Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Nico Rosberg Announces His Retirement From Formula 1

Ollie Kew, Top Gear magazine:

Nico Rosberg has retired from Formula One with immediate effect. The German Mercedes-AMG F1 driver made the shock announcement at the 2016 FIA prizegiving in Vienna less than a week after clinching his first world championship title at the 2016 Abu Dhabi grand prix.

Rosberg has had an incredible career, and has managed to cap it off with a hard-fought championship win. It takes guts to stop when you’re well and truly ahead, but he’s done it. Kudos.

FCC Says AT&T and Verizon Are Violating Net Neutrality Rules

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

With Sponsored Data, AT&T charges other companies for the right to bypass customers’ data caps on AT&T’s wireless network. At the time same, AT&T lets its subsidiary DirecTV stream on the mobile network without counting against data caps. DirecTV technically pays AT&T for the privilege, but the money is just shifting hands from one part of AT&T to another. AT&T is using DirecTV’s data cap exemption to market the new DirecTV Now streaming service.

[…]

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

These programs — and others like them — effectively create a tiered system that benefits only the providers, not consumers. This is why it’s so important that there’s a strong FCC that rigorously enforces net neutrality regulations.

WordPress Will Begin Requiring SSL for Some Features

Matt Mullenweg [sic]:

We’re at a turning point: 2017 is going to be the year that we’re going to see features in WordPress which require hosts to have HTTPS available. Just as JavaScript is a near necessity for smoother user experiences and more modern PHP versions are critical for performance, SSL .

Presumably, Mullenweg aimed to end that sentence with something like “SSL is necessary for additional functionality and greater security”.

At any rate, this is a good move. WordPress powers an inordinately high percentage of the web — something like one in four websites is built on WordPress. Between their encouragement and nudges from Google and Apple, it’s time that the web became more secure.

On that note, I plan on making HTTPS mandatory for Pixel Envy over the winter break, when I have some time to make sure nothing goes awry.

Brookings: U.S. Manufacturing Sector Is More Productive Despite Fewer Jobs

Somewhat related to the earlier post about Uber’s economics and its autonomous future, I found this article today from Alison Burke of the Brookings Institution:

Many are quick to blame trade for a loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, yet [Foreign Policy Senior Fellow Mireya Solís] affirms that the predominant force behind losses in manufacturing employment has been technological change (85 percent), not international trade. As she explains, automation has transformed the American factory, and the advent of new technologies (like robotics and 3D printing) has rendered many low-skilled jobs unnecessary.

Coincidentally, this article was released the same day that the Nikkei Asian Review published their scoop that Foxconn was looking into what it would take to move iPhone production to the U.S., should a large tariff be imposed on goods imported from China. Manufacturing automation would be absolutely critical should such a move occur.

Do the Twist

I empathize with people who struggle with the durability of their cables, but I’m always a little surprised when I hear about friends who see their Lightning and power cables fray after just a few months. I’ve never had this problem. My first Lightning cable, acquired in 2012, only stopped working a month ago — and it’s the one I keep in my bag so it constantly gets wrapped and unwrapped.

Joe Cieplinski has shared a tip that I also use, perhaps because of a common background in live audio:

I won’t speculate why my friends’ cables are so often yellowed, sticky, etc. But I can say with certainty that the way most developers wrap their cables has a great deal to do with the condition they end up in after a few months. I’ve seen all sorts of variations of wrapping the cord around itself, around devices, twisting them into knots, etc. Usually, the ends are completely stressed when they are done wrapping. And then they throw them into a bag that way for several days at a time.

I’m not saying that Apple’s cables shouldn’t be able to withstand a bit more torture than they get from most people, but there is something to be said for being a bit more careful.

And that’s where the “twist” comes in.

I suspect the very tight cable wraps I’ve seen around most MacBook power bricks is one reason Apple removed the small “arms” on the side of the brick that comes with the newest MacBook Pros.

George Hotz Releases Open-Source Autonomous Driving Software

Sean O’Kane and Lauren Goode, the Verge:

Famed iPhone and PlayStation cracker George Hotz is resurrecting the DIY autonomous car project he canceled in October. But this time, there’s a twist: instead of selling a physical product, Hotz’s Comma.ai is releasing the company’s self-driving software, as well as the plans for the necessary hardware, which Hotz calls Comma Neo. All of this code will be available for free — in fact, it is already on Github.

[…]

Hotz compared Open Pilot to Android, and said that it’s really aimed at “hobbyists and researchers and people who love” self-driving technology. “It’s for people who want to push the future forward,” he said. When asked how or if Comma.ai plans to make any money off of this project, Hotz responded: “How does anybody make money? Our goal is to basically own the network. We want to own the network of self driving cars that is out there.”

On a tangentially related note, Check Point Research announced yesterday that they had found malware that compromised over a million Google accounts. The good news is that the malware affects Android 4 and 5, not more recent versions. The bad news is that those two version families represent around three-quarters of all Android devices in use today because the manufacturers and carriers have no incentive to upgrade.

Imagine the above paragraph, but instead of “Android” and “devices”, it’s “Open Pilot” and “cars”.

Understanding Uber’s Bleak Operating Economics

Hubert Horan (bio), in a guest piece for Naked Capitalism:

There have been hundreds of articles claiming that Uber has produced wonderful benefits, but none of these benefits increase consumer welfare because they depended on billions in subsidies. Uber is currently a staggeringly unprofitable company. Aside from the imposition of unilateral cuts in driver compensation, there is no evidence of any progress towards breakeven, and no one can provide a credible explanation of how Uber could achieve the billions in P&L improvements needed to achieve sustainable profits and investor returns.

Uber’s growth to date is entirely explained by its willingness to engage in predatory competition funded by Silicon Valley billionaires pursuing industry dominance. But this financial evidence, while highly suggestive, cannot completely answer the question of how an Uber-dominated industry would impact overall economic welfare.

Uber is about to relaunch in Calgary after councillors capitulated to an adjusted fee structure; no other parts of the law were changed, despite Uber’s claim that the rules are “unworkable”. Unfortunately, this means that we’re about to see an influx of cars subsidized by venture capitalists in California, operating at a rate entirely unsustainable for traditional taxi companies.

Two questions:

  1. What happens to taxi drivers and truck drivers who are displaced by Uber’s predatory intrusion into their markets?

  2. What happens to drivers who work for Uber when they will, eventually, be made redundant by the company’s growing interest in self-driving vehicles?

See Also: Washio’s Legacy.

Apple Is Working on a Fix for iCloud Calendar Spam

Apple PR, in a statement to Rene Ritchie:

We are sorry that some of our users are receiving spam calendar invitations. We are actively working to address this issue by identifying and blocking suspicious senders and spam in the invites being sent.

I used to be getting a few invitations a day. I haven’t received a single spam invitation since Monday, even by email.

Tim Cook: AirPods Expected to Ship Within the Next Few Weeks

Remember that scene in “Temple of Doom” where Indiana Jones ducks under the rapidly-closing door and then leans back to grab his hat? The iPhone 7 is Indy, the hat represents the AirPods, and the door is Christmas.

This is not a good start for the clinching argument for why the iPhone no longer has a headphone jack, and it has been exacerbated by poor communication. This can’t be a W1 issue, because there are two Beats models that are shipping right now. But the Beats X earbuds — probably the closest analogue to the AirPods in size and form — also aren’t shipping. Curious.

The Tenth Anniversary of (Product) Red

John Paczkowski interviewed Tim Cook for Buzzfeed:

“My view on this — which I recognize is different from that of some others — is that just as people have values, so too should corporations,” Cook told BuzzFeed News. “One of ours at Apple is the idea that part of being a great company is leaving the world better than you found it.”

Paczkowski notes that Apple is responsible for about a third of the contributions to (Product) Red. Impressive stuff.

Default Apps on iOS

Kirk McElhearn, Macworld:

Apple’s desktop and mobile operating systems provide a full suite of applications that allow you to do most of what you want without downloading any additional apps. You can browse the web, send and receive email, manage calendars and contacts, and much more, all with the stock apps included in macOS and iOS.

But on macOS, you have the choice to not use those apps. Say you want to use Microsoft Outlook instead of Apple Mail; you can make this change, and when you click a link to send an email, Outlook will open. Or if you want to use Chrome instead of Safari, the same thing will happen: URLs you click will open in Google’s browser.

[…]

But iOS offers no such option. If you tap a URL, it opens in Safari. If you tap a link to send an email, it opens in Mail. The default calendar is Apple’s Calendar app. And so on. You may not want to work that way and because Apple doesn’t give you any choice, you’re stuck with workarounds: using share sheets to open a web page in a different browser; copying an email link or address to create an email; and so on.

Federico Viticci:

I’ve argued in favor of third-party default apps many times in the past (see ‘Personalization’ here). Clearly, this isn’t a technical problem per se; I think Apple is more concerned about the strategic and security implications of default apps.

This clearly isn’t a technical limitation, but a conscious design decision. However, it is far more noticeable in iOS 10 than in previous versions of iOS because of the ability to hide default apps, which can leave gaps in typical interactions. Tapping on a mailto: link when Mail is hidden will display an inelegant modal dialog telling the user to reinstall Mail, even if they have a third-party Mail app installed. I’ve also come across the occasional instance where I couldn’t add an event to my iCloud calendar because Calendar wasn’t installed, though I’m not sure what circumstances precipitated this.

Gaps like these, by the way, and the recently-restored ability to lose entire text messages due to a mis-tap are worrying to me. These are problems that I have no doubt came up during testing internally — never mind by thousands of developers and public beta testers — and are either unaddressed or have a poor stopgap solution, as is the case for mailto: links. It’s these lingering and obvious issues that cause me greater concern for the state Apple software today than the ongoing failure of iTunes syncing or the seemingly slow pace of improvements to iCloud. If these relatively simple details can’t be worked out — or, in the case of the quick reply bug, are reintroduced after being fixed — it reduces my faith in Apple’s ability to improve their most substantial software products and fix larger and more complex problems.

Update: A few people have told me that the quick reply bug I mentioned above has been fixed in iOS 10.2, but the “fix” is pretty half-assed: if you accidentally tap outside of the keyboard, the reply context will still disappear, but the text will be preserved if you open Messages.

This doesn’t fix other apps, however; for example, invoking the reply action on a Tweetbot notification and tapping outside of the keyboard area will cause the reply context and the text to vanish into the ether.

New York Times Subscription Growth Soars Tenfold

Matthew J. Belvedere and Michael Newberg of CNBC:

From the election on Nov. 8 through Saturday, the Times has seen “a net increase of approximately 132,000 paid subscriptions to our news products,” the media giant said in an exclusive statement to CNBC.

“This represents a dramatic rate of growth, 10 times, the same period one year ago,” according to the statement issued ahead of a CNBC interview Tuesday with New York Times CEO Mark Thompson.

This, despite — or, perhaps, because of — Donald Trump’s repeated lie that the Times is “failing”, that the paper is biased against him, or that they’re “treating him badly”.

On a similar note, “Hamilton” broke Broadway records for the highest-grossing week of shows and the highest average admission price after Trump called for its boycott.

Seventy Years of Sony

For decades, Sony designed some of the most interesting, futuristic, and downright beautiful hardware in the tech industry. Of note, Steve Jobs was reportedly game to license Mac OS X to be used on just one other computer brand: Sony’s VAIO machines.

Archiving the Internet in Canada

Jordan Pearson, Vice:

The Internet Archive is a US-based nonprofit that has been archiving the web for 20 years. So far, they’ve cataloged petabytes worth of web pages and claim to continue to archive 300 million new web pages each week. Their massive database allows the organization to run services like the Wayback Machine, which anyone can use to visit an archived version of most web pages, sometimes dating back years.

The group prefers to refer to itself as a kind of library, and as it noted in a blog post on Tuesday, “the history of libraries is one of loss,” whether through natural disaster or political regime change. With a potentially pro-censorship Trump regime looming, the Internet Archive isn’t taking any chances and is planning on opening an “Internet Archive of Canada” in the land of toques and Labatt brews. Digital information stored abroad wouldn’t be subject to US censorship laws.

If you rely upon the Internet Archive as much as I do, you can give them money to keep preserving websites, live audio recordings, classic PC games, and loads more.

See Also: Jason Scott’s explanation of the cost — in bytes and dollars — of creating a backup of the Internet Archive.

Protecting Your Web History With HTTPS

With today’s passage into U.K. law of the Investigatory Powers Bill — which requires British ISPs to retain the web browsing activity of their customers for a full year, and allows access to that history to government organizations from the GCHQ to the Food Standards Agency — I thought it would be helpful to highlight a simple strategy for Britons to protect their right to privacy: HTTPS.

Eric Mill, writing last year for Vice:

In short, I see power moving away from the leafs and devolving back into the center, where power has been used to living for thousands of years.

What animates me is knowing that we can actually change this dynamic by making strong encryption ubiquitous. We can force online surveillance to be as narrowly targeted and inconvenient as law enforcement was always meant to be. We can force ISPs to be the neutral commodity pipes they were always meant to be. On the web, that means HTTPS.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy — Mariot Chauvin and Huma Islam of the Guardian explain some of the hurdles they encountered when transitioning their massive web property to HTTPS. Even for my relatively tiny site, ensuring that HTTPS works really well took a little bit of effort.

I believe it’s worth the effort for all websites to implement HTTPS. While national security concerns are very real, the logical conclusion to solving investigational gaps is not bulk surveillance for entire countries.

Update: Bruce Schmoetzer reminded me that Let’s Encrypt allows users to create HTTPS certificates for free. However, maintaining the certs can be a pain in the ass if you do it yourself. Some web hosts now support Let’s Encrypt within their administrative panels, and it’s typically all managed for you; that’s probably the most straightforward route to take.

Macs and ARM CPUs

Jason Snell, in an editorial for Macworld:

Okay, so the 680×0 era lasted 10 years. The PowerPC era lasted 12 years. We’re now almost 11 years into the Intel era. All things being equal, the time seems right for a fourth processor transition, and soon.

It could definitely happen. I don’t want to say that it won’t, because Apple’s desire to chart its own course and not be beholden to other companies for key parts of its products is well known. Having proven itself a capable chip designer with the A series, Apple could very well dump Intel and strike out on its own.

But I don’t think Apple will.

Snell’s reasons are manifold, but the biggest is cost: rewriting the components of MacOS that aren’t already forked for ARM would likely not be trivial, especially for a company that seems to dedicate fewer engineering resources towards the Mac.

David Sparks disagrees with Snell:

I can’t help but think that Apple’s tendency to want to control everything would probably be enough for them to commit resources to switching to ARM. If Apple designs their own silicon, they’ll never rely on Intel again. Also, with the ever increasing race for better battery life, I’d expect Apple could make a MacBook that runs a very long time on an ARM-based chip. Jason Snell’s a pretty smart guy and been around this racket much longer than I but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple does bring ARM to the Mac at some point, even if it is just the lower-powered, super-long battery MacBooks.

There’s potentially a different avenue that Apple could take that would allow them some independence from Intel while also not requiring them to recompile MacOS for ARM: they could start developing their own x86 processors. It’s likely to cost far more than switching to ARM on the Mac, but it would give Apple the flexibility to build processors that meet their requirements for high-performance hardware well into the future.

Twelve People Get Different Jobs

Mike Isaac reports for the New York Times on CNN’s acquisition of Beme, the small video-based social network:

With millions of people regularly tuning in to his YouTube video blogs every morning, Casey Neistat has a millennial fan base coveted by both marketers and media companies. Now, one of those big media outlets is bringing Mr. Neistat — and, it hopes, his youthful audience — in-house.

That’s the lede, and it contains absolutely nothing about the app itself or why it — not Neistat — was acquired. I stole the headline on this post from Nate Boateng because it’s basically what Isaac’s article is all about: twelve people are getting hired by CNN, and the app they used to make is going away. That’s it.

Beme was intended to be a social sharing application that Mr. Neistat described as “more authentic,” a way of putting four-second bursts of video out into the social sphere without giving users the ability to edit or tweak the content. Taking video was as simple as holding a smartphone’s front-facing sensor to one’s body, as if the camera were an extension of one’s chest.

Mr. Neistat hopes to bring that idea of authenticity to a news and media environment to draw in a younger audience largely untapped by the cable news network. CNN will shut down the Beme app, which had 1.2 million downloads before losing steam.

“A huge part of my particular audience sees news and media as largely broken,” Mr. Neistat said in an interview. “My dad sees it as the word of God, but I think the young people definitely do not.”

I don’t think “the young people” are aching for publications that are more “authentic”, in the way that Beme was apparently chasing that particular nebulous characteristic. People of all ages are growing increasingly frustrated with headlines and stories that parrot lies, treat idiotic viewpoints on issues as inherently equal, and publish utter nonsense.

Power Users and the New MacBook Pro

Adam Geitgey:

A million hot takes have been posted about how the late-2016 MacBook Pro with USB-C is the undeniable proof that Apple doesn’t care about developers anymore. They took away all the ports! No Esc key! It’s just a more expensive MacBook Air!

But in some ways, the new MacBook Pro is the most techy and expandable laptop Apple has ever made. They are trusting their pro users to wade into murky USB-C waters in search of the holy grail of a universal, open standard for moving data and power between devices.

The openness and interoperability of USB-C is fantastic, but I don’t see Apple changing over their iOS devices from Lightning at any point in the near future. In a fit of irony, that means that the benefits of USB-C are mostly apparent to users with Android phones and tablets.

Margaret Hamilton Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Jenni Miller, New York magazine:

President Barack Obama presented boundary-breaking software engineer Margaret Hamilton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work on the software behind the Apollo 11 mission. Hamilton, who wrote code by hand for the on-board guidance software, was one of many programmers who made it possible for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to safely land on the moon instead of aborting their mission entirely.

For some perspective, I’m posting this on my lunch break, after grumbling to myself that the IDE I’m using has poor code autocompletion. She wrote code — by hand — for a computer that had less storage than the size of many websites today, to be used in the unknowns of space, with her four-year-old daughter by her side.

Preventing iCloud Calendar Spam

I first started receiving spam event invitations in my calendar about a month ago — a vector I didn’t know was utilized — and have been seeing them constantly since. I wasn’t able to figure out a way to prevent them, but Aaron Douglas did. Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of his solution is that it requires signing into iCloud.com; I wasn’t able to find the same controls on MacOS or iOS.

Update: Turns out that this is a more widespread issue than I first thought. Even after performing the steps suggested in the linked article, I received a couple of spam notifications this afternoon, though it might be an issue with the syncing or propagation of the new settings.

One way to deal with these invitations is to simply decline them. However, that will indicate that the email address is in use; I noticed a significant increase in the number of these invitations I received after declining one. Unfortunately, Calendar on MacOS and iOS does not appear to support simply ignoring an invitation.

However, you should know that Fantastical does support ignoring and deleting a calendar invitation without notifying the sender. It’s probably your best bet for now. Hopefully, Apple can fix this by passing calendar invitations through a standard spam filter.

In the MacBook Pros, the Connector to Nowhere Goes Somewhere

When iFixIt tore into the new 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros, they discovered a covered connector inside that appeared to go nowhere. They speculated that it might be either a diagnostic port or a way to get at the soldered SSD for data recovery. Turns out that it’s the latter. Jordan Kahn, 9to5Mac:

Apple’s new customer data migration tool is specifically designed for the 2016 MacBook Pro and includes a logic board holder with power adapter that allows repair staff to insert your logic board and connect it via USB-C to another MacBook Pro. That’s what the mystery “connector to nowhere” is for, and below is a photo of the new migration tool in action with a logic board inserted in the holder ready to transfer data.

The more cynical will see this as a solution to a problem that shouldn’t have been created. Others will see this is as a simple way to ensure the safety of a user’s data in the unlikely event that the SSD stops working. If you’re American and you happen to be checking your phone under the table, maybe bring this up during the dessert course as a way to lighten the mood.

Reddit’s CEO Edited User Comments Directed Towards Him

Bryan Menegus, Gizmodo:

During its tumultuous year on the site, Reddit’s Donald Trump community (r/the_donald) has been a constant source of strife for users and moderators alike. Huffman was a constant target for abuse for the_donald members, who hurled insults at him at every turn (“fuck u/spez” or “u/spez is a cuck” were the most common—spez being his on-site pseudonym) Finally, he snapped, and decided to edit the posts of users mocking him without their knowledge or consent.

The_donald caught the changes and logged them in a thread, wherein Huffman admitted to the act, noting that he acted alone and without the consent of the employees he entrusted to handle this exact sort of abuse.

Amelia Tait of the New Statesman:

Normally when a comment is edited on Reddit – by a user or a moderator – a small asterisk will appear after the time stamp to indicate that it has been changed. In this instance, no such asterisk appeared, meaning Huffman ostensibly has the ability to edit comments without a trace. This is crucial because two months ago, a Redditor was taken to court for comments he left on the site. Huffman’s editing powers could clearly be abused to cause trouble for individuals.

Beyond this, however, Huffman chose the wrong Reddit community to anger. Those on r/the_donald are already deeply convinced by conspiracies, and, in a way, Huffman has now validated their claims. It is not yet clear how they will retaliate or whether Donald Trump, who did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the subreddit earlier this year, will comment.

The users of /r/The_Donald already thought Reddit was suppressing their views whenever one of their posts left the /r/all cesspool. Can you imagine how much this is feeding their paranoia?

Facebook Reportedly Created a Censorship Tool to Get Back Into China

Mike Isaac, New York Times (autoplaying video warning):

The social network has quietly developed software to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas, according to three current and former Facebook employees, who asked for anonymity because the tool is confidential. The feature was created to help Facebook get into China, a market where the social network has been blocked, these people said. Mr. Zuckerberg has supported and defended the effort, the people added.

[…]

Facebook does not intend to suppress the posts itself. Instead, it would offer the software to enable a third party — in this case, most likely a partner Chinese company — to monitor popular stories and topics that bubble up as users share them across the social network, the people said. Facebook’s partner would then have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds.

So Facebook has the ability and determination to build a tool like this to suppress news in some countries for political reasons, but can’t be bothered to build something similar to filter out fake news articles that undermine discourse in countries with a free press?

Speechless

A good piece from Jeffrey Mincey:

So, Siri on the Mac is a good thing, right? After all, if Siri gets used in the car, while rummaging around with chores at home, or even watching Apple TV, then Siri on the Mac must be another blessing. Right?

Oh. You haven’t used Siri on the Mac much, either, huh?

Yeah. Me, too. And I’m not exactly sure why. The keyboard shortcut works perfectly, as does the click to the Siri icon in the Menubar. No complaints. Siri opens apps and performs a few other parlor tricks but I’ve decided that my use and workflow on the Mac is different than on the iPhone or iPad, and definitely on Watch, so that distinction inhibits Siri usage on the Mac.

I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between screen size and my use of Siri. I rely upon Siri all the time on my Watch,1 frequently on my iPhone, and almost never on my iPad and Mac. Maybe it’s something to do with the utility of a larger display and full-sized keyboard, or my habitual commitment to a computer workflow that hasn’t ever included a voice assistant.

Despite this, I have been pleasantly surprised by a few of the things I’ve done with Siri. A couple of days ago, I wanted to play a genre-based radio station while I was cooking dinner. I found it far easier to invoke Siri and tell it what I wanted to listen to than to futz around with iTunes. Whether that speaks more to the directness of Siri or the complexity of iTunes, I’m not sure. But its ability to untangle the keyboard-and-mouse paradigm of computing is something I imagine less experienced users would be appreciative of as well.

Another area where Siri on the Mac has potential is to improve the system’s accessibility. But, as Steven Aquino pointed out back in June, it doesn’t quite cut it yet:

I’m a stutterer, which causes me a lot of social anxiety. It’s hard at times to converse with people because of it, out of fear of judgment or shame that I inevitably will stutter. Sometimes I get so nervous that I will talk as little as possible (or avoid it altogether) because of my speech. I share these feelings not to garner pity or sympathy, but rather to explain how stuttering affects me emotionally.

Siri isn’t a real person, of course, but the fact of the matter is voice-driven interfaces are built assuming normal fluency. This is to be expected: most people don’t stutter, but I (and many others) do, so using Siri can be incredibly frustrating. So, while accuracy has gotten better over time, there’s no getting around the fact abnormal speech patterns like mine don’t mesh well with Siri. It wreaks havoc on the experience.

I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be. And it’s not like users are going to keep trying Siri with every update, either: like all software, if something doesn’t work as expected, they’re less likely to try other things.


  1. Or, at least, I use it all the time when I’m at home. It’s still embarrassing for me to talk to my wrist in public. ↩︎

Billionaires Are a Unique Threat to Journalists

Emily Bazelon, New York Times:

In the half-century since New York Times v. Sullivan, the United States has often held itself up to the world as a beacon for the free press. American libel law, the theory goes, protects writers and publishers better than the laws of countries like Britain, where it’s easier to win a libel judgment. Yet giant jury awards don’t topple publications in the United Kingdom: The country has an unofficial damages cap of about £250,000 (plus legal fees). British publishers can, in essence, treat compensating someone whose reputation they have harmed as a cost of doing business. And it’s less risky for them to apologize for a story that turns out to be wrong. “There are limits on damages for malpractice suits against doctors,” says Robert Post, dean of the Yale Law School. “Why not for journalists?”

It’s tempting to treat Gawker’s demise as unique or deserved. But that’s a false form of reassurance, a former editor of the site, Tom Scocca, argued in August. Every publication “is prepared to absorb the damage when it makes a mistake,” he wrote on Gawker. “What Thiel’s covert campaign against Gawker did was to invisibly change the terms of the risk calculation.” The lesson, Scocca told his readers, is that “you live in a country where a billionaire can put a publication out of business.”

This may seem like the flip side of the proverbial coin of the Breitbart and AppNexus story I posted earlier today, but I don’t think it is. There is a great difference between a tabloid knowingly publishing things that are either out of context or outright falsehoods, and a legitimate media organization making a mistake. No legitimate publication should have its fate subject to the whims of someone with deeper pockets and nothing better to do.

AppNexus Bans Breitbart From Their Advertising Network

Mark Bergen, Bloomberg:

AppNexus Inc., a major advertising technology provider, has barred Breitbart News from using its ad-serving tools because the conservative online publisher violated its hate speech rules.

AppNexus scrutinized Breitbart’s website after U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump tapped Steve Bannon, former executive chairman of Breitbart, to be White House chief strategist last week. The digital ad firm decided the publication had breached a policy against content that incites violence, said AppNexus spokesman Joshua Zeitz.

“We did a human audit of Breitbart and determined there were enough articles and headlines that cross that line, using either coded or overt language,” he said.

Every major programmatic advertising network has a policy of the types of websites that are allowed to implement their ads and, conversely, the types that are not. Google, for example, prohibits their ad network on websites that “contain harassing or bullying content” or “[incite] hatred or promotes violence against individuals or groups”. AppNexus (PDF) prohibits their ads on “content that depicts, contains, or provides access to hate speech” and “content that AppNexus reasonably deems to be (a) morally reprehensible or patently offensive, and (b) without redeeming social value.”

The trouble is that so many websites are dependent upon these ads that it’s impossible for programmatic advertisers to verify compliance with every website placement. While providers attempt to monitor websites, they also depend on users reporting ads on bad sites.

I imagine that ad providers would find it particularly sensitive to restrict their advertising from appearing on websites that are, ostensibly, news publications. But — and this is not a political argument — Breitbart is not a news organization. Much like, for example, Natural News, it is a lightly-edited collection of conspiracy theories and out-of-context excerpts with a professional sheen. In the fight against fake news, sites that traffic in providing knowingly false or misleading information to a large audience should have their revenue squeezed. Their popularity is insulting to the difficult financial circumstances that have befallen major reputable news organizations.

Meet Trump’s FCC Advisors

April Glaser, Recode:

President-elect Trump formally named two advisers to help oversee his telecom policy agenda at the Federal Communications Commission today: Jeff Eisenach and Mark Jamison.

Both are fierce opponents of the network neutrality rules the agency passed last year and have long advocated against regulations aimed at reining in the already massively consolidated telecom industry, where most Americans have no more than one or two choices for broadband providers as it is.

Glaser, in a separate article on Recode:

When Comcast was considering a Time Warner takeover in 2013, Eisenach wrote, “The best thing that could happen for U.S. consumers would be substantial consolidation in the cable business.”

And when AT&T wanted to purchase T-Mobile in 2011, Eisenach likewise argued in favor of the merger, pointing out, “The wireless market is extremely competitive.”

It will come as no surprise that Eisenach and Jamison have both lobbied on behalf of major American telecom companies, but so did current FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Wheeler did a complete turnaround on net neutrality while working at the FCC and ended up pushing forward a strong set of rules for ISPs and telecoms.

Based on his deluded statements about how consolidation is the “best thing that could happen” for consumers and that there’s ample competition in the U.S. telecom space, I doubt that Eisenach will ever change. That should worry you.

A Case Study of a Viral Fake News Story

Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times:

Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Tex., had just about 40 Twitter followers. But his recent tweet about paid protesters being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory — one that Mr. Trump joined in promoting.

Mr. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. The problem is that Mr. Tucker got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters.

Mainstream media outlets — yes, that includes Fox — asked the bus company for comment and didn’t publish the story when they realized it wasn’t true. Meanwhile, dozens of rags and partisan Facebook pages didn’t bother to fact-check it and decided to post it, assuming that Tucker had looked into it. He hadn’t:

Mr. Tucker said he had performed a Google search to see if any conferences were being held in the area but did not find anything. (The buses were, in fact, hired by a company called Tableau Software, which was holding a conference that drew more than 13,000 people.)

“I did think in the back of my mind there could be other explanations, but it just didn’t seem plausible,” he said in an interview, noting that he had posted as a “private citizen who had a tiny Twitter following.”

He added, “I’m also a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there, especially when I don’t think it’s going out there for wide consumption.”

There is no logical bridge between I see buses and they must be full of fake protestors, but that didn’t stop Tucker from stating it as fact. Nor, it seems, did anyone at any of these partisan sources question its plausibility or reach out to the bussing company. That’s callous at best, and dangerous to democracy at worst.

Unexpected Shutdown Problem Affecting Some Early Production iPhone 6S Phones

Apple:

Apple has determined that a very small number of iPhone 6s devices may unexpectedly shut down. This is not a safety issue and only affects devices within a limited serial number range that were manufactured between September and October 2015.

If you have experienced this issue, please visit an Apple Retail Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider and have your device’s serial number checked to confirm eligibility for a battery replacement, free of charge.

My launch-day iPhone 6S was affected by this; I had it swapped early this year. If you’re seeing this issue with your iPhone — even if it’s not within the correct serial number range — be sure to head to your local Apple Store to inquire about a replacement.

Update: I just checked my replacement iPhone and — funny enough — it, too, is eligible for a battery swap according to 9to5Mac’s list of serial numbers.

Apple Reportedly Abandons Development of Wireless Routers

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has disbanded its division that develops wireless routers, another move to try to sharpen the company’s focus on consumer products that generate the bulk of its revenue, according to people familiar with the matter.

[…]

Apple hasn’t refreshed its routers since 2013 following years of frequent updates to match new standards from the wireless industry. The decision to disband the team indicates the company isn’t currently pushing forward with new versions of its routers. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s plans.

The writing has been on the wall for the AirPort lineup for a while now, so you shouldn’t be too surprised by this news. Also don’t be shocked if, in the near future, they kill off other products with a much higher public profile.

But it’s kind of annoying, too. Back when Apple did the iPhone, it was partially because all cellphones sucked; now, all cellphones work similarly to iPhones. I’d like to think that they kept supporting their AirPort models for as long as they did because routers still suck. Look at the routers recommended by the Wirecutter: their picks have antennas sticking out and pointing everywhere, and really crappy web-based control panels. I’m not looking forward to the day that I need to replace my AirPort Extreme.

Update: This paragraph has been rattling around my brain since I read Gurman’s article:

Exiting the router business could make Apple’s product ecosystem less sticky. Some features of the AirPort routers, including wireless music playback, require an Apple device like an iPhone or Mac computer. If the company no longer sells wireless routers, some may have a reason to use other phones and PCs.

Practically speaking, I’m not sure Apple will make one fewer Mac or iOS device sale after the AirPort Express becomes unavailable. While it was really cool that AirPlay was built into the Express, I doubt very many people bought them because of that.

But you know what else has AirPlay built in and tends to sit in the same place, probably near a stereo system? The Apple TV. If there’s any way that Apple might continue to sell a WiFi router of some kind, I bet it’s built into the Apple TV.

Barack Obama on Fake News

David Remnick, of the New Yorker, wrote a must-read profile of President Obama during the days surround the election. A choice quote, from four days prior:

That day, as they travelled, Obama and Simas talked almost obsessively about an article in BuzzFeed that described how the Macedonian town of Veles had experienced a “digital gold rush” when a small group of young people there published more than a hundred pro-Trump Web sites, with hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers. The sites had names like TrumpVision365.com and WorldPoliticus.com, and most of the posts were wildly sensationalist, recycled from American alt-right sites. If you read such sites, you learned that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump and that Clinton had actually encouraged Trump to run, because he “can’t be bought.”

The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

Perfectly said.

Fact-Checking Facebook

An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network:

Many of our organizations already provide training in fact-checking to media organizations, universities and the general public. We would be glad to engage with you about how your editors could spot and debunk fake claims.

We also believe it is vital to strengthen the role of users in combating disinformation. Numerous studies show that, regardless of partisan ideology, people are very good at accepting information that conforms to their preconceptions, even if it is false.

In my experience, fact checking has actually lead to someone’s increased belief in the fake story. Over the past couple of decades — but particularly over the past eight years — fringe media has been reinforcing their bullshit with claims that the “mainstream media” won’t cover some nonsense story because they’re “in” on it, or they have a liberal bias. Viewers and readers who buy that explanation will therefore see any attempt to debunk a claim as a way of validating it; in their minds, the debunkers are trying to suppress the claim.

I want desperately for fake news on Facebook to be debunked; yet, I worry it will have no effect. There are people so deeply entrenched in believing in conspiracy theories and complete falsehoods that evidence to the contrary is ignored at best, and a confirmation of their beliefs at worst.

Mark Zuckerberg Is in Denial

Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed, reporting on the rise in popularity of viral fake news stories in the final months of the U.S. election:

Up until those last three months of the campaign, the top election content from major outlets had easily outpaced that of fake election news on Facebook. Then, as the election drew closer, engagement for fake content on Facebook skyrocketed and surpassed that of the content from major news outlets.

There are reportedly employees at Facebook working on their own to try to reduce the spread of fake news, but it sounds like they’re receiving little support at the senior and executive levels of the company. Michael Nunez, Gizmodo:

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias. One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.

Zeynep Tufekci, in an op-ed for the New York Times:

Only Facebook has the data that can exactly reveal how fake news, hoaxes and misinformation spread, how much there is of it, who creates and who reads it, and how much influence it may have. Unfortunately, Facebook exercises complete control over access to this data by independent researchers. It’s as if tobacco companies controlled access to all medical and hospital records.

These are not easy problems to solve, but there is a lot Facebook could do. When the company decided it wanted to reduce spam, it established a policy that limited its spread. If Facebook had the same kind of zeal about fake news, it could minimize its spread, too.

I’m not sure how anyone at Facebook can continue to claim that the stories surfaced through users’ news feed and the global trending topics list could not have had an impact on the election.

What.CD Raided, Shuttered

Josiah Hughes for Exclaim:

The invite-only torrent site was created in the wake of Oink’s Pink Palace, which was shut down in October of 2007. Though it was a hub for illegal downloading, What.CD hosted many different genres of music, making it a paradise for fans of obscure and hard-to-find music. Even music industry villain Martin Shkreli was begging for an invite last month.

The What.CD statement claims that they shut down “due to some recent events.” According to Zataz, 12 of the site’s servers were seized in the north of France. The founder of What.CD, however, is believed to reside in the United Kingdom.

What.CD obviously wasn’t legal, but I sincerely doubt that there has ever been a single greater collection of music than what was available there. Beyond the newest releases lay a vast library of music unavailable by any other means: out-of-print and rare albums, music that had never been officially released, and tracks from indie bands previously only known in small towns. Then there were the artist recommendations and the album collages, with suggestions and pairings that remain unparalleled by any legal streaming service.

Beyond the legality of it, there are a host of ethical and moral dilemmas associated with participating in a community like What.CD’s. Nobody there is entitled to any of the albums posted on the site. But there was always something magical about listening to a record that had previously never been heard beyond a handful of people anywhere on earth, and doing so alongside a group of people who were equally excited. There were loads of different versions of albums, too — it was never a simple matter of downloading a record when users made available various vinyl pressings, CD masters, and online download copies.

All kinds of people were What.CD members, from record store employees to young listeners; from hardcore collectors to popular musicians. Above all, it was a community of fans that grew organically. You might never have heard of What.CD, or — understandably — frown upon piracy like this. But, for a lot of music nerds, today’s news has been heartbreaking.

See Also: The leak of three previously-unpublished J.D. Salinger stories that surfaced on What.CD in 2013.

British ‘Investigatory Powers Bill’ Set to Become Law

Matt Burgess, Wired:

Both the House of Lords and House of Commons have now passed the Investigatory Powers Bill – the biggest overhaul of surveillance powers for more than a decade.

[…]

The Home Office, the department responsible for the law, has said the provisions listed within it are needed to help protect the country’s national security and give more oversight than ever before. While civil rights groups and those in opposition to the powers say it is intrusive and draconian.

This is the legislation that mandates ISPs keep twelve months’ worth of browsing history for each of their customers, permits the intrusion of devices singularly and in bulk, and allows intelligence agencies to go dumpster diving through enormous sets of scooped data — much of which was likely obtained illegally — looking for anything that might be relevant.

The bill was originally drawn up by the now-Prime Minister Theresa May, whose office responded to a request for her browser history by calling it a “scattergun approach” and “fishing for information”. No word on whether that should still be interpreted as a negative.

Surveillance bills from around the world have been described as “Orwellian”. This is usually hyperbolic, yet it’s most fitting here both for the bill’s contents, and that it will become law in George Orwell’s own country.

iOS’ Call History Is Being Uploaded to iCloud

Kim Zetter, the Intercept:

The logs surreptitiously uploaded to Apple contain a list of all calls made and received on an iOS device, complete with phone numbers, dates and times, and duration. They also include missed and bypassed calls. Elcomsoft said Apple retains the data in a user’s iCloud account for up to four months, providing a boon to law enforcement who may not be able to obtain the data either from the user’s carrier, who may retain the data for only a short period, or from the user’s device, if it’s encrypted with an unbreakable passcode.

Apple says that they’re doing this to allow users to call back from any connected device. That’s a fine explanation for me, but I’m curious why they’re apparently retaining these logs for four months.

Of note, Apple is reportedly in the process of improving the security of iCloud. As you might expect, there’s no word on any progress since this rumour broke in February. I don’t anticipate hearing an official word before WWDC next year.

The Popularity of ‘Top Gear’, Fuelled by Piracy

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are returning to screens everywhere in just a couple of hours from now in the ‘Grand Tour’. But before you dive into it, be sure to read Stef Schrader’s piece for Jalopnik on how a small show ostensibly about cars became a global phenomenon:

In the United States, the explosive popularity of Top Gear started with the Internet. By now, sitting down at a computer to watch Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May feels normal. When their version of Top Gear first gained notoriety beyond the United Kingdom, it did so in clips and torrents posted online. If you wanted to track down episodes of Top Gear before they regularly started appearing on cable stateside, chances are you found your way onto its fan site FinalGear, which once linked to torrents of every episode. Similar shows, such as Top Gear’s international versions and Fifth Gear also made it on the site.

The path from ‘Top Gear’-as-car-show to the ‘Grand Tour’ — a massively expensive worldwide endeavour — can be traced directly through the popularity of FinalGear, and the BBC’s somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards piracy.

Having Presumably Solved Relentless Abuse on Their Platform, Twitter Introduces QR Codes

Casey Newton, the Verge:

Before now, to follow someone on Twitter you had to click a giant button that said “Follow” at the top of their profile. Ugh, no thanks! Now, following someone is as easy as navigating to your profile, tapping the gear icon, tapping “QR code,” tapping the blue button to open the scanner, and scanning your friend’s QR code, assuming they have also navigated to their own profile and excavated the QR code and physically handed their device to you.

QR stands for “quick response” — not exactly an apt description for adding barcodes to an app in 2016.

Apple Has Eliminated Sal Soghoian’s Position

First broken by Andy Ihnatko on Twitter, Sal Soghoian himself has confirmed the news today:

Q. I hear you no longer work for Apple; is that true?

A. Correct. I joined Apple in January of 1997, almost twenty years ago, because of my profound belief that ‘the power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.’ That credo remains my truth to this day. Recently, I was informed that my position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies was eliminated for business reasons. Consequently, I am no longer employed by Apple Inc. But, I still believe my credo to be as true today as ever.

There’s very little that defines the Mac’s support for power users better than its automation capabilities: Automator for beginners, AppleScript and JavaScript for more advanced users, and Services to tie it all together. A great deal of that is directly attributable to Soghoian.

I get that businesses move forward, and I get that power users are a vanishingly small part of Apple’s sales, but this is concerning. I use a bunch of Services and AppleScripts every single day; I would be markedly less productive if I didn’t have these automations in place. This news makes me worried that, one day, I’ll need to learn to live without them.

More of Facebook’s Metrics Found to Be Exaggerated

I’ve written a fair amount this week about Facebook’s role in disseminating and promoting fake news sites and bullshit stories within their news feed, but it’s worth examining their repugnant behaviour towards real news sites as well.

Back in 2013, Facebook announced that they had become the leading source of traffic to media companies, to the tune of about 40% of their total referrals. That’s a huge number and, right or wrong, publications became somewhat reliant upon the traffic Facebook was sending their way.

Over time, Facebook made adjustments to their news feed to prioritize current events, advertisements, and promoted posts, while also demoting some forms of posts from publishers’ pages. Publishers noticed a decline in referral traffic due to these changes.

One might think that having a revenue stream that’s substantially dependent on a single company might cause publishers to take pause, but that wasn’t what happened. Last year, Facebook announced that they would be radically increasing the amount of video that appeared in their news feed. Media companies rushed to boost their video teams and output, even going so far as to create Facebook-only video-centric initiatives and Facebook Live partnerships. And all seemed to be going pretty well, until earlier this year. Todd Spangler, Variety:

The company says that in the past month it has updated the way it reports average time spent viewing videos on its platform to be more accurate. Previously, Facebook calculated that based on users who watched videos for at least 3 seconds. Now it’s factoring in views of any duration, which means the average time spent viewing will be lower.

And it’s apparently much lower: Facebook’s previous “average duration of video viewed” metric was inflated by upwards of 60% to 80% because of the three-second cutoff, according to a letter ad agency Publicis sent to clients that was obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

One might think that having a revenue stream that’s substantially dependent on a single company which failed to correctly state the performance of these initiatives might cause publishers to take pause. But that is, once again, not what happened. Publications like the Verge instead shifted their focus to improving their reach on Facebook by increasing their commitment to Facebook Live, video, and Instant Articles.

You know what comes next. Mike Shields, Wall Street Journal:

The company publicly disclosed on Wednesday that a comprehensive internal metrics audit found that discrepancies, or “bugs,” led to the undercounting or overcounting of four measurements, including the weekly and monthly reach of marketers’ posts, the number of full video views and time spent with publishers’ Instant Articles.

Every major media company should be seriously reconsidering their commitments to Facebook right now. Between their seemingly uncaring attitude towards bogus news sites, their algorithmic fluctuations for legitimate publications, and their ongoing inflation of their statistics, Facebook shows that they simply don’t care about the state of the media.

Twitter’s New Anti-Harrassment Tools Were Immediately Undermined by Ads

Charlie Warzel reports for Buzzfeed on some new anti-harrassment tools rolling out on Twitter:

On the product end, Twitter has augmented its mute feature to allow users to filter specific phrases, keywords, and hashtags, similar to what’s found on Instagram, which added a keyword filter this September. The feature was widely believed to be close to completion late last month after Twitter temporarily rolled out a test of the mute filter to select users.

But while the test resembled a standard keyword filter, Twitter’s new mute tool will go a step further, allowing users to mute entire conversation threads. This will allow users to stop receiving notifications from a specific Twitter thread without removing the thread from your timeline or blocking any users. And according to Twitter, you’ll only be able to mute conversations that relate to a tweet you’re included in (where your handle is mentioned).

This doesn’t fix the abuse that runs rampant on Twitter, but it does allow victims of it a way to reduce their exposure. There are also some new reporting options that allow posts to be marked as “hateful conduct”; but, again, all of these features place the onus of handling abuse on Twitter’s users.

So, how’s the rollout going? Let’s ask Ariana Lenarsky:

.@twitter I can’t believe anything still surprises me, but why the fuck am I seeing nazi ads on this website

Yeah, you read that right. Ben Sullivan reports for Vice:

Twitter’s own hateful conduct policy specifically prohibits content that “targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.” While Twitter does not comment on individual accounts, a spokesperson told Motherboard “it looks like the screenshot in that tweet is either old or photoshopped.”

Motherboard spoke to Lenarsky, who provided timestamps to confirm that the image is not photoshopped, and that several other users had seen the ad too. “Twitter normalized, promoted, and profited off of Nazi white supremacy propaganda,” Lenarsky told Motherboard. “I should not have to explain to Twitter why promoting Nazi propaganda on their website is a dangerous and immoral thing to do.” Lenarsky added she will not be using Twitter again until the company apologizes.

In sentences that fall under the category of things that indicate what kind of a year 2016 has been, here’s one more: if Twitter can’t even keep their ads free of neo-Nazi propaganda, how are they going to reduce or eliminate ongoing abuse on their platform? Their knee-jerk accusation of fakery seems telling.

Update: Jack Dorsey has apologized. Still no word on why the spokesperson accused Lenarsky of faking the ad.

Onboard Flash Storage vs. ‘Onboard Flash Storage’

The first reviews and shipments of the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar have started to hit. As usual, Michael Tsai has the best roundup with some choice quotes.

One thing has been nagging in the back of my mind since the first shipments of the MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar showed up. It’s about the upgradability of these machines, and how much egg I might have on my face. Shortly after their introduction, here’s what I said (emphasis added):

Speccing it up the way I’d want to — 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB drive, because it now appears to be soldered and therefore can’t be upgraded — would run me a bill of $2,859.

My reference to a non-upgradable SSD was based on some specific language used by Apple on their site. The MacBook Air tech specs page describes its storage like this:

128GB PCIe-based flash storage

The Air’s SSD is a blade-style card. While its shape is proprietary, it can be swapped fairly easily — I know this because I’ve upgraded mine. This is the way Apple has described their SSDs since they started shipping them as part of the Air in 2010, and continued with the Retina MacBook Pro in 2012.

The MacBook’s tech specs page, on the other hand, introduced some slightly different language upon that product’s launch:

256GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage

The “onboard” designator seems to be Apple’s shorthand way of saying that the storage is soldered to the logic board. So, when the marketing pages were published for the new MacBook Pros and I saw “onboard flash storage“, I thought they had joined the club of non-upgradability.1

And yet, when OWC opened up a MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar, they found that its SSD was mounted as a separate card which, while a unique size and shape, could theoretically be upgraded.

If you’re a nerd about the supply chain side of tech, you might reasonably assume that Apple would have a similar assembly process for all 13-inch MacBook Pro models. But that isn’t the case, according to Ben Lovejoy of 9to5Mac:

Owners who have opened them up are finding that the SSD chips in the Touch Bar machines are permanently soldered to the logic board.

This means that, like the 12-inch MacBook, the SSD size you order from Apple is the capacity you’re going to be stuck with for the life of the machine, so you may want to take a fresh look at those rather eye-watering upgrade prices.

Here’s the thing, though: both 13-inch MacBook Pro models are described by Apple as having “onboard flash storage”, but that’s clearly not true. The Touch Bar model has onboard storage; the model without doesn’t.

For many users, this distinction is entirely academic — Apple hasn’t officially supported aftermarket upgrades in any of their MacBooks with flash storage, and most users probably wouldn’t attempt to do so. And, to their credit, Apple has reduced the price of a 1 TB upgrade to $600 as a built-to-order option, about the same price as an aftermarket option for older MacBook Pro models.

But there’s a little bad news for anyone hoping to save a little money out of the gate or upgrade their storage at a later date beyond what Apple has available at launch. For me, this news comes with a side effect: I also have a little egg on my face, but not as much as I’d feared.


  1. I was also told by someone who, as they say, is familiar with the matter, but I didn’t clarify with them which MacBook Pro models were affected. ↩︎

Crazy Talk

Tim Fernholz of Quartz, quoting Mark Zuckerberg:

“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way—I think is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said two days after the election. “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”

Aarti Shahani of NPR, quoting former Facebook employee Antonio Garcia-Martinez:

“There’s an entire political team and a massive office in D.C. that tries to convince political advertisers that Facebook can convince users to vote one way or the other,” Garcia-Martinez says. “Then Zuck gets up and says, ‘Oh, by the way, Facebook content couldn’t possibly influence the election.’ It’s contradictory on the face of it.”

So, to summarize, Zuckerberg is arguing that Facebook users absolutely cannot have their voting decisions swayed by posts on the social network, and that’s why advertisers should pay to promote political parties and candidates on Facebook. That’s some high-test bullshit.

Google to Ban AdSense on Fake News Sites

Jack Nicas, Wall Street Journal:

Google said Monday that it is updating its policies to ban Google ads being placed “on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose” of the website. The policy would include sites that distribute false news, a Google spokeswoman said.

[…]

Some media commentators have urged tech companies to try to prevent the spread of such misinformation. Google’s move to block some of such sites’ revenue could prove a significant step in response to the controversy.

It isn’t surprising to me that it took a major election to recognize the impact of misleading faux news sites on public knowledge, and to take steps towards corralling it. That’s not a cynical view; that’s just how the economics of it work. But this is something that should have happened long before these sites could have an effect.

Unfortunately, restricting the revenue channels for these sites barely licks the surface of much greater problems: the high visibility of imitation news on social media, low public trust in broadcast and print media, and economic incentives that are not necessarily aligned with social value of well-researched news.

On the bright side, this election has forced every media entity and major social networks to consider their role in elevating non-issues and faux news while providing little-to-no coverage of policy proposals. But until their business models are predicated less on what attracts more eyeballs, and more on what is informational and valuable, it is unlikely that the media landscape can make a positive change.

Update: Facebook will also be banning fake news sites from using its ad network. Positive steps, made far too late.

Housekeeping

Meta updates like these tend to be rather trite, so I’ll make this quick.

This past Friday, I migrated Pixel Envy from my old and busted host to a newer, hotter one. It has taken the weekend to propagate, and it seems to have gone pretty smoothly.

Amongst a litany of far more serious ongoing calamities, 2016 also featured record-shattering downtime for this site. Its new host shouldn’t have the same problem. I welcome your feedback if you’re noticing any slowdowns, elements not loading, or if you just want to say hello.

Thank you, as always, for reading.

Google’s Top News Link for ‘Final Election Results’ Goes to a Fake News Site

Philip Bump, Washington Post:

If you head to Google to learn the final results of the presidential election, the search engine helpfully walks through the final electoral vote tallies and number of seats won by each party in the House and Senate. Under that, Google lists some related news articles. At the top this morning, with an accompanying photo: a story arguing that Donald Trump won both the popular and electoral votes.

That’s not true.

Algorithmic rankings have failed all throughout the course of the U.S. election, from when it kicked off about a thousand years ago until today. Facebook is failing to acknowledge that popular fake news posts might have swayed some votes, and Google’s secret sauce is promoting some poky WordPress blog.1

Luckily, right below the crappy link is, as of right now, a link to a Business Insider article debunking it. Those should, of course, be reverse; or, better yet, the false information shouldn’t even be there.


  1. If Google wishes to promote this poky WordPress blog, they should feel free to do so. ↩︎

A Wish List for the Mac App Store

Dan Counsell:

Don’t get me wrong, the Mac App Store does a lot of things really well. One reason devs keep putting their apps in the store is that Apple takes away a lot of the mundane tasks, such as payment, licensing, and updates. The MAS has a huge built-in audience, making it a convenient and easy one-stop shop for developers to list their apps, and it makes getting paid easy since Apple handles the payments side. It also handles security fairly well, so there’s less risk of malware infecting users.

But after five years of working within Apple’s strict regimen of rules and guidelines, a lot of great developers struggle with the restrictions placed on them which too often throttle usual business practices for selling software. As a result, many makers of popular apps have made the decision pull their software from the Mac App Store (or simply don’t bother submitting them at all) and sell them outside it.

A few of the items in Counsell’s list could apply equally to the iOS App Store as well: getting rid of in-app purchases on free apps, for instance, which makes many free apps feel like “trial” or “lite” versions, something which is expressly prohibited by the rules of both stores.

But the simple fact is that many apps just don’t need the Mac App Store. Developer tools and utilities are more commonly found outside the store, often because of reasonable sandboxing restrictions. Most major game developers have their own “app stores,” whether they release via Steam or EA Origin, for instance, though many do release through the App Store as well. Big names like Microsoft and Adobe have their own distribution mechanisms, so they don’t need the store either.

As far as I can see, the only apps that take well to the Mac App Store — aside from Apple’s apps — are single-purpose lightweight consumer utility apps. For instance, a while ago, I was trying to find an audio A/B testing app. After fruitlessly scouring the web for probably half an hour, I tried the App Store and found a couple of decent contenders.

Take a look at the top 180 paid apps in the Mac App Store. Subtract anything from Apple, and what you’re generally left with are the lightweight utility apps I mentioned above — Weather Live, ForkLift, a Mac WhatsApp client, a period tracking app, and a notepad app — some crappy iOS app ports, Microsoft Office template packs, and a few games. That isn’t very confidence-inspiring, is it?

Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s Role in Promoting Fake News

Mark Zuckerberg:

After the election, many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading. These are very important questions and I care deeply about getting them right. I want to do my best to explain what we know here.

Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.

This response is a dodge. What does “99% of what people see is authentic” mean, anyway? He’s not saying that 99% of the news that’s posted on Facebook is truthful or reputable, just that nearly everything is “authentic”. And even if it is true that just 1% of the posts are inauthentic, those posts may be shared thousands of times.

Facebook Questions Its Influence

Mike Isaac, New York Times:

Even as Facebook has outwardly defended itself as a nonpartisan information source — Mr. Zuckerberg said at a conference on Thursday that Facebook affecting the election was “a pretty crazy idea” — many company executives and employees have been asking one another if, or how, they shaped the minds, opinions and votes of Americans.

[…]

Even in private, Mr. Zuckerberg has continued to resist the notion that Facebook can unduly affect how people think and behave. In a Facebook post circulated on Wednesday to a small group of his friends, which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Zuckerberg challenged the idea that Facebook had a direct effect on the way people voted.

Emily Bell, Columbia Journalism Review:

The line of argument that says we need better journalism to combat fake news is appealing. However, it conflates two different crises. Having a larger number of good journalists is an indisputable goal for any functioning democracy. Wiping out the malicious falsehoods that carpet swaths of the social Web should be a high priority too. But the former will not be an adequate antidote to the latter.

On any given day, far more journalism is produced by non-partisan media outlets than by the most popular partisan sites. It might be relentlessly mundane reporting, insufficiently serious, and poorly reflect complex policy arguments, but it is rarely fabricated or hoaxed—fewer than 1 percent of pieces published in mainstream outlets fell into Silverman’s “totally false” category. The problem is that even where there is accurate journalism, it is not seen or not believed, or both.

It strikes me that Facebook is simultaneously arguing to advertisers that its targeting is effective in swaying buyer decisions while also stating that what users see in their feeds cannot possibly effect an election. I don’t see how both of those can be true.

The Retina Divide

Jason Snell:

Four and a half years later, it’s still an open question. The laptop line still features a $999 non-Retina MacBook Air. Apple’s had a sub-$1000 starting price for Mac laptops for some time now, but the cheapest retina Mac is the $1299 MacBook. That’s a $300 divide. On the iMac front it’s a similar story—the two base models of the 21.5-inch iMac are non-Retina, starting at $1099 and $1299. The first Retina model is $1499, a $200 divide.

You can mentally insert iPad prices on the graphic Snell has put into this post: iPad Mini and iPad Air 2 starting at $399,1 the iPad Pro at $599, and the 12.9-inch Pro at $799. All include Retina displays that support at least 100% of the RGB colour gamut.

That means that Apple’s products have Retina displays at every $200 price point from $399 to $799, and then again from $1,299 through $2,399 (though there are two $300 gaps in there). But there is still that $500 gap between the least expensive iPad and the least expensive Retina Mac, and the same $500 split between the least expensive MacBook Air and the entry-level MacBook Pro — effectively, the Retina version of the Air.

What’s striking to me is that the MacBook and the previous-generation 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro both started at the same $1299 price point. The gap has been closed between the least-expensive model of the highest-end iPad, but that’s through the introduction of the iPad Pro, not the reduction of Mac prices. That makes a lot of sense when you consider the positioning of the iPad Pro in the trite cars-vs-trucks analogy, but it’s also notable that the $1299 price point is the lowest Apple either can’t or won’t break for a Retina Mac.


  1. The iPad Mini 2 is $269, but it is entirely outdated. I wouldn’t be surprised if iOS 11 doesn’t support it. ↩︎

Privacy and Data Collection During a Trump Presidency

In the wake of a forthcoming Donald Trump presidency, all-Republican Congress, and the likely nomination of a strongly-conservative judge in the vein of Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, it’s worth re-emphasizing a number of the concerns over privacy and data collection that have accumulated over the past several years. There are three areas of data collection that I’d like to focus on: user-provided data, user usage data, and scraped intelligence data.

User-provided data is the kind of information that we willingly provide on a regular basis to every service. Think about how many different websites have asked for your name or email address at some point, and you’ll get an idea of how much information you provide without necessarily noticing it. It’s become routine to tell a web service what your name is, where you’re from, how to contact you, what you look like, and who else you know. Because it’s so typical, many websites will ask for even more information, like where you went to school, where you work, how old you are, what your favourite music and TV shows are, and who you’re dating or married to. That’s a lot of information to be held by a single company, but consider all of the different companies that you might have given some or all of these data points.

Usage data is the data collection you typically don’t see firsthand, but will definitely notice. Every search you make, every post you like, every link you click, anything you linger on but don’t act upon, every advertisement that loads on your screen, and, increasingly, the other websites you visit — these are all tracked.

Combine both of those aspects of the collected data of a typical user and whichever company or entity has that data can get an accurate and detailed idea of who that person is.

This has always been worrying for many of us. I was in university at the time that the Guardian and Washington Post started publishing stories based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden. A couple of months before that reporting began, I handed a paper in to one of my professors. The paper was about the mechanisms of online data collection. In it, I observed that if a government organization were collecting the same data that Google does on a regular basis,1 it would be considered outrageous. This, of course, is the scraped intelligence data that I’ve written extensively about.

Yet, over the past three and a half years, the amount of data that technology companies are collecting has skyrocketed with the advent of “Big Data,” virtual assistants, and “internet of things” devices. All of these technologies entered the mainstream well after the Snowden disclosures began, and there’s little sign of slowing down.

As was plainly apparent yesterday, the Democrat-leaning bigger cities of the United States — the technology centres of the country — tend to create a comforting bubble of likemindedness. Even though there have been plenty of concerns raised over data collection, there was perhaps a sense of trust amongst some — and I’m not one of them — that any data scraped by intelligence agencies would be handled with a certain amount of delicacy and responsibility.

I don’t think this is the case any longer.

Statements Trump made while he was a candidate included proposals to create a registry of Muslims living in the United States, deporting all undocumented immigrants, reducing the freedom of the press, and increasing the power of intelligence agencies. Trump has routinely shown himself incapable of keeping a steady hand when situations become stressful. With Republicans2 in charge of all three branches of government, plus a significant number of Democrats who support bulk data collection efforts, the users of many of the largest websites and online services are now facing worrying prospects, particularly those who identify as members of groups that have been targeted by Trump’s proposals.

Technology companies can act. They can step up their encryption efforts before any challenging legislation is proposed. Or, quite simply, they can reduce the amount of data they collect and store. We can help by reducing or eliminating our use of services that insist upon collecting unnecessary user data, or retaining it for long periods of time. It isn’t easy, but it’s responsible.


  1. I used Google as an example in that paper, but the same observation applies equally to a large number of companies↩︎

  2. Including many of the same people who began the NSA’s data collection programs after September 11, 2001, and supported the FBI in their efforts to fight Apple on device encryption. ↩︎

Music Includes User Instructions in iOS 10.2

After updating my iPhone to the second developer beta of iOS 10.2 yesterday, I noticed an instructional card that appeared after I popped up the Now Playing screen in Music. This is the same screen that I have previously complained about:

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.

Adding a popup with instructions on how to use the screen doesn’t actually solve the problem of it not appearing scrollable. There are other ways to resolve this, like making the Now Playing screen bounce slightly when the user taps on it; or, perhaps, cutting off the bottom row of icons very slightly, like the cut-off icons on the right-side edge of a share sheet.

Fake Apps Masquerading as Popular Retailers Appearing in the App Store

Vindu Goel, New York Times:

Hundreds of fake retail and product apps have popped up in Apple’s App Store in recent weeks — just in time to deceive holiday shoppers.

The counterfeiters have masqueraded as retail chains like Dollar Tree and Foot Locker, big department stores like Dillard’s and Nordstrom, online product bazaars like Zappos.com and Polyvore, and luxury-goods makers like Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Contrary to the article, these apps did not appear “just in time for the holidays” — rather, that’s when the Times and New York Post noticed them. Even though Apple has now removed the apps from the App Store, there’s evidence around the web that these apps have been in the store since mid-September.

Apple gets a lot of App Store submissions, but App Review is supposed to prevent this kind of thing. Even after they scrubbed apps from “Footlocke”, there are still plenty of bogus apps on the store, like this fake SNKRS app.1 As far as I can figure out, the developer of that app as well as “Footlocke” have a bunch of other crapware on the store, and haven’t released anything legitimate. Perhaps apps with names similar to existing apps on the store from otherwise-unknown developers should be subjected to additional scrutiny.


  1. SNKRS is Nike’s app for hot new releases. It isn’t available in Canada, which is why that app caught my eye. Its lack of availability also explains why I’m waiting for a European retailer to ship my Special Field AF-1s. ↩︎

Some Publishers Are Seeing Significantly Increased Traffic From Apple News

Really interesting article from Ricardo Bilton at Nieman Lab:

Alongside the launch of iOS 10 in September, Apple announced a handful of updates to Apple News, which it launched last fall. Along with some cosmetic changes like a new logo and typeface, the new version of the app brought some much-needed features for publishers, including breaking news notifications and support for paid subscriptions. But for many publishers, the most welcome change was to the traffic it gives publishers, which has grown in a big way.

CNN, for example, says its Apple News content got 36.5 million unique readers in September, a major increase from August’s 5 million. Its pageviews also increased significantly to 274 million, up from 43 million a month before.

Those are some pretty astonishing figures. Other publishers are reporting similarly huge gains, while others are seeing flat traffic. Apple says that News now has 70 million users, which seems pretty good for a news aggregator app only available in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. I have no doubt that the figures are somewhat inflated by this hyperbolic U.S. election season; I’m interested to see how Apple News fares post-election.

Explaining Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C

Glenn Fleishman, TidBits:

The reason confusion afflicts this space is that a USB-C port on another computer may support just USB, USB plus display and networking protocols, or all of that plus Thunderbolt 3. The 12-inch MacBook’s USB-C port, for instance, natively supports USB 2 and USB 3 along with DisplayPort and, via adapters, VGA, HDMI, and Ethernet connections, but not Thunderbolt 2 or FireWire.

The summary for potential late 2016 MacBook Pro owners is that all current USB-C devices, cables, and adapters should work when plugged into a MacBook Pro’s Thunderbolt 3 ports. However, Thunderbolt 3-specific devices won’t work with computers and other devices like the 12-inch MacBook whose USB-C ports are less capable. Now, let’s drill down into details.

The adapters available for Thunderbolt 3 are also a little confusing. I suspect articles like these are necessary because both the USB and Thunderbolt ports have changed, all in one and at the same time. Also, USB-C is so multipurpose and adaptable that its myriad capabilities can be hard to understand; it isn’t like going from USB 2 to USB 3, where the only incompatibility you’d notice was a reduction in speed.

Some Publishers are Scrapping Scummy ‘Around the Web’ Ads

Sapna Maheshwari and John Herrman, New York Times:

A sample of six Outbrain recommendations on The New Yorker’s website on Oct. 5 showed the confusion readers may face when looking at content ads; several were legitimate, but one led to a spamlike “clickbait” site and another led to a fake health news site created by a marketing company. Two led to editorial stories from AARP, which promotes its website through Outbrain and embeds the widgets on its own site.

[…]

Asked about the widget and about specific ads, Nicholas Thompson, the editor of NewYorker.com, said, “Outbrain only appears on our humor pages. That’s a deliberate choice.” He added that the arrangement was part of a deal between The New Yorker’s parent company, Condé Nast, and Outbrain. Within a week of the interview, The New Yorker had removed the ads from its site, though it declined to comment on its decision.

I’m surprised that a publication as fastidious as the New Yorker ever allowed those kinds of ads on their website in the first place, even in the humour section.

On Tuesday, the Guardian Will Push Up-to-the-Moment Election Notifications

Laura Hazard Owen, Nieman Lab:

Apple added the ability for apps to push rich notifications with the release of iOS 10 in September. This is the first time that the Lab is including iPhones in its experiments, and “the first time we’ve worked on a new notification format that will be available for apps,” said Sarah Schmalbach, the Lab’s senior product manager. The Mobile Innovation Lab collaborated with The Guardian’s U.K. mobile apps development team to incorporate the new format into the paper’s iOS and Android apps. “We shared with them how we built the live data alert format for Chrome web, and also provided the data feed that will power the alerts the night of the election,” Schmalbach said. The team also worked directly with the developer who manages The Guardian’s push notification service, to develop new business rules and ways to deliver data through notifications in real time.

Judging by the screenshot in the article, it looks like the Guardian is going to be showing off the power of iOS 10’s new push notification APIs. This is what the new notifications backend was really designed for: live and breaking events.

The Curious Case of the Diverging Analysts

Matt Hamblen of Network World:

In late October, market research firm IDC said smartwatch shipments in the third quarter declined by 51% from the same quarter of 2015. The total shipped in the third quarter was 2.7 million, IDC said.

By comparison, research firm Canalys on Thursday said smartwatch shipments were up 60% for the third quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter a year ago. That resulted in 6.1 million units shipped in the latest quarter, Canalys said.

In other news, I am between six and twelve feet tall, according to analyst estimates.

Gawker Settles in Favour of the Man Who Lied About Inventing Email

Mario Aguilar, Gizmodo:

Two early internet pioneers are expressing sadness and disbelief at the fact that Shiva Ayyadurai, a self-described “world-renowned scientist, inventor, lecturer, philanthropist and entrepreneur” who says he invented “email: the electronic mail system as we know it today,” will receive a $750,000 settlement from Gawker Media, the bankrupt publisher that he sued for defamation earlier this year over a series of stories that, his lawsuit claims, “falsely trace the origin of email and call Dr. Ayyadurai a liar.”

Dr. Ayyadurai claimed to have invented email as a teenager in 1978, even though Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. Gawker Media probably figured it was cheaper to pay out than to continue fighting — something that’s especially important now that they’re bankrupt. Peter Thiel’s crusade against Gawker keeps racking up some pretty ridiculous beneficiaries.

Apple Drops Prices on First- and Third-Party USB-C Adapters

Apple:

We recognize that many users, especially pros, rely on legacy connectors to get work done today and they face a transition. We want to help them move to the latest technology and peripherals, as well as accelerate the growth of this new ecosystem. Through the end of the year, we are reducing prices on all USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 peripherals we sell, as well as the prices on Apple’s USB-C adapters and cables.

The risk Apple faced with moving a professional notebook to a port configuration that exclusively features USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is that pro users tend to have very specific workflows individually, and completely different workflows in aggregate. That means that the same computer needs to slot into the existing workflows of photographers, video editors, audio engineers, developers, graphic designers, and other professional users. The advantage is that these users all have completely different peripheral requirements, which means that four general-purpose ports with daisy-chaining capabilities ought to make connecting different devices a lot easier. But because USB-C is so new, that could mean buying a bunch of adapters for short-term adjustments.

This conundrum has led to some writers — like Vlad Savov of the Verge — devoting large chunks of their reviews of the new MacBook Pro (sans Touch Bar) to listing the number of adapters they’re looking at buying, along with the price of each. The underlying sentiment in many of these reviews seems to be an implication that Apple is moving to USB-C to get you to spend more money on adapters.

I think that’s ridiculous. I sincerely doubt that they make a tremendous amount of money off adapter sales. But, even if that’s your feeling, this announcement should help calm your worries.

And, yes, that 5K LG display is also discounted, though not yet shipping. What a tease.

When Mythical Transparent iPhones and Apple Patents Collide

A couple of weeks ago, Robert Scoble posted a masterpiece of a claim on Facebook and Medium:

The next iPhone will be, I am told, a clear piece of glass (er, Gorilla Glass sandwich with other polycarbonates for being pretty shatter resistant if dropped) with a next-generation OLED screen (I have several sources confirming this).

[…]

Also, updates from new sources: expect battery and antennas to be hidden around the edges of the screen, which explains how Apple will fit in some of the pieces even while most of the chips that make up a phone are in a pack/strip at the bottom of the phone.

Needless to say, I am hella skeptical of this rumour. I mean, just look at the size of the battery in the iPhone 7 — it’s near the same height as the LCD, and about 60% of the width. I sincerely doubt the release of a transparent iPhone at any point in the foreseeable future.

I figured this rumour would die an easy death because of how ludicrous it is; but, thanks to a recently-published patent and the journalistic fortitude of writers at the Next Web, that hasn’t happened. Bryan Clark:

Adding additional credibility to the scoop, one of Scoble’s fans recently uncovered an Apple patent from 2014 that describes similar technology:

A handheld computing device that includes an enclosure having structural walls formed from a glass material that can be radio-transparent. The enclosure can be formed from a hollow glass tube or two glass members bonded together. A laser frit bonding process may be used to hermetically seal the two glass members together to create a water resistant electronic device.

Will we see a futuristic refresh for the iPhone next year?

Just because something is glass and is radio transparent, that doesn’t mean it’s optically transparent. And, of course, just because Apple files a patent for something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s something they’re planning to produce or release.

For what it’s worth, a cursory reading of the patent claims and description indicates that it describes using glass as a critical structural component for a device, and a unique manufacturing process for it. This isn’t a patent for some hyper-futuristic transparent iPhone, and it doesn’t appear to support that rumour in any way.

An Interview With Phil Schiller

David Phelan, of the Independent, interviewed Phil Schiller twice after the launch of the new MacBook Pros, and it’s probably one of the best I’ve read recently. Topics covered include the new hardware, the evolution of Apple’s major operating systems, and the reaction to the new MacBooks:

We care about what they love and what they are worried about. And it’s our job to help people through these changes. We know we made good decisions about what to build into the new MacBook Pro and that the result is the best notebook ever made, but it might not be right for everyone on day one. That’s okay, some people felt that way about the first iMac and that turned out pretty good.

I find Schiller’s comparison makes sense: the four Thunderbolt-as-USB-C ports on the new Pro remind me an awful lot of the change to USB on the first iMac. But even that iMac had an Ethernet connection and a phone jack for the modem, in addition to its two USB ports.

The Thunderbolt ports in the new MacBook lineup are, by contrast, much more general-purpose. Because they’re both Thunderbolt and USB-C, you can expect a myriad of useful peripherals — as well as mug warmers and all that other nonsense — in the coming months and years.

For now, though, there’s a good reason that searching sites like NewEgg and Apple’s own store for “USB-C” suggests adapters and cables above everything else. And, because these are “professional” machines that need to fit into a wide array of engrained workflows, you might find yourself needing a lot of adapters at first.

I wanted to highlight one more answer in the interview, in response to a question about the lack of an SD card reader:

One, it’s a bit of a cumbersome slot. You’ve got this thing sticking halfway out. Then there are very fine and fast USB card readers, and then you can use CompactFlash as well as SD. So we could never really resolve this – we picked SD because more consumer cameras have SD but you can only pick one. So, that was a bit of a trade-off. And then more and more cameras are starting to build wireless transfer into the camera. That’s proving very useful. So we think there’s a path forward where you can use a physical adaptor if you want, or do wireless transfer.

This is perhaps the change that frustrates me the most, so I want to pick apart this quote a little.

First, the SD card doesn’t have to stick out. Every camera that I’ve used has a sprung locking mechanism to keep the card snugly in its slot. Something like that might be really elegant on a MacBook Pro, and would help prevent removing the card without ejecting it.

Secondly, CF cards are really only used by some of the highest-end of cameras, like Canon’s 1D X. Other high-end cameras, like Hasselblad’s X1D and the Leica M, use SD cards. Even stepping down to full-frame cameras at a lower price point — the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5D Mk. IV, for instance — also use SD cards. I’m not entirely buying Schiller’s argument that supporting just SD-type cards is a real tradeoff.

As far as wireless transfer is concerned, it’s just not fast or reliable enough, especially for cameras producing 40-plus megabyte RAW images. Want to transfer a thousand of those? Take a nap.

So what are the alternatives? Plugging the camera into the computer means that your camera is out of commission until you can complete the transfer, and it probably also means lugging around a USB-A to USB-C adapter for now. If you’re a photographer, your best bet for transferring images in the field is going to be something like this crummy SD card reader. It’s not pretty and, combined with the lack of a MagSafe connector, looks a little precarious, but it should do the trick. After all, it’s a little tight in there.

Update: Josh Calvetti has reminded me that the original iMac didn’t have FireWire; that wasn’t added until the slot-loading model. I’ve corrected the post.

Talkshow App to Shut Down December 1

John Voorhees, MacStories:

Talkshow, which launched about six months ago, will be shutting down effective December 1st. The service allowed groups to have text-based conversations in public.

This seems like the kind of thing Twitter could — and, arguably, should — have built. Talkshow was like Moments, but at a real-time pace.

The Apple TV

Apple’s “hobby”, the Apple TV, has always been something of a mixed-bag experiment for the company. It was formally launched alongside the iPhone at Macworld 2007, only to have its UI completely redesigned just a year later, and entirely re-thought as a tiny black box in September 2010.

The latest iteration, the fourth generation model, is the first to have a publicly-accessible API, App Store, and the new trackpad-based remote. In many ways, it’s far more capable than the outgoing models, but it has its drawbacks, starting with that remote. Ken Segall:

The Siri Remote is a gorgeously designed object — it’s just a terribly designed remote.

It’s a thin slab that feels like, well, a thin slab. Its shape doesn’t contribute one iota to ease of use. There are a number of remotes out there that fit the human hand nicely, and put the most-used buttons at one’s fingertips. The Tivo remote is a good example, as are a few presentation clickers.

Lapses of this type make it difficult to defend Apple when it is accused of favoring design over function. It’s hard to think of the Siri Remote as anything but design run amok. It’s beautifully annoying.

Anecdotally, every time I’ve plopped the remote down beside me on the couch, it’s thin and light enough that it will slide next to my thigh at some point and cause whatever I’m watching to jump around.

Despite reported setbacks, Apple is rapidly pushing forward their vision of TV. For a start, I’ve heard that they’re working on an updated remote, and they previewed last week a new app — called simply “TV” — that will launch in December in the United States. John Vorhees, MacStories:

During the event in Cupertino, Apple said that the TV app will recommend content across apps installed on customers’ Apple TVs based on the apps a customer has downloaded as well as media watched, purchased, and rented. TV will also be available on iOS devices, unifying TV and movie watching across iOS and tvOS. In addition, TV will include curated suggestions based on user’s watching habits.

I think this app raises more questions than it answers. For one, why is it an app at all? Joe Rosensteel:

Why is TV the app an app and not the Home screen on the device? It’s obviously modeled after the same ideas that go into other streaming devices that expose content rather than app icons, so why is this a siloed launcher I have to navigate into and out of? Why is this bolted on to the bizarre springboard-like interface of tvOS when it reproduces so much of it?

You could argue that people want to have access to apps that are not for movies or TV shows, but I would suggest that that probably occurs less often and would be satisfied by a button in the TV app that showed you the inane grid of application tiles if you wanted to get at something else.

This was the first thing that sprung to my mind when I was watching the live stream of the event. I understand the familiarity of the app tiles on the existing home screen, but the TV app uses a similar grid of tiles in a more visual interpretation that feels at home on the television.

I get the sense that Apple is in a greater state of flux and transition than it has been for a while. They’ve got two new platforms — tvOS and WatchOS — to work with, a bunch of major hardware changes to the iPhone and MacBook lineups, and a greater reliance upon cloud services than ever before. I’m not sure if there’s actually a greater amount of turbulence than there usually is, but it feels a bit like that.

RIP, Startup Chime

Amongst a long list of transgressions, the lack of the familiar startup chime in the new MacBook Pros barely registers on my priorities. And I do mean “familiar”. Stephen Hackett:

However, the startup chime is ingrained into the experience of having a Mac, I’m sad to see it go. A Mac without the chime feels broken, even if I know it isn’t. I don’t power down my machines often, but I liked hearing the chime when I power them back up.

It’s tradition.

Whenever I reboot my Mac and I don’t hear the startup chime, I immediately fret that something is broken; usually, though, it’s because I’ve left my system muted.

But my experience with the startup chime is that it’s a greater nuisance than anything. I remember sitting in the library and other quiet study spaces in university, hearing someone power on their Mac, and immediately follow it with a hushed “sorry!” after the sound played.

It’s not exactly a congruous tradeoff, but there are some notable improvements to the power-on behaviour of new Macs. They now switch on when opening the lid, which is what I think most people expect. If you really want to reenable the startup chime, you can, but I’ll be leaving it off whenever I upgrade. Nostalgia doesn’t outweigh the expectation that technology just gets out of the way.

Why the Touch Bar Makes Sense for Professional Users

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

What professional users would like — what I know I would like if I were still editing thousands of photos a week as a photographer — is a way to surface buried commands and make them ready for you. (As a side note, I think Apple is doing future generations a great service in sublimating the importance of keyboard shortcuts, which are arcane and difficult to discover and use.)

John Gruber:

The Touch Bar is not the answer to “How do we bring touchscreens to the Mac?”, because that question is not actually a problem. The Touch Bar is the answer to “These keyboard F-keys are cryptic and inflexible — what can we replace them with that’s better?” That’s an actual problem.

Keyboard shortcuts can be great in applications that you use all of the time, but they’re hard to discover. This is particularly true when the command is buried in some tertiary-level menu, or if the software doesn’t use system conventions: VLC’s ⌘N shortcut for opening a file from a URL instead of creating a new window or document, for example, or Photoshop’s ⌘K shortcut for preferences instead of the more typical ⌘,.

The Touch Bar solves buried shortcuts by elevating contextually-related commands to a visual foreground. Pro users may scoff that they don’t need it for the applications they use regularly, but that’s missing the point. The Touch Bar is for the applications or commands that you use less frequently.

Apple Discontinues the Non-Retina MacBook Pro

The non-Retina 13-inch model was the last MacBook Pro — actually, the last computer — that Apple sold with a disc drive. It also happens to be the last MacBook with storage and RAM that can be upgraded after purchase.

The part of me that loves a singular and complete computer is thrilled with the new MacBook Pros, but the part of me that has regularly upgraded my computers doesn’t seem ready just yet.

Update: Looks like the new MacBook Pros have a swappable SSD after all. My apology for being incorrect, but this is excellent news.

Twitter Is Broken, Yet Vital

Alex Kantrowitz, Buzzfeed:

The platform similarly became a critical source for updates on the Brexit fallout and the invasion of Mosul, along with the usual celebrity spats and sports commentary. No other service possesses the fast-moving, real-time environment of Twitter, and the platform provides an unparalleled window into unfolding world events. The worst corporate turbulence, it seems, can’t shatter the glass around the lightning it caught in its bottle a decade ago now, which no other company, service, or product has been able to duplicate.

I don’t think there’s a bigger disconnect between company and product at any company than there is at Twitter. The company has a long way to go to improve their record of allowing abuse and intimidation on their platform, but the core of the idea is solid, unique, and — dare I say — irreplaceable.

The Death of Vine Makes the Internet a Worse Place

Just before today’s Apple event, Twitter announced that Vine would, effectively, be shutting down “in the coming months”.

Brian Feldman wrote a bit of a eulogy for New York magazine:

But the point of Vine was never to generate the next Fellini. It was to have dumb, stupid free play on an internet increasingly hostile to that kind of freedom, whether because of surveillance or heavy-handed advertiser presence or trolls. The lack of adult supervision or corporate culture may have made it somewhat impenetrable, but it also made it feel free in a way no other social network really does. And that freedom paid off. In terms of creating phrases, ideas, and images that made it into mainstream culture — that is, memes — Vine was unparalleled. If you’ve heard, or said, or been baffled by “I was told by Apple Care!” or “on fleek” or “what are those,” you’ve encountered a Vine in the wild.

The best Vines had more creativity and laughs per second than most sitcoms or movies.

This is also notable:

Most important, the engines of this creativity were groups poorly served by, and often shut out from, mainstream cultural creation and consumption. Vine wasn’t just dominated by teenagers — it was dominated by teenagers of color. Especially black teens, who created a disproportionate number of popular Vines and used the social network to demonstrate wit, intelligence, creativity, and comic timing that was rarely given a spotlight elsewhere.

CNet’s Interview With Apple Executives About the New MacBook Pros

Shara Tibken and Connie Guglielmo of CNet scored an exclusive pre-launch interview with Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, and Jony Ive about the new MacBook Pros. They cover much the same ground as in today’s keynote, but Schiller also addressed the pricing of the products head-on:

Affordability is “absolutely something we care about,” Schiller says. “But we don’t design for price, we design for the experience and the quality people expect from Mac. Sometimes that means we end up at the higher end of the range, but not on purpose, just because that’s what it costs.”

No matter the reason why, it still stings a little, particularly for those of us with weaker currencies than the American dollar.

The New MacBook Pros

After a year and a half without an update, there are — finally — new MacBook Pros, and they look really damn good. And expensive.

The new OLED contextual Touch Bar is, of course, the standout feature of these new Macs. I’m definitely the kind of user who has memorized the keyboard shortcuts for everything I do regularly, but a feature like this is going to be perfect for apps that I don’t use very often. Pro apps, in particular, tend to cram a lot of functionality into the UI — something which becomes increasingly problematic as the display size shrinks. The Touch Bar looks like a very good solution to that, by providing contextual controls within the reach of your fingers.1

There’s lots else to love about these Pros. The display now has a P3 colour gamut, there are four Thunderbolt 3 ports2 — any of which can charge the Mac — and it comes in silver and Space Grey.

But there’s one thing I’ve seen that’s rather blunted the praise for these new Macs: a not-insignificant price jump. The outgoing 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro started in Canada at $1,549, while the 15-inch was $2,449 Canadian. With the Touch Bar, the 13-inch now starts at $2,299, while the 15-inch is $2,999. In the U.S., the price differences are around $300-400.

To try to close the chasm between the new Pros and the 13-inch MacBook Air, Apple has a version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar, less-powerful processor, less-powerful graphics, and just two Thunderbolt 3 ports. As my existing Air is frequently connected to my Thunderbolt Display, this is virtually the perfect Mac for me. However, even this one starts at $1,899 in Canada. Speccing it up the way I’d want to — 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB drive, because it now appears to be soldered and therefore can’t be upgraded — would run me a bill of $2,859.

Make no mistake: I’m not complaining about the new MacBook Pros. They look incredibly powerful, ridiculously thin, and have amazing displays. But they are very spendy right now, and that’s an especially hard pill to swallow when the Mac seems to receive less attention than it used to. I think the 13-inch MacBook Pro is my next computer, but I’ll be saving enough money to buy it until the next time they update it.


  1. By the way, the Touch Bar finish shows how great a matte Retina display would look on pretty much any device. ↩︎

  2. These are now in the USB-C connector shape, bringing them in line with the MacBook. Apple’s updated MacBook lineup — excluding carryover older products at reduced price points — is now entirely USB-C, yet iPhones still come with a USB-A to Lightning cable. ↩︎

Log Littering

Daniel Jalkut points out that the highly-performative updated logging infrastructure in iOS 10 and MacOS Sierra is now almost too explanatory:

Apple has dramatically revamped its standard logging mechanism. Unified Logging, available in macOS 10.12 and iOS 10, replaces various file-based logging approaches with a centralized, database-backed repository for log information of all levels of interest.

[…]

The two big losses, in my opinion, are that the sheer size, number, and variety of logging messages makes it impractical for users to skim the console for “real problems,” and that the resulting logging archives are so large that it’s impractical to casually include them with bug reports to Apple or 3rd party developers.

I’ve had to upload a few sysdiagnose archives to the Bug Reporter this week. Each was over 300 MB, which is about six times the size of previous sysdiagnose files.

But that’s nothing compared to the logs generated when using Apple’s data capture tool issued when requesting support via their more consumer-level help channels. I only left the “capture default information” option checked, as it cannot be unchecked, and it generated 2.16 GB of logs. Incidentally, this log file turned out to be entirely useless because the web-based uploader only allows files up to 1 GB.

I think it’s great that I don’t have to install all kinds of profiles to log critical debugging information, like I typically have to on iOS. But having too much data is equally dangerous: users won’t or can’t upload files, and it’s too much to sift through for power users and developers. Jalkut has some terrific ideas on how to fix this without impacting privacy or the usefulness of the logs.

Reading Between the Lines of Next-Generation iPhone Rumours

Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

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

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

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

AirPods Release Delayed

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

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

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

What a pisser.

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

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

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

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

Apple Reports Q4 Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kara Swisher on Tech’s White Male Problem

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

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

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

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

The Wirecutter Acquisition Is Validating for Atypical Business Models

Matt Haughey:

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

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

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

Updates Available for MacOS, WatchOS, and iOS

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

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

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

Also in this release:

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

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

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

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

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

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

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

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

Regulating the Internet of Things

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

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

Robert Graham of Errata Security disagrees with Schneier:

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Gryta and Keach Hagey, Wall Street Jorunal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DDoS on Dyn Impacts Popular Websites, Services

Brian Krebs:

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

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

Krebs, on the cause of today’s attacks:

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

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

Bruce Schneier just two weeks ago for Vice:

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

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

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

Google Has Quietly Dropped Their Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking

Julia Angwin, ProPublica:

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

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

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

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

‘Anniversaries Are About Getting Old’

John Gruber:

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Benjamin, 9to5Mac:

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

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

Computational Photography and the Pixel

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Hello Again

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

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

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

Two Twitter Offers Rumoured to Have Dissolved Due to Trolls

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

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

Eugene Kim, Business Insider:

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

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

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

Good Design, Inside and Out

Om Malik, writing for the New Yorker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mac-Focused Apple Event Rumoured to Be Held October 27

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

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

Field Notes: Lunacy

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

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

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

New MacBooks Still Rumoured for October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Profile of Tracy Chou

Miranda Katz, writing for Backchannel:

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

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

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

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

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

Shame on Y Combinator

Marco Arment:

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

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

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

Update: Erica Joy:

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

Ellen Pao:

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

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

Project Titan Reportedly Scaled Back

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Welcome to Macintosh’ Season 3

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

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