger iPhones and even gave in and made a phablet. It’s made cheaper iPads, smaller iPads and is apparently planning a bigger iPad. It’s made cheaper MacBooks, smaller MacBooks… you get the point. Its latest project, the Apple Watch, sure looks like a smartwatch, and it might be very successful, but is it doing anything totally unique? Is it really exciting? No.

Should you think that these reactions are limited to the past five years of Tim Cook’s Apple, I humbly submit this turd of a quote from Sébastien Page’s first look at the iPhone 3GS for iDownloadBlog:

I think what I hate the most about the iPhone 3G S is the design which is exactly identical to the iPhone 3G. When I pay $560.16 for a new phone, I expect to have something that looks different from everybody else. Yes, the iPhone is a phone for the elite, I admit it. I kinda miss the days of the first iPhone, when people came to me and candidly asked me “wow, is this the iPhone?”. I was proud of it. Now everyone has an iPhone, and even worse, everyone has an iPhone that looks similar.

So: a long and not particularly proud tradition of tech journalists collectively yawning at the new products that Apple releases.

But most of these writers aren’t really noteworthy. I’m not picking on kids writing in the Verge’s comments section, but none of these contributors are particularly distinguished. For that, one must turn to Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times, shortly after the introduction of the iPhone 7:1

The absence of a jack is far from the worst shortcoming in Apple’s latest product launch. Instead, it’s a symptom of a deeper issue with the new iPhones, part of a problem that afflicts much of the company’s product lineup: Apple’s aesthetics have grown stale.

In an article posted today, John Gruber effectively dismantles this notion piece-by-piece:2

You need to recognize a Porsche 911 as a 911. An iPhone needs to look like an iPhone. The design needs to evolve, not transform. The thing to keep in mind is that the iPhone itself, what it looks like in your hand, is the embodiment of the iPhone brand. There is nothing printed on the front face of an iPhone because there doesn’t need to be. The Apple logo is the company’s logo. The iPhone’s logo is the iPhone itself.

A couple of days ago, Rene Ritchie posted a photo on Instagram of his original iPhone stacked on top of an iPhone 7 Plus. Even if you were to remove the Apple logo from both cases, there is a clear lineage. The iPhone 7 is — again, as Gruber notes — simultaneously new and familiar, and that’s a hell of a feat.

Even Dustin Curtis, a writer and designer whose work I’ve long respected, thinks that Apple’s aesthetics are “stagnating”:

There was a time, not too long ago, when Apple used to test radically new designs all of the time–the iMac used to change almost every year, the iPod changed even more often than that, and though some of those changes were failures (remember the iMac’s swivel screen?), most led to groundbreaking improvements that were eventually adopted by the whole computer industry. The G4 Cube was interesting, if short-lived. The Titanium PowerBook was a statement. But Apple’s recent designs have been much more reserved, much more careful, than designs of the past. I fear they’ve become more boring.

It’s curious that Curtis mentions the TiBook while writing about his exhaustion with Apple’s industrial design team. At the time, it was a radical new design, but Christopher Phin of Macworld compared it to a 15-inch MacBook Pro and they are also, clearly, cousins. Apple’s professional laptops seem to have changed very little in their immediate aesthetics since the TiBook was introduced. But that’s fine.

Apple has long been a company of iterative processes. While the iPod Nano was an ever-changing product, the iPod Classic of 2007 differed little in its overall aesthetic from the model launched in 2001. Similarly, the iPhone has arguably changed its design language just twice from the time it was introduced: to flat edges, with the iPhone 4; and back to curved sides, with the iPhone 6.

I dug up my first-generation iPod Touch for this photo:

My first-generation iPod Touch meets my iPhone 6S.
iPod Touch and iPhone 6S

Those two products may have been released eight years apart, but they are clearly of the same family. The sameness goes back even further: the original iPhone had solid coloured front and a metal back, like the original iPod, and that aesthetic was brought to the Mac as well.

There are some who will see this as laziness or a lack of creativity, but design is so much more than the way these products look. Apple has become very good at lots of things over the years, but their main innovations in the past few have been in elevating the quality of their high-volume products while trying new ideas on smaller scales.

My iPhone 6S feels like a flattened original iPhone. I’ve previously made known my dislike of the antenna lines and the misaligned camera bump — blessedly fixed in the iPhone 7. But, aside from the size of its display and its thickness, the original iPhone feels noticeably different. It feels like multiple parts, rather than the singular form is seems to be. There are gaps between parts and minor misalignments that would drive today’s Apple absolutely crazy.

My 6S, on the other hand, feels like a continuous shape. The edge of the curved glass meets the rounded edges flawlessly. None of the buttons move in any direction other than inwards. The power button and volume controls all feel the same. The iPhone 7, particularly in the new Jet Black finish, seeks to push this even farther by making the entire phone feel and look like a singular form. And they’re doing this at the scale of tens of millions of iPhones every quarter.

A similar obsession with solidity and uniformity has spread to Apple’s other product lines. The iMac, the MacBook, and the iPad are all designed to feel like the most rigid, solid products you can buy in their respective classes. The little things Apple has been chipping away at — solid-state trackpads, laminated displays, and lower tolerances — add up to make the latest generation of each of their product lines feel less like they were assembled from multiple components, and more as though they were spawned into existence as entirely finished units.

I do understand Curtis’ frustration with the lack of the new, however. One thing you’ll notice is that many of the innovations he cites — from the original iMac to the iPhone 4 — came about as a result of a change in materials. And Apple has, indeed, been working with new and different materials at relatively small scales.

It’s safe to say that no other company understands aluminum as well as Apple due to the scale at which they use it and study it; few others parallel their knowledge of glass, too. But they’ve also used gold, sapphire, Liquidmetal, and — with the new Apple Watch Edition — ceramic. It seems to me that they want to be as rigorous as they can be in their research of new materials, and that often means trying these materials in smaller quantities or with less-impactful applications.

Sapphire, you will recall, was first used for the camera lens cover on the iPhone 5, before making its way onto the home button and Touch ID sensor in the 5S. The 63 was, according to many early rumours, supposed to be fitted with a sapphire display cover, but supplier troubles required a change of plan. This is the risk with using new materials at the scale of the iPhone.

The Apple Watch, on the other hand, is shaping up to be similar to the iPod. The aluminum model is the least expensive, and it’s the material Apple has the most experience working with. Stainless steel is something Apple has worked with less frequently, but they’ve previously used it on the iPhone 4 and 4S and it’s one of the most commonly-used materials in the world.

The Edition, though, is Jony Ive’s playground. The first model was made of high-grade gold alloys, while the Series 2 model is made of ceramic. Both of these materials are new to Apple, and because the Edition sells in such low quantities, there’s plenty of space to try them on a more sedate production line. I don’t know if the next iPhone will be ceramic — in fact, I doubt it will — but their process for making it might yield unique results that are applicable to other product lines.4

But that’s then; this is now, in our Post-Launch Hangover. I have very little idea what the future may hold, but I know what the present holds. And I don’t see anything boring about what I’ve seen this year, nor do I see this as some kind of downfall for Apple’s famed industrial design team. They’re pursuing the same strategy they always have: refine, iterate, repeat. It’s slow, tedious work, but it results in products that are built with unparalleled care and finesse at unprecedented scales. Evolution is slow to see when you’re witnessing it in real-time, but when the iPhone 14 — or whatever — is released, we will almost certainly be able to look back and see that it is a clear descendant from the original iPhone while still looking new. That’s not boring; that’s designing an icon.


  1. I recently read Manjoo’s book, “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society“. Manjoo may be wrong on the iPhone, but he is no dummy. ↩︎

  2. I began the article you’re reading right now last night after Tze-Ho Tan sent me a link on Twitter. While I was at work today, Gruber published his excellent piece. It’s merely coincidental that the topics are similar and published on the same day, but I think that offers some light support for my “Post-Launch Hangover” theory. ↩︎

  3. Based on Tim Bajarin’s reporting and the typical iPhone production ramp-up, I believe sapphire displays were more likely targeted for the iPhone 6S, not the 6. I very much doubt that the display material of the iPhone 6 was switched “several weeks” before it was launched. ↩︎

  4. The Mac Pro, explained by Curtis as “the last truly staggering piece of industrial design work that Apple released”, is another lower-volume product with which they can experiment. It utilizes some innovative production techniques, but perhaps none more so than being built in the United States. ↩︎

Transit Hits 4.0

Transit has always been my favourite public transportation app, and the 4.0 update adds some pretty killer features. Most notably, “GO”:

Using voice and push notifications, GO manages each aspect of your trip so you don’t have to think about…

  • when to leave

  • where to get off

  • or whether you’ll reach your destination in time

It notifies you when you should leave to catch the train or bus, to walk faster if it detects that you’re going to miss your ride, and more. For straightforward daily commutes, this probably won’t be that useful. But for those of us who take public transit everywhere or for unfamiliar cities, this is going to be amazing. If you’re dependent on public transit and you use any app other than Transit, I’m not sure we can be friends.

Update: Jonas Wisser tried the GO feature on an hour-long commute and found that it’s hard on battery life. Keep that in mind when you try it out.

Siri Is Better, but Not Yet Brilliant

Speaking of Siri, Joanna Stern’s column this week for the Wall Street Journal looks at some of the improvements and changes Apple has made to it in iOS 10:

Most of Siri’s third-party integration has been so reliable and accurate that it’s spurred me to start talking to it more and more. In some cases, I’ve been impressed with how much Siri has learned about how we speak. She understands and responds to casual phrases like, “Shoot an email to Geoff” or “What’s up with the weather today?”

Sometimes, though, I have to carefully phrase the question. “When’s the next train coming?” pulls up the definition of “train” on Wikipedia. “Show me transit directions,” however, shows me the latest train schedule. And when it comes to general knowledge, Siri comes in third place behind Google’s and Amazon’s assistants.

Unfortunately, very few of the apps I use regularly either haven’t yet been updated to support SiriKit, or don’t fit into one of the specific domains that SiriKit supports right now.

I’m looking forward to trying Siri with more data sources, though. I think that these kinds of improvements will reduce the psychological impediment that I — and, perhaps, you — face when talking to technology. If it doesn’t feel entirely right, it feels wrong.

Apple says Siri is updated every other week with new information.

That’s not frequent enough. Not even close. Breaking news stories, in particular, should be indexed by Siri as soon as they’re published.

MacOS Sierra

Available now on the Mac App Store — remember the Mac App Store? — MacOS Sierra brings Siri to the Mac, allows you to offload storage of old files to iCloud, and adds Apple Pay to Safari, amongst miscellaneous updates and improvements.

There’s absolutely no replacement for John Siracusa’s legendary reviews, but Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson at Ars Technica have put together a very comprehensive review that’s worth checking out, featuring a particularly deep-dive into Apple’s new file system.

Stephen Hackett’s review is also very good — in particular, his explanation of pinned Siri results:

All conversations with Siri have a small button with a plus symbol. Clicking it opens Notification Center (which now sports a white theme to match iOS) and adds Siri’s results to the top of the stack of widgets.

Here’s the clever bit: the content of these is constantly being updated by the system.

This leads to all sorts of possibilities. Creating a widget during a sports game would keep the real-time score just a swipe away. Creating a Twitter search with a keyword can help you keep updated on what people are saying about your brand. The possibilities are nearly endless.

It’s a little frustrating that this kind of stuff is gated behind a spoken Siri command. Not only does this require talking to your computer — a task which I still find a little bit weird — it also means that the computer must interpret what you’re saying absolutely perfectly for this feature to be of any use. Siri remains not accurate enough for my liking, even on the Sierra betas; so, while I’ll try it out on my Mac, I’m not sure I’ll use it regularly.

Meanwhile, when Jason Snell tried the new iCloud storage optimization feature, he found it working like many of Apple’s other iCloud products:

Here’s what happened: I was editing a podcast in Apple’s Logic Pro X, and my project was stored on the Desktop. All of a sudden, the voice of one of my podcast panelists simply vanished from the mix. I quit and re-launched Logic, only to be told that the file in question was missing. Sure enough, a visit to Finder revealed that Sierra had “optimized” my storage and removed that file from my local drive. I’ll grant you, the file was a couple of weeks old, and very large as most audio files are. But I was also actively using it within a Logic project. Apparently that didn’t count for anything?

That’s not good. The automated storage features in iCloud have been a mixed-bag: iCloud Photo Library has worked perfectly for me so far, but iCloud Music Library has been fairly unreliable — so much so that I refuse to enable it. I doubt I’ll be touching the storage optimization feature in Sierra for a while.1

Michael Tsai notes some ongoing bugs in the GM, including a fix for a slow WiFi connection. As usual, upgrade with caution; be sure to make a full, verified backup.


  1. Especially since I upgraded to a 1 TB SSD in my MacBook Air a few months ago. If you’ve been hesitating on upgrading your SSD, you should know that prices have come way down. ↩︎

New Apple Music, iPhone, and Apple Watch Ads

I don’t know about all of you, but I think these new iPhone 7, Apple Watch and Apple Music ads are some of the best the company has done in a while.

The iPhone and Watch ads are energetic yet moody, and emphasize the water resistance of both products. The Watch ad, in particular, feels like it has strains of the original iPod campaign’s DNA in it; I will never say no to anything featuring Nina Simone.

The Apple Music ad is entirely different. It’s kind of odd seeing Eddy Cue and Bozoma Saint John in an ad, but it’s pretty fun. I really liked it. James Corden plays himself, and the Apple executives — also including Jimmy Iovine — are on hand to bat down his ridiculous ad pitches. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s better for it.

DisplayMate Assesses the iPhone 7

Dr. Raymond M. Soneira of DisplayMate summarizes the iPhone 7’s new, wide-gamut LCD panel (capitalization his):

The display on the iPhone 7 is a Truly Impressive Top Performing Display and a major upgrade and enhancement to the display on the iPhone 6. It is by far the best performing mobile LCD display that we have ever tested, and it breaks many display performance records.

Just count the number of superlatives in this review. Soneira is a notoriously tough data-driven reviewer, but his commentary on the iPhone 7’s display is effusive.

The next major iPhone redesign is rumoured to include a change to an OLED display. Soneira addresses this:

LCDs are a great cutting edge high performance display technology for Tablets to TVs, but for handheld Smartphones, OLED displays provide a number of significant advantages over LCDs including: being much thinner, much lighter, with a much smaller bezel providing a near rimless design, they can be made flexible and into curved screens, plus they have a very fast response time, better viewing angles, and an always-on display mode. Many of the OLED performance advantages result from the fact that every single sub-pixel in an OLED display is individually directly powered, which results in better color accuracy, image contrast accuracy, and screen uniformity.

With only the super-saturated displays of Samsung and LG smartphones as reference points, I didn’t think that OLEDs could be calibrated to the accuracy of an LCD. But, after seeing that my Apple Watch is a near-perfect match for the colour profile in my iPhone, I have hope that a hypothetical OLED-equipped iPhone will be as accurate and clear as the LCD reviewed here. I still don’t think greys are quite perfect on my Watch, but they’re close. There are few companies that calibrate displays the way Apple does, and there’s nobody else doing it at their scale and across their entire product line.

Pulitzers, Pardons, and the Post

Remember this story from June 2013?

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

That article revealed the existence of the NSA’s PRISM program. It was amongst the earliest articles published from Edward Snowden’s disclosures, and was the first from the Washington Post, reporters from which were given access to the leaked documents. The Post shared a Pulitzer Prize with the Guardian for their work in reporting on the NSA’s domestic and foreign surveillance programs over the course of the rest of the year, including for that article on PRISM.

Two weeks later, the Post published an editorial by Laura K. Donahue:

Another program, PRISM, disclosed by the Guardian and The Washington Post, allows the NSA and the FBI to obtain online data including e-mails, photographs, documents and connection logs. The information that can be assembled about any one person — much less organizations, social networks and entire communities — is staggering: What we do, think and believe.

And, in April 14, Paul Farhi wrote for the Post about the Pulitzer Prize they had just earned:

In both the NSA and Pentagon Papers stories, the reporting was based on leaks of secret documents by government contractors. Both Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg — who leaked the Pentagon Papers to Times reporter Neil Sheehan — were called traitors for their actions. And both the leakers and the news organizations that published the stories were accused by critics, including members of Congress, of enabling espionage and harming national security.

But Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said Monday that the reporting exposed a national policy “with profound implications for American citizens’ constitutional rights” and the rights of individuals around the world.

“Disclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service,” Baron said. “In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

This history makes yesterday’s Post editorial arguing against a pardon for Snowden all the more startling:

Mr. Snowden’s defenders don’t deny that he broke the law — not to mention oaths and contractual obligations — when he copied and kept 1.5 million classified documents. They argue, rather, that Mr. Snowden’s noble purposes, and the policy changes his “whistle-blowing” prompted, justified his actions. Specifically, he made the documents public through journalists, including reporters working for The Post, enabling the American public to learn for the first time that the NSA was collecting domestic telephone “metadata” — information about the time of a call and the parties to it, but not its content — en masse with no case-by-case court approval. The program was a stretch, if not an outright violation, of federal surveillance law, and posed risks to privacy. Congress and the president eventually responded with corrective legislation. It’s fair to say we owe these necessary reforms to Mr. Snowden.

The complication is that Mr. Snowden did more than that. He also pilfered, and leaked, information about a separate overseas NSA Internet-monitoring program, PRISM, that was both clearly legal and not clearly threatening to privacy. (It was also not permanent; the law authorizing it expires next year.)

It was the Post’s choice to report on that. They seized on a scoop and published dozens of articles and editorials arguing that the NSA’s surveillance efforts — including PRISM — amounted to a significant intrusion into our personal privacy. These articles earned them admiration, praise, and a Pulitzer Prize. And now, they’re arguing that these programs were fine and that their source should be sent to prison?

The Post continues:

No specific harm, actual or attempted, to any individual American was ever shown to have resulted from the NSA telephone metadata program Mr. Snowden brought to light.

On the contrary, all of these programs — and, in particular, the cited Verizon metadata collection court order — has harmed the privacy rights of every American, not to mention billions of others around the world, as pointed out by Post executive editor Martin Baron.

In contrast, his revelations about the agency’s international operations disrupted lawful intelligence-gathering, causing possibly “tremendous damage” to national security, according to a unanimous, bipartisan report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. What higher cause did that serve?

“Higher cause”? How about providing Americans some information on the decisions being made in secret that directly contributed to the mass collection of their communications on an unprecedented scale?

Glenn Greenwald writing for the Intercept:

The Editorial Page is separate from the news organization and does not speak for the latter; I seriously doubt the journalists or editors at the Post who worked on these news stories would agree with any of that editorial. But still, if the Post Editorial Page Editors now want to denounce these revelations, and even call for the imprisonment of their paper’s own source on this ground, then they should at least have the courage to acknowledge that it was the Washington Post – not Edward Snowden – who made the editorial and institutional choice to expose those programs to the public. They might want to denounce their own paper and even possibly call for its prosecution for revealing top secrets programs that they now are bizarrely claiming should never have been revealed to the public in the first place.

Snowden knew fully that leaking millions of pages of classified and top secret operational data was illegal, and that the American government would throw every law in the book against him. It’s reasonable for him to have left the United States because remaining at home would land him in prison without a fair trial, as the Post’s editorial acknowledges:

Ideally, Mr. Snowden would come home and hash out all of this before a jury of his peers. That would certainly be in the best tradition of civil disobedience, whose practitioners have always been willing to go to jail for their beliefs. He says this is unacceptable because U.S. secrecy-protection statutes specifically prohibit him from claiming his higher purpose and positive impact as a defense — which is true, though it’s not clear how the law could allow that without creating a huge loophole for leakers.

Holding a fair trial with a defence built around a greater public good is not a “loophole” — it’s the bare minimum for a fair trial in a democracy.

But there’s no current means for such a trial to occur, due in no small part to the legal mechanisms revealed through documents leaked by Snowden. As a result, the only method available for him to argue his case is a pardon. It’s not cowardly or an attempt to trivialize his actions; it’s the only avenue. And we only know that because of documents and stories selected for publishing by the Post. As a result, the Post should be supporting Snowden’s bid for a pardon, if for no “higher purpose” than their own journalistic integrity and ego.

And, if their editorial board continues to argue that Snowden not be pardoned, I submit that the Post should return their Pulitzer. They clearly don’t think of their own work as having a “higher cause”.

Big Advertisers Form ‘Coalition for Better Ads’

Christopher Heine, AdWeek:

The Coalition for Better Ads was announced today in Cologne, Germany, where the Dmexco conference has been taking place this week. The coalition’s founding members include Google, Facebook, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, the 4As, the Association of National Advertisers, the World Federation of Advertisers, The Washington Post, GroupM and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The consortium aims to monitor the quality of online advertising using technology currently being developed at the IAB’s Tech Lab. Digital ad campaigns will be scored on everything from creative to load time, and the coalition will come up with standards based on data gleaned from the system as well as from consumer feedback and input from marketers.

Of course, there’s nothing in these regulations that attempts to address ever-increasing data collection and user profiling from ads. In fact, if I’m reading the last sentence correctly, they’re increasing the amount of data they collect with these “better” ads.

This is all academic, frankly. After the chairman of an adtech company proposed to the IAB that member sites should disable their traffic to anyone using an ad blocker — with no success — and the IAB launched an entirely-voluntary “LEAN” ad initiative, which has seen little success, I doubt these regulations will create meaningful improvements in the quality, design, or speed of web ads. The advertising industry does not have a good track record of self-governance or improvement.

Stepping in It

Su-Hyun Lee and Paul Mozur, New York Times:

The constant reminders of potential combustibility have further dented Samsung’s reputation and shaved as much as $14 billion off its market value, just when it looked to be gaining ground on Apple, its longtime rival, with its new line of sleek Galaxy smartphones. They also raise questions about whether Samsung’s rush to take back the phones created more problems.

Experts say it led to a ham-handed effort that confused customers, frustrated regulators and continued to generate headlines both in the United States and at home. Data from the mobile analytics firm Apteligent showed that while Samsung’s recall appeared to have stopped new sales of the phone, a majority of people who had the affected phones were continuing to use them.

As I said earlier this week, Samsung’s recall started off strong and prompt. That was encouraging: an acknowledgement of the problem, and a promise to fix it. The story since then, however, has been a disaster: the CPSC recall program was only announced today, a full two weeks after Samsung announced that they’d be recalling all Galaxy Note 7s sold so far.

But this isn’t the first time Samsung has had a problem with dealing with consumer complaints about fire hazards. Back in May 2015, Brian X. Chen’s Samsung oven melted the side of his kitchen cabinets and had a woeful time trying to get the company to acknowledge the problem and issue a refund.

Update: Via Yorrike on Twitter, washing machines made by Samsung and used primarily in Australia and New Zealand have been catching on fire for three years:

Fairfax Media can reveal Samsung made a potentially fatal error in its mammoth recall of 144,500 washing machines with a waterproofing fault that has burnt down homes.

In response to an email from Ms Teitzel in May 2015, a product safety officer assured her that, based on the serial number, her unit was manufactured after February 28, 2013, and therefore had been “modified”.

This assessment was incorrect. The machine was manufactured in January 2013 and the fault had never been repaired.

A Thousand Days

Speaking of the Mac Pro, it crossed a big milestone on Tuesday: one thousand days since it was last updated. With the exception of the effectively-deprecated non-Retina MacBook Pro, no other product has gone for so long without an update. Even the iPod lineup was refreshed more recently.

Stephen Hackett:

I think it’s far past time Apple knock some off the price of this machine. Selling three year old hardware at its launch price is pretty insulting to pro users.

‘Can’t innovate anymore,’ my ass” was so long ago, wasn’t it?

Benchmarking the A10 Fusion

Apple’s silicon team has outdone themselves with the A10: it benchmarks faster than my MacBook Air and, indeed, any before or after it. It also beats the 12-core Mac Pro in single-core testing. The iPhone 7 might be the third iteration of a similar exterior design, but it’s one of the biggest leaps forward that they’ve ever made.

Mic: ‘Leaked Apple Emails Reveal Employees’ Complaints About Sexist, Toxic Work Environment’

Melanie Ehrenkranz, Mic:1

According to Apple’s most recent diversity report, women make up 32% of its global workforce. About a dozen of those women joined Danielle on a recent email thread, shared with Mic by an Apple employee, in which they commiserated on their experiences working in a company dominated by men. The thread included stories of discrimination and workplace harassment and was sparked after another Apple employee shared Danielle’s experience in an attempt to galvanize the necessary support to mobilize and enact change.

This thread is just one part of over 50 pages of emails obtained by Mic from current and former Apple employees.

There are several users on Hacker News who claim to be Apple employees, and that the specific complaint that “Danielle” (not her real name) raised was to an inappropriate reference, for which the offender apologized. There are plenty of other incidents in this article that appear far more serious:

Claire* said that she faced retaliation from her male colleagues for reporting them. According to Claire, when someone finally came in to investigate the issue of the harassment she reported up, Apple admitted to her that she was in a hostile work environment. But instead of working to ameliorate her situation, she said, the company gave her a choice: stay in the position or take a lower ranking, lower paying job on another team.

Claire took the demotion.

Brianna Wu says that she’s heard similar stories as well.

The craziest part of reading an article like this is that it feels all too familiar. The culture of Silicon Valley is such that these sorts of experiences and reports are depressingly common. That’s deeply troubling.

All of the major tech firms need to do better, but Apple — in particular — says that they stand for more than this. They should back that up with meaningful action. A little bit of empathy for those taking issue with these incidents would go a long way.

Update: Rebecca Slatkin on Twitter:

[The] way I summarize this issue: it takes certain type of woman to survive in this industry and it shouldn’t.

Well said.


  1. Mic has a website that’s even worse than iMore’s. Hundreds of HTTP requests, nearly 10 MB of transferred data, and a load time of nearly 13 seconds on my broadband connection. Lots of email prompts, autoplaying video ads, and page takeover garbage complete the experience. ↩︎

iPad Pro Optimizations in the Latest Version of iWork

Despite all of the things I thought Apple did right in iOS 10, I found their lack of support for the iPad as a unique platform to be disappointing. I know they can’t hit every item on their internal wish list with each release, but after the robust enhancements to the iPad experience in iOS 9, seeing many of this year’s improvements be scaled-up versions of the iPhone experience was not encouraging. In particular, the lack of significant improvements for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro seems worrying.

On the big iPad Pro, though, the new version of iWork includes a touch-optimized version of the formatting sidebar that appears in all three desktop apps. It’s pretty clear that there are people within Apple who want the iPad to be far more robust and capable, but it’s too bad that more of that focus didn’t make it into iOS 10.

Panic Pals

Another iMessage sticker pack I think many of you will enjoy:

Panic Co-Founders Cabel and Steve are for some reason now available in iMessage sticker form at last! Enjoy peppering your important message communications with, for example, Steven dressed as a sea captain, or Cabel riding on top of the Transmit icon. With an icon for every emotion, Steve and Cabel will be happy to enhance your words.

Why do you want this? More like: why don’t you want this?

How RAW Capture Makes for Better iPhone Photography

I touched a little on it in my iOS 10 review, but Ben McCarthy — the guy behind Obscura — wrote a great article for iMore about the increased range and depth available when shooting RAW:

In all these tests, JPEG is to the left; RAW to the right. Directly out of the camera, the JPEG looks a little more interesting: It has more contrast, and there appears to be more detail. The RAW image looks downright drab in comparison.

But as Apple SVP Phil Schiller noted on stage during the iPhone 7 event, Apple does a lot of work to process images behind the scenes using its ISP (image signal processor). It makes the images more vibrant and ready to display on the iPhone’s beautiful screen. But it does mean that the image is being altered as you take it — and that can be a detriment when you want to make further changes beyond what the ISP had in mind.

The built-in camera app has always been my go-to capture app, but ever since Ben sent me a build of Obscura with RAW capture support, I’ve used it almost exclusively. I spent some time yesterday shooting with the newest version of Manual, which also has RAW capture support — not that there’s any difference in the RAW files they create, mind you.1 There’s so much more depth and vitality to a RAW file if you’re willing to spend more time editing it. And, if you already spend a lot of time in post-production, you should be shooting RAW.


  1. Only Manual has a ridiculous introductory video, though — check out the picture of Tim Cook in the background. ↩︎

Shooting Photos With the iPhones 7 in Rwanda

Every year, Austin Mann gets a prerelease iPhone from Apple, jets off to someplace awesome, and shoots a lot of great photos. It’s a shitty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Anyway, this year, he went to Rwanda and the photos he captured on both phones — but particularly on the Plus variant — are gorgeous. Even the time-lapse function is better on these models, with significantly reduced flicker when the phone compensates for changing lighting conditions.

Update: More photos from the trip and tips from Mann on National Geographic. (Via Tim Cook.)

Emoji Remix

Totally fun new iMessage app that I’ve been testing. You can begin with a familiar emoji’s base shape, then add lips, eyes, accessories, and all sorts of things to build your own variation. It sounds ridiculous — and, believe me, it is — but there’s nothing like a large, disco dancing “pile of poo” emoji to add some pizazz to your conversations.

Matt Birchler Reviews WatchOS 3

Back in June, I had this crazy idea that I was going to review iOS 10 and WatchOS 3 this year, both in my usual long-but-not-too-long style. I drafted an entry for each in MarsEdit, made my notes, and then — nothing. Some real life stuff got in the way, I procrastinated, and I ended up only being able to finish my annual iOS review. I’m okay with that, because I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out this year, but I wish I got the time to write up my thoughts on WatchOS 3 as well.

That being said, I think Matt Birchler has done an outstanding job with his review. He touches on all the main points, in a beautifully-designed review, to boot.

iOS 10: The Pixel Envy Review

The in-depth Pixel Envy review of iOS 10

Let’s get something out of the way upfront: iOS 10 is a big release. It’s not big in an iOS 7 way, with a full-system redesign, nor does it introduce quite so many new APIs and features for developers as iOS 8 did. But it’s a terrific combination of those two sides of the spectrum, with a bunch of bug fixes tossed in for some zest.

For some perspective, there has been more time between the release of iOS 10 and the original iPhone than between the release of the first iMac and the first iPhone. It’s come a long way, baby, and it shows.

Contents

  1. Installation
  2. Lock Screen, Widgets, and Notifications
    1. Goodbye, Slide to Unlock
    2. Widgets
    3. Notifications
  3. Springboard
    1. Default Applications
    2. Wallpaper
    3. Control Centre
    4. Music and News: Back to the Drawing Board
    5. Animations
    6. The Hidden UI
  4. Keyboard
    1. Differential Privacy
    2. Emoji
  5. Siri
    1. SiriKit and Intents
  6. Maps
  7. Photos
    1. Memories
    2. RAW and Live Photos
  8. Messages
    1. iMessage Apps and Stickers
  9. Music
  10. Continuity
    1. Universal Clipboard
    2. Apple Pay
  11. iPad
  12. Grab Bag
    1. System
    2. Phone and Contacts
    3. Mail
    4. Safari
    5. Sharing
    6. App Store
    7. Improvements for Apple Watch
    8. Settings
    9. Sounds
  13. Conclusion

Installation

Installing iOS 10 is a straightforward affair, particularly with the enhancements to the software update process initiated in iOS 9. It requires less free space than its predecessors to upgrade, and you can ask iOS to update overnight. Nice.

iOS 10 is compatible with most of the devices that iOS 9 was, but it does drop support for some older devices. A5-generation devices and the third-generation iPad are all incompatible; the iPhone 5 is the oldest device that supports iOS 10.

There are additional limitations for the few 32-bit devices that remain supported: Memories and “rich” notifications are are only supported on 64-bit devices. Raise to Wake is only supported on iPhones 6S and newer; it is not supported on any iPad or the iPod Touch. I find that a curious choice — surely Raise to Wake would be just as helpful, if not more so, on the iPad, given its much larger size. And it’s not like a lack of an M-class motion co-processor is an excuse, because both iPads Pro contain a derivative of the A9 processor in the iPhone 6S with the same embedded M9 co-processor.

Lock Screen, Widgets, and Notifications

Goodbye, Slide to Unlock

Back when I bought my first iPhone OS device in 2007 — a first-generation iPod Touch, as the iPhone wasn’t yet available in Canada — I was constantly being asked to demo two features for anyone who asked: slide to unlock, and pinch to zoom. Everyone I know wanted to plunk their finger onto the little arrow nubby and slide it across the bar.

Once again proving that they give nary a shit about legacy or tradition, Apple is dropping “slide to unlock”. Like any major shift — the transition from the thirty-pin dock connector to Lightning, or, say, the removal of the headphone jack — there will be detractors. But I’m not one of them.

Let’s start from the beginning. Back in the days when our iPhones were made of wood and powered by diesel, it made sense to place an interactive barrier on the touch screen between switching the phone on and accessing its functions. It prevented accidental unlocks, and it provided a deliberate delineation between waking the phone and using it.

The true tipping point for “slide to unlock” was the introduction of Touch ID. Instead of requiring an onscreen interaction, it became easier to press the Home button and simply leave your thumb on the button for a little longer to unlock the device. iOS 10 formalizes the completion of the transition to Touch ID. The expectation is that you have a passcode set on your device and that you’re using Touch ID; iOS 10 supports just four devices that don’t have Touch ID home buttons.

But I happen to have one of those devices: an iPad Mini 2. Because it’s an iPad — and, therefore, much larger than an iPhone — I’m far more likely to use the home button to wake it from sleep than I am the sleep/wake button. It took me a while to lose the muscle memory developed over many years to slide the home screen to unlock my iPad. I’m used to interacting with the hardware first, and the onscreen controls immediately after; iOS 10 upends all of this by requiring me to press the home button twice, followed by typing my passcode onscreen. It’s only slightly different, but it sent my head for a bit of a trip for a month or so. I still, on occasion, try to slide to unlock, and curse myself for doing so.

The lock screen interaction feels much better on my iPhone 6S for two reasons. First, my iPhone has the benefit of having the best Touch ID sensor Apple has ever shipped, which means that pressing once on the home button and leaving my finger on the sensor for a bit longer unlocks my phone — almost exactly the same interaction as before, with no additional friction. That’s something that you’ll find across most of the devices compatible with iOS 10, as most of those devices have Touch ID.

Raise to Wake iPhone
The second reason for the vastly improved lock screen experience on my iPhone is that it supports the new Raise to Wake feature. The Windows 10 phone I used for a week earlier this year had a similar feature, and I loved it then; I’m thrilled to see it come to the iPhone. Raise to Wake allows you to pick up your iPhone or pull it out of your pocket to switch on the screen. Awaiting notifications appear with a subtle zoom effect, as though they’re bubbling onscreen from the ether. I suspect a lot of lessons learned from developing the wrist activation on the Apple Watch went into building Raise to Wake, and it shows: I’ve found it to be extremely reliable when pulling my phone out of its pocket, and only a little less so when lifting my phone off a desk.

Throughout this section, I’ve been using the word “unlock” to refer to the same action it’s always been used for: going from the lock screen to the home screen. But this isn’t quite correct any more because it’s now possible to wake and unlock an iOS device without moving away from the lock screen. This is useful for, say, viewing private data in widgets, but it leads to a complication of terminology — when I say that I unlocked my phone, did I go to the home screen or did I remain on the lock screen?

To clarify the terminology, Apple is now referring to the once-“unlocking” act of going to the home screen as “opening” an iOS device. That makes a lot of sense if you think of your iPhone as a door; as I don’t have a Plus model, I do not.

Widgets

No matter what iOS device you use, the lock screen is now even more powerful. The familiar notifications screen sits in what is the middle of a sort of lock screen sandwich, with widgets on the left, and the camera to the right.

The widgets screen is actually just a copy of the Today view in Notification Centre; it’s also available to the left of the first home screen. That makes three places where widgets are available; yet, sadly, all three are identical. It seems to me that there are differences in the way one might use widgets in each location: on the lock screen, you may prefer widgets for the weather, your calendar, and the time of the next bus; in your Notification Centre, you may prefer to see your latest Pinboard bookmarks and what the next episode of your favourite TV show will be.

Widgets and notifications now share a similar frosted glass style, but older style widgets don’t suffer from a loss of contrast — if they haven’t been updated for iOS 10, they get a dark grey background instead. Widgets, notifications, the new Control Centre, and many UI components previously rendered as rounded rectangles are now drawn with a superellipse shape, similar to an expanded version of the shape of the icons on the home screen, or the iPhone itself. It’s a shape that’s simultaneously softer-looking and more precise, without the sharp transition between the rounded corner and the straight edge. I really liked this shape when it appeared on the home screen, and to see it used throughout apps and in widgets makes the whole system feel tied-together. It feels sophisticated, and very deliberately so.

In previous versions of iOS, the only place that widgets would appear is in the Today view, and if you have automatic app updates enabled, the only time you’d figure out if your favourite app had a new widget available was to scroll to the bottom of Today and find it. And, if you wanted to use a particular widget occasionally, but not always, you had to add and remove it from the Today view as you needed it.

The Activity widget, displayed when pressing on its home screen icon.
Activity widget
In addition to the Today view in Notification Centre and on the home and lock screens, apps updated for iOS 10 also get to show their widgets in the 3D Touch menu that accompanies the app’s home screen icon. I think this is terrifically clever. It balances new functionality with the familiarity of the home screen that has remained effectively unchanged in its purpose and appearance in over nine years.

Notifications

Notification Centre in iOS 10
In iOS 10, the similarities in style between notifications and widgets are not coincidental: notifications have been rewritten from the ground up to allow for far more interactivity directly from the notification itself. Notifications can now show dynamic content and images, and they support live updates. Their additional functionality probably explains why they’re so huge, too: it serves as an indication that each notification is interactive. Even so, their size and heavy emphasis on structure makes for a certain lack of elegance. They’re not ugly, but there’s something about the screen to the right that’s not particularly inviting, either.

Pressing on a notification from Messages, for instance, will display the past messages from that thread directly in the notification balloon; or, if the iPhone is unlocked, you can see several past messages. This is particularly nice as a way to reestablish context when someone has replied to an hours- or days-old thread. However, there’s no way to scroll back within a notification balloon — they’re not as fully interactive as they seem to be.

This year also marks the return of my least favourite bug from iOS 8: if you’re typing a quick reply and you tap outside of the keyboard or notification balloon, you lose everything you’ve typed. This bug was fixed in iOS 8.3, but has surfaced again in iOS 10. I’ve lost my fair share of texts due to a misplaced tap; I’m not sure why this remains an issue.

Apple also provides examples of rich data within an expanded notification balloon, like showing the position of a car on a map for a ride hailing app’s notification, or updating a sports score notification as more pucks are dunked in the goalpost. Or whatever. I didn’t have the opportunity to test those features, but I’m looking forward to developers making greater use of Notification Centre as a place to complete tasks without having to open the app.

Notification Centre also borrows a trick from the Apple Watch: you can now press on the clear button in the upper-right to clear all notifications. It really is everything you could have wanted.

Springboard

Default Applications

After a seemingly-endless climb in the number of preinstalled applications on fresh copies of iOS, finally, a plateau — this year’s total is the same as last year’s, at 33. Though the Home app is new, the Game Centre app has been removed, though the framework remains.

But 33 apps is still a lot, particularly when plenty of them will be squirrelled away by most users in a folder marked “Junk”, or the more-cleverly named “Crapple”. I’d make a handsome wager that a majority of iPhone users who have changed their home screen layout have placed the Stocks app in such a folder. Many others will do the same for Calculator, Clock, Contacts, Compass, and Voice Memos. People who don’t own an Apple Watch have no need for the Watch app, so they dump it in there, too.

Go away.
Deleting Tips app on iOS
We don’t really want this folder full of apps we never use on our phones. What we want is to remove them from our phones entirely, never to be seen again. And that’s kind of what you get in iOS 10: just tap and hold on any icon, and you’ll see delete buttons where you’ve never seen them before. Most of the apps you’d expect to be removable are; you can even remove some you might not expect, like Music, Maps, and Mail. As a result of this broad-reaching change, the on/off switch for the iCloud Drive app has been removed as well.

Want to restore an app? That’s pretty easy, too — just open the App Store and search for it.

There are, unfortunately, a couple of caveats that come with this new power. First, it’s important to know that the app isn’t being deleted from your iPhone — it’s simply being removed from the Home screen. This is in large part for security, according to Craig Federighi:

We’re not actually deleting the application binary, and the reason is really pretty two-fold. One, they’re small, but more significantly, the whole iOS security architecture around the system update is this one signed binary, where we can verify the integrity of that with every update.

That also means that even though the default apps appear in the App Store, they won’t get individual updates.

I see this as a limitation due to the way iOS has been built for the past decade, but I don’t necessarily see it always being this way. It would require a large effort to make these core apps independent of the system, but it’s not inconceivable that, one day, updates to these apps might be delivered via the App Store instead of rolling them into monolithic iOS versions.

So if the binary isn’t being removed, what is? Federighi, again:

[When] you remove an app, you’re removing it from the home screen, you’re removing all the user’s data associated from it, you’re moving all of the hooks it has into other system services. Like, Siri will no longer try to use that when you talk and so forth.

In most cases, this works entirely smoothly. If you remove Calculator, for example, it will also be removed from Control Centre. Even if you remove Calendar, it won’t break your ability to add new events or open .ics calendar files.

But if you remove Mail, be prepared to be in for a world of hurt. Mail is the only app permitted to open mailto: links, and no other app can be set to handle those should Mail not be present. When you tap on an email address or an mailto: link, you’ll be prompted to restore Mail; and, because all of its settings are removed when the app is hidden, you’ll have to rebuild your entire email setup. If you have just one email account, you’ll probably be fine, but if you have several, it’s a pain in the ass.

Mailto link handling on iOS when Mail is removed

In earlier betas, tapping on a mailto: link would result in a Safari error page. While the shipping solution is slightly better — insomuch as something actually happens when tapping an email link — I wouldn’t consider this resolved by any stretch. Either it should be impossible to remove Mail, or it ought to be possible to select a third-party app to handle mailto: links.

Wallpaper

Bad news, everyone: aside from the blue-green waterfall image we’ve seen in the betas, there are no new wallpapers in iOS 10. In fact, with just fifteen still images included, and the removal of all but one of the “feather” images from iOS 9, and the loss of all but three of the ones added in iOSes 7 and 8, I think the wallpaper selection in iOS 10 might be at its most pitiful since the iPhone’s launch.

Luckily, we can set our own still images as wallpaper, but we have no way to add a custom dynamic wallpaper. And, for the third year in a row, there isn’t a single new dynamic wallpaper in iOS. I’m not sure if it’s something Apple forgot they added back in iOS 7, or if there are simply no new ideas beyond some bouncing circles. There are also no new live wallpapers.

Control Centre

Since its introduction in iOS 7, Control Centre has been a bit of a grab bag of quick-access shortcuts. To sort out all of its functionality, Apple created five groups of related items: toggles for system settings, a screen brightness slider, audio playback controls, AirDrop and AirPlay controls, and lightweight app shortcuts.

But having all of these controls on a single sheet is less than ideal. At a glance, there’s not quite enough space between disparate controls, which means that your thumb can easily tap the wrong thing when looking for a particular button. And that’s without adding new functionality, like a control for Night Shift — the kludgy-looking five-across row at the bottom is a clue that it doesn’t fit into the existing layout — or quick access controls for HomeKit.

Something clearly had to change, and Apple has addressed it in a rather dramatic fashion: a thorough redesign of Control Centre. It’s now split across two “sheets” — three, if you have connected HomeKit devices.

iOS 9 Control Centre
iOS 10 Control Centre page 1
iOS 10 Control Centre page 2

The initial response to the splitting of Control Centre, as I observed on Twitter and in industry press, was, at best, contentious. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, in a widely-circulated ZDNet article published weeks after the first beta was released:

The iOS 10 Control Center ranks not only as one of the worst user interface designs by Apple, but as one of the worst by any major software developer.

That’s harsh — undeservedly so, I feel. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the revised Control Centre is one of the smartest and best-considered user interfaces in iOS.

Let’s start with the actual act of splitting it up into multiple pages. As I noted earlier, there’s only so much Apple could do with the existing single-page layout. Since nobody would seriously propose that Control Centre should not gain any new functionality, there are only a few ways for it to be expanded while remaining on a single page: the controls could get smaller, Control Centre could get taller, or the available controls could be customizable.

Making the controls smaller is no good because thumbs aren’t getting any smaller. If anything, some controls — like the track position scrubber — are already far too small for my liking. Making Control Centre taller, meanwhile, isn’t good for usability either, because thumbs aren’t getting any longer.

As for customizing Control Centre, while I’ve heard rumours that it’s being worked on, it clearly hasn’t progressed to a public release yet. It’s a valid solution, but one that also has its own drawbacks and complexities — it could very quickly become a second-level home screen when the doors of customization are opened. That’s not to say it’s not a solvable problem; rather, that the solution hasn’t yet been finalized.

So: extending it over two panels makes sense. And, when you add to the mix the space requirements of several HomeKit devices, having a third page become available makes even more sense.

The beauty of this UI, though, is that it remembers which page you left it on. If you use the music playback controls as frequently as I do, that means you can turn Control Centre into an ever-present remote control for audio, with some additional controls available if, for some reason, you need to toggle WiFi.

Across the bottom of the first page of Control Centre sits a familiar array of quick actions: flashlight, timer, calculator, and camera. The icons in this array now support 3D Touch, so it’s even faster to set a timer, and you can set the flashlight to three different levels of intensity. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to use 3D Touch on the top row of toggles. It would be helpful, for example, to be able to launch WiFi settings from its toggle, or to have the option to lock the screen in a horizontal orientation on the iPhone.

I think the large buttons for AirPlay and AirDrop are fairly nice. They look like buttons, provide the additional information required by both services in a fairly compact space, but are adequately thumb-sized. However, the gigantic Night Shift button leaves me perplexed. When I first saw it, I assumed that it would be split in half for a True Tone toggle. However, not only does the iPhone 7 not have a True Tone display, the only iOS device with one — the 9.7-inch iPad Pro — doesn’t feature this split toggle. This button is unnecessarily large, and I probably find it particularly grating because Night Shift makes my iPhone look like it has a diseased liver.

Music and News: Back to the Drawing Board

I don’t remember the last time Apple introduced an app in one version of their software, only to radically redesign it just a year later; I certainly can’t think of two instances where that’s happened. But it did, this year, with Music and News.

I’ve always had a funny relationship with the Music app on iOS. In many ways, it has long been one of the finest apps Apple has ever shipped with the platform, featuring prominently in the original iPhone demo and in plenty of ads; but, deep down, there are some baffling design and functionality choices. That imbalance reached something of a high point in iOS 8.4, when Apple Music was added to the mix. Because Apple Music, by design, blurs the delineation between music you own and music you stream, the UI decisions made to add that layer of functionality increased the complexity of Music.

News, meanwhile, was a fine app last year, but it wasn’t particularly imaginative. There was very little distinctive about it; it looked a bit generic, if anything.

Music app on the iPad

Both of these apps have received a complete makeover this year. I’m bundling them together because both of them — and the new HomeKit front-end app called Home — share a common design language unlike anything else on the system. Their UIs are defined by very heavy weights of San Francisco, stark white backgrounds, and big imagery. I read an article just after WWDC — which, regrettably, I cannot find — that described these apps as having “editorial” interfaces, and I think that’s probably the most fitting adjective for this design language.

I’m struggling to understand why it’s being used in these three contexts, though — why in Music, News, and Home, but nowhere else? What do these three apps have in common? Music and News provide personalized recommendations and serve as windows into different media, but Home isn’t akin to either. Home and Music both provide direct control elements, but News doesn’t. If anyone can explain to me why these three apps get the same UI language that’s entirely different from any other app, I’d be happy to hear it.

Incongruity aside, I love the way Music and News look; Home is an app I’ve only seen in screenshots, because every time I try to launch it in my entirely HomeKit-free apartment, it just sits on this screen and spins away:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Loading accessories and scenes

I’ve no idea what’s going on here. I don’t know if there’s simply no timeout, or maybe there is but it’s set to the year 2022, or maybe you’re just not supposed to be an idiot like me and launch Home if you don’t have any HomeKit devices. (This is also why I was unable to comment on the third, Home-centric page of Control Centre.)

That aside, I think this new design language is fantastic. It’s bold and full of character, but not in a way that feels gaudy or overbearing. They feel like glossy interactive magazines, at least on the surface. As you get deeper into each app, the big, bold titles are minimized — secondary and tertiary interfaces look pretty standard compared with the primary screens of each app.

I think it would be interesting if this design language made its way into more apps on iOS. I think Phone, Reminders, and even Mail could take to this style quite well. Of course, there’s the bigger question of how permanent this style is: it appears in one app that’s brand new, and two others that were redesigned within twelve months of their launch. That’s not to say it can’t or won’t last, but its currently limited application makes it perhaps more experimental than other design languages Apple has implemented throughout the system.

Animations

I’ve been an ardent supporter of Apple’s interface design direction over the past few years. Though some critics may bemoan a generally less expressive experience with the iconography and human interface components of many apps, I’ve found that expressiveness to surface in other means — primarily, as it turns out, through motion and animation. From the subtle parallax effects in Weather and Photos to the new super goofy iMessage effects — more on that later — animations have become as much a part of the iOS user interface as are buttons and icons.

Unfortunately, many of the Springboard animations added in iOS 7 felt like they slowed down actually using the system. While they looked great the first few times, waiting for a long and softly-eased animation to complete for every task became, rather quickly, an irritation more than a pleasant experience. This was exacerbated by the inability to cancel any of these animations: if you opened the wrong app or folder on your phone, you had to wait for the “opening” and “closing” animations to play before you could try again. In the grand scheme of things, not the worst UI crime imaginable, but a frustration nonetheless.

In iOS 10, animations have been tweaked throughout the system to feel far faster. In fact, I’d convinced myself that all of the animations actually were faster, until I compared them to an iPhone 5S running iOS 9 and found them to be virtually identical.

But there is one very subtle change that makes a world of difference: it’s now possible to cancel animations before they complete. Tapped on Mail rather than Messages in your dock? Just hit the home button and it instantly responds. It’s the same story for folders, too; but, sadly, not for multitasking or opening Notification Centre.

Other animations still look and feel as slow as they were when iOS 7 debuted, including the icons flying in after unlocking. This animation has always grated on me. It takes about a full second to play; I wish it took about half that time because it makes the system feel much slower than it actually is.

Animations like these are most effective when they imply meaning — a sense of space, or an action. This has long been something that iOS does pretty well. For example, when you tap on a message in the Mail inbox, the whole UI slides to the left to show the message, as though it were laying just to the right of what the screen could contain. This animation is combined with the familiar right carat (›) that’s placed in each cell, completing the spatial relationship between the inbox and each message.

In iOS 7, the rather confusing spatial relationship between Springboard elements was organized into a more straightforward hierarchy. However, some animations and interactions were not fully considered; as a result, this hierarchy did not maintain consistency. The folder animation, in particular, was confusing: tapping on it would hide all of the home screen icons and perform some kind of hyperspace zoom into the folder area.

This has been fixed in iOS 10. Folders now appear to expand and sit overtop the rest of the home screen which, naturally, blurs. This animation feels a lot faster and more logical, while preserving the order of depth established in iOS 7.

The Hidden UI

You may have noticed that many of the most exciting new features I’ve mentioned so far — like additional options in Control Centre, and expanding notifications — make heavy use of 3D Touch. Plenty more of the enhancements that I’ll chat about later do too. In iOS 10, 3D Touch has been upgraded from a curious optional extra to a functional aspect of the system, and there are some complexities that are inherent to such a shift.

Because 3D Touch adds depth to a system that is, by the nature of pixels on a piece of glass, flat, its functionality is not obvious unless you know it’s there first. Paradoxically, the expansion of 3D Touch ought to make it feel much more like an expectation than an option, but there remains a steep learning curve for users to understand that 3D Touch is not necessarily consistent between apps.

3D Touch is also a bit of an anomaly across the iOS lineup. Apple says that they have over a billion iOS devices in use around the world, but only the iPhones 6S and to-be-released 7 support it. They sold a little over 200 million iPhones in the year since the 6S was introduced, which means that a maximum of about 20% of the entire iOS base is able to use those features.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the questionable UI choices for the iPad. More on that later.
Notifications on the iPad.

Without 3D Touch, the user experience of a feature like rich notifications really breaks down. Instead of pressing on the notification bubble, it’s necessary to swipe the notification to the left and tap the “View” button that appears, to see its options. Of course, this is a compromise that will scarcely be a memory in a couple of years, about 80% of existing iOS device users will, on launch day, have a less-than-satisfactory experience.

Keyboard

Of all of the images of Steve Jobs onstage at an Apple event, there are few more instantly memorable than this moment at Macworld 2007:

“What’s wrong with their user interfaces? Well, the problem with them is really sort of in the bottom 40 there.”
Steve Jobs showing then-current smartphones at Macworld 2007

You might remember Jobs explaining that the keyboards “fixed in plastic” are a core issue with these phones, and that changing to a touch screen would allow for optimized controls for each application.

But one thing he didn’t mention — at least, not explicitly — is that the keyboard itself would see significant changes over the next nine versions of the operating system. From international keyboards and dictation, to the Predictive bar and case switching on the keycaps, the keyboard has come a long way since 2007. But it has always primarily been an explicit, active means of user input.

In iOS 10, the keyboard becomes a little more passive and a lot smarter by way of the QuickType bar. Instead of merely predicting what word you should type next based on what you’ve been typing so far, it now suggests inputs based on contextual prompts.

Phone numbers in QuickType

For example, if a webpage has a field for your email address, QuickType will suggest two of your email addresses. Or, if a friend texts you asking “Where are you?”, the keyboard will prompt you to send your current location.

And the improvements to the QuickType bar just keep getting better: as you’re typing, it can also suggest an appropriate emoji. Type “love” and you’ll see a heart; type “ugh”, and you’ll be prompted to add a straight-faced emoji. Unfortunately, as Apple is a strenuously PG-rated company, typing “shit” will not suggest the “pile of poo” emoji — though “crap” will — and typing “penis” won’t suggest the eggplant.

There are also some improvements to autocorrect. For users who type in multiple languages or mix languages, iOS now automatically handles corrections and suggestions in those other languages on the fly, ostensibly. For the most part, I’m monolingual, but I know a few sentences in other languages. Even after adding those languages as keyboards in Settings, I wasn’t able to get it to autocorrect to those languages if I didn’t manually select those keyboards.

Yup yup yup
The only time I ever saw a language switch in the QuickType bar without manually selecting another keyboard is when my girlfriend sent me a text reading “Yup yup yup”. QuickType decided that I should reply in what appears to be Turkish. I’ve noticed that these reviews get harder to write when I’m able to explain less about how the system works.

I’m entirely the wrong person to be trying this out; that it didn’t work for me means nothing. Maybe read Ticci’s review — that guy knows what he’s talking about.

3D Touch support has also been enhanced in the keyboard. The trackpad gesture now works far more reliably, and pressing harder on the delete key will erase text at about twice the speed.

Differential Privacy

Apple has long prided itself on standing up for the privacy of its users. They’ve fought the FBI, and have long resisted taking the relatively easy route of uploading all of their users’ data to their own servers to diddle around with in any way they want.

But there comes a time when even they will agree that it’s in the best interests of their users to detect trends, for instance, or enhance certain machine learning qualities.

In iOS 10, Apple is using a fairly esoteric field of study to enhance their machine learning capabilities. It’s called “differential privacy”, and they’re using it beginning only with the keyboard to learn new words.

You’ve probably heard a million explanations of how differential privacy works, so here’s the elevator pitch version, for reference: the keyboard tracks the words that you enter and how Autocorrect responds, and blends all of that with a lot of statistical noise. The data from you and hundreds of millions of other iOS users gets combined and the noise is averaged out, leaving certain trending words behind when they’re used by a significant number of people.

This isn’t a technique invented by Apple, but they’re the first to deploy it at this kind of scale. There are some people who are doubting its success, but there’s no way to tell whether it’s making a meaningful impact on our typing until iOS 10 reaches mass deployment.

Emoji

As part of the iOS 10 update, Apple has redesigned most of the characters in the “Smileys & People” category, along with a bunch of others in several more categories. The redesigned characters look a little more saturated to my eye, and a tiny bit softer. I really like them.

In addition to the redesigned characters, there are also a bunch of new and more diverse emoji that depict women in professions and activities previously represented only by men, as well as more variations for family characters. This is a good step forward — showing police officers, detectives, and swimmers as men while displaying women only as brides and princesses was clearly not representative of reality.

However, unlike on MacOS, there still isn’t a means to search for emoji in iOS 10. The keyboard may provide suggestions while typing, but it’s not the same as search: there’s only one suggestion, which necessitates a more precise guess to find the right emoji. I wish I could swipe down on the emoji keyboard to see a proper search field.

Siri

Before I jump into what’s new in Siri this year, I want to elaborate a little bit on where I see Siri today. To understand the current state of Siri is to understand why there are now APIs available to third parties.

The best place to start, I think, is with Steven Levy’s August profile of Apple’s artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies:

As far as the core [Siri] product is concerned, [Eddy] Cue cites four components of the product: speech recognition (to understand when you talk to it), natural language understanding (to grasp what you’re saying), execution (to fulfill a query or request), and response (to talk back to you). “Machine learning has impacted all of those in hugely significant ways,” he says.

I think it’s critical that we understand all four of these components: how they work on their own, in sequence, and how the unreliability of any component affects Siri as a whole.

So, let’s start with the first: speech recognition. One thing that has become consistently better with Siri’s ongoing development is its ability to clearly and accurately transcribe our speech. Even just a few years ago, it. was. necessary. to. speak. to. Siri. in. a. jolted. manner. William Shatner likely had few problems with Siri, but the rest of us found this frustrating.

In 2014, Apple transitioned Siri from a backend largely reliant upon third parties to one of their own design. The result was a noticeable and, perhaps, dramatic improvement in Siri’s speed and accuracy, to the extent that Apple felt confident enough to add real-time dictation with iOS 8.

But the quality of Siri’s transcription of homonyms and more esoteric words often leaves a lot to be desired, due in part to inconsistencies with the second component cited by Cue: the interpretation of what is being said. Here’s an easily reproducible example that you can try right now: tell Siri “remind me to sew my cardigan tomorrow at noon”. Siri doesn’t understand the context of the word “sew” nor its relationship to the word “cardigan”, so it always — or, at least, every time I’ve tried this — transcribes it as “so”.

Speech recognition and interpretation are, I would argue, two parts of a single “input” step in a given Siri interaction. The next two parts — execution and response — can also be combined into a single “output” step, and I think it has far deeper and more fundamental problems.

Nearly any frustration we have with any computer or any piece of software tends to boil down to a single truth: the output is not what we had expected, based on our input. Whether that’s because we open an app and it crashes, or our email doesn’t refresh on a timely basis, or perhaps because autocorrect inserts the wrong word every ducking time — these are regular irritations because they defy our expectations.

In many ways, Siri is truly amazing, typically answering our requests faster than we could ever type them out. But because Siri can do so much, we experiment, and rightfully expect that similar queries would behave similarly in their response.

Let’s start with a basic request — for instance, “hey Siri, how long would it take me to drive to work?” As expected, Siri will happily respond with information about the current traffic conditions and the amount of time it will take to get there. Now, change the word “drive” to “walk” in the exact same query, and witness an entirely different result:

How long would it take me to drive to work?
How long would it take me to walk to work?

These requests are nearly identical, but are treated vastly differently. The driving example works perfectly; the walking example doesn’t answer my question — I’m not looking for directions, I’m asking for a time estimate.

Worse still is when Siri fails to provide an answer to a specific request. Siri is akin to pushing the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button in Google: it ought to be the shortest, straightest line between asking something and getting an answer. If I ask Siri to “find me a recipe for banana bread”, I want a recipe, not a web search that gives me a choice of recipes. If I wanted options, I would have asked for them.

As Siri’s speech recognition and interpretation becomes more reliable, this becomes more of a problem. Based solely on anecdotal observations, I think that users will be more tolerant of an occasional mismatched result than they are of having to interact with Siri, so long as it remains fast and reliable.

With that, I’d like to propose a few guidelines for what a virtual assistant ought to be and do.

  1. Speech recognition and transcription should prioritize context over a direct phonetic interpretation.

  2. Similar commands should perform similarly.

  3. Returning an absolute answer should be the highest priority. A web search should be seen as a last-ditch fallback effort, and every effort should be made to minimize its use. User interaction should, overall, be minimized.

These bullet points are, I’m sure, much more difficult to implement than I’ve made them out to be. Contextualizing a phrase to interpret which words are most likely to be spoken in relation to one another requires a great depth of machine learning, for example; however, I see these guidelines as a baseline for all virtual assistants to behave predictably.

SiriKit and Intents

While Apple is busy working on the fundamental components of Siri, they’ve opened up its capabilities to third-party developers who have been chomping at the bit since Siri was launched in 2011. Much like multitasking in iOS 4, the functionality of SiriKit is limited to unique scopes or domains:

  • VoIP

  • Messaging

  • Payments

  • Photo search

  • Workouts

  • CarPlay

  • Ride hailing

These individual scopes each have their own “Intents” and vocabulary, and these can be defined by developers. For example, Uber provides different levels of ride hailing service, and they can define those levels for Siri in their app’s metadata; or, a payment service could define different methods of payment. Developers can include shorthand and alternate variants of their app’s terminology within their app’s vocabulary metadata.

All of this stuff sounds like it’s going to be a great way to expand the capabilities of Siri without Apple having to chase down individual partnerships. Unfortunately, these precise app categories tend to be dominated by big players who wouldn’t care to let me test their new apps. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with these apps once they’re released into the wild, though, because I have lots of questions.

Maps

The first thing you’ll notice about Maps in iOS 10 is that it’s received a complete makeover. With its bold card-based layout, floating controls, and Proactive suggestions, it now looks like the app Apple has wanted it to be since they dropped Google and went their own way back in iOS 6. It has taken on some of the design cues established in Music and News, though not to the same degree. I find it even easier to use than the old version, though it does retain some of its — uh — charms.

I could do with some waffles and a glass of Prosecco right now.
Booking the Beltliner through Maps
The bigger news in Maps doesn’t come from Apple, though: third-party developers can now integrate their apps directly into Maps’ UI, using Intents and similar code to SiriKit. Only two kinds of Intents are available for Maps integration: ride hailing and restaurant reservations. Third-party restaurant reservation integration is only supported in Maps; Siri has supported OpenTable integration since iOS 6. It’s not a particularly glamorous integration, but it is a useful one. This could be taken one step further by adding an Intent for delivery services as well.

I couldn’t test any of the ride hailing stuff because Uber threw a hissy-fit over Calgary’s requirements that drivers carry proper licensing and that vehicles are inspected, so they don’t offer ride sharing here.

Photos

About a year ago, Benedict Evans posed an intriguing question: about how many photos are being taken today? Given that there are a couple of billion smartphones in the world, it’s probably a lot:

How many more were taken and not shared? Again, there’s no solid data for this (though Apple and Google probably have some). Some image sharing is probably 1:1 for taken:shared (Snapchat, perhaps) but other people on other services will take hundreds and share only a few. So it could be double the number of photos shared or it could be 10x. Meanwhile, estimates of the total number of photos ever taken on film range from 2.5-3.5 trillion. That in turn would suggest that more photos will be taken this year than were taken on film in the entire history of the analogue camera business.

That was last year; this year, there will no doubt be a far greater number of photos taken due to the continued proliferation of smartphones worldwide. We all know this, and we all know how difficult it has become to manage those photos.

A few months before Evans wrote that article on photos, Google tried to combat this problem by introducing Photos, to much critical and public acclaim. Instead of worrying about storing those photos on your device — a worry that will be present so long as companies like Apple continue to include inadequate local storage in their smartphone lineups — Google reasoned that it would make more sense to allow users to stash their photos in a cloud storage system. Not only does this free up local space on the device, it allows photos to benefit from the ridiculous redundancy built into Google’s cloud storage facilities.

To sweeten the deal, Google built software that would analyze the photos as they’re stored in Google Photos. It could identify objects and people within photos, which means that finding that one photo of your dog licking a burger became as quick and easy as a Google search.

By all accounts, Google Photos has been a rousing success; it became quite clear in the intervening year that these kinds of improvements were expected from Apple, too. But this intelligence has long been presumed to require a sacrifice on user privacy — a sacrifice that has seemed unlikely for Apple to make. Om Malik wrote what is perhaps the most cogent explanation of this assumed contradiction for the New Yorker in June 2015:

The battle between Google and Apple has shifted from devices, operating systems, and apps to a new, amorphous idea called “contextual computing.” We have become data-spewing factories, and the only way to make sense of it all is through context. Google’s approach to context is using billions of data points in its cloud and matching them to our personal usage of the Google-powered Web; Apple’s approach is to string together personal streams of data on devices, without trying to own any of it. If Google is taking an Internet approach to personal context, then Apple’s way is like an intranet.

From the surface, Google’s approach seems superior. Understanding context is all about data, and the company is collecting a lot more of it. Apple has your phone; Google has access to almost everything. […]

And one day, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an executive from Apple come onstage at the Moscone Center, take a page from its rival, and say that they’re doing the same things with your data that Google is.

That day came, kind of, about a year later, on June 13, 2016. An Apple executive — Craig Federighi, naturally — took the stage at the Bill Graham Auditorium to explain that they‘re not doing the same things with your data that Google is. Apple claimed that they were able to do the same kind of facial and scene recognition on your photos entirely locally.

That sounds pretty compelling: a marriage of privacy and capabilities. All of the power, yet none of the drawbacks. So: has it worked?

Well, there are lots of criteria one could use to judge that. At its core, it’s a simple question of Can you search for objects and see photos you’ve taken of them?, to which the answer is “yes, probably”. But it would be disingenuous and irresponsible of me to view Photos in a vacuum.

While this won’t be a full Apple Photos vs. Google Photos comparison, it seems appropriate to have at least some idea of a benchmark. With that in mind, I uploaded about 1,400 photos that I’d taken through June and July to Google Photos; those same photos also live in my iCloud Photo Library. But, before we get to that, let’s see what Photos has to offer on its own terms.

Upon updating to iOS 10, your existing photo library will be analyzed while your iPhone or iPad is plugged in and locked. How long this will take obviously depends on how many photos you have — my library of about 22,000 photos took a few days of overnight analysis to complete. However, new photos taken on an iPhone are analyzed as they make their way into the Camera Roll. Apple says that they make eleven billion calculations on each photo to determine whether there’s a horse in it. For real:

In fact, we do 11 billion computations per photo to be able to detect things like there’s a horse, there’s water, there’s a mountain.

And those calculations have determined that there are, in fact, horses in some of my photos:

Editor’s note: dragonflies are not horses.
Searching for and finding horses in my photo library

There are lots more searches that are possible, too — an article from earlier this year by Kay Yin pegs the total number of scenes and objects that Photos will detect at 4,432. Yin told me in an email that they acquired the list through an analysis of Apple’s private PhotoAnalysis.framework. It includes everything from the obvious — food, museums, and musical instruments, to name a few — to the peculiar and surprising: ungulates, marine museums, and tympans all make an appearance on the list.

Weirdly, though, some searches still return zero results in Photos. You can’t search for photos by type — like screenshot, panorama, or Live Photos — nor can you search by camera brand or model. This information is within pretty much any photo, but is not indexed by Photos for reasons not entirely clear to me. Perhaps very few people will search for photos taken on their Canon DSLR, but it doesn’t make much sense to me to not allow that. It feels like an artificial limitation. The only way to find Live Photos within your library on your iPhone is still to thumb through each photo individually until you see some sense of movement.

For the myriad keywords Photos does support, however, there’s plenty of good news. After it has finished analyzing and indexing the photo library, searches are fast and respectably accurate, but it’s not perfect. In that “horse” screenshot above, you can see a photo of a dragonfly, for instance. A search of my library for “receipts” shows plenty of receipts that were indexed, but also some recipes, a photo of a railway timetable, and a photo of my wristband from when I was in the hospital a couple of years ago. In general, it seems to err in favour of showing too many photos — those that might be, say, a 70-80% match — rather than being too fine-grained and excluding potential matches.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with Photos’ search is that it isn’t available in the media picker. That wasn’t as big a deal in previous versions of iOS, but with the depth and quality of indexing in iOS 10, it would be really nice to be able to search within Messages or in an image picking sheet for a specific photo to send.

Apple’s facial recognition is also quite good, generally speaking. It’s reasonably adept at identifying photos of the same person when the face is somewhat square with the camera, but differences in hair length, glasses, mediocre lighting, and photos with a more sideways profile-like perspective tend to trip it up.

If you’re a completionist about this sort of thing, you’ll likely become frustrated with the most obvious mechanism for dealing with photos misidentified as being from different people. It’s not that it’s hard; it is, however, extremely tedious. To get to it, tap on the Albums tab within Photos, then tap People, then tap Add People. You’ll be presented with a grid of all of the faces identified in your photos.

The thumbnails are sorted in descending order of the number of photos found per face detected. The first few screens of these thumbnails will look fine — 21 instances of a face here, 40-odd there — but as you scroll, the number of photos per face drops precipitously. I got about a quarter of the way through my thumbnails before I started seeing instances of a single photo per detected face. You can add each to your People album, and assign a set of photos to a contact. If you’ve already started collecting photos with a specific contact in them, it will offer to merge any new photos you add to that contact.

Tapping more than one thumbnail in the Add People view will activate the Merge button in the lower-left corner. This allows you to select multiple photos featuring the same face and teach Photos that they are the same person. Unfortunately, it’s still quite laborious to sort through photos one-by-one, in some cases. To make matters worse, thumbnails will sometimes feature the faces of two people, making it difficult to determine which of them is being detected in this instance.

This is a time-consuming way of handling multiple photos from a single person. Despite its utility, I find this view to be frustrating.

Is this Kai?
Happily, there’s an easier method of teaching Photos which faces belong to which contact. If you tap on one of the faces you’ve already taught Photos about and scroll to the bottom of the screen, past the Details view — more on that later — you’ll see a Confirm Additional Photos option. Tap on it, and you’ll get a well-designed “yes” or “no” way of confirming additional photos of that person. There’s even some really pleasant audio feedback, making it feel a little bit like a game.

Unlike object detection, which seems to err on the side of including too many photos so as to miss as few potential matches as possible, facial detection errs on the side of caution. It may be much pickier about which faces are of the same person, but I haven’t seen a single false-positive. If there is a false-positive, the process for disassociating a photo with it is a bit bizarre: the button for Not This Person is hidden in the Share sheet.

But is all of this stuff as good as Google Photos? I’m not adequately prepared to fully answer that question, but here’s the short version: it seems real close.

I have common praise. Both successfully identified obvious objects within photos most of the time. Both also had the occasional miss — identifying an object incorrectly, and not identifying an object at all. Both struggle with plurals in searches, too: a search for “mushroom” in both apps returns photos I took of a cluster of mushrooms at the base of a tree, but searching “mushrooms” does not.

In this set, Google Photos falsely identified a river as a road, something which Apple’s Photos app didn’t do. We all make mistakes.
Four roads and a river

Had Apple’s Photos search detected that river as a road, it would have been in this screenshot.
Road search in Photos
I found that both apps were similarly successful at recognizing faces, with a slight edge for Google. However, I’m not sure the pool of photos I uploaded to Google was comprehensive enough for me to figure out how good it was for recognizing a lot of different faces; my iCloud Photo Library has far more images in it with lots more faces. I’d love if someone uploaded an identical batch of tens of thousands of photos to both, and did a more thorough investigation.

My main concern with Apple’s attempt at photo recognition and categorization was that it wouldn’t be anywhere near competitive with Google’s offering. My (admittedly brief) comparison indicates that this simply isn’t the case. Apple’s offering is properly good.

But, perhaps because it’s doing all of the object and facial recognition on the device, locally, it doesn’t sync any of this stuff within iCloud Photo Library. I hope you enjoyed the tedium of assigning names to faces and confirming all which photos contain each of your friends, because you’re going to have to do that for every device that you own. Have fun!

There’s also a rather nice Details view for each photo. You can tap on the Details button in the upper right or, in a completely non-obvious manoeuvre, you can scroll the photo vertically. There, you’ll see a map of where the photo was taken, any people identified within the image, and related Memories.

And I haven’t even mentioned my favourite new feature.

Memories

Don Draper:

Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

You’ve probably read that quote in a dozen other reviews and articles about photo-related things, but there’s a good reason for that: photographs are a near-flawless conduit between your eyeballs to your heart. Trite as that excerpt may be, I couldn’t think of a better summary of Memories in iOS 10.

See, the photo analysis that iOS 10 does is not “dumb”; it doesn’t simply leave the data that it collects sitting there for you to comb through. Photos actually tries to do something with the information embedded in all of those images and videos: locations, dates, and — now, in photos — people and objects. It assesses that data looking for anything that might tie certain sets of images together, like those taken within a certain timeframe, or a set of photos from a trip abroad. It automatically groups those photos and videos together into small albums, and creates a short slideshow video from them. That, in a nutshell, is Memories.

I usually take pictures of buildings and empty fields, so my first set of Memories were not particularly inspiring. Don’t get me wrong — the albums were fine, but none were moving or emotional.

And then, one day, Photos surprised me by generating an album of photos of me and my girlfriend over the course of the past year. I guess it figured out that there are a few photos on my phone of us together, and a lot of her, and it put together an album and a video.

Despite all that I know about how automated and mechanized this stuff is, I was and remain deeply touched by the effect.

I’m trying not to sound too sappy here, but, in a way, I want to be extra sappy — I want you to know how powerful this feature can be. Sure, it’s all made by shuffling some bits around and associating whatever data it can find, but when you wake up to find a slideshow of you and your significant other over the past year, it really is pretty powerful.

I can’t confirm this, but Memories seems to prefer edited and liked photos, which makes sense — those are probably the best ones in a given set. It also incorporates Live Photos and video in a really nice way.

If you don’t like the auto-generated video, you can customize it. A theme is assigned by default, but you can pick your own, too, from options like “sentimental” and “dreamy” to “epic” and “extreme, with music and title styles to match. If you don’t like the soundtrack, just tap the adjustment button in the lower-right corner and you can pick from nearly one-hundred provided songs, plus all of the ones in your library. You can also adjust nearly all attributes of the video, including title style and the precise photo selection. But I’ve found that the auto-generated Memories are, generally-speaking, just fine.

The nature of this feature is such that most of the ones that it made for me are quite personal in nature — more on that in a minute. Thankfully, I do take enough photos of buildings and whatnot that it has produced a couple that I feel comfortable sharing. First up is one that was generated entirely automatically:

Here, as they say, is one I made earlier, with a few modifications:

You can imagine that if these were videos of your family or your significant other, they would be much more meaningful. I hope these examples provide you with a sense of what’s possible.

There’s something else unique about Memories, compared to — say — Timehop, or the “On This Day” posts that Facebook dredges up from years past. Because apps like these tend to use primarily public posts, they’re pre-selected based on the kind of image we project of ourselves. But we take far more photos that never get posted for all kinds of reasons.

I have a series of photos from mid-August of a trio of ducks fighting over a fish. I didn’t post them publicly because it’s of little-to-no interest of anyone, I presume, but it reminds me of watching those ducks duke it out on the river. That’s a memory particular to me, and it’s the kind of thing that will one day be served up by Memories.

I will say that I’ve seen it have some problems with facial recognition when cropping portrait-oriented photos to fit within a 16:9 video frame. More than once, the people in the photos have had their heads cut off. Sometimes, it’s only my head visible, instead of the faces of those I’m with; that seems to be the inverse of the most appropriate way to crop an image — who wants to look at themselves?

Regardless, Memories is probably my favourite new feature in iOS 10’s Photos app, and maybe in the entirety of iOS 10. It’s a beautifully-executed and completely effortless high-test nostalgia delivery system.

RAW and Live Photos

iOS 10 unlocks new capabilities for developers as well. Third-party applications can now shoot Live Photos, and encode and decode RAW images. The former capability is fine — I’m happy to have it for those times I want to have a little more control over a Live Photo than the default camera app can provide.

The latter capability, though: oh my. The default camera app doesn’t encode RAW images, but the newest versions of Obscura and Manual can, and they’re totally worth buying just to try RAW shooting on your phone. It’s clear that a lot of detail is obliterated when the photo is processed and compressed as a JPEG; a RAW image is three-to-four times the file size of the same JPEG, and it’s completely lossless. The easiest way to demonstrate the difference is with a simple, unedited comparison of two photos I shot one after another:

Shot as a JPEG, 100% zoom.
Shot as JPEG

Shot as a RAW image, 100% zoom.
Shot as RAW

In the image shot as a JPEG, the trees become a blocky, gestural mess. The fine lines on the outside of the green building on the left are incomplete and chunky. The whole thing looks a little more like an oil painting than a photograph.

In order to process the RAW for web use, I simply applied Photoshop’s “auto” Camera Raw setting; it may have flattened out the shadows, which is why the roof of the castle-looking building looks darker in the JPEG. But, even with that minimal processing, you can clearly see individual tree branches instead of a blocky mess. The train tracks on the overpass are clearly distinct. You can almost make out the windows on the sandstone school in the distance, in the middle of this crop. Every detail is captured far better.

Of course, the JPEG variant looks far better at the typical size of a photo viewed on Facebook, for example, where these photos typically go. And, naturally, the lack of any processing means that a full spectrum of noise is also captured; it’s not quite fine enough to be considered pleasantly grainy. But for those of us who want some more control over individual attributes, the capability of shooting RAW is extremely exciting. It presents far more flexibility, provided third-party photo editing apps jump on the bandwagon. Snapseed already handles RAW in post; I’ve heard confirmations from the developers of several other apps confirming that they will soon support RAW editing, too.

For an utterly unfair comparison, I shot a similar photo on my DSLR, a Canon XSi with a 12 megapixel sensor — the same rating as the one in my iPhone. Of course, the APS-C sensor in it is far larger and the lens I have on it — the cheap and cheerful 40mm pancake — is much nicer, and has a completely different field of view as my iPhone. Even so:

Shot as a RAW image on my DSLR, 100% zoom.
Shot as RAW on my DSLR

There’s a long way for the iPhone’s camera to go to become comparable to a professional DSLR — in fact, I’m not sure it ever can compete on that level. But, with RAW shooting capabilities, I see this as one of the single biggest jumps in image quality in the history of the iPhone. It is properly, exceedingly, brilliantly good.

Messages

Like most of you, I can think of few apps I use more on my iPhone than Messages — Safari, Mail, and Tweetbot are the only three that come to mind as contenders. Its popularity is a direct result of its simplicity and versatility, with few apps making text-based conversation as straightforward.

Perhaps because of that simplicity, Messages has seen few updates in its lifetime. iPhone OS 3 brought MMS support, iOS 5 introduced iMessage, and iOS 8 added more messaging types and a better Details view. But the ubiquity and flexibility of applications for Messages means that those improvements effected amongst the most significant changes on the utility of any app on iOS. While Apple hasn’t released their monthly active user count for iMessages, for example, I bet that it’s one of the most popular messaging standards in the world.

But, while you’ve always been able to send text, pictures, and video through iMessage, the experience has always been rather static. Until now.

In iOS 10, you can now send handwritten and Digital Touch messages through iMessage on your iOS device. What was once a niche feature for Apple Watch owners takes very kindly to the larger displays of the iPhone and iPad, allowing you to send Snapchat-like sketches through iMessage. The heartbeat option is even available if an Apple Watch is paired, and you can mark up photos and videos right from the media picker. In some ways, it seems that Apple is still chasing a bit of Snapchat’s unique style of photo-based messaging.

Messages media picker, buttons hidden
Messages media picker, buttons shown

The media picker has, by the way, been completely redesigned. There’s now a tiny camera preview right in the picker, alongside a double row of recent photos. Swiping right on the picker will show buttons to open the camera or show the entire Camera Roll.

This redesign is simultaneously brilliant and confusing. I love the camera preview, and I think the recent photo picker is fine. But the hidden buttons are far too hidden for my liking, and it’s somewhat easy to miss the small arrow that provides a visual clue. Once you find them, they’re easy; but I have, on more than one occasion, forgotten where the button to access the full Camera Roll picker now resides.

But what if you want to communicate in a more textual way? Well, iOS 10 has plenty of new features there. After you type out a message, you can tap on the keyboard switcher icon to replace any words in your message with emoji. Relevant words or phrases will be highlighted in orange, and tapping on the words will either suggest emoji to replace them with, or simply replace the words if only one character seems to fit the phrase. Yet, despite the extent to which I already communicate through emoji, I could never really get the hang of this feature. The QuickType bar provides a good-enough suggestion throughout the OS that I never really got the hang of tapping on the emoji icon after typing the word I intend to replace, but only in Messages. It simply doesn’t match with the way I think when I bash out a text message. Your mileage may vary.

And then there’s the stuff I got a little obsessed with while testing iOS 10 this summer. Apple has added a whole host of weird and wonderful effects for when you send an iMessage. Press on the Send button, and a full-screen sheet will appear with a bunch of available effects. Some message effects display inline, while others will take over the entire screen the first time the message is read. Some are interactive: “Invisible Ink” requires the recipient to touch over the message to reveal it. An effect like “Lasers” turns the whole display into a nightclub, replete with bangin’ choons. What’s more, sending some messages — like “Happy Birthday” or “Congrats!” — will automatically fill the recipient’s screen with balloons.

Imagine the President getting their daily security briefing with these effects.
Lasers effect on the iPad

I make no bones about how much I love these effects. I’ve only been screwing around with them for the past few months with a handful of people, but they bring so much excitement and joy to any conversation that they’re easy to over-use, potentially to the chagrin of anyone else you’re talking to.

If you hate fun, you’ll probably be disappointed that there’s no way to opt out of receiving them, with the exception of switching on the “Reduce Motion” option in Accessibility settings — but that has all sorts of other side effects, too.

Message effects regression on the Mac

I’ve also noticed that these effects don’t regress very well. Users on devices running older versions of iOS or OS X will see the message followed by a second message reading “(sent with Loud Effect)”, or whatever the effect might be.

Messages has also learned some lessons from Slack. Links to webpages now show inline previews if the message was sent from a device running iOS 10 or MacOS Sierra. These previews can be pretty clever, too: a pasted Twitter link will show the whole tweet, the user it’s from, and any attached media; and, for YouTube links, you can actually play the video inline (but, curiously, not for Vimeo links). You can also react to individual messages with one of six different emotions by tapping and holding on a message bubble, a feature Apple calls “Tapback”, or with stickers from apps — more on that in a moment. Messages containing just emoji, up to three, will display much larger. All of these relatively small tweaks combine to produce some of the most welcome improvements to an app we use dozens of times a day.

Curiously enough, Messages in iOS 10 actually loses some functionality as well. In iOS 8, Apple attempted their take on Snapchat. You’ll recall that tapping and sliding on the camera icon would immediately send a disappearing photo or video. There is no longer a way to do that in iOS 10. Not that anyone would notice, of course — as I noted at the time, that feature was often more frustrating than helpful. I don’t know anyone who used that shortcut to send photos. I suspect few will notice its removal.

But I think that everyone will notice that developers can now add to Messages in a really big way.

iMessage Apps and Stickers

For the past few releases of iOS, Apple has rapidly been opening up their first-party apps to third-party developers. From sharing sheets to Safari, extension points now exist throughout iOS to make the system vastly more capable, efficient, and personalized. And now, they’re giving developers perhaps one of the biggest opportunities in years: apps and stickers in Messages.

Stickers are probably easiest to understand because they sound exactly like what they are: packs of images — still or animated — that you can stick to messages in a conversation. If the success of stickers in every other chat app is to be believed, they’re are going to be one of the hottest new features for both users and developers alike.

Actually, even saying “developers” is a misnomer here. Creating a sticker pack does not require writing a single line of code. The only things anyone needs to build a sticker pack are Xcode, correctly-sized artwork for the stickers in common image file formats, and an icon in different sizes, which means that virtually any idiot can make one. And I can tell you that because this idiot, right here, made a sticker pack in about ten minutes, excluding the amount of time I spent fighting with Xcode. It could scarcely be simpler: drag your sticker image assets into one tab of Xcode, drag a bunch of icon sizes into the other, and build. Unfortunately, you do have to subscribe to Apple’s Developer Program in order to test the app on your device; you can’t use a free Apple ID to build a sticker pack just for yourself.

As a result of this simplicity, I think a lot of artists and designers are going to have a field day making all kinds of sticker packs and selling them. Aside from free stickers — plenty of which will be from brands half-assing their marketing efforts — I’m guessing that the one-dollar price point will be the sweet spot for a typical pack.

From a user’s perspective, these stickers will be a fun addition to pretty much any conversation. They can be dropped — with a slick animation — on top of any message, or they can be sent as plain images in the chat. Some users may get frustrated that stickers typically overlap a message, which can make it hard to read. You can tap and hold on any message bubble to temporarily hide stickers and get more information about what stickers were used.

Stickers are a hoot for users and developers alike. But, of course, if you want more functionality, you’re going to have to write some code and put together an app for Messages. Apple says that developers can create all sorts of interactive environments, optimized for short-duration usage: think back-and-forth games, peer-to-peer payments, and the like.

It’s telling that they call these “iMessage Apps”, and not “Apps for Messages” or some variant thereof. While apps that confine themselves to sending just images or links will work fine over SMS, any of the truly cool interactive apps won’t work.

Apple ships two examples with iOS 10: Music and “#images”. The former, of course, lets you share your most recently-played tracks with friends. Instead of having to switch to Music from a conversation and tapping on the Share button, the track is served to you from within the thread. When combined with rich previews for Apple Music links, the app provides a totally seamless experience.

The “#images” app — I will continue to use quotation marks because I cannot stand that name — is a much-needed enhancement for those of us who like to spice up any conversation with various movie and T.V. references. It appears to use the same Bing-powered image search engine as Siri on the Mac, except perhaps more tailored for Messages. That is to say, it seems more GIF-oriented, and it appears to suggest images based on the conversation. There are even two buttons across the top that are pre-populated with likely search terms. Like any Messages app or sticker pack, you can tap on the arrow in the lower-right corner to expand its view, but in “#images” you can also press on any image’s thumbnail to see a full preview.

“#images” has been the bane of my friends’ discussions with me for the past few months. GIFs are way better than emoji, of course, and any opportunity to reply to a message with Homer Simpson starting a bowl of corn flakes on fire really is a tremendous ability. If I’m completely honest, though, I don’t really need every movie reference on the planet; I only need clips from the Simpsons. I do hope a Frinkiac app is on the way.

Unlike other app extensions, apps running in Messages are entirely independent, and don’t require a container app; however, developers can use their existing and new iOS apps, if they so choose.

And, like pretty much every other extension point on the system, there’s no indication of when an app is installed that features a Messages extension. Unlike every other extension point, there’s a switch that allows you to automatically activate any new Messages apps. I think a similar option should be available for other extension types, like keyboards and share sheet items, as the current method of determining whether an app has installed a new extension is, at best, a matter of trial and error.

Apps and sticker packs are installed in Messages similarly, in a pseudo-Springboard sheet that appears in place of the keyboard. It behaves like Springboard, too: you can tap and hold on an icon to change the order of the apps, or tap the x in the corner to remove the extension. There’s even a row of page indicator dots across the bottom; if you install a lot of apps, it doesn’t scale particularly gracefully.

Too many iMessage apps
I managed to run up this tally just by downloading all of the iOS 10 updates issued to apps already on my phone. Nearly every app that I updated today included a Messages extension. Imagine what it’s going to be like if you really dive deep into the iMessage App Store.

I’m sure that these apps are going to be insanely popular. Consider, for comparison, the popularity of emoji keyboards like Bitmoji or Kimoji. Perhaps a handful of apps will take over, but I anticipate plenty of users overrunning the page dot capacity. I’m surprised that this is not handled more gracefully.

Music

I wrote at length earlier about the interface design changes in Music and News; here, I want to spend a little more time on how those updates affect the usability of the app.

I want to start with the five tabs across the bottom. To me, their relatively subtle change has radically improved how I use Music. Previously, the tabs in Music were, from left to right: For You, What’s New, Radio, Connect, and Library.

The redesigned version of Music makes a subtle but critical change to its overall usability, simply by adjusting the five tabs that appear across the bottom: Library, For You, Browse, Radio, and Search. The implication of this change is a promotion of Library from the lowest priority item to the highest, where it belongs.

Arguably the most significant improvement to usability directly gained from the adjustments to the tab bar is the promotion of Search. After all, when you’re looking for something — whether in Apple Music or your local library — you probably use search. Its previous placement, in the toolbar across the top, was an awkward place for it, primarily because results ended up in the New tab, for reasons I can’t quite explain. By simply adding a search tab bar item, the usability of Music is far better than it used to be.

Library tab
For You tab
iOS 10 Control Centre page 2

Even the rather vaguely-named Browse tab is a boon. The old New tab indicated that you’d only find new releases within; Browse, while more generic, allows Apple to add sub-categories for Curated Playlists, Top Charts, Genres, and the previously-buried Videos feature.

Meanwhile, the Connect features have been moved to the For You tab, and individual artist pages. I don’t know if that will improve its popularity among artists or users; I suspect not.

Within the Library tab, Music loses the weird drop picker that previously allowed you to browse by artists, genres, and so forth. This has been replaced by a simple, straightforward list, and it’s much better for it. There’s very little hunting around in this version of the Music app; most everything is pretty much where you’d expect it.

But, while Apple resolved most of the usability issues of the old app, they created a few new ones as well. “Loving” tracks and playlists — a critical component of the Apple Music experience and the only way to train the For You selection — is now a multi step process. There is no longer a heart button on the lock screen, nor is there one on the playback screen. Instead, you need to unlock your device and tap the ellipsis icon on the playback screen, or beside the item in a list. It’s a little odd to see so much emphasis placed on the ellipsis icon; it’s a metaphor that’s more frequently used on Android.

I love the artwork-as-drop-shadow effect used on this screen.
Now Playing screen
The playback screen is, overall, probably the least-successful element of the redesigned Music app, from a usability perspective. It took me a few days with it before I realized that it was possible to scroll the screen vertically, exposing the shuffle and repeat buttons, adjustable playback queue, and lyrics, when available. There’s simply no visual indicator that it’s possible to scroll this screen. My bug report on this was marked as a duplicate, so I suppose I’m not the only person who feels this way.

There are some holes in other parts of the app as well. There’s still no option to sort albums from an artist by year, otherwise known as “the only acceptable way to sort albums by a single artist”. There’s still no way to filter or search for music by year.

If you want a list of songs from a particular artist, you’ll want to use the Songs menu item to get a giant list of all songs, sorted by artist. There’s no way to do this from within the Artists menu item, which makes no sense to me. If I’m looking for songs by an artist, I’m going to start by looking in Artists; I bet you’d probably do the same.

Aside from the occasional usability bafflement, I’m certain that this version of Music is a much more successful organization of its myriad features. I’ve said many times that my ideal streaming service would feel like a massively extended version of my local library, and Music in iOS 10 comes closest to accomplishing that, even without enabling iCloud Music Library.

Lyrics in iOS 10
So what about some of the new features in the app, like lyrics support and new recommendations in Apple Music? Well, while lyrics are ostensibly supported, I had a hell of a time finding a song where that’s the case. After trying a bunch of different tracks from lots of different genres, I found that lyrics were shown for tracks from Drake’s “Views” album and Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo“.

Lyrics only display for Apple Music songs, and I do mean only. My purchased-from-iTunes copy of “Views” doesn’t have lyrics, but if I stream the same song from that album on Apple Music, it does.

However, with the notable exception of Kim Mitchell’s truly terrible “Patio Lanterns“, just being able to read the lyrics doesn’t usually communicate the intent or meaning of a song. For that, you need something like Genius — not to be confused with the iTunes feature of the same name. I think it would be more useful if there were some substance behind displaying the lyrics.

While there’s no indication that adjustments have been made to the recommendation algorithms that power For You, there are two playlists that are served up on a weekly basis: the Favourites Mix, refreshed every Wednesday, and the New Releases Mix, refreshed every Friday. Unlike most of the pre-made playlists on Apple Music, these are algorithmically generated, but I’ve found them to be pretty good.

The first New Releases Mix that I got was a decent sampler plate of a bunch of new music that I generally enjoyed. Of the 25 tracks, in the first mix, I’d say that only two or three were misses. From my experience with both Apple Music and Spotify, that success rate compares favourably to the Discover Weekly mix in the latter service. Apple’s mix is, however, focused entirely on new releases a user might like; there doesn’t appear to be an automatically-generated playlist in the vein of Spotify’s.

All told, I think this iteration of Music is markedly more successful than the outgoing one, which grated on me more and more as the year wore on. I haven’t felt that with this version. Though it’s not yet perfect, it’s far better than its predecessor.

Continuity

Universal Clipboard

After launching with a robust set of initial features last year, the overarching concept of Continuity has been updated to support a frequently-requested feature: a universal clipboard.

The idea is simple: copy a piece of text, or an image, or a URL, or whatever on any device you own and have the ability to paste it on a completely different device. Apps like Copied, CloudClip, and Command-C filled in the gap left by the lack of official support for this functionality.

But, now, there is official support for clipboard sync, and it’s pretty good for my very basic uses. Like Handoff, Apple says that the clipboard is encrypted and synced entirely locally over WiFi and Bluetooth; your iCloud account is only used to ensure that it’s you copying or pasting on both devices.

As I said, my use-case for this is extraordinarily simple. Sometimes, I’ll have read something on my iPhone and want to link to it within a post. I can either open a new Safari tab on my iPad or Mac and wade through my iCloud Tabs until I find the right one, or I can just copy it on my iPhone and paste it on my other device. Or, sometimes, I’ll have something copied in a Mac-only app like TextMate that I can paste into an email message on my iPad. It’s pretty cool.

Unfortunately, there’s no visual indication of when an item is available to paste from a different device. I haven’t yet run into an instance where I’ve pasted in the entirely wrong thing from a different device, and the lack of a visual indicator strikes me as very deliberate: Universal Clipboard isn’t something you should have to think about — it “just works”.

Universal Clipboard lacks some of the more power-friendly options of the third-party apps mentioned earlier, like clipboard history and saved snippets, but it does a perfectly cromulent job fulfilling a basic use case for clipboard syncing. It works pretty well for me.

Apple Pay

Apple Pay was only introduced in Canada this June, but I’ve already become accustomed to paying for all kinds of stuff with it. Most payment terminals have supported tap-to-pay for a long time, but Apple Pay is more secure and, from my experience, faster and more reliable.

That it’s come to the web is a good thing; that I no longer have to use PayPal or submit my credit card details to an online store is a very good thing.

None of the places I typically order online from have yet added Apple Pay to their checkout options, so I tried using Stripe’s Apple Pay demo and it seemed to work pretty well.

I’ve dumped this feature into the Continuity section because Apple Pay is also supported in Safari on MacOS Sierra. You just start the purchase on your Mac, and authenticate on your iPhone. Strangely, though, this same cross-device functionality isn’t supported to authenticate an iPad purchase using an iPhone.

iPad

After several years of menial adjustments tailored for the iPad, iOS 9 brought serious systemwide improvements: proper multitasking, keyboard shortcuts, ⌘-Tab application switching, and lots more. iOS 9 was the significant boost the iPad needed, particularly since there are now two iPads named “Pro”. I, perhaps naïvely, thought that this was a renaissance for the iPad — a wakeup call for a platform that should feel like its own experience.

I was wrong. iOS 10 brings very few changes specifically designed for the iPad, and a whole lot of changes that feel like they were scaled-up from the iPhone.

There’s a scaled-up Notification Centre’s Today view that makes for an amazing visual trick in looking both cramped and inefficient with its use of the iPad’s larger display:

iPad Notification Centre

Control Centre also looks a bit odd on the iPad’s larger display, featuring gigantic buttons for AirDrop, AirPlay Mirroring, and Night Shift:

Control Centre, page 1

Half the space in the second Control Centre tile is occupied by a playback output destination list:

Control Centre, page 2

Instead of a list of output devices — something which I doubt most users will be adjusting with enough frequency to merit its equal priority to playback controls — why not show the “What’s Next” queue or additional Apple Music controls?

There are plenty of instances where the iPad simply doesn’t utilize the available screen space effectively. While not every pixel should be filled, shouldn’t playlist descriptions in Apple Music expand to fill the available space?

Music descrptions aren't full-height

Shouldn’t I see more than this in my library?

Music on the iPad

Shouldn’t the timer feel a little more deliberate?

The rotational dial looks so lost on this screen.
Timer screen on the iPad

Then there are the aspects of the iPad’s interface and features that remain, inexplicably, unchanged. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro retains the 5 × 4 (plus dock) home screen layout of the original iPad. The Slide Over drawer still shows the same large rounded cells around each icon, and its lack of scalability has shown as more apps support Slide Over.

That’s not to say that no new iPad features debuted this year. You can now run two instances of Safari side-by-side on iPads that support multitasking; however, it is the only app where this is possible.

The limitations created by the iPad’s form factor — a finger-based touch screen with a bare minimum of hardware buttons — has required ingenious design solutions for common tasks. Windowing, complex toolbars, and other UI components taken for granted were, and are, either impossible or impractical on the iPad. Similar problems were solved when the iPhone was developed. But, while there’s a good argument for retaining some consistency with the iPhone, the iPad is its own experience, and it should be treated as such.

There’s a glimmer of hope for iPad users: Federico Viticci has heard that more iPad-specific features are “in the pipeline“, presumably for an iOS 10.x release. Their absence from the 10.0 release is, however, noteworthy.

Grab Bag

As ever, in addition to the big headlining updates to iOS, there are a bunch of smaller updates to all sorts of apps. This year, though, there’s a deep-level system update as well.

System

Of all of the enhancements rumoured to be coming to iOS, not one revolved around a new file system. Yet, that’s one of the things that’s coming to iOS 10. It’s not finished yet, and it is projected to arrive as part of a system update next year, but it sounds like a thoroughly modern, fast, and future-friendly file system. I’m nowhere near intelligent enough to fully understand APFS, as it’s called, but Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica wrote a very good early look at it back in June that you should read.

Phone and Contacts

It’s telling that I’ve buried what is ostensibly the core functionality of a smartphone — that is, being a telephone — all the way down here. We don’t really think of our iPhone as a telephone; it’s more of an always-connected internet box in our pants. But that doesn’t mean that its phone functions can’t be improved.

For those of you who use alternative voice or video calling apps, there’s a new API that allows those apps to present a similar ringing screen as the default phone app. And there’s another API that allows third-party apps to flag incoming phone calls as spam and scams. I don’t get that many unsolicited calls, blessedly, but I hope that apps like these can help get rid of the telemarketing industry once and for all.

The phone app also promises to transcribe voicemails using Siri’s speech-to-text engine. My cellular provider doesn’t support visual voicemail, so I wasn’t able to test this feature.

In addition, Apple says that you can set third-party apps as the primary means of contact for different people.

Mail

Mail has an entirely new look within a message thread, with a conversational view very similar to that of Mail on the Mac. This makes a long conversation much easier to follow, and allows you to take action on individual messages by sliding them to either side.

Additionally, there’s a new button in the bottom-left of message lists to filter which messages are shown. After tapping the filter button, you can tap the “filtered by” text that appears in the middle of the bottom toolbar to select filtering criteria; the default is unread messages across all inboxes.

This filter is similar to the Unread inbox introduced in iOS 9; but, with the ability to define much more stringent criteria, it’s far more powerful. I’ve been using it for the past couple of months to try to tame my unruly inbox with an unread count that keeps spiralling out of control.

Mail also offers to unsubscribe you when it detects a message was sent from a mailing list. That can save a great deal of time hunting through the email to find the unsubscribe link and then, inevitably, being asked to fill out a survey or getting caught in some other UI dark pattern. I used it on a couple of newsletters and it seems to have worked with just a tap.

Safari

Safari now supports “unlimited” tabs, up from 36 in iOS 8, and 24 prior to that. I checked this claim out, and got to 260 open tabs before I got bored. Of course, not all those tabs will be in memory, but they’ll be open for your tab hoarding pleasure. In addition, a long-press on the tab button in the lower-right lets you close all 260 of those tabs at once, should A&E show up with a film crew.

Sharing

Ever since iOS 8 allowed third-party developers to add actions from their apps to the Share sheet, I’ve wanted to see this feature enabled systemwide for pretty much anything I could conceivably share. As you can imagine, I save a lot of links to Pinboard and Instapaper. I also subscribe to a bunch of great newsletters, like NextDraft and CNN’s excellent Reliable Sources. But, while third-party email apps have long allowed you to share the contents of emails using the system Share sheet, the default Mail client hasn’t.

It’s a similar story in Safari: you’ve been limited to sharing just the frontmost tab’s URL using the Share sheet, and no other links on the page.

Previously, touching and holding on a link would pull up a series of options, one of which was to send the link to your Reading List. Now, for those of us who don’t use Safari’s Reading List, there’s a far better option available: touching and holding on any link will display a “Share…” option, which launches the system Share sheet. It’s terrific — truly, one of my favourite details in iOS 10.

App Store

As previewed in the week prior to WWDC, this year’s round of major updates brings with it some changes to the way the App Store works. Most of these changes have trickled out in a limited way this summer, including faster review times, and a beta test of ads in the American App Store. I’m Canadian, so I’m still not seeing ads, and that’s fine with me.

One thing that wasn’t clarified initially was the handling of the new Share feature for every third-party app. At the time, I wrote:

I sincerely hope that’s not just an additional item in every third-party app’s 3D Touch menu, because that will get pretty gross pretty fast.

Well, guess what?

That’s exactly how that feature works.

It isn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. The Share menu item is always farthest-away from the app icon in the 3D Touch list, and it means that every icon on the home screen is 3D Touch-able, even if the app hasn’t been updated in ages.

For TestFlight apps, the Share item becomes a “Send Beta Feedback” item, which is a truly helpful reminder to do that.

Improvements for Apple Watch

While I won’t be writing a WatchOS 3 review — at least, not for today — there are a couple of noteworthy changes for Apple Watch owners on the iPhone.

There’s a new tab along the bottom of the Watch app for a “Face Gallery”. In this tab, Apple showcases different ways to use each of the built-in faces and how they look with a multitude of options and Complications set. I’m not one to speculate too much, but this appears to set the groundwork for many more faces coming to the Watch. I don’t think just any developer will be able to create faces any time soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more partnerships with fashion and fitness brands on unique faces.

In addition, the Apple Watch has been added to the Find My iPhone app — and, yes, it’s still called “Find My iPhone”, despite finding iPhones being literally one-quarter of its functionality. Your guess is as good as mine.

Settings

With all sorts of systemwide adjustments comes the annual reshuffling of the Settings app. This year, the longstanding combined “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” settings screen has become the separate “Mail”, “Contacts”, and “Calendars” settings screens, as it’s now possible to individually delete any of those apps.

Additionally, Siri has been promoted from being buried “General” to a top-level item, complete with that totally gorgeous new icon. It doesn’t really go with the rest of the icons in Settings, to be fair, but it is awfully pretty.

Game Centre options
As Game Centre no longer has a front-end interface, its options have been scaled back to the point of near-pointlessness. There is no longer an option to allow invitations from friends, nor can you enable friend recommendations from Contacts or Facebook. The only option under “Friends Management” is to remove all friends in Game Centre. There is no longer a way to find a list of your Game Centre friends anywhere on iOS or MacOS. Yet, for some reason, the framework lives on. Given these ill-considered omissions, if I were a developer, I wouldn’t necessarily build a new app that’s dependent on it. Just a hunch.

There are a bunch of little tweaks throughout Settings as well. It now warns you if you connect to an insecure WiFi network, and — for some reason — the option to bypass password authentication for free apps has been removed.

Sounds

There may not be any new wallpapers in iOS this year, but a few of the system sounds have been refreshed. Instead of the noise of a padlock clicking shut, the revised lock sound is more reminiscent of a door closing. Perhaps it’s my affinity for the old lock sound, but the new one hasn’t grown on me. It feels comparatively light and thin — more like a screen door than a bank vault.

The new keyboard clicks, however, sound good enough that I kept them on for most of the beta period, and I really hate keyboard noises on smartphones. There’s a subtle difference in the noise between a letter key and a function key — such as shift or the return key — which should help those with reduced vision and those of us who type while walking.

I should say, however, that my dislike of keyboard sounds eventually caught up with me and I switched them back off. It’s a smartphone, not a typewriter.

Conclusion

iOS 10 is a fascinating update to me. Every other version of iOS has had a single defining feature, from the App Store in iPhone OS 2 and multitasking in iOS 4, to the iOS 7 redesign, iOS 8’s inter-app interoperability, and iOS 9’s iPad focus.

iOS 10 seems to buck this trend with its sheer quantity of updates. Developers have been asking for a Siri API for years, and it’s here, albeit in a limited form. The number of developers using the deep integrations in Messages and Maps is already higher than I had anticipated at this stage of iOS 10’s release, and I’m writing this the night before it launches.

Then there are the little things sprinkled throughout the system that I didn’t have time to cover in this review: breaking news notifications and subscriptions in individual News channels, a redesigned back button, CarPlay integrations, and so much more.

I may regularly bemoan individual parts of iOS. There are certain places where I wish Apple had made more progress than they did, but there are also aspects of the system that have been greatly enhanced in ways I’d never have expected. Saying that iOS 10 is the best release of iOS yet is a bit trite — you’d kind of hope the latest version would be, right?

But there’s so much that has gone into this version of iOS that I deeply appreciate. The experience of using it, from when I wake up in the morning to when I go to bed at night — oh, yeah, there’s this great bedtime alarm thing built into the Clock app — that I can’t imagine going back to a previous version of iOS, or to a different platform. It feels like a unified, integrated system across all of my devices. Some people may call this sort of thing “lock-in”, but I like to think of it as a form of customer appreciation.

Whatever the case, I highly recommend updating to iOS 10 as soon as you can. I hope it surprises and delights you the way it did for me the first time someone sent me an iMessage with a goofy effect, or the last time it made a Memories slide show for me. These are little things, and they’re mechanized and automated like crazy, but they feel alive, in a sense. iOS 10 isn’t just the best version of iOS to date; it’s the most human release.


A big thank you to Sam Gross for proof-reading this review, and to Janik Baumgartner for assisting with some iPad verification. Thanks must also go to all the developers who provided beta versions of their apps.

iOS 10 Improves Targeting Restrictions

Dean Murphy:

In iOS 10, when you enable “Limit Ad Tracking”, [the Identifier for Advertisers] now returns a string of zeroes. So for the estimated 15-20% of people who enable this feature, they will all have the same IDFA instead of unique ones. This makes the IDFA pretty much useless when “Limit Ad Tracking” is on, which is a bonus, as this is what users will expect when they enable the feature. These users will still be served ads, but its more likely they will not be targeted to them based on their behaviour.

Of course, there are lots of other ways nefarious ad tech companies can try to build tracking profiles, from device profiling to requiring a user account. This is a step in the right direction, though.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 Recall Is a Nightmare So Far

Christina Warren, Gizmodo:

A week after Samsung’s “voluntary” recall of the Galaxy Note 7, customers have yet to be clearly told when and how they’ll be able to replace their devices — devices that could set cars, hotel rooms, or garages on fire — with new, working models. Samsung last week said customers would be able to exchange their phones for a refund or a new device but customers don’t have a clear idea on who to contact or when replacement devices might be available. Samsung USA has not replied to a request for comment from Gizmodo.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) has now officially weighed in, urging all Galaxy Note 7 owners to power down their devices and not use them. CSPC says it is working with Samsung to announce a formal recall soon, which would result in clearer guidelines for consumers.

This is not only frustrating for consumers who are informed and trying to get a replacement, but properly dangerous for those who haven’t heard about this problem. Samsung was very quick to respond to early reports, but instead of immediately initiating a recall through CSPC, they’ve let this issue escalate.

I’m having a hard time writing about this without comparing it to the flurry of press coverage about “Antennagate”, followed by Apple’s quick response. That would be in bad taste.

Facebook’s Trending Topics Algorithm Is a ‘Truther’

Abby Ohlheiser, Washington Post:

Facebook users looking for more context on why the Sept. 11 terrorist attack anniversary was trending on the platform on Friday were, for a time, directed to a tabloid article claiming that “experts” had footage that “proves bombs were planted in Twin Towers.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think that canning most or all of the Trending Topics editors wasn’t Facebook’s best decision, especially when it starts giving nut jobs one of the world’s largest megaphones.

Facebook Censored One of the Most Well-Known Photos of War

Aftenposten editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen, in an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg:

A few weeks ago the Norwegian author Tom Egeland posted an entry on Facebook about, and including, seven photographs that changed the history of warfare. You in turn removed the picture of a naked Kim Phuc, fleeing from the napalm bombs – one of the world’s most famous war photographs.

Tom then rendered Kim Phuc’s criticism against Facebook for banning her picture. Facebook reacted by excluding Tom and prevented him from posting a new entry.

Listen, Mark, this is serious. First you create rules that don’t distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs. Then you practice these rules without allowing space for good judgement. Finally you even censor criticism against and a discussion about the decision – and you punish the person who dares to voice criticism.

Peter Kafka of Recode:

As of yesterday, Facebook was insisting that this was a feature, not a bug, telling reporters that “it’s difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others” — even when that Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph is one of the best-known images in the world.

That’s a load of horse shit. Any human being with half a brain cell can tell the difference between child porn and a photograph of war, just like anyone can tell the difference between child porn and a parent posting a photo of their kid in a bath. There is no overlap. For Facebook to state otherwise is infuriating.

Facebook has now said that they’re going to allow people to share this photo, and they’re working on reinstating any posts that were removed. However, they haven’t committed to a change of policy so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

Apple Won’t Publicize First-Weekend iPhone Sales

Julia Love, Reuters:

The company decided to stop the practice because the number of phones sold during the period has become more a reflection of Apple’s supply than demand, a company spokeswoman said, when asked whether Apple will be releasing the figure.

“As we have expanded our distribution through carriers and resellers to hundreds of thousands of locations around the world, we are now at a point where we know before taking the first customer pre-order that we will sell out of iPhone 7,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said. “These initial sales will be governed by supply, not demand, and we have decided that it is no longer a representative metric for our investors and customers.”

I bet initial supply of the iPhone 7 will be really restricted this year. If you want one on launch day, you’d better be staying up late tonight.

Galaxy Note 7 Gets FAA Warning

There may be some lingering issues to resolve with the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone, but at least it isn’t catching on fire. The Associated Press:

U.S. aviation safety officials took the extraordinary step late Thursday of warning airline passengers not to turn on or charge a new-model Samsung smartphone during flights following numerous reports of the devices catching fire.

The Federal Aviation Administration also warned passengers not to put the Galaxy Note 7 phones in their checked bags, citing “recent incidents and concerns raised by Samsung” about the devices. It is extremely unusual for the FAA to warn passengers about a specific product.

And then there’s this report from Chris Welch of the Verge:

Shortly after returning from a Labor Day yard sale on Monday in St. Petersburg, Florida, a man looked out the window to see his family’s Jeep Grand Cherokee in flames. Nathan Dornacher would later say that he’d left his four-day-old Galaxy Note 7 charging in the vehicle’s center console moments before the fire began.

[…]

In a separate incident, a man says he believes the Note 7 is to blame for a garage fire that resulted in his house being condemned. Wesley Hartzog of Horry County, South Carolina left his Samsung phablet plugged into a wall outlet where fire investigators believe the Sunday blaze began.

While Samsung is requesting the return of the Galaxy Note 7, they haven’t yet issued an official recall. That means that customers aren’t necessarily being notified, and that’s a big problem for a phone that’s literally too hot to handle.

Thoughts on Today’s Apple Event

Apple Watch: Series 2

From the outset, Apple has positioned the Watch as a multifaceted product — complex, but not complicated. At the Watch’s introduction, Tim Cook used the rule of threes to define its purpose: a health and fitness device, a timepiece, and a means of facilitating communication.

One of the byproducts of this is a device that helps out with a bunch of tasks, but is nearly impossible to explain or demo. Any time anyone asked me for a demo of its features, I meekly fumbled with a few things that I think are cool — raise to wake, Activity, and so on — but it has never been as easy to demonstrate in a pinch as, say, an iPhone or an iPad.

After the “Spring Forward” event held last, well, spring, I found the Apple Watch interesting, but not necessarily compelling in the way it was presented:

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.

While I felt Apple did not clearly define the story of the Watch at the outset, customers and owners have helped do so over the past year and a quarter that it has been on sale.

Today’s presentation focused heavily on the health and fitness aspects of the Series 2 Watches, almost to the exclusion of the other two focus areas Cook mentioned two years ago. From built-in GPS to waterproofing for swimmers, and from a ceramic back on all models for higher-quality lens covers for the heart rate monitor, to a partnership with Nike, this year’s Apple Watches are all about fitness.

You’ll even note that Apple has dropped the “Sport” branding on the models, choosing instead to differentiate the aluminum and stainless models purely by their case materials. The exceptions are the Hermès models, still called “Apple Watch Hermès”, and the new ceramic Apple Watch Edition. If you wanted to read, perhaps a little too much, into that, the implication is that the models in the standard Series 2 lineup are all appropriate for physical activity.

There’s no question in my mind that this is the right area for Apple to be focusing on with the Watch. Even in my own day-to-day use pattern, the thing I care most about is that I close my activity rings; I suspect many of my readers feel the same. Notifications, apps, answering calls on my wrist, checking the weather — these are all things that are very nice to have. But being mindful of my physical activity while working a sedentary office job is the reason I put my Apple Watch on every day instead of my analogue Boccia.

Fitness was, of course, not the only area Jeff Williams focused on today. He noted the enhancements coming to all Apple Watches with watchOS 3, and I can testify to the performance improvements: it’s night and day. I don’t know where they found all that power while keeping the battery life the same, but it’s there, and it’s remarkable. In the Series 2 models and — amazingly — in the slightly-revised Series 1 models, there is now a dual-core processor which should help performance even more.

The new Edition model, meanwhile, looks really special. It’s made of ceramic is polished to a shine. Unlike last year’s ferociously expensive gold models, this one starts under $1,300 USD. It’s not a bargain, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a hell of a lot more of these than I did of the gold models.1 In pictures, it looks terrific. I can’t wait to see it in person.

In a bit of a peculiar move, the price of the Watch has actually risen over last year by $20. However, they’ve softened the price bump by carrying forward the now-christened Series 1 model and giving it a faster processor, for $269. The $369 starting price of the Series 2 is entirely reasonable. For comparison, there are plenty of GPS sport watches going for well over $369, and they’re so ugly and cumbersome that you’ll only want to wear them while exercising. The Apple Watch remains a fashion accessory as much as it is a piece of technology.

iPhone 7

The main event, as it were. Whether you got your fill of rumours years in advance or just as the keynote was starting, you were probably aware of the gist of the iPhone 7’s headlining features: industrial design that’s similar to the 6 and 6S, water resistance, dual cameras in the Plus model, and a new polished black option.

So, where to begin? I wasn’t at the keynote — my invitation must have gotten lost in the series of tubes — so I have very few first impressions beyond what I could see in the presentation and in Apple’s marketing materials. From what I can tell, the Jet Black finish is unquestionably beautiful, but is apparently more susceptible to scratching:

The high-gloss finish of the jet black iPhone 7 is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process. Its surface is equally as hard as other anodized Apple products; however, its high shine may show fine micro-abrasions with use. If you are concerned about this, we suggest you use one of the many cases available to protect your iPhone.

I’ve seen some remarks around the web that paint this as a repeat of the iPod Nano scratching crisis of 2005, but I’m not so sure it will be. The iPod’s face was made of plastic; the iPhone is made of aluminum and glass. I’ve no doubt that some scratches will form on Jet Black iPhones, but there’s a certain wear-and-tear patina that develops. Some people are okay with that, and they’re probably people who don’t use cases. But I would wager that the overwhelming majority of iPhone owners put a case on their phone.

At any rate, I anticipate very low Jet Black stock over the next couple of months, even though it’s limited to the 128 and 256 GB configurations. If you’re aching for that colour, I hope you’re very quick with your pre-order tomorrow night.

While I’m tangentially on the topic of capacities, I should note how happy I am about the near-demise of the 16 GB configuration. The iPod Touch and the iPhone SE are the only iOS devices currently offered with a 16 GB option; even the iPads got a bump today, something which wasn’t mentioned during the keynote. I can think of few changes that so clearly merit the word: finally.

Apple’s processor team, meanwhile, has clearly been very busy. Onstage, Phil Schiller showed a slide with a Bezos chart of the iPhone’s processor speed since launched, and it looks like a hockey stick. My iPhone 6S feels ridiculously fast, but the gulf between it and the performance of the A10 in the iPhone 7 is simply gigantic.

The camera enhancements look equally impressive. Any improvement to the quality of photos in low-light situations is always welcomed, and the new cameras apparently deliver that in spades. The dual camera situation on the Plus model looks particularly intriguing, especially with the rich depth mapping capabilities coming later this year. The Plus model is simply too big for my liking, so I’ll have to wait until these improvements come to the smaller iPhone, but they do make the case for a Plus much more compelling.

And then there’s the display, and the stereo speaker setup, and the new flash, and the vastly improved front-facing camera, the bigger battery, and the solid state home button — there’s a lot in this model, even if it looks similar to its predecessor.

But, of course, there’s only one thing that anyone is talking about today. So, let’s do this.

Headphones

We all knew it was coming. Ever since the rumour broke in November of last year that the iPhones 6S would be the last with the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, we knew that this would be the dominating controversy of the iPhone 7. And, like clockwork, when Schiller announced that the rumour was, indeed, true, the web erupted once again.

I can see why. The headphone jack has, as was acknowledged during the keynote, been with us for over a hundred years. That’s more than enough time for it to become entrenched — its inclusion in consumer electronics has, for a long time, been an expectation.

So why hasn’t it changed? Well, it has a lot going for it: it’s small, its cylindrical shape makes it nearly perfect from a usability perspective, and it requires no licensing or royalty fees to be paid. It has long been the right solution to connect speakers of any size to just about any device.

But the headphone jack has its flaws, too. Headphone cabling tends to be thin, which means the connectors must be robust. Headphone cables get tangled, which is a source of frustration for pretty much everyone. The port itself is extremely limited, requiring the use of a hacky method to provide remote controls.

But is that enough to replace it in a flagship product? I’m not sure, but Apple2 is trying to find out.

Apple has three solutions that they think span the gamut of iPhone 7 users: Lightning EarPods, wireless AirPods, and a Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor.

Lightning EarPods are exactly what they sound like: the EarPods used by hundreds of millions of people every day with a Lightning connector on the end instead of a 3.5mm plug. They’re offered at the same $29 in the U.S. and, like the old EarPods, are included with every iPhone 7. I know a lot of people who use EarPods. For them, nothing changes on their iOS devices, but there appears to be no solution for those who want to connect the same headphones to their Mac. And I know a few people who do that every single day.

For iPhone owners who don’t use the included EarPods, Apple is also including a Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor. If you prefer a particular kind of headphones that are only available with a 3.5mm connector, or if you regularly switch your headphones between your iPhone and a computer, you’ll probably get a lot of use out of this adaptor.

But Apple tends to be very deliberate when they make these kinds of choices. In fact, during the keynote, Schiller laid out the justification for removing the headphone jack:3

We have a vision for how audio should work on mobile devices. […] It makes no sense to tether ourselves with cables to our mobile devices, but until someone takes on these challenges, that’s what we do.

After a bit more preamble, Schiller cut to a video introducing the new AirPods, with Jony Ive’s soothing voiceover:

We believe in a wireless future.

This wireless future is, clearly, not quite there yet. Including with every new iPhone two means of connecting “tethering” ourselves to them, while making the wireless option a $160 extra, makes it feel like it’s still very early days. That’s how Ive positions it later in the video, too:

We’re just at the beginning of a truly wireless future we’ve been working towards for many years, where technology enables the seamless and automatic connection between you and your devices.

That’s a compelling argument. AirPods are, clearly, very advanced. There’s a ridiculously great pairing process that uses the flip top of the charging case to signal a connection, and they will apparently transition between different devices in a seamless fashion. Apple is also promising a reliable listening experience, completely unlike existing Bluetooth headphones. And I think it’s absolutely right that Apple goes wireless with their headphones in such a manner.

But there are things from this announcement that aren’t yet sitting right with me, and it comes down to the proprietary nature of the proposed solutions. To use a Lightning connector with a MFi certification, manufacturers must pay a royalty rate of $2 per product, according to two contracts I reviewed. If the product includes only one Lightning connector, this royalty is baked into the cost of purchasing that connector. The MFi program also regulates what kind of digital-to-analogue converter must be used, some packaging specifications, and other product attributes. This may absolutely be a good thing, and I believe it might very well be. But that also means that Apple’s review board now controls which wired headphones may take advantage of the Lightning port, and there are certain additional fixed costs for manufacturers to consider. This is absolutely their prerogative, of course: it’s their proprietary connector. But it’s one more layer of control that will necessarily limit the market of available wired headphones for the iPhone 7.4

The wireless option is a bit of a mixed bag, too. Bluetooth headphones are, generally-speaking, unreliable, frustrating, battery-sucking half-steps towards a wireless experience. If you want Apple’s far better experience, you’ll need headphones that use their new W1 chip. It’s based on Bluetooth, but “[covered] in a lot of secret sauce”. Three new sets of Beats headphones include it, as do the new AirPods, but it’s currently unclear whether it’s going to be made available to third-party manufacturers as well. That’s important to me because I dislike all three Beats options, and if the AirPods are of a similar size and shape to the existing EarPods — and I believe that is the case — they simply don’t fit into my ears.

Please don’t misread this as a condemnation of Apple’s decision today. I don’t think it was a mistake to prefer a wireless option, nor do I necessarily think it was a mistake for the headphone jack to be removed. I would love to try a pair of AirPods — it sounds like a truly brilliant product. But there are compounding factors, many of which have only been confirmed today, that make the transition harder for me.

But there’s one thing that seems pretty clear to me: making this transition this year paves the way for a much smoother rollout of next year’s massive iPhone redesign. There will be plenty of options of Lightning headphones and, perhaps, some more wireless models that include the W1, depending on its MFi status. And the total refresh of the iPhone next year won’t be overshadowed by the controversy over its lack of a headphone jack.


  1. Precisely two, in case you’re wondering. ↩︎

  2. Motorola, too↩︎

  3. Schiller also framed it as “courageous” to drop the headphone jack. I get what he meant by that, but I think “bold” or “audacious” would have been better words to use. “Courage” is the word we typically use for people battling cancer, or activists standing up to injustice. ↩︎

  4. The included Lightning-to-3.5mm assuages these concerns, but do you expect Apple continuing to include — or even offer — that connector in a few years? I don’t. ↩︎

Get a Mop and Call a Plumber

Right around the time James Corden and Tim Cook were laughing it up at the irony of internet leaks about the security of the iPhone 7, Apple’s official Twitter account was busy leaking many of its new features. It appears that all of the tweets they posted were promoted, which meant that they wouldn’t appear in their timeline or to followers. Still, a little embarrassing for a company so focused on the surprise unveil.

App Store Name Lengths

David Smith:

As the length of the names hasn’t really been the problem, it is keyword spamming at the end of the name.

But the 50 character limit is still interesting to consider, so I dug through my App Store metadata cache to see just how many apps would be affected. It looks like only around 9% of apps currently have names that are longer than 50 characters (around 200k).

Of the ones that do have names longer than 50 characters — all the way up to a hard 255 character limit — many are stuffed with often irrelevant keywords in a bid to capture searches from users looking for mainstream apps.

I’m more surprised that this crap is let into the App Store. The review guidelines are full of references to this being exactly the sort of stuff they don’t want:

If your app looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice app into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.

This has always been in the guidelines, but appears to be rarely enforced. For proof, just search for a popular app in the Store: Instagram, Tweetbot, and NYTimes will all work. Then, just scroll right to the bottom and find yourself wading through the App Store equivalent of a backalley flea market.

I would rather the App Store have much tighter restrictions than it currently seems to. I know a plethora of choice is advantageous to consumers, but the minimum bar for quality should be much, much higher.

Amazon Is Working Towards Ownership of Its Entire Shipping Chain

Devin Leonard, Bloomberg:

Two months after the Ohio announcement, Amazon leased 20 more jets from Atlas Air, an air cargo company based in Purchase, N.Y. Amazon has also purchased 4,000 truck trailers. Meanwhile, a company subsidiary in China has obtained a freight-forwarding license that analysts say enables it to sell space on container ships traveling between Asia and the U.S. and Europe. In short, Amazon is becoming a kind of e-commerce Walmart with a FedEx attached.

With any other company, an expansion like this would be preposterous. But Amazon’s growth has been preposterous. In 2010 its annual revenue was $34 billion; last year, $107 billion. In 2010 the company employed 33,700 workers. By this June, it had 268,900. To have enough office space for its swelling headquarters staff, Amazon has swallowed Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, and it’s building three tree-filled biospheres in the city that will allow workers to take contemplative breaks, like so many Ralph Waldo Emersons in Jetsonian luxury. The company is the fifth-most valuable in the world: Its market capitalization is about $366 billion, which is roughly equal to the combined worth of Walmart, FedEx, and Boeing.

Few companies are operating at the same kind of scale as is Amazon. The shipping and delivery chain is to Amazon what the supply chain is to Apple — the more they optimize and refine it, the better their company can perform. Of course, the best way for either company to do that is to own as much as possible of the chain, and it seems that Amazon wants to own every part of the process until the product gets to your door.

Tim Bajarin: Apple’s Control Over Its Supply Chain Is the Key to Its Success

Tim Bajarin, as published on Recode:

Over the years, I have talked with various ODM and manufacturing equipment makers, and many have told me Apple’s real secret to success is how deep the company goes into the overall manufacturing process.

Very few companies go to that level of detail when it comes to their supply chain. Besides Intel, Apple is one of the only other major tech companies I know of that will actually invent the manufacturing equipment needed to bring a new product to market. Most others accept the limitations of the equipment, and instead design the product around the things these machines can do with as little customization as possible.

I think the well-known product designer Greg Koenig would disagree with the idea that Apple outright invents the manufacturing equipment. My understanding is that their most significant manufacturing innovations involve applying techniques usually reserved for one-offs at a massive scale.

But, even though they don’t own the factories their products are built in, they often own the manufacturing technologies themselves. In a well-known story, when Apple wanted to make the battery and iSight indicator lights only visible in any way when lit, they bought the company that made microscopic laser drilling instruments. What was once a technique used only in the smallest of scales became used to make every MacBook Pro, wireless keyboard, and Magic Trackpad for years.

Samsung Initiates Worldwide Recall for Galaxy Note 7

Ina Fried, Recode:

Samsung said Friday that it will replace all of the Galaxy Note 7 “phablets” it has sold amid reports that some batteries on the phones have exploded.

In what could be the biggest smartphone recall ever, Samsung said it will replace all devices in the coming weeks. The company said it has confirmed an issue with the battery cells used in the phone and has halted sales globally.

Ouch. Despite the performance issues that continue to plague Samsung’s phones, the Galaxy Note 7 has been very well-received by the press. This recall comes at a particularly poor time, too.

A Short History of Project Ara in Press Coverage Excerpts

Charles Arthur has put together a pretty good selection of excited takes on Project Ara. Looks like I wasn’t alone in finding the press coverage of Ara lacking in skepticism about its viability, popularity, or even its waste-reduction aspirations.

I love the idea of Ara as a research project; even as a niche product, it might be kind of interesting. But I bet a modular phone of any kind would remain in its niche: popular amongst people who like thinking about their phones as an assembly of components, rather than as a single unit. But those are exactly the kind of people who would wish to regularly swap out components for newer ones. And, with the rate of advancement in so many of the parts that go into making a smartphone, it’s likely that users would be buying and swapping modules at a more frequent rate than the typical two-year smartphone upgrade cycle. That could potentially create even more waste, not less.

Google Shelves Project Ara

Me, a little over a year ago:

Serious question: would non-nerds like to assemble their own smartphone?

Julia Love, Reuters, today:

Alphabet Inc’s Google has suspended Project Ara, its ambitious effort to build what is known as a modular smartphone with interchangeable components, as part of a broader push to streamline the company’s hardware efforts, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The move marks an about-face for the tech company, which announced a host of partners for Project Ara at its developer conference in May and said it would ship a developer edition of the product this autumn.

So, that’d be a “no”, then?

Here’s something curious:

While Google will not be releasing the phone itself, the company may work with partners to bring Project Ara’s technology to market, potentially through licensing agreements, one of the people with knowledge of the matter said.

According to a 2014 Wired article by Mat Honan, that sounds kind of like the plan all along:

Project Ara relies on lots of manufacturers in lots of different places to make its components in parallel without being able to test the things they’re making against other those things. […]

The only thing Google will make is the endoskeleton frame—the bones that you can snap all the other modules on to.

My guess is that Google never got Ara to work properly and that nobody is going to buy the rights to make the skeleton or the software. Why would they?

There’s a press-related angle to all of this, too, that I find particularly fascinating. Google’s PR strategy frequently seems to involve inviting journalists to preview their research experiments. But instead of framing them as pie-in-the-sky ideas, some journalists cover them like working, fully-functional products that you will soon be able to buy. For example, here’s David Pierce covering Project Ara for Wired:1

There’s lots more to do, on design and software and branding and ecosystem-building. And, of course, they have to find out if anyone actually wants to buy this thing. But they’ve already done something special. Toward the end of our conversation, I look over and see Camargo just idly fiddling with his Ara. Not testing, not debugging, fiddling. It’s just his phone now.

Joshua Topolsky previewing Google Glass for the Verge in 2013:

What was a total oddity a year ago, and little more than an experiment just 18 months ago is now starting to look like a real product. One that could be in the hands (or on the heads, rather) of consumers by the end of this year.

Both of these projects covered so effusively are now, effectively, dead. But what’s most striking about these two articles — and many others like them, often on the same websites — is how positively both were covered despite their clear flaws. I get that this stuff is exciting, but journalists should be approaching these experiments with the same sort of skepticism that they usually reserve for actual products from Microsoft and Apple. I don’t see this as siege mentality, but more of a question of why Google’s prototypes are seen in such a positive light when their track record on similar projects is so flawed.


  1. The articles title is particularly rich: “Project Ara Lives: Google’s Modular Phone Is Ready for You Now”. Oh? ↩︎

Analysis of Last.fm’s 2012 Hack

LeakedSource has analyzed a large breach of Last.fm that occurred in 2012, compromising over 43.5 million accounts, and the results are astonishing:

Passwords were stored using unsalted MD5 hashing. This algorithm is so insecure it took us two hours to crack and convert over 96% of them to visible passwords, a sizeable increase from prior mega breaches made possible because we have significantly invested in our password cracking capabilities for the benefit of our users.

While an unsalted MD5 hash is clearly inadequate security for pretty much anything, I think that this is more of a confirmation of how generally terrible our passwords are. Look at the top ten from this leak: “123456”, “password”, “lastfm”, “123456789”, “qwerty”, “abc123”, “abcdefg”, “12345”, “1234”, and “music”.

Managing Expectations for the Demise of the Headphone Jack

Ben Lovejoy speculates for 9to5Mac how Apple might be managing the PR side of not including the headphone jack in the iPhone 7:

Think of it this way. If Apple had managed to keep it secret until a short time before the launch, all the complaints would have been concentrated into a relatively short time leading up to the official announcement. That would have represented a lot of noise, and a fair amount of negative PR, just at a time when it would do most damage.

By leaking the fact way in advance, the same amount of complaining has been spread out over a much longer period. Effectively, what could have been an anguished cry has been diluted into low background grumbling over the course of almost a year.

By the time Tim Cook walks on stage to show us the iPhone, the fact that it has no headphone socket will be old news. The reports will be ‘as expected’ and ‘as we all knew’ … No anguished howls. No screams of protest.

This is a great — albeit highly speculative — article on some of the techniques Apple’s PR team may have used to manage expectations over the course of the past year. Remember: this rumour first appeared at the end of November, just a couple of months after the iPhone 6S was released.

Lovejoy says that he expects the iPhone 7 to ship with Lightning EarPods, but some alleged packaging1 was posted by AppleInsider today that showed AirPods included with the phone. My hunch is that twice as many SKUs will be available: the standard configuration will have Lightning EarPods and a Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor in the box, while a second variant will include AirPods and no adaptor, at a higher price point. The question, therefore, is how much higher?; my bet is on $100.


  1. Not that it’s going to be super exciting, but why hasn’t anyone posted a photo of the front of the box? ↩︎

Apple to Clean Up App Store Spam and Old Apps

Very good news from Apple:

To make it easier for customers to find great apps that fit their needs, we want to ensure that apps available on the App Store are functional and up-to-date. We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps, removing apps that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated.

Apple will be providing thirty-days’ notice to developers with apps that have lengthy titles meant to catch searches of popular apps, and apps that have irrelevant keywords. Apps that crash at launch will be removed immediately. This is terrific news.

However, Apple will still reserve the names of apps removed from the store. I think they should use this opportunity to eradicate apps from developers clearly squatting on popular names.

Google Rumoured to Be Dropping ‘Nexus’ Brand With New, More Proprietary Phones

Andrew Martonik, writing at Android Central:

This year’s Google-branded Android phones will not use the “Nexus” name, Android Central understands, indicating a hard break from the past six years of flagship devices for the company. The widely expected HTC-built handsets — referred to as “Nexus” phones in recent online leaks — will instead come to market under a different brand name, according to several people familiar with Google’s plans.

[…]

AC understands that this year’s Google phones will feature additional software and a tweaked interface atop “vanilla” Android. This will notably differentiate the new models in terms of software experience from previous years’ Nexus phones, which featured a relatively barebones Android experience — and this goes hand-in-hand with the decision to not use the “Nexus” name for the phones. And as we look back at the progression of Nexus phones, this was inevitable — Google has kept adding closed-source apps, services and features to the Nexus line, moving away from the initial idea of what “Nexus” really meant starting as early as the Nexus S 4G.

There’s Android, the open source operating system project that Google maintains. Then there’s Android, the Google-built operating system with a bunch of closed-source Google apps and features, and to use it, one must sign a licensing agreement with Google. The latter has been what we think of as “Android” for a long time, and its dominance is growing; I wonder how long the open source project will last.

Washio’s Legacy

Yesterday, Washio — the laundry-on-demand startup operating in major American cities — issued an abrupt announcement that it was shutting down.

Andray Domise wrote a tweetstorm worth reading on it, which I’ve dropped into a Storify with some related items:

To recap, wash.io drives up the price of laundry, pushes laundromats out of business, makes cleaning clothes difficult for poor people [… and] then crashes and burns anyway. Leaving bankrupt businesses behind, and entire neighbourhoods where you can’t even wash your damn clothes.

We don’t talk enough about the chasm left when an unprofitable on-demand startup shuts down after “disrupting” the local economy. For instance, it concerns me deeply that Uber lost $1.2 billion in the first half of this year — a rate of cash hemorrhaging that no traditional taxi company could sustain. It sounds silly to imagine a well-funded startup like Uber going bankrupt, but what if they did? It’s happened to other big, high-valued companies over the years.

Joe Sutter, Dead at 95

The 1960s was the decade that birthed every single one of my favourite aircraft: the Concorde, the SR-71, and — of course — the 747. After many years of travel, I finally got to experience a flight aboard a 747 last year, from Taipei to Vancouver. What an incomparable aircraft, and an amazing legacy left by Sutter.

Final Nestination

Dan Primack and Leena Rao, Fortune:

Nest’s entire platform team will become part of Google, which also resides under the Alphabet umbrella, in order to create a unified Internet of things platform. It will be led by longtime Google executive Hiroshi Lockheimer, who currently serves as senior vice president of Android and who recently assumed more responsibility for “living room” products. The combined group also will continue to work on Google Home, a smart speaker rival to the Amazon Echo, while simultaneously fending off Amazon challenges elsewhere in the smart home.

Nest and Google are likely to pitch this as an obvious synergy, but it also plays into ongoing efforts to pare costs at smaller Alphabet units other than Google. By moving Nest software developers over to Google payroll, Nest’s financial situation would improve dramatically (so long as new Nest-branded products continue to be developed).

The rumour so far is that this is basically a backend restructuring. Instead of Nest being a separate entity under the Alphabet holding company, it will become a part of Google (again), which is vastly more profitable and will therefore be able to absorb the impact of fluctuating Nest performance.

Don’t be fooled, though: I’m certain that the end-game for this is to have a single brand for Google’s internet-of-things efforts. Whether that will be Google Home or Nest, I’m not sure, but there’s no reason for them to have both.

Couple of additional questions: first, if Lockheimer is becoming the leader of Google’s “living room” initiatives, what’s Rick Osterloh doing in that department now?

Second, with this restructuring to cushion some of Nest’s performance issues and the rumoured troubles at other Alphabet initiatives like Google X and Google Fiber, doesn’t that rather undermine the whole point of the Alphabet restructuring?

68 Million Dropbox Users’ Account Details Were Stolen in 2012

On Thursday night, I was among many longtime Dropbox users who received an email stating that passwords that hadn’t been changed since mid-2012 would be reset. When I asked around, I was told that this was just precautionary, as it said in the email.

While there were account details that were obtained and released in 2012, Dropbox said that these were logins reused from other sites breached at the same time.

Today, Joseph Cox of Vice explains that the breach was much worse than previously reported:

Motherboard obtained a selection of files containing email addresses and hashed passwords for the Dropbox users through sources in the database trading community. In all, the four files total in at around 5GB, and contain details on 68,680,741 accounts. The data is legitimate, according to a senior Dropbox employee who was not authorized to speak on the record.

This is pretty awful, and Dropbox didn’t help matters by being less than forthcoming. However, it was very effective for them to reset passwords on affected accounts — the database isn’t being sold on dark markets because it’s effectively worthless now — and the passwords were hashed with a very secure method.

Thanks to Allen Tan.

Update: Samuel Gibbs, the Guardian:

The original breach appears to be the result of the reuse of a password a Dropbox employee had previously used on LinkedIn, the professional social network that suffered a breach that revealed the password and allowed the hackers to enter Dropbox’s corporate network. From there they gained access to the user database with passwords that were encrypted and “salted” – the latter a practice of adding a random string of characters during encryption to make it even harder to decrypt.

Spectacular.

An Interview With a Former Facebook Trending Stories Curator

DigiDay’s Tanya Dua interviewed an anonymous former curator for Facebook’s now-automated Trending Stories feature. It’s a good interview that touches on the Gizmodo story from May that claimed a liberal bias from editors, but I thought this answer to a question about editorial integrity was most enlightening:

You would essentially have to have them be a completely independent team, where they had full control over the editorial process and didn’t have to answer to anybody at Facebook. It would have to function like a newsroom. Had that gap existed between editorial and the rest of the company, it would have been a more legitimate product. We never felt the support of Facebook behind the product. It was just a little tab, you couldn’t go anywhere, like facebook.com/trending, where you could read all these topics in a feed.

Facebook’s encroachment into the news reading habits of many of its users is concerning if they lack a separation of their editorial and business components, especially if their news features are supposed to be part of the business side of the company.

John Herrman, writes for the New York Times Magazine:

The Facebook product, to users in 2016, is familiar yet subtly expansive. Its algorithms have their pick of text, photos and video produced and posted by established media organizations large and small, local and national, openly partisan or nominally unbiased. But there’s also a new and distinctive sort of operation that has become hard to miss: political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed. These are news sources that essentially do not exist outside of Facebook, and you’ve probably never heard of them. They have names like Occupy Democrats; The Angry Patriot; US Chronicle; Addicting Info; RightAlerts; Being Liberal; Opposing Views; Fed-Up Americans; American News; and hundreds more. Some of these pages have millions of followers; many have hundreds of thousands.

Using a tool called CrowdTangle, which tracks engagement for Facebook pages across the network, you can see which pages are most shared, liked and commented on, and which pages dominate the conversation around election topics. Using this data, I was able to speak to a wide array of the activists and entrepreneurs, advocates and opportunists, reporters and hobbyists who together make up 2016’s most disruptive, and least understood, force in media.

The Trending Stories feature is, ostensibly, distinct from the News Feed feature. But both are now algorithmically driven, and something that trends on Facebook’s News Feed will likely make it to the Trending Stories feature. If there is little editorial oversight, these features become less meaningful, less helpful, and more inflammatory.

A free press is vital in a democracy, yes, but that is with the assumption that the press publishes valid, true, and well-explained articles on subjects of importance. Facebook seems to think that editorial policy is either unimportant, or a job that can be done by a robot. I very much doubt that.

E.U. Tightens Net Neutrality Guidelines

Amar Toor, the Verge:

The net neutrality rules adopted by the European Parliament last year aimed to strengthen net neutrality by requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all web traffic equally, without favoring some services over others. But the regulations contained several loopholes that raised concerns among net neutrality advocates, including a provision that would have allowed ISPs to create “fast lanes” for “specialized services,” and another that would have allowed for zero-rating, under which certain services and apps would be exempt from counting against monthly data limits. A “traffic management” provision would have allowed telecoms to prioritize internet traffic from some services over others.

Certain kinds of internet connection, such as remote surgery, are allowed to be prioritized, but most traffic must be treated identically — or, at least, comparably to similar kinds of traffic. Any restrictions that an ISP might place on, for instance, one video streaming service must apply equally to traffic from other video streaming services. This legislation makes complete sense to me; I hope it’s successful for consumers across Europe, so that similar legislation may be adopted elsewhere.

Apple Ordered to Pay €13 Billion in Back Taxes

From the E.U. Commission’s press release:

Following an in-depth state aid investigation launched in June 2014, the European Commission has concluded that two tax rulings issued by Ireland to Apple have substantially and artificially lowered the tax paid by Apple in Ireland since 1991. The rulings endorsed a way to establish the taxable profits for two Irish incorporated companies of the Apple group (Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe), which did not correspond to economic reality: almost all sales profits recorded by the two companies were internally attributed to a “head office”. The Commission’s assessment showed that these “head offices” existed only on paper and could not have generated such profits. These profits allocated to the “head offices” were not subject to tax in any country under specific provisions of the Irish tax law, which are no longer in force. As a result of the allocation method endorsed in the tax rulings, Apple only paid an effective corporate tax rate that declined from 1% in 2003 to 0.005% in 2014 on the profits of Apple Sales International.

E.U. Commissioner Margarethe Vestager:

Our decision concludes that splitting the profits did not have any factual or economic justification. As mentioned, the “head office” had no employees, no premises and no real activities. Only the Irish branch of Apple Sales International had any resources and facilities to sell Apple products.

But under the tax rulings it was the “head office” that was attributed almost all of the company’s profits – in fact, due to Apple’s set-up, it was attributed almost all of the profits Apple made from selling products throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India.

David Gilbert, writing for Vice, elaborates:

However, Vestager added that while the headline figure of €13 billion was the maximum the Irish government could to reclaim, other countries in Europe which felt as if they had lost out on taxes due to all profits being funnelled through Ireland, could now seek to recoup those lost taxes.

[…]

Both Apple and the Irish government have come out to strongly oppose the ruling and said they will be appealing the decision. The Irish government said it “disagrees profoundly with the Commission’s analysis. Ireland did not give favourable tax treatment to Apple.”

In a letter published on Apple’s website, Tim Cook expressed the company’s disagreement with the ruling:

Over the years, we received guidance from Irish tax authorities on how to comply correctly with Irish tax law — the same kind of guidance available to any company doing business there. In Ireland and in every country where we operate, Apple follows the law and we pay all the taxes we owe.

This is a little disingenuous — nobody is disputing that Apple paid all the taxes they owe, but rather that the amount that they owe is disproportionately lower than it ought to be for a company of their size and income.

Apple is far from the only major company using crafty accounting techniques to shuffle money around the world to avoid tax on it. Before Ireland adjusted their tax code in 2015 to remove the so-called “Double Irish” scheme, Google, Facebook, and many other large companies made use of the country’s policies to dramatically reduce the tax they paid outside of the United States. Earlier this year, Google was accused of using a similar scheme to Apple’s in the U.K., which they ended up settling for far less than the expected amount.

For some context, the €13 billion that the E.U. has settled on for Apple’s back taxes is about twice their profits from their most recent quarter, but only a fraction of the over-$200 billion they hold in cash overseas.

Refreshed Macs Rumoured to Launch Later This Year

Mark Gurman and Jungah Lee, Bloomberg:

Upcoming software upgrades for the iPad include wider operating-system support for Apple’s stylus accessory, while hardware performance improvements are also in development, according to the people. The refreshed Mac hardware line includes new versions of the iMac desktop, MacBook Air laptop, and a 5K standalone monitor in collaboration with LG Electronics Inc., in addition to a thinner MacBook Pro laptop.

The company hopes to ship the updated iPad software next year, while the Macs are expected as soon as late 2016, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced products. Apple has not updated any Macs, besides the 12-inch MacBook, since last year.

That “late 2016” part is such a tease. I doubt that we’ll see Macs at next week’s media event, and I’d bet against a dedicated October event for new Macs. My money is on small-scale one-on-one press briefings.

Federico Viticci also heard in June that more iPad features were coming in a later iOS 10 update. No word on any major Springboard or multitasking changes, however.

Facebook’s Trending Stories Versus Clickbait

Joseph Lichterman, Nieman Lab:

Facebook — and its algorithm — are extremely powerful and exert huge amounts of control over what type of news coverage a significant number of its users see. So what does it mean when it’s promoting blatantly false news and clickbait aggregation? How can legitimate news outlets operate in this environment when they are becoming increasingly reliant on Facebook? Do users even care that they’re being fed stories from sites of ill repute?

It was just a few weeks ago that Facebook tweaked their News Feed algorithm to reduce clickbait; just a few weeks prior to that, they also made an adjustment to show more stories from friends and fewer from publishers. Now, there’s fake news and clickbait appearing algorithmically in Trending Stories. Despite the two features sitting side-by-side, it almost feels like they’re not even built by the same company.

Facebook Trending Stories Are Now Guided Programmatically, Obviously

Robinson Meyer of the Atlantic:

Facebook’s decision to simplify [Trending Stories] seemed like an attempt to wriggle out of editorial responsibility: What had been a messy human-led process would now become an algorithm-guided one. The company also laid off the 26 employees who had run the feature — 19 curators and seven copyeditors — with little warning on Friday, according to Quartz.

[…]

From Sunday evening to early Monday morning, Facebook allowed the topic “Megyn Kelly” to trend. Driving the trend was an article claiming that Kelly had been fired by Fox News for supporting Hillary Clinton. The story, hosted by endingthefed.com, was completely inaccurate: Kelly has not endorsed Clinton, and she has not been fired by Fox. Yet with the assistance of Facebook’s algorithmic editors, it garnered 200,000 likes.

Golly. Who could have predicted that?

Spotify Is Allegedly ‘Burying’ Musicians That Also Have Exclusives on Competing Platforms

Lucas Shaw and Adam Satariano, Bloomberg:

Spotify has been retaliating against musicians who introduce new material exclusively on rival Apple Music by making their songs harder to find, according to people familiar with the strategy. Artists who have given Apple exclusive access to new music have been told they won’t be able to get their tracks on featured playlists once the songs become available on Spotify, said the people, who declined to be identified discussing the steps. Those artists have also found their songs buried in the search rankings of Spotify, the world’s largest music-streaming service, the people said. Spotify said it doesn’t alter search rankings.

Spotify has been using such practices for about a year, one of the people said, though others said the efforts have escalated over the past few months. Artists who have given exclusives to Tidal, the streaming service run by Jay Z, have also been retaliated against, the person said, declining to identify specific musicians.

For what it’s worth, Spotify is denying Bloomberg’s report.

Twitter Rumoured to Be Working on Keyword Filtering to Combat Harassment

Sarah Frier, Bloomberg:

Twitter Inc. is working on a keyword-based tool that will let people filter the posts they see, giving users a more effective way to block out harassing and offensive tweets, according to people familiar with the matter.

The San Francisco-based company has been discussing how to implement the tool for about a year as it seeks to stem abuse on the site, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the initiative isn’t public. By using keywords, users could block swear words or racial slurs, for example, to screen out offenders.

For comparison, it took Twitter less than two weeks to identify a GIF from the Olympics posted by a sports journalist, and it took under three minutes for it to escalate from a removal demand to a permanent suspension, which was later reversed.

Twitter has known about harassment on its platform for years. It has only recently taken steps to combat it with the smallest of steps.

Keystroke Recognition via WiFi

Kamran Ali, et al.:

In this paper, we propose a WiFi signal based keystroke recognition system called WiKey. WiKey consists of two Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) WiFi devices, a sender (such as a router) and a receiver (such as a laptop). The sender continuously emits signals and the receiver continuously receives signals. When a human subject types on a keyboard, WiKey recognizes the typed keys based on how the CSI values at the WiFi signal receiver end. We implemented the WiKey system using a TP-Link TL-WR1043ND WiFi router and a Lenovo X200 laptop. WiKey achieves more than 97.5% detection rate for detecting the keystroke and 96.4% recognition accuracy for classifying single keys. In real-world experiments, WiKey can recognize keystrokes in a continuously typed sentence with an accuracy of 93.5%.

From the paper (PDF):

In this paper, we have shown that fine grained activity recognition is possible by using COTS WiFi devices. Thus, the techniques proposed in this paper can be used for several HCI applications. Examples include zoom-in, zoom-out, scrolling, sliding, and rotating gestures for operating personal computers, gesture recognition for gaming consoles, in-home gesture recognition for operating various household devices, and applications such as writing and drawing in the air.

The paper does say that the initial research was done in a very controlled environment; the amount of noise created by someone walking between the WiFi sender and receiver, for example, could cause a drop in accuracy and reliability. Utterly fascinating, nevertheless.

Dropbox Is Resetting Passwords That Haven’t Been Changed Since Mid-2012

I received an email from Dropbox this evening; you likely did as well:

We’re reaching out to let you know that if you haven’t updated your Dropbox password since mid-2012, you’ll be prompted to update it the next time you sign in. This is purely a preventative measure, and we’re sorry for the inconvenience.

If that sounds strangely suspicious to you, you’re not alone. But I asked around and it seems that it really is just preventative, though it is related to other mid-2012 security breaches that you may have heard of.

Matthew Lynley, TechCrunch:

Dropbox’s intelligence team identified the existence of a file that contained hashed and salted passwords, according to a person familiar with the matter. That file pertains to passwords that were likely obtained in connection to the LinkedIn hack. While the information appears to have been taken from then and quietly held for some time, it is now surfacing, this person said. Dropbox earlier disclosed that usernames and passwords that were obtained in 2012 were used to access some accounts.

While you’re at it, you might as well turn on two-factor authentication too.

Shorting Lives

Christina Warren, now writing at Gizmodo:

After finding serious security vulnerabilities in St. Jude Medical’s pacemakers and defibrillators, cybersecurity and research company MedSec decided to take that information to a short-seller (Carson Block of the investment firm Muddy Waters) which then bet against the company in the stock market. This was instead of disclosing the vulnerability, in theory something that could endanger lives, to the manufacturer St. Jude.

Sometimes I wish I had a podcast or a television show instead of words on a page, so I could play a supercut of people saying “that’s fucked up” right now.

MedSec CEO Justine Bone:

In order to help address patient safety, we have chosen to depart from standard cyber security operating procedures in order to bring this to the public’s attention and to ensure that St Jude Medical responds appropriately and with urgency. We have shared our research with an investment firm, Muddy Waters Capital, that is helping us deliver this message.

What a load of horse shit. While MedSec is right that electronic medical devices need vastly better security, there are loads of legitimate paths that they could have taken to ensure that St. Jude was required to fix their devices. As MedSec is only now going to the FDA, their decision to put profits over responsible disclosure is scarcely better than selling the vulnerability to the highest bidder.

The Trident Exploit

There’s is one hell of a scary set of exploits that are capable of targeting deep capabilities within iOS devices. Before you read any further, be sure to update to iOS 9.3.5 if you haven’t already.

Bill Marczak and John Scott-Railton of the Citizen Lab:

Ahmed Mansoor is an internationally recognized human rights defender, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and recipient of the Martin Ennals Award (sometimes referred to as a “Nobel Prize for human rights”). On August 10 and 11, 2016, Mansoor received SMS text messages on his iPhone promising “new secrets” about detainees tortured in UAE jails if he clicked on an included link. Instead of clicking, Mansoor sent the messages to Citizen Lab researchers. We recognized the links as belonging to an exploit infrastructure connected to NSO Group, an Israel-based “cyber war” company that sells Pegasus, a government-exclusive “lawful intercept” spyware product. NSO Group is reportedly owned by an American venture capital firm, Francisco Partners Management.

The ensuing investigation, a collaboration between researchers from Citizen Lab and from Lookout Security, determined that the links led to a chain of zero-day exploits (“zero-days”) that would have remotely jailbroken Mansoor’s stock iPhone 6 and installed sophisticated spyware. We are calling this exploit chain Trident. Once infected, Mansoor’s phone would have become a digital spy in his pocket, capable of employing his iPhone’s camera and microphone to snoop on activity in the vicinity of the device, recording his WhatsApp and Viber calls, logging messages sent in mobile chat apps, and tracking his movements.

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai of Vice interviewed the researchers who disclosed this series of vulnerabilities:

“We realized that we were looking at something that no one had ever seen in the wild before. Literally a click on a link to jailbreak an iPhone in one step,” [Lookout VP Mike Murray] told Motherboard. “One of the most sophisticated pieces of cyberespionage software we’ve ever seen.”

The people targeted by this spyware are largely activists and journalists for civil rights in Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, as well as users in Kenya. The spyware users are suspected to be government officials or intelligence agencies.

According to leaked NSO slides, this exploit is able to steal information from text messages, documents, photos, and lots more. As iOS 9 encrypts individual files and the system as a whole, I’d be interested to know how it’s able to access this data in a (presumably) usable-by-others manner. The researchers say it’s able to get FaceTime calls; what about iMessages?

Once the dust settles on this, I hope a report is published with the full scope of Trident’s abilities and the precise ways in which it exploits the JavaScriptCore engine.

Spotify Renegotiating Licensing Contracts

Hannah Karp, Wall Street Journal:

Spotify is now operating on short-term extensions of its old contracts with all three major record companies, having been on a month-to-month basis with at least one of the labels for nearly a year. It is negotiating new deals that would make its finances more attractive to investors.

Spotify, which saw its net loss increase to roughly $200 million last year even as revenue doubled to more than $2 billion, wants to pay a smaller share than the nearly 55% of its revenue that it currently pays to record labels and artists, according to people familiar with the matter.

Anyone blaming exclusives for the current state of the streaming industry has it all backwards. The current state of the music streaming industry is what has beget exclusives on better-paying platforms.

Exclusives

Former Apple Music “samurai” — according to his LinkedIn profile — Sean Glass:

Contrary to what you read, there’s no scary Apple board room conspiracy where corporate is plotting to take over creativity via artist exclusives. There’s one guy who is behind ALL of these campaigns — and he is light years ahead of everyone else. He works intimately with each artist as a creative peer, and develops an amazing plan, this is no simple land grab. He works closer with the artists than labels do.

He’s building a club, or a “community” as we like to say. Everyone is invited, at a very low cost. If you’re in, you are not complaining about exclusives. Those complaining about exclusives are not participating which means refusing to pay $10 a month for music, so why are we letting them get airtime?

When Apple says that they care about music, it’s not an empty platitude or a throwback to the iPod. They mean it, despite occasional frustrations that seem to suggest the contrary.

Google Search Will Penalize Mobile Sites With Interstitial Ads

Jack Marshall, Wall Street Journal:

In a post published Tuesday on the Google Webmasters blog, Google product manager Doantam Phan wrote, “Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

As a result, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from mobile search results may not rank as highly in Google’s search results after Jan. 10, 2017, the post said. This could result in less traffic to those pages and sites.

Examples of interstitials that make content less accessible include pop-ups that “cover the main content [of a page], either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page,” Mr. Phan wrote.

Marshall and Phan are right — interstitial covers can be really irritating on mobile browsers. But why stop there? They provide a crappy desktop experience as well. Why not apply the same algorithmic demotion to all sites that practice this user-unfriendly technique?

Coincidentally, I added api.bounceexchange.com to my JavaScript Blacklist today. Bounce Exchange is a company that specializes in this sort of thing, and it drives me crazy.

The Best Photo Editing App for Your iPhone

Remember how, three years ago, I recommend that everyone go out and download VSCO because it was the best photo editing app you could get for your iPhone? And then remember how VSCO went and messed it up with a really confusing new UI?

Well, I wrote an updated version of that article for the Sweet Setup. No spoilers; you should go read it and learn what apps I recommend you use with that new dual-camera iPhone you’ll be getting in a month’s time.

Pinstapaper

From the Instapaper blog:

Today, we’re excited to announce that Instapaper is joining Pinterest. In the three years since betaworks acquired Instapaper from Marco Arment, we’ve completely rewritten our backend, overhauled our mobile and web clients, improved parsing and search, and introduced tons of great features like highlights, text-to-speech, and speed reading to the product.

Marco Arment in 2013, in the post announcing that he had sold Instapaper to Betaworks:

Instapaper is much bigger today than I could have predicted in 2008, and it has simply grown far beyond what one person can do. To really shine, it needs a full-time staff of at least a few people. But I wouldn’t be very good at hiring and leading a staff, and after more than five years, I’d like an opportunity to try other apps and creative projects. Instapaper needs a new home where it can be staffed and grown, but I didn’t want to give it to a big company that would probably just shut it down in six months.

Brian Donahue of Betaworks:

Instapaper will continue to operate as a separate app and they will not be pushing some separate agenda that alters the app or user-experience.

Maciej Cegłowski:

The “we sold to Pinterest but nothing is changing” email is Instapaper’s equivalent of reassuring grandma about her move to a nursing home.

I’m worried about this. I’m a long-time Instapaper user and customer, and its features — particularly highlights and notes — are essential to my reading and research habits. But what happens six months from now? Will Pinterest really keep the app the same as it’s always been, given a reasonable level of overlap between the two services? That uncertainty leaves me feeling uneasy.

Apple Mart

You’ve probably heard by now that the Apple Store is no longer the “Apple Store” — they’re dropping the “Store” part.

John Gruber chimes in:1

Think about the brands that are Apple’s peers in retail. No one goes to the Tiffany Store or Gucci Store, they just go to Tiffany or Gucci. It’s not even just a premium thing — you say Target and Walmart, not Target Store and Walmart Store.

Daniel Jalkut disagrees somewhat:

Apple is a company whose products, hardware and software, have historically been sold separately from its own retail presence. Going to “Apple” will never make sense the way it does to go to “Target” or even to “Tiffany’s.” Where “Store” has been dropped, it’s essential that some other qualifier takes it place. Going to “Apple Union Square” makes sense. Asking a hotel concierge whether there is “an Apple nearby” makes as much sense as asking where the nearest “Ford” or “Honda” is.

Jalkut is right, but that’s because he includes the definite article “the”. Apple’s retail line may officially be referred to as “Apple Chinook Centre”, for instance — instead of “Apple Store, Chinook Centre” — but most people are still going to ask where the nearest “Apple store” is, lowercase intended. They’re also going to continue to say that they’re “going to Apple on Fifth Avenue”, which doesn’t need the “store” qualifier because it doesn’t have the definite article.

He’s also right that nobody asks for the nearest “Honda”; they’re more likely to ask for the nearest “Honda dealership”. But, at least where I live, no Honda dealerships actually have the words “dealer” or “dealership” in their names. People may ask for the nearest “Honda dealership”, or they may refer to the one where they bought their S2000 at as “Honda West” or “T&T Honda”.

Update: Some of these examples sound a little weird — even “Apple Chinook Centre” comes across as contrived. “Apple The Grove” doesn’t sound right at all. Perhaps “Apple at location” would sound better in nearly all circumstances. But, then again, Apple has always been funny about their phrasing — note, for example, their persistence in dropping the definite article when referring to any of their products: it’s always “iPhone”, never “the iPhone”.

Update: John Buck, via email, pointed out something that I hadn’t considered: “store” branding is good for most of the products Apple sells today, but would you ever buy a car from a “store”?


  1. Incidentally, Gruber’s reference to Gucci is undermined very slightly by Kanye West↩︎

Bandcamp Is the People’s Online Music Store

This link is kind of an extension to my response yesterday to a particularly poorly-considered post from Bob Lefsetz. One thing I didn’t expand upon then was this part of Lefsetz’s article:

Apple Music is a me-too product that works badly that’s locked behind a paywall and the music industry wants it to be the dominant platform so the fan is squeezed and indie acts are pushed down to the bottom where they belong.

I don’t dispute that Apple Music is, functionally, a “me-too product”, but that’s okay. Every streaming service is ten dollars per month for a broadly-identical library of tracks, and that’s fine. Where these services come into their own is with the unique focus of each: Tidal offers a pricier lossless tier, for CD-quality streaming; Spotify prioritizes shared discovery and radio; and Apple Music attempts to bring a human touch to today’s largely-automated world of music discovery. Tidal and Apple Music also, of course, divvy up exclusive releases.

But the idea that indie acts will be “pushed to the bottom” because Apple dares to charge a subscription fee is as ludicrous as anything in Lefsetz’s article. There are plenty of opportunities for indie bands to succeed within Apple Music — many of the tracks played during the first hour of Beats 1’s first broadcast, including the very first song, were by indie artists — and there are even more opportunities beyond the platform.

Ben Ratliff, New York Times:

Bandcamp, which started in 2008 and is run out of a number of small offices in San Francisco, Brooklyn and elsewhere, became profitable in 2012 and sells a record every five seconds. It grew 35 percent last year and has paid $169 million to artists, according to its website. Its chief executive, Ethan Diamond, mentioned in an interview that “plenty of artists” have made more than $100,000 each through it, and all of them get the same deal: The site keeps 15 percent of each sale. (By comparison, iTunes takes about 30 percent, and going that route also requires being on a label or working with an independent distributor, which takes another cut.)

I remember ripping copies of friends’ records that they bought at shows because I forgot to bring merch table money. Now, unsigned indie bands can distribute their music all over the world without going through a distributor. I’ve bought a bunch of albums through Bandcamp, and I anticipate buying many more in the months and years to come. Between it and Soundcloud, there are plenty of opportunities for independent and major musicians alike to get their music into the ears of fans everywhere.

Blonde Bombshell

The highly-anticipated followup to Frank Ocean’s 2012 “Channel Orange”, “Blonde”, was released yesterday. Like most records with a similar calibre of precedence, it debuted exclusively on a single platform — in this case, Apple Music and iTunes — as opposed to having a wide release across multiple outlets.

And, for some reason, it was this very decision that made longtime music industry commentator and grouch Bob Lefsetz think that fans are getting the shaft:

[The music industry has] come through the digital wars scathed, but it’s well-prepared for the future. Streaming has won and it’s been fan-friendly.

Until now.

[…]

But in music, you can find everything you want to hear, right at your fingertips.

Until now.

“Now”?

The gist of Lefsetz’s piece is that the exclusive-to-Apple Music release of “Blonde” is, somehow, the canary in the coal mine of the music industry. That its exclusivity is, somehow, a symptom of a music industry that doesn’t know how to build a fanbase and is, instead, spitting in the face of everyone from committed fans to casual listeners.

But, for some reason, Lefsetz is only angered now by the release of Frank Ocean’s record on Apple’s platforms.

Exclusive releases are nothing new. Back when people bought CDs, retailers clamoured to offer bonus tracks exclusive to their copies of the record. Taylor Swift’s “Fearless”, for instance, was released in twelve different versions, including four retailer-specific editions. Each had its own set of bonus tracks or videos, and many editions were country-specific. A Taylor Swift fan would find it difficult and expensive to acquire all the versions of her record.

While exclusive releases aren’t a new concept in the slightest, I’ve mentioned them a fair bit this year because of their increasing role in the rollout strategy for new music on streaming services. My stance has long been — and remains — that exclusives can be frustrating for many fans and likely do not decrease piracy of a new record, but they’re an important feather in a streaming service’s cap at little to no risk for artists — more on that in a bit.

Tidal’s numbers surged after Kanye West made his new record exclusive to the platform earlier this year, though the release also ranked highly on popular torrent trackers. It’s a gamble and a bit of a gimmick, but it can work fine for everyone involved.

However, the way that Lefsetz sees it, exclusives like this are nothing more than marketing:

[Most] people don’t give a crap about the new Frank Ocean album. We’ve got an industry that promotes marginal products that appeal to few and makes them unavailable to most people? That’s hysterical!

The biggest act in the business is Adele, and her music sounds like no one else’s. She can sing, the songs are well-constructed, and they appeal to almost everybody. This is the music industry that used to triumph, it’s one being left behind, as insiders pursue a pop game wherein the youth are everything and if you can’t get it on the radio they don’t care.

This is an utterly ridiculous argument. Ocean’s last record debuted in the number two slot in the United States and United Kingdom, and has been certified gold.

Meanwhile, the notion that Adele is being “left behind” is absurd. It was heavily marketed worldwide and became 2015’s highest seller after just three days. The only way she was being left behind was her decision not to release the record on any streaming services at all — it was, in effect, exclusive to a CD release. (And, yes, there was a Target edition, too.)

Funny how the press wasn’t interested in Major Lazer’s “Lean On,” which ended up being the biggest track of the year on Spotify.

“Lean On” was written about by Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Spin, and NME — to name just a few of the most popular music publications in the world. Many of those even put it on their year-end lists. I’ve no idea what argument Lefsetz is trying to make here, but it is — as he would put it — hysterical. (Exclamation point.)

But this isn’t about exclusives, per se. According to Lefsetz, this is something vastly more sinister:

Because there’s a conspiracy between Apple Music and the industry to change the game, to get everybody to pay for a subscription by putting hit content behind a paywall.

Setting aside the first part of that sentence, which I will return to later, so what?

From the perspective of a fan not willing to subscribe to a bunch of different platforms — that is, virtually everyone — exclusives can be a pain in the ass. But putting a much-anticipated new release behind a paywall is a very good thing because getting people to pay for music is also a very good thing.

Lefsetz:

We need a free tier. We need a place where casual fans can experience new music. We’re in the business of building lifelong fans, but how do you do this when you can’t hear the music first, when you’ve got to overpay to experience it, that’s a twentieth century model but we’re deep in the twenty first!

I think it’s funny that Lefsetz complains about paying for music being an old business model, as the free tiers of services that offer them — Spotify, Pandora, and so forth — are effectively a light re-imagination of radio. Spotify, for instance, only allows shuffle mode to non-paying members, and they insert ads and assorted other tracks into the stream. Pandora users on the free tier have a skip limit.

Update: Reader “Charles” has written me to say that the desktop version of Spotify does allow listeners in the free tier to select tracks on demand. The mobile version is shuffle-only. The rest of the limitations I described, including limited skips and plenty of ads, seem to apply to the desktop version equally.

Meanwhile, I don’t think Frank Ocean — or any other artist — is bothered by not offering their newest record to people who will consume it for free in a legal way. Their gamble is that they’ll get a decent agreement from Apple or Tidal for making their album exclusive to the respective platform.

Those who will ante up for the opportunity of listening before anyone else are probably fans, so that’s fine for the artist and for the platform operator. It’s likely that these kinds of exclusive contracts include a small slice of revenue from new subscribers who, within a specific timeframe, listen to the artist’s new release.

Listens from existing subscribers, meanwhile, are likely paid out at a typical rate. Meanwhile, the album will be uploaded and torrented by a wide range of people, from casual listeners to committed fans that don’t want to — or cannot — pay for a subscription.

What does an artist lose by not uploading the record to Spotify or Pandora? My guess: almost nothing. Both platforms pay notoriously poor royalty rates, and the free tier of both platforms mandates a lower quality experience through forced shuffling. Ocean is the kind of artist that cares deeply about all aspects of his record, including the track order. I bet he’d rather have someone not pay for his record and listen to it in the correct order than to receive a measly royalty rate from a non-paying user of a streaming service listening to the album in the wrong order.

Now, back to that “conspiracy” argument:

Apple should be investigated by the government for antitrust. How do you compete with the world’s richest company that’s got endless cash on hand? You can’t. It’d be like expecting hillbillies to get into Harvard if slots went to the highest bidder. The rich get richer and the rest of us… we’re left out, just like in America at large, which is why Bernie and Trump got traction, the usual suspects doing it for themselves have rigged the game in their favor, and now the music industry is trying to do this too.

I’m not sure why Lefsetz has chosen to associate a weeks-long exclusive release of an album he apparently doesn’t care much about to a populist political movement in the United States, or a classist argument, but it’s silly.

I’m not sure where the antitrust angle comes from, either. Not all new releases are exclusive to Apple Music. Some of this year’s highest-profile albums have been, while others have been exclusive to Tidal. Some lower-profile releases have been exclusive to one of those as well, including Neil Young’s newest. None that I can think of have been exclusive to Spotify because it’s not that friendly to artists.

If Spotify wants their own exclusives, perhaps they should pay artists better.

Is there a conspiracy here? Only insomuch as artists, labels, and Apple executives have vouched for the idea of listeners paying for music. This doesn’t prohibit users of the free tiers of Pandora or Spotify from ever hearing “Blonde” — it just means they have to wait a couple of weeks to do so, or they can buy the album on iTunes without subscribing to Apple Music. Simple.

Every Joke From ‘Airplane!’ Ranked

There are 178 jokes counted in this list, but Airplane! is only 87 minutes long, giving it an average of a joke every thirty seconds — and that’s including credits.

A solid ranking, but #154, #61, and #49 would be a hell of a lot higher if it were up to me.

The Final Vesper

Sad news from Brent Simmons, on behalf of himself, John Gruber and Dave Wiskus:

I loved working on Vesper. It was one of the great software-making experiences of my life. We’d get on a roll and it was wonderful.

And now it hurts to turn it off, but it’s time.

I have a lot of stuff collected in my copy of Vesper: ideas for artworks, photos of book covers I like, recipes, receipts, and lots more. It’s my go-to “anything” bucket app. All things must come to an end, and all, but it’s heartbreaking to see it happen to a great app like Vesper, especially since this serves as a de facto acknowledgement that a Mac version is never coming as well. Damn.

The final version is, appropriately enough for this crew, version 2.007.

Net Nanny, Anew

The Ringer’s Alyssa Bereznak compares Twitter’s “Quality Filter” to Net Nanny, the original web filter:

Net Nanny is not the only program of its kind (I see you, Christian Broadband), but it is an example of how internet filtering began, and how flawed it was (and is). In the world of Net Nanny, visiting the Victoria’s Secret website is deemed “provocative,” while a Google image search of “best lingerie” is permitted. Looking up another word for “abusive” on Thesaurus.com, as I am ashamed to admit I did for this article, is for some inexplicable reason considered “mature.” Gawker and BuzzFeed were out of the question, yet somehow a Redbook post on how to give a good blow job is OK.

Considering that Net Nanny has been featured in many a tech advice column, and is now overseen by company called ContentWatch, you’d think it would have addressed some of these oversights. But this is the downfall of any filter, whether it be for a social network or your entire web browser: The internet embraces and rejects new slang, celebrities, websites, and social networks at a breakneck pace. What once was offensive, now is not, and on and on.

Twitter’s rollout of the Quality Filter has been slow — I haven’t seen it appear in my account settings yet.

It’s not going to be perfect, and there’s a very real chance some abuse is going to get through, particularly when it’s targeted towards specific users. Like any spam filter, it’s also likely to catch some false positives. I hope Twitter is more adept at managing the Quality Filter than it has been at addressing harassment for the past ten years, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

Opaque Transparency

Jeff John Roberts, Fortune:

In case you’re unfamiliar, the activities of the [Campaign for Accountability], as it calls itself, consist of a smattering of do-gooder projects — LGBT rights, clean water and so on — and a permanent campaign called “The Google Transparency Project,” which claims to expose various villainies carried out by the search giant. Now, though, at least one company has claimed credit for funding it.

“Oracle is absolutely a contributor (one of many) to the Transparency Project. This is important information for the public to know. It is 100 percent public records and accurate,” said Ken Glueck, Senior Vice President of Oracle.

I have no idea what “100 percent public records” means in this context, but:

The deputy director of the CfA, Daniel Stevens, declined to name the group’s other donors, or to explain why it does not disclose its funders.

A lobbying group with “transparency” in the name of one of its missions — and “accountability” in its actual name — doesn’t reveal its donors unless a journalist gets a hot tip, or if its hand is forced by ongoing litigation. You can’t make this shit up.

NSA Hacking Tools Leaked

Sam Biddle, writing for the Intercept:

On Monday, a hacking group calling itself the “ShadowBrokers” announced an auction for what it claimed were “cyber weapons” made by the NSA. Based on never-before-published documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Intercept can confirm that the arsenal contains authentic NSA software, part of a powerful constellation of tools used to covertly infect computers worldwide.

The applications that have been leaked are from about 2013, which means that their attack vectors may already be outdated and ineffective. I can’t remember the last time that intelligence tools were leaked; it might have been as long ago as during the Cold War. Even if this leak isn’t ultimately damaging or dangerous, it’s still embarrassing for the premier American intelligence agency.

Taking CarPlay for a Spin

Khoi Vinh’s Kia received a software update that enabled CarPlay, so he tried it out. His verdict? Kind of lukewarm:

The most prominent example of CarPlay’s challenges may be that it looks terrible, though through no fault of its own. The display of most in-dash consoles is not of Retina quality, and as a result, the CarPlay apps and UI elements look jagged and poorly rendered. That’s compounded by the fact that, even though you can tap and swipe on the screen, the performance is sluggish and occasionally choppy.

Remember the Motorola Rokr — Apple’s first (collaborative) attempt at a cellphone? Here’s what Sascha Segan said in his review for PC Magazine:

The ROKR’s treatment of iTunes, however, isn’t up to iPod standards in several ways. The worst thing is the rude awakening you’ll get if you try to connect your ROKR at both home and work: The ROKR pairs with only one computer. When we plugged the phone into a second computer, it erased all the onboard music! In addition, the phone’s memory card stores only 100 songs. Yes, we know you could probably fit 120 songs into 512MB, but there’s a software-imposed cap of 100 songs: When we tried to add a 101st track, we got an error message.

Kent German also reviewed the Rokr, for CNet:

The first thing an experienced iPod user will notice about the Rokr E1’s iTunes player is noticeably slow performance. There are obvious navigation delays — occasionally up to two seconds, particularly when skipping through songs or changing screens.

Sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Facebook’s Struggle to Build a More Diverse Workforce

Deepa Seetharaman and Georgia Wells report for the Wall Street Journal on a points-based incentive program for hiring managers at Facebook:

At Facebook, like at other tech companies, recruiters bring in candidates, but it is up to hiring managers to make job offers. Therefore, attracting more candidates doesn’t necessarily result in a more diverse workforce.

[…]

Facebook recruiters often mined LinkedIn profiles for details that could serve as a proxy for race or gender: attending a historically black college, membership in an organization for Hispanic engineers, or a profile picture. Some compiled lists of the 100 most-common Hispanic names in the U.S. to plug into search strings, according to people familiar with the matter.

I’ve no doubt that recruiters will find some exceptional candidates this way, but this strikes me as a potentially short-sighted way to attempt to boost diversity figures for candidates, and doesn’t actually change the company’s culture to embrace a more diverse workforce. This is a patch covering up a much deeper issue of employees from entry-level engineers to higher management being conditioned to prefer — typically — white and male candidates.

Claire Cain Miller, reporting for the New York Times in February:

In the 1970s, symphony orchestras were still made up almost exclusively of white men — directors claimed they were the only ones qualified. Around that time, many began to use a new method of hiring musicians: blind auditions. Musicians auditioned behind screens so the judges couldn’t see what they looked like, and walked on carpeted floors so the judges couldn’t determine if they were women or men — the women often wore heels. The Boston Symphony Orchestra pioneered the practice in 1952, and more orchestras began using it after a high-profile racial discrimination case was brought by two black musicians against the New York Philharmonic in 1969. Researchers from Harvard and Princeton took notice and studied the results; they found that blind auditions increased the likelihood that a woman would be hired by between 25 and 46 percent. In fact, with blind auditions, women became slightly more likely to be hired than men. Confident that they would be treated fairly, female musicians started applying in greater numbers.

There’s no reason a similar blind hiring system would not be possible at tech companies, and I bet it would make for a substantially more diverse workforce. And, as a consequence, I’m certain that engineering and computer science programs across the United States would find themselves with a far greater representation of women and ethnic minorities.

A Pre-Post-Mortem for Gawker

Adrian Chen, writing for the New Yorker:

I worked at Gawker for four years, walking the tightrope. The immediacy of publishing encouraged me to be extremely sure of arguments and facts and to write things I truly believed, since I had nobody to fall back on but myself. And, in order to find an audience, I had to be entertaining and provocative. At the site’s best, these two often conflicting impulses encouraged writing with a spontaneity, humor, and self-assuredness that wasn’t like anything else on the Internet. At its worst, it led to gratuitous meanness and a bad lack of self-awareness. I know I’m talking in generalities, but looking back on one’s old writing is rarely a fruitful prospect, even when it was produced under the most considered circumstances. There are plenty of posts that I’m proud of, and others that make me cringe to think about. Regardless, I can’t imagine having had a better place to develop as a journalist than Gawker.

I empathize.

Gawked

Univision PR:

[Univision Communications Inc.] will acquire the digital media assets for $135 million, subject to certain adjustments, and these assets will be integrated into Fusion Media Group (FMG), the division of UCI that serves the young, diverse audiences that make up the rising American mainstream. The deal, which will be accounted for as an asset purchase, includes the following digital platforms, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Deadspin, Lifehacker and Kotaku. UCI will not be operating the Gawker.com site.

There’s a lot that Gawker did wrong over the years, but the way they were forced to shut down is scary. It’s suppressive, it’s arrogant, and it sets a nasty precedent for publications that cannot afford the legal costs of defending themselves against suits filed against them.

With that in mind, I bring you one of my favourite stories from the past month:

Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire-turned-Trump delegate who successfully bankrupted Gawker Media, has long been obsessed with anti-aging technologies. He believes people have been conned by “the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual,” and has funded startups dedicated to extending the human lifespan. According to Jeff Bercovici of Inc. magazine, Thiel is so afraid of dying that he has begun exploring a novel, and fairly unsettling, technique: Harvesting, and injecting himself with, the blood of younger people.

I’ve wanted desperately to link to this story ever since it was published, but I couldn’t think of a decent headline. So: here it is. In light of today’s rather bleak and depressing news, let’s all remember that Peter Thiel is still super messed-up.

NYT Now to Be Discontinued August 29

Disappointing, but not unexpected. Many of the best features of NYT Now have been incorporated into the “full” NYTimes app, while NYT Now has received barely any updates for the past year.

Twitter to Roll Out Quality Filter to All Users

Twitter’s Emil Leong:

Last year we began testing a quality filter setting and we’re now rolling out a feature for everyone. When turned on, the filter can improve the quality of Tweets you see by using a variety of signals, such as account origin and behavior. Turning it on filters lower-quality content, like duplicate Tweets or content that appears to be automated, from your notifications and other parts of your Twitter experience. It does not filter content from people you follow or accounts you’ve recently interacted with – and depending on your preferences, you can turn it on or off in your notifications settings.

Since becoming verified and turning the quality filter on, Brianna Wu says that she hasn’t seen any threats in her notifications. This is a good move that comes agonizingly later than it should have.

Generated Maps of Fantasy Worlds

Betsy Mason, National Geographic:

As you travel northeast along the shore of southern Nimrathutkam, the first town you’ll encounter is Ak Tuh, followed by Nunrat and Nrik Mah before you reach the coastal city of Tuhuk, the largest urban area in the region of Mum Huttak.

If these sound like places out of a fantasy novel you read as a teenager, you’re not far off. Nimrathutkan is the result of an automated map generator that was inspired by those novels. The map bot, created by glaciologist Martin O’Leary of Swansea University in Wales, combines imaginary place names with fake terrain to produce fantasy worlds, tweeting a new one every hour from the Twitter account @unchartedatlas.

This is a tremendous accomplishment. My best NaNoGenMo achievement was building a story that would write itself in chapters based on works by or referencing William S. Burroughs. I love this kind of stuff.

Link via Kai Sunderland.

NPR to Drop Comments on Their Website

Elizabeth Jensen of NPR:

In July, NPR.org recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, [managing editor Scott] Montgomery said. That’s 0.06 percent of users who are commenting, a number that has stayed steady through 2016.

A tiny percentage of their audience that sways the discussion in an unproductive manner:

It’s not possible to tell who those commenters are; some users comment anonymously. But there are some clues that indicate those who comment are not wholly representative of the overall NPR audience: They overwhelmingly comment via the desktop (younger users tend to find NPR.org via mobile), and a Google estimate suggested that the commenters were 83 percent male, while overall NPR.org users were just 52 percent male, Montgomery said.

When viewed purely from the perspective of whether the comments were fostering constructive conversations, the change should come as no surprise. The number of complaints to NPR about the current comment system has been growing — complaints that comments were censored by the outside moderators, and that commenters were behaving inappropriately and harassing other commenters.

Imagine viewing the world through the lens of a website’s comments section — any website’s comments section. What a bleak and depressing experience that would be.

Verizon Has Offered to Force Apps Onto Users’ New Android Phones

Garett Sloane, Advertising Age (via Lessien):

The wireless carrier has offered to install big brands’ apps on its subscribers’ home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads, according to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients. But that reach would come at a cost: Verizon was seeking between $1 and $2 for each device affected, executives said.

Yet another solid argument for not letting carriers have any control over a mobile phone operating system.

Another downside to Verizon’s app offering is that it doesn’t offer any targeting, yet. So, a brand, for instance, couldn’t focus on buying pre-installed apps on phones of known customers, the executive said.

The implications of that “yet” are pretty gross, aren’t they?

Apple’s Presentation at Black Hat

You’ve read the book; now see the movie. Ivan Krstić’s presentation is as solid as any Apple WWDC presentation, and it’s packed with much more information than the company usually reveals about its security protocols.

Though this is a very easy watch, even for someone — like myself — with only a cursory understanding of security and software engineering, I’ve picked out a few key parts that are worth paying attention to:

  • Right off the top, there’s a rationale for why the kernel cache is no longer encrypted. In light of this news, which broke in mid-June, these slides were likely inserted after the presentation was considered complete.

  • At about 8:21, Krstić touches on the Secure Enclave’s multitude of protections. Some of this is known, but because it’s the root of the entire security system on iOS, it’s good to hear it reiterated.

  • At 18:57, Krstić explains how the Update Later feature, introduced in iOS 9, is made secure.

  • My guess for why I was asked for my iPad passcode when setting up Sierra — as referenced in my post on these slides — appears to be correct (24:55).

  • At 26:37, Krstić launches into a long explanation of how Apple protects their own encryption secrets and cloud synchronization technologies. From my perspective, this is the most dense part of the whole presentation, but it’s also the most important: Apple proving their own security protocols to the security community — and the community verifying it by looking for holes in it; see also the bug bounty program introduction at 36:14 — is critical to maintaining the company’s position as the tech company that values user security and privacy.

  • There’s a pretty funny explanation of Apple’s “physical one-way hash function” at 34:08.

  • At 39:40, Krstić kicks off the Q&A period. All questions are worth watching, but the first one is particularly telling, as is the question at 49:37. As you might expect from Apple, there are a lot of non-answers within the Q&A, but that’s also because of the kinds of questions that were asked.

  • I was surprised by Krstić’s answer to the second audience question regarding seeing a list of devices granted user data syncing permissions for the purpose of revoking those credentials. Krstić said that there isn’t currently a way to do that, but the list of devices on the iCloud Settings page seems to serve that purpose. I’ve reached out to the company for an explanation and will update this post if I hear back.

WordPress Version 4.6

Among the long list of improvements and bug fixes, highlights include the addition of Unicode 9 emoji support, a big update to the long-kludgy updating mechanism, and the removal of Open Sans from the administrator dashboard. Huzzah.

The replacement fonts for Open Sans are the default system faces for all OSes: San Francisco on Macs and iOS devices, Segoe on Windows, and Roboto on Android.

However, omitted from these updates are any changes to the typefaces used in the TinyMCE editor. So I made a plugin. It’s ridiculously lightweight and simply ensures that everything you see on the dashboard is a variant of San Francisco. If you have SF Mono installed, you’ll see that in the editor.

I probably won’t update this plugin unless I see a glaring issue, but I’ve been running it for the past month or so and it’s been fine.

On a related note, I just updated my copy of WordPress. If you spot anything wonky, please let me know.

Intel to Produce 10nm ARM Processors

Ian King, Bloomberg:

Intel Corp., the world’s biggest semiconductor maker, said it’s licensing technology from rival ARM Holdings Plc, a move to win more customers for its business that manufactures chips for other companies.

The two chipmakers, whose designs and technology dominate in computing and mobile, unveiled the agreement Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. The accord will let Intel offer third-party semiconductor companies its most advanced 10-nanometer production lines for manufacturing the complex chips usually used in smartphones.

That’s some really big news that Apple is no doubt interested in, too. While they design their own SoCs, Apple doesn’t make them — they contract the manufacturing to companies like Samsung and, increasingly, TSMC. However, Apple has shown an interest in reducing their reliance upon Samsung, to the extent that the A10 is rumoured to be exclusively made by TSMC, and the company has repeatedly expressed a desire to bring more of their product manufacturing to the United States.1

Tim Cook at the D10 conference in 2012:

Will there be an Apple product ever made in the U.S.?

I want there to be. This isn’t well known, but the engine for the iPhone and the iPad are built in the U.S., not just for the U.S. but the world. The glass for your iPhone is made in a plant in Kentucky, not just for the U.S. but other markets outside the U.S. so I think there are things that can be done in the U.S., not just for the U.S., but exported for the world.

I’m not sure that the statement about making the A-series chip in the United States — or, as Cook called it, “the engine” — is still accurate, but making things in the U.S. is something Apple is proud to tout when they can. Apple and Intel also have a pretty good business relationship. I wouldn’t be surprised if it expanded to include the A-series as well.

Update: Paul McGrane says that Cook’s comment about building the A-series processors in the U.S. likely refers to Samsung’s Austin factory. Later that year, Samsung invested $4 billion in an expansion of that plant. Rumours are that TSMC is the exclusive manufacturer for both the A10 and A11.


  1. To my knowledge, TSMC has one manufacturing facility in the U.S., while most of Intel’s processors are made in America. ↩︎

Sportsball Is Rumoured to Be Coming to the Apple TV via Twitter

Mike Isaac, New York Times (there’s autoplaying video with audio because the Times apparently hates their readers):

When Twitter streams its first N.F.L. game on Sept. 15, it will get to assess whether its vigorous pursuit will pay off — and whether live streaming can viably be a linchpin of its future.

Since April, Twitter has signed a series of live-streaming deals, including with Wimbledon, CBS News, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Pac-12 Networks. Twitter is also in discussions with other organizations, including Major League Soccer and the Professional Golfers Association, for similar agreements, according to people briefed on the talks.

[…]

To bolster the effort, Twitter is in talks with Apple to bring the Twitter app to Apple TV, which would potentially let millions of Apple TV users watch the streaming N.F.L. games, according to the two people briefed on the discussions.

I didn’t get this rumour at first. Why would Apple and Twitter need to talk about doing an app? Can’t Twitter just build the app?

But then Abdel Ibrahim pointed out that there might be some kind of deal-sweetening exclusive arrangement at play here, which makes complete sense to me. It’s pretty widely known that Apple has been aching to build a full television experience into the Apple TV. If Apple can secure an exclusive app for Twitter’s live streaming deals, they might be able to bypass individual negotiations with each of the leagues and events at play here.

This also gives me an opportunity to remind you that “soccer is but one ball away from the ancient non-sport of fast running back and forth,” which remains one of the most succinct expressions of any sport I’ve ever heard. Then again, I like Formula 1, which is but twenty-odd engines away from the ancient non-sport of sitting in a chair and sweating profusely.

VBR MP3s and AVFoundation

Great post from Marco Arment on a bug within AVFoundation that prevents the widespread use of VBR MP3s, specifically for distributing podcasts:

AVFoundation, the low-level audio/video framework in iOS and macOS, does not accurately seek within VBR MP3s, making VBR impractical to use for long files such as podcasts. Jumping to a timestamp in an hour-long VBR podcast can result in an error of over a minute, without the listener even knowing because the displayed timecode shows the expected time.

A lot of my iTunes library is also encoded as VBR MP3s — I was a longtime user of the LAME V0 preset — I’ve seen some weird seeking bugs and other issues in longer tracks. With its ideal blend of quality and file size, VBR a beautiful solution to audio encoding; Apple should provide more robust support for it.

Breadth and Depth

What defines Tim Cook’s Apple?

The end of this month will mark five years into his tenure presiding over the company — the third longest-serving CEO in Apple’s history, behind John Sculley and, of course, Steve Jobs. There are a few things I think are generally agreeable about Cook’s style: a less rigid corporate image, a more noticeable social impact, and a (slightly) more approachable executive team. Back in the Jobs-and-Katie Cotton era, a magazine was lucky if it got an interview, and they were typically only proposed if there was a major new product to show — recall the famous Time and Newsweek iMac G4 and iPod covers, for instance.

Today’s Apple is more comfortable with providing more frequent conversations with the executive staff. Mashable has received several exclusives in the past couple of years and, this week, Fast Company and the Washington Post were both granted interviews with Tim Cook. Fast Company also spent time with Craig Federighi, Eddy Cue, and Bozoma Saint John.

Those interviews underscore one of the most defining characteristics of Cook’s Apple: innovation at scale. Rick Tetzeli:

Apple’s CEO is a deeply grounded man who has not been blinded by Jobs’s brilliant legacy. Jobs only came to appreciate the incremental nature of innovation during the second half of his life; you get the sense that Cook understood and loved process from birth. This focus on detail is often mentioned as a weakness. But, in the five years under Cook, Apple’s revenue has tripled, its workforce has doubled, and its global reach has expanded rapidly. That’s a remarkable record. Cook has shown a great capacity for getting improvements from every corner of the company, and for then deploying those gains across a wider canvas of software, hardware, and services than Jobs ever had at his disposal. He will never be as flashy as Jobs, but he may just be the perfect CEO for the behemoth Apple has become.

It’s hard to fathom the size of Apple’s operations today. In their fiscal 2011, they sold 72 million iPhones; they now sell that many in a single quarter. In the past six years, their “Services” business — which includes the iTunes and App Stores, Apple Pay, iCloud, and other online services — has grown nearly ten times, from a $636 million business in Q3 2010, to a $5.9 billion business in Q3 2016. Apple doesn’t reveal the number of active iCloud users, but I’d be willing to bet it’s dozens of times greater than the number of MobileMe users in its heyday.

But this rapid expansion has not come for free, as can be seen in a resurgence of the “Apple is doomed” cottage industry. In his Fast Company interview, Eddy Cue explained his perspective on the perceived decline in Apple’s quality:

When we were the Mac company, if we impacted 1% of our customers, it was measured in thousands. Now if we impact 1% of our customers, it’s measured in tens of millions. That’s a problem, right — things are going to be perceived differently. Our products are way better than they used to be, but there’s a higher bar, and I’m okay with that.

It doesn’t really matter whether there’s a real decline in Apple’s software quality, or if it’s mostly an exaggeration bolstered by a larger user base and increased media coverage. What is concerning is the sentiment I perceive in Cue’s explanation — that a bug affecting 1% of users is comparable in 2016 to one affecting 1% of users in, say, 2006 or 1996. But, as he says, there’s an enormous chasm in the actual number of users affected, and that’s what’s particularly concerning. If Apple is pushing out, to be generous, one-quarter of the number of these bugs as they were ten years ago, that means that they’re still affecting orders of magnitude more users.

These frustrations coincide with the rise of a related worry: with whisperings of an Apple vehicle, alongside an exploration into original media, there’s a growing sentiment that Apple’s focus is drifting.

These two narratives converge in a way that I think makes longtime Apple customers uncomfortable. For those who recall the Apple of the ’90s, there’s a lingering doubt that the company can juggle so many projects at once while maintaining a focus on quality. I’m not sure that’s right, but I’m also not sure it’s entirely inaccurate.

There are, of course, key differences between the Apple of the mid-’90s and the company of today. The grunge-era Apple didn’t just lack focus — it lacked an idea of what focus is, and what to strive for. The post-renaissance Apple is much more attuned to the purpose and vision for their products:

Over its 40 years of existence, Apple has been seen as a laggard in music, video, the Internet, telephony, wireless, content creation, networking, semiconductors, software applications, touch screens, gesture controls, materials, messaging, news aggregation, social media, voice recognition, and mapping. (That’s not even close to being an exhaustive list.) Nevertheless, the company has managed to survive by doing an unmatched job of integrating the most important of those technologies into products that eventually delight many customers. By the time Jobs died, Apple’s innovation process — the way it accomplishes that job of creating, acquiring, improving, and integrating technology — was polished and proven. It was arguably Jobs’s greatest gift to his successor.

Cook has maintained this, growing R&D spending while introducing products that are defining entire categories: the MacBook for the high-end ultraportable laptop market, and the Apple Watch for smartwatches. There are clear echoes of his predecessor in those products.

Yet the Apple Watch, in particular, felt a little rushed. I’ve been running watchOS 3 since the first beta and, without giving too much away, you should know that the speed and UI improvements are very real. Could Apple have released watchOS 3 as watchOS 1 or 2? Probably not. But could someone have foreseen that dedicating the side button to a single set of communication functions only available to Apple Watch owners was, at best, an overly-optimistic assessment of first-year Watch ownership? Probably, yes.1

This year also sees the redesign of two major efforts launched just last year: both News and Apple Music are receiving significant facelifts designed to alleviate confusion and make the apps more user-friendly. The Apple TV is also getting a dark mode this year, presumably because having a bright white UI on an object used in a darkened room can be quite glaring.

That’s not to say that Cook’s Apple is debuting more duds than Jobs’. Consider, for example, the number of times Apple attempted and failed to do online services before iCloud. iCloud isn’t perfect, of course, nor is it as reliable as we’d like, but it’s good enough that I entrust my contacts, calendars, keychain, and photo syncing to it. I think the ratio of hits to misses has remained constant, or perhaps even improved slightly. But the scale of today’s Apple is affecting that perception, and that’s not an excuse. Scale must be managed.

There’s an implicit unsaid followup to many of the questions about the debut of Maps and Apple Music, which goes something like this: In what specific ways are the lessons learned from the launch of these products impacted the development and preparations for the introduction of the next big thing, whatever that may be? In the vein of the attributes that define Tim Cook’s Apple, I’m confident that attention to detail at an unprecedented scale is something they’re getting better at, though not to a great enough extent that it feels fully managed yet.


  1. Perhaps the Digital Touch features coming in iOS 10’s Messages app were supposed to debut alongside the Watch, but were delayed. Just a guess. ↩︎

Google Plus Continues Its Slow March Towards the Sunset

Lucia Maffei, TechCrunch:

In an email to TechCrunch, Google confirmed the news that “a G+ profile is no longer needed to post a review.” Rumors that the change was happening were first reported by Android Police, which quoted several tips from its readers.

This is in addition to the unbundling of Google Plus from YouTube and their Photos product, and a complete overhaul of Google Plus to make it a shitty version of Pinterest that nobody uses.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next two-to-three years, Google shutters the Plus brand after parceling out any remaining components they feel remain worthwhile.

Maybe an OLED Strip Could Bring QuickType to the Mac

Lou Miranda has an intriguing idea for how the rumoured OLED strip on the new MacBook Pros could be utilized:

By having an OLED touch screen instead of function keys, Apple can bring the API that supports inputAccessoryView to the Mac (helping developers create apps that work identically on iOS and OS X).

While you’re in the Finder in OS X, the OLED touch bar will display things like volume & brightness & media playback controls. When you’re in Pages, it’ll display buttons for bold, italic, font, text size, etc. (and maybe a generic button to bring up media playback, too). When you’re in FCP X, the OLED touch bar will display options for editing video.

His ideas are similar to what I wrote yesterday, but I wasn’t considering it in the style of the QuickType bar that appears above the keyboard on iOS. But I’m still not convinced that I’ll like all of my keyboard functions changing with each application. Perhaps there’s a way to “lock” certain widgets.

Cat and Mouse

Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth, Tuesday:

We’ve designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads. As we offer people more powerful controls, we’ll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.

Ben Williams of Adblock Plus, Thursday:

Two days ago we broke it to you that Facebook had taken “the dark path,” and decided to start forcing ad-blocking users to see ads on its desktop site. We promised that the open source community would have a solution very soon, and, frankly, they’ve beaten even our own expectations. A new filter was added to the main EasyList about 15 minutes ago. You’ll just need to update your filter lists (see below for how).

Josh Constine reporting Thursday night for TechCrunch:

A source says Facebook is now rolling out the code update that will disable Adblock Plus’ workaround. It should reach all users soon.

Adblock Plus on Twitter earlier this morning:

UPDATE: @TechCrunch @joshconstine say that FB had a workaround, but there’s already a workaround to that workaround. Just update filters ;)

Back to that post from Constine:

And Facebook has already broken the new workaround from Adblock Plus, which vows to strike back soon.

Adblock Plus is apparently working on a patch to block ads again, and so it goes. I can’t wait to see which party decides that it’s simply not worth it to keep going on. Facebook is motivated by money; Adblock Plus, by principle.

Update: I forgot that Adblock Plus is also motivated by money:

We receive some donations from our users, but our main source of revenue comes as part of the Acceptable Ads initiative. Larger entities pay a licensing fee for the whitelisting services requested and provided to them (90% of the licences are granted for free, to smaller entities).

Thanks to Erik Michaels-Ober for reminding me.

Apple Rumoured to Be Working on a MacBook Pro Overhaul

Mark Gurman, now at Bloomberg, has the scoop on an upcoming MacBook Pro refresh. Among the much rumoured updates is, allegedly, the replacement of the function keys across the top of the keyboard with a touchscreen OLED strip:

Apple’s goal with the dedicated function display is to simplify keyboard shortcuts traditionally used by experienced users. The panel will theoretically display media playback controls when iTunes is open, while it could display editing commands like cut and paste during word processing tasks, the people said. The display also allows Apple to add new buttons via software updates rather than through more expensive, slower hardware refreshes.

These are probably the least-exciting uses for something like this. Imagine scrubbing along the whole timeline of a movie with just the tip of your finger, or manipulating specific brush characteristics in Photoshop. Maybe you could flip through iBooks by scrubbing along, or customize it for changing equipment in a video game. Just a few ideas.

Maybe this and the lack of a headphone jack in the new iPhone have a much simpler explanation: maybe Phil Schiller got sick of hacky media playback controls. The previous-play/pause-next function keys on a MacBook can get confusing when there’s more than one media playback app open. And, as for the remote on a pair of headphones, it’s a very clever hack that doesn’t work reliably — at least, it doesn’t for me.

I think a multipurpose, adaptable function strip would be infinitely more useful than a strip of function keys. Here’s what I mean: look at your keyboard from an oblique angle and notice all the places where the original plastic texture remains, and where it has been worn down. If your keyboard is anything like mine, it’s probably mostly shiny, but the strip of function keys at the top likely looks pretty similar to the day you bought it. Those keys have valuable purposes, of course, but they’re nowhere near as oft-used as the rest of the keyboard. Why fix them in plastic?

But, then again, would you want your keys to be changing whenever you switch applications? I anticipate this and many other questions will be answered whenever this product debuts:

The MacBook Pros aren’t likely to debut at an event currently scheduled for Sept. 7 to introduce next-generation versions of the iPhone, according to one of the people.

Dammit.

John Oliver Isn’t Responsible for Saving Journalism

You’ve probably seen Sunday’s Last Week Tonight piece on the current state of journalism and, well, Tronc.

Well, the Newspaper Association of America didn’t like it very much. CEO David Chavern responded in a blog post:1

Whatever you think of the name “tronc” and that company’s announced growth strategy, at least they are trying new things and trying to figure out how to create great news journalism in the digital era. John Oliver doesn’t seem to have any better ideas.

Joe Amditis of the Center for Cooperative Media replies:

Another reason it’s hard to take Chavern’s blog post seriously is the fact that Oliver isn’t making fun of Tronc because they decided to try something new. He’s making fun of them because they’re overlooking one of the most valuable journalistic assets, a genuine relationship with your audience, in favor of “content funnels” and “a story portfolio of storytelling.”

One of the more depressing losses on the business side of the news is the demise of the advertisement as a functional piece of art. Ads used to be beautiful because they had to be beautiful — if you’re a business paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a full colour back-page ad, you’re going to want to make it the most memorable and compelling visual it can be.

By devaluing the advertisement to online levels, both print and digital advertising has suffered. Instead of gorgeous visuals, we’re typically shown whatever can be put together efficiently and cheaply. Instead of compelling visitors to interact with ads through temptation, advertising has become forceful, with full-page takeovers and animations complete with sound effects.


  1. You’d think that the president of the Newspaper Association of America would have a more apt way to extoll the virtues of newspapers, but hey. ↩︎

‘A Honeypot for Assholes’

Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed spoke with ten former employees to find out why Twitter’s abuse problem is so shockingly bad. The answer?

[…] Fenced in by an abiding commitment to free speech above all else and a unique product that makes moderation difficult and trolling almost effortless, Twitter has, over a chaotic first decade marked by shifting business priorities and institutional confusion, allowed abuse and harassment to continue to grow as a chronic problem and perpetual secondary internal priority. On Twitter, abuse is not just a bug, but — to use the Silicon Valley term of art — a fundamental feature.

This article looks really bad for Twitter, but it effectively confirms something that was previously alluded to in a post by Biz Stone: they feel that not sanctioning users who are abusive is part of their corporate strategy. Warzel’s sources claim that the in-house rationale is because management thinks that it helps boost their monthly active user count.

Back in February, Umair Haque wrote a terrific article for Harvard Business Review that argues the precise opposite:

In an age of interaction, the simplest path to advantage is higher quality interaction. Abuse isn’t a nuisance that’s peripheral to “real” strategic issues. It is the central strategic issue. Offering low-quality interactions in an omni-connected world is just like selling defective products, the interaction age equivalent of faulty auto parts in the industrial age, or false advertising in the branding age.

Twitter knows that many users are also dissuaded by the bullying and vitriol that prevails on the platform. Last year, then-CEO Dick Costolo sent a memo to Twitter’s staff:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

Today, however, Costolo disputed Warzel’s articleafter the fact:

Total nonsense and laughably false as anybody who would speak on the record would tell you. Absurd.

Not even going to link to it.

Here’s the problem: everyone else was linking to it, especially in replies to Costolo‘s tweet. It’s caused enough of a firestorm that Twitter PR replied to it, though not in the way you might expect. They didn’t bother to denounce any specific statements in Warzel’s piece — rather, they disputed “inaccuracies in the details”, which seems tantamount to admitting that the thrust of the article is correct.1

Twitter clearly has an abuse problem. Though they haven’t released their employee diversity statistics this year, their stats from last year show a company profile that is overwhelmingly white and malethe demographic least likely to be on the receiving end of abuse and bullying. They need to take big steps, because whatever they’ve tried so far isn’t working.


  1. They also complained that they weren’t given adequate notice to respond, something which a Buzzfeed editor denies↩︎

Creepy Email Spam From Criteo

My favourite creepy ad retargeting company strikes again. Fred Benenson:

I recently fell down a deep dark hole on the internet.

It began by researching a part for my central air conditioning but ended up with me stumbling upon a terrible development in modern advertising: spam driven by my browsing habits.

If that sounds like a privacy invading hellscape you’d like to avoid, read on, dear reader.

This is super creepy. I can’t imagine anyone responding positively to receiving unsolicited email from websites that they’ve merely browsed.

Criteo is a French company. As such, it falls under E.U. privacy and communications laws — specifically, the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, which prohibits direct marketing emails without an explicit opt-in. However, these restrictions are relaxed if those contact details are used to market products that are similar to a sale made in a previously-established customer relationship. Perhaps that has unintentionally incentivized more targeted advertising. There are also no regulations that explicitly prohibit buying or selling lists of email addresses.

Even if all of this is fine, legally speaking, it seems unambiguously creepy and unwanted from a moral or ethical standpoint. Users need better privacy protections to prevent the sharing of email lists, and restrict email communications to those solely related to individual, direct requests.

Update: Benenson is perhaps inaccurate with this statement:

I am signed up to some platform which is considered a Criteo partner. This could possibly be Facebook since Criteo boasts a “close partnership” with them. That platform actually has my email address and my consent to send me email.

While Criteo does say that they use Facebook and Instagram data for personalization, Facebook’s data use policy says that they require opt-in for third-parties’ use of email addresses:

We do not share information that personally identifies you (personally identifiable information is information like name or email address that can by itself be used to contact you or identifies who you are) with advertising, measurement or analytics partners unless you give us permission.

Unfortunately, as Criteo fails to disclose precisely where an email address in their system originated, it is difficult to trace it back to a specific instance. But, by blending together lots of information across multiple sessions into a single advertising profile, Criteo has created a system where private data is shared and marketed against in ways that are hard to imagine for most users. The ambiguity of granting permission — and how far that permission extends — is why strong privacy legislation is needed.