The truth of this was revealed to some Microsoft researchers, who in the early days of Microsoft Word asked lots of people to send them their configuration files. These were anonymous, because the researchers just wanted to find out what people actually preferred, so they could have those set as the defaults. To their amazement, they discovered that less than 5% had made any changes. At all.
A fantastic, infinitely-quotable article from the Economist:
Interestingly, though, Cisco is not one of the signatories to the letter. In fact, plenty of big tech companies are missing. The fact that only eight companies could be persuaded to sign may be revealing in itself. All of the firms that did sign are software houses. Hardware companies (like Cisco) are entirely absent, even though one of Mr Snowdens’ many revelations is that the spooks have been spending plenty of money and sweat trying to subvert their products. Big telecommunications firms like Level 3 and AT&T, whose fibre-optic cables the spies have been tapping, have not said anything either.
Another notable non-signatory: Amazon. Perhaps this is reading too much from their lack of participation — there are many simple answers for why a company wouldn’t sign the letter — but in a recent interview on 60 Minutes, Jeff Bezos mentioned that Amazon was building a version of their web storage database for the CIA. I don’t necessarily think that their non-participation is indicative of disagreement with the spirit of the letter, but perhaps they — along with Cisco, etc. — don’t want to lose their government contracts.
The uncommonly unified front — featuring companies, such as Google and Microsoft, that compete fiercely on business matters — underscored the deep alarm among technology leaders over revelations that the National Security Agency has collected user data far more extensively than the companies understood, in many cases with little or no court oversight.
In a letter to U.S. leaders published in several newspapers Monday, the coalition calls for an end to bulk collection of user information — such as e-mail, address books and video chats — and for the enactment of significant new protections when courts consider specific surveillance requests.
We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.
It’s an awfully complex issue for the reason cited above: governments should protect their people. This has been accomplished through clandestine means for millennia. Once upon a time, phone taps were required to be specific. Law enforcement was required to know the number before requesting a warrant to intercept the line. Now, it’s like all of our phones are being tapped and a warrant is required to access the data. Data which, by the way, has already been collected and an automated warrant tool which, frequently, requires barely any human interaction.
Let’s assume for a minute that these broad and repeated violations of our right to privacy have actually managed to save lives. How many prevented attacks are required for this to seem worthwhile? Would it be worth sacrificing our entire right to privacy to prevent the death of a single human being? That’s, understandably, a hard question to answer; I don’t necessarily think there’s a “correct” answer, or even a logical opinion for this one.
The above is, of course, under the assumption that the United States is always under threat of attack. To what extent is that true? I wouldn’t be surprised if the US sees more potential external threats than, say, Belgium. But perhaps the US also faces many more internal threats which cannot be neutralized because the NSA swears — hand on heart — that it doesn’t monitor US communications. This is, of course, because they ostensibly abide by the Fourth Amendment, which protects against search and seizure without a warrant. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been held up as an example of human rights affordances and protections, to which I ask: “So why are non-American humans undeserving of being protected according to these rights? Shouldn’t the US be strong enough to treat others in accordance with their own laws?”.
These are all questions which I wish there were answers, easy or hard. I don’t necessarily think there’s any way to simplify this issue, though. I think this is tricky. That’s why I’m interested in the outcome of these eight major tech companies unifying against these surveillance capabilities. Perhaps it will continue the dialogue to create the meaningful reform that’s so desperately needed. I am optimistic.
Ratio is the result of pondering coffee makers for several years. After listening to many customers complain about flimsy plastic parts, complicated programming steps, and overall inelegance, I decided to draw together a team of talented designers, engineers, and creatives to build a new company that is devoted entirely to coffee machines of unmatched beauty and quality.
This is an object of inspiring quality and craft. It combines the wonderful taste of a Chemex with the ease of a drip coffee machine. The $395 sale price tag (regular $480) is a little steep for me, especially considering how much I love my AeroPress, but this is a piece of kitchen equipment to admire.
Sharp’s PN-K321 4K Ultra HD LED monitor, which displays images at a 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution, is on sale for €3,999 (US$5,444) through Apple’s U.K. and other European online stores. The monitor is not yet listed on Apple’s U.S. online store.
This is particularly intriguing in the wake of Dell’s announcement of a 4K display which they say will be affordable:
The Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD Monitor (UP3214Q) is available globally starting at $3,499. The Dell UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD Monitor (UP2414Q) is now available in the Americas, starting at $1,399. It will be available worldwide on December 16. The Dell 28 Ultra HD Monitor (P2815Q) will be available in early 2014. […]
The Dell 28 Ultra HD Monitor will be available in early 2014. Offering the same incredible Ultra HD screen performance as the Dell UltraSharp 32 and Dell UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD Monitors, but priced at under $1,000…
All three of Dell’s displays are being offered for far (far) less than Sharp’s; it isn’t the result of retail markup by Apple, either. Oh, and remember that UK pricing is egregious; the Sharp sells for around $3,500 in the US. If you think all of these displays are expensive, by the way, remember that the 30-inch Cinema Display was first priced at $3,300 in 2004, which is $4,079.95 in 2013 dollars.
I bet Apple’s sale of the Sharp display is a temporary measure until they release a 4K Thunderbolt Display, though. And, yes, I want one.
The implications of iBeacon go beyond Apple stores. One day, commuters might get information on subway delays as they stand on the platform, while museum visitors might get details on the painting they are standing in front of. Other retailers will be also able to offer deals or track which aisles shoppers linger in the longest.
There are huge implications beyond retail. What Apple is rolling out right now is only scratching the surface, and is probably the least interesting (at least, to me) implementation of iBeacon. If this takes off, transit authorities won’t have to spend hundreds of dollars per bus stop to install LED displays, for instance. For smaller cities, that’s not a big deal; in Calgary, we have 5,874 bus stops, which could potentially mean a large cost savings.
Or consider some of the things which NFC is used for today which could be migrated to iBeacon. The possibilities are more open and adaptable because the technology doesn’t require hardware beyond Bluetooth 4.0, which has been seen in most major smartphones since about 2011. NFC, on the other hand, has seen a poor adoption rate, even though it was rolled out sooner.
This is a much smarter way of creating augmented reality. Instead of holding your phone up and using its camera-and-display combo as a sort of augmented window into the world, iBeacons allow for similar functionality in a much subtler way. My biggest question is whether this technology will be easier for Muggles1 to understand and use.
You know, people who don’t read Daring Fireball, TechMeme, or yours truly. ↩
We all know Android devices aren’t supported for as long as iOS devices; “Fidlee” has put together a chart which demonstrates the speed at which they lose support.
It’s a little more complicated than the chart makes it out to be, though: not all devices in either ecosystem necessarily support all of the features of each version of the OS. My iPhone 4S does not support AirDrop because it lacks the hardware for it, while a friend’s iPhone 4 doesn’t support all of the iOS 7 blurring, because it can’t be rendered quickly enough. But enough of the APIs are supported for developers on all devices that they can require the latest version of iOS for an app and still have a broad user base.
…six days ago. I should pay attention to my Vimeo feed. Scott Simpson’s talk is very funny, while Sebastiaan de With’s is insightful, and Jonathan Rentzsch’s has a lot of consonants in a row. Christina Warren’s talk is absolutely one of the most honest and significant of the year, though. Every year, the conference seems to produce some of the best talks in the indie software/Mac user/nerdy conference space. You weren’t doing anything tomorrow, right?
I’ve been a little quiet lately because I have been preparing for an exhibition I curated. It’s called “Departures”; here’s an excerpt from my curatorial statement:
These sundry works have been selected from a much greater pool of works by [Teresa] Tam, and have been arranged in an open but deliberate narrative. By placing older works in context with more recent ones, parallels are revealed in the aesthetic and formal choices despite years and mediums of separation. Further exploration reveals that this is not a simple retrospective, but rather a more complex commentary on the mediums’ influences on each other. There are analog “glitches” in the Polaroids which are reflected in the digital glitches created in the videos, for example.
Due to their arrangement in the gallery, the individual works are given new context and meaning; collectively, they form an entire work unto itself, which I have titled “Departures”.
I try not to self-promote here, but I wanted you to understand my absence. This has been a huge amount of work, and I look forward to showing you a little more very soon.
Ben Thompson, as is typical for him, nails why a China Mobile iPhone is kind of huge. I mean, you’d expect the launch of an iPhone on the world’s largest carrier would be big, but not this big. It’s really big.
[Microsoft's Julie] Larson-Green explained the original aim of Windows RT: “Windows on ARM, or Windows RT, was our first go at creating that more closed, turnkey experience [like the iPad], where it doesn’t have all the flexibility of Windows, but it has the power of Office and then all the new style applications. So you could give it to your kid and he’s not going to load it up with a bunch of toolbars accidentally out of Internet Explorer and then come to you later and say, why am I getting all these pop-ups. It just isn’t capable of doing that by design.
“So the goal was to deliver two kinds of experiences into the market, the full power of your Windows PC [on the Surface Pro], and the simplicity of a tablet experience that can also be productive. That was the goal. Maybe not enough. I think we didn’t explain that super-well. I think we didn’t differentiate the devices well enough. They looked similar. Using them is similar. It just didn’t do everything that you expected Windows to do. So there’s been a lot of talk about it should have been a rebranding. We should not have called it Windows.”
Maybe calling it “RT” wasn’t a good idea, either. Who knows what a runtime environment is, anyway?
But, to her credit, Larson-Green says exactly what everyone else (including yourstruly) has been saying for a long time: the lack of differentiation between the two nearly-identical versions of Windows which did wildly different things. Customers aren’t stupid, but trying to understand the myriad differences and nuances specific to each version of Windows is a waste of their time.
The sputtering launch of Healthcare.gov is something I’ve been watching from a distance, but it’s troubling. On the one hand, a comparison of its reliability against other large websites is perhaps unwarranted, given the time those websites have had to ramp up to meet demand (and, let’s not forget that downtime still occurs for large web services — Twitter, anyone?).
But, on the other hand, it’s clear that it’s a complete mess. It might be because I’m outside the US, but if I try to visit Healthcare.gov, I am only able to see the default Apache “It works!” page — and, yes, I wholly appreciate the irony of this.
Because the procurement process is such a headache, agencies often lock in contractors for longer periods. This speeds things up, but it also gives preference to Beltway insiders and excludes smaller companies. As a result, new programming frameworks and development methods take a long time to reach the government. A company that has already bagged a 10-year contract has little incentive to innovate.
Instead of trying to repeal the law, if the government should be spending time revisiting how it purchases and deals with IT. If that can’t happen, more than just healthcare will suffer in the future.
It seems like the procurement process was a nightmare in the pre-IT days; with the speed at which technology moves now, it’s even worse. This isn’t a problem with the Affordable Care Act, but rather a larger problem of how government contracts are awarded. The worst thing that could happen now is for the process to remain the same.
Spotify on Tuesday unleashed a load of data, revealing that each time a user listens for a song, rights holders are paid between $0.006 and $0.0084. Over the course of 2013, the company says it will have paid $500 million in royalties, representing half of the $1 billion Spotify sent to rights holders since setting up shop in 2008.
This is at odds with the extremely low payouts reported by bands such as Grizzly Bear or Galaxie 500. My guess is that the discrepancy is between Spotify paying “rights holders” and the artists reporting what they were actually paid; “rights holders” sounds like it describes what is paid to the combination of artist, record label, songwriters, and so forth. There’s also the chance that these royalty rates may have been adjusted since the first wave of these stories broke several years ago.
If you use an Android phone — and I know a few of you do — this is a must-download. VSCO Cam is undoubtably my favourite photo editing app for iOS, and I’m sure it’s just as great on Android.
Update: I’ve seen a few complaints about the UI, especially its reliance upon symbolism. It’s a little tricky to get used to; it isn’t as easily-discoverable as, say, Snapseed or Analog. But if you’ve ever used Lightroom or Aperture, the symbols will all feel similar to you. It’s very powerful once you get the hang of it.
I am perhaps not the best person to review an iPad. My iPad history is short: it began with an iPad 2, which was replaced with a third-generation model. That’s it. I have not spent substantial time with a fourth-generation iPad, a first-generation Mini, or an iPad Air, so I lack any point of comparison to recent models. Therefore, this won’t, can’t, be a review which compares the Mini against the other offerings out there and establishes the benefits and drawbacks of owning this against those. Rather, this will be a review of why I moved from a third-generation iPad (iPad 3 from here on) to an iPad Mini, and my experiences with this product in that context.
This iPad Mini, then.
I bought a space grey 16 GB WiFi iPad Mini. Its 16 (ish) gigabytes of storage are plenty for me, as I don’t keep a local media library on the iPad. It is WiFi-only because my 3G plan includes tethering and I don’t want give my cell carrier any more money than I already do. I chose space grey because it looks badass.
My last new iOS device was a third-generation iPad, so I haven’t really experienced the enormous leaps Apple has made in build quality, aside from brief glimpses in an Apple Store. This iPad Mini is built so well that it seems as if it isn’t made, but sort of birthed in a fully-formed state. Every time I think the bar for build quality cannot be raised any higher, Apple proves me wrong. It’s a wonderful product to hold and to use.
It’s also extraordinarily thin and light. Apple says that it’s slightly thicker than the first-generation Mini, but it’s pretty thin any way you look at it. It’s obviously lighter than my iPad 3; what I was surprised by is just what that weight difference does to the device. When I got my iPad 3, I explained why I didn’t mind the weight increase:
Of course, Apple would rather they reduced weight with each generation of any of their portable products. But I would prefer to keep the battery life the same and increase its weight than preserve the weight of the iPad 2 and lose even an an hour of power. That’s exactly what they’ve done. Despite my heavy usage during the first weekend, battery life was never a concern.
The iPad 3 weighs 650 grams; the iPad Mini I’m holding weighs just 331 grams. Truth be told, the iPad 3 isn’t actually that heavy; I’m pretty scrawny, but it’s not an effort to use with one hand. But when devices shrink to this size, every extra gram feels substantially greater. As a result, the iPad Mini doesn’t feel like it’s half the weight of the iPad 3 — it feels like it’s a quarter of the weight, or even less. It’s crazy light.
Unlike the iPad 3’s hot and expensive A5X chip, the iPad Mini uses the A7 SoC; so, unlike the iPad 3, it doesn’t get warm to the touch. After using the Mini for even a day, I picked up my iPad 3 and it felt large, cumbersome, and heavy. The improvements of the Mini are extremely noticeable in such a positive way. In simple terms, this means you get a Retina display without the compromises you’d expect, such as those in the transition from the iPad 2 to the iPad 3. And, oh, what a display.
The Retina display in this year’s iPad Mini has the same 326 pixel-per-inch density as an iPhone, so it comes as no surprise that it’s tack-sharp and looks like a printed page. The reason I didn’t buy an iPad Mini last year is because I do an awful lot of reading on my iPad; the display in the model sitting right in front of me absolutely solves that issue. While it isn’t laminated to the glass like the iPhone’s display is, it sits close enough that there’s no noticeable distortion or aberration. If you thought the previous generation iPads were like a touch screen magazine, this is even closer.
On paper, the Mini should have a better-quality display than my iPad 3 does1 — it has the same number of pixels in a smaller space. In practice, however, the difference between those pixel densities is negligible: I can’t see individual pixels on either model unless I look very closely at, say, an uppercase “A” or “V”. Both displays have such a high pixel density that it’s hard to tell them apart.
All of this amazing display tech hasn’t come without a few hiccups, though. The earliest iPad Mini recipients reported significant image retention, similar to that of some of the first Retina MacBook Pros. Sure enough, I got worried when my iPad Mini arrived and — after going through the initial setup steps — I was presented with the “Connect to iTunes” screen, which has a white line drawing of a Lightning cable on it. After connecting, the screen changed, but the ghost of a Lightning cable remained for several minutes.
However, since then, I haven’t seen any retention at all. My guess is that either the winter delivery or the high contrast of the “Connect to iTunes” screen were to blame. I ran Marco Arment’s retention test and my iPad passed. In day-to-day use, I haven’t seen any issues whatsoever, even in places like the barely-changing status bar area.
One point of contention has cropped up with regard to this display, though: its colour gamut is relatively small. DisplayMate compared the iPad Mini against Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX 7, and concluded:
[T]he iPad mini with Retina Display unfortunately comes in with a distant 3rd place finish behind the innovative displays on the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and new Nexus 7 because it still has the same small 63 percent Color Gamut as the original iPad mini and even older iPad 2. That is inexcusable for a current generation premium Tablet.
A damning critique of what should be the iPad Mini’s preeminent feature.
In his review, Anand Lal Shimpi came to a similar (if less strongly-worded) conclusion:
The difference is small but apparent, particularly if you’re used to panels with full sRGB coverage like the iPad Air or any of the rMBPs/iMacs. The biggest deviations are in reds/blues and magenta in between as you can tell from the CIE chart above. […]
Compared to the previous generation mini we’re obviously talking about a much better panel. But for those of you on the fence between the mini and Air, the Air does still hold a display advantage.
My iPad 3 very nearly has the full sRGB gamut. In a side-by-side test, the iPad Mini’s colours don’t pop quite as much, but it’s genuinely — hand on heart — fine. I browsed through the Atlantic’s selection of entries in this year’s National Geographic photo contest on both iPads and my calibrated Thunderbolt Display. The Mini was noticeably weaker than the others but, while I wish it had a full sRGB gamut, the difference isn’t as egregious as DisplayMate makes it out to be. It’s somewhat disappointing when comparing it to the (much cheaper) Amazon and Google units, but it was not a large concern. If it wasn’t pointed out, I likely wouldn’t have noticed.
Day to day use of the iPad Mini is sublime. At the very first iPad introduction, Steve Jobs described how exciting it was to hold the internet in your hands; with this iPad Mini, it feels like that to an even greater extent. This is due to a combination of the weight, size, and display quality. Nothing I’ve ever seen or used comes close to this browsing experience. It’s small and light enough to comfortably sit in one hand, so it’s a casual but very powerful way to work or to relax.
I did mean work, by the way. Even though it’s quite narrow on the long edge, you can still type on the onscreen keyboard with ease. Unlike a 10-inch iPad, it doesn’t feel like a full-sized keyboard, but I found it very comfortable to type on. As a bonus, it’s certainly easier to thumb type in portrait orientation. And because it’s pretty much the same as an iPad Air underneath — the processor is clocked at an imperceptibly lower rate, everything else is identical — it runs every application with aplomb. Numbers and Pages were as zippy as you’d like. Keynote was pretty great as well, though it did struggle when opening a 200 MB media-heavy presentation which I previously created on my Mac. But, hey, it takes a while to open that on my Mac, too; it’s a big presentation.
My biggest complaint with the iPad Mini is, as ever, that Apple hasn’t put enough RAM in it. Tabs in Safari are routinely dumped, even if there are only a few open, and apps are very likely to have been terminated in the background when switching between them.
Safari tabs suffer most from the low RAM, particularly when a tab has a form of some kind. There is no nastier surprise than switching to another tab to check something and then switching back to find that the page will refresh and the form contents have been cleared. It’s not as if every tab is playing loads of GIFs or anything, either — this happens on a regular basis with almost wholly text-based pages.
I see three ways in which this could be mitigated:
User-entered content should always be preserved if the system needs to dump an app from memory.
The memory consumption of the operating system could be reduced.
iPads could ship with more RAM.
Way One is relatively straightforward, while Way Two is incredibly difficult — it isn’t as if Apple is being cavalier with the system’s memory usage as it is. Both have the advantage of being backwards-compatible, though. But I don’t see memory consumption going down in the future, so Way Three seems necessary as well.
My only other complaint has to do with the Smart Cover. For the most part, it does its job admirably, but the tri-fold arrangement makes it awkward to deal with. The old four-fold version could fold back on itself and felt much sturdier. The tri-fold version can’t fold back on itself, so if you unfold it and hold the iPad with your left hand, as I do, it kinda flops around on the back. It also feels less study: I tend to use my Smart Cover in the landscape keyboard-friendly orientation (as opposed to the nearly-vertical orientation) and, though I’m not a heavy typer, the magnetic connection has occasionally given out underneath my fingers.
Despite these quibbles, however, this iPad Mini is one amazing product. If the iPad Air is like a magazine, this is like a novel. Indeed, I’ve spent a lot of time reading on this iPad in just the first couple of weeks I’ve owned it (including guiltily digesting “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls“). But, despite its size, I’ve also produced a fair amount of stuff as well — a number of posts on Pixel Envy, including some of this review, were written on it. It’s super light and tiny, so you can toss it in pretty much any bag and bring it everywhere with you. If you have a hankering for a sub-10-inch tablet, the iPad Mini is truly wonderful. It absolutely feels like the future.
It’s interesting to look back at pre-release rumours which pondered how Apple would market an apparently superior display at a lower price point. The answer is obvious: the “Retina” brand encompasses all displays of high-enough density so the pixels cannot be seen. From a customer’s perspective, there is no difference. ↩
Fascinating article by Ralph Langner, for Foreign Policy:
Three years after it was discovered, Stuxnet, the first publicly disclosed cyberweapon, continues to baffle military strategists, computer security experts, political decision-makers, and the general public. A comfortable narrative has formed around the weapon: how it attacked the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz, how it was designed to be undiscoverable, how it escaped from Natanz against its creators’ wishes. Major elements of that story are either incorrect or incomplete.
That’s because Stuxnet is not really one weapon, but two. The vast majority of the attention has been paid to Stuxnet’s smaller and simpler attack routine — the one that changes the speeds of the rotors in a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium. But the second and “forgotten” routine is about an order of magnitude more complex and stealthy.
Apple recently acquired social-media analytics firm Topsy Labs Inc. for more than $200 million, according to people familiar with the matter. […]
The company is one of a handful of Twitter Inc. partners with access to the so-called “fire hose”— the full stream of tweets since 2006, which now average roughly 500 million a day. Topsy then analyzes this information and resells it to customers. […]
If I had to hazard a guess, this might be related to Apple building out the relevancy engine of its App and iTunes Stores. Adding social signals to the search algorithms of its stores could help to improve the relevance of search results and help Apple surface apps that are hotter and more interesting to users. Tracking app trends across social networks would allow them to fine tune categories and collections of apps, and surface apps that are gaining steam more quickly.
Recommendations are only as good as the inputted data; if Apple increases the size of the data input, the output recommendations improve.
“We are also trialing a 250/50 Mbps tier using DOCSIS 3.0 in select markets to test consumer interest,” Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas told Ars. “The interest in these ultra, ultra high-end speed tiers is today still rather limited.”
Comcast’s data overage fees might put a damper on customer enthusiasm for speeds in the hundreds of megabits. Comcast actually does deliver a half-gigabit to home customers, but that offering relies on fiber to the premises rather than cable. The 505Mbps down and 100Mbps up service is available in some markets for $399.95 a month, nearly six times the price of Google Fiber.
At that price, no wonder interest is low. While some may scoff at an ultra high-speed connection, consider all of the things delivered over that connection: operating systems, applications, movies, and streaming music. All of these common uses would benefit enormously from a gigabit ethernet connection.
This egregious pricing isn’t entirely the fault of the providers, though. North American cities have a penchant for single-family low-density urban planning, so running fibre for miles to a hundred-home suburb becomes extremely expensive. More dense regions don’t solve the problem, either: they require much more robust infrastructure to cope with the traffic. And, as Brodkin explains, there are existing infrastructure reasons which limit the ability to upgrade some regions.
Even if all of the above hurdles were overcome, though, there’s still the issue of extremely limited choice. The simple reason why gigabit connections haven’t permeated and become cheap in most communities is because most communities have only two or three ISPs to choose from, if they’re lucky; in many markets, there’s just one ISP. When such a powerful industry is controlled by so few players, it becomes a consumer’s nightmare. To paraphrase Elliot Jay Stocks, ISPs have all the power of a utility, yet none of the responsibility.
Of course, in most cities, utilities are run by the local government — either at a municipal or provincial (state) level. So what about a more-or-less municipal ISP? Jon Brodkin explored that concept last week:
While businesses in the Bryan/College Station area pay $3,395 per month for 50Mbps download and upload, businesses only pay $99 for the same service in Chattanooga, Benham told Ars. Bryan/College Station officials are looking for affordable gigabit fiber for residents and 10 to 100Gbps for businesses, along with public wireless networks. The region includes Texas A&M and other institutions in a thriving research sector.
Chattanooga, Lafayette, and other communities have built their own fiber networks, with the utility serving as the Internet provider. Government-run networks aren’t for everyone, though—Louisville and the metro area of Bryan, Texas, and College Station are both hoping to attract private companies to build out a fiber network.
Perhaps a government-run network might not be your flavour; you may cite Eddy Snowden’s disclosures, to which I’d respond that if the NSA is tapping internet connections at high-level providers, what’s the difference? There are potentially other concerns with such a scheme, depending on where you live and your particular political bent. I’d welcome it as an option, at the very least.
This is a fascinating article in the Economist about USB-based power coming as soon as next year — up to 100 Watts of DC power, no less. Buried near the end, though, is this beautiful, wonderful, musical sentence:
[USB inventor Ajay Bhatt's] next plan is to make the USB cable “flippable”—so that the plug fits the socket whichever way it is inserted (for now it works only one way round).
Jeff Bezos: These are effectively drones but there’s no reason that they can’t be used as delivery vehicles. Take a look up here so I can show you how it works.
Charlie Rose: All right. We’re talking about delivery here?
Jeff Bezos: We’re talking about delivery. There’s an item going into the vehicle. I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.
Charlie Rose: Wow!
Jeff Bezos: This is early. This is still…years away. It drops the package.
Charlie Rose: And there’s the package.
Jeff Bezos: You come and get your package. And we can do half hour delivery.
Charlie Rose: Half hour delivery?
Jeff Bezos: Half hour delivery/and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver.
I’m stunned; this is the future. If you had half-hour delivery for nearly anything you could order, can you imagine the possibilities of what you might order? I live centrally in my city, but I can’t find crème fraîche near me. What if I wake up and realize that I don’t have enough coffee for a party I’m hosting, and I already have a lot on my mind? What if my printer ran out of ink at 3:00 AM for an assignment I must hand in at 9:00?1 The possibilities for this are fascinating.
There are loads of questions, obviously, about how such a scheme might work. But, as Bezos notes in the interview, this is quite far in the future. I can’t help but admire Amazon’s innovation in these sorts of areas.
Right up until 9:14 PM on November 22nd, 1987, what appeared on Chicago’s television sets was somewhat normal: entertainment, news, game shows. That night, as usual, Dan Roan, a popular local sportscaster on Channel 9′s Nine O’Clock News, was narrating highlights of the Bears’ victory over the Detroit Lions. And then, suddenly and without warning, the signal flickered up and out into darkness.
In the control room of WGN-TV, the technicians on duty stared blankly at their screens. It was from their studio, located at Bradley Place in the north of the city, that the network broadcasted its microwave transmission to an antenna at the top of the 100-story John Hancock tower, seven miles away, and then out to tens of thousands of viewers. Time seemed to slow to a trickle as they watched that signal get hijacked.
Bizarre nightmare fuel. I might not sleep as well tonight.
David Braue of ZDNet has an interesting idea of why Maps exists in Mavericks:
This lies at the crux of Apple’s decision to move Maps into Mavericks: the company has effectively staked its claim in the idea of what I might call Mapping as a Service (MaaS).
This is the concept of providing a consistent technology platform between desktops and mobile devices that will allow applications to just assume that a certain degree of mapping capability is available with a single tap. Rather than being an optional addon, geospatial capabilities become an intrinsic part of the user experience.
There are all sorts of new and improved location-based APIs in Mavericks; the Maps application has a natural place on the OS as a result. As a result of it being a native application, it feels a lot more engaging and powerful than a web-based tool. Swiping, zooming, and trackpad gestures all provide for a better user experience.
But if Braue is right, my initial doubt over a native Maps application was clearly ill-founded; not just for the reasons above, mind you, but for larger, more powerful reasons.
[T]here is now no visual reminder within the Newsstand icon that there are publications inside, waiting to be read. On top of that, in iOS7 users can now hide the Newsstand icon inside a folder. The once-special treatment that Apple gave publishers in order to encourage the distribution of magazines to the iPhone and iPad had apparently vanished, at least in terms of visual prominence.
Background downloads and silent content-available push notifications could only be used in Newsstand apps prior to iOS 7. But under iOS 7, these are available to all apps.
Adding insult to injury, the new NSURLSession background-download system is much better than Newsstand’s old NKAssetDownload system, and during the iOS 7 beta, Newsstand developers were told to stick with their old system and not use the new one.
It’s hard to see why publishers would want to use Newsstand any more, aside from having a special section in the App Store.
What’s up for debate is whether Google’s blistering rate of patenting means the company is inventing more—and more valuable—technology than it did before. Is Google 500 times as innovative as it was a decade ago just because it is winning 500 times as many patents? Or have circumstances forced the search giant into behaving like the kind of company it professes to despise: the kind that spends a great deal of time, money, and effort on legal maneuvers of dubious value to the public?
Certain Internet companies have a selective perspective on patent assertions. They preach peace to Congress but pursue war when it seems opportune.
If the fans of an English soccer side fail to support their team when it’s down, they will hear their rivals chant, “You only sing when you’re winning.” Some companies’ approach to patents is to only sue when they’re winning, but when they’re not, they turn up the volume in lobbying and public relations. They cry foul over a broken patent system, privateers, trolls, and allegedly conspiring competitors.
Either companies are just playing the game while the game is in play, while simultaneously trying to ensure meaningful patent reform, or they are being disingenuous with their public relations. Either way, I think they enjoy benefitting from patent litigation while preaching to those who support them that they dislike that very same litigation. If the question is one of whether the patents which are being sued over are legitimate, I think that’s a separate debate entirely. But Google isn’t dumb — Apple, Amazon, and Facebook aren’t dumb either.
Still, there’s a zaniness about the currency. Bitcoin is built on a weird mix of the most old-fashioned kind of speculative greed, bolstered by a contemporary utopian cyberlibertarian ideology. Boosters say that bitcoin is the currency of the future. I’d argue that the phenomenon is a digital gold rush perfectly emblematic of the present.
There was a great tweet from the Visual Idiot the other day:
1848: thousands in San Francisco mine for gold, hoping to be rich.
2013: thousands in San Francisco mine for Bitcoin, hoping to be rich.
The crazy thing about bitcoin, from my perspective, is that it’s a currency that behaves more like a volatile commodity.
In around 1945, J.D. Salinger completed work on “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls”, and it was set to be published in Harper’s Bazaar. However, Salinger withdrew it from the magazine, and it sat unpublished for decades. The only known copy in the world was held at Princeton University’s library. Kristopher Jansma described his experience reading the unpublished manuscript:
The Princeton librarian had my photograph taken for an ID badge and I signed a form promising not to damage the rarities. I was instructed to lock up my bag and wash my hands. Off-handedly, the librarian added, “You can bring your laptop in if you want.” I could hardly believe my ears but I did not stop to ask questions.
Inside, I was given a sharpened pencil and three sheets of bright orange paper. Another librarian pulled Box 14 out of a cabinet. Inside was Folder 26. All that distinguished Salinger’s folder from the others was a red label along the edge, reading: NO PHOTOCOPYING.
In accordance with copyright law, the earliest “Ocean” could be published would be 50 years after Salinger’s death — that is, January 27, 2060. It was assumed that a copy would not surface until then.
That didn’t stop enterprising users at a private torrent tracker to request its leaking, though. Four years ago, a user requested it; since then, it racked up six terabytes of bounty, to be awarded to the first person to upload it.
Then, today, it happened: “Ocean” and two other unpublished Salinger stories were leaked. It became apparent that the leak didn’t actually occur today, but in 1999, with the (probably illegal) publication of “Three Stories” in a run of 25 copies. One surfaced on eBay, and it was purchased for about £60.
Reading the stories is an odd experience — “The Ocean Full Of Bowling Balls” in particular is magical and sweet and sad, as is all of Salinger, and it’s a delight to finally be able to read it and impossible to understand why he would secret it away. But the other two stories are very rough, at best, and it’s hard not to feel a bit guilty when devouring something that he didn’t want the world to see, and it’s harder still to imagine a less Salinger-esque way to read these stories than hastily scanned and illegally hosted online.
The ethics of this are interesting. In favour of the leak is the fact that Salinger is dead, and that these stories would not be available for legal publishing before 2060, for arbitrary reasons which are perhaps not in the interests of those most likely to read them. Against the leak is that it’s perhaps against the wishes of Salinger — he clearly didn’t want them published before.
There is something more powerful at work here, though. Rare items — such as these stories, or the Robert Ludwig-mastered version of “Led Zeppelin II” — are pricey collectables. The internet has allowed for a small amount of equalization for those of us who cannot afford to spend hundreds (perhaps thousands) of dollars on rare books and records. These leaks enable us to experience these rare examples without necessarily diminishing the collectable value of the physical items. Surely, that’s a net positive result.
The common assumption is that retailers stock up on goods and then mark down the ones that don’t sell, taking a hit to their profits. But that isn’t typically how it plays out. Instead, big retailers work backward with their suppliers to set starting prices that, after all the markdowns, will yield the profit margins they want.
If you’ve visited any mall several times in the past year, this won’t come as a surprise to you. Every time I walk past Banana Republic, there’s a sign advertising 30-40% off, and it’s much the same for pretty much any large retailer. Even if you know the game, it feels dishonest.
When you take a step back you realize that we have never had anything quite like Android before. While we may make assumptions about what Google may do with their version of Android, we can’t make the same assumptions with what other hardware companies will do with their version of Android. To keep enabling this multiplicity of Android ecosystems all Google simply has to do is keep up with driver and standards support. Perhaps this was the point of Android all along.
How do the economics of product design and consumer electronics change when you can deliver a real computer running a real Unix operating system with an internet connection and a colour touch screen for $35? How about when that price falls further? Today, anyone who can make a pocket calculator can make something like this, and for not far off the same cost. The cost of putting a real computer with an internet connection into a product is collapsing. What does that set of economics enable?
There’s a new version of YouTube out, and as usual, hidden inside its chocolaty center are hints at upcoming features and capabilities. We’ve seen information about a lot of this stuff before, some of which has even been confirmed by Google itself. Aside from the user interface changes we mentioned in the announcement post, there are framework elements for the upcoming YouTube subscription service, “Uninterrupted Playback,” an offline video mode, and background music listening.
Looks like Google is about to launch a second music service, for which the only question I have is “Why?”.
Which is not, as it turns out, a Sting & the Police electronica cover band. ↩
When social technologies emerged, pundits and journalists hailed YouTube, Flickr, and Wikipedia as a way for individuals to fully participate in the creation and dissemination of culture and knowledge. But what is acceptable to create and disseminate has been increasingly circumscribed by what is acceptable to be publicly judged. The “edited self” is one constructed with a particular group of people in mind, and one that people expect will be scrutinized. The care with which people create their edited self is at odds with the stated ideals of equality, meritocracy, and collaboration that permeate the tech scene. And since women in the scene are subject to scrutiny for their appearance, information-sharing, and relationships in a way that men are not, there is a stark gender imbalance in the way user-created content is perceived and judged.
Given the speed with which the GoldieBlox complaint appeared, indeed, it’s reasonable to assume that they had it in their back pocket all along, ready to whip out the minute anybody from the Beastie Boys, or their record label, so much as inquired about what was going on. The strategy here is to maximize ill-will: don’t ask permission, make no attempt to negotiate in good faith, antagonize the other party as much as possible.
Everything PrimeSense does is strikingly different from anything Apple has ever done in products it’s shipped. So even though we don’t know what Apple has in mind for its new acquisition, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t have a meaningful impact on one or more upcoming Apple products.
It’s an acquisition that sticks out because it has no obvious, immediate impact. When Apple acquired AuthenTec, it was pretty clear that they were going to build a fingerprint scanner into the iPhone, for obvious reasons. Many of their acquisitions have foreseeable outcomes, but PrimeSense’s technology is both extremely unique and completely out of Apple’s current wheelhouse. Interesting.
The argument put up against this by 24/192 enthusiasts is that the much higher sample rate and rather smoother waveform capture esoterica like ultrasonic instrument resonances which, on playback, combine to give a noticeably better sound.
Most instruments do not output such frequencies, and almost no microphones, speakers or headphones work significantly above the normal human audio range either. So, unsurprisingly, these opinions are shot down by blinded testing. And, equally unsurprisingly, if Neil’s done any blinded tests of Pono, he’s keeping them a secret.
I like Neil Young; I like most of his records, and I like that he’s trying to raise the bar for the quality of online music distribution. But this 24/192 product is completely nutty.
Unsurprisingly, the crowd who thinks that there is a noticeable difference between 24/192 audio and the 16/44.1 audio of a CD is as resilient and stubborn as homeopaths, conspiracy theorists, and others of a similar calibre. So, naturally, Rutter received letters, and they were not kind:
Astonishingly, there’s no nutty audiophile product that someone doing an uncontrolled listening test doesn’t swear works. Not one! Every one’s a winner, baby!
Unless you do a blinded test. Whereupon, to a first approximation, none of these things work.
I’ve been over this before: you are a human being. Your ears are decent, but they cannot tell the difference between CD audio and high-test studio-quality audio. You probably can’t tell the difference between a very high quality compressed format — 320 kbps or V0 MP3, or 256 kbps AAC — and a lossless format (I can’t).
Here’s a comparative: grab your remote control, face the infrared blaster so you can see it, but not towards your face, and click a button. Don’t see anything? Now grab a camera, and point the infrared blaster of the remote towards the lens while clicking a button. Depending on your camera, you’ll see anywhere from a faint flickering to a giant glow being emitted.1 The human eye can’t see infrared frequencies, but your camera’s CCD can.
Imagine, for a minute, that infrared were not dangerous to human eyes. Now consider a company releasing a television which they consider a breakthrough because it can display infrared. That’s the visual equivalent of the Pono.
If you use a smartphone made in the past few years, you probably won’t see much, as most newer smartphone cameras have an IR filter built in to capture better images. ↩
Kara Swisher has obtained a doozy of a Yahoo internal memo, whereby “doozy” I mean that it sounds like it was written while drinking a box-wine/bathtub gin spritzer:
For some reading this email, you are saying, “Jeff, shut up, you had me at hello.” *hug* Jump over to yo/dogfood, click “Corp Mail/Cal/ Messenger” and you are ready to join our brave new world at yo/corpmail or https://mail.yahoo-inc.com.
For others, you might now be running in your head to a well worn path of justified resistance, phoning up the ol’ gang, circling the hippocampian wagons of amygdalian resistance. Hold on a sec, pilgrim.
The jury found that Agence France-Presse and Getty Images willfully violated the Copyright Act when they used photos Daniel Morel took in his native Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people, Morel’s lawyer, Joseph Baio, said. […]
An editor at AFP discovered Morel’s photos through another Twitter user’s account and provided them to Getty. The photos were then widely disseminated to Getty’s clients, including several television networks and the Washington Post.
It’s a great result for Morel, and sets a good precedent, but it’s disappointing that this needed to go to court in the first place. There’s no way that a company which deals with licensing its own intellectual property on a regular basis, like Getty does, had no idea about the copyright status on these photos.
Apple has completed its acquisition of PrimeSense, the Israel-based company focused on 3-D sensor technology, for a price sources said was around $360 million. […]
PrimeSense became widely known in the sensor technology space for its early work with Microsoft’s Kinect gaming product, which uses cameras and depth sensors to capture players’ motions and incorporate them into Xbox gameplay.
This is a curious piece of technology for Apple to acquire, and for such a large sum of money, too. This isn’t getting locked away in a proverbial desk drawer.
Eric “Foot In Mouth” Schmidt wrote a guide for switching to an Android phone from an iPhone, and it’s amazing (via Stephen Hackett):
Many of my iPhone friends are converting to Android. The latest high-end phones from Samsung (Galaxy S4), Motorola (Verizon Droid Ultra) and the Nexus 5 (for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) have better screens, are faster, and have a much more intuitive interface. They are a great Christmas present to an iPhone user!
Nothing says “I am bad at judging what you want for Christmas” quite like that. Also, please note that Eric Schmidt places two spaces after punctuation. For real.
80% of the world, in the latest surveys, agrees on Android.
What does that mean, exactly?
Set up the Android phone […]
b) Make sure the software on the Android phone is updated to the latest version (i.e. 4.3 or 4.4). You should get a notification if there are software updates.
Download Google Music Manager onto the Mac, and run it. Music Manager will upload your iTunes music to the cloud.
Unless you live outside the US.
Take the SIM out of the iPhone and insert it into Android.
Zach Honig of Engadget flew Singapore Airlines Flight 21 for one of its last runs:
With just 100 seats on board, the all-business-class flight primarily serves deep-pocketed globetrotting executives — many work in the banking industry, often splitting their time between Singapore and New York. (Singapore Airlines retired a similar-length flight from Los Angeles last month.) The nonstop route saves travelers three hours or more over connecting options, including Singapore 25, which has a two-hour layover in Frankfurt. Those three hours, at least for the airline, weren’t enough to justify keeping the A345 in the air, due in no small part to the enormous expense of carrying the additional gas necessary to ferry passengers without a requisite refueling stop.
I’ve linked to “J.K. Appleseed”‘s column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency before; here’s the latest, including three guest stories, plus a spectacular takedown of that shitty New York Times article from late October:
This reminds me of a Howard Stern radio broadcast in which he spoke to a caller who stated that Korean deli owners only thrived in New York because they were exempt from taxes. Stern, to his credit, scoffed.
He asked, “Do you actually believe that? That out of all the hundreds of nationalities in this great city, that this one random one is somehow, secretly exempt from paying taxes?”
As an aside, if you’re looking for the Caitlin Flanagan essay referenced in this piece, the Atlantic has thoughtfully put it online. Sadly, it’s nearly entirely unformatted and Safari Reader doesn’t want to parse it, so chuck it in Instapaper like a human being would.
[T]here’s a peculiar disconnect between our acknowledged multi-device world, and how the technology industry seems to view (and review) products. Each new device is stacked up against its forebears, even across different categories and platforms, as if the substitution of one for the other reflects reality. We read about alternatives, whereas what we’re often looking for are companions.
What a great article from Gemmell. I agree nearly in its entirety, with one minor quibble (or, really, clarification): we only require multiple devices should our requirements necessitate them. Gemmell again, then I’ll explain:
I think there are six categories of consumer computing device that are interesting to most people: primary work machine, portable (or travel) machine, tablet, phone, gaming device, and reading device. You can group them (and potentially collapse them together) in various different ways, but for the moment, that’s what we have.
My work machine and my travel machine are the same. For me, a notebook is an alternative to a desktop because I simply don’t do anything which requires the power of a desktop. I make no noticeable compromise by choosing a notebook in combination with an external display, and gain the significant advantage of portability.
To me, buying an iOS device feels a bit like buying an Intel-based Mac: you get all the great Apple software but you can run everything from the “other camp” too. It’s also interesting to note that one of the major historical arguments for buying an Android device – that it “works better with Google services” – is essentially moot now, save for some minor levels of integration that will probably disappear sooner rather than later.
Entirely agreed. There are minor philosophical differences, but the gist is that both operating systems are operating more similarly as time goes on, not less so. If you want to use Google’s services, you’ve got a plethora of choices on iOS for doing so.
There’s a tendency to think that a program or library that hasn’t been updated in a long time is worthless and has been abandoned. Often, though, it’s because the code is done.
Drang is referring mostly to command line utilities, but software like Things can express this as well. Perhaps — aside from a few interface changes — it is done. Perhaps the developers think they’ve produced a great piece of software that needs no additional features.1 There are two types of response, then:
those who will now abandon the software looking for something more feature rich, and
those who will stick with it because it does everything they need.
Neither of these positions is incorrect, per se, but I don’t think there’s any shame in a software developer stating that the current version of something is complete and that they will only be fixing bugs in future releases. This is especially true for command line programs, but even GUI apps can fall into this category. I occasionally use a couple of small utilities for which the only updates in the past ten years are bug fixes, and to create an Intel binary. They’re fairly ugly apps, but they’re bulletproof.
Consider the inverse effect, though: some software developers feel the pressure to add features to an app which already has most of the features it needs, so it starts gaining features which have no business being in the app. Photoshop has mediocre 3D tools and a janky video editor built in. I see this as evidence of bloat, not progress. I’d be happier if the engineering effort to build 3D tools had gone into fixing some of the egregious, long-standing bugs in Photoshop (rotating a 1 px line 90° should not modify its size, for instance).
Perhaps there’s some nobility in sticking to features which belong in the app, and when that list is all checked off, the software is more-or-less finished.
The Microsoft Store’s new “Scroogled” section includes eight products that’ll make you blush on Microsoft’s behalf. There’s a t-shirt that shows a Chrome logo in a trench coat and another that casts it as a scary spider. There’s a hat that says “Scroogled” and a mug, again with the Chrome logo, that say “Keep calm while we steal your data.”
So edgy, Microsoft.
I don’t understand why they’re doing this. Microsoft runs a tailored advertising business which collects, aggregates, and uses visitor data in much the same way Google does. True, their business model is not dependant upon ads, but this still looks like a really pathetic pot calling the kettle creepy.
Customizable toolbars are back (huzzah). Like Darby Lines, I’m happy to see this smaller but faster updates. It’s a similar story with iOS: now that they’re delivering delta updates, they’re able to move much faster and address immediate and significant flaws.
The lesson I learned is that it’s never too late to re-evaluate your workflow and the apps you use, especially after Apple makes major changes to an OS. I wanted to make sure that I was still using the best browser for me, and while my growing discomfort with Google helped me take the first step, it was Safari’s feature set and user experience that made me stick around.
After a few deplorable versions of Safari with show-stopping bugs, I’ve found the newest versions for both OS X and iOS to be leaps and bounds better than any other browser. Chrome is too resource-hungry (and ugly), while Firefox retains its decade-old look and feel. Safari really hits it out of the park. If you haven’t tried it lately, I think you should consider it.
Diff is a small device that monitors the internal events stream of The New York Times and prints out a summary each time an active headline is changed. As it runs, it generates a long stream of changes printed on thermal paper: text that was removed from a headline is rendered as inverted, while additions to a headline are underlined.
Michael Lopp has held onto using Cultured Code’s Things for a long time, but he’s saying goodbye
How can I trust that I’m using the state of the art in productivity systems when I’m using an application that took over two years to land sync I could easily use? What other innovations are they struggling to land in the application? Why hasn’t the artwork changed in forever? What is that smell? That smell is stagnation.
This line of reasoning gets my hackles up in part because I’m a cautious, deliberate developer. I tend to add features, rework user interfaces, and adopt new platforms at a pace that frustrates even my most loyal customers. I’m slow, but I’m good! When Lopp attacks Cultured Code, the makers of Things, and questions their core competence, I feel that I am being attacked as well.
Trying to find a position on this issue is something I’m struggling with. I see Jalkut’s point — it cannot be overstated that developing great software is hard work. When you move too fast and change too many things, you risk alienating users and completely messing up their workflow. Look no further than the backlash over the recent iWork updates, or iOS 7, or any minor Facebook update.
But, while I was an early adopter of Things and beta tested their cloud syncing service, it’s a suite of software that hasn’t visibly changed much since it launched in January of 2009. The suite remains a preeminent example of user interface quality and syncing reliability, but iOS 7 changed so much that it looks completely out of place in 2013, much like any app which has used close-to-default iOS 6 UIKit components.
iOS 7 has only been public for about two months, but designers and developers have been aware of it for five. And — much as I am a proponent of the app being released right instead of soon — I’m not surprised at Lopp’s position. While Cultured Code is working on an iOS 7 overhaul, other apps are already there, and doing so very well.
I’m optimistic, though. Things is such a great suite, and the attention to detail from the designers and developers is rivalled by very few apps. I’m hoping to see the same when an update is released, and I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed when it arrives.
Markdown Extra is the first plugin I install on any copy of WordPress I administrate (I disable it when I’m not using it on copies I don’t actually own). It’s been nine years since Markdown was first introduced as a markup language for writers; though WordPress has substantially involved since then, at its core, it is still a bogging tool. About time. But I’m not complaining.
Brian X. Chen, writing for the New York Times’ Bits blog:
San Francisco’s district attorney, George Gascón, said he had been working on an agreement with Samsung Electronics to include antitheft software with all its phones sold in the United States. Preloading the software on Samsung’s phones would require approval from the carriers that service the phones. The carriers, including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint, rejected the idea, he said.
Mr. Gascón said that, based on e-mails he had reviewed between a Samsung executive and a software developer, it appeared that the carriers were unwilling to allow Samsung to load the antitheft software. The emails, he said, suggest that the carriers are concerned that the software would eat into the profit they make from the insurance programs many consumers buy to cover lost or stolen phones.
You’re probably expecting me to point out how there is a “kill switch” in iOS 7 for which Apple, presumably, didn’t need to get carrier approval. But that’s not what I’m trying to do here. Whatever the deal is between Samsung (et al) and the carriers is clearly being taken advantage of to the detriment of end users.
48 years after its initial release, the Bob Dylan classic “Like a Rolling Stone” has received a music video. Chris Martins, Spin:
On one channel, Danny Brown performs the song straight, wearing hats that could’ve been nabbed from Dylan’s closet. On another, WTF host Marc Maron and comic Ryan Singer chat, but their words are actually the song’s. Yet another includes the hosts of Pawn Stars, who discuss a vintage guitar while mouthing the lyrics. Drew Carey and the Price Is Right audience get in on the fun, too, as do some tennis players, various news folk, a chef, a cartoon cat, and many others.
Since you’re reading this website, you’re probably the person in your social circles who frequently gets asked for your recommendations on the latest tech stuff. If it’s hardware, you’ve probably consulted the Wirecutter; for apps, though, you’ve never really had a great resource. Until now.
Shawn Blanc just launched his brand new site, the Sweet Setup:
We don’t do fly-by-night scans of the latest apps and then share the top 20 based on which ones had cool screenshots in the App Store. Nor do we recommend apps that we haven’t actually used. The apps we recommend here are the apps we use ourselves. And they’re only recommended after comparing them to the competition, using them in real life, and considering several other practical factors, such as if the price is reasonable, if the app is likely to be updated in the future, etc.
Not only is it a beautiful resource, it’s a reliable one, too. It features reviews by people you trust — Blanc, John Moltz, Dr. Drang — and interviews about how their choice of tools help them work. This is really something special.
From the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman:
The Attorneys General allege that Google’s circumvention of Safari’s default privacy settings for blocking third-party cookies violates state consumer protection and related computer privacy laws. The States claim that Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings and that Google’s earlier representation that third-party cookies were blocked for Safari users was misleading. In order to resolve these allegations, Google has agreed to pay the Attorneys General $17 million…
Shure has tested some thoroughly used pairs of its E1 earphones, which first launched in 1997. And guess what? They measure the same now as when they came off the line. In fact, during the 15 years Shure has been actively selling earphones, its engineers have reached the same conclusion again and again: The sound produced by these tiny transducers during final testing is the same sound you’ll get in a day, in a year, and in five years… unless something goes wrong.
Yet another audiophile myth goes down the tube. How long before this entire industry is revealed for the scam that it is?
I checked my analytics today and saw a bunch of incoming links from the Guardian, so I had to check this out. Boy was I disappointed. John Naughton writes:
Someone once said that one of the advantages of religion is that it offers security in return for obedience. This point was not lost on the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder, saviour and high priest of Apple.
Ah gee, an “Apple as religion” comparison. Maybe he should call some people “fanboys” and ask if one button is enough on our mice.1 Oh, wait:
All they had to do to find salvation was to obey the Apple way. All the important choices, including whether a mouse should have one button or two, had been made for them…
Skipping much introductory garbage, I arrive at this nugget:
Recently, the company launched the latest release of its OS X operating system, codenamed Mavericks. What happened was this: one day, while millions of the devout were tapping industriously on their keyboards, a small dialogue box appeared on the top right-hand corner of their screens. It informed them that important upgrades were available for their computers.
For members of the Apple communion, such a message has much the same status as a text from the Vatican would have for devout Catholics. So they acted upon it. And lo! It came to pass that their computers were upgraded. Many of them were then enjoined to update their copies of Apple’s iWork package – Pages (Apple’s word processor); Keynote (the PowerPoint equivalent); and Numbers (the Excel competitor) – and they dutifully complied.
The second response is to ask why weren’t the tech media on to it earlier? Given the remarkable expansion in the number of people using Apple computers, you would have thought that any disruption, intentional or otherwise, in the software ecosystems on which they depend for work would be regarded as news. Serious, careful reviewing of changes in operating systems, for example, doesn’t require rocket science – just hard work and attention to detail, as in Pixel Envy’s review of iOS 7.
Mavericks — like iOS 7 — was available to developers well before its public release, allowing in-depth reviews to be written. And written, they were. The iWork update, on the other hand, was released on the same day it was announced. Those in-depth reviews don’t write themselves, Naughton.
Then he bites the hand that feeds:
But in general, technology sites and newspaper tech sections seem to be still obsessed with gadgets and novelties. This was understandable 15 years ago but the world has moved on. Breathless puffs for a new smartphone or yet another way of “sharing” photographs or movies don’t make up a useful signal any more – they’re just noise.
Perhaps before John Naughton accuses Macintosh users of being mindless sheep or religious cultists, he should do some research, or at least understand the fundamental difference between an operating system and software.
And perhaps before Naughton bitches and moans about the failings of newspaper tech sections, he should take a moment to consider the Apple-as-religion analogy to be dead, inane, dumb, and unoriginal.
Paul Goldberger interviewed Ive and Newson for Vanity Fair. In this part, they describe the effort required to produce the one-off Leica Rangefinder camera:
“I found it a very odd and unusual thing to put this amount of love and energy into one thing, where you are only going to make one,” Ive said. “But isn’t it beautiful?” The camera’s dollar worth is hard to estimate, since it is an art piece as much as a functioning object, but the value of the time Ive, Newson, and Leica’s own engineers put into it probably totals well into six figures, and possibly seven. The process of designing and making the camera took more than nine months, and involved 947 different prototype parts and 561 different models before the design was completed. According to Apple, 55 engineers assisted at some part in the process, spending a collective total of 2,149 hours on the project. Final assembly of the actual camera took one engineer 50 hours, the equivalent of more than six workdays, all of which makes Ive’s comment to me that he thought the Leica might bring $6 million seem not so far-fetched.
What’s fascinating, too, about this article is the way in which it contrasts the amount of effort put into producing both these one-off auction items and for Ive to design the mass-produced goods for Apple.
Marco Arment’s new retina iPad Mini suffers from previously-rumoured image retention. It seems odd that Apple has been able to get panels for the iPhone and iPad Air (and previous 10″ models) which do not have this problem, but they have been unable to for the iPad Mini and retina MacBook Pro. It can’t be a function of size, nor of pixel density.
Here is a device that will fit inside my wife’s purse or the pocket of my peacoat. And it’s ideal for all the most common personal computing tasks of doing email, surfing the Internet, and checking Facebook and Twitter. And we all know the iPad can do so much more — there’s no reason why the iPad mini couldn’t be someone’s only computer.
And that fascinates me. Who knew that one day our uncompromising personal computers would cost a few hundred dollars and would comfortably fit inside a woman’s purse?
A print-quality touch screen on a lightweight, mobile, always-connected device which gets insane battery life, for a few hundred dollars. The “magical” stuff that was tossed around when the original iPad was introduced is, I think, appropriate again.
It looks just like any other credit card and can be processed by the vast majority of credit card terminals. The low-key device has a small display and a button for cycling through all of your stored cards. Select the one you need for that given moment and then swipe your Coin through the terminal to make a payment.
It looks super intriguing, and I’d give one a try. There are a couple of drawbacks to it, though: it doesn’t support chip and pin cards yet (both of my cards are chip and pin), and it appears not to support Interac either. Finally, it has a non-rechargeable, non-replaceable battery which Coin says will last two years — when it runs out, the entire card must be replaced to the tune of $100.
Still, if you’re someone who has several credit cards that you wish could be consolidated, Coin might be what you’re looking for.
These updates are really beautiful in their subtlety (though I not-so-secretly loved the wooden texture of iTunes U, but that’s just me). iBooks now looks pretty much like Newsstand, but the onscreen controls within a book are well-designed. They’ve retained the page curl, too.
Something that people often don’t realise, especially in the USA, where even high-end phones are free, is that high-end Android phones are not what are outselling the iPhone. It’s the mid and low end that’s making up all the volume.
Even the budget phones are pretty good, as was made apparent with today’s announcement by Motorola of the Moto G:
In the U.S., a version of the Moto G with eight gigabytes of memory will be cost $179 without a wireless-carrier contract, while a 16-gigabyte version will go for $199. Motorola says the phone, which comes with a sharp 4.5-inch display, will have all-day battery life and soon be able to run KitKat, the latest version of Google’s Android mobile-operating system.
A high-resolution display, a pretty decent processor, and 8 GB of internal storage for $179 with no contract. This isn’t cutting-edge technology — the processor is an updated version of a year-old design, and a 4.5-inch 720p display isn’t a breakthrough — but it’s a pretty good deal. I certainly find the willingness by Google and Amazon to release products with little to no profit margin intriguing, owing to their different business models.
Apple continues to sell the iPhone 4S and it runs iOS 7 beautifully — take my 16,000 words for it. Consider, too, the iPhone 5C, which is mostly an iPhone 5 in a new shell. The advances made in the past year or two have been immense, but there aren’t a substantial amount of apps that require technology so far advanced. Components which are a year or two old are still pretty damn good at running new apps, and will continue to be pretty good into the near future.1
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to a piece titled “The Extra Legroom Society” by Frank Bruni, as published in the New York Times:
It’s not that pecking orders or badges of affluence are anything new. Our homes, cars, clubs and clothes have long been advertisements of our economic clout, used and perceived that way.
But lately, the places and ways in which Americans are economically segregated and stratified have multiplied, with microclimates of exclusivity popping up everywhere. The plane mirrors the sports arena, the theater, the gym. Is it any wonder that class tensions simmer? In a country of rising income inequality and an economy that’s moved from manufacturing to services, one thing we definitely make in abundance is distinctions.
The smartphone world, by contrast, is remarkably level. Yes, there are budget phones like the Moto G, which cost considerably less than a top of the line iPhone, but both ends of the spectrum are so commonplace that there’s nothing showy about a higher-end product. The iPhone is still cool, but it isn’t ostentatious or vulgar. It’s accessible luxury.
I’m therefore reminded of this quote with which John Gruber closed his review of the iPhone 3G:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” — Andy Warhol
So too with the iPhone. A billionaire can buy homes, cars, clothes that the rest of us cannot afford. But he cannot buy a better phone, at any price, than the iPhone that you can have in your pocket today.
It’s as true today as it was then, if not more so. The Moto G is a remarkably capable product for its price point, even if I’d never own one. The iPhone 5S is a substantially better product — its build quality is superlative, its camera is spectacular, its materials are better, and so on — and it still isn’t outrageously expensive.
Critically, both products are mass-produced goods. The smartphone world, then, is not an exclusive club. That’s not to say it’s affordable for every single person, but it has become more available for more people. These great leaps in technology have levelled the playing field, and it’s benefitting more people constantly.
Total mobile subscriptions up to and including Q3 2013 are at around 6.6 billion, including 113 million new subscriptions added during the third quarter. Global mobile subscriptions have continued to grow seven percent year-on-year and two percent quarter- on-quarter. The actual number of subscribers however, is lower, at around 4.5 billion. This is because many people have several subscriptions.
Throughout the world there is continued momentum for smartphone uptake. These devices accounted for around 55 percent of all mobile phones sold in Q3 2013, compared to around 40 percent for the full year in 2012. And it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Of all mobile phone subscriptions, 25-30 percent are associated with smartphones, leaving considerable room for further uptake.
I didn’t write this to cheerlead Apple’s strategy, or to belittle Motorola’s (or the inverse of that). I’m just in awe of how the smartphone has become so settled and common around the world. Owning a high-end smartphone doesn’t feel vulgar and they last for a long time, and affordable phones have become pretty good. It’s extra legroom for everyone.
The spending, which Apple outlined in its fiscal 2014 capital-expenditure forecast, underscores how the world’s most valuable company is diving deeper into designing and inventing technology for its manufacturing process. Apple is increasingly striking exclusive machinery deals, said the people familiar with the work, outspending peers on the tools that it then places in the factories of its suppliers, many of which are in Asia.
“Their designs are so unique that you have to have a very unique manufacturing process to make it,” said Muthuraman Ramasamy, an analyst with consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, who has studied the use of the machinery. “Apple has so much cash that they can invest in cutting-edge, world-class machinery that is typically used for aerospace and defense.”
There are some fascinating details in this story about the custom machinery Apple buys — and even builds — in order to create products with superlative fit and finish.1 This is one of the things which separates Apple from the rest. Innovation is not purely about coming up with new features, but also implementing those features, and Apple (typically) excels in the execution of their ideas.
See also this scoop over at Cult of Mac showing the techniques Apple uses to repair iPhones in-house, including several custom tools. ↩
At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.
“If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
Stack ranking — considered by a number of current and former Microsoft employees as a major detriment, both career- and morale-wise — is no more at the company.
Microsoft is announcing to its full-time employees on November 12 that there will be no more curve and no more reviewing “on the curve” at the company. Lisa Brummel, head of human resources for the company, sent an e-mail to employees notifying them of the change today, according to my contacts.
I can’t think of better news for the internal culture of the company. I certainly hope this change finds its way into better products and services which are less reliant on the internal office politics of Microsoft.
“Reading Vice articles always makes me think I’m being told the punchline for a joke I haven’t heard yet,” he says. “I’m trying to ensure nobody can ever take a Vice headline seriously again, and generally mocking the gravity that people attach to pop-culture.’
The [National Music Publishers Association] said it has sent take-down notices to 50 sites identified in an October report by University of Georgia researcher David Lowery as likely not having licenses to publish lyrics. The notices demand that the sites obtain licenses or remove copyrighted lyrics from their sites.
While most of the sites targeted are crummy sites filled with ads, Rap Genius explains the lyrics they publish in depth. It’s a more scholarly resource, annotating lyrics and segments with meaning. If anything, it adds value to a work; it certainly doesn’t subtract value. You’d think that would be covered under fair use.
Storify has been Sherlocked, in a sense. Brian Ellin of Twitter:
Custom timelines are an entirely new type of timeline –– one that you create. You name it, and choose the Tweets you want to add to it, either by hand or programmatically using the API (more on that below). This means that when the conversation around an event or topic takes off on Twitter, you have the opportunity to create a timeline that surfaces what you believe to be the most noteworthy, relevant Tweets.
This functionality only works with Tweetdeck right now — you can’t even create a custom timeline from the Twitter website — but there’s a developer API available. This isn’t really an end-user feature, though, but it will certainly help me engage with my favourite brands.
According to the industry on November 7, Apple is delaying its launch because it could not solve the burn-in problem in the LCD panel, to be applied to the iPad mini retina product, which is caused by the malfunction of the TFT.
It’s currently running at availability times of 5–7 days (I ordered about ten minutes ago and it was 1–3 days, so I’d hurry if you want one soon). Very strange rollout on these: it’s a Tuesday, and their availability was announced with little fanfare.
Stephen Hackett is not a fan of the new iWork suite:
Progress is not the same thing as regression, and the latter keeps being an issue with Apple’s non-system software. Updates to applications shouldn’t drop features without good reason. Apple double-back to re-add features is clear proof that these regressions aren’t as intentional as some would believe. (Not to mention the fact that the company will keep old copies of software on users’ disks or provide old installers.)
[W]hat does this new fiasco say about the Apple’s management culture? The new iPhones, iPad and iOS 7 speak well of the company’s justly acclaimed attention to both strategy and implementation. Perhaps there were no cycles, no neurons, no love left for iWork. Perhaps a wise general puts the best troops on the most important battles. Then, why not regroup, wait six months and come up with an April 2014 announcement worthy of Apple’s best work?
Both of these articles are scathing, but I think they’ve both hit the nail on its head with their sentiment: Apple rushed iWork out the door and it bit them in the ass. Even the language the company used for the knowledge base article affirms this:
In rewriting these applications, some features from iWork ’09 were not available for the initial release.
I wouldn’t have minded waiting another few months for them to get iWork together, but I think their shipping target date was determined by the narrative of the October event: Mavericks, iLife, and iWork became free, at least for new owners in the case of the latter two. This was an important strategic move, but it handicapped their software delivery.
Apple, unlike Google, or Facebook, or even Microsoft, is not a services company (as long-suffering iCloud/MobileMe/.Mac/iTools customs can attest), and so, to prescribe any sort of goodness to their decision to not retain user data is much less useful than an examination of what actually matters to their bottom line. And, as a hardware company, that means the supply chain.
This is such a good piece. Apple may not be the only company using their pool of suppliers, but they are arguably the most influential company with those suppliers. While there are products made in far worse conditions, and while it is a delicate matter of imposing Western-style labour expectations on these factories, the Businessweek article Thompson refers to underscores the need for Apple to make changes.
As one of the most influential companies in the world, they will get their share of negative press, but they can also own the positive changes they make to their contract factories. Yes, they already audit more factories than any other technology company, but it seems pertinent and pressing for them to do more.
Speaking of the retina iPad Mini, Korea IT News published this rumour from the supply chain:
According to the industry on November 7, Apple is delaying its launch because it could not solve the burn-in problem in the LCD panel, to be applied to the iPad mini retina product, which is caused by the malfunction of the TFT.
This has been picked up by loads of blogs and news sites, but take it with a grain of salt. For one thing, supply chain rumours are notoriously unreliable unless they’re actual parts; for another, a product can’t be delayed unless its release date is known. Apple’s website still says that it will launch in November and, unless that changes, that’s when it will be released.
I use an iPad literally every day and, when I’m teaching, as my main work computer. I am finely attuned to every aspect of the performance profile of the apps I use.
I know exactly how long Safari takes to bring up the keyboard when I want to search. I know exactly how quickly Tweetbot will resume and refresh the feed. I know how long Explain Everything will take to render a five-slide presentation. I know how long it takes for Keynote to open a particular file.
What I know about the iPad Air is that I’m constantly being surprised by these apps being ready and waiting for me as soon as I try them. I’m having to speed up my muscle memory as the iPad is ready sooner than I anticipate.
This bodes well for the virtually-identical iPad Mini with retina display. I’m very excited to get my hands on one of those.
For years prior, I had looked at the indie developer as a mythical creature: something you could read about, but out of reach for most people. The road I’ve traveled has been long. I’ve had countless late nights, disappointments and trials balanced almost exactly with elations, successes and growth. I’ve met some of my best friends during this process. I don’t know what the next 5 years will hold for me but if it is anything like that last I can’t wait.
It’s pretty obvious that the past five years of the App Store — first on the iPhone, then the iPad, and then the Mac — have forever changed software sales and distribution. What Smith makes clear is just how much the Stores have changed software for indie developers, whether they’re a small company or a single person.
Allyson Kazmucha reviews the new version of the Olloclip for iMore:
The new 4-in-1 system is supposed to bring with it some better quality when it comes to the overall optics system itself. It also adds a new macro option. The old system only had a 10x macro option while the new system comes with a 15x as well. Olloclip also says the refreshed 10x macro on the new 4-in-one system should take brighter and better focused images than its predecessor.
I took the new 4-in-1 system around with me for a few days and was extremely happy with the results. I did notice I had to exert less effort with the new and refreshed macros in order to get a shot I was happy with.
Sounds great. If I pick up an iPhone 5S, I’ll definitely buy one of these at the same time. I don’t want my Instagram followers to think I’ve given up on spamming their feeds with ultra-close-up pictures of leaves covered in snow.
Apple should store ALL photos/video taken with your iPhone and just store the most recent 1000 (or 30 days) locally on the device.
That’s pretty much what’s going to happen starting today. From an Apple support article:
There is no limit to the number of photos you can upload to My Photo Stream over time, but iCloud limits the number of photos that can be uploaded within a given hour, day, or month to prevent unintended or excessive use. […]
There is no limit to the amount of photos you can upload to My Photo Stream over longer periods (such as several months or years). Photos uploaded to My Photo Stream or shared photo streams are not counted against your iCloud Storage.
An automatic, hassle-free backup of every photo you’ve ever taken? That’s sublime, and exactly how Photo Stream should work. And you can simply delete any photos from your Camera Roll which you don’t want to keep locally (though I believe there’s some sort of cache for Photo Stream). Great news.
Now all Apple needs to do is make iOS device backups not count against iCloud’s storage limit — another one of Chambers’ suggestions.
Update: Apparently, Photo Stream (possibly) keeps full-sized copies of photos on the device in addition to the copy in the Camera Roll. Wouldn’t it be simpler if the Photo Stream album replaced the Camera Roll? Isn’t the Camera Roll album now redundant?
The company’s price to earnings ratio is among the strongest ever for a company Apple’s size. Numerical indicators say all is well and the future looks rosy.
So, what’s wrong with the stock’s price? Fear. Stock market analysts are a crazy, mixed up bunch of fickle and fruitcake-laden impostors who act more like 12-year-old girls at a slumber party.
Amazon loses big money and analysts call that a good sign of disruption. Google’s Android OS becomes the dominant smart phone OS in units, and analysts declare that ‘Android is winning.’ That, despite the fact that Amazon and Google do not make money with their wares.
I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that the abilities of Google and Amazon to offer products with next-to-zero profit margins is a disruptive ability. That they are able to do so while placating investors is equally talented. But I believe it is a complete myth that Apple cannot sell higher-priced, high-margin products against free or inexpensive products.
It, too, is possible that Apple’s market share will not significantly increase against free products (though it could, based on recent iPhone sales), but this does not matter. As far as investors should be concerned, Apple will continue to be an extremely healthy company with rising sales, even if other manufacturers are able to produce cheaper products which sell in greater numbers.
MacKenzie points this out in the final paragraph:
Customers are lining up to buy iPhones, iPads, Macs, and all the add-on wares they can afford. Apple’s real numbers and trends are solid and going upward and forward. Despite the executive boardroom adjustments, and desperate competitors giving away their products for free, the numbers still don’t lie.
Apple’s sales are extremely strong, and this will be a record-breaking first quarter for the company. But it’s imperative to understand that their company strategy isn’t — and has never been, since the “New Apple” of post-1997 — to necessarily sell the most of something. What matters is that they are able to sell boatloads of stuff at price points at which both investors and customers are happy.1
Don’t get me wrong: we all want stuff for less. However, Apple has proved constantly that they are able to sell all of the products that they can produce quarter after quarter. ↩
As it was expected that some major changes were next on the cards for famous blackberry maker, RIM (Research in Motion), finally cat is out of the bag and Alexandra Zagury has been appointed as RIM’s new MD and VP for Southern Africa and SA.
According to her, US media has been quite harsh towards RIM and depicting a gloomy picture of RIM is absolutely not justifiable, that too when RIM is trying to make a comeback and struggling through hard times.
While lashing out at US media critics, she stated that it’s quite ironical [sic] that US, being one of the most developed nations of the world, has nothing great to offer in the telecommunications field.
RIM has a very difficult road to travel with BlackBerry 10: it needs to get a critical mass of apps by launch to even get a first look from consumers, let alone a second one. To prepare developers, the company has had to keep them up to speed by trickling out information about the next platform instead of unveiling it all at once with a big splash. That has made for a series of teases and hints, but not a complete picture of RIM’s mobile strategy.
Time will tell whether this strategy of slowing revealing details instead of making a single, big announcement is the right move. If RIM is right, it will help boost the app ecosystem in time for launch without detracting from the excitement a single launch could have garnered. If RIM is wrong, by the time BlackBerry 10 devices ship, they might feel old hat.
Research In Motion is not likely to launch the much-anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system software until March 2013, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek asserts in a research note. To date, the company has only said it expects to debut the first BB 10 devices in the calendar first quarter.
“We had hoped for a January launch but now see a March launch as more likely,” he writes. That would mean no sales of the next generation phones in the February quarter. “Also, our checks point to a tough November quarter, with replenishment rates decreasing as channel partners are cautious on holding RIM inventory. We think the business uncertainty means parties are unlikely to acquire or license from RIM until BB10 launches.”
The signs do not look good. On November 4th, six weeks after BlackBerry said that its biggest shareholder, Fairfax Financial, wanted to take the ailing Canadian smartphone-maker private for $4.7 billion in cash, the sale was called off. BlackBerry instead declared that it would raise $1 billion in debt, convertible into 16% of its shares. Fairfax, a Toronto holding company that focuses on insurance but owns 10% of BlackBerry, is taking a quarter of the issue. Barbara Stymiest, who chairs BlackBerry’s board, called this “a significant vote of confidence in BlackBerry and its future”. The stockmarket called it a flop: the share price, already a fraction of what it once was (see chart), fell by 16%.
Look at the chart that Alexis Madrigal found — how many of those companies come even close to their 1999 valuations? How many of those companies still exist? Does anyone actually ask Jeeves anything any more?
When almost any service shuts down, it’s usually a teachable but brief farewell. Losing Everpix is like losing a friend, though — it was such a promising service which should have succeeded because their product was so damn good.
In less than twelve hours, Twitter will go public with a valuation of over $18 billion. Two years ago, Dan Frommer compiled a short list of all the times Twitter was supposed to be “dead”, like this one by Tom Warren, then at Neowin:
The question remains is Plurk a Twitter killer? If it gets the same kind of attention that Twitter has then it certainly has the ability to.
Apple, in a support article euphemistically titled “About the new iWork for Mac: Features and compatibility”:
In rewriting these applications, some features from iWork ’09 were not available for the initial release. We plan to reintroduce some of these features in the next few releases and will continue to add brand new features on an ongoing basis.
A similar article was posted after Final Cut Pro X was released. I’ll be glad to see the return of a customizable toolbar, among many other features.
Ruth Bender and Sam Schechner, Wall Street Journal:
In a closely watched case brought by former Formula One racing chief Max Mosley, Paris’s Tribunal de Grande Instance said that Google must remove nine images from its search engine after Mr. Mosley sued in an effort to get the web giant to automatically filter the images and delete any links to them. […]
The images Google was ordered to remove are from a sex orgy that was secretly filmed in 2008. News Corp’s defunct News of the World published details and hidden-camera footage in which Mr. Mosley engages in sadomasochistic role-play with women. Courts in both the U.K. and France later ruled them a breach of privacy.
Mosley has gone through an awful lot of effort in his attempt to remove some (admittedly embarrassing and illegally-obtained) images from the web. It’s all going to be for nought, though — once something is on the internet, the chances of it being eradicated completely are almost zero.
As of right now, searching Google Images for “Max Mosley” shows references to those pictures before scrolling; the actual images are just a few rows below that (not to mention the autocomplete suggestions). Bing isn’t any better, really — it, too, suggests different categories across the top, and the first is “Max Mosley romp”.
Bing didn’t get the court order that Google did, so if you want to see pictures of a 73 year old businessman exploring his sadomasochist tendencies, you’ll have to use Bing.
The other two important things I’ve discovered have to do with displays. In less than two months, we’re going to enter 2014, and if Samsung’s slides are to be believed, we’re going to have devices with AMOLED panels that have a pixel per inch rating of 560. The company also says we’re going to have 4K displays, in smartphones, at some point in 2015. Overkill? Never, give me sharpness or give me death.
This seems awfully similar to the LG G2′s rewritten audio stack capable of supporting 24/192 audio, which has a spectrum so large that its extremes are inaudible to any human being. I’m sure a 4K display will look beautiful, but I can hardly see the pixels on my 326 PPI iPhone, even when I bring it right up to my eyeball. What practical advantages does a 4K display have?
As with the reports released by Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, Apple has only been allowed to disclose data affecting US residents in a range, as opposed to the specific numbers for other countries. Apple doesn’t like that:
We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts. Despite our extensive efforts in this area, we do not yet have an agreement that we feel adequately addresses our customers’ right to know how often and under what circumstances we provide data to law enforcement agencies.
Even with the provided ranges, it’s very clear that US data requests are significantly higher than those from other countries.
There’s this, too:
Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form.
The well-received and highly-regarded photo syncing service Everpix will be completely shut down on December 15; they are switching to read-only mode as of today:
It’s frustrating (to say the least) that we cannot continue to work on Everpix. We were unable to secure sufficient funding in order to properly scale the business, and our endeavors to find a new home for Everpix did not come to pass. At this point, we have no other options but to discontinue the service.
It’s truly unfortunate that such a great product could not secure funding while yet another crummy social network can be valued at a billion dollars. These guys are some of the best engineers and they managed to produce a product that was useful and engaging, but it wasn’t able to succeed in a VC market dominated by people looking for the next Facebook, Instagram, or other free, ad-supported social network. Terrible.
Steve Jobs famously used the Wayne Gretzky quote: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” to wrap up the iPhone introduction.
Since then, a popular criticism of Microsoft is directly ripped off from this: that they are continually skating to where the puck has been. And while that’s arguably true in a narrow sense, it misses the bigger picture: Apple may very well be Wayne Gretzky, performing ballet on skates and seeing what others don’t see. But the second greatest goal scorer in NHL history is Gordie Howe, known not for his grace but for his strength, durability, and willingness to mix it up. There is virtue in the single-minded pursuit of a goal, and the absolute refusal to be deterred.
I don’t think Microsoft’s problem is a lack of innovation; rather, I think it has been a lack of excellence in execution. Microsoft has continuously demonstrated excellence in concept and ideation in the past several years, from the tile concept of Windows Phone to the Xbox Kinect.
Where they have stumbled is in clearly defining their vision for customers, and in their execution of that vision. Windows is a confusing mix of tablet and desktop metaphors, while the Surface lineup is bifurcated for barely-comprehensible reasons. And I don’t think that this inability to execute is unrelated to their inability to define this vision for customers; I really think that Microsoft is uncertain where they stand in 2013.
So, to relate this back to the oddly-entrenched hockey metaphor that Thompson refers to, I think Microsoft is simultaneously trying to be both Gretzky and Howe: they want to skate to where the puck is going to be while steamrolling over anyone in their way. But I think the negative attributes of this approach have become apparent: they’re too big to nimbly steer, but too varied to have a singular set of values in mind.
I don’t think Microsoft should be like Apple, or Google, or any other company; I don’t think any company should necessarily take the strategy of another company. Apple wouldn’t be better off if they started making all of their products free and ad supported, à la Google, would they? But perhaps a series of smaller companies operating more-or-less autonomously under a Microsoft holding group might produce better products.
If a customer writes to Q Branch support, they get a reply. No exceptions. This may become more difficult over time, but for now the volume is low enough that I only spend — tops — an hour a day talking to customers. A very small price to pay to let our users know that we’re real people.
I greatly admire companies which value this level of customer service. If they’re willing to put this much effort into ensuring every email gets a reply, imagine how much time and effort they put into making sure their product is just right.