Archive

April 30, 2016

Man Alive Again

Dr. Drang:

Yesterday, I discovered that Apple had changed the URLs of all its online man pages. Without, I should add, creating redirects so old links would continue to work. This broke all the man page links I had here at ANIAT and undoubtedly broke links across the internet.

Adding a redirect from the prior URL to the new one is old-hat basic stuff. I’d be shocked about this if I didn’t run into an issue earlier this year where I discovered that Apple News links don’t automatically redirect from the http:// version to the https:// version, and simply display a 404 error page instead.

This stuff is entry-level.

April 29, 2016

Intel’s Smartphone SoCs Officially Cancelled

Intel has been struggling. After announcing plans to cut 11% of their workforce, they’re now terminating their smartphone SoC plans, as reported by Ian Cutress and Ryan Smith of AnandTech:

Today’s big news out of Intel is along these lines, and with strategy and workforce news behind them, we have our first announcements on product changes that will come from Intel’s new strategy. In a report on Intel’s new strategy published by analyst Patrick Moorhead, Moorhead revealed that Intel would be radically changing their smartphone SoC plans, canceling their forthcoming Broxton and SoFIA products and in practice leaving the smartphone market for at least the time being.

Given the significance of this news we immediately reached out to Intel to get direct confirmation of the cancelation, and we can now confirm that Intel is indeed canceling both Broxton and SoFIA as part of their new strategy.

Intel really missed the boat on the post-PC era, as Apple likes to call it. What a shame. I hope they can get back on some more solid footing.

The Convergence of Emoji

Great post from Sebastiaan de With on the evolution of emoji on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone:

Significant design differences in emoji can be a hassle at best, but at worst it completely alters the meaning of a communication, and creates a jarring disconnect between the intended meaning the sender is trying to convey to the recipient. Imagine if the letters of our latin script varied depending on the phone you used!

The development of the Latin alphabet occurred over the span of thousands of years. We’re seeing a minor subset of that take place in real time, comparatively speaking. That’s absolutely fascinating to me.

‘Sorry, You Don’t Understand’

Bizarre back-and-forth between Piet Brauer, the developer of a GitHub app for the iPad, and Phil Schiller on Twitter, collected by Michael Tsai. In short, Brauer’s app was rejected for using a web view to allow people to sign in with GitHub because that login page — which GitHub controls — has their own registration links on it. Brauer had to inject some CSS onto the page to hide those links, and was still rejected on the same grounds:

11.13: Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the app, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected

I understand why this rule is in place — Apple doesn’t want companies to subvert their 30% cut by placing the purchasing mechanism on a webpage. But this seems like a case where the spirit of the rule should apply more than the letter of it. Even App Review thinks it’s ridiculous.

April 28, 2016

Apple Announces New Apple Music API

John Voorhees, MacStories:

Today Apple announced a new Apple Music API via its Affiliate Program Newsletter. According to Apple, the API:

…allows iOS apps to directly control Apple Music playback and more. We encourage affiliates to use the Apple Music API to provide a superior user experience by integrating music into their apps.

With the Apple Music API you can:

  • See if a user is currently an Apple Music member

  • See which country the user’s account is based in

  • Queue up the next song or songs based on a song ID for playback

  • Inspect playlists already in My Music or create a new playlist with a title and description (see App Store Review Guidelines for limitations).

It’s still early days for this API. I hope the door opens soon for apps that can provide their own recommendation engines and use Apple Music for the backend; I’m not sure that’s possible with this API yet. It’s a good start.

Google Hires Motorola CEO Rick Osterloh as SVP for New Unified Hardware Division

Mark Bergen and Ina Fried, Recode:

For years, Google has struggled to get sure footing on its various hardware initiatives — moving delicately to handle partners and, at times, deliver products that consumers actually use. When one of its hardware chiefs, Regina Dugan, who ran its Advanced Technology and Project group, departed for Facebook, we reported that Google was plotting a hardware shake-up.

Here it is now. Osterloh will now oversee Google’s Nexus devices. His new hardware division also includes a suite of products called the “living room,” demonstrating Google’s priority on owning that space.

It also includes Glass. Nest will continue to live in its own little silo, working on products that directly compete with Google’s.

April 27, 2016

iPhone SE Demand Is ‘Overwhelming’

Christina Warren, Mashable:

On the earnings call, Apple tried to spin numbers about upgrade cycles and the new customer wins it’s making over Android users. And that’s all well and good. But the device that might have the biggest impact on sales in the short term wasn’t even counted in the Q2 2016 earnings — the iPhone SE. […]

The product didn’t go on sale until March 31 so none of the sales were accounted in this earnings report, but Apple made a point to say that “demand has been very strong,” adding that it “exceeds supply at this point.”

In response to an analyst’s question, Cook went further saying that “it is clear that there is a demand there even much beyond what we thought.”

Only Apple knows exactly what the sales split is between the three different iPhone sizes currently available — in fact, they announced during the introduction of the iPhone SE that they sold 30 million four-inch iPhones in 2015. That’s about 13% of the total number of iPhones sold in 2015, so it’s not a huge market, but it’s still pretty significant.

Perhaps Apple figured that the SE would retain a fairly similar share of iPhone sales — that is, that those buying four-inch models chose to do so based primarily on screen size — and didn’t factor just how many people would dump a larger iPhone or Android model. Here’s hoping this can encourage a more regular four-inch update.

Americans Are Keeping Their Phones Longer

Interesting article from Thomas Gryta in the Wall Street Journal last week:1

Since the early days of Apple Inc.’s iPhone, most customers have avoided paying for the full price for the latest model. But the success of AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. since 2013 in shifting customers into plans that force them to pay the full price for devices — and separate that cost from monthly service fees — has consumers holding on to their devices longer.

Citigroup estimates the phone-replacement cycle will stretch to 29 months for the first half of 2016, up from 28 months in the fourth quarter of 2015 and the typical range of 24 to 26 months seen during the two prior years.

Since the separation of phone and plan is fairly common throughout the rest of the world, this basically means that the American phone replacement cycle is more closely aligning with that of a lot of other places.

Perhaps that provides an incentive for Apple to more rapidly iterate on the industrial design of their flagship iPhone models instead of the tick-tock pattern they’ve held to since the 3G.


  1. Unless you have an account, you’ll probably have to do that thing where you Google the URL and click through. Sorry. ↩︎

April 26, 2016

Not ‘For Me’

One of the bright sparks from today’s Q2 earnings release was record revenue in the “Services” category (Apple Music, iTunes, the App Stores, iBooks, and so forth). On the call, both Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri emphasized that they’d continue to develop and improve all of their cloud services.

I certainly hope that’s the case because, as David Sparks notes, that category is in dire need. Cloud services may be generating record revenue, but they’re almost certainly Apple’s least-refined offerings:

My favorite music largely includes obscure living jazz artists and less obscure dead jazz artists. I’ve wasted hours favoriting albums and marking other “recommended” playlists as ones I don’t like. Nevertheless, I open iTunes nearly every day as I work at my iMac and get the same Selina Gomez [sic] album thrown at me in place of Theloneus Monk.

When I said that I was concerned that one of Cook’s comments on the call seemed to indicate that “shareholders come first, and Apple’s entire R&D strategy revolves around them”, this is what I meant: celebrating record revenues in a product category that is the source of many blemishes on Apple’s record. It’s an earnings call — and one in which they have to find bright spots for investors for whom $50 billion in revenue just isn’t enough — but I hope the internal discussion reinforces that financial results are not necessarily indicative of product quality or satisfaction.

Picking Apart Apple’s Q2 2016 Numbers

Apple’s thirteen year seemingly-limitless growth machine has — dare I say, finally — found its limits. In a greater context, this quarter didn’t suck: Wikipedia’s list of record corporate quarters is somewhat outdated, but Q2 2016 would easily rank among the top twenty-five of all time corporate quarters in both revenues and profits. There were plenty of high points sprinkled throughout their earnings release today, as Jason Snell notes in his wrap-up post.

But, as Snell’s year-over-year unit growth graph shows, for the first time, all of Apple’s product lines sold fewer units than in last year’s Q2. Nothing can escape that simple fact.

Additionally, Apple is forecasting a significant decrease in year-over-year revenue for next quarter: $41–$43 billion compared to about $50 billion last year.

The financial media is having a field day with this, and I’m not surprised — while Apple forecast it in their last earnings release, it’s still big news. The tech press gets to keep running clickbait “Apple is doomed” articles. But I hope Apple’s reaction to this is to dig their heels in and deliver some spectacular products.

And that brings me to a remark Tim Cook made today:1

Creating value for shareholders by developing great products and services that enrich people’s lives will always be our top priority and the key factor driving our investment and capital allocation decisions.

I get that it’s an earnings call and extremely fragile shareholders want reassurance, but I wish this was phrased differently. What I hope Cook means by this is that Apple’s top priority is to create really great stuff and provide exemplary services that they hope people will buy and love, thereby assuaging trepidatious hedge fund billionaires.

But the way it’s phrased here is that shareholders come first, and Apple’s entire R&D strategy revolves around them. I sincerely hope this is just poorly articulated, because if it’s taken at face value, it’s deeply concerning.


  1. Apologies to those of you not running a supercomputer — it’s an iMore link. Their great coverage continues to be belied by a shitty website. ↩︎

‘Your Problem Is That You Make Shit’

Kind of in line with the previous link, Joshua Topolsky on the state of big media companies:

Video will not save your media business. Nor will bots, newsletters, a “morning briefing” app, a “lean back” iPad experience, Slack integration, a Snapchat channel, or a great partnership with Twitter. All of these things together might help, but even then, you will not be saved by the magical New Thing that everyone else in the media community is convinced will be the answer to The Problem.

Beneath the Snow Falls and Facebook bots, what really makes a media company tick is its ability to deliver great stories in just the right voice. That’s why I write the way I do, and link to articles like these — I hope you, reader, see that. All of this other stuff is just stuff. It’s an extra delivery mechanism. But if all that’s being delivered is crap, the tinsel of the new hotness is immaterial.

On a related note, the Verge — Topolsky’s old haunt — launched a new gadget blog called Circuit Breaker. Its gimmick? The website is, as Nilay Patel puts it, “the backend for the Facebook mobile experience”.

Uncanny Valley

Just a taste of Anna Wiener’s brilliant essay for N+1 magazine:

An old high school friend emails out of the blue to introduce me to his college buddy: a developer, new to the city, “always a great time!” The developer and I agree to meet for drinks. It’s not clear whether we’re meeting for a date or networking. Not that there’s always a difference: I have one friend who found a job by swiping right and know countless others who go to industry conferences just to fuck — nothing gets them hard like a nonsmoking room charged to the company AmEx. The developer is very handsome and stiltedly sweet. He seems like someone who has opinions about fonts, and he does. It’s clear from the start that we’re there to talk shop. We go to a tiny cocktail bar in the Tenderloin with textured wallpaper and a scrawny bouncer. Photographs are forbidden, which means the place is designed for social media. This city is changing, and I am disgusted by my own complicity.

“There’s no menu, so you can’t just order, you know, a martini,” the developer says, as if I would ever. “You tell the bartender three adjectives, and he’ll customize a drink for you accordingly. It’s great. It’s creative! I’ve been thinking about my adjectives all day.”

This is so very, very good.

April 25, 2016

The Amazingly Underwhelming Apple Watch

M.G. Siegler:

Believe me, I too am full of Apple Watch gripes. The main issue, in my view, is that I simply never use the apps. And wasn’t that supposed to be the point of the thing? Instead, I use the device almost solely for push notifications, which, don’t get me wrong, are still useful. In fact, some, like the notification you get when an Uber is arriving, are extremely useful. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in terms of overall experience thus far.

And yet, one year later, I’m still wearing the thing every day.

Maybe I’m delusional. But I don’t think so. I feel like I still see a ton of people wearing them around as well. And actually, increasingly so. Yes, I live in San Francisco, so maybe I’m in a bubble (but not the Bubble).

Calgary is in the middle of a recession, but I have also seen a lot more Apple Watches lately while on my commute, on the pathway system, or on the streets. There’s a lot that I’m hoping for, both in software and in hardware, but as far as “failures” or “flops” are concerned, the Watch is a long way off, and the potential is huge.

If apps loaded in a few seconds instead of the 15–30 that they take today and the side button could be reprogrammed — almost any other function would be better than the contacts wheel — that would go a long way towards making the Watch more predictable and useful.

Pegatron Allowed Bloomberg Access to a Factory

Shai Oster of Bloomberg was given a tour of one of Pegatron’s factories where iPhone models are assembled. In their latest supplier audit report, Apple says that they’ve been working hard to improve overtime compliance, and it seems that it’s working: they report a 97% compliance rate for 2015, up from 92% just three years earlier (PDF).

Worker pay is still a significant weakness for many tech company suppliers. While it has been improving, Oster illustrates how far it has left to go:

One improvement Pegatron executives were eager to share was increased income transparency. Employees can now check their hours, pay stubs, and monthly lodging and food expenses at touchscreen terminals throughout the campus. Including overtime, take-home pay averages 4,200 yuan to 5,500 yuan ($650-$850) a month. One employee, who helped workers access the automated information stations, showed her base salary was 2,020 yuan. An iPhone 6 in China costs 4,488 yuan.

For comparison, comparable factory workers in the United States, while not well-paid, earn an average of about $14 per hour.1 Assuming full-time occupation — and not the six-day workweek that contract factories consider “standard” — that works out to a wage of about $2,400 per month. The same iPhone 6 model costs just $549 in the U.S. or about 23% of a single month’s wages, compared to 81%–220% of a Pegatron employee’s monthly earnings.

Living conditions vary significantly around the world, and those for factory workers appear to have improved by leaps and bounds over what they once were, but there’s a ways to go yet.


  1. I took an average of three factory or assembly workers that would be in a comparable field. You can find them by searching the BLS’ tables for “Machine Feeders and Offbearers”, “Team Assemblers”, and “Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers”. ↩︎

April 23, 2016

Fail Whale

Jon Hendren:

Usage is down not because users are tired of Twitter as a concept, they’re tired of Twitter, Inc. making 5 bad moves for every good one. As frivolous new features haphazardly got thrown on top of the pile, Twitter, Inc. neglected to address the kinds of abuse and harassment that drove existing users away for good. The apps and web interface became slower and clunkier. Algorithmic feeds and 10,000-character limits are now said to be coming down the line. Everything that first made Twitter appealing is on the way out. If I didn’t know better, it would seem like they were trying to get rid of people.

It’s amazing to think that a company whose content is provided for free, who gets free mass advertising from basically every angle, and whose only real responsibility is to Not Break Itself can’t figure out how to be sustainable. The only thing Twitter has going for it in 2016 is the fact that many users will stick around for lack of a better alternative. Whether that’s months or years is anyone’s guess.

MacOS and the ‘It Just Works’ Mantra

An absolutely essential essay from Riccardo Mori:

In the end, I think that what the next ‘MacOS’ needs most is focus. Focus on what it has historically done best — ‘just working’. I don’t think that the current problems of OS X have much to do with its old age or its old models. It’s more a matter of identity. […]

What makes people love iOS, what makes people think iOS is much simpler than OS X is, I believe, its reliability. iOS feels positively predictable, dependable. This kind of reliability should become the main focus for the next ‘MacOS’, not just a continued aggregation of old, newer, and borrowed features swept under the carpet of a translucent, attractive UI.

I’m generally wary of essays that are about what Apple “should” or “needs to” do, but this isn’t that. It’s a rational critique of the OS X of today, and thoughts on directions it could take to preserve the qualities that make it a Macintosh.

Personal Information From 90 Million Mexican Voters Was Left Online, Unsecured

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice:

In the morning of April 14, Chris Vickery, a hacker and security researcher, was browsing Shodan, a search engine for internet-connected devices and servers, when he noticed an unusually large database of more than 100 gigabytes on an Amazon cloud storage called “padron2015.”

As it turned out, the database contained the personal information, including full names, home addresses, and national identification numbers, of virtually all registered voters in Mexico. The information had been left completely open to anyone, as there was no passwords or any other protection on it.

You might think that governments would be cracking down on their information security after the personal data of hundreds of millions of others was leaked recently, but I guess not.

April 22, 2016

FTC to Crack Down on Cross-Browser Tracking

Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich:

As I told the NAI, the disclosures and choices companies offer to people must address the many forms of tracking companies are using, including proprietary techniques that combine technologies like cookies, fingerprinting, cookie syncing, and many others. They also must apply when companies track consumers not on one, but across multiple devices. People can’t be led to believe tracking is more limited than it is, or that they’ve blocked all tracking when that’s not the case. And if the choices offered to people don’t cover all the ways a company tracks them, the company must clearly and prominently say so. I also told the NAI that these choices must be easy to understand and use, and shouldn’t require multiple steps.

I think the FTC would be shocked to find out how much information can be — and is — collected during casual browsing of the web, for which there is little way to reliably opt out. Targeted, behavioural advertising ought to be something consumers must opt-in to, not out of.

Android Attack

The Economist:

Antitrust sceptics see the Android case as yet more proof that such legal action is just not worth it in the fast-moving tech world. Even if a decision comes soon, it will take time for a remedy to change things on smartphone screens. And by then the market for mobile software may have changed completely: instant messaging apps are growing into application platforms of their own and text-based services called “chatbots” are poised to become an alternative to apps. But it is easy to forget that although in the Microsoft case, too, the remedy came late and was of limited relevance, being under antitrust scrutiny forced the company to offer competitors more room. One of the main beneficiaries was none other than Google.

Since the tech industry does move so quickly while the legal system tends to move slower — particularly for complex cases like this — decisions are often made after they’re entirely relevant. Apple’s long-running dispute with Samsung, for example, produced a list of largely-outdated devices barred from import into the United States. But cases like these can also be an attempt to put the infringing parties under closer watch, in addition to being a formal list of charges to be settled. Put another way: there’s the strictly legal rationale, and then there’s the behavioural rationale.

Prince: Technologist and Luddite

Jon Caramanica, New York Times:

Many advances in music and technology over the last three decades — particularly in the realm of distribution — were tried early, and often first, by Prince. He released a CD-ROM in 1994, Prince Interactive, which featured unreleased music and a gamelike adventure at his Paisley Park Studios. In 1997, he made the multidisc set “Crystal Ball” available for sale online and through an 800 number (though there were fulfillment issues later). In 2001, he began a monthly online subscription service, the NPG Music Club, that lasted five years.

These experiments were made possible largely because of Prince’s career-long emphasis on ownership: At the time of his death, he reportedly owned the master recordings of all his output. With no major label to serve for most of the second half of his career and no constraints on distribution, he was free to try new modes of connection.

In keeping with his complete ownership, he effectively scrubbed the legitimate web of his music over the past few years, with Tidal being the sole streaming service offering his catalogue. This wasn’t, I don’t think, a fuck you to listeners, but rather a gamble that fans would buy his music anyway.

See Also: The Daily Dot uncovered and modernized the font that was shipped to members of the press after he began using the unpronounceable “love symbol”.

April 21, 2016

Search in the App Store

Marco Arment wrote a great piece nominally about the paid App Store search rumour, and managed to deliver this searing criticism of the App Store’s search functionality in the process:

Not only is Apple searching the comparably tiny App Store, but they review every app before publishing it. With a huge staff of humans reviewing all of the input, good search should be much easier because the apps and their metadata should be relatively well-structured and regulated, and very little abuse and fraud should get through.

And yet, the App Store is still full of spam, scams, clones, and flagrant violations of Apple’s own rules, while the app-review team still capriciously nitpicks trivial and arbitrary details with the few developers who are actually trying to make good apps and represent them honestly in the Store.

I know this gets repeated ad nauseum, but it remains true: the App Store is not in good shape. A paid search placement feature dropped overtop the existing infrastructure would likely be a disaster.

Looking at the Future

Perhaps the most underemphasized aspect of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is its gorgeous new display. A few people have been writing about it — most notably, Craig Hockenberry:

I think the additional detail gives our brain a better appreciation of the image even if it can’t put things like chromatic adaptation into words.

After using this iPad for a couple of weeks, I’ve realized it’s like the advances of Retina in an important way: I never want to use a lesser display again. And as with higher density, I think it’s obvious that Apple will eventually update all its products to use this improved screen technology.

Hockenberry is currently working on a book for A Book Apart to explain colour management to developers (and, perhaps, designers as well). It’s definitely going to be worth the wait. Apple is clearly future-proofing their displays with this wider gamut standard.

Dr. Raymond M. Soneira of DisplayMate ran some fairly comprehensive tests on the iPad Pro:

The display on the iPad Pro 9.7 is a Truly Impressive Top Performing Display and a major upgrade to the display on the iPad Air 2. It is by far the best performing mobile LCD display that we have ever tested, and it breaks many display performance records.

No kidding.

Ad Tech Is Completely Broken

Melody Kramer of Poynter interviewed Salon developer Aram Zucker-Scharff about his experiences dealing with advertising on the web. In short, it’s a mess. There’s a lot that I want to quote from the interview, but this one really shows the bullshit prevalent in the industry:

I have a story about this actually, from working at a previous employer. I prefer to sit in on sales calls for contracts with ad tech because of this very problem. And we had a problem with a major advertiser. The advertiser had run their ad through an agency and the agency was telling them that the ad had 10 percent viewability. […]

So, the agency called us. And we talked to them and said they we could measure viewability on our own (which we could) and that wasn’t making any sense. So they put us on the phone with a major ad tech company that was measuring viewability for them. […]

Finally we are connected with the ad tech company and they have sent an engineer who is talking technical stuff at high speed with, in my opinion, the clear intent to confuse the people who are usually in this type of meeting — all sales people with little expertise in tech.

The thing is, I’m in the room and I’m just listening until he gets to the point which is ‘we don’t track Webkit browsers.’

At this time Webkit is the browser rendering engine for Chrome, Safari and a number of other smaller browsers.

This is a major ad tech company and they just said that they’re not tracking 70 percent of our traffic, but reporting it to the advertiser as if they were.

There’s a lot that publishers should learn from in this interview, but there’s also so much that ad tech companies need to deal with. They don’t screen ads, they allow them to run arbitrary code on websites, and they track far too much information.

Publishers are getting hammered from all sides on this. Readers don’t want to pay for individual subscriptions because they get news in small drips from multiple sources. Advertising on the web has become inherently less valuable than for any other medium, for some reason, so it’s difficult for publishers to financially justify employing a staff to do direct ad sales, particularly when it’s so much easier for a company to buy ad space on a network. There’s justification for this attitude, especially since two networks, AdSense and DoubleClick, continue to dominate the online advertising market — if a company buys advertising on both networks, they instantly have significant reach across the web.

So publishers do what they can: they put half a dozen ad spots on each page, assuming that their ad tech partners have vetted what will appear there. And then everything goes to hell because each of those ad spots drops its own cookies, spawns its own JavaScript, and generally behaves as the most obnoxious citizen of the web.

There are lots of failures of assumption here: ad tech companies assume that those buying ad space with them are not complete assholes, performing only a cursory check on — what I assume is — a small sample of the ad buys they receive. They then market their network as safe to publishers1 who simply want to stem their dwindling revenue. And then they have to put up with abysmal ad code (be careful when opening that link; it’s a lightweight page with necessarily non-lightweight copies of bad code on it).

Users hate these ads. For non-tech-savvy readers, they’re a nuisance — they don’t understand why their computer has come to a crawl just because they opened some article from their local news site, for instance. Savvier users have resorted to blocking ads, to the detriment of publications’ revenue.

In an ideal world, publications would sell their own ad space — that’s what the Economist does, for example. But that’s unlikely to happen, for various reasons, so the next best thing is for ad networks to do a better job policing their inventory.

Update: I’ve been hearing that publishers aren’t pushing back very hard against bad ad practices. Whether it’s due to technological ignorance, a lack of care, in a sense, or fear, they simply aren’t giving the ad industry any reason to improve. As with anyone, ad tech is in it for their own gain, but publishers need to fight for their say in this. They ought to demand greater standards. What I’m hearing is that they simply don’t.


  1. DoubleClick says that publishers can “[trust] performance with best-in-class malware and fraud protection”, for instance. ↩︎

April 20, 2016

San Francisco Mono

John Gruber:

Apple’s WWDC 2016 website is sporting a “source code” theme, and is typeset using what appears to be a monospaced variant of San Francisco. Looks pretty good — I hope this is something they’re going to release at WWDC. I’d wager that it is.

My silly pet theory is that this year’s marketing materials hint at the much-rumoured Xcode for iPad.

Red Lights

Just a lovely collection of photographs from Blaise Arnold of cafés and brasseries in France, lit by red neon. Via Coudal Partners.

A Blast From the Past

In 2009, Google’s then-VP now-CEO Sundar Pichai published a statement in support of the E.U.’s investigation into Microsoft’s tying-in of Internet Explorer to Windows:

[…] Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users. This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft’s dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers.

Good observation.

European Commission Sends Statement of Objections to Google

From the E.U.’s press release (emphasis theirs):

The Commission opened proceedings in April 2015 concerning Google’s conduct as regards the Android operating system and applications. At this stage, the Commission considers that Google is dominant in the markets for general internet search services, licensable smart mobile operating systems and app stores for the Android mobile operating system. Google generally holds market shares of more than 90% in each of these markets in the European Economic Area (EEA). In today’s Statement of Objections, the Commission alleges that Google has breached EU antitrust rules by:

  • requiring manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and Google’s Chrome browser and requiring them to set Google Search as default search service on their devices, as a condition to license certain Google proprietary apps;

  • preventing manufacturers from selling smart mobile devices running on competing operating systems based on the Android open source code;

  • giving financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-install Google Search on their devices.

The Commission believes that these business practices may lead to a further consolidation of the dominant position of Google Search in general internet search services. It is also concerned that these practices affect the ability of competing mobile browsers to compete with Google Chrome, and that they hinder the development of operating systems based on the Android open source code and the opportunities they would offer for the development of new apps and services.

After reading through the tweets linked on the relevant Techmeme entry, it strikes me that very few people seem to understand the E.U.’s objections here. The market dominance is not a problem in of itself, nor is it necessarily wrong to prejudice first-party products and services over those from third parties. The objection is that Google is combining those things. The Commission’s press release is rather comprehensive; many of the knee-jerk reactions to this feel deliberately ignorant.

The Canadian Competition Bureau recently dropped its investigation into similar allegations. In Europe, there are several investigations pending.

Option to Log in With iCloud Password Removed in OS X 10.11.4

Rich Trouton observes:

Starting in OS X Yosemite, Apple introduced a new option to log into your Mac using the password associated with an Apple ID. As of OS X 10.11.4, this option seems to have been removed from the Users & Groups preference pane in System Preferences.

A bizarre change, particularly as it isn’t fully implemented — the option still exists in Setup Assistant. I can’t work out whether this is for security purposes or just because Apple felt like it. I’ve reached out for comment and will update this if I hear back.

April 19, 2016

Apple Starts Rolling Out Web Previews for tvOS App Links

Once again today, Federico Viticci at MacStories:1

Apple has begun rolling out web links and iTunes web previews for Apple TV apps. The change, first noticed by Jeff Scott and which we were able to confirm via Safari on OS X, allows users to link to tvOS apps in a web browser, which will show an iTunes Preview with screenshots, app description, and other information.

This seemingly minor feature addition – after all, users have been able to share links and open iTunes web previews for iOS and Mac apps for years – is a notable improvement for the tvOS app ecosystem. When third-party Apple TV apps launched last year, Apple didn’t offer the ability to link to apps directly, which considerably limited a developer’s options to link to their apps from websites and social media accounts.

The craziest part for me is that those pages currently have zero functionality beyond being a preview of the app. There’s no way for someone to download the app, of course, because the Apple TV doesn’t have a web view. You can’t AirDrop the link to your Apple TV, either, nor can you take any action on the page.

I bet that changes at WWDC.


  1. Is that team great or what? ↩︎

Helena, the Mysterious Startup

Sam Biddle, Gawker:

Last week, I received a PDF presentation about “Helena,” a new startup boasting a 20-year-old Yale student CEO and connections—so they claim—to some of the most powerful and influential people in the world, from Stanley McChrystal to, uh, Selena Gomez. I spent the better part of last week trying to figure out what the company does—and I’ll level with you, man, I’m still not sure.

I highly recommend reading this pitch deck because it is amazing. It’s jam-packed with words, yet manages to communicate nothing. It is a miasma of buzzwords or, as Biddle puts it, “startup lorem ipsum”.

Really, this is the money quote:

“Will Helena generate money?” This one prompted a sarcastic reply: “When you have staff and office space you do need to fund your operation, so that’s given.”

Staff and office space!? “How will the revenue be generated, exactly?”

“I’ll put that on the list [of questions] to pass through.”

Gold.

Minor MacBook Improvements

Slightly faster processors, slightly better graphics, and faster memory for the same price. Oh, and it comes in a rose gold colour now. It’s not a large update, especially considering that the MacBook was launched over a year ago, but it’s a good spec bump.

The MacBook Air lineup now has 8 GB of RAM standard across the board, too. So, that just leaves the MacBook Pro waiting for an update.

Who’s excited for WWDC?

Update: And the updated MacBook’s battery lasts even longer as well. Good upgrade.

MapKit.js

Federico Viticci, MacStories:

Fruity Maps is a proof of concept web app made by Tim Broddin (via 9to5Mac) to demonstrate what an Apple MapKit web view would look like.

This is undocumented, but Apple is also using an embedded MapKit view on their WWDC Attending page, which seems to suggest that an announcement in June could be likely.

Interestingly, this is the third major revision that I can find to the web version of Apple’s MapKit: back in September, I noticed that they were using a 2.x version of MapKit.js on individual retail locations pages,1 while the iCloud.com Find My iPhone web app still uses the 1.0 version of MapKit.

After I experimented with both prior versions of MapKit last year, it seemed that it was getting closer to a public debut. The newest version is closer still — Broddin’s documentation suggests that it’s awfully close to being a user-friendly product. The question now, I suppose, is whether this is because it should be easy to use for Apple internally, or whether they plan on making MapKit on the web public at last.


  1. Click “driving directions and map”. ↩︎

April 18, 2016

WWDC 2016 Officially Announced

Apple PR:

Apple today announced that it will hold its 27th annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), hosting the creative talent behind the world’s most innovative apps, from June 13 through 17 in San Francisco. At WWDC, Apple’s developer community comes together from all corners of the globe to learn about the future of Apple’s four software platforms — iOS, OS X, watchOS and tvOS.

Pretty sure they mean “MacOS”.

Monday’s kickoff events, including the keynote address, will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The rest of the week’s conference sessions will take place at Moscone West.

This is very different. The keynote is typically held in the Presidio room at Moscone West which, in 2011, had a capacity of about 1,500 attendees. It was increased in 2013, but there’s only so much space at Moscone.

The Bill Graham, meanwhile, holds about 6,000 people, depending on configuration. Apple last used it to introduce the iPad Pro and iPhone 6S; previously, they unveiled the Apple II there, too.

The marketing materials for this year’s conference are terrific, by the way. Registration for the random ticket draw is open until early Friday morning.

NASA’s Fabled 1970s Graphics Manual Reprinted

Liz Stinson, Wired:

NASA issued the manual, developed by New York design studio Danne & Blackburn, in January, 1976. It published just 40 copies, which remain highly collectible. Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth decided to recreate the manual and raised more than $940,000 on Kickstarter last year to do the job. Its backers are just now getting their copies. For those of you who missed your chance to get in early, you can buy the manual for $79.

Long-time readers will know that this is very, very appealing to me.

Media Websites Battle Faltering Traffic

John Herrman, New York Times:

As social networks grew, visits to websites in some ways became unnecessary detours, leading to the weakened traffic numbers for news sites. Sales staffs at media companies struggled to explain to clients why they should buy ads for a fragmented audience rather than go to robust social networks instead.

Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst. […]

At the same time, publishers pored over a report from the analytics firm Parse.ly, detailing how important Facebook had become to their business: Among sites tracked by the firm, more than 40 percent of web traffic came from the social network.

See also Joshua Topolsky’s article on Facebook from last week’s edition of the New Yorker.

Facebook’s Messenger Bots Are Frustrating

Debuting last week at Facebook’s F8 conference, the initial batch of Messenger bots have not been well-received. Spencer Chen struggled to order flowers because the bot didn’t understand cancellation commands, while Mat Honan was provided a weather forecast for an entirely different city.

Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos tried to purchase shoes, and came upon a realization:

Some people hate to shop. They want to look nice, but hate having to pick out their own clothes and would be grateful to be shown just three options from a trusted store. […]

However, this is NOT the customer who is buying $400 women’s shoes. The $400 women’s shoes customer most likely enjoys shopping. The same for $400 men’s shoes! The kind of shopper who is going to buy the fairly expensive kind of apparel that Spring offers is not the same customer who wants to use a bot that will show them three options.

And Darren Orf over at Gizmodo summed up the platform’s status:

But most people will likely try out these rough-cut bots and decide they’re not worth the hassle. Chatbots leave you with that same itch in the back of your mind that it’s easier to get the weather or send flowers the old-fashioned way. They’ll get better, but it’s going to take time. Right now, chatbots are a robotic wild west, and for the foreseeable future, you’re better off sticking with civilized society.

These issues are familiar to anyone who used Siri after it first launched in 2011 or, indeed, anyone who has used virtually any natural language processing software. Beyond speech recognition problems, it’s clear that virtual assistants and bots like these continue to struggle with grasping human intent. They’re only programmed to pick up on key words and phrases, and to try to follow the progression of the conversation. But the moment that something is interjected — like when Chen asked the flower delivery bot whether it was available in Canada — it doesn’t follow the flowchart, and the conversation breaks down.

If Apple is on track to debut the Siri API at WWDC, it would be helpful to third-party developers if it would assist with the interpretation and contextualization of the conversation instead of requiring developers to build their own artificial intelligence infrastructure.

WWDC 2016 To Be Held June 13 – 17

Apple hasn’t yet announced WWDC dates for this year, but Siri knows.

Update: Or, perhaps, this is simply Apple’s unorthodox announcement strategy.

Update: Link updated. Twitter’s mobile site still blows.

April 17, 2016

The App Effect

Mayur Dhaka:

Apple ran a video at WWDC last year called The App Effect. In it, Apple tries to deliver the message that the App Store is a platform that gives big companies and one-man-shows a level playing field. Case in point, the video at 1 minute, 46 seconds has Instagram’s CEO saying ‘You know it’s a testament that two guys in a room working on an idea can launch an app and instantly have hundreds and millions of people very quickly’.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the rumour of paid search results in the App Store is just one idea floating around within a small team of people. That it would improve the App Store’s profitability sounds like an interpretation of the writers of the original Bloomberg story.

What concerns me is that this story would have been immediately written-off prior to the introduction of iAd, or even just a few years ago. It is entirely unlike Apple. But recent decisions — such as the introduction of an interstitial ad displaying to users not subscribed to Apple Music, or the other interstitial ad that displayed on older iPhones after the introduction of the 6S — makes this all the more likely. That it’s even within the realm of possibility is worrying.

April 15, 2016

QuickTime for Windows Has Reached End-of-Life

It’s not every day that you get QuickTime news. In this case, it’s decidedly not good. Dan Goodin of Ars Technica:

If your Windows computer is running Apple’s QuickTime media player, now would be a good time to uninstall it.

The Windows app hasn’t received an update since January, and security researchers from Trend Micro said it won’t receive any security fixes in the future. In a blog post published Thursday, the researchers went on to say they know of at least two reliable QuickTime vulnerabilities that threaten Windows users who still have the program installed.

It’s easy enough to uninstall QuickTime, but a surprising number of programs on Windows list it as a dependency, including GoPro Studio and Cubase to run, and Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Traktor for various features. Basically, if a Windows program works with AAC or MOV, it likely depends on QuickTime.

Apple has uninstallation instructions available.

Researchers Brute-Force Shortened Links

Andy Greenberg, Wired:

The researchers’ work demonstrates the unexpected privacy-invasive potential of “brute-forcing” shortened URLs: By guessing at shortened URLs until they found working ones, the researchers say that they could have pulled off tricks ranging from spreading malware on unwitting victims’ computers via Microsoft’s cloud storage service to finding out who requested Google Maps directions to abortion providers or drug addiction treatment facilities.

In aggregate, pseudo-randomized data of any kind poses a risk if brute-force attempts are not regulated.

Around ten years ago, a bunch of URL-shortening and image hosting services sprang up — one called “idzr”, another was called “kttns”.1 These services were created in response to Twitter’s character limitations and a lack of decent image hosting at the time, and eventually beget entire companies like Droplr and CloudApp.

At the time, there was also a strong jailbreaking and customization culture for OS X, iOS, and Windows. Entire forums like Aqua Soft and Macristocracy centred around the ways in which users would tweak their home screens or modify OS X’s appearance. Many of you were probably members.

I distinctly recall someone in the #MacThemes IRC channel one day making a site that crawled a couple of these URL shortening services and displayed everything hosted on them. There was nothing particularly sensitive, as best as I can recall; occasionally, there were privately-shared icons and desktop pictures.

At any rate, the owners of the services in question quickly modified their code so that short links couldn’t be brute-forced or automatically crawled, and measures were put in place to limit access rates on any particular link.

This stuff was solved years ago on services built by a single developer. This shouldn’t be an issue at large companies like Google and Microsoft.


  1. The original, as far as I’m concerned, dznr, allowed accounts by invitation only. It was shut down in 2013. ↩︎

April 14, 2016

Motor Trend’s Fake Apple Car

Patrick George of Jalopnik:

Sadly, the Motor Trend designers’ approach to an Apple Car isn’t particularly insightful. It’s an egg on wheels! With autonomous driving technology! And lots of screens! And Apple logos! And it’s built for ride-sharing! It uses the word “mobility!” […]

Even if the final design is bad and unoriginal — and it is thoroughly both of those things — no sin is greater than misleading readers and the public into thinking they had the actual car. What could have been an interesting project is tanked by a desperate attempt for attention and relevance.

Who at Motor Trend thought this would be a good idea?

Apple Reportedly Pursuing Search Improvements in the App Store

So say Adam Satariano and Alex Webb of Bloomberg:

Among the ideas being pursued, Apple is considering paid search, a Google-like model in which companies would pay to have their app shown at the top of search results based on what a customer is seeking. For instance, a game developer could pay to have its program shown when somebody looks for “football game,” “word puzzle” or “blackjack.”

Paid search, which Google turned into a multibillion-dollar business, would give Apple a new way to make money from the App Store. The growing marketing budgets of app developers such as “Clash of Clans” maker Supercell Oy have proven to be lucrative sources of revenue for Internet companies, including Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

Paid search tends to help bigger companies more than it does smaller ones. I certainly hope there are plans to address the challenges that face indie developers who are making great apps but struggle to get by.

Update: Apple doesn’t need “a new way to make money from the App Store”. They need a way to get developers to make more money. They need to de-crappify the Store and improve the chances of success for smaller developers. I certainly hope that sentence is Santarino and Webb’s interpretation, because if the objective of a project like this is truly to make Apple more money, that’s extremely concerning.

The RCMP Has the Master Encryption Key for Every BlackBerry

Jordan Pearson and Justin Ling, Vice:

BlackBerry (formerly RIM) encrypts all messages sent between consumer phones, known as PIN-to-PIN or BBM messages, using a single “global encryption key” that’s loaded onto every handset during manufacturing. With this one key, any and all messages sent between consumer BlackBerry phones can be decrypted and read. In contrast, Business Enterprise Servers allow corporations to use their own encryption key, which not even BlackBerry can access. […]

According to more than 3,000 pages of court documents pertaining to the case that resulted from Project Clemenza, obtained by VICE Canada, the RCMP maintains a server in Ottawa that “simulates a mobile device that receives a message intended for [the rightful recipient].” In an affidavit, RCMP sergeant Patrick Boismenu states that the server “performs the decryption of the message using the appropriate decryption key.” The RCMP calls this the “BlackBerry interception and processing system.”

All BlackBerry devices share an encryption key? Amateur hour.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen in a 2015 corporate blog post:

We reject the notion that tech companies should refuse reasonable, lawful access requests. Just as individual citizens bear responsibility to help thwart crime when they can safely do so, so do corporations have a responsibility to do what they can, within legal and ethical boundaries, to help law enforcement in its mission to protect us.

However, it is also true that corporations must reject attempts by federal agencies to overstep. BlackBerry has refused to place backdoors in its devices and software. We have never allowed government access to our servers and never will.

While it isn’t an outright lie that BlackBerry has never allowed government access to their servers, they did turn over their encryption key to a federal agency who used it to create an interception method.

Also, how can BlackBerry promise to comply with a court order if enterprise customers are allowed to use their own encryption keys? One answer: they can’t, and Chen hoped that this blog post wouldn’t blow up in his face. Another: they can, they haven’t disclosed a true backdoor but it doesn’t seem unlikely with this Vice story, and Chen is still hoping that this blog post won’t blow up in his face.

Microsoft Sues for Right to Tell Customers When Government Requests Emails

Sarah McBride, Reuters:

Microsoft Corp has sued the U.S. government for the right to tell its customers when a federal agency is looking at their emails, the latest in a series of clashes over privacy between the technology industry and Washington. […]

Using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the government is increasingly directing investigations at the parties that store data in the so-called cloud, Microsoft says in the lawsuit. The 30-year-old law has long drawn scrutiny from technology companies and privacy advocates who say it was written before the rise of the commercial Internet and is therefore outdated.

“People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,” Microsoft says in the lawsuit. It adds that the government “has exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations.”

It’s taken some time after Edward Snowden’s disclosures, but the tech industry isn’t standing for this shit any more. Good for them.

Ben Brooks on Consolidating 3D Touch and the Long Press

Astute observation by Brooks:

If you are arguing in favor of consolidating the gestures, then the better argument is just to get rid of 3D Touch. There’s no reason to have both 3D Touch and long press if they both do the same thing and since not all new [devices] have 3D Touch — 3D Touch would be the technology to be removed.

The whole point of 3D Touch is that it adds new functionality to iOS. It isn’t simply a different interpretation of an existing gesture.

When the iPhone launched with a multitouch display, there was really only one aspect of the system that required multiple touch points: pinching to zoom web pages and photos. Many years later, we now have the ability to adjust a map’s perspective, manipulate the depth-of-field in an Instagram photo, and play instruments on an iPad. All of these features — and many more — are made possible because the hardware can accept multiple touch points. 3D Touch is, I think, set to do the same thing given some time.

In some ways, I wish Apple shipped a lesser amount of 3D Touch functionality and simply waited to see how developers would interpret it. What they have shipped ultimately feels right, more or less, though.

April 13, 2016

Good News for Electronic Privacy, for Once

Two great developments lately. First, a sort of state-level version of the upcoming U.S. federal bill that requires decryption of electronic communications was defeated in California. Jeremy B. White of the Sacramento Bee:

A national debate over smartphone encryption arrived in Sacramento on Tuesday as legislators defeated a bill penalizing companies that don’t work with courts to break into phones, siding with technology industry representatives who called the bill a dangerous affront to privacy. […]

Assembly Bill 1681 would authorize $2,500 penalties against phone manufacturers and operating system providers if they do not obey court orders to decrypt phones.

And another bill at the federal level is moving forward in Congress. Eric Geller of the Daily Dot:

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed (28-0) the Email Privacy Act, which eliminates a loophole allowing authorities to get some electronic records without a warrant. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), has more than 300 sponsors and is expected to sail through the full chamber.

The Email Privacy Act requires law-enforcement agencies to get a warrant in order to demand that tech companies turn over online communication records, such as emails, instant messages, and private social-media messages. It amends the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which only required a warrant for messages newer than 180 days.

Small but significant steps. It’s progress.

FBI Reportedly Paid a Security Research Team for Vulnerability

Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post:

The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone with the help of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau at least one previously unknown software flaw, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new information was then used to create a piece of hardware that helped the FBI to crack the iPhone’s four-digit personal identification number without triggering a security feature that would have erased all the data, the individuals said. […]

The U.S. government now has to weigh whether to disclose the flaws to Apple, a decision that probably will be made by a White House-led group.

The correct thing to do would be for either the FBI or this security research team to disclose this vulnerability to Apple so that it can be fixed, though recent reports suggest that the flaw doesn’t exist in iPhones with a secure enclave. That would ensure better security for everyone using an older iPhone.

The likely outcome of this is that this particular flaw and anything else that allows the FBI to bypass security measures on any device will be kept very close to the vest, and perhaps used as a bargaining chip for when the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016” gets introduced. We’ll turn over our records of your security vulnerabilities if you add a backdoor seems very much like the intelligence community party line these days.

Earnest

It’s been a hell of a month for Nest, so CEO Tony Fadell went to a company-wide Google meeting last Friday to address the concerns. Mark Bergen of Recode quotes from a transcript of his speech:

Of course, we’re not perfect. No company is. Nest isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. No one’s perfect. But we know what our problems are. We have been addressing them over the last two years. And, frankly, we have more room to go. […]

That said, I also want to address the whole respect thing. I do respect the Nest employees. I do respect the Google employees. I respect the Alphabet employees. We try to work very hard together and partner in many different areas around the different companies.

It’s not just recent reports that paint a picture of a toxic corporate culture with Fadell as a bullying, unforgiving leader — a 2014 post by Connie Loizos quotes several employees’ gripes about the company:

Sources who spoke to StrictlyVC and asked to remain anonymous say Fadell has fashioned a hierarchical structure reminiscent of TV’s “Game of Thrones.” […]

Another employee calls it a “huge meeting culture, to the point where anyone at the director level or up spends their entire day in meetings, many of them duplicative meetings about the same subject, over and over to the point where a lot of people have complained.”

This has been a long time brewing. I’ve little doubt that Fadell earnestly believes that he’s improving and that the company is improving, but these kinds of recurring anecdotes don’t simply appear out of nowhere.

The Layer Between You and the Future

Crack reporting from Buzzfeed’s Nitasha Tiku:

Augmented reality, virtual reality, live video, 360-degree video, artificial intelligence, business bots. You name it; Facebook is about to offer you a free way to start testing it, whether that’s APIs, the kind of connective software that lets 1-800-FLOWERS make its own app on Facebook Messenger, or hardware that turned the melting heap of cameras necessary to film 360-degree video into a sleek mini-spaceship of a camera that Facebook launched at the end of today’s keynote.

Facebook doesn’t have to choose between messaging or virtual reality. It just colonizes both platforms, figures it out, offers a helping hand to the advertisers, publishers, and e-tailers considering joining, and makes itself indispensable (for a cut).

The last time I can recall a company having anything like Facebook’s drive for dominance was the Microsoft of the ’90s and early ’00s. At the time, they abused their monopoly power in software, from operating systems to applications and web browsers. Facebook is stretching itself overtop a multitude of technologies; it wants to be the start-to-finish conduit for your life. The future will be brought to you by targeted advertising.

April 12, 2016

Semi-Automated Podcast Transcription

Tim Bunce is experimenting with podcast transcription (via Michael Tsai):

When I remember fragments of some story or idea that I recall hearing on a podcast, I’d like to be able to find it again. Without searchable transcripts I can’t. It’s impractical to listen to hundreds of old episodes, so the content is effectively lost.

Given the advances in automated speech recognition in recent years, I began to wonder if some kind of automated transcription system would be practical.

Podcasts may be a growing medium, but I’ve always had a hard time listening to them. It’s hard for me to simultaneously write code and pay attention to people speaking at the, so I often can’t listen to them at work. At other times, it’s a matter of priorities — I tend to prefer listening to music and reading over podcasts.

This frustrates me, because I know there are lots of great podcasts out there that I simply don’t have time for. A transcript will lose some of the character of the speakers, but I’ll trade that in a heartbeat for the ability to read the discussion.

This is a project Bunce is starting and is looking for help, so if you have any ideas for how he might be able to make this happen, please give him a shout.

The Mac Product Grid

Stephen Hackett ruminates again on the Macintosh product strategy:

When Jobs came back, he had to tell the story that Apple was on top of its game, and a large part of that story was straightening out the mess the Mac line had become. With four main computers, it was easy to understand what Apple had for sale.

Today, the world is more complicated, and consumers want more options. Some want the most powerful notebook possible, while others value lightness and thinness above all other things.

Pop Chart Lab put Apple’s product history into a single chart, and you can see exactly where their lineup got bloated, where it got Steve’d, and how today’s lineup compares. Once the last of the non-Retina Macs are dumped from the line, it will become simpler still.

April 11, 2016

(F)utility

Casey Liss:

Perhaps it’s because I have a job where I leave the house, but I can’t imagine looking down at my wrist and not seeing when my next appointment is. I can’t imagine looking down and not seeing what the temperature is outside.

I agree with this piece entirely.

The Apple Watch of today is one that I like very, very much. It fits my life and what I do every single day. On the weekend, I use the Modular face, and I love having my todo list — by way of Things — on my wrist. I can get by just fine with a pen and a notebook, or just Things on my iPhone, but having my list on my wrist is substantially more usable when I need to get a bunch of stuff done.

Weirdly, I have a hard time recommending the Watch to others. It works very well for me and my life, and it might work very well for you, too, but it feels a bit like an old Italian car right now: very desirable, but something that you’d recommend cautiously.

This isn’t a new situation for Apple. When the MacBook Air first came out, it was hard to suggest to a friend that they pick up a laptop that cost as much as a MacBook Pro but had a way smaller hard drive and a way underpowered CPU; ditto the new MacBook. Even the iPhone was a hard sell at first to BlackBerry users who couldn’t bare to lose that physical keyboard. Over time, though, these products improved and we realized what we really wanted.

That isn’t to say that products that were not well-received at their launch are destined to become a success. Apple has their fair share of those — the iPod Hi-Fi and iTunes Ping come to mind — as do plenty of other companies. Time will tell if the Watch eventually becomes a success or if it remains a niche product that Apple eventually kills. But I don’t think it’s been around for long enough to tell, contrary to alarmist Quartz headlines.

Update: I’ve just remembered that I’ve gone a while without mentioning that I still cannot run native watchOS 2 apps downloaded from the App Store on my Watch. My radar is #24143586; it dupes #24436883 (which is weird, because that one is newer, but never mind).

Many of the concerns about the Apple Watch centre around its software. I’ve heard practically no complaints about the hardware, but it doesn’t feel like Apple has lavished attention on the software in the way they have any of their other products. That’s troubling.

An IP Mapping Glitch Turned a Kansas Farm Into a Digital Hell

Kashmir Hill, Fusion:

[…] for the last 14 years, every time MaxMind’s database has been queried about the location of an IP address in the United States it can’t identify, it has spit out the default location of a spot two hours away from the geographic center of the country. This happens a lot: 5,000 companies rely on MaxMind’s IP mapping information, and in all, there are now over 600 million IP addresses associated with that default coordinate. If any of those IP addresses are used by a scammer, or a computer thief, or a suicidal person contacting a help line, MaxMind’s database places them at the same spot: 38.0000,-97.0000.

Which happens to be in the front yard of Joyce Taylor’s house.

This is a terrifying example of what bad software design and misleading advertising begets. MaxMind markets their IP geolocation software as their “most accurate information about the location of an IP address, pinpointing it to the zip or postal code level”. So I tried it with an off-the-cuff IP address. I figured that, with 600 million of the damn things all being mapped to MaxMind’s default, I stood a pretty good chance of eventually guessing one of those.

And, on my very first try, I did: an arbitrarily-typed 72.56.122.12 address turns out to be mapped to 38, –97. There is no indication — at least, not within their homepage demo — that this is a randomly-selected default location.

An intrepid software engineer making a product dependent on IP geolocation might look at the results and MaxMind’s marketing, and reasonably conclude that this is the actual mapped location of that IP address. An interface designer might wish to make the results page of this product a little more helpful to people who can’t locate coordinates in their heads — that’s most people, weirdo — so they might add a map. Their end user will see impressive-looking coordinates and a nice-looking map with a pin marking a specific location. At every stage, there is the impression that this result has been arrived at with a high level of precision. And Joyce Taylor takes the fallout.

Update: 600 million of anything is a hard amount to grasp. To put it in more manageable terms, think of it as approximately one in every seven IP addresses ever issued that are mapped by MaxMind to a single farm in Kansas, or approximately one in every three U.S. IP addresses. Nothing says “pinpoint” like a one-in-three shot of getting the answer completely wrong.

Now You Can Never Leave Facebook

Joshua Topolsky, writing for the New Yorker:

I wrote several years ago that Facebook’s dream is not to be your favorite destination on the Internet; its desire is to be the Internet. It would prefer that when you connect in the digital realm—an increasingly all-encompassing expanse—you do it within Facebook, which now includes Instagram, Whatsapp, and Oculus VR (in addition to its robust news feed, its Messenger chat app, its Moments photo-sharing platform, its video-player platform… well, you get the idea). This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon; for years technology companies have waged platform battles, hoping to lock in users with hardware, software, or services that only function inside a proprietary venue. Closed systems make your patronage simpler and more consistent, and it is through a closed system that a company can most readily own and control your data, which is then converted to revenue.

If bad software design can be likened to airports, Facebook can be likened to a Vegas casino. Need to eat? There’s a buffet just over there. Is it 3:00 in the morning? The casino happens to be attached to a hotel. Want to head outside? You need to pass through the casino to do so.

Here, I must protest:

Compare Facebook’s interlocking approach with one of Silicon Valley’s most long-lived and dominant success stories: Google. Both companies have been wildly successful at upending our notions of how to navigate the world, but Google’s core product—search—is expressly designed to do the opposite of what Facebook attempts. Search, by its very nature, is an action that leads you away from the platform, into other experiences and onto other platforms. Even though Google has built up a relatively sophisticated infrastructure of services around its search product (which plenty of critics argue has created another kind of closed loop), it has never abandoned the foundational element of its business: openness.

That’s rich. The “argue” link goes to CNN’s story about the E.U.’s allegations of antitrust behaviour by Google:

For example, people searching for “running watch” will see photos, prices, ratings and links to five watches from companies that paid Google to advertise on the site. They won’t see Amazon or other rivals’ results listed first, and they’re not necessarily seeing the best or most relevant products at the top of the results.

“It’s not based on the merits of Google shopping that it always comes up first in search,” Europe’s top anti-trust official Margrethe Vestager said. “Dominant companies can’t abuse their dominant position to create advantage in related markets.”

How about their other big product, Android? While its source is ostensibly open, providing access to any of Google’s services is rigidly controlled. Last year, Google was set to increase their control over third-party uses of Android before the so-called “Silver” initiative was shelved.

Make no mistake: every company has now realized that an integrated platform strategy works to keep users within the ecosystem. Facebook has simply excelled in their ability to glue users to their properties at all times, regardless of operating system or device.

Airports Designed for Everyone but the Passenger

Chris Holbrook, New York Times:

The layover did not begin well. At 6 a.m., we landed at Terminal 4S, a satellite terminal. Bleary-eyed, I walked almost seven minutes to the other end of the terminal, which is lit by light fixtures that are too bright to allow you to sleep and not bright enough to read.

We were quickly whisked away via tram to a larger building, Terminal 4. Here, as with many European hubs, they don’t assign gates to flights more than an hour in advance. For those waiting, the terminal provides clusters of aqua-blue chairs that are scattered around almost haphazardly, like puddles might form after a quick rain. The banks of steel chairs have two armrests separating four chairs, which, unless you’re about 6 or younger, make it impossible to splay out.

Not only is this article great, it’s worth a second read as a parable for interface design.

April 8, 2016

On 3D Touch

Jason Snell isn’t exactly enamoured with 3D Touch:

Although Apple’s proud of the peek/pop interface that it unveiled with the iPhone 6s, I’m skeptical of its utility. Most of the time, when I accidentally initiate a “peek” of the content behind whatever I’m pressing on, it’s content I was already trying to see by tapping. Loading a “peek” doesn’t really take any more time than actually tapping on an item and loading the result, and returning back to the previous screen seems a lot less work than holding your finger on the glass while you peruse a “peek” to see if it’s worth opening the rest of the way.

In other words, most of the time I don’t see any benefit to using 3D Touch to reveal content in apps over just tapping to reveal that content the usual way. It’s a solution to a problem we didn’t have. And this says a lot about the problem with the way Apple has deployed 3D Touch in iOS.

John Gruber agrees, and adds:

The gimmicky nature of peek/pop is alarming. I never got into “peeking” while using my 6S — like Jason argues, it solves a problem we didn’t have. It’s not any faster than just tapping whatever it is you want to see, and worse, it’s harder to read because your thumb is still there covering the display. It’s a demo feature, not a real feature, and I find that deeply worrisome.

I’m not sure I agree with these two esteemed writers. The peek gesture works surprisingly well in a lot of cases: peeking on an unfamiliar Instagram profile or a Twitter account from within Tweetbot has become second-nature for me. Instead of loading an entire timeline or photo stream, I see only very recent stuff, but I get to see their bio and full name, which is what I often care about. Similarly, peeking on a Mail message is great for previewing it but not marking it as read.

Where the peek gesture does get frustrating is when it needs to transfer significant data over an average internet connection. Peeking on a web page is almost always pointless because most pages are far too large and take a long time to load.

Both Snell and Gruber call 3D Touch problematic for this reason, but this is only a single component of it. I think the app icon shortcuts are wonderfully implemented in lots of apps — in Transit, for example, I can instantly create a route home or to work using the shortcuts on the home screen. Even selecting an appropriate Messages conversation or opening a new Safari tab from the home screen feels right.

I use the multitasking shortcut a lot, too, and the keyboard-as-cursor gesture even more. None of these things feel gimmicky or like demo features to me; they’re all practical.

Snell summed it up well, I think:

This is, I realize, [one] of the reasons I stopped using 3D Touch so much. It seemed like so many places I attempted to use the gesture resulted in a whole lot of nothing. After a while, I gave up. 3D Touch needs to be pervasive. It needs to be a gesture that works all over the place, so that using it becomes second nature.

This is absolutely true. Peek is an occasionally superfluous and frustrating gesture due to slow load times, but if it didn’t work for links in Safari, you’d think it was missing. In that sense, 3D Touch gestures need to appear in far more places, including those suggested by Snell. I certainly try it in every app that I use

As he also notes, experiences vary from person-to-person. It’s fine that neither writer ever got into peeking on anything. But to consider 3D Touch broken because of it is, I think, stretching. At worst, Apple’s implementation of these gestures is messy and inconsistent.

I’m surprised that both of them have pretty much stopped using it — Snell because he just doesn’t use 3D Touch, and Gruber because he’s using an iPhone SE. It needs refinement, but I know I use it a lot because every time I use my iPad, I try it there. I’m sure many of you are the same.

Update: Jonas Wisser:

TBH I think a lot of it comes down to discoverability and consistency. 3D Touch has neither.

As I’ve written previously, I think we’ve entered a new age of experimental and “fuzzy” interfaces. The limitations of virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, and new interface paradigms like 3D Touch are only discoverable if they behave consistently. All of these commenters are right: 3D Touch lacks that consistency, so it becomes a game of trying its functionality blindly and hoping for the best.

In a sense, we’ve now generally embraced mystery meat navigation. As a result, the consistency in its implementation needs to be stepped up before it feels “right”.

‘Ludicrous, Dangerous, and Technically Illiterate’

Andy Greenberg, Wired:

On Thursday evening, the draft text of a bill called the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016” appeared online in an apparent leak1 from the offices of Senators Diane Feinstein and Richard Burr. It’s a nine-page piece of legislation that would require people to comply with any authorized court order for data—and if that data is “unintelligible,” the legislation would demand that it be rendered “intelligible.” In other words, the bill would make illegal the sort of user-controlled encryption that’s in every modern iPhone, in all billion devices that run Whatsapp’s messaging service, and in dozens of other tech products. “This basically outlaws end-to-end encryption,” says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It’s effectively the most anti-crypto bill of all anti-crypto bills.”

This is presumably the same bill that the White House declined to support, for what I hope are the right reasons: this is a deplorable bill, rendering all protections for personal privacy and against intruders illegal. I strongly encourage my American readers to contact their elected representatives to convey just how disastrous this bill is.

Publishers React to the Brave Browser’s Ad Manipulation

Lisa Vaas, explains on Sophos’ blog the business model used by the new Brave browser:

Brave, on the other hand, was launched with a business model that involves blocking some “bad ads” and replacing them with ads from advertisers that pay to be on Brave’s own advertising network of “clean ads” that meet its standards of not slowing down page load times or tracking users. […]

The fees Brave Software takes in from advertisers will go into one pot. The publishers get the lion’s share – 55% – weighted by how many ad impressions are served on their sites.

What’s left over gets divvied up between Brave, its ad-matching partners, and the users, with each getting 15%.

Understandably, publishers are not pleased with this arrangement. Shannon Bond, Financial Times:

“[Brave’s] argument is, ‘I will take $10 out of your wallet and give you $5, and aren’t you happy about that?’ ” said David Chavern, president of the Newspaper Association of America, a non-profit trade group representing 2,000 newspapers in the US and Canada.

Seventeen NAA members sent Mr Eich and Brave a cease and desist notice on Thursday.

For their part, Brave believes the publishers don’t fully understand the business model:

Brave is not, as the NAA asserts, “replac[ing] publishers’ ads on the publishers’ own websites and mobile applications with Brave’s own advertising.” We do not tamper with any first-party publisher content, including native ads that do not use third-party tracking.

[…]

News industry leaders rightly decry the violation of privacy inherent in some NSA or FBI tactics, yet their own complicity in tracking individuals to even more invasive degrees is not addressed.

A shorter version of this response is, in a nut, “stop relying upon third-party services to serve you tracking ads that are potentially loaded with malware; start selling your own ad inventory.”

The post kind of devolves near the end, though:

Browsers do not just play back recorded pixels from the publishers’ sites. Browsers are rather the end-user agent that mediates and combines all the pieces of content, including third-party ads and first-party publisher news stories. Web content is published as HTML markup documents with the express intent of not specifying how that content is actually presented to the browser user. Browsers are free to ignore, rearrange, mash-up and otherwise make use of any content from any source.

While technically true, Brave treads awfully close to an uncomfortable line previously drawn by content framing and JavaScript injection. Imagine if Brave interpreted and rearranged what it was presented with in a different way, perhaps by replacing all instances of the word brave with its own logo, or all images on the page with pictures of William Howard Taft. These reinterpretations would not be as user-friendly as the ad swapping Brave currently engages in, but what practical differences are there? I think these examples are comparable, and we wouldn’t tolerate that kind of browser.

April 7, 2016

Personal Data Leaked From 100 Million Citizens of Turkey and the Philippines

These stories got somewhat buried in the wake of the Panama Papers, but are arguably just as significant. First up, Robert Tait, reporting for the Telegraph on the situation in Turkey:

Hackers claim to have accessed the personal details of nearly 50 million Turkish citizens and posted them online in a massive security breach that could seriously embarrass the country’s government.

If confirmed, it would be one of the biggest public leaks of personal data ever seen, experts said – effectively putting two-thirds of the country’s population at risk of fraud and identity theft. AP reported on Monday that it had partially verified the leak as authentic.

Personal information including national identity numbers, addresses, dates of birth and names of parents were all posted online in a downloadable 6.6 GB file.

Additionally, Michael Bueza and Wayne Manuel for Rappler, a Philippine and Indonesian news site:

Information security experts fear that what can be considered as the biggest leak of personal data in Philippine history could result in massive identity theft by preying criminals. This, after hackers boasted on March 27 that they had accessed the Comelec’s [Commission on Elections] database of 55 million registered voters and uploaded it online.

According to Trend Micro, the leaked data was significant, contrary to official denials:

Based on our investigation, the data dumps include 1.3 million records of overseas Filipino voters, which included passport numbers and expiry dates. What is alarming is that this crucial data is just in plain text and accessible for everyone. Interestingly, we also found a whopping 15.8 million record of fingerprints and list of peoples running for office since the 2010 elections.

Among the data leaked were files on all candidates running on the election with the filename VOTESOBTAINED. Based on the filename, it reflects the number of votes obtained by the candidate. Currently, all VOTESOBTAINED file are set to have NULL as figure.

The COMELEC website also shows real time ballot count during the actual elections. While COMELEC claims that this function will be done using a different website, we can only speculate if actual data will be placed here during the elections and if tampering with the data would affect the ballot count.

For many of you, these stories hit close to home — last year, the United States Office of Personnel Management, which keeps track of government employees, announced that records of between four and eighteen million employees were stolen.

And, since I mentioned the Panama Papers, Mossack Fonseca’s client portal is running an outdated version of Drupal — as in, it currently is, even after the publication of the biggest leak in the world.

There is an astonishing lack of basic information security practices at play here. Who stores their entire voter database in plain text on a public-facing website? Why are Turkey and the United States making citizens’ data available in a web-accessible manner? Why hasn’t Mossack Fonseca updated Drupal already?

Improving the Apple Watch Through Better Software

Tim Schmitz has some terrific suggestions, particularly for the ways in which Apple could improve the “smart” part of smartwatch.

Meanwhile, the hardware “side button” being permanently mapped to Digital Touch features has always seemed awkward, like the Watch’s version of the Zune’s “squirting” feature. It feels like an attempt at trying to grow the user base through exclusivity, but it ends up creating a button on the side that nobody really uses for that purpose.

I still think the Watch needs to be faster, whether through hardware or software, but these suggestions would do the Watch well.

(Via Michael Tsai.)

April 6, 2016

White House Reportedly Declines to Support Encryption Legislation

Mark Hosenball and Dustin Volz, Reuters:

The White House is declining to offer public support for draft legislation that would empower judges to require technology companies such as Apple Inc to help law enforcement crack encrypted data, sources familiar with the discussions said.

[…]

The draft legislation from Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican chair and top Democrat respectively of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is expected to be introduced as soon as this week.

The bill gives federal judges broad authority to order tech companies to help the government but does not spell out what companies might have to do or the circumstances under which they could be ordered to help, according to sources familiar with the text. It also does not create specific penalties for noncompliance.

This isn’t necessarily as positive or welcoming as you might imagine — the White House certainly hasn’t turned around to become pro-privacy and pro-security overnight. This bill will almost certainly not pass, especially so close to an election and with a deadlocked Congress.

What remains constant is that a precedent appears to have been set by a New York magistrate judge: the All Writs Act was ruled to not be capable of obliging a tech company to provide law enforcement access to encrypted data. The other thing that remains constant is that the FBI has become the new Genius Bar for law enforcement. As Apple will likely be hunting for the bug that enables the FBI’s newfound powers and is constantly improving the security of their products, future cases will likely sway the direction in which the law must go. And you know perfectly well which way I hope the winds blow.

iTunes Metadata Suggests Forthcoming Ability to Hide Stock Apps on iOS

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac:

The additions to the internal API include keys for ‘isFirstParty’ and ‘isFirstPartyHideableApp’. In our testing, we could verify the existence of the boolean fields, but could only ever find them with a false value. This makes sense given that the App Store to date only hosts third-party apps offered as optional downloads. […]

Unfortunately, the iTunes metadata leak cannot reveal any info about how Apple plans to use these keys. Speculating, it could mean that Apple stock apps will start being listed in the App Store. For example, if a user hid the Stocks app but later decided they wanted to restore its position on their Home Screen, they would visit the App Store and re-download the app … mirroring the experience for third-party apps.

Several years ago, Apple began showing built-in apps when searching the App Store for particular keywords. I wouldn’t be surprised if these first-party results were to simply gain a “show” button — or similar — if the app were hidden on the user’s home screen.

Yahoo’s Financials Reveal a Meltdown

Recode’s Kara Swisher got her hands on the financial disclosure “book” — it’s unclear if it’s a physical book, or just a folder full of documents — that Yahoo is distributing to potential buyers, and it reveals a treacherous situation:

In one slide showing expected results from 2016, Yahoo is estimating that revenue is dropping close to 15 percent and earnings by over 20 percent. Those revenues, backing out traffic acquisition costs (TAC), are expected to decline from $4.4 billion in 2014 and $4.1 billion in 2015 — already down from previous years — to $3.5 billion in 2016; meanwhile, earnings before depreciation, taxes and amortization are moving from $1.4 billion in 2014 and just below $1 billion in 2015 to $750 million in 2016.

That’s dire, and a little sad — Yahoo has always been a part of my time on the web, as I’m sure it has yours.

Apparently, there’s hope:

While some are scared by the numbers, everyone I spoke to plans to make a bid of some sort, largely because even as financially precarious as it has become, Yahoo remains one of the biggest properties on the Web and it is hard to be able to buy that kind scale easily.

Their stock price is nowhere near as low as it was after the Dot Com bubble burst, nor is it as bad as it was between 2008 and 2013. These days, they own Flickr and Tumblr, both of which could be exciting for potential buyers. This slow motion car crash never seems to end.

April 5, 2016

Medium-Sized Publications to Move to Medium

Lucia Moses writing for Digiday:

Eight small independent sites will fully migrate to Medium Tuesday, including The Awl and The Hairpin, sibling sites of The Billfold, which already migrated over last December; plus Pacific Standard, The Black List and Femsplain. Four others are in the pipeline, including Monday Note and NewCo Shift, a new business media brand from John Battelle’s NewCo. Medium also named several sites that will start putting original content there, including Time Inc.’s Money and Fortune and Atlantic Media’s National Journal.

Medium also is announcing new incentives to entice publishers to get on board by making it easy to migrate to the platform, keep their branding intact and generate revenue through memberships that readers would pay monthly through Medium.

All of those publications — the Awl, Monday Note, the Black List, and others — are leaving their own content management systems, many of which they run themselves, for Medium’s proprietary and controlled platform. I imagine this is bittersweet for them — managing and patching a CMS at a large scale can be a daunting task, and the ongoing expenses can be pretty hard to swallow for the fiscally arid media industry.

In many ways, this is similar to WordPress.com’s VIP offering: a managed, hosted, bulletproof platform for publishers who just want to put up their latest listicles. But, while WordPress VIP allows for significant customization on a per-site basis, Medium does not. If you thought that every media website looked the same before, just wait until you see the updated versions of the Black List, Femsplain, and Pacific Standard. Medium says that they’re giving publishers tools for branding their new sites, but I’m not seeing a lot of variation.

And that’s without getting into the very real issue of control. Both Automattic — which offers WordPress VIP — and Medium are VC-backed and, as far as I can tell, are not yet profitable. Propping the struggling news industry up with the support of completely unprofitable Silicon Valley startups seems like it could wreak havoc in the not-too-distant future. But what do I know? Last year, Pixel Envy turned a profit of — and I’m not making this up — thirty-six dollars and seventeen cents. Canadian.

But that’s still more than Medium makes in a year.

HP Has a New Logo Maybe

Eight years ago, HP worked with Moving Brands on a handsome new logo, which — sadly — ended up not being used.

Until now, that is. They just launched a laptop named after a ruthless fictional criminal enterprise and have splashed that redesigned logo all over it. And I think it looks terrific. Unfortunately:

HP says it’ll be using this logo solely on its premium laptops.

This raises more questions than it answers. What defines a “premium” laptop? Why is HP selling non-premium laptops? Why is this branding not being used across the company? Isn’t it confusing to have multiple, distinct logos for a single brand?

April 4, 2016

Nestitute

It’s hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for Tony Fadell. Mark Bergen, Recode:

To keep [Nest] employees from leaving after [their] acquisition, Google created a vesting schedule that prevents Nest’s executives from cashing out their shares before a certain date — that date could come as soon as this year. In addition, according to sources, as part of the acquisition, Nest and Google agreed on a sales target for the company: $300 million annually.

Two years later, Nest still could not hit that target alone — it did it only after adding sales from Dropcam, which Nest acquired for $555 million six months after joining Google. […]

Once the vesting period sunsets, some key executives could feel free to depart, something that several people close to the company said is very possible given the growing crisis. And Alphabet, whose execs have spoken regularly about controlling costs at the non-Google companies, may become less charitable.

There’s someone on Reddit (via Ryan Jones) who claims to be a current Nest engineer. I’ve asked this person for proof, but I have no idea if they’re even checking that Reddit account any more. I will update this if they do provide some verification that they are who they say they are.

Let’s pretend for a moment that internet commenters can be trusted, though.1 Their comment mirrors much of what has been indicated so far: Nest has a major talent retention problem due to a toxic work environment, and it’s going to get worse as acquisition terms expire.

And then there’s this:

[…] this company is already on deathwatch. Once that happens, most people will quickly have shiny paperweights because it’s a constant firefight keeping these systems up.

Boy, does that ever sound familiar.


  1. Even if this person is not who they say they are, their comment isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Similar allegations appear in both Bergen’s article and Reed Albergotti’s piece for the Information↩︎

The Making of Amazon’s Echo

I’ve heard great things about Amazon’s Echo products lately. It seems to be vastly more than a conduit for buying stuff from Amazon; it sounds, to me, like what Siri is trying to be.

Eugene Kim, Business Insider:

To succeed, the Echo and its built-in Alexa virtual assistant would need to be very responsive and conversational. It really had to feel like talking to a human being. […]

The test involved a human “wizard” sitting in a separate room and responding in real-time to any voice query a human testing subject would make to the Echo, often without telling the tester in advance. For example, if the subject asked Echo, “What’s the weather like in New York?” the wizard in the other room would quickly type and send out an answer through Echo’s voice.

Bezos also reportedly set the Echo’s latency goals at one second, with exceptionally good speech interpretation. It had to be — it has no screen to fall back on. As Apple is to hardware and Dropbox is to cloud service reliability, Amazon now is to virtual assistance: they’re the high watermark.

Alphabet’s Nest to Brick Revolv Products

Arlo Gilbert writing on Medium:1

17 months ago, Google acquired Revolv, a very cool home automation hub. It is a small circular device about the size of a small container of hummus that uses a variety of common home automation radios to communicate with light switches, garage door openers, home alarms, motion sensors, A/C controllers etc. […]

On May 15th, my house will stop working. My landscape lighting will stop turning on and off, my security lights will stop reacting to motion, and my home made vacation burglar deterrent will stop working. This is a conscious intentional decision by Google/Nest.

To be clear, they are not simply ceasing to support the product, rather they are advising customers that on May 15th a container of hummus will actually be infinitely more useful than the Revolv hub. […]

That’s a pretty blatant “fuck you” to every person who trusted in them and bought their hardware. They didn’t post this notice until long after Google had made the acquisition, so these are Google’s words under Tony Fadell’s direction. It is also worth pointing out that even though they have my email address, the only way a customer discovers this home IoT mutiny is to visit the Revolv web site.

This is terrible, obviously. But it is sadly not uncommon — as these “internet of things” devices operate within the same sphere as other tech products, they tend to have very similar legal stipulations and limitations, particularly with the software they use.

I took it upon myself to look through Nest’s terms of service, whereupon I found this nugget, pertinent to any existing Nest customer:

1. Overview, Eligibility, Customer Service, Term and Termination

[…]

(d) Term and Termination. These Terms will remain in full force and effect so long as you continue to access or use the Services, or until terminated in accordance with the provisions of these Terms. At any time, Nest may (i) suspend or terminate your rights to access or use the Services […]

Also this, which must be serious because it’s shouting at anyone who reads it:

8. Warranty Disclaimers

[…]

(c) NEST AND OUR LICENSORS AND SUPPLIERS MAKE NO WARRANTY THAT DEFECTS WILL BE CORRECTED OR THAT THE SERVICES: (I) WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS; (II) WILL BE COMPATIBLE WITH YOUR HOME NETWORK, COMPUTER OR MOBILE DEVICE; (III) WILL BE AVAILABLE ON AN UNINTERRUPTED, TIMELY, SECURE, OR ERROR-FREE BASIS; OR (IV) WILL BE ACCURATE OR RELIABLE. NO ADVICE OR INFORMATION, WHETHER ORAL OR WRITTEN, OBTAINED BY YOU FROM NEST OR THOUGH THE SERVICES SHALL CREATE ANY WARRANTY.

And this, while I’m at it, from their EULA:

3. Automatic Software Updates.

Nest may from time to time develop patches, bug fixes, updates, upgrades and other modifications to improve the performance of the Product Software and related services (“Updates”). These may be automatically installed without providing any additional notice or receiving any additional consent. You consent to this automatic update. If you do not want such Updates, your remedy is to stop using the Product. If you do not cease using the Product, you will receive Updates automatically.

The terms and conditions don’t appear to give Nest the option of terminating someone’s usage of their services for any reason — if you’re a bored lawyer who wants to work for free, why not take a look? But they do leave a lot of room for the company to say that they make no guarantees for their services or products.

Nest makes a surveillance camera, a thermostat, and a smoke and carbon monoxide detector and alarm. While it’s true that they subject these devices to federal regulations in the countries in which they operate, they’re subjected to different terms and conditions than “dumb” thermostats or smoke alarms because of the software and services they use. Bugs have already been pushed to users in software updates. Is the convenience of these products worth having the lightly-regulated software industry in control of your thermostat or smoke detector?


  1. Per Pinboard: “Can’t wait until Medium goes bankrupt and this guy’s poignant tale of not having control of his automated home disappears too” ↩︎

April 2, 2016

The Macs Apple Was Selling in 1996

Very smart article from Riccardo Mori:

[…] I thought it would be interesting to offer an overview of the Macintosh models Apple was selling in 1996 and make a few related observations. In a nutshell: there was some level of organisation in what many have called the chaos of Macs available back then, and despite the long list of Mac models, the families and form factors were just a few; one of the main causes that generated confusion in the Macintosh product line was the frequent rebranding, and the progressive meaninglessness of the Performa line as the consumer choice versus the Power Macintosh as synonymous of ‘Pro’ machine.

I’ve recently criticized the current state of Apple’s branding, but it’s nowhere near as confusing as it once was. It’s definitely not as simple as the famous professional and consumer grid of the late nineties, nor do I necessarily think it should be, but any comparison to a mid-nineties Apple lineup is nonsense.

Dillan’s Voice

It’s Autism Acceptance Month, and Apple put together a couple of touching films about Dillan Barmache, an autistic teen who is unable to verbally communicate, but who is enabled by his iPad and various apps.

Katie Duprie, Mashable:

Conventional means of speaking — moving your mouth and activating your vocal chords in complicated ways to produce standard sounds that others can understand — was impossible for him.

“So many people can’t understand I have a mind,” Dillan says in the film. “All they see is a person who is not in control.”

But Dillan says that the use of his tablet and AAC apps has helped him not only “see” his words, but hold onto his thoughts. And it’s made an incredible impact on Dillan’s life.

The first film, “Dillan’s Voice”, focuses on some of the ways that his communication has been enabled by technology; the second, “Dillan’s Path”, is more about his life so far, featuring interviews with his mother and his therapist.

A reminder to developers to ensure their apps are as accessible as possible. Apple has guides for iOS and OS X; other platforms have similar references. For web designers and developers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published a comprehensive reference.

AP to Lowercase “Internet”

A tweet from the Associated Press:

We will lowercase internet effective June 1, when the 2016 Stylebook launches.

The New York Times still uppercases it, but they lowercase “web”. My internal style guide has lowercased both all along for reasons I’m not quite sure of — perhaps it’s a consistency thing.

April 1, 2016

John Moltz’s Review of the iPhone SE

Moltz:

The iPhone SE is not available for purchase on Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, which is a tipoff that this phone is not going to get upgraded every March. […]

I understand that a lot of people prefer larger phones, but this is the right size phone for me (and many others). Period. I wish it were a size that Apple would commit to.

I think this might be the best description of why I’m hesitant on the SE: because it feels like Apple is, too.

My wish is that Apple would offer only three phones every year: a four-inch model, a 4.7 inch model, and a 5.5 inch model. I’d like them to have pretty much the same specs, a similar industrial design, and have them all start with at least 32 GB of storage. There’s, like, no way that would happen though, right?

IFTTT Reaches Out to Pinboard

Linden Tibbets, the CEO of IFTTT, in a tweet:

@pinboard I built the Pinboard Channel on @IFTTT and have maintained it for years. […]

I find it incredulous how IFTTT thought they’d receive little blowback for building a bunch of working stuff, then turning around and demanding that the developers of those integrated platforms redo all their work for free.

Tibbets sent a followup email to users who have workflows that involve Pinboard:

We made a mistake in asking Pinboard to migrate without fully explaining the benefits of our developer platform. It’s our responsibility to prove that value before asking Pinboard to take ownership of their Channel. We hope to share more on the value of our platform soon.

No kidding.

As best as I can figure out, Pinboard launched publicly on July 12, 2009. I joined on July 14, 2009, paying the incredibly luxurious fee of about $4.00 $2.91 for a lifetime account. I bought archiving for a couple of years today; I hope you’ll do the same. Seems useful, anyway, considering how quickly links rot.

(As of writing, 17% of my bookmarks have been archived, consuming 1.29 GB of disk space.)

John Gruber’s Review of the iPhone SE

Gruber:

If you’ve already upgraded to an iPhone 6 or 6S and have made peace with the trade-offs of a larger, heavier, less-grippy-because-of-the-round-edges form factor, the appeal is less clear. Me, I talk the talk about preferring the smaller form factor, but ultimately I’m a sucker for top-of-the-line CPU/GPU performance and camera quality. For the next six months or so, the iPhone SE stands on the top tier. After that, it won’t — I think — and it’ll be back to the 4.7-inch display form factor for me. So why bother switching back for just a few months? I keep asking myself.

And then I pick up the iPhone SE, and hold it in my hand.

This is so well-written; I wish these were my own words.

I know a lot of people — both on the web and in person — who dislike the sizes of the iPhones 6(S) and would prefer to switch back to a four-inch iPhone. My girlfriend is amongst those people. When I asked her about the SE, she said that she preferred the thickness and rounded edges of the 6S because it feels better in her hands. But, she said, it’s still far too slippery and big. She really wants to stick with a four-inch iPhone.

I’ve seen lots of other reactions to the SE along similar lines, with people making tradeoffs one way or another. There are those who are downsizing because the comfort of a four-inch iPhone beats 3D Touch or a significantly better display, and others — like me — who want to downsize but will tolerate a big iPhone for various reasons. I know that I wish for an iPhone with flat, grippable edges any time I’m taking a photo in a situation that is even remotely precarious, but I don’t think it’s worth downsizing for a model that is the iPad Mini of the iPhone lineup. You just know in your gut that it’s not going to be regularly updated. And that’s a little bit sad, because it’s arguably the best iPhone for a lot of people.

Checks and Balances

Alex Spence, writing for Politico Europe:

With many people now using smartphones and social media to get news, a handful of huge Silicon Valley companies have amassed disproportionate influence over what we read and view. But they’re not subject to the same checks and balances as the newspapers, radio stations and TV channels that people historically relied on for information.

How to keep the likes of Google and Facebook in check is the subject of a paper published Thursday by the Centre for the Study of Media Communication and Power at King’s College London, which calls for far greater scrutiny of the American tech giants’ power over media and communications.

Martin Moore, the author of that paper, writes:

The tech giants argue they are not equivalent to traditional media organisations and should not be viewed in the same way. They are, they say, only platforms (see, for example, Tamiz vs Google) and they simply act as pathways to enable people to reach content. As platforms that provide access to other content, or ‘mere conduits’ as it is described, they gain legal protection they would not otherwise have, for example through section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (2000) in the US and through exemption from aspects of the European E-commerce directive. Moreover as platforms, they argue, they should not be considered responsible in the same way that traditional media publisher would be. […]

The use of their power to command attention to promote their own views and services takes large information intermediaries beyond neutral platforms, and can give them a political power comparable to that of a broadcaster. The di erence being that, in many democracies, broadcasters are constrained in what they can broadcast and in the political views they themselves can express.

In Britain, and elsewhere, broadcasting was seen as too powerful a medium, and too open to political abuse, to be purely commercial. It was considered to be a ‘utility to be developed as a national service in the public interest’, and is regulated as a public service.

This seems to be more concerning to those of us who live outside of the United States.

40 Years of Apple

Stephen Hackett:

I learned that I could take an idea and brute force it into the world.

And for that, Apple, thank you, from all of us.

As tech companies go, Apple is on the older side. Yet they continue to define how we will use technology for the foreseeable future, and establish the roadmap for the industry. Will Facebook one day turn 40? Will Square? How about Zynga? (I can answer that last one: No.)

They’re a company that has grown to an unfathomable scale, yet they retain the spirit of their foundation: relentless invention. Many of their biggest products are worked on by a relative handful of people internally. That’s a tremendous legacy, and it’s a culture that can’t be ginned up by a marketing department. That’s how they’ve kept going and growing.

In recognition of their fortieth birthday, Apple is flying the Jolly Roger over Infinite Loop.

Google’s Tasteless April Fools’ Day Gag

Victor-Bogdan Anchidin introducing this year’s Google prank:

Today, Gmail is making it easier to have the last word on any email with Mic Drop. Simply reply to any email using the new ‘Send + Mic Drop’ button. Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it. Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it.

When you hit the button, it will enclose an animated GIF of a clip from Despicable Me in the reply. Lame, right? Completely unfunny.

And, as it turns out, damaging. Andy Baio on Twitter:

I can’t believe how short-sighted Gmail’s “Drop Mic” April 1 joke is. It replaces the “Send+Archive” button, and attaches GIFs to sent mail.

I clicked it, assuming it was just a cosmetic replacement of the “Send+Archive” button, and it sent that stupid Minions GIF on a work email.

There are more descriptions of insensitivity and the glaringly inappropriate nature of this prank on Google’s product forums, particularly those from Allan Pashby and Justin Boxill. I haven’t verified what they’ve written, but their plausibility is what is so concerning to me. Both reports are very likely true. That nobody thought of these potential consequences in a tool that is as vital as email is almost beyond comprehension.

Update: Google has now removed the button. Pranks are terrible.

Update 2: At least it’s not as bad as spraying an almond scent in a factory that uses cyanide.

March 31, 2016

Mac OS X, Which Became OS X, Might Become macOS

AppleInsider:

Digging through the frameworks of OS X 10.11.4, a reference to “macOS” was discovered by developer Guilherme Rambo. The mention was found in a private framework called “FlightUtilities” — a feature that he says enables tracking flights, but is not currently in use by El Capitan.

Rambo even went as far to create a sample application using the new, untapped framework. He theorizes that both it and the new “macOS” branding could debut as part of the next-generation Mac operating system, widely expected to be introduced at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference in June.

Makes sense to me. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to the big-X branding, but at least there won’t be any ludicrous articles predicting the demise of the Mac like there were when they dropped “Mac” from “OS X”.

I’m curious about how this will work with future version numbering. My hunch is that the marketing will be simplified — something like macOS El Capitan — with version numbering appearing only in the About This Mac dialog, but this becomes out-of-sync with Apple’s other operating system families. iOS, watchOS, and tvOS all have version numbering in their marketing names, but OS X has both a version and a California place name that represents the version. This could be a good case for refining their overall OS branding.

Introducing Safari Technology Preview

Think WebKit nightlies, but with fewer bizarre bugs and much iCloud-ier. Ricky Mondello writing on the official WebKit blog:

Safari Technology Preview is a standalone application that can be used side-by-side with Safari or other web browsers, making it easy to compare behaviors between them. Besides having the latest web features and bug fixes from WebKit, Safari Technology Preview includes the latest improvements to Web Inspector, which you can use to develop and debug your websites. Updates for Safari Technology Preview will be available every two weeks through the Updates pane of the Mac App Store. […]

Unlike the nightlies, Safari Technology Preview supports the full set of iCloud-based Safari features, including iCloud History and iCloud Tabs. And we’ll use the time between Safari Technology Preview releases to curate and test updates to a point where we think developers will find it practical to use as their primary browser.

I stopped using WebKit nightlies after Safari got a bunch of iCloud-specific things — especially iCloud Keychain — but this sounds great. Looking forward to using this regularly, because I need less stability and more purple icons in my life.

By the way, I’d just like to point to the Mac App Store review guidelines:

2.6 Apps that are “beta”, “demo”, “trial”, or “test” versions will be rejected

Just in case you thought you might be able to get away with this, as a third-party developer. Not that you did, of course.

Interestingly, the app is available via the web, but updates are delivered through the Mac App Store. I always wondered what it would be like if third-party developers didn’t have to use frameworks like Sparkle and could instead pipe their updates through Apple’s official software update channels.

Update: If you’re downloading this, remember to set your preferences as you’d like them and add your extensions — the tech preview doesn’t migrate anything from Safari. The Develop menu is, of course, switched on by default.

March 29, 2016

F.U.

In the world of podcasting, “F.U.” means “followup”. In Dropcam co-founder Greg Duffy’s response to that Nest article from last week, I think it also means the other thing:

The ~50 Dropcam employees who resigned did so because they felt their ability to build great products being totally crushed. All of us have worked at big companies before, where it is harder to move fast. But this is something different, as evidenced by the continued lack of output from the currently 1200-person team and its virtually unlimited budget. According to LinkedIn, total attrition to date at Nest amounts to nearly 500 people, which suggests that we were not alone in our frustrations.

My, the rules of public relations certainly have changed.

Heroically Lazy

IFTTT has been sending emails to their users who make use of Pinboard integrations:

We’re working on a new IFTTT platform for developers that makes building Channels and Recipes a breeze.

Recently, we’ve worked with our partners to migrate to the improved platform, but some have chosen not to do so. Unfortunately, the Pinboard Channel did not migrate to the new platform and will be removed on April 4th.

If you received a PR-friendly email like this, you might think ‘Wow, the Pinboard developer is a jerk,’ and not understand the full context of what the “migration” entails. Pinboard creator Maciej Cegłowski:

IFTTT has already written all this shim code. They did it when they were small and had no money, so it’s difficult to believe they have to throw it away now that they have lots of staff and thirty million dollars.

Instead, sites that want to work with IFTTT will have to implement a private API that can change without warning.

This is a perfectly reasonable business decision. It is always smart to make other people do all the work.

However, cutting out sites that you have supported for years because they refuse to work for free is not very friendly to your oldest and most loyal users. And claiming that it’s the other party’s fault that you’re discontinuing service is a bit of a dick move.=

Cegłowski in a tweet from about a year and a half ago:

Right now the IFTTT business model is to charge one user $30M, rather than lots of users $2. The challenge will be with recurring payments

I suspect this is not unrelated.

Tidal Says It Has Three Million Paying Users

Yours presciently on Sunday:

As far as I can tell, Tidal hasn’t reported active user statistics since the release of West’s new album; if the strategy had “paid off” to the extent that [Quartz writer Ian] Kar seems to think it has, wouldn’t they be gloating about its overwhelming success? And how many of those users will stick around after the trial period ends, and the new album lustre fades?

Dan Rys reports for Billboard today:

The one-year anniversary of Tidal’s gaudy, much-maligned launch event in New York City is tomorrow, March 30 — so naturally, the service celebrating with an announcement the day before, releasing new numbers on both subscribers and exclusive releases. In its first year, Tidal claims to have passed three million paid subscribers globally, adding about 2.5 million subs to the approximately 540,000 it had when it launched in the U.S.

Of those subscribers, 45 percent, or around 1.35 million, have signed up for its hi-fidelity, lossless audio/video tier, which costs $19.99 per month as opposed to its regular $9.99/month tier.

Adding two-and-a-half million subscribers in a year is nothing to sneeze at, but Tidal doesn’t seem like a massive success, either. For comparison, Apple Music launched in June of last year and has 11 million subscribers as of February; Spotify launched in October 2008 and has 30 million subscribers. Apple Music, of course, has the built-in app advantage, plus an interstitial ad that appears within the Music app if you’re not a subscriber.

March 28, 2016

FBI Successfully Unlocks iPhone

Just a month and a bit after the FBI swore in court that they would be unable to proceed without requiring Apple to undermine iOS’ security in their favour, they’ve now unlocked the iPhone. Hurrah.

Joel Rubin, James Queally, and Paresh Dave, Los Angeles Times:

The breakthrough came over the weekend, when FBI agents successfully extracted the phone’s contents, a law enforcement official said during a call with reporters. The official spoke on the condition his name not be used.

The official declined to say anything about the contents of the phone other than to say FBI agents are examining it.

The official declined to offer any details about the hacking method or the outside party that provided it.

You can bet Apple will be treating this as a bug report, and will be looking for any loophole that would allow anyone the ability to decrypt an iPhone’s contents. When they find it, they will fix it, and this case will start anew. At the very least, it’s terrific news this iPhone and this case in particular were not used to set a precedent. But this is far from over.

The App Store’s Golden Opportunity

Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal:

There is a second reason why iPad sales fell 23% in the fiscal year ended September 2015, from their peak two years earlier: Apple has put onerous constraints on the makers of software whose apps are key to the success of the iPhone.

“Whenever my friends say, ‘Denys, we want to make money on the App store,’ I spend a lot of time trying to tell them not to do this,” says Denys Zhadanov, head of marketing for Readdle Inc., a Ukraine-based company that has had best-selling productivity apps on the App Store since the store went live in 2008.

Mr. Zhadanov says Apple makes it hard for developers to connect directly with users, or to encourage them to buy upgrades. This means app makers can’t reach users through mailing lists, critical to generating repeat sales and marketing other software and services.

As a result, apps that Readdle first released in 2009 generate no additional revenue from the company’s most loyal users. Readdle says the lifetime value of those customers can be as little as $2.

Mims followed up on Twitter:

A very experienced iOS developer told me Apple is talking directly to devs about how to fix the app store’s issues since forever

That fact was anonymously confirmed by a source who would know. So perhaps in the next 6 months we’ll see big changes in the App store.

Picture a number line, of sorts, with the Apple Watch at one end and the Mac at the other, with the iPhone and iPad equally spaced between. Along this gradient of — for lack of a better word — capability, the first three products are treated similarly in terms of their ability to add third-party apps, insomuch as that they all run through the App Store. The Mac is the exception, in that it can run apps from wherever.

Apple would like to move the iPad’s needle closer to the Mac, and I think that’s terrific. But one thing that seems fairly clear is that the number of complaints with the App Store increases with the capability of the product. The Mac App Store is a dreadful place for developers, but at least they can make their apps available elsewhere. Perhaps one of the ways to make the iPad more like a Mac would be to increase its flexibility with installing third-party apps.

Instagram Users Prompting Followers to Turn on Notifications in Preparation for an Algorithmic Feed

Romain Dillet, TechCrunch:

Like most feed-based networks, Instagram is starting to feel like a crowded place. People now follow hundreds of accounts and receive dozens of new photos per hour. Good posts are getting lost in the middle of not-so-good posts.

User experience suffers, people are less inclined to use Instagram. And that’s why Instagram has a solution. Soon (but not tomorrow), Instagram’s magical robots will put the best photos at the top of your feed. If posts don’t perform well, Instagram won’t show those posts to all followers.

I’m not sure this is going to be as shocking for the majority of users as some are making it out to be. But there are legitimate concerns. Mine is that an algorithmic treats each post as though it were an interchangeable — *sigh* — piece of content, giving each photo a weighting based on its popularity. Inevitably, bigger brands and famous users will garner more likes and be vastly more popular than you or I.

However, our relationships with the people we follow are not necessarily governed by popularity, and it’s hard to trust an automated, weighted system with providing the posts I really do care about most of the time. Facebook has the same problem — though Dillet cites it as a success story, I see nothing but posts from Wired, Jalopnik, Lapham’s Quarterly, and other pages I follow. Of the posts that are supposed to be from my real-life friends, almost all are actually from a handful of people, most of which I rarely interact with. Meanwhile, stuff from the friends that I actually care about almost never appears in my timeline.

This could merely indicate that I don’t spend a lot of time using Facebook, and that I don’t provide them with enough information to make an accurate judgement of who I really care about. And I guess that’s my concern with Instagram adopting such a timeline: either I refuse to provide them with significant data and I see only the most popular posts, or I give them more information to hopefully see more relevant posts and, it must be said, ads. I’m not sure that’s a fair exchange.

March 27, 2016

Kanye West’s Technological Gamble

Ian Kar, Quartz:

The Life of Pablo isn’t available in stores. West has tweeted that he doesn’t plan on selling physical copies. He’s also opted to elude Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music and iTunes. Instead, it’s available only on Tidal, the streaming service he co-owns with other major music artists like Jay-Z, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj. (West briefly made it available for purchase on kanyewest.com, but took it down shortly afterward, directing users to Tidal instead.) […]

Very few artists have the power to restrict a release to only one platform in the age of streaming music. And plenty of people illegally downloaded The Life of Pablo. But overall, West’s strategy seems to have paid off. Tidal has soared up the App Store charts since the album was uploaded at 3 AM on Feb. 13 and peaked at number 1. (It was back down to 178 as of March 18.)

As far as I can tell, Tidal hasn’t reported active user statistics since the release of West’s new album; if the strategy had “paid off” to the extent that Kar seems to think it has, wouldn’t they be gloating about its overwhelming success? And how many of those users will stick around after the trial period ends, and the new album lustre fades?

Here’s what I think is fascinating about this article, though:

And weeks after the initial release, West is still tinkering with his album. He’s changed lines around in some songs and altered the production on others. He even dramatically changed one song, “Wolves,” in response to critiques from fans who missed the guest vocals from an earlier version of the track, released back in Feb. 2015.

The products of artistic expression — whether they be paintings, sculptures, or albums — have long been rooted in an era of an absolute sense of completeness. That is, the artist will produce something that is to be fixed in a medium as a “finished” product. The work of Nicolas Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics has changed this viewpoint somewhat within the visual arts, but musical albums — particularly big, mainstream releases — haven’t seen a similar treatment until now. It’s West using the medium as a facilitator for his artistic goals, and I think that’s terrific.

Then again, the latest version of the album still has “Facts” on it, which is unforgivably bad.

One more quote from the article:

Meanwhile, West has used his Twitter account as a way to directly communicate with his fans and lift the veil on his artistic process. He’s tweeted extensively about changing the album’s name, adding tracks, and cutting others, all while posting hand-drawn illustrations of his collaborators and photos from the studio.

If West had jumped in with Apple Music instead of Tidal, do you think he would be doing this on Connect instead of Twitter? I have my doubts.

March 25, 2016

Recode: Apple Pay for Mobile Websites Coming Later This Year

Jason Del Rey, Recode:

Apple has been telling potential partners that its payment service, which lets shoppers complete a purchase on mobile apps with their fingerprint rather than by entering credit card details, is expanding to websites later this year, multiple sources told Re/code.

The service will be available to shoppers using the Safari browser on models of iPhones and iPads that possess Apple’s TouchID fingerprint technology, these people said. Apple has also considered making the service available on Apple laptops and desktops, too, though it’s not clear if the company will launch that capability.

Apple Pay cards are saved locally to an iOS device’s secure enclave, so I’m not sure how an OS X experience could work. Maybe with two-factor authentication using an iOS device’s saved cards to complete the transaction? Or, perhaps future Macs will contain a secure enclave.

March 24, 2016

Aapl.De.App

Emily Steel, New York Times:

Apple announced on Thursday that it was working with the entertainer Will.i.am and two veteran TV executives, Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens, on a new show that will spotlight the app economy.

“One of the things with the app store that was always great about it was the great ideas that people had to build things and create things,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, said in an interview.

Details about the production are scant, and it was unclear how directly the show would promote or refer to Apple’s own app store. Executives declined to discuss specifics, such as financing, title, timeline, storylines, episode length or how people will watch the show.

Please reference the last thing I wrote about Will.I.Am, which was about a device he created that put “Salesforce on your wrist” and had “four kilowatts of DAF (Dope as Fuckness)”.

Update: Cabel Sasser on Twitter:

Oh man I just read the thing about Apple’s App Show. What perfect frothing irony if the “App: The Human Story” documentary gets Sherlock’d

I have a hunch that the App documentary will be a lot less effusive than Apple’s interpretation.

Apple’s Privacy Czars

Intriguing report from Julia Love of Reuters:

Unlike Google, Amazon and Facebook, Apple is loathe to use customer data to deliver targeted advertising or personalized recommendations. Indeed, any collection of Apple customer data requires sign-off from a committee of three “privacy czars” and a top executive, according to four former employees who worked on a variety of products that went through privacy vetting.

Approval is anything but automatic: products including the Siri voice-command feature and the recently scaled-back iAd advertising network were restricted over privacy concerns, these people said.

As their competitors build even more capable personalized, anticipatory behaviour into their software, I’m curious to see how Apple is able to respond. They don’t need to match Google Now feature-to-feature, but will their stance on privacy put a damper on their capabilities? Or, from another perspective, are their competitors’ relatively cavalier approaches to sharing and retaining data a reasonable tradeoff for easier development of these kinds of services?

Garry Shandling, Dead at 66

What a loss. I’m linking here to his episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, but one of my favourite Shandling appearances was from several years ago on the Green Room with Paul Provenza. Someone uploaded the episode — also featuring Marc Maron, Ray Romano, Judd Apatow, and Bo Burnham — to YouTube, but know that the language is very unfit for work. He was deeply passionate about authenticity, and I think that’s something we could all benefit from.

Rottenest

Reed Albergotti wrote an extraordinary article for the Information about Nest’s year of struggles. There are a lot of on-the-record quotes for executives, all of whom have their own horror stories about working with Tony Fadell, working with Alphabet executives, and issues of growth.

Fadell is known to be a demanding boss, but some of the Alphabet-related stuff is particularly messy:

In an interview with The Information, Mr. Fadell acknowledged some management difficulties, which he said stemmed from the speed at which the company has grown. Growth “didn’t happen as dramatically at other places,” he said, referring to other companies he’s worked for, like Apple and Phillips.

He said that Alphabet was tightening the financial screws. “The fiscal discipline era has now descended upon everything.” Alphabet’s message is now “hey, show us your business plan for the year. We’re going to hold you to those numbers.” Mr. Fadell said Alphabet is putting the same pressure on all of its subsidiaries it dubs “other bets.”

And:

[As] Nest has delayed the release of products, Google has moved forward on similar efforts of its own. It built the OnHub, a wireless router that performs some of the functions that Nest’s Flintstone was at one time meant to perform, including a hub and thread radio.

In a statement, Mr. Fadell said that OnHub was an example of a “collaborative effort between the two companies.” He said it didn’t initially include Nest technologies such as its Thread wireless radio “but once the team at Google understood the benefits, they included the technologies in the final product.”

Separately, Nest asked to be included in a secret Google project to create a competitor to Amazon’s Echo, a voice-controlled personal assistant device. But the Google executive in charge of the project, which has not been reported on publicly until now, said Nest would not be involved in its development, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.

Why does Google own Nest if they’re not going to fully utilize their expertise?

(I’m linking to John Gruber’s mirror which, for some reason, is attributed to Matthew Panzarino’s Information account, not Gruber’s.)

March 23, 2016

About the iPad Pro’s Embedded Apple SIM

Since there’s no embargo, journalists with review units can talk freely about them. Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

When Apple introduced its new iPad Pro 9.7″, one of the small technical specifications the company touted prompted the most questions from readers: the new embedded Apple SIM. […]

This programmable SIM makes it easier for Apple to ship one device that is compatible with carriers all over the world, especially when coupled with a cellular radio that integrates most of the known technologies that the networks use all in one bundle.

But those Apple SIMs have always been removable, just like a regular SIM card, and some carriers actually program those SIMs permanently, rendering them ‘locked’ to that carrier.

If your carrier of choice is an consumer-unfriendly dillweed and locks the embedded SIM card to their network, there’s a secondary SIM card slot that allows you to add a non-locked SIM afterwards. I wonder if that slot supports Apple’s removable SIM.

If Apple doesn’t need to add a removable SIM card tray and can instead build the card directly into the logic board, perhaps it tips the scales in favour of cellular-capable MacBooks, too.

Apple’s Naming Conventions

James Creixems:

[One] of the things that has really suffered from Steve Jobs’ absence is Apple’s naming conventions. Over the last 5 years, as product choice has grown, Apple’s product names have slowly turned into a mess that’s hard to understand and follow. […]

However these patterns are not consistent nor they are standard across the multiple product lines. However, we can see concepts behind these patterns: they’re used to describe sizes, generations and target market.

Apple’s products have never been better, but their naming schemes haven’t been this wanting for a long time. It isn’t a post-Steve thing, I don’t think — remember the iPhone 3G and 3GS, or the iPod that lacked a suffix for the better part of a decade? Or, heck, the MacBook Pro brand, which has always sounded like accounting software.

Lately, however, the product names haven’t been bad so much as they’ve been confusing. This is exacerbated by a large and ungainly lineup — the iPad range, for instance, currently consists of the iPad Mini 2, the iPad Mini 4, the iPad Air 2, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. That’s five models of iPad, two pairs of which look almost identical.

This is nowhere near as unfathomable as it was during the mid-ninties, with non-descriptive product names — choose between a Performa, a Quadra, a Ferma, and a Centris, and I made one of those up — and numerical extensions that referenced the processor’s clock speed. At least you have a pretty good idea of what the difference might be between a Plus-model iPhone and a non-Plus model. But I wish for a clearer naming scheme still. Their existing scheme is borne from a set of two or three model lines, and it has not scaled well. I don’t necessarily like what Creixems has come up with, but there must be a more straightforward way of differentiating between different products within a line. Having dozens of choices of Apple Watch straps is a good kind of choice for consumers, but having too many similar-seeming products is confusing.

Really Sad

Riccardo Mori, quoting Phil Schiller:

There’s a second group of people that we’d love to reach with this iPad Pro: Windows users. You may not know this, but the majority of people who come to an iPad Pro are coming from a Windows PC.

Windows PCs were originally conceived of before there was an Internet, before there was social media, before there was app stores, and this is an amazing statistic: There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over five years old. This is really… sad. It really is. These people could really benefit from an iPad Pro.

[…]

Some said that this is a bit rich coming from a company still selling a 13-inch MacBook Pro containing 4-year-old technology, and whose current Pro laptops could really benefit from an update. I think that Schiller’s comment wasn’t meant to come across as harsh as it sounded. I took it to simply mean that many PC users with old computers are really missing out and should consider an iPad Pro to jump on the Post-PC era bandwagon. But yes, the delivery probably turned out to be more unfortunate than intended.

Schiller’s setup makes it sound like he’s trying to explain their target market: Windows PC users who, with computers that are over five years old, are seeking to upgrade. This is the new “Switch” campaign, except with an iPad in place of a Mac.

But his — I assume — improvised “really sad” punchline didn’t land because having a five year old functional computer is not sad, it is impressive. I didn’t replace my MacBook Pro until it was over five years old. My MacBook Air will turn four this year and, while I ache for a better display, I have no immediate intention of replacing it any time soon. The display in my Air, by the way, is effectively the same panel that has been included with MacBook Airs since at least 2010, making it well over five years old.

It’s a minor smudge on an otherwise decent keynote, but it really didn’t play well.

March 22, 2016

Camera.app Pauses Audio Playback

Ole Begemann:

Launching the camera app still halts music playback on iOS 9.3. I’m starting to think Apple doesn’t see this as a bug (but why?).

Apple does see this as a bug, but it’s inexplicable to me that it remains unfixed after three major iOS 9 updates.

Biggie Smalls

I wanted to take some time to digest the two biggest announcements of yesterday’s Apple event before I hopped on them, and I think my patience has been rewarded with new and relevant information.

Let’s start with the iPhone SE, which is very nearly an iPhone 6S inside an iPhone 5S’ body. That comes with a lot of benefits, especially in terms of performance and battery life. If the A9 in the SE is running at the same speed and has the same specs as the one in the 6S, it’s going to be a screamer with great battery life — there are fewer pixels to push and a smaller backlight to drive.

I’ve always been a fan of the 5S’ form factor, too — to my eyes and hands, it’s the prettiest and most comfortable iPhone ever.1 But the drawbacks of an SE are not insignificant, compared to a 6S: its display panel isn’t as good, the cover glass isn’t as durable, the Touch ID sensor is the much slower first-generation version, it doesn’t have 3D Touch, and it isn’t available in a 128 GB storage configuration. These are all deal-breakers for me, though they may not be for you.

I’m curious to see how the SE finds its place in Apple’s lineup over the coming few generations. Will it be like the iPad Mini, lagging one generation behind? Will it eventually get redesigned to look a bit more like a 6(S) generation iPhone, or will it perpetually look like a 5(S)? Does it have a permanent place in the lineup, or is it a stopgap?

I hope my needs one day intersect with what the SE offers, because it’s a compelling product in so many ways. My 6S remains uncomfortable in my pocket most of the time and it’s nerve-wracking to hold onto. But it’s a better balance for me right now than the SE.

My iPad Mini is another story altogether. It’s coming up on three years old this year, and it shows it in software and performance: I don’t get the sweet split-screen multitasking in iOS 9, its display isn’t laminated and of poorer quality than that of any of Apple’s other iOS products, and it lacks the RAM to keep up with daily tasks — a problem that has plagued iPads I’ve owned since their introduction.

The new 9.7-inch iPad Pro seems very attractive to me. It’s not as gigantic as the other iPad Pro, but it packs a similar punch in a normal-sized body. It seems to resolve many of the issues I have with my ageing Mini, too: it has a powerful processor that supports split-screen multitasking, among other things, and its display kicks ass — with the True Tone feature, it’s quite possibly the best display Apple has shipped on any device. During the keynote, I was damn near sold.

But I have a couple of concerns that I’ll need to research fully before committing. First, it has 2 GB of RAM, as opposed to the 4 GB in the bigger iPad Pro. After my experiences using iPads over the years where switching Safari tabs would regularly trigger a refresh of that tab, I’m hesitant to pick up a new one with anything less than the greatest amount of RAM possibly available. This is doubly true now that it has the capability of running two apps side-by-side.

Moreover, I’m waiting for WWDC to see what kind of features are coming to the iPad before making my decision. I’m hoping for a higher grade of professional software with even greater multitasking abilities, which might tip the scales in favour of picking one up. But I’m also going to wait for reviews and pay attention to the RAM and usability sections, because the low RAM in all the iPads I’ve owned has undermined my experience with them.

Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to trying it out. It might very well be my next iPad.

Update: The iPhone SE also lacks a barometer and has a crappier front camera, but it does get phenomenal battery life.

Also, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro supports only USB 2 speeds; the bigger iPad Pro supports USB 3.

If you were looking for the wallpaper shown on the iPads at the event, it appears to be of the Cargill salt ponds just outside San Francisco and was potentially photographed by Robert Campbell, though I don’t have confirmation of this. If someone has the actual images used, especially in wallpaper size, I’d be very grateful if you let me know.

Update: The wallpaper photograph is actually by David Burdeny, and was shot in Utah, not San Francisco. If you’d like to see his salt pond photography in person — including the image from the iPad — his exhibition at Bau-Xi Photo in Toronto closes today.


  1. I was taking some photos over my balcony recently. I live several storeys up. At that time, I would have given anything for corners less rounded and a body less slippery than that of my 6S. ↩︎