Archive

May 28, 2015

Apple Operations Chief Jeff Williams at Code Conference

Jeff Williams sat opposite Walt Mossberg in the big red chair at Code Conference yesterday. Dawn Chmielewski of Recode recaps:

Williams seemed to hint at Apple’s interest in the automotive market in his response to one question about what the company plans to dow [sic] with its huge cash hoard.

“The car is the ultimate mobile device,” Williams said, quickly adding. “We’re exploring a lot of different markets.”

Williams said that the deciding factor in choosing new businesses is not the opportunity for revenue growth, but rather “which ones are ones [in which] we think we can make a huge amount of difference.”

Watching the video from the event makes this look, indeed, as unprompted and off-the-cuff as it’s been written here. Someone in the audience asked if there are any industries or product categories Apple was interested in exploring, and Williams just blurted out “well, the car is the ultimate mobile device”. That’s not a hint; that’s a statement.

Google Photos

Lots of big news from today’s big Google I/O kickoff presentation. Their new photos product called, uh, Photos is a mix of impressive and a little creepy. It is, therefore, very Google-y, as Stephen Levy’s interview with Bradley Horowitz makes clear:

We heard from our Google Plus photo users that we had great technology, but they didn’t want their life’s archive brought into a social product, any social product. It’s more akin to Gmail — there’s no button on Gmail that says “publish on the Internet.” “Broadcast” and “archive” are really different and so part of Google photos is to create a safe space for your photos and remove any stigma associated with saving everything. For instance, I use my phone to take pictures of receipts, and pictures of signs that I want to remember and things like that. These can potentially pollute my photo stream. We make it so that things like that recede into the background, so there’s no cognitive burden to actually saving everything.

This is similar to the way I’ve been using iCloud Photo Library. I take a crapload of pictures, and they’re all stored off-device in a private library. One big difference between iCPL and Google Photos is that the latter allows unlimited storage for free, with some caveats: photos must be less than 16 megapixels apiece and video is limited to 1080p. Also, all of the stuff you upload with the free plan is compressed; this is in addition to whatever compression your phone or camera already applies. That’s worrying, but Google’s examples make it look okay.1

And then there’s the obvious cost of the free version: your privacy. If you’re fully on board with Google’s services, you already supply them with every email you send and receive, everything you search for, every location you look up, and — soon — the purchases you make. In accordance with Google’s privacy policy, much of this information is blended together, attached to your profile, and served back to you as ads.

Levy asked Horowitz about that in his interview:

Is that information in photos siloed, or is that going to be available to enhance my Google experience in other products?

The information gleaned from analyzing these photos does not travel outside of this product — not today. But if I thought we could return immense value to the users based on this data I’m sure we would consider doing that. For instance, if it were possible for Google Photos to figure out that I have a Tesla, and Tesla wanted to alert me to a recall, that would be a service that we would consider offering, with appropriate controls and disclosure to the user.

If they can offer product information based on detecting the contents of your photos, they can serve you ads based on that too. It’s as simple as that.

As we’ve learned from Aran Khanna’s exploration of Facebook Messenger or any of the Snowden leaks, a few disparate points of data gleaned about a person can be associated with one another to build a much more powerful, more comprehensive look at their life.

Serenity Caldwell, iMore:

All of that said, I’m not advising people against signing up for Google Photos. Google has a lot of admirable technical goals, and it genuinely believes this kind of mass data-gathering will help achieve those goals. But that comes at a cost: The company may not be able to get the vast userbase numbers it needs to make its search services best in class without making those services free. And if they’re free, Google has to pay for them in another way. Right now, that way is advertising.

I would love to see this kind of innovation from a company that charges for it with money, not data. But this kind of innovation really only works with the kind of accelerated user and data growth that comes with a free offering and a looser sense of what crosses the creepy line. That’s okay — it’s a choice that people can make. But, though this innovation is tempting, I’m not sure it’s for me. I can’t entrust all my data to a company that is trying to use that information to advertise to me. That feels wrong to me.


  1. Google has a paid tier that allows you to store original-quality files. Despite it being a paid product, Google is still using gleaned information for advertising purposes. ↩︎

May 27, 2015

Proactive

Mark Gurman has been strategically drip-feeding all sorts of juicy iOS 9 rumours over the past couple of weeks, but this is the first one that’s really caught my attention:

After several years of quiet development, Apple is readying a major new iOS initiative codenamed “Proactive,” which will leverage Siri, Contacts, Calendar, Passbook, and third-party apps to create a viable competitor to Google Now for Android devices. Like Google Now, Proactive will automatically provide timely information based on the user’s data and device usage patterns, but will respect the user’s privacy preferences, according to sources familiar with Apple’s plans.

As an evolution of iOS’s Spotlight search feature, Proactive is the fruit of a long-term initiative that involved the acquisition of small app developers, and integration of core iOS apps. It will also work with Apple’s Maps application to display personally relevant points of interest using an augmented reality interface, and integrate with a third-party Siri API codenamed “Breadcrumbs”.

Google Now is perhaps the most impressive feature of Android. Its ability to weave together disparate pieces of data in an attempt to predict what information a user needs immediately is, so far, unparalleled on any platform. It’s a feature I’ve wanted on iOS, and it looks like my wishes might come true this year.

This is another in a series of improvements to iOS that indicates that Apple is becoming more comfortable with a more personalized iOS. Apple may have reduced the amount of character of the visual interface with iOS 7, and they may have issues with jailbreakers trying to customize their devices, but they’re increasing the amount of personalization that can be generated with deep data integration.

Judging by this rumour — and Gurman’s others — and the heavily-redacted schedule, this is going to be a very impressive WWDC.

May 26, 2015

Un-discoveryd

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac:

After many complaints from the developer community about poor networking performance on Yosemite, the latest beta of OS X 10.10.4 has dropped discoveryd in favor of the old process used by previous versions of the Mac operating system. This should address many of the network stability issues introduced with Yosemite and its new networking stack.

The discoveryd process has been subject to much criticism in recent months as it causes users to regularly drop WiFi access and causes network shares to list many times over, due to bugs.

There are two weeks until WWDC, where Apple will probably introduce OS X 10.11. While that won’t be released to the public until, most likely, autumn, 10.10.4 isn’t publicly available yet either. That means that developers, at least, have been using and complaining about discoveryd for about a year, and it’s still busted for consumers.

Furthermore, I haven’t heard a compelling reason for discoveryd’s existence. It must be “better”, in some way, because I can’t think of another reason why Apple would task their engineers with rewriting the networking stack. I always assumed it was to unify iOS and OS X and to enable Continuity features, but those seem to work just fine under mDNSresponder.

Given the importance of WiFi to Apple’s computer strategy, particularly since the consumerisation of the MacBook Air in 2010, I am surprised discoveryd shipped at all.

Vox Media Acquiring Recode

It’s disappointing that benchmark journalists like Mossberg and Swisher needed a buyer like Vox to gain a decent audience. I am not looking forward to the Chorus-fication of Recode, or the slow infusion of Vox’s particular brand of retelling other publications’ stories.

“Let’s Get the Calories as Quickly as We Can”

Brian X. Chen reports for the New York Times on the rise of meal replacement powders in Silicon Valley:

At the office, Mr. Melocik stashes one Schmoylent jar in the refrigerator and takes the other to his desk. From 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., he sips from the first jar for breakfast, and the second for lunch. He consumes about 14 fluid ounces of Schmoylent each day so he can focus on coding instead of grabbing a bite to eat

“It just removes food completely from my morning equation up until about 7 p.m.,” said Mr. Melocik, 34, who has been following his techie diet since February.

Boom times in Silicon Valley call for hard work, and hard work — at least in technology land — means that coders, engineers and venture capitalists are turning to liquid meals with names like Schmoylent, Soylent, Schmilk and People Chow. The protein-packed products that come in powder form are inexpensive and quick and easy to make — just shake with water, or in the case of Schmilk, milk. While athletes and dieters have been drinking their dinner for years, Silicon Valley’s workers are now increasingly chugging their meals, too, so they can more quickly get back to their computer work.

I’m not sure about you, but I cringed while reading this article. Nothing about this lifestyle appeals to me, from the vastly extended workdays to the avoidance of having to eat at all costs. Don’t get me wrong: I like my job and I want to be successful in my field. But this rapidly-expanding “hustle” culture is an abhorrent characteristic of Silicon Valley, Calgary, and plenty of other regions. Nothing you do at work is important enough to replace taking basic care of yourself, which includes taking leisure time away from work. The amount of overtime hours one accrues should not be a source of pride. There are other, better things to do.

May 25, 2015

When Stephen Fry Met Jony Ive

Stephen Fry copped an exclusive interview1 with Jony Ive for the Telegraph, first announcing his brand new job title:

When I catch up with Ive alone, I ask him why he has seemingly relinquished the two departments that had been so successfully under his control. “Well, I’m still in charge of both,” he says, “I am called Chief Design Officer. Having Alan and Richard in place frees me up from some of the administrative and management work which isn’t … which isn’t …”

“Which isn’t what you were put on this planet to do?”

“Exactly. Those two are as good as it gets. Richard was lead on the iPhone from the start. He saw it all the way through from prototypes to the first model we released. Alan has a genius for human interface design. So much of the Apple Watch’s operating system came from him. With those two in place I can …”

I could feel him avoiding the phrase “blue sky thinking”… think more freely?”

“Yes!”

Jony will travel more, he told me.

This segment of the interview has been used to prop up a fresh batch of the Jony Ive “deathwatch” posts and tweets. Russell Ivanovic:

So crazy idea: a year from now Jony Ive resigns from Apple. This promotion/vice president thing could be preparing for that?

Jeffrey Grossman:

Maybe I’m just paranoid, but Jony Ive being promoted to Chief Design Officer sure feels like the start of phasing himself out of Apple.

Seth Weintraub’s interpretation post for 9to5Mac even has “jony-ives-leaving-apple” as its slug, which, I think, is a bold implication.

There’s no question that this is a big, multifaceted step for Ive. He’s both gaining more responsibility by becoming a C-level executive,2 but he’s doing fewer tasks he doesn’t want to do. Therefore, he gets to do what he does best, and have the opportunity to spend more time back in the UK, where he seemingly feels more comfortable.

Similarly, there’s also no question that Jony Ive will not be at Apple forever. That much is obvious. I don’t think this necessarily marks the beginning of a short term transition for him away from the company, but I do think it helps define what he enjoys about working there, and equally what he does not enjoy. A move like this potentially gives him more incentive to stay at Apple for longer, not less. It’s a better compromise between his desires and the company’s.


  1. I must say that these interviews feel increasingly less exclusive. Steve Jobs used to grant a rare but powerful interview to one of a choice selection of publications, playing the role of Apple spokesperson extraordinaire. He was, of course, one-of-a-kind in this role.

    These days, it feels as though there’s been a concerted effort to get Ive to replace Jobs in the vast majority of interviews as the passionate spokesperson, with Cook adding his occasional corporate-level take. I think it works pretty well. Both of them are smart people who think before they speak. It’s a different tone, absolutely, but it better reflects the Apple of today. ↩︎

  2. Whether his compensation will now have to be disclosed is a matter for Apple and, ultimately, the SEC to decide. Expect the usual raft of hot takes and thinkpieces as to whether he is earning too much or way too much. ↩︎

Google I/O 2015 Preview

Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica takes a few guesses on what Google I/O 2015 could bring. If even half of these ideas come true, I take that as a further sign that the mobile operating system landscape is slowly converging, which makes sense: everyone wants pretty much the same things out of their smartphone. The differentiator between mobile OSes is increasingly in the interpretation and execution of those expectations.

May 23, 2015

Just Smart Enough

Shawn Blanc shares his Apple Watch observations:

Apple Watch certainly could be distracting if you let it. But that’s easily avoided by not installing too many apps or allowing too many types of incoming notifications. Where Watch differs from iPhone is that the former is not very good at being a passive entertainment device.

While you can install apps such as Instagram and Twitterrific on your Watch, using them is like reading the news on a postage stamp. Doable but not delightful.

And that sounds like a good thing.

In case you’re wondering: no, I do not have an Apple Watch. I did not order one, and I don’t think I will for a while, for various reasons. I want one, but I have greater priorities. But it sounds like a more conceptually refined interpretation of the smartwatch, and the first one that actually sounds like a delight to use because of its limitations, not in spite of them. I’m looking forward to the day when I will get to experience it for myself.

May 22, 2015

Uber Gets Dirtier

Nina Strochlic, the Daily Beast:

The Americans with Disabilities Act was voted into law in 1990 to ensure equal rights and prevent discrimination of people with disabilities. Under the ADA, transportation providers are required by law to accommodate wheelchair users if the equipment can fit in their car.

But Uber has launched a war to make itself exempt from the anti-discrimination law.

In three ADA-related cases over the past eight months, in California, Texas, and Arizona, Uber has been slammed with lawsuits that allege the company discriminates against blind and wheelchair-using passengers. The suits demand Uber abide by the ADA, but Uber claims that because it’s a technology company, not a transportation service, it doesn’t fall under the ADA’s jurisdiction.

What a load of crap. Even Uber’s lawyers must have felt dirty delivering their argument.

The Best Calendar App for Mac

Chris Bowler sings the praises of Fantastical:

After reviewing the contenders, Fantastical 2 is the choice to make. I’ve long been a fan of Sunrise and came into this review with a predilection to sticking with what was working for me. And while this would likely still be true if this comparison included the original Fantastical, the changes with version 2 of Flexibits’s flagship offering have won me over.

The original Fantastical for OS X was the best option for quickly adding and reviewing calendar entries. Version 2 keeps all its advantages while adding the functionality of more robust calendar applications.

For me, $50 is a hard impulse buy for most things, but when Flexibits launched the second version of Fantastical for Mac, I bought it in a heartbeat. It’s that good. My only complaint with it (and, in fact, almost all calendar apps) is that it locks scrolling to the familiar week or month paradigm, rather than letting me see two weeks from one month, and two from the next. But that’s a small issue; both the iOS and Mac versions of Fantastical are absolutely magical.

May 21, 2015

You Do Not Have to Make a Watch App

Not that many people own an Apple Watch yet. If you’re a developer or a UI designer, you should probably buy one, or at least get one in your office that you can wear for a week straight, so you can figure out how you use it. You should perhaps consider an Apple Watch app if you have a compelling case for one. But you do not have to make one.

Times Advertisers to Pay Print-Equivalent Rates

Dominic Ponsford, PressGazette:

Times advertisers are to begin paying the same rate for display advertising in the title’s tablet edition as they do in print.

The agreement, reached with a number of key ad agencies, is being seen by insiders as a major breakthrough in terms of making money from digital journalism.

Website advertising is typically offered at a fraction the price of print. Advertising rates on page-turning tablet editions has also so far lagged behind.

But I thought that tablets were dead?

May 20, 2015

Spotify Adds Video and Pace-Matched Running Playlists

Video is kinda big; they’re taking on Netflix, and this is sort of the spiritual successor to the original Joost.

But I’m really interested in these new pace-matched playlists. Jordan Crook, TechCrunch:

The new Spotify also has a brand new “Running” feature that taps into the many sensors of your phone (accelerometer, gyroscope, etc.) to figure out the pace at which you’re running and serve you a playlist with the perfect BPMs in each song. Plus, the playlist is still centered around your established tastes.

But going beyond timing out the music so that it matches the beat of your feet against the ground, Spotify is also creating a new format of music, wherein the composition actually changes and rearranges based on your pace.

Apparently, an Apple engineer prototyped this last year. This would be a great Watch feature.

From Switzerland to San Francisco

Me, a month ago:

What’s the over/under on iOS 9 and OS X getting San Fransisco as a universal system font?

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

Mark Gurman, with a brand new rumour:

Apple is currently planning to use the new system font developed for the Apple Watch to refresh the looks of iPads, iPhones, and Macs running iOS 9 “Monarch” and OS X 10.11 “Gala,” according to sources with knowledge of the preparations. Current plans call for the Apple-designed San Francisco font to replace Helvetica Neue, which came to iOS 7 in 2013 and OS X Yosemite just last year, beginning with a June debut at WWDC.

Apple’s regulatory filings for the Watch are partially typeset in San Francisco. The keycaps of the 12-inch MacBook are set in San Francisco. Publicity and marketing materials are still, by and large, set in Myriad Pro (typically the lighter-weight variant).1 It’s not quite the One True Font I thought it might be from the outset, but it’s getting there.

When it was released with WatchKit, I tried San Francisco as my OS X system font and found it even harder to read than Helvetica Neue. I suspect this is because the version I used was optimized for the Watch; I have hope that the version used on OS X will be optimized for that system, including for non-Retina displays. I’m very excited to see how this works.

I suspect San Francisco will be fine on the iPhone because it has a similar-density display as the Watch, with similar physical text sizes.


  1. Apple still typesets their brands in Myriad everywhere they use them, with the exception of the Watch. Even the new MacBook, with its San Francisco keycaps, has a Myriad-set “MacBook” insignia below the display. This could simply be a legacy thing, or it could be for consistency with the rest of the MacBook line, but I think the Watch might be the only product where its marketing materials use the same font as its UI. ↩︎

May 19, 2015

A Letter to Mark Zuckerberg Regarding Internet.org

67 human rights, technology, and other groups have written to Mark Zuckerberg regarding Facebook’s suspect plans with their Internet.org initiative:

It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services. Further, we are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full Internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs. In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.

This comes from a very similar train of thought as the concerns previously raised by Mahesh Murthy.

May 18, 2015

Hearst Magazines Update Newsstand Apps

D.B. Hebbard, Talking New Media:

There are the typical complaints about the fact that the apps are free to download but then you must buy the issues (sorry, you have to pay to read most consumer magazines); then there are the complaints about the Newsstand (can’t find the app once it has been downloaded).

Hearst’s apps tell us a lot about magazine readers: many are older and just not comfortable with the whole app experience of in-app purchases, or the way digital publications are navigated. That’s a shame, because Hearst’s digital editions are fairly good (app bugs aside).

I don’t think this is isolated to Hearst’s audience. It’s time to say goodbye to Newsstand.

Apple Has Reportedly Shelved Their TV Plans

Daisuke Wakabayashi, Wall Street Journal:

Investor Carl Icahn said he expects Apple Inc. to introduce an ultra-high-definition television in 2016. But after nearly a decade of research, Apple quietly shelved plans to make such a set more than a year ago, according to people familiar with the matter.

Apple had searched for breakthrough features to justify building an Apple-branded television set, those people said. In addition to an ultra-high-definition display, Apple considered adding sensor-equipped cameras so viewers could make video calls through the set, they said.

Ultimately, though, Apple executives didn’t consider any of those features compelling enough to enter the highly competitive television market, led by Samsung Electronics Co. Apple typically likes to enter a new product area with innovative technology and easier-to-use software.

Wakabayashi’s sources are notoriously months behind, but this move — if true — doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve long thought that Apple brings a lot more to the table with their services and an inexpensive accessory box than they would by building an expensive, large television set in a category that has razor-thin margins. That remains true as long as there’s nothing compelling they could build into an actual television set that requires the set itself.

Gene Munster must be gutted.

How Richard Stallman Does His Computing

For someone like me, Stallman’s methods are very restrictive and convoluted, requiring a level of sacrifice that isn’t very realistic for me. But it says a lot about our modern web when such a challenging set of rules must be in place in order to preserve our privacy. And, yes, I’m fully aware that my website contains a localized analytics script and an ad network code. On a related note, turning off JavaScript is probably one of the most straightforward ways you can protect your privacy online.

Apple Working on Watch Updates

Mark Gurman’s report made me think of something I hadn’t before: how will Apple Watch updates be delivered? Will they be like iOS or OS X, with a major new version every year? Will they be tied to iOS updates and releases? Or will they be released on a more loose and fluid schedule, linked to nothing more than Apple’s whims?

May 17, 2015

Testing the New MacBook with Windows 10

Alex King (via Michael Tsai) found that the new MacBook draws the animations in Windows 10 really smoothly, but struggles with some animations in OS X:

Because Apple does not cap Mission Control at 30FPS or something else, and because inertial scrolling and Space-switching more frequently operate at 60FPS, it is reasonable to assume that Apple expects Mission Control to be able to reach 60FPS too. Thus, framerates in the high 30s and low 40s stick out.

Until thorough benchmarking is completed by me or someone else, I think the best way to put it is this: Task View often runs at 60FPS, while Mission Control never runs at 60FPS.

I think pretty much all Mac users — from owners of poky Mac Minis through high-end iMacs — have experienced super slow Mission Control animations. It’s just not a well-built animation.

It’s worth noting that Exposé never seemed to suffer from a similar problem on any Mac excluding the lowest-end products, and that was running on far worse hardware than what we have today. In fact, a fair amount of OS X’s animations are significantly slower than the Tiger days. I’m not sure what’s causing such a substantial performance degradation, but I hope remedying it is a focus of iOS and OS X this year.

May 16, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Silk Road

If you haven’t been reading Joshuah Bearman and Tomer Hakuna’s excellent reporting of the Silk Road saga, you’re missing a jaw-dropping story. The second part has just been posted, and it’s riveting.

May 15, 2015

Tools Don’t Solve the Web’s Problems

Peter-Paul Koch:

The web definitely has a speed problem due to over-design and the junkyard of tools people feel they have to include on every single web page. However, I don’t agree that the web has an inherent slowness. The articles for the new Facebook feature will be sent over exactly the same connection as web pages. However, the web versions of the articles have an extra layer of cruft attached to them, and that’s what makes the web slow to load. The speed problem is not inherent to the web; it’s a consequence of what passes for modern web development. Remove the cruft and we can compete again.

Oh, yes, please.

This happens on the client side from the inclusion of Javascript frameworks, external plugins, analytics scripts,1 giant images, and so forth; each of these requires a DNS query, a download, and potentially rendering. This cruft also exists on the server side from related content and similar extraneous database lookups. It gets worse: the creeping of this cruft coincided with the rise of the responsive web, which means that all this crap gets served over your metered cellular connection.

Somewhere in my Pinboard,2 I have a series of links to Stack Overflow threads where someone asks a question solvable with basic CSS, yet the top-ranked answer involves a jQuery plugin or two, and a custom script. It’s atrocious.

But this cruft keeps creeping in because typical web connections are — broadly speaking — getting faster, so it’s somehow okay in the minds of some to send increasing amounts of data. Actual, real speed in lieu of client-side caching seems to no longer be a priority. And that’s why the web is slow: not because Facebook is doing anything that special, but because few people put in the effort to make it fast.


  1. If you have Ghostery installed, you know just how many tracker scripts are on so many websites. ↩︎

  2. I need to start using tags again. ↩︎

Don’t Wash Tennis Balls

Back when iOS 7 was released, I criticised the use of text strings as buttons:

Both [iOS and OS X are] used by people all over the world, and will set their device to one of the dozens of interface languages available. To accomodate the peculiarities of each language, interface elements containing text need to be flexible, and this flexibility gets compounded with additional text-based elements.

You’d therefore imagine that distinct symbols with clear meanings would be a smart way to bridge this gap. If they’re clear shapes, their function can be made obvious, and they likely need no localization.

Thomas Byttebier raises a good point:

[An] icon can often replace a long descriptive group of words. As screens get smaller, this is much welcomed. But herein lies the design trap, because most icons are unclear. They make people think. What good has a beautiful interface if it’s unclear? Hence it’s simple: only use an icon if its message is a 100% clear to everyone. Never give in.

I entirely agree with him, less his assertion that “the best icon is a text label”. It’s extraordinarily challenging to design an icon that will be read as an action — like “compose” or “refresh” — for an audience of people who range from the very tech-savvy to the novice, in hundreds or thousands of unique cultures. Different audiences will interpret icons in myriad ways, many of which the designer may not expect.

But it’s almost possible. The pictograms that are used in pretty much every airport worldwide are proof of this, but even they often accompanied by a text label in a mix of languages, so there can be no ambiguity. The consequences of an airport with ambiguous signage are significant: missed flights, frustration for already-stressed travellers, and so forth. The consequences of an ambiguous icon on a social network might be less significant, in the grand scheme of things, but ease of use should not come at the expense of trying to show off or be different.

Fight for the users.

May 14, 2015

Snooping on Facebook Instant Articles

John Gruber piqued my curiosity:

I’m intrigued by the emphasis on speed. Not only is native mobile code winning for app development, but with things like Instant Articles, native is making the browser-based web look like a relic even just for publishing articles. If I’m right about that, it might pose a problem even for my overwhelmingly-text work at Daring Fireball. Daring Fireball pages load fast, but the pages I link to often don’t. I worry that the inherent slowness of the web and ill-considered trend toward over-produced web design is going to start hurting traffic to DF.

I had to take this for a spin to find out how fast it is. Instant Articles are aptly named — they load really fast. I tested a series of articles from Facebook’s various publishers — including from the Atlantic, the New York Times, and Buzzfeed — and found that most content loads near instantaneously, including high-resolution imagery. Videos were the only exception, which sometimes exhibited a few tenths of a second of lag before autoplaying on my 50 mbps home connection.

But even videos loaded faster than pretty much any page on Pixel Envy. My site is pretty damn fast, but not compared to Instant Articles, which is a little ridiculous given that this site is nearly entirely textual.

What’s enabling this super speed? It’s all within the iOS app, so there’s not a lot of information an idiot like me can cull, but I ran a session through Squid and collected the logs. Nearly everything Facebook delivers is sent over HTTPS, so I couldn’t cache its data or see many specific loading events. Nevertheless, here are the logs for a Buzzfeed “article” about grown men playing with kittens, and some article from the Times.1 A few observations:

  • All of the article content is hosted on Facebook’s servers, including text, images, and video. Ads, on the other hand, are either provided by Facebook or through whatever network or exchange the publisher likes. In the case of Buzzfeed, that’s Moat; in the case of this Times article, it’s the newspaper itself serving the ads.

  • To get things to load fast, Facebook doesn’t appear to use tricks beyond what you might expect: mighty data centres located all around the world, and compressing the hell out their assets. It also loads media lazily. But there’s probably some other, more invisible stuff going on. I poked around the app bundle and didn’t spot anything obviously exciting to my eyes.

  • Facebook automatically loads all content — including video — by default. That seems like a rather generous assumption on the part of Facebook, given that most people are probably on metered plans. You can turn this off under the More tab, in Account Settings, then in Videos and Photos, then under Auto-play.

  • As Gruber says, far too many sites are over-complicated with gigantic photo banners and megabytes of Javascript. I’m optimistic that, if nothing else, this step by Facebook will encourage web developers to once again focus more on the speed and size of what they build.


  1. There’s also a bunch of crap from various backgrounded services. Ignore those lines; they’re just there for completeness. I did remove one confidential line, however. ↩︎

May 13, 2015

Big, Dumb Pipes

Dennis K. Berman, Wall Street Journal:

When Steve Jobs released the first iPhone in June 2007, Apple Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. were worth almost exactly the same in the public markets: About $115 billion.

What came over the next eight years was one of the greatest transfers of power and wealth in corporate history. Mobile phone operators — who had been brutish, intractable gatekeepers to the customer — were turned into Apple’s lackeys.

The customer was still spending money with the carriers, but now she was spending far more with Apple. Today Apple is worth about $735 billion, nearly double that of Verizon and AT&T Inc. combined. The carriers still love to romance the “power of the network,” but this has the feel of a crumbling empire, vainly proclaiming its domain over places long overrun.

Facebook and Google are worth more than Verizon or AT&T, too, and Amazon is pretty close. Remember how terrified carriers were of becoming dumb pipes? It’s happened; it was inevitable. And now carriers are finding creepyreally creepy — ways to try to salvage what leverage they have left.

The Future of Digital Advertising

Frightening post from Ben Thompson, framing both yesterday’s Verizon-AOL news and Facebook’s Instant Articles:

There’s no need for me to dwell on the Facebook news; I covered it at length in March in an article called The Facebook Reckoning. In that piece I noted a significant problem with Internet advertising: ad inventory is ever-increasing, which means the rates for an undifferentiated ad spot are ever-decreasing; the best way to combat that trend is through better ads, better placement, better targeting, and better measurement.

[…]

This is why the deal makes so much sense: AOL provides the technology to target individuals instead of content, and Verizon the ability to track those individuals — at least the over 100 million customers they already have — at arguably a deeper level than anyone else in digital advertising (for non-Verizon customers, AOL’s ad platform is still useful, albeit not as targeted; rates would be commensurately lower). The talk of this mashup joining Facebook and Google to form a “Big 3” of digital advertising is not unrealistic.

I certainly hope it doesn’t play out like this.

May 12, 2015

A Different Take on the Liveliness of the Mac App Store

Gabriel Hauber:

Sam Soffes said that he only sent out a couple of tweets about Redacted to announce its launch, although the app fortuitously did end up on Product Hunt and apparently got quite some attention there. The result – halfway decent first day sales. The app itself is rather simple and other apps with quite similar functionality already exist on the store.

This tells me that with a bit of effort and a good product, it shouldn’t be that difficult to generate a half-way decent revenue on the Mac App Store alone. And when you add direct sales into the mix, it looks even more attractive.

Maybe there’s a fair amount of confirmation bias here, but I don’t think the Mac App Store works as a more-or-less upscaled version of the iOS App Store. I buy little one- or two-dollar apps on my iPhone all the time, but I rarely buy new software on my Mac. It’s not as lively an ecosystem, probably because a Mac app is expected to be orders of magnitude more capable and complex than an iOS app.1 It’s also probably true that OS X and Mac apps aren’t evolving nearly as fast as their iOS counterparts.

Mac app developers do have one major advantage over iOS developers: they can offer their apps for sale in both the Mac App Store — with some exceptions — and as a standalone download. The App Store potentially offers a much greater promotional value, but at the price of the infamous 30% cut of all sales.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of how valuable the Mac App Store is to third-party developers. My guess is that it’s a good opportunity for scaled-up iPhone apps and little utilities, but has more of a neutral effect for apps with a power user audience.


  1. And probably also because, as Hauber points out, tens of millions of iPhones and iPads get sold every quarter, compared to “only” a few million Macs. ↩︎

May 11, 2015

From Reading List to Pinboard

Ben Brooks’ Pinboard usage mimics my own:

The change for me isn’t that notable on it’s own, but I have made a conscious effort to not only save read later links to Pinboard, but to also save all bookmarks to Pinboard, thus giving me a much better archive of things I read on the web. That’s truly the nicest feature of the entire move: I now have one repository to search — and that I thought was worth mentioning.

NYT Now What?

The New York Times Company:

The new version features a fresh look and improved card designs to help readers catch up even faster. Screenshots of the new cards can easily be shared with friends. Content is updated around the clock, and the app now highlights new stories since your last check-in.

NYT Now’s popular Morning Briefing now comes with an alert feature to notify users as soon as it’s ready.

I really like the sound of these features. I regularly check the app throughout the day, so any indication of what’s new is helpful to me, and the morning briefing notification feels kind of like you’re living in a movie where you need your mission dossier. Only one problem:

Fans of NYT Now rejoice: The Times’s news app — designed to get you caught up on the most important and interesting stories — is free starting today.

Why is this a problem? Brian Krogsgard explains:

I wonder, is it really worth me keeping my subscription when 90% of the Times articles I read are from what is now a free app? Likely not.

Unless, of course, they cheapen the app content.

[…]

Starting this morning, the app showcases a big sponsor link, so I guess that’s how they plan to monetize it. Furthermore, I presume they anticipate they can get folks addicted enough to want full access — and of that goal, I am quite skeptical.

I’m a Times subscriber, so launching the app to find a Delta ad larger than the NYT Now logo on the splash screen offended me a little this morning. I want to feel like I’m reading the New York Times, not Delta’s newsletter. Of course, subscribers can sign into the NYT Now app, but I’m unclear whether that gives me less of a “freemium” experience, or whether it just lets me sync my saved articles.

There’s always the standard Times app that I could use instead, but it doesn’t have the impression of speed that NYT Now does. It feels like the entire paper, which is nice on a desktop, but a little heavy for a phone. The standard app is also buried in Newsstand, and it can’t be taken out. NYT Now is still winning for me — the new app looks and feels great, and it still does what I want it to (despite curated and recommended stories from other sources being blended into the main feed, rather than being under a separate tab). But it’s kinda hard to choose between the two, as neither are now ideal for their purpose.

May 9, 2015

“My Dad, My Mentor”

Erin Lee Carr, daughter of David Carr, in Glamour:

I was in the passenger seat as my dad steered our family’s SUV in the direction of my first internship, at Fox Searchlight Pictures. He ignored the car wedging into our lane and turned my way. “Who’s your supervisor?” he asked. “Who’s head of the company? What films of theirs do you like?”

I mumbled something about how I’d loved the acerbic side of Juno, which the studio had put out about a year earlier. My dad shook his head, lit a cigarette, and said, “No one is going to take you seriously if you don’t take the job seriously. Do your fucking homework.”

Redesigning Overcast for the Apple Watch

Marco Arment’s first attempt at a Watch app wasn’t perfect, but he has a new version of Overcast out that, he thinks, is a vast improvement:

Trying to match the structure of the iOS app was a mistake. For most types of apps, the Apple Watch today is best thought of not as a platform to port your app to, but a simple remote control or viewport into your iPhone app.

My initial app was easier to conceptualize and learn, and it closely matched the iOS app. But it just wasn’t very good in practice, and wasn’t usually better than taking out my phone.

The new app is a bit weird and polarizing, and has a learning curve, but it’s great in practice if it fits your preferences. (Just like the Apple Watch.)

Arment did nothing inherently wrong with trying to be on the Watch on day one, but this goes to show just how different its interaction model is compared to a phone. Only after using it did Arment discover how he was using it, and I imagine that’s the same for pretty much any app.

There’s a lot of pressure to be first on a new platform, but there are lots of great reasons to wait to experience the product first before trying to ship something.

May 8, 2015

The Numbers

Abdel Ibrahim:

Today, Executive Editor at The Verge, Deiter Bohn, posted his in-depth review of the LG Watch Urbane, LG’s second round-screened smartwatch, which sells $349 dollars. I read the review, which highlighted the various pros and cons of the product as reviews tend to do, and then I noticed something interesting at the end of the article: A 7.3 overall score.

I wondered how that compared to their Apple Watch review, so I did a quick Google search (don’t bother using The Verge’s built-in search function — it’s horrible) and noticed that editor-in-chief Nilay Patel gave Apple Watch an overall score of an even 7.

The problem is that the Verge — as with so many other sites — attempts to assign a seemingly objective numerical ranking to an inherently subjective practice. The numbers make it sound like the site, as a publication, would more readily recommend the Watch Urbane over the Apple Watch, if only by a slight margin. In actuality, the review paints a different picture:

I wish I could say that the Urbane is the perfect Android Wear watch, but I can’t. It may be that there is no such thing, there are only different watches for different people. That’s why I called the Urbane a cipher for Android Wear: it perfectly encapsulates how divisive wearable technology can be. I’m also hard-pressed to believe that it’s worth the $349 asking price — the materials and technology aren’t that much better than the G Watch R, which is $100 less. The Urbane is for people who love big, shiny watches, and I’m clearly not one of them.

In comparison, here’s how Nilay Patel summarized his Apple Watch review:

There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.

If you are willing to go along on that journey, then you’ll enjoy the Apple Watch.

Sounds like a recommendation, if a hesitant one.

Naturally, the two reviews are from different writers, but it’s a confusing mix of an attempt at objectivity and subjectivity. If you relied upon the Verge’s numerical rankings as a sorting criteria for picking a smartwatch, you’d end up with a Pebble Steel, which scored an 8.5 out of 10. It’s nowhere near as capable as an Apple Watch, but it was also released six months ago, so its ranking is kind of irrelevant now.

To summarize, then: the numerical scores only give the illusion of objectivity, don’t match the content of the review, and don’t have lasting value. So why do they exist? When I read a review, I want the reviewer’s opinion; if I’m in the market for a smartwatch, which one do I buy? It sounds like Dieter Bohn recommends I don’t buy the Urbane. Which should I buy? Sounds like Nilay Patel thinks the Apple Watch is the best on the market. That’s all I need to know.

Previously:Recommended by 4 Out of 5 Dentists”.

More on the Mac App Store

Daniel Jalkut points out a caveat with those terrible Mac App Store numbers:

“Top Paid” is a terrible name for that leaderboard, because it implies being paid more money than … everybody. “Trending Paid” is fairer.

With millions of Mac users, though, it’s hard to see how 59 US sales should be enough to make the eighth position in any chart, if most of those millions of users were buying software frequently.

My guess is that people get into a groove on their Mac. They don’t buy software very often, and they’re generally happy with what they’ve used for a long time. My most recent Mac software purchase was Fantastical 2; before that, it might have been the Sims 4. I bought the former on March 25 and the latter on February 17.

Perhaps the iPhone enormously skews our perception of the success or failure of any of Apple’s products. Yes, iPad sales are in a steep decline, but perhaps people have now settled into a more regular and longer update cycle. Maybe the Mac App Store is wildly successful for many developers, who wouldn’t have dreamed of 59 US sales on launch day. It’s certainly working for some developers.

Maybe it just needs a little bit of love.

May 7, 2015

Ain’t Nobody Using the Mac App Store

In real, practical terms, the Mac App Store is a decent distribution method for Apple’s software. It’s certainly better than the old Software Update function. But for third party developers? Not as much. Not even close. Maybe nobody buys Mac software any more, or maybe all the developers who are actually able to charge for software don’t need the Store. In that case, what’s it really for, apart from Apple’s own software?

Rage Against the Espresso Machine

Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes about ZPM Espresso’s failure to launch for the NY Times Magazine:

[L]ike all 21st-century consumers, Kickstarter backers have been trained to expect a world custom-engineered for total frictionlessness. Everything is supposed to work easily, right away and well. One benefit of giving our lives over to machines and algorithms, after all, is that there’s no margin for human error. As for our physical objects, we expect them to be sleek and perfect, designed with a religious devotion to the harmony of form and function.

[…]

My brother has worked at Apple for 10 years, first in operations and now in engineering. I asked him what advice he would have given to Polyakov if he’d been called in to consult on the manufacturing. He thought for a minute. “I honestly haven’t the faintest idea,” he said. This is because, despite all the advances of the maker-revolution age (off-the-shelf, open-source, programmable microcontrollers; rapid prototyping; 3-D printing; “AutoCAD for Dummies”), manufacturing remains a supremely difficult process, the success of which continues to rely on marshaling a lot of resources: development money, an extensive network of trusted vendors, the dedicated personnel to sit in conference rooms in concrete campuses in Shenzhen and Dongguan and refuse to budge until the product is streaming off the assembly line in the right amounts, at the right quality and at the agreed-upon price.

Another Rule of Thumb for “Getting” Apple

In yesterday’s commentary on Ken Segall’s article about understanding Apple, I noted that…

Apple’s success is defined by patience. The Watch is already an incredible product and it’s just a 1.0, with plenty of low-hanging fruit ready for picking. Apple Pay is way better than any of its competitors, primarily because Apple waited until they locked down major banks and credit card providers and had a brilliant interaction model.

The first rule of understanding Apple: patience, patience, patience.

The second rule? When faced by an obstacle so large that most of their competitors would back down, Apple takes it on head-first. Yesterday’s post about their substantially increased R&D spend is evidence of this, but naysayers’ attitudes have persisted for a long time. Remember the “MacBook Brick” rumours from many years ago?

Apparently, Apple has created a brand-new process to sculpt casings for products out of aircraft-grade aluminum, using a system that carves the pieces out of a single block of metal using “3D lasers” and water-jet cutting. The new technique will supposedly allow for seamless components which require no bending or folding, won’t use screws to join together, are ultra-light but also “super strong,” and will enable the company to rapidly prototype and produce new designs.

Industrial designers were skeptical. Adam Richardson of Frog Design thought this process was unlikely as described:

On a large product like a laptop this would typically result in a massive amount of waste (so kiss your green credentials goodbye). And the notion that this is somehow cheaper than stamping thin sheets or molding plastic is completely wrong – it’s much more expensive.

[…]

But given the complexity of the components that need to get tightly mounted inside a laptop casing, and the number of ports and so on that need to be exposed to the outside, it’s unlikely that it will literally be a hollowed out block of aluminum.

Friends of Cult of Mac’s Pete Mortensen thought it was impossible “in this lifetime”:

I’ve been talking with other industrial designers about this issue, and they all agree that the reasoning behind the current Brick rumor doesn’t add up. One friend of mine guessed it would add up to $50 in manufacturing costs and might not be any stronger or lighter than more traditional manufacturing approaches.

Does Apple have a game-changing laptop in the wings that will reinvent the MacBook and MacBook Pro design language? For their sake, they’d better. Will it be milled from a single block of aluminum? Not in this lifetime.

As it turned out, the rumours were almost entirely accurate. The only part of the case of any unibody MacBook that is held on with screws is the bottom panel. But Apple did, indeed, invest millions of dollars in state-of-the-art equipment and manufacturing techniques that have radically changed the limits of what they can do with their notebooks from a hardware perspective. There’s no way the new MacBook would exist in anything like its current form factor if the case relied upon a pre-unibody structure.

Rule number two: Apple measures their return on investment in years, not months.

May 6, 2015

Something’s Cooking

Neil Cybart:

While pretty straight-forward, R&D as a percent of revenue can be misleading, making it difficult to comprehend how much money is being funneled into R&D. A more relevant and informative way to analyze Apples R&D spend is to look at the actual dollar increase from year to year. This method is more sensible because Apple has a functional organizational structure with a culture based on placing few, but extremely large, product bets. There is little evidence to suggest that Apple has altered the way it approaches new product development and R&D expenditures. In the past, the bulk of Apples R&D program has been focused on specific projects and goals. This stands at contrast with a strategy of setting up a number of R&D labs with no clear directive other than to find future products. If Apple is spending R&D, it is a good bet they have a specific goal in mind for those dollars.

Cybart’s third chart shows just how significant this R&D spending bump is.

An iPad Campaign for Normals

Remember Apple’s previous campaign — “Your Verse” — that showed how you could use the iPad inside a wind turbine, or to rescue people lost at sea? Well what if you have a comparatively mundane life, like most people? Federico Viticci of MacStories on the new “Everything Changes” campaign:

Apple’s focus is on ordinary situations: traveling and using Maps and FaceTime for directions and staying in touch with others; letting kids learn through educational apps and games from the App Store; managing personal tasks with OmniFocus and Todoist or creating a promotional poster directly on an iPad.

It’s hard to relate how some people use the iPad with how you can use it, unless you see it in an average, normal, everyday context.

As Viticci notes, the timing is curious. You know how iPad sales are down? These ads can’t hurt awareness, but “iPad” is pretty much a byword for “tablet”, at least for most people that I talk to. It isn’t that people haven’t heard of the iPad, but that many people haven’t spent significant time with one to know how it fits into their lives. These ads do a way better job of showing how other normal people use it.

Leapfrog

Ken Segall:

Now we know there was a ton of work going on at Apple during The Period Of Great Whining. Possibly more than at any time in Apple’s history. Now we have new iPhones, Apple Pay and Apple Watch.

Plus a complete rework of iOS and a refresh of OS X.

Segall:

To me, this just says that Apple is doing a very good job of being Apple. Its mission is to create products that people can fall in love with. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a timetable for such things.

Apple’s success is defined by patience. The Watch is already an incredible product and it’s just a 1.0, with plenty of low-hanging fruit ready for picking. Apple Pay is way better than any of its competitors, primarily because Apple waited until they locked down major banks and credit card providers and had a brilliant interaction model.

When there is pressure for Apple to be impatient — both internally and externally — is when things go awry. Take the aforementioned OS X and iOS, both of which were announced with grand vision and arrived a little early, by expected quality standards. Neither is unusable (though OS X sometimes comes close) but both feel rushed and rough around the edges. They’re getting better, and there’s plenty of fruit left, but we need to be patient. And the market just doesn’t like that.

May 5, 2015

Clusterfuck (4) (5) (8)

Craig Hockenberry:

A network process using 100% of the CPU, WiFi disconnecting at random times, and names, names (1), names (2), names (4). All caused by a crappy piece of software called discoveryd.

[…]

Ironically, these issues are most likely to affect Apple’s best customers. The more devices you have, and the longer you have them, the more likely you are to get an unstable network. The only advice I can offer is to restart your entire network.

C:\ONGRTLNS.OSX

Marco Arment:

Yosemite is now 6 months old, these bugs still aren’t fixed, and it feels like they probably won’t be fixed anytime soon. Yosemite is probably in minimal-maintenance mode as primary resources have likely moved on to headlining features for 10.11.

I haven’t had any networking issues since 10.10.3, and I know that update fixed WiFi bugs for a lot of people that I know. But this is still happening for an alarming number of people. In an era where Apple is rapidly pushing for a cable-free experience, this is, frankly, unacceptable. Apple sells one remaining notebook model with an Ethernet port, and they’re not even offering an adaptor for the newest MacBook.

Apple was one of the first companies to ship a WiFi product to average consumers. This stuff should be old hat for them.

May 4, 2015

Apple Reportedly Pressuring Labels to Discontinue Free Streaming Tiers with Spotify and YouTube

Micah Singleton, the Verge:

Apple has been using its considerable power in the music industry to stop the music labels from renewing Spotify’s license to stream music through its free tier. Spotify currently has 60 million listeners, but only 15 million of them are paid users. Getting the music labels to kill the freemium tiers from Spotify and others could put Apple in prime position to grab a large swath of new users when it launches its own streaming service, which is widely expected to feature a considerable amount of exclusive content. “All the way up to Tim Cook, these guys are cutthroat,” one music industry source said.

Sources also indicated that Apple offered to pay YouTube’s music licensing fee to Universal Music Group if the label stopped allowing its songs on YouTube. Apple is seemingly trying to clear a path before its streaming service launches, which is expected to debut at WWDC in June. If Apple convinces the labels to stop licensing freemium services from Spotify and YouTube, it could take out a significant portion of business from its two largest music competitors.

If this is true, it’s bullying, plain and simple. Apple should offer a streaming service that can compete on its own merits, and shouldn’t need to resort to tactics like these to be able to succeed. It’s their own fault they’re a late entry in the streaming game.

The New Droplr

Droplr fills a weird but necessary niche for me: it is my preferred way to host smallish files that I want to share with a few or a lot of people. Uploading a file via FTP is a pain in the ass a lot of the time, even with Transmit on both OS X and iOS. iMessage is great for sending files to one or a few people, but you can’t use it as a host. Dropbox is great for collaborating with a lot of people, but if I just want to hotlink an image for, say, this site, it’s kind of overkill. Also, the latter two will retain files on my computer, instead of just putting a single copy in the mysterious cloud.

Droplr fixes that for me. It’s a great way for me to host small screenshots for this site and for Twitter, because it doesn’t compress images. It’s also a fantastic way to send people design comps or links for review, and it has a hit counter, so you can make sure they saw it (or, at least, that’s what I use it for).

So what’s new? They’ve got a sweet new identity and brand new apps across the board, including for iOS. I’ve been using it for the past few months and it’s fabulous. It has a brand new design and a Share action, just as you’d expect. It’s also clever: it has a screenshot-specific upload, so instead of spelunking through your entire photo library, you can just look at screenshots. Smart.

The new identity and hosting plans are live now, and I think the new iOS app will be out later today, with the new Mac app (also wonderful) following later this week.

Cupertino, Start Your Photocopiers

Microsoft is apparently the first major company to ship an operating system that supports the middle finger emoji. Despite their history of thinking of the children, I think the Tim Cook Apple might be willing to add it to their OSes as well.

Let me set the scene for you: it’s June 8, at the WWDC 2015 kickoff keynote. Tim Cook is back onstage after a tag team of Federighi and Schiller introducing iOS 9, OS X 10.11, and a new MacBook Pro.

“Did you like everything?” Tim asks, rhetorically. The crowd hollers; a faint voice from the back shouts “we love you Tim!” He grins.

“Well, we have just one more thing to show you.”

Tim presses the “next slide” button on his clicker. Up pops a thirty-foot-tall middle finger emoji. The crowd gasps, then bursts into rapturous applause.

“And it’s in iOS and OS X this fall, just in time to show your friends how you feel about them not upgrading to the new iPhone.” Tim presses the “next slide” button one more time, advancing to a white Apple logo with the middle finger superimposed. “Thank you everyone. We hope you have a fantastic WWDC.”

May 1, 2015

Layers Conference

I can’t make it to San Francisco for WWDC, but if you’re going to be in town, you should definitely go to Layers, from Jessie Char and Elaine Pow. Just look at the lineup, and their rad ticket pricing policy:

If you’re a woman by birth or identity, use the code #ragegap to receive a Layers pass for 77 cents on the dollar.

Ever since WWDC tickets have been delivered Willy Wonka style, there have been a few great conferences that have sprung up to accommodate the overflow. If Layers’ designer focus isn’t so much your speed, check out AltConf as well. I wish I could go to Layers, though — it looks absolutely incredible.

Us

John Moltz:

I’m fascinated with two moments in the middle of the “Us” Watch ad that show people in the midst of some kind of relationship problems. They’re surprisingly true-to-life and make the ad so much more poignant.

These kinds of quiet just-show-the-features ads are some of the best that Apple has ever done; arguably, they’re some of the best advertising in the world right now. They show simple vignettes that most of us have experienced, showing how the product works for us, but doesn’t make or break the scene. It’s just there, quietly.

Neven Mrgan’s First Week Without an Apple Watch

Neven Mrgan did not receive his Apple Watch on April 24. In fact, he hasn’t received it at all yet, so he’s taken the time to carefully review a week spent without one:

One bit of bad news: the most frustrating part of not using an Apple Watch has been the very noticeable delay when performing some common actions. Glances, for instance, don’t respond for four to six weeks after ordering.

Well said, Neven.

Expansive Surveillance Reform Takes Backseat to Politics

The Hill’s Julian Hattem has terrible news, everybody!

The amendment from Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) would block the spy agency from using powers under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to collect Americans’ Internet communications without a warrant. The NSA has relied on the powers of Section 702 to conduct its “PRISM” and “Upstream” collection programs, which gather data from major Web companies such as Facebook and Google, as well as to tap into the networks that make up the backbone of the Internet.

The amendment would have also prevented the government from forcing tech companies to include “backdoors” into their devices, so that the government could access people’s information.

“Would have”? What happened?

As lawmakers stare down the barrel of a deadline to renew or reform the Patriot Act, they have all but assured that more expansive reforms to U.S. intelligence powers won’t be included.

Uh, why? Aren’t you all in favour of this?

The move to drop the fix was all the more frustrating, supporters of the amendment said, because Congress overwhelmingly voted 293-123 to add similar language to a defense spending bill last year.

Okay, not all, but most of you are decidedly for this. Was it the substance of the reforms?

It’s not because of the substance of the reforms — which practically all members of the House Judiciary Committee said they support on Thursday — but…

Oh okay. But?

…because they would derail a carefully calibrated deal and are opposed by GOP leaders in the House and Senate.

Surprise, surprise.

Molly Watt’s Experience With the Apple Watch

Molly Watt has Usher Syndrome; she’s deafblind. I couldn’t imagine being in her shoes, trying to use technology the way she must, but the way she’s documented her experiences put a smile on my face:

So far for me the most useful App on the Apple Watch is Maps – on my iPhone I can plan my journey from one destination to another, for me it will be on foot with Unis my guidedog.

This is where Haptics really come into its own – I can be directed without hearing or sight, but by a series of taps via the watch onto my wrist – 12 taps means turn right at the junction or 3 pairs of 2 taps means turn left, I’m still experimenting with this but so far very impressed – usher syndrome accessible!

I’m fortunate enough to have my full vision and hearing, so I tend to think of interfaces from that perspective. Watt’s post — indeed, all her posts — are a welcome reminder that there are those who experience technology completely differently.

April 30, 2015

Margin of Error

Dawn Chmielewski, Recode:

Teardown Shows Apple Watch Sport Costs Just $84 to Build

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, ZD Net:

Apple Watch Costs Under $85 to Make

Shaun Nichols, the Register:

What Is Apple’s Idiot Tax on Watch These Days? ‘About $265 or 80%’

All of these reporters simply echoed IHS iSuppli’s suspect claims as fact, or nearly so. They really think that the profit margin on the Apple Watch Sport is 70-80% — never mind the margin on the higher-end models. Not one of them seriously questioned the estimate; the closest any got was acknowledging that R&D costs are not included in the estimate. Everyone knows these estimates are a crock of shit, but this takes the cake.

Tim Cook:

“I’ve never seen one that’s even close to accurate,” Cook said of the oft-quoted estimates. His relatively strong reaction was prompted by a question regarding perceived weakness in launch margins for the Apple Watch.

Cook, continued:

On why Q3 Apple Watch margins may be smaller than people outside Apple expected

In the first quarter of any kind of product you would always have learning and these sorts of things. We’ve had this with every product we’ve ever done. And so, again, we’re not guiding to what it will be over time. We’re talking about what it is now. I would keep in mind that the functionality of the product that we’re making is absolutely incredible, the power of it. I haven’t even seen those, but generally there are cost breakdowns that come out around our products that are much different than the reality.

Apple Watch S1 Uncloaked

You think you’ve seen miniaturization? You’ve seen nothing yet. Keep in mind that the scale below the chip package is in centimetres; it’s less than one inch across.

“The Internet Is a Place Where People Cry About Bullshit”

Ben Dreyfuss responds to the utter ridiculous Emoji Horse Violence Scandal of 2015 for Mother Jones:

Is merely mentioning the reality that horses are shot when they are lame outrageous? If you are outraged by the fact that horses are shot when they are lame, be outraged about the fact that horses are shot when they are lame, not someone remarking on the fact that horses are shot when they are lame.

I am as ardent a defender of equality and as passionate an opponent of prejudice and discrimination as you will ever meet, but even I am increasingly finding the internet uptight and humourless. Jokes don’t need to be based around a degrading or deliberately offensive attitude, but every tweet is now picked over to find something outrageous. There are lots of reasons for you to be justifiably concerned; don’t conflate those with off-the-cuff jokes. They’re not worthy of your constructed outrage.

April 29, 2015

Lessons in Burying the Lede: Human Kidnapping Edition

Here are the first six paragraphs of Mark Gomez and Patrick May’s story on an area interest story for the San Jose Mercury. See if you can spot the error:

An iPad “test model” was one of the items taken during a robbery and kidnapping at a Cupertino house earlier this month, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office, which would not disclose more details about the stolen device, but said it has not been recovered.

It’s unclear whether the Apple item was related to an upcoming product release or was an outdated model or test device.

“We are still investigating everything about this case,” sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. James Jensen said.

The robbers took the device, along with electronics, prescription drugs and cash valued at $7,500, from a Cupertino home during an incident in which a 20-year-old man was kidnapped and robbed after answering a woman’s online advertisement.

Authorities on Tuesday said the victim told detectives that “a test model iPad from Apple” was taken along with the other items.

In the first paragraph, the kidnapping is mentioned, but it takes until the fifth paragraph before the fact that a human being was kidnapped is acknowledged. And then Gomez and May jump right back into the crazy stolen iPad model in the sixth paragraph.

Here’s how I imagine the conversation between police and Apple legal went:

Apple: Hello, this is Denise in legal speaking.

Police: Hi, yeah, this is Sgt. Jensen with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. I just wanted to let you know that we noticed one of your prototypes was stolen from the home of one of your employees after he was kidnapped, and we haven’t been able to recover it. We know you’ll wanted it back, but we’ll need it for evid—

Apple: Wait, back up. One of our employees was kidnapped? Is he okay? How’s he doing?

Police: Good, yeah, fine. Hey, listen: I’d love to know what new features are on it. You know, so we know what to look for. Can I run two apps at once? Is it really light and thi—

Apple: Are you crazy?

Or something like that, if the police have similar priorities to the Mercury and the Register and PC Magazine and CNBC and Le Soir and the rest of the news outlets, apparently.

Nobody Knows

Mat Honan, Buzzfeed:

We did once. We believed it about IBM and we believed it about Microsoft and Google and Apple and Amazon. But what do we believe it about today? Is it Snapchat? Is it Uber? Is it Facebook? (It is probably Facebook.) Is a chat app really worth billions of dollars? Really? Well, sure. It is because people say it is.

So what happens when they say it isn’t?

Anyone who pretends to know the future is fooling you. Or themself. We are barely muddling our way through the present.

Proved today, with the “sunsetting” of Secret:

Alexis Ohanian, a founder of Reddit who invested in Secret, said at the time that it showed signs of being a contender for the future of social networking beyond Facebook. “Apps like Secret become an outlet for people to speak honestly about things that would otherwise result in career damage,” Mr. Ohanian said. He did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

April 28, 2015

It’s Clickbait All the Way Down

DisplayMate has published their preliminary analysis of the Apple Watch’s display, and they’ve discovered some new things about it which Apple chose not to publicize. Most significant, I think, is the internal calibration and accuracy of colour. I was worried that the OLED display would create significant oversaturation, but it looks like the colour profile is tuned to be similar to that of the very accurate iPhone 6.

But the biggest question is how the display of the Watch Sport compares to the Watch, the latter being both laminated and covered in sapphire. The title of DisplayMate’s analysis — “Apple Watch Display Technology Shoot-Out” — implies that they got their hands on at least one of each model and have subjected them to a comparative battery of tests. But that’s not the case: DisplayMate picked up only an Apple Watch, and they’re using the iPhone 6 for reflectivity measurements for the Sport. While the Sport does use the same kind of glass as the iPhone 6, the latter’s display is laminated, while the former’s is not.

At best, then, this isn’t a “shoot-out” between different Watch displays; it’s an initial analysis of one of the models. But that didn’t stop Buster Hein of Cult of Mac from proclaiming that the “Watch Sport has [a] better display than pricier models”. Not only is that not what DisplayMate is claiming, that statement is based solely on one assessed factor. While it’s true that this factor affects other parts of the perceived display quality — more reflected light reduces display contrast — the sum total of all factors might put the Watch’s display over the Sport, but we can’t know that for sure unless the Sport is put to the test. And even if there is a measurable difference, the perceived difference might be very little or none at all.

April 27, 2015

This is Tim

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

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

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

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

On lacklustre iPad sales numbers:

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

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

On Apple Pay:

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

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

Painting the Back of the Fence

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

April 24, 2015

The New Photos Paradigm

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

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

iCloud Photo Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Three New Apple Watch Ads

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

The Apple Watch Teardown

Some things I noticed while reading through this:

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

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

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

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

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

April 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Watch App Store Goes Live

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

Craft at Scale

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

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

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

Comcast and Time Warner Call Off Their Engagement

Alex Sherman, Bloomberg:

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

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

April 22, 2015

Delayed Apple Watch Preorders Shipping Earlier Than Expected

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

Bloomberg’s Crappy Reporting on Bulletproof Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s keep going with the Bloomberg story:

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

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

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

Google Fi

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

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

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

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

Juli Clover, Macrumors:

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

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

WatchKit Developer Mistakes

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

April 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

April 20, 2015

How the Apple Watch’s Heart Rate Monitor Works

Apple, via MacStories:

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

Clever.

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

In a Galaxy, Some Galaxy, Any Galaxy

Jon Russell, TechCrunch:

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

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

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

A Glimpse Into a Non-Neutral Future

Mahesh Murthy, Quartz:

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

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

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

April 17, 2015

Apple Pay Reportedly Launching in Canada This Autumn

Rita Trichur and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Wall Street Journal:

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

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

April 16, 2015

Logic

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

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

Kontra:

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

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

April 15, 2015

Dark Web Buyer Bot Returned to Swiss Artists

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

John Siracusa Has Earned His Aqua Stripes

John Siracusa:

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

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

The New WWDC Ticket Policy

Dave Mark:

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

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

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

“Google Doesn’t Have Any Friends”

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

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

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

Statement of Objections

Well, it’s now official:

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

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

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

The EU, continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 14, 2015

WWDC 2015: June 8–12

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

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

Europe to Accuse Google of Illegally Abusing Its Dominance

Alex Barker and Christian Oliver, Financial Times:

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iOS 8.4 Beta Brings a Music App Overhaul

From Apple’s release notes:

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

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

April 13, 2015

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

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

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

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

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

April 11, 2015

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

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

Katie Floyd (via Stephen Hackett):

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

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

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

Cloud-Based OS X Accounts

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying.

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

Did not see this one coming.

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

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

Apple Fixes Its Felony Hiring Policy

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

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

Good.

April 9, 2015

Future Present

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

Joshua Topolsky:

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

Nicole Phelps:

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

Geoffrey Fowler:

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

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

Farhad Manjoo:

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

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

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

Joanna Stern:

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Ryan Block in 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 8, 2015

Point Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Felony Convictions and Construction of Apple HQ

Wendy Lee, San Francisco Chronicle:

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

[…]

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

Lee, again, in a follow-up piece:

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Watch Packaging

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

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

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

A Close Watch

Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times:

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

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

The Tech Block’s Abdel Ibrahim:

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

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