December 1, 2015

Thoughts on the Inevitable Demise of the 3.5mm Audio Jack on the iPhone

One day, we will no longer use the standard 3.5mm audio jack on an iPhone, and a whole host of other products. It’s painful, I know — they are some of my favourite connectors, and they’re everywhere.

Graham Spencer, MacStories:

Given the premise that I think Apple will (at some point) ditch the audio jack, the next question is how they can possibly achieve that with the smallest adverse impact on customers, which should surely be the top priority.


One thing Spencer didn’t point out is that the current rumour going around — courtesy Macotakara — is unlikely to be accurate, even if the outcome is as predicted. They claim, via Google Translate, that this is to make the iPhone thinner. As Spencer points out in his article, Apple and other manufacturers already make products that are far thinner and have a headphone jack.

Macotakara also claims that their singular source has knowledge of the phone hardware and the accessories included with it:

Apple seems to plan removing the headset jack from the next iPhone 7, according to a reliable source.

Screen shape such as radius will be kept, however, it will very likely be more than 1 mm thinner than the current model.

Supplied Ear Pods will equip a Lightning connector, which means a DA (Digital to Analog) converter is required. The DA will be built in the Lightning connector without sacrificing the size, according to the source.

As “ATP Tipster” pointed out, there are very few people at Apple who would have the entirety of this information, and you’d probably find those who do on Apple’s website. They will remove the headphone jack eventually, but this report isn’t an iron-clad predictor.

Update: And, when it does get replaced, I hope — as Manton Reece does — that it is not a proprietary solution.

November 30, 2015

Can a MacBook Pro Replace Your iPad?

Thought-provoking (and hilarious) piece from Fraser Speirs:

Firstly, consider the hardware. The huge issue with the MacBook Pro is its form factor. The fact that the keyboard and screen are limited to being held in an L-shaped configuration seriously limits its flexibility. It is basically impossible to use a MacBook pro while standing up and downright dangerous to use when walking around. Your computing is limited to times when you are able to find somewhere to sit down.

Imagine a parallel universe where computers evolved the other way: from tablet to laptop, and then to desktop. Then imagine how the laptop and desktop would be seen. The tablet market is in an evolving stage. It’s not early any more, but nor is it a mature product category. As such, we’re still finding the best uses for tablets.

I, for example, find it more comfortable to read on my iPad than I do my Mac, but I don’t find it as comfortable to write many thousand words on it. Writing code is even more cumbersome, despite the excellence of Coda for iOS. My job and my hobbies tend to revolve around writing a lot, both prose and code; therefore, I find myself spending more time on my computer than my iPad.1

My parents, on the other hand, both use their iPads nearly full time, including for long emails, web browsing, reading books, and so on. They spend a lot less time with technology, so the iPad makes it way nicer to do most of the things they do every day.

We — the kinds of people who think about stuff like this and read websites like mine — have to remember that we see the world through a different lens. We care about esoteric things and prioritize accordingly, and that makes us a bit crappy at seeing how regular people use technology. Keep that in mind.

  1. Even though my computer is a laptop, I almost always leave it connected to my Thunderbolt Display. In that sense, my iPad is my most-used portable computer aside from my iPhone. ↩︎

November 27, 2015

Fitness and the Apple TV

Erica Sadun:

At this point, Apple is wasting a strong health branding component with its Apple TV product. Between the watch, iOS Motion, and Health Kit, Apple TV should be much more proactive than apps limited to logging meals (still easier to do on an iOS device) and offering coaching advice.

It’s a too bad that third-party controllers don’t yet support motion controls. Could you imagine how great a balance board would be with an Apple TV, or a connected treadmill? There’s a lot of opportunity and potential for this hardware, especially when combined with other parts of Apple’s ecosystem in both hardware and software.

November 26, 2015

The Samantha Bielefeld Fraud Matters

It’s been a little hard to follow the Samantha Bielefeld/Victor Wynn Johnson story over Twitter, but Sonya Mann sums up perfectly why it matters:

It makes it harder for future women tech writers, anonymous or not, to be taken seriously.

That’s it. Bielefeld came along and duped people like me who assumed — wrongly — that her pseudonym was for innocent reasons. It was not. “She” seized the opportunity to create controversy and indulged in faked threats. This stunt has caused real harm.

Update: And, it should be noted, while making real money.

MacBook Charger Teardown

I love teardowns like this. An iPhone or an iPad has so many custom components and chips inside that obscure and abstract much of the functionality of the device; Apple’s chargers, on the other hand, have a bunch of stuff that I actually recognize.

See Also: Ken Shirriff previously took apart counterfeit iPad and iPhone chargers.

Blogs by Women

Brent Simmons has put together a great list of (real) women bloggers. There’s a blog on here for everyone, whether you’re a designer, a Mac or iOS developer, or just curious about the world. There’s an OPML file available, too, if you’d like to add the whole list to your RSS reader.

November 25, 2015

Living in a Different World

Great piece from Benedict Evans on the understanding gap that’s created when we attempt to analogize high technology. Along similar lines, I hear all the time about developers whose family members and friends think that they work for Apple because they sell their apps in the App Store.

Google Buries Yelp and TripAdvisor Results, Claims Its’s a Bug

Mark Bergen, Recode:

Over the weekend, executives from public Internet companies Yelp and TripAdvisor noted a disturbing trend: Google searches on smartphones for their businesses had suddenly buried their results beneath Google’s own. It looked like a flagrant reversal of Google’s stated position on search, and a move to edge out rivals.

Nope, it’s a bug, claims Google. “The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we’re working quickly to fix,” a Google spokeswoman said.

Strange how this bug was so beneficial to Google while damaging to their competitors. I suppose that’s unfair, though; I should really only be more suspicious if Google had a history of doing this sort of thing.

November 24, 2015

Workflow Gets WordPress Actions

Federico Viticci, MacStories:

Today’s update to Workflow (version 1.4.2) adds, among more actions, a brand new WordPress action to publish posts and pages to configured WordPress blogs (both and self-hosted ones) and which can be combined with any other existing action or workflow for deeper automaton. After using a beta of this action for the past few weeks, I can say that it’s, by far, the best automated publishing workflow I’ve ever had, and I don’t want to go back to anything else.

Workflow continues to be the framework that holds together automation and cross-application productivity on iOS.


I’ve hesitated to comment on the flurry of articles being written in the wake of the tragic attacks in Paris;1 I feel as though there’s still uncertainty that needs to be clarified, and grieving that must be done.

But there comes a time when we must address aspects of what occurred. In the aftermath, there has been a demonizing of encryption and technology. Trevor Timm, writing for the Guardian:

The entire encryption subject became a shiny scapegoat while the truth slowly trickled in: as of Tuesday, it was clear that American and/or French intelligence agencies had seven of the eight identified attackers on their radar prior to the attacks. The attackers used Facebook to communicate. The one phone found on the scene showed the terrorists had coordinated over unencrypted SMS text messages – just about the easiest form of communication to wiretap that exists today.

Encryption is not evil; it’s not even relevant in this discussion. But the now-necessary defence of encryption must be made by people who are diligent and knowledgable because they’re going up against heavyweights who think that a magic “golden key” exists.

  1. And what about Beirut? One of the best articles to come out in the past couple of weeks is from Max Fisher writing at Vox, noting that the media did not ignore Beirut — we did↩︎

November 23, 2015

Baffle Web Trackers by Obfuscating Your Behaviour

Clive Thompson, Wired:

It’s increasingly hard to “opt out” of online tracking. “Unless you want to go live in a cave away from society,” Nissenbaum notes, you need to be online — often for work or to access government services. Online services claim they’re voluntary, but the cost of being a refusenik grows every day.

In this context, obfuscation is a clever judo move. It’s a way for people in a relatively weak position — which is to say all of us, compared with Google or Facebook — to fight back. You exploit your adversaries’ inherent weakness: their insatiable appetite for data.

Clever strategy, but I’m not sure it is as impossible to opt out of tracking as claimed. I went through the AdChoices blanket opt-out page and opted out of everything listed, then turned off third-party cookies in Safari. I haven’t seen any interest-based ads since.

Mind you, after I started doing this, I noticed that some websites — like my favourite shoe company’s — started funnelling my natural in-site clicks through a third-party ad network. By making me click on those links, it looks to Safari as though I’m opting into those cookies. Crafty and deceptive.

Whatever Happened to Midori?

Mary Jo Foley is the best on the Microsoft beat:

I first blogged about Midori in 2008. Microsoft was assembling a team of crack engineers to build a new operating system that wasn’t based on the Windows kernel. The Midori team was charged with building not just the OS from scratch, but a full software stack, including a browser, related tools and more.

It sounds like this ambitious project — the Microsoft version of what Mac OS X was to Mac OS 9 — has been shut down internally, but lessons from it will carry through to future Microsoft products. It’s kind of a shame that there’s so much legacy support required of Windows; if Microsoft could do a clean-slate refresh of their operating system, I bet they would, if only because it would allow them a greater degree of flexibility and iteration internally.

November 20, 2015

Jimmy Iovine’s Vaguely Misogynistic Comments

Noelene Clark, Entertainment Weekly:

In the [CBS This Morning] interview, Iovine said the streaming service aims to help women find music. “I’ve always known that women find it very difficult at times — some women — to find music,” he said. “And this helps makes it easier with playlists that are curated by real people.”

This is pretty condescending and misogynistic. Iovine has since apologized, stating that their “new ad focuses on women, which is why I answered the way I did, but of course the same applies equally for men”. That is, he believes his comment should have been interpreted as something closer to People — men and women — find it very difficult at times to find music, which is fine and true. But that’s not what he said, and that’s all that matters.

As far as Apple goes, I doubt they’ve had an instance in a long time of an executive speaking off-script as badly as Iovine does. Embarrassing.

Travelling Indonesia With an iPhone 6S

At around 9:00 at night, the temperature in Magelang finally drops to a more hospitable 28°C from the 37° or so that it’s been hovering at. My girlfriend and I are in Magelang for this leg of the trip and we’ve stopped at a warung for dinner — think of a small trailer that can be pulled behind a bicycle serving ridiculously tasty food. This warung is known for several noodle dishes, but we’ve asked for mie godog — literally, “boiled noodles”. The broth from this cart is made with candlenut and it’s cooking overtop some hot coals in a wok with spring onions, garlic, some mustard greens, and the aforementioned egg noodles. Every few seconds, someone on a scooter or motorbike putters past, inches from the trio of younger men sitting and smoking on the stoop of the karaoke bar next door.

I’ve taken a couple of Live Photos of the scene and play them back, and I realize that it’s captured the sights and sounds well enough that I’ll be able to show my friends and parents back in Canada, but something’s missing: the smell of this place. It’s a distinct blend of engine fumes, clove cigarette smoke, burning wood, and this incredible food. This, to me, says worlds about the immediacy of place of Live Photos, as well as the limitations that they have. They are a welcome step closer to better capturing a moment in time, but the technology isn’t quite good enough yet for this moment.

A warung in Magelang.
A warung in Magelang

I’ve been using an iPhone 6S since launch day — “Space Grey”, 128 GB, non-Plus — and I’ve read all the reviews that matter. But when I boarded a plane on October 24 from Calgary to Surabaya, I was unprepared for the way that this product would impact my travels, and how my travelling would impact my understanding of mobile technology.

We begin this story during a stopover at Vancouver International Airport. As this is an upgrade from an iPhone 5S, I’m still getting used to the size of the 4.7-inch 6S. After just the short hop from Calgary, I’ve noticed that my 6S feels less comfortable in my front-right jeans pocket, to the point where it becomes an obligation to remove it upon sitting down in a tight airplane seat.

This issue is exacerbated by the addition of a case. I never use a case, but I felt that it would make my shiny new phone last a little longer in the rougher conditions I’d be experiencing at some points of my trip. My Peel case didn’t show up in time — something about a fulfillment issue — so I settled for Apple’s mid-brown leather case. It’s nice, but even after just a couple of days, I’m already seeing staining on the edge of the case, where it wraps around the display.

At least it gets rid of that damn camera bump.

My girlfriend and I kill some time by hopping on the moving walkways and checking out some of the kitschy tourist shops that dot the halls. I pull out my phone and take a few short videos across the different available video quality settings. I’m sure 4K looks better, but I don’t have a display that can take advantage of that resolution; 60fps looks great, but also looks too much like a home movie. I kind of wish Apple would add a 24fps mode, for a more cinematic feel. I settle on 30fps 1080p: it’s not exotic or technologically advanced these days, but it works pretty much everywhere and looks gorgeous. Even without the optical stability of the 6S Plus, I’m still impressed by how well the camera cancels out shakiness.

After a couple of hours, we board the twelve-plus-hour flight to Taipei. I pull my phone out, sit down, and notice that the Airbus seats lack power outlets. I check my phone, and it looks like there’s 50-odd percent left. In airplane mode, it should be fine for listening to music for much of the flight and taking the odd photo and video. Maybe without much battery life to spare, I’d even get some sleep.

Taipei from above, 5:28 AM.

We land in Taipei bright and early, and steer immediately to the complimentary showers to freshen up. My iPhone is on the last drips of power in low battery mode, but the shower room has an outlet to top it up. We have an eight-hour layover here which we’ll be spending entirely in the airport — thankfully, with free and reasonably speedy WiFi.

I review the photos I’ve taken while circling the city earlier and am pleasantly surprised at their quality in the dim twilight and smog.

In a little over two hours, we’ve seen most of the airport, which, as with every other, consists of duty free shops only occasionally separated by small cafés and restaurants. There are plenty of tech-related shops selling iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads, all at prices much greater than the exchange rate would suggest. Even outside of the airport, Apple products, in particular, are expensive on this side of the world, especially for the middle-or-lower-class income bracket.

I try to log into Tumblr, an account on which I’ve enabled two-factor authentication via text message. I realize that I cannot receive the confirmation message as I’ve turned off all data on my phone to avoid exorbitant roaming charges. Damn.

After another few hours spent walking throughout the airport in a fruitless search for a basic and inexpensive shirt, it’s finally time to board the flight to Surabaya via Singapore.

Despite taking the same plane and the same seats for the second half of this flight, it’s necessary — for some reason — to leave the aircraft and turn around, passing through a security check again. This irritates me, as my pockets and bag are full of crap that I’ve accumulated in entirely “secure” zones, yet cannot be brought back onto the flight.

To make matters worse, the WiFi at Singapore’s airport requires text message authentication, which I cannot get, cf. my troubles logging into Tumblr. It’s also usually possible to get a code from an attendant, but none are present because it’s late at night, of course.

Thanks to the extra memory in the A9 SoC, I still have plenty of Safari tabs cached so I don’t necessarily need a live internet connection. Unfortunately, it hasn’t preserved all of them — the camera still takes as much memory as it can. My pet theory is that Apple could put desktop levels of RAM in the iPhone and the camera would still purge Safari tabs from the cache.

It’s 11-something at night by the time we land in Surabaya. My phone retains a decent charge despite none of the planes including seat-back power outlets. We exit the airport into the overwhelming Indonesian humidity and heat, and hop into a small van to take us to our hotel.

As we wind through the city, I try recording with my phone pressed against the window. If you’ve ever filmed anything at night in even a moderately well-lit city, you know how difficult this is; in Surabaya, with its extremely dim lighting, almost nothing is visible. I put my phone on the seat and watch the city scroll by.

In the morning, we head over to the mall to pick up a SIM card for my time here. On Telekomsel, 4 GB of 3G data plus plenty of messages and call time costs me just 250,000 Rupiah, or about $25 Canadian. I later learn that it should have cost about half that, but I’m a tourist. Whatever the case, that’s a remarkable deal; at home, I pay $55 per month for 1 GB of data.

I’ve never previously tried swapping my SIM while iMessage is active, or adding a phone number to an existing iMessage account. I have to power-cycle my phone so that Telekomsel can activate the SIM, and another time to get it to work with iMessage, after re-enabling cellular data.

But it doesn’t quite work correctly. I’m presented with a prompt to “update” my Apple ID password, and I can’t figure out whether I need to set a new password or simply type it in again. I try the latter and find that the WiFi hotspot I’m connected to is too slow to reach the Apple ID servers. I try a few times, try a third power cycle, pop in my Apple ID password again, and iMessage is finally activated.

I try messaging a friend in Calgary. To my surprise, it fails. I realize that I must add the country code; despite having prior correspondence of several years while in Canada, it does not automatically resolve this. My friend reports that he’s receiving messages from both my new Indonesian number and my iCloud email address. I chalk this up as another instance where iMessage doesn’t understand that we typically want to message people, not numbers or addresses.

I get a tap on the wrist: my Apple Watch notifies me that it is using iMessage with the same email addresses that I’ve been using for years. Sigh.

After two days in Surabaya, we board a plane for Bali. Destination: Ubud, near the middle of the island. After checking into our hotel, I grab my “proper” camera and head off on a short walking tour of the area.

I’ve opted to bring my seven year-old Canon XSi — coincidentally sporting the same 12 megapixel count of the iPhone 6S — and Canon’s cheap and cheerful 40mm portrait lens plus a polarizer on this vacation (those are affiliate links). It’s not the latest gear, but it’s versatile enough when accompanied by my phone.

Ubud is a fascinating little town. It isn’t coastal, so we don’t get any beach time, but it’s an artistic and vibrant place. It happens to be extremely hot during the early afternoon, which makes spending any extended time under the sun uncomfortable and delays the time that we decide to explore. Due to Bali’s proximity to the Equator, the sun sets somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00, and “magic hour” seems to last the entirety of late afternoon. That’s great news for my vacation photos.

In spite of the heat, we take a walk one afternoon in search of some sandals; the ones provided by the hotel are fine for the room, but not for walking around the city. We duck into a small restaurant for lunch, and my girlfriend orders sate. It’s served in a miniature clay grill overtop hot coals, and I realize that this is the kind of moment the Live Photo feature was built for.

Other reviews have pointed out that it’s sometimes hard to remember that the video component continues to record after taking the still photo. I find it difficult to remember that it begins to record video before tapping the shutter button, so I must remember to wait a couple of seconds between tapping to focus and snapping the still; I must also remember to keep my phone raised after taking the picture. It takes me a few tries to get the hang of it, but I’m pleased by the result. Yet, I cannot share it with anyone — a month after the 6S’ release, it seems that none of the popular services that I use support Live Photos.

The next night, we explore the city later in the afternoon, when it’s a tiny bit cooler. I haven’t remembered to bring my DSLR, as we only plan on going for dinner and poking around some boutiques.

We spot a sign directing passers-by to a rice field “50 metres” away, and decide to take a look. After a walk of probably double that distance along a very sketchy path, with sheer drops on one side, we arrive at one of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever seen. Rice paddy fields stretch from both sides of the single-track lane, framed by coconut trees. A rooster crows in the distance. The sun is low in the sky behind a bit of smog, so it’s a perfect golden hue.

Rice paddy fields in Ubud.
Rice paddy fields in Ubud

It’s so beautiful that it takes me a few minutes to remember to pull out my phone and, low-ish battery be damned, begin snapping. I snap plenty of landscapes on either side, take the requisite panorama, and even a few Live Photos. Later at the hotel, I review these photos and realize that I can’t remember which ones are “Live”, and which ones are not. I look in vain for a Live Photos album; despite every other “special” photo and video format available on the iPhone being filtered into their own album, it simply doesn’t exist for Live Photos. I try searching “live”, or looking for an icon in the thumbnail view — neither works.

I finally stumble across them as I swipe through the photos I shot on the rice fields that day and notice a slight amount of motion. This is apparently the only indicator of a Live Photo, and the only way to find one. Not easy.

But, as I take a look at the few I’ve shot so far, I see great value in the feature. Live Photos can’t capture everything, but they greatly enhance an otherwise static scene. The sound and video snippet add context and a better sense of place: the rooster crowing, the crickets, and even the steam and smoke curling up from that sate the previous day. I have some perfectly fine still photos, too, but their context is entirely imagined; every Live Photo I’ve taken so far does a better job bringing the memory back. It’s too bad that the heat and smell of the place can’t yet be captured as well.

In any case, I don’t think Live Photos are the gimmick some see them as. They’re a little bit cute, but they work remarkably well.

We spend a day travelling from Ubud to Seminyak and seeing the sights there. Our driver, Sandi, had in his car — among the television screens, faux fur on the dash, and short shag roof liner — a USB outlet for passengers to charge their phones. But, he tells me as I plug mine in, most people just use their power banks. I tell him that I’ve noticed a lot of portable batteries around and he says that some people carry two or more, just in case. He says that this is completely normal.

I’m starting to question the power consumption of my own phone. I’ve used it for long enough in Calgary that I know that I can get a full day’s use out of it, from 7:00 in the morning until late at night. Here, I’m not getting even half that. I check the battery statistics and see that all of my usual web-connected apps have a “low signal” notice.

Not only is 3G service somewhat slower than you might expect in this region, it also has patchier coverage. That eats battery life at a much more significant rate, particularly if you have background services polling for data regularly. iOS is supposed to compensate for this, but if you have email inboxes set to refresh on a timed schedule, it seems as though it will obey that regardless of signal strength.

The low battery mode in iOS 9 does a good job of substantially increasing battery life when cellular coverage is less than ideal. I find it indispensable: coverage is too poor for my inboxes or Tweetbot to refresh regularly, and I don’t really want to check my email much while on holiday anyway.

After dropping our bags at the hotel, we head to Uluwatu for the world-famous kecak dance, performed at sunset on a cliff above the sea. I am so captivated by the dance that I all but forget to take photos until the climax, where the dancer playing the monkey is encircled by fire.

We hang around following the dance to take photos with some of the performers. There are a couple of floodlights illuminating the stage area, but it’s still pretty dark. We get our turn to take a selfie with the monkey performer, and I turn on the new front-facing flash. The photo comes out well — great white balance, well-exposed, and not too grainy — but we look sweaty and tired; I shall spare you that sight.

The next day, we head to the beach. Our hotel is just two blocks away, but even that feels sweltering; the cool waters of the Indian Ocean are beckoning. I shoot with both my iPhone and DSLR here. Normally, I’d be very cautious about stepping into the waves for some more immersive shots with my iPhone pocketed, but the increased water resistance of the 6S gives me more confidence that a few light splashes won’t be an issue, especially with a case.

When we get back to the chairs by the side of the beach, I notice that some lint from my pocket has accumulated around the edges of the case. I pop my phone out to dust it off and notice just how nice it feels in the hand. It is not, to my eyes, the best-looking iPhone industrial design — that would be the 5S followed by the original model — but it is the best-built, by far, and feels fantastic in the hand, despite the size. I’m looking forward to using it regularly without a case again at home.

We weave through Seminyak, then onto Yogyakarta, Magelang, and Rembang. Dinner in the latter two cities is often spent at warungs — it is some of the best food you can have anywhere, provided you know which ones are clean.

Our last dinner in Rembang is in a particularly interesting warung. The proprietor is known for his interpretation of nasi tahu — literally translated as rice and tofu. He sets up his preparation table surrounded on three sides by small, low benches, each of which can seat no more than three or four people. Tarps are draped overtop to protect against the possibility of rain — ’tis the season, after all.

We’ve squeezed ourselves onto the bench directly opposite the cook, currently mashing together peanuts, garlic, lime, and some broth into a paste while frying fist-sized lumps of tofu. It’s crowded and, with a bubbling wok of oil behind the cook, it’s hot, but the combination of every sensation makes the scene unforgettable. I want to show people at home, so I take a few photos on my iPhone of the cook at work, trying also to capture the close quarters of the space.

A warung in Rembang serving nasi tahu.
A warung serving nasi tahu

It occurs to me that taking photographs in this environment would be unnatural and straining were it not for a camera as compact and unassuming as my iPhone. Even my DSLR equipped with a pancake-style portrait lens — which I’ve specifically chosen to be less imposing — would be too obtrusive in this moment.

The final few days of our vacation is spent at a home in Surabaya that doesn’t have WiFi. That’s fine in terms of my data consumption, but the slower 3G connection tends to choke on any modern media-heavy site. Every unnecessary tracking script and every bloated cover image brings my web browsing to a crawl.

Then, I run into an issue where my connection refuses to complete. My iPhone shows me a dialog box informing me that there has been a “PDP authentication failure”. I do not know what PDP is, why it must authenticate, or why its failure means I can’t load anything online. I reset my network settings and that seems to work for a while, only for PDP to be unauthenticated again, or whatever.

I reset and search the great IT help desk that is Google for an answer. The top result is a Reddit thread, so I tap on it, only for it to fail to load. I page back and try an Apple Support thread link and it works fine; though, of course, it has no answers. Reddit, specifically, will not load on my 3G connection.

I get sidetracked from my PDP issue and do a little bit of digging. It turns out that Indonesian pornography laws prohibit both porn itself, and any conduit for it. Though Indonesia does not have a nationwide firewall a la China, the federal government has pressured the major ISPs and cellular networks to block major sites that allow access to porn.

Later in the day, we get carried away at Historica Coffee and forget to grab dinner. There’s not much open at midnight on a Wednesday, particularly if you’re not that interested in maybe-it’s-food from sketchier vendors.

I swipe to the right on my home screen expecting to see shortcuts to late night food, but that feature isn’t enabled here.

I open Yelp. “Yelp is not available in your country.”

We opt for a nearby late night Chinese food place, and it’s pretty damn good.

On the long series of flights home, I get a chance to review photos from both my DSLR and iPhone while triaging my Instapaper queue. I have more than a few articles saved that proclaim that the camera in an iPhone today is good enough to be considered a camera, not just a smartphone camera. These articles began to percolate around the time of the iPhone 4S, and they are a perennial curiousity for me, especially as I glance at my screen of crisp photos taken on my DSLR.

There’s no question that an iPhone has never had a better camera than those in the 6S and 6S Plus today, with the latter edging out the former due to its optical stabilization. iPhones — and smartphones in general — have taken very good quality photos for the past few years, and I would not hesitate to print or frame any of them. In fact, every photo in this travelogue is unedited, and I think they all look pretty good.

But I’m looking now at photos from that paddy field back in Ubud, and there is an inescapable muddiness to the trees in the background. I didn’t bring my DSLR on that walk to compare, but I’ve no doubt it would render a vastly clearer and more detailed image.

iPhone on the left; Canon on the right, both at 100% size. Both feature 12 MP sensors, but the iPhone has a much wider-angle lens and a significantly smaller sensor.
iPhone on the left, Canon on the right

Similarly, I have photos taken on both cameras from atop a cliff near Uluwatu of surfers paddling in the waves. The wide-angle lens of my iPhone provides a better idea of the scope of the scene, but the surfers are reduce to dark blobs. The images captured on my “real” camera show the clarity in the water and the surfers are clearly human beings.

This is, of course, a completely unfair comparison: the APS-C sensor in my XSi has about ten times more area than the iPhone’s sensor, and it’s paired with a much bigger lens which allows more light in. But, it does illustrate just how different the quality of image is from each device.

There are all kinds of tricks that are easier with a DSLR, too, like tracking focus from or of a moving object. For example, I will look through the windshield from a moving car for potentially interesting roadside scenes. Upon spotting one, I’ll grab focus of something of a similar focal distance as the objects of the scene, then move my camera in the opposite direction of travel at a similar speed. This is much easier on highways where speeds are constant, so I’m able to develop a rhythm of sorts. With my DSLR, this is tricky, but something I can reliably do; I have never succeeded in using this technique on my iPhone. It might be the rolling shutter or something I’m not doing quite right, but I also have not heard of someone else doing something similar.

I offer this not as a complaint with the iPhone’s camera, but as clarification that there is still great value to having a camera with a big-ass sensor and a great lens. I’m under no illusions; I am an optimistic hobbyist photographer, at best, but I can’t shake the feeling that I made the right decision in bringing my DSLR as well. It’s bulky, cumbersome, old, has “hot” pixels on the sensor, and creates gigantic RAW files that occupy a lot of space on my MacBook Air.1 However, it creates beautiful images to last a lifetime, and that’s what counts most for me.

I’ve spent an hour or so in an “e-library” in Taipei’s international airport wrapping up this travelogue. Nobody seems to use the e-libraries here, so they function as a pseudo-private lounge, and a pretty great place to find a power outlet. It’s quite nice.

There were some things I expected about bringing my iPhone to Indonesia. I anticipated that I’d use it to keep in touch with a few people at home, look up addresses and directions, and be able to take great-quality photos anywhere, any time. But I learned a lot about the phone, too: Live Photos showed their brilliance, and I was able to extend my battery life despite none of the aircraft including seatback power. I found out just how well the camera works for capturing intimate moments that would feel artificial or posed if I were to use my DSLR, and figured out some new iMessage limitations.

What I learned most, though, isn’t about the iPhone 6S directly; it’s about the role of technology and the internet in a developing nation.

In most developing nations, the proliferation of technology is limited by policy and economics; Indonesia is no exception to this. But, while I was there, I saw people regularly carry two, three, or more smartphones: usually an inexpensive Android phone — something like a OnePlus or a Xiaomi — plus either an iPhone or a BlackBerry. Apple’s products are still very much a luxury: an iPhone is about a third more expensive in Indonesia than it is in the United States, while the median income is half that of the U.S.2

The Jakarta Post reports that only about 29% of Indonesians are connected to the internet, and the internet they’re connected to is different than the one you and I are used to. But they’re making the most of what they’ve got, and established their own rules and understanding — it isn’t rude to use your phone at the dinner table, for instance, and Path remains alive (remember Path?). Not all the services and products you and I have come to expect have made their way there, and if you think search in Apple Maps is poor where you live, you’ve seen nothing yet.

I escaped to Indonesia for a relaxing vacation in a part of the world I’ve never visited. I vowed to get off the beaten path and out of my cushy boutique hotel. In doing so, I leave with a hint — but only a hint — of what life is like for hundreds of millions of Indonesians. In doing so, I learned a little bit of how they use technology; their smartphone is often their only computer and only connection to the internet.

There is something further to consider here: we — designers, developers, and product people — spend a lot of time worrying about how our new product looks and works in U.S. English on an LTE connection, for the tastes of an American (or, at least, Euro-centric) audience. We spend little time asking how it will function for people who fall outside those parameters — parameters which, by the way, narrow as fast as greater amounts of people get connected to the web. My quip about Path earlier is indicative of this: we assume Path is dead because we don’t use it; yet, it has, as far as I can work out, a respectable user base in Southeast Asia, and that market grows every day.

I’m not pretending to be fully educated in the country after spending just three weeks there, but I am certain I understand it better than three weeks ago. Indonesia is beautiful, breathtaking, delicious, and full of the nicest and most accommodating people I’ve ever met, and I’m Canadian. You should go. Bring a camera.

  1. Not to mention post-processing in Photos on OS X, which remains an app that is hard to love. My workflow for a trip like this is to shoot hundreds of images, import them all into one album for the trip, and then pick my selects from that album.

    In Aperture, I’d give five-star ratings to the images I was certain about, four-star ratings to those that might have potential, and no stars to images I wouldn’t bother using. (The digital packrat in me doesn’t delete them — just in case, I suppose.) Then, I could simply filter to four-star-or-better images and edit within that set, upgrading some to five-stars if I deemed them worthy. Exporting was as simple as selecting the already-filtered set within the album.

    Photos doesn’t have this level of granularity: you either “like” a photo, or you do not. That keeps things a lot simpler, and I don’t mind that. What I do mind is that there appears to be no way to find only photos I’ve liked within an album. My workaround has been to create a smart album with that filtering criteria, but that seems like a workaround, not a solution. ↩︎

  2. This has other effects, too: a couple of years ago, I guessed that data problems and inconsistencies in Apple Maps would be less frequent in places with more iPhone users, and I think that’s true. With less penetration in Indonesia, Apple Maps often lacked significant local points-of-interest. ↩︎

November 19, 2015

Limiting the iPad’s Software Potential

Lauren Goode of the Verge:

It’s a problem that exists not only around the iPad Pro, but mobile software development in general, and highlights the very real challenges that smaller software companies face when deciding which software platforms to prioritize — especially as mobile tablets and PCs converge.

One of the common complaints made by software developers who spoke to The Verge is that they can’t offer free trials of their apps as part of the App Store download process, or issue paid upgrades to long-term users. Others say that selling apps through the App Store can create a kind of wall between them and their customers if the customers have issues with their software. Broadly speaking, the iPad Pro is forcing them to rethink their monetization strategies.

Federico Viticci demonstrates regularly that it’s possible to work entirely from an iPad; depending on your job, it may be possible for you, too. But there are industries where software comparable to its desktop counterpart doesn’t yet exist for the iPad. Software development, design, and other industries still rely upon very particular legacy application packages, and their developers are hesitant to invest in building iPad versions for a variety of reasons.

Maybe that’s okay: not every industry necessarily needs to go iPad-only. There are plenty of industries today that cannot go Mac-only, for example, and nobody seems to think that’s as limiting to the Mac’s success as current shortcomings are to the iPad. But, those are current shortcomings, and Apple is surely aware of them: Viticci wrote last week that the tides might shift for at least one major app:

Over the past few months, I’ve personally heard about an iPad Pro version of Xcode in early stages, being demoed internally at Apple. I don’t know if this will ever actually happen, but it sure would make for a nice surprise at WWDC next year.

Here’s hoping that their lead — plus enhancements to the App Store and iOS — will encourage third-party developers to invest more heavily in the platform.

Calvin and Hobbes Turns Thirty

Thirty years ago today yesterday, the first edition of Calvin and Hobbes was published. Libby Hill wrote one of the best articles I’ve yet read about the strip back in June for the A.V. Club:

Loneliness and sadness aren’t new fare for comic strips. If anything, Watterson’s characters are merely carrying on in the grand tradition of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, where preternaturally clever children are nevertheless stymied by the world they live in. Like Peanuts, Calvin And Hobbes is timeless for the exact same reason: It appealed to adults just as much as it appealed to children. It spoke of things not always acknowledged in polite company, how people are mean, how we wish we had more friends, how being grown up seems weird and being a child even weirder, how the world doesn’t make sense, and how it’s hard to believe in things even though we desperately want to believe in them.

Calvin and Hobbes will, forever, be my favourite comic strip, and I think it’s because of the loneliness that Hill describes. It’s something we can all relate to, to one degree or another. It provided a sort of micro-escapism that combined rich, layered storytelling with some of the best art ever committed to newsprint.

Reinventing the Pencil

Tony Chambers interviewed Jony Ive for Wallpaper:

Before we even got into thinking about how we could create a natural experience, it took a long time to really understand the fundamentals that were at play, that ultimately define your experience of writing or drawing naturally with a pencil. And I think that process feels to me like a very good discipline for technology groups to understand, because that process leads you to observe the tiniest details in terms of what we do and how we do it, and why we do it.

I think this is certainly one of those occasions where at the end of this design and product development exercise, it really did yield two things. One was the Apple Pencil. But the other was a more significant understanding of how we do everyday things. We’ve learned a lot, which is actually useful beyond this project.

Every review I’ve read of the Pencil is effusive in its praise for it, and that speaks volumes for the kind of care and diligence Ive’s team and the engineering team had for it. The extent to which it has been so universally well-received contrasted with the more lukewarm reception of the Smart Keyboard makes me think that the latter is not something many people at Apple use regularly. The Pencil, on the other hand — well, perhaps this response provides a clue:

And you still start a design with a sketch or a scribble?

Yes, we all do. The whole team use sketchbooks. I think it’s a mixture of drawing either by yourself or when you’re with people flitting between conversation and drawing.

I wonder if any of the team members have been using an iPad Pro plus the Pencil as a step beyond the sketchbook.

The Space Doctor’s Big Idea

XKCD creator Randall Munroe wrote about Einstein’s two theories of relativity for the New Yorker. It’s well worth your time — trust me:

When you get answers that don’t fit together, it can make you feel like you’re not very good at thinking. Or, if you’re the kind of person who feels like you’re good at thinking, it can make you think that the space doctor’s numbers must be wrong. But a lot of the time it’s not you or the numbers—instead, it’s the picture that’s wrong in some small way.

November 18, 2015

A Trip Through iOS 5.1.1

This is a good reminder of how we see the past through rose-tinted glasses. There are people who make a great deal of noise about Apple’s visual design philosophy post-iOS 7. Some of it is valid criticism; some is preferential disagreement.

There is a school, though, of those who believe that Apple once paid vastly more attention to detail than they do today, and these screenshots show that there have always been occasional inconsistencies and — for lack of a better word — sloppiness. The radii of the corners of the Reminders, Contacts, and Notes apps, for example, are all different. The ultra-light weight of Helvetica used for the search box in Reminders is nothing like any other app, and the photograph used for the “Brightness and Wallpaper” icon in Settings is completely out of place. And what’s up with the brown glass iBooks prompt in the App Store, or the Contacts app’s portrait view?

I say this not to stain your impression of how iOS used to be, but to make the case that Apple has never been perfect. They’re just better than their competition at this sort of stuff, most of the time. I wish there were borders around buttons in iOS today, and that the eased animations throughout the UI did not block interaction. But I’d also be interested in seeing how iOS features of today would fare if the material-heavy visual style persisted. I doubt that the OS would feel as lithe if a feature like Control Centre or Peek were drawn in a more visually rich style.

Instagram to Disable Full-Feed API

Josh Constine, TechCrunch:

Going forward, Instagram’s platform will only permit photo editing apps and ones like Tinder that let you pull in your own Instagrams (but not your feed), brand and ad management apps, and tools for media and broadcasters. Existing apps will need to comply by June 1st, 2016, and the policies and reviews will go into effect for new apps starting December 3rd, 2015.

I’m surprised they ever allowed this access in the first place. Nobody I know uses a third-party Instagram reader, even on an iPad. I bet that Twitter will watch this move carefully, though; I’m sure there are internal discussions regarding the degree to which third-party apps work with their platform.

November 17, 2015

A Smarter App Store Search Engine

In happier App Store news, Sarah Perez reports for TechCrunch that Apple has launched a massively reworked search engine:

According to multiple sources, including developers who tracked their own rankings, as well as app store analytics firms, the change that began November 3 included several adjustments. Apps are now ranking in search results on a mix of contextual keywords for the app, including partial keyword matches, along with competitor brand names and other matches.

It’s also the first time the App Store has ranked apps for keywords that are not in the title or the “keyword” slot, we understand.

Historically, Apple’s search efforts have been pretty awful. This is a big step in the right direction, and I hope they apply a similar amount of work to the Maps search engine.

Of note, I’m not entirely sure if this revamped search engine has made its way onto the Mac App Store. Queries like “photo editor” kept high-quality apps such as Acorn and Napkin buried below low-quality, poorly-rated apps.

Not on the Mac App Store

Some of the biggest and best names in Macintosh software aren’t even available on the Mac App Store, and it isn’t so hot for indie software discovery either. I’m struggling to understand why any developer would want to use the Store, particularly with the technical and administrative hurdles it presents.

Google Redesigns and Pivots Google+ Again

Google’s Eddie Kessler:

Today, we’re starting to introduce a fully redesigned Google+ that puts Communities and Collections front and center. Now focused around interests, the new Google+ is much simpler.

How many times will Google change Google+’s focus before they realize that even they don’t know who it’s for or why it exists?

Apple Pay (Kind Of) Launches in Canada

Gary Ng:

Apple Pay is now live in Canada…


…with support for American Express cardholders


According to a 2010 Canadian government report (PDF), American Express garnered a mere 5% share of purchase volume in 2009, compared to 20% for MasterCard and 40% for Visa. Our banks’ proprietary debit transaction form, Interac, had a 35% share of purchase volume.

Anick Jesdanun reports for the Associated Press:

Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president for Apple Pay, said the company is starting with American Express in Canada and Australia because it’s both the card issuer and the payment-network operator, so coordination is easier. With Visa and MasterCard, individual banks issue the cards, and each bank has its own way of verifying a customer’s identity when setting up Apple Pay, for instance.

For giggles, I tried adding my bank-issued Visa card to Apple Pay; it was, of course, rejected. Keep your eyes peeled for changes to this file; specifically, the PaymentSetupFeaturedNetworks key.

November 16, 2015

Rdio Bites the Dust

Janko Roettgers, Variety:

Oakland, Calif.-based Pandora announced Monday after the close of markets that it is acquiring assets of music streaming service Rdio for $75 million in cash. The announcement came minutes after Variety exclusively reported about the deal being imminent.

Pandora said in an announcement that the acquisition includes “technology and intellectual property from Rdio.” In addition, it will extend job offers to “many members of Rdio’s team.” As part of the acquisition process, Rdio is filing for bankruptcy, likely to rid itself of accumulated debt. Rdio will also shut down its existing service in all markets.

Last year, Rdio was valued at about $500 million.

The Imagined Apple

John Gruber wrote a kick-ass piece on the scale of various parts of Apple’s business:

Apple’s total revenue for last quarter was $51.5 billion. The iPhone accounted for $32.2 billion of that, which means Apple’s non-iPhone business generated about $19.3 billion in revenue. All of Microsoft in the same three months: around $21 billion. All of Google: $18.78 billion. Facebook: $4.5 billion. Take away every single iPhone sold — all of them — and Apple’s remaining business for the quarter was almost as big as Microsoft’s, bigger than Google’s, and more than four times the size of Facebook’s. And this is for the July-September quarter, not the October-December holiday quarter in which Apple is strongest.

Nothing in the world compares to Apple’s iPhone business, including anything else Apple makes. But a multi-billion-per-quarter business here (Mac), a multi-billion-per-quarter business there (iPad), a “Services” division that generates more revenue than Facebook, and an “Other” category (Watch, Apple TV, Beats, iPod) that booked $3 billion in a non-holiday quarter — and it’s clear that Apple’s non-iPhone businesses, combined, amount to a massive enterprise.

The iPhone is such an outsized part of Apple’s business — and, in fact, tech businesses as a whole — that it makes little sense to compare any other part of Apple’s business against it. When looking through the iPhone sales lens, everything else looks like a flop.

Yet, almost every article I’ve come across from writers that see little potential in the success of the iPad Pro or the Apple Watch are declaring them flops by comparing them to the iPhone.1 There’s little question that either product — perhaps even both, combined — will sell fewer units than the iPhone for the for the foreseeable future, but that’s not a realistic sales target. The smartphone is the perfect convergence device. The iPad Pro and Apple Watch are more specialized, and that’s fine: both are good examples of refined and focused products that fit right in with Apple’s other products and ecosystem. Anyone who can’t see their place in the history of Apple’s product lineage is imagining the past or confused about the present.

  1. I’d rather not link to obvious clickbait, but you can find these articles by the dozen if you look. ↩︎

The Advertising Bubble

Maciej Cegłowski:

The problem is not that these [ad tech] companies will fail (may they all die in agony), but that the survivors will take desperate measures to stay alive as the failure spiral tightens.

These companies have been collecting and trafficking in our most personal data for many years. It’s going to get ugly.


Advertisers Using Inaudible Sound to Connect Ad Profiles on Different Devices

Dan Goodin, Ars Technica:

The ultrasonic pitches are embedded into TV commercials or are played when a user encounters an ad displayed in a computer browser. While the sound can’t be heard by the human ear, nearby tablets and smartphones can detect it. When they do, browser cookies can now pair a single user to multiple devices and keep track of what TV commercials the person sees, how long the person watches the ads, and whether the person acts on the ads by doing a Web search or buying a product. […]

The technology, which is typically not disclosed and can’t be opted out of, makes it possible for marketers to assemble a shockingly detailed snapshot of the person being tracked.

Here’s a good test: if a new product or service is something which won’t gather any traction by allowing users to opt-in, it’s probably a privacy nightmare. That it remains a mystery to adtech firms why we find this intrusive and unlikable shows just how out of touch they are.

Vizio Sells “Highly-Specific Viewing Data” to Advertisers

Julia Angwin, ProPublica:

Vizio’s technology works by analyzing snippets of the shows you’re watching, whether on traditional television or streaming Internet services such as Netflix. Vizio determines the date, time, channel of programs — as well as whether you watched them live or recorded. The viewing patterns are then connected your IP address – the Internet address that can be used to identify every device in a home, from your TV to a phone.

IP addresses can increasingly be linked to individuals. Data broker Experian, for instance, offers a “data enrichment” service that provide “hundreds of attributes” such as age, profession and “wealth indicators” tied to a particular IP address.

This is hugely disappointing. I’m casually in the market for a television, and Vizio’s seem to offer the best value for money; this news makes me seriously reconsider.

All of Vizio’s on-TV apps — like those for Netflix and YouTube — appear to be affected by this, as well as live television programming. Vizio has instructions on how to opt out of “Smart Interactivity”, as they euphemistically dub this, on their website.

Update: Or you could simply not connect your TV to the internet, as Josh Calvetti points out.

November 13, 2015

Apple Patches Mac App Store Certificate Bug

Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Fortune:

A security certificate Apple installed to protect users from malware had expired on Nov. 11, 21:58:01 GMT—precisely five years after its original creation—and nobody at Apple had thought to renew it.

The company fixed the problem — pushing through a new certificate that expires in 2035 — but not before breaking untold numbers of Mac apps and confusing and inconveniencing countless Mac owners.

So it’s fixed, right? All I have to do is just keep using my computer as normal?

The only way I could get Tweetbot working again was to log back into the App Store, remember my password, re-install something I had already bought and paid for, and re-boot my computer.

It’s not just Elmer-DeWitt who found that a reinstall was necessary — it’s the fix recommended by Jim Matthews, creator of Fetch:

If your copy of Fetch from the Mac App Store does not open, drag it to the trash, empty the trash, and download a fresh copy from the App Store.

For years, I’ve been recommending the use of Mac App Store apps wherever possible to friends and family: updating is easier and the security of the store gives those of lesser technical ability more confidence in trying new software.

This issue bites those people in the ass most. The warning dialog displayed after launching an app affected by this problem is vague and scary, and could give the impression that it’s the developer’s fault, not Apple’s.

If Apple cannot maintain the Mac App Store in even the most basic capacity, it’s time for them to get rid of it or turn it into a glorified Apple updater for their own software.

See Also: Michael Tsai’s excellent-as-usual roundup.

November 12, 2015

On the iPad Pro’s Unchanged Springboard


Two ways to interpret this:
1. Apple no longer cares
2. New Springboard design coming in 2016

(The “this” refers to the observation that the icons on the iPad Pro Springboard are spaced wider than the width of the first iPhone’s display.)

I’m not a betting man, but it’s probably a good time to re-read Shawn Blanc’s 2012 piece on redesigning the iOS Springboard:

A new iOS Home screen is Apple’s chance to get the “front-door interface” right. When they change the Home screen it’s going to be a big deal, and it will become a core part of iOS for the next decade.

iOS 10 is expected next year. “10” is a funny number, isn’t it?

No One Minding the Store

Today’s ongoing certificate expiration issue is yet another reminder that Apple needs to commit more talent and resources to the Mac App Store, or get rid of it.

Update: Craig Hockenberry has a clever workaround for the certificate issue:

Just verified that you don’t need to reboot to work around the Mac App Store certificate problem. Instead:

$ killall -KILL storeaccountd

November 11, 2015

The Apple Pencil

The Pencil has been getting rave reviews. Lauren Goode of the Verge:

But the Pencil is just plain fun. It is indeed Apple white, and there are Apple-y things about it — for example, the fact that it is weighted, and won’t roll away on a table top, and always stops rolling with the word “Pencil” facing upward on its metal band (seriously, I’ve tried this at least a dozen times).


The Smart Keyboard

Like any new Apple product I can think of, the iPad Pro launches with some surprising limitations. This isn’t bad; it’s what you’d expect in a first-generation product that’s just launched.1 Most of the complaints I’ve seen so far are for the Smart Keyboard, and how it interfaces with iOS. John Gruber:

Trying to use the iPad Pro as a laptop with the Smart Keyboard exposes the seams of an OS that was clearly designed for touchscreen use first. These seams aren’t new — I’m sure anyone who has tried using an iPad of any sort with a paired Bluetooth keyboard has run into the same things. This is simply the first time I’ve tried using an iPad with a hardware keyboard for an extended period for large amounts of work. […]

On iOS 9.1, Safari tries to support [paging down with the spacebar as on the Mac], but it is dreadfully buggy. Instead of paging down just less than one screen-height of content, it pages down about 1.5 screen-heights of content. It literally scrolls right past huge amounts of content, rendering the feature completely unusable.

This can all be fixed in software.

This, though, cannot. Federico Viticci:

Like the software keyboard on the iPad Pro, the only layout available for now is US English (Apple told me they’re working on more international layouts). For the first two days, I couldn’t type on it – I was constantly getting the keys wrong and struggling with the smaller keys and shorter travel. On the third day, the Smart Keyboard clicked with my brain (no pun intended), and I’ve written the majority of my review on it.

Since the software issues can be fixed in an update, I’m surprised that the Smart Keyboard is not available at launch.

  1. The first iPhone couldn’t cut, copy, or paste. It launched without MMS support. There was no App Store. You couldn’t reorder the home screen. The first iPad didn’t support third-party multitasking. The Apple TV has gone through multiple iterations where each has launched with significant features missing. The first iPod didn’t have a legal way to purchase music online, and was FireWire- and Mac-only.

    I would consider the iPad Pro as more of a new product of the aforementioned calibre than a size-based evolution, a la the iPad Mini. ↩︎

Federico Viticci’s iPad Pro Review

When Apple announced the iPad Pro, I immediately hoped that they would provide a review unit to Federico Viticci. The man uses an iPad full-time unlike anyone else I’m aware of, so his impressions are critical, as far as I’m concerned:

There’s a lot to discuss about the iPad Pro, and I’ll have to continue unwrapping the nature of this device for weeks to come. But I want to make one thing clear from the outset:

This is less of a “just for media consumption” device than any iPad before it. The iPad Pro is, primarily, about getting work done on iOS. And with such a focus on productivity, the iPad Pro has made rethink what I expect from an iPad.

It sure sounds like he took the device through its paces. There are shortcomings, but the Pro sounds like a promising — if focused — evolution of the iPad lineup.

November 10, 2015

Visiting Amazon’s New Bookstore

Dustin Kurtz, a former bookseller himself, visited Amazon’s new physical location for the New Republic:

Matching online prices is crucial to the conceit of Amazon Books: the store is not just an overcrowded ex-sushi restaurant with limited selection and a creepily insistent smile in its logo, but a physical extension of the site itself.

Each book in the store is displayed face-out.This display method limits the stock that can be carried. Amazon Books stock about five titles per three linear feet of shelving, while most bookstores more than triple that. It may also be meant to mimic the way books are presented on Amazon’s site.

I doubt Amazon will want to open a lot of bookstores. But Amazon retail stores – that seems more their style.

Belgian Court Tells Facebook to Stop Tracking Non-Users

A strange defence was sent to the AFP:

“We’ve used the datr cookie for more than five years to keep Facebook secure for 1.5 billion people around the world,” a spokesman said in a statement emailed to AFP.

“We will appeal this decision and are working to minimize any disruption to people’s access to Facebook in Belgium.”

This doesn’t concern the 1.5 billion users of Facebook; this is for everyone else. And how does saying “we’ve been tracking non-users for five years” really help their case?

I must wonder: Will Belgium and other countries with sensible privacy laws change their policy, or will tech companies do a better job of protecting user privacy?

November 9, 2015

Comcast’s Memo on Their New Data Caps

As reported by Dante D’Orazio of the Verge, this is a memo from Comcast’s PR people to their customer service reps. This is especially telling:

There are also a few other interesting details in the leaked documents, including the company’s policy for dealing with customers who use certain buzzwords that Comcast doesn’t like. If a customer utters the words “net neutrality,” or dares to ask about what is and isn’t counted under the data cap, they’ll get transfered to a different customer service team. Calls will also be escalated if customers make “observations about how Xfinity services are or are not counted relative to third party services.” Representatives are instructed “not address these items with the customer” according to the documentation. Historically, Comcast’s own internet streaming services, like its Xfinity app for Xbox, have not counted against caps, while competing services like Netflix do.

For all the things my ISP does wrong — and Shaw does a lot wrong — at least the streaming service they built with the other Canadian ISPs does not enjoy special treatment. That Comcast’s does sure sounds like some kind of anticompetitive violation, does it not?

November 6, 2015

The Guilded Age

John Herrman, the Awl:

Let’s say you don’t have any, or many, qualms about this “broader evolution” in capitalism and all the changes it may entail in our ideas about labor, ownership, and capital itself. Or just that you’re directly invested in it: you use or drive for Uber; you use or host on Airbnb. Your interests, in the near term, would obviously align with Uber’s and Airbnb’s! They’re fighting for your ability to use Uber and Airbnb. Of course you want that. You have demonstrated that you want that! These companies are fighting on your behalf in a real way. But they’re doing so as an unavoidable side effect of fighting for themselves. irbnb in particular is comfortable speaking as a perfect representative of the concept it popularized, and the types of laws it would seek to defeat or enact would have to be somewhat well-aligned with the general idea of person-to-person nightly room rentals. But an ascendant Airbnb is different from a dominant Airbnb. An Uber battling with taxi companies is different from an Uber that has replaced taxi companies.

An intelligent and nuanced review of the post-Prop. F precedent.

The New Favicon

Some great research from Craig Hockenberry and Anthony Piraino of the Iconfactory into the new mask-icon format, currently used for “pinned” tabs in Safari.

Full Text of TPP Released

Rob Beschizza, Boing Boing:

Quick highlights dug out by first responders on Twitter and Reddit: Copyright is lifetime plus 75 years; Internet service providers must give your name if requested by copyright holders; ISPs must remove material upon receipt of a copyright claim; and you can’t sue if the claim was bogus.

The copyright term appears to vary country-by-country, with some — like Canada — being granted a different set of terms.

Jeremy Malcolm and Maira Sutton of the EFF:

Similarly, the provision on net neutrality in Article 14.10 is so weak as to be meaningless. Rather than establishing any sort of enforceable obligation, the parties merely “recognise the benefits” of the access and use of services and applications of a consumer’s choice, the connection of end-user devices of the consumer’s choice, and the availability of information on network management practices. To the extent that the TPP countries can falsely point to this provision as “addressing” net neutrality, it may actually impede the development of stronger, more meaningful global standards.

Jordan Pearson, Vice:

Experts say that a stipulation in the investment chapter of the TPP means that lawsuits from foreign corporations—Hollywood studios and device manufacturers like Apple or Samsung, for example—are on the way for Canada, especially over issues like device hacking, tinkering, and digital piracy.

The chapter states that intellectual property rights are one of the grounds a company can sue a government over, which is too bad, because the IP chapter is a fucking mess. For example, if Apple took issue with Canada’s laws that say it’s okay to bypass Apple’s digital “locks” on the iPhone so you can switch carriers, it would have grounds for a lawsuit.

The intellectual property contents of this treaty sound appalling. It tramples basic rights and tilts the scales even farther away from the general public.

November 4, 2015

Proposed Bill to Require Record of U.K. ISP Customers’ Access for One Year

The BBC:

It would order communications companies, such as broadband firms, to hold basic details of the services that someone has accessed online – something that has been repeatedly proposed but never enacted.

This duty would include forcing firms to hold a schedule of which websites someone visits and the apps they connect to through computers, smartphones, tablets and other devices. Police and other agencies would be then able to access these records in pursuit of criminals – but also seek to retrieve data in a wider range of inquiries, such as missing people.

Mrs May stressed that the authorities would not be able to access everyone’s browsing history, just basic data, which was the “modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill”.

But investigating officers will not have to obtain a warrant, just get their request signed off by a senior officer, just as they do now – some 517,000 such requests were granted last year.

The theoretical benefits behind a bill like this should be enhanced protections for web users. That is, instead of the GCHQ snooping secretly and indiscriminately without a warrant, ISPs would hold the data and only release it upon legal command.

However, there’s no indication that this would compel the GCHQ to stop their intrusive and rights-violating behaviour, nor would it require a warrant to be obtained for basic access to the data that ISPs retain. Moreover, a choice exclusively between ISPs retaining our browsing history and intelligence agencies doing the same isn’t one we should accept. How about nobody retains browsing history? At least, until a court order compels an ISP to monitor a specific customer for a legitimate reason.

Another component of this bill:

The Wilson doctrine – preventing surveillance of Parliamentarians’ communications – to be written into law

So the only way to have a reasonable expectation of privacy is to be elected to Parliament? I think this should be reversed: if this bill becomes law, Parliamentarians’ browser history should be publicly posted in real time.

Red Hearts

Twitter is changing the “fav” star to a “like” heart, and I don’t like that. Neither does Dave Winer:

You may have Favorited something about a terrorist group, but would you have clicked on a red heart? At the very least that’s going to take some getting used to.

No surprise that third-party clients will be required to obey the new terminology and symbolism. Welcome to the new Twitter; same as the old Twitter.

November 3, 2015

Ununlimited, Again

Rich McCormick, the Verge:

Just over a year after it started offering unlimited OneDrive cloud storage for Office 365 subscribers, Microsoft is going back on the deal. Complaining that too many users were taking advantage of the unlimited space to store entire movie collections, hours of recorded video, and entire PC backups, Microsoft has introduced a new limit of 1 TB on OneDrive storage. At the same time, the company has reducing its free OneDrive storage from 15 GB to 5 GB, and removed its 100 GB and 200 GB plans, to be replaced by a new 50 GB plan for $1.99 a month.

Shorter Microsoft: “We did not anticipate users with unlimited storage would not limit their storage.” If you can’t fulfill the promise of unlimited anything, don’t bill it as “unlimited”.

November 2, 2015

Fuzziness and Friction

Riccardo Mori reacts to my piece on Siri and other “fuzzy” UIs:

Siri’s raison d’être is assisting, is being helpful. And indeed, Siri is the kind of interface where, when everything works, there’s a complete lack of friction. But when it does not work, the amount of friction involved rapidly increases: you have to repeat or rephrase the whole request (sometimes more than once), or take the device and correct the written transcription. Both actions are tedious — and defeat the purpose. It’s like having a flesh-and-bone assistant with hearing problems. Furthermore, whatever you do to correct Siri, you’re never quite sure whether your correcting action will have an impact on similar interactions in the future (it doesn’t seem to have one, from my experience).

What I said in my piece still holds true: Siri can only learn the accents, speech patterns, and enunciation levels of the world if it is used the world over, all the time. Mori is right in that it is expecting a lot out of users to keep trying commands while Siri turns a deaf ear. Real-time dictation, added in iOS 8, helps us see where Siri is going wrong, but it remains frustrating that there is little we can do about it.

“Secure Empty Trash” is No Longer Available In El Capitan

I didn’t spot this in the El Capitan security notes, but it turns out that it was removed:

Impact: The “Secure Empty Trash” feature may not securely delete files placed in the Trash

Description: An issue existed in guaranteeing secure deletion of Trash files on some systems, such as those with flash storage. This issue was addressed by removing the “Secure Empty Trash” option.

FileVault is on by default in the setup process of recent versions of OS X. OS X Daily, who I’m linking to, recommends the use of the srm command, but my understanding is that “Secure Empty Trash” is just a prettier way of accessing the same command, and which has been flagged as insecure.

Update: Eric K on Twitter:

@nickheer secure empty trash is gone in elcap *only* on systems with flash storage, because Apple couldn’t guarantee that drive controller was writing zeroes, or even erasing correct pages, on SSDs they sourced.


@nickheer srm is still present and on flash drives still suffers the same issue, yes.

November 1, 2015

Pew’s Technology Device Ownership Survey

Steve Jobs, speaking with the New York Times in 2008 about Amazon’s then-new Kindle:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Jobs was being hyperbolic; it’s more like people don’t just read anymore. But he wasn’t wrong — here’s Monica Anderson of the Pew Research Center:

Today, about one-in-five adults (19%) report owning an e-reader, while in early 2014 that share was a third (32%). […] These changes are all taking place in a world where smartphones are transforming into all-purpose devices that can take the place of specialized technology, such as music players, e-book readers and gaming devices.

The smartphone is truly the ultimate convergence device, at least for today and the foreseeable future. Smartwatches, tablets, and even computers are peripheral. (Pew’s survey also says that tablet ownership is climbing, albeit at a rate slower than a couple of years ago.)

October 31, 2015


Based on the reports I’ve read so far, the new Apple TV sounds like a polished but limited 1.0 product. The limitations in this article from Serenity Caldwell — no Siri search in the App Store, no way to send or share apps, and no background audio in third-party apps (!) to name just a few — are all things I expect to be resolved in the coming months. It’s the kind of thing that makes me a slightly hesitant buyer, my thoughts being: if they couldn’t add background audio for third-party apps, something which has been in iOS for five years, what bugs are found within? But the reports I’ve read elsewhere suggest very few bugs, and simply a fair amount of surprising omissions. A classic Apple product launch, then.

October 30, 2015

Stop Doubting

Great piece from Ben Thompson:

Step back five years or so, and there were legitimate strategic questions about the iPhone: probably the two most popular were whether or not the iPhone could maintain its average selling price (ASP) or if it needed to go down-market, and whether or not Android would overwhelm the iPhone from a marketshare perspective and thus, over time, win over the complementary parts of the iPhone’s ecosystem (especially developers). As long-time readers know, I consistently argued that neither would happen — iOS and its ecosystem would continue to provide significant differentiation that maintained ASP, there were far more wealthy customers in large developing countries like China than average income numbers would suggest, and that these two factors would perpetuate the ecosystem’s allegiance to iOS — but I could at least respect that the thinking behind these objections was grounded in a cogent analytical framework (that just happened to be wrong).

On the other hand, I have a much more difficult time being respectful about today’s bear arguments that basically boil down “the iPhone was too successful previously” or, perhaps more accurately, “just because.” If you want to argue that the iPhone will be less successful than it has been previously, ground it in something other than your vague intuition!

Apple TV Review Roundup

Based on the reviews I’ve read so far on my crappy hotel WiFi connection, this sounds like a near-killer product with baffling shortcomings.

David Pogue:

Apple Music is here, too. It’s a shame Siri can’t communicate with Apple’s own $10-a-month service. It’d be cool if you could just say, “Play Harry Connick Jr.” (or any album, song, or performer you can think of) for instant playback. […]

I have another beef, too. There’s still a lot of text entry on the Apple TV—every time you enter your account information into an app, for example, or when you’re searching the Apple TV app store—and it’s excruciating. You have to slide over to one letter after another on this absurdly designed layout. […]

And why, above all, can’t you speak to dictate? You can on the iPhone and the iPad—why not here? Whassa matter, Siri—you chicken?

I thought Siri was Siri and would function similarly device-to-device, but it doesn’t sound like it. This seems like another AirDrop-like situation, where something you try on one device won’t function the same on another device, despite it being named and marketed similarly.

John Paczowski, Buzzfeed:

Setup is a breeze thanks to tap-to-configure, which quickly transfers basic information like Wi-Fi network and password and iTunes Store account to an Apple TV from an iPhone. My parents could probably set this thing up and the only phone call I’d get from them would be a triumphant one touting their success.

Smart. A few different companies have been doing this with peripheral-type devices and it makes a lot of sense.

Christina Warren, Mashable:

But tvOS isn’t simply blowing up the iOS experience for a bigger screen. That’s something we’ve seen from other Android-based set-top boxes (including, to a certain extent, Amazon’s Fire TV), and it doesn’t always work as well as you might think.

That’s because a six-inch experience and a 10-foot experience are different. The nice thing about the Apple TV and tvOS is that it knows that the experiences are different and the apps are built in a way to make that kind of shift work.

Unlike features like AirDrop or Siri, the UI is something that should feel similar product-to-product, but be tailored for the specific needs of each. tvOS sounds like a cousin of iOS and OS X that’s built specifically for a big-ass screen. Developers ought to keep that in mind; it’s going to be hard to build something great for this product without owning and extensively using one.

October 28, 2015

Inside Apple’s Perfectionism Machine

Apple seems to be opening up a little more these days; or, perhaps, their form of opening up is shifting: instead of Newsweek and Time, they’re granting exclusive interviews to Fast Company and Mashable. The latter publication scored a good one with Phil Schiller and John Ternu. Lance Ulanoff:

In fact, Apple is apparently taking the time to custom-fit all sorts of pieces in the MacBook through a process it calls “binning.” Since there can be minuscule variances that might make, for instance, the Force Touch trackpad not a perfect fit for the body or the super-thin Retina display not exactly a match for the top of the case, Apple finds matching parts from the production line. Even the thickness of the stainless steel Apple Logo, which replaced the backlit logo on previous MacBook models, can vary by a micron or so, meaning Apple needs to find a top with the right cutout depth.

Apple started doing this with the glass cutouts on the iPhone 5, and has been ramping it up across their product lines. It shows: every new product from them feels tighter and better-built than anything that came before. I doubt any other company is doing anything like this, and I believe few other companies can do anything like this. Nobody has the same scale of production dedicated to building such a narrow set of products.

Apple’s Q4 2015 Results

Huge revenues and huge sales showing, once again, that Apple’s pricing strategy and a lack of so-called “budget” options works for them. Some things I noticed:

  1. 61% year-over-year growth and 15% sequential growth in the “other products” category bodes well for Apple Watch sales. “Other” products, in Apple’s parlance, consists of Apple TV, Beats, iPods, and accessories, in addition to Watches, and there were no major announcements or introductions in this quarter in any of those product lines. iPod sales are almost certainly lower than in the year-ago quarter, too.

  2. iPhone sales don’t look as impressive in terms of sequential gain compared to the year-ago quarter because Q4 2015 ended September 26, the same day that the 6S went on sale. I imagine Q1 2016 will be impressive.

  3. iPad sales were the lowest they’ve been in the past three years, perhaps longer. The forthcoming iPad Pro isn’t available yet, and is likely to be less of a large volume product. The iOS 9 enhancements are powerful, and make a difference for anyone who has purchased an iPad since the A7 generation. I wonder to what extent the long-term support of older iPads ultimately impacts current-generation sales.

  4. Apple Pay is coming to Canada and a bunch of other countries soon, kind of:

    We’re thrilled to announce today that we’re partnering with American Express to bring Apple Pay to eligible customers in key global markets, so even more people can experience the easy, secure, and private way to pay. Apple Pay will be available to eligible American Express customers in Australia and Canada this year, and is expected to expand to Spain, Singapore, and Hong Kong in 2016.

    An Amex-only deal is likely beneficial to Apple — Amex customers are typically higher earners and spenders — but weak sauce for the more egalitarian world of a general-purpose payments system. I’d imagine Amex customers are more likely to own iPhones, especially recent ones, but I would wager that most iPhone owners, especially outside the U.S., do not have an Amex card.

    Earlier this month, in fact, TD Canada Trust mistakenly made public their Apple Pay promotional pages. It’s clearly coming as soon as it can to other partners across Canada, but it seems like the Amex deal is the only one confirmed and, therefore, the only one that Apple could announce today.

October 27, 2015

European Parliament Votes Against Net Neutrality

Robin Wauters of

Alas, the European Parliament has voted against all amendments to a bill on the European single market for electronic communications, failing to properly protect net neutrality in these parts.

That means ISPs will be able to create Internet ‘fast lanes’ for those who pay to have their content load more rapidly by calling them ‘specialized services’, exempt applications from users’ monthly bandwidth cap (zero-rating), define ‘classes of services’ (and discriminate by speeding up or slowing down traffic in those classes) and also to slow down traffic to prevent ‘impending congestion’ (huh?).

Against the backdrop of the EU threatening to prosecute Google for creating a crappy competitive environment, this decision is mystifying. Do they think ISPs will be better competitors? Do they think they’ll discriminate against traffic fairly, or as “fair” as traffic discrimination can be?

German Green MEP Julia Reda:

The internet’s open structure is what made it the successful driver of growth and innovation in the digital economy and digital culture that it is today. That providers will be allowed to discriminate against certain traffic not only creates a two-tier internet, it also removes incentives for carriers to extend their capacities.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee:

If adopted as currently written, these rules will threaten innovation, free speech and privacy, and compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy.

To underpin continued economic growth and social progress, Europeans deserve the same strong net neutrality protections similar to those recently secured in the United States. As a European, and the inventor of the Web, I urge politicians to heed this call.

I couldn’t say it any better myself than Reda or Berners-Lee.

October 26, 2015

An Imagined Conversation Between Airbus and a China Airlines Representative

An Airbus representative walks into the China Airlines boardroom and is greeted by members of their interior amenities and design team.

China Airlines: Good morning.

Airbus: Bonjour, good morning.

CA: We’re really impressed with the work you’ve done on this latest batch of A330s.

A: Thank you. We worked really hard on the precise colour of lilac to be used for the seat upholstery.

CA: We can tell; it looks perfect. Listen: we asked to meet with you today to discuss the in-flight entertainment system and amenities.

A: Sure. What would you like to have? We can put screens in the seatbacks or overhead —

CA: Seatbacks would be perfect.

A: Great. And touch screen or remote control?

CA: How about both? And what kind of touch screen are you using? Is it capacitive or the same crappy resistive touch screen that has been used for decades?

The Airbus rep sighs from embarrassment.

A: Resistive. We’ve been trying to improve —

CA: They’ll never get better. Fine. What else?

A: Well, there’s a small crescent of space left on the sides of the display. What would you like to put there?

CA: Well, what do most airlines put there? It’s not a lot of space.

A: These days, most of our customers are putting at least a single power outlet in there, or perhaps a USB port for power.

CA: No, nobody’s going to use that. I can think of something better.

October 24, 2015

Facebook Says They’ve Partially Fixed the iOS App’s Egregious Battery Drain

Ari Grant, engineering manager at Facebook, has posted an explanation of where the iOS app was going wrong:

The second issue is with how we manage audio sessions. If you leave the Facebook app after watching a video, the audio session sometimes stays open as if the app was playing audio silently. This is similar to when you close a music app and want to keep listening to the music while you do other things, except in this case it was unintentional and nothing kept playing. The app isn’t actually doing anything while awake in the background, but it does use more battery simply by being awake. Our fixes will solve this audio issue and remove background audio completely.

This is a rather curious bug. My understanding of the media APIs in iOS is that they will suspend operation when the app is backgrounded unless explicitly told to keep running. Perhaps Facebook’s iOS app was set up in such a way to allow audio calling before that feature was subsumed by the Messenger app — this would make removing background audio a no-brainer decision.

Whatever the case, it’s not working for Nate Boateng.

1989–1993 in Kmart Background Music

Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing:

Mark Davis worked at a Kmart in Naperville, IL in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Each month, the corporate office mailed a cassette tape to all the stores, which contained easy-listening elevator music and in-house advertisements. Davis saved all 56 cassettes and uploaded them to

I’m Canadian; our last Kmart stopped being one in 1998. I imagine these recordings will capture a peculiar nostalgia for some of my American readers, though. They’re terrible, in a curious way.

October 23, 2015

White Should Not Be the Default

Slack’s Diogenes Brito:

On August 25th, Slack unveiled a new way for developers to connect to Slack, the “Add to Slack” button. It was the culmination of a great deal of work from many Slack employees, and just the beginning of what we have in store for Slack in the near future. Today, though, I want to talk about a seemingly small detail that has been more important to me than I would have expected: the skin color of the hand in the launch graphics.

It has become the norm in much of Western design to see white people — mostly men — represented everywhere, with more diverse groups visualized solely for illustration purposes. When a photo is chosen, white is the default; when “skin tone” emoji first launched, they were a white skin tone. As Brito notes, this becomes isolating:

The result of that American tendency is the telling and retelling of what Chimamanda Adichie would call a single story, one that reinforces people of color as “culturally other.” And boy, do we feel it.

This is a smart design decision. It’s subtle, but immediately more inclusive.

An Analysis of San Francisco

Nick Keppol of Martian Craft wrote a fantastic two-part series on the legibility and use of San Francisco in watchOS, iOS, and OS X. You should read both part one and part two:

San Francisco is a nice-looking font. It has the same invisible feel that Helvetica has with touches of DIN to aid in legibility and add a bit of style. I’m really excited to see Apple embracing optical size but I can’t help but think they could have pushed this even further (time permitting).

I’m writing this right now on a late 2012 iMac — non-Retina. SF UI is sharper than Helvetica Neue, but on non-Retina displays it’s not that much better in terms of legibility. SF UI still has blurry apertures and counters when set at most of the commonly used sizes. The grey tones are still spotty across long passages of text. It’s an over simplification, but it still looks like Helvetica with most of it’s shortcomings on 1x displays.

On Retina displays it’s a whole different story. SF UI feels more airy than Helvetica. The apertures render with clear definition and feel comfortably open. The letter are easily distinguished in a long string. It performs pretty well, even without my glasses on, especially in the text sizes. The spacing is a little tight in some areas, but not by much. I love SF UI on retina Macs and iOS devices—I deal with it on my iMac.

Some of the methodology here is a little suspect; for example, though I agree that Helvetica Neue is not a particularly good body typeface, I disagree with the author’s use of an upscaled rasterized string of characters to speak to its legibility. I also disagree that San Francisco isn’t much more readable on non-Retina displays — I find it far more legible, with much clearer structure in smaller type.

But, as an analysis, this is fantastic. It’s a really deep dive into the nuances of Apple’s new one true typeface. They’re using it in hardware and software, and even in product packaging. With that in mind, it’s no wonder there’s so much attention paid to the vast differentiation in sizes, weights, and cuts. I anticipate subtle changes will be made over time, too.

October 22, 2015

CISA Moves Forward

Haven’t hard of CISA? It’s a shitty new bill working its way through the American legislature. Mike Masnick at TechDirt:

As we’ve discussed at length, while CISA is positioned as just a “voluntary” cybersecurity information sharing bill, it’s really none of those things. It’s not voluntary and it’s not really about cybersecurity. Instead, it’s a surveillance bill, that effectively gives the NSA greater access to information from companies in order to do deeper snooping through its upstream collection points.

This isn’t partisan; the ‘yay’ votes are a healthy mix of both major American parties. This is a really crappy bill that needs to be scrapped.


Josh Constine, TechCrunch:

Today YouTube confirmed that any “partner” creator who earns a cut of ad revenue but doesn’t agree to sign its revenue share deal for its new YouTube Red $9.99 ad-free subscription will have their videos hidden from public view on both the ad-supported and ad-free tiers. That includes videos by popular comedians, musicians, game commentators, and DIY instructors, though not the average person that uploads clips.

When a company has this kind of market dominance, they can operate with this kind of heavy hand. Online video is YouTube, in the way that tablets are iPads, and MP3 players are iPods.

I’ve been thinking about YouTube Red ever since the idea of an ad-free subscription to the site was floated a while ago, and I have no clue as to how successful it will be. The bundling of ad-free music streaming is compelling, and the addition of exclusive content — like shows from PewDiePie and the Fine Brothers — means there’s a lot for the YouTube-watching crowd. But, while the scope and scale of YouTube personalities’ reach is undeniable, their audience is used to tolerating preroll ads and product placement in exchange for free videos. I wouldn’t pay $10/month to watch ad-free YouTube, mostly because I don’t spend a lot of time on the site and because PewDiePie is irritating enough already.

October 21, 2015

Apple Music Has 6.5 Million Paying Subscribers

Assuming every user is paying $10/month — and I’m sure there are a lot of families who are on the $15/month plan — that’s a $780M annual business. It’s also one-third Spotify’s paying user base. Not bad for four months post-launch in a crowded field, but there’s lots of room for growth.

Remember Tidal?

Jon Caramanica, New York Times:

Last week, Jay Z was testifying in a trial about an uncleared sample in one of his old hits, and was asked to describe the scope of his work. He listed many of his business interests but overlooked one. His lawyer prodded him: “You have a music streaming service, don’t you?”

Jay Z replied, “Yeah, yeah. Forgot about that.”

Me too, Jay.

The Magic Keyboard

Stephen Hackett picked up one of the new Magic Keyboards and reviewed it:

I feel like I’m still in the learning curve of how much pressure I need to use, but I haven’t had any pain while getting adjusted to it. I like the clicky, precise nature of it; even using the built-in keyboard on my MacBook Pro feels sloppier, somehow.

Last week, I picked up a new Magic Trackpad. It’s super pricey, but it feels very much improved compared to its predecessor: the tracking surface is bigger, it feels more responsive — not that the old one lagged — and it feels more comfortable to use. The new keyboard sounds similar: improved in a lot of little ways to create a much better overall experience.

Apple Isn’t in the Business of Decrypting iPhones

There’s a case currently being heard involving a seized, password-locked iPhone. In their brief, Apple confirms what they’ve been telling everyone for a while: devices upgraded to iOS 8 are encrypted, and they do “not have the technical ability to do what the government requests — take possession of a password protected device from the government and extract unencrypted user data”.

However, the iPhone in question is apparently running iOS 7, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo, and that should mean that there’s more unencrypted data that could potentially be extracted. But:

Apple said it could likely help the government if the iPhone is in working order, without substantial costs or burden, but the company would prefer not to.

“Forcing Apple to extract data in this case, absent clear legal authority to do so, could threaten the trust between Apple and its customers and substantially tarnish the Apple brand,” according to the brief, signed by Apple’s outside counsel Ken Dreifach, Marc Zwillinger and Jeffrey Landis. “This reputational harm could have a longer term economic impact beyond the mere cost of performing the single extraction at issue.”

Potentially, there is significant or incriminating information on that iPhone, but it is not Apple’s job — or any tech company’s job — to decrypt their devices on behalf of the government. Nor should they feel any burden to install any kind of back door that would allow access to law enforcement.

Tim Cook yesterday at WSJDLive (nice name):

“Do we want our nation to be secure? Of course. No one should have to decide between privacy or security. We should be smart enough to do both. Both of these things are essentially part of the Constitution.”

If law enforcement wants access to information, they need to follow better procedures, not demand that the rest of us give up our privacy and security. Good on Apple for standing up to this attempted intrusion.

October 20, 2015

Aaron Sorkin Versus the Internet

I like Aaron Sorkin’s work,1 but his tech-centric biopics — of which there are now two — blur an interesting ethical distinction between the impression of truth and the actual truth.2 Richard Brody, in a terrific review of the new Steve Jobs film for the New Yorker:

The problem with “Steve Jobs” isn’t its departures from facts about Jobs’s life that can be rapidly gleaned from a glance at Walter Isaacson’s biography of him. […] It’s the fact that the fictionalized elements of the movie don’t produce increased insight into Jobs, and don’t lead to a grasp of Jobs’s spirit in exchange for the reportorial letter of his life story.

John Gruber’s quip is equally punchy:

It’s not really about Steve Jobs at all — it’s an engaging story about a Steve Jobs-like figure and his estranged daughter.

Despite Brody’s review, I still want to watch the film. Even if it isn’t a dissection of key moments of Steve Jobs’ life, perhaps it will be a worthwhile exploration of a fictional tech company CEO who really enjoys black turtlenecks.

  1. I’m currently working my way through Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which was cancelled far too soon. ↩︎

  2. “You can’t handle the truth.” ↩︎

The HTC One A9

It’s a little charming — in a backstreet vendor kind of way — just how blatant this is. Even the name is borrowed from the SoC powering the iPhones 6S.

October 19, 2015

Apple to Replace Defective Retina Macbook Pro Displays

Apple has decided to replace “stained” Retina MacBook Pro displays, issuing a notice to retail stores today. Joe Rossignol, Macrumors:

Apple will replace Retina displays on affected MacBook or MacBook Pro models for free within three years from the date of original purchase, or one year from October 16, 2015, whichever is longer. Affected customers that have already incurred out-of-warranty costs may be eligible for a refund through AppleCare support.

This issue seems to affect first-generation Retina MacBook Pros the most, some of which were purchased a little more than three years ago. It sounds like those who paid for a fix can submit a claim to Apple, provided you paid for your replacement prior to three years from the date of purchase. However, if you have an early-adopter Retina MacBook Pro that’s affected and you’ve been holding out for a proper out-of-warranty replacement program, this sucks. I stand by what I wrote back when this story broke: Apple should suck up the cost of replacing these displays regardless of when the product was purchased.

Update: Per Anthony Reimer, I may have read the above quote wrong:

You’ve got 1 year from now _minimum_ to claim. Longer if your MBP is newer.

So, if you’ve bought your affected MacBook in either the last three years or you submit a claim in the next year, you’ll be fine. Maybe it’s Rossignol’s wording, but this is confusing to me. Apple has posted nothing on their support site as of yet, but keep an eye out or ask your friendly neighbourhood Genius.

Rumble in the Jungle

Jay Carney, who is now the SVP of Global Corporate Affairs at Amazon, apparently, chose today to respond to the two-months-old New York Times story on the company’s depressing corporate culture. And he responded on Medium, of all places:

When the story came out, we knew it misrepresented Amazon. Once we could look into the most sensational anecdotes, we realized why. We presented the Times with our findings several weeks ago, hoping they might take action to correct the record. They haven’t, which is why we decided to write about it ourselves.

The Times got attention for their story, but in the process they did a disservice to readers, who deserve better. The next time you see a sensationalistic quote in the Times like “nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk”, you might wonder whether there’s a crucial piece of context or backstory missing — like admission of fraud — and whether the Times somehow decided it just wasn’t important to check.

The “admission of fraud” refers to Bo Olson, who provided the quote that Carney deems “sensationalistic”. The PR team at Amazon decided to discredit his quote today by opening his employee file publicly to a claim that he was accused of fraud while at the company.

Dean Baquet, executive editor of the Times didn’t take kindly to that and replied. Also on Medium. Last I checked, the Times still existed as a medium for the words of its employees, but never mind. He disputes Carney’s account:

Olson described conflict and turmoil in his group and a revolving series of bosses, and acknowledged that he didn’t last there. He disputes Amazon’s account of his departure, though. He told us today that his division was overwhelmed and had difficulty meeting its marketing commitments to publishers; he said he and others in the division could not keep up. But he said he was never confronted with allegations of personally fraudulent conduct or falsifying records, nor did he admit to that.

If there were criminal charges against him, or some formal accusation of wrongdoing, we would certainly consider that. If we had known his status was contested, we would have said so.

Carney retorted:

The reason the Times’ reporters didn’t know the circumstances of his departure from Amazon is because they didn’t bother to ask — despite the fact that they were using his quote to set the tone for their entire 5,600-word article.

It’s hard to believe Carney, given that he is a PR guy at Amazon, and is therefore inclined to protect the interests of a public company. It’s also hard to believe that the Times would not correct such an egregious error.

October 18, 2015

Fuzzy User Interfaces

John Gruber, in his iPhone 4S review from October 2011:

iOS is explicit and visual. Everything you can do in iOS is something you can see and touch on screen. The limits are visible and obvious. Siri, on the other hand, feels limitless. It’s fuzzy, and fuzzy on purpose. There’s no way to tell what will work and what won’t. You must explore.

The thing that Siri did more than almost anything explicitly “Siri” was to introduce a sense of an explorative, fuzzy layer of the operating system. Today’s iOS is a similar creature to the one that shipped with the iPhone 4S; you could hand someone in 2011 an iPhone from today and it would feel familiar. But there has been significant and noticeable growth in the aspects of the operating system that are fuzzy.

Take, for example, the ability for Siri to remind you about whatever is presently onscreen:

This works in a lot of apps — Messages, Phone, News, Maps, and others. It works with third-party apps that have adopted that search indexing functionality we talked about earlier. […]

But, like much of Siri’s functionality, it’s buried under a layer of guesswork and unexpected failures. You can’t, for example, ask Siri to remind you about anything in Photos or Music — say, if you found a playlist in For You that you wanted to listen to later.

Or consider the 3D Touch functionality on the iPhones 6S, which works in some — but not all — apps, from both first- and third-parties.

This isn’t exclusive to iOS, either. Here’s the Verge’s Dieter Bohn on Android’s new “Now On Tap” feature:

Now on Tap plugs into Google’s vast knowledge of the web, but it seems pretty stupid about Google’s vast knowledge about me. Contacts I talk to regularly don’t pop up in Now on Tap, for example, and the suite of apps I depend on aren’t always options.

For now, the feature is a little frustrating in exactly the same way that Siri was frustrating when I first used it. It’s hard to know what Now on Tap can and can’t do — and even if you do know, sometimes it gets it wrong. There are only so many chances a “guess what you need” feature can whiff before it trains you to think that you can’t rely on it.

The discoverability and invisibility that makes these features so magical when they work is the same thing that makes it so frustrating when they don’t. The invisibility of this interface is also what allows us to take chances with it; it creates a sense of limitlessness until, of course, we stumble upon the limits of its application. Ask Siri “will I need a coat today?”, and I’m provided a weather report. Ask “will I need a tuque today?” and I get results somewhere between nothing and bupkis.

As we gain more confidence in the abilities of these fuzzy interfaces, they get better: more capable, more accurate, and more helpful. Theoretically, our trust in them tracks at a similar rate to their improvement, but this is impossible: they cannot improve without our interaction, because a team of people in Cupertino cannot realistically sample all accents, slang, timbres, and general mouth and throat sounds on their own. Add to that a plethora of possible background noises, the strong likelihood that we do not all enunciate as though we are Thomas Sheridan, and the typical size of the microphones in our devices, and it’s a small wonder that they can understand us at all.

One of the biggest challenges that the software must overcome in order to become better — whereby better I mean can be used with confidence that they will not confuse “two” and “too” in a dictated text message — is that we need to keep using them despite their immaturity. And that’s a big request when they do, indeed, keep confusing “two” and “too”. The amount of times that Siri has butchered everything from text messages to reminders to even the simplest of web searches has noticeably eroded my trust in it.

I implore you to not misread this; this is not a condemnation of Siri, Google Now, or any other contextually-sensitive or “personal assistant”-type software. It’s far better than it ever has been. But it will take continued patience from us and regular, noticeable improvements from the teams building this software for us to feel confident in its abilities.

October 17, 2015

On the Positioning of the Lightning Port on the Magic Mouse 2

Two of three devices in Apple’s new “Magic” accessory lineup are capable of being used while charging; one, the Magic Mouse, is not. Why? Because the charging port is on the bottom. And it looks as ridiculous as you think.

The real reason why this is is almost certainly because hardware engineering couldn’t figure out a way of placing the Lightning port along the top edge of the device, as would be logical. But my crazy theory on this is that this is intentional to make sure people use it as a wireless mouse and don’t leave it plugged in all the time.

If you think I’m wrong, here’s what Anil Dash says:

… the end result would be that, while charging, the mouse would still be fully functional; indeed, this mode would still be so useful that a lot of folks (myself included!) would just use it as a corded mouse most of the time and only unplug when needed.

I bet that this elicits something of a deep, frustrated sigh in parts of Cupertino.

This isn’t a massive deal logically; reviewers have pointed out that an exceptionally short charge time will last the entire day. You could plug it in while making coffee in the morning and have enough charge for a few days by the time you’re finished. But that’s not really Apple’s style, and the end result is a part of a product that is truly ridiculous.

October 16, 2015

IAB: ‘We Messed Up’

George Slefo for Ad Age:

In the wake of recent concerns surrounding ad-blocking software, the Interactive Advertising Bureau released a statement Thursday telling content providers and others, “We messed up.” […]

The threat of ad-blocking software has created a feverish pitch among industry leaders, forcing them to reevaluate the status quo. As Mr. Cunningham writes, much of that was due to maximizing profits and disregarding user experience.

When it was announced that iOS 9 would support content blocking extensions in Safari, I was of two minds. Part of me thought that they would become mainstream through the combination of less risk and greater visibility, as they’re coming from the App Store, in addition to a greater need on mobile. The other part of me thought that they would remain, as on desktops, a relatively niche category of software.

As of right now, Purify is the 63rd most popular paid app on the Canadian App Store, just above Tweetbot 4. It is the highest-ranked content blocker on the store, and it ranks well above some pretty popular apps.

But I’m not convinced iOS content blockers, specifically, are substantially increasing the dent of ad blockers as a whole quite yet. I think the IAB is reacting predominantly to the rising wave of negative press adtech has received in the past few months.

Slefo, again:

L.E.A.N., which stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported and Non-Invasive, will be the principles that will help guide the next phase of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain, the IAB said.

The guidelines will look to limit file size, “with strict data call guidelines,” assure user security, support DAA’s consumer privacy programs and supplement user experience, which includes covering content and sound enabled by default, the IAB said.

That sounds really prom—

The guidelines will not replace the current advertising standards.

Oh well. At least this industry has a spectacular track record of self-regulation.

Apple Updates iWork for iOS and OS X

Among the changes:

  • Open Pages ’08 and ’06 documents

It’s well past time to banish the “document cannot be opened because it is too old” nightmare.

  • Enhanced support for OpenType font features like small caps, contextual fractions, alternative glyphs and more

There are “finally”s, and there are “finally”s — this is the latter. Pages, which is ostensibly Apple’s flagship word processor and page layout tool, now has similar typographic capabilities to the built-in default TextEdit. It remains impossible to add mirrored page numbers, though.

October 15, 2015

What Do We Really Know About Osama Bin Laden’s Death?

This article from Jonathan Mahler for the New York Times touches on everything I’m interested in: big policy, big stories, and discrepancies. Thankfully, it’s completely free of conspiratorial nonsense, instead relying upon the differences in coverage between more official accounts and Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster article in the London Review of Books earlier this year. This is fascinating, purely from a media critic standpoint.

Update: Mark Bowden vehemently disagreed with Mahler’s depiction, arguing that his column wades far too deeply into conspiratorial territory.

The Drone Papers

The Intercept has managed to get their hands on documents that explain, for the first time, how a drone strike is carried out by the American government, who’s responsible, and the efficacy of the program. It’s not good:

The White House and Pentagon boast that the targeted killing program is precise and that civilian deaths are minimal. However, documents detailing a special operations campaign in northeastern Afghanistan, Operation Haymaker, show that between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. In Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.

Abhorrent. This policy and these figures are something every American — at the very least — should be angry about.

This is the culmination of reporting that was first revealed at the end of Citizenfour, where Glenn Greenwald shows Edward Snowden a chain of command chart for authorizing a drone strike.

Facebook Says They’re Aware of Egregious Battery Drain in Their iOS App

Natasha Lomas, TechCrunch:

In a statement provided to TechCrunch a spokesperson for the company confirmed it is investigating the issue, adding that it hopes to be able to put out a fix “soon”.

“We have heard reports of some people experiencing battery issues with our iOS app. We’re looking into this and hope to have a fix in place soon,” the spokesperson said.

Look out for a changelog reading “bug fixes and performance improvements”.

Oh, wait.

Gary Allen of IFO Apple Store Has Passed Away

Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post:

In March, Allen announced his blog was ending, saying so many others were following the stores now. “Who am I to keep up with them?” he wrote. “So, I’m going to focus on my family and friends, drop the demands of writing and get back to what it was before—just fun.” […]

The real reason he gave it up, his brother said, was the brain cancer diagnosis. He didn’t want people to worry or fuss over him. The site is down, likely for good. Allen leaves behind another brother, Bob Allen, his wife Nancy, son Devin, and an incredible free spirit.

Gary’s voice is one I’ve missed since he stopped writing in March, and will miss for a very long time to come. He was one of the originals and the greats.

Fuck cancer.

October 14, 2015

The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project

Frédéric Filloux writing for Monday Note was involved with the publisher’s side of Google’s new Accelerated Mobile Pages — or “AMP” — Project. It’s a derivative of HTML that aims to dramatically speed up the mobile web:

“amp-html” strips off most of the conventional web page payload and only keeps the HTML code directly involved in content rendering: text, images, videos gifs, basic ad formats and a few strictly mandatory trackers. Everything else —javascripts, iframes, embeds, large chunks of the CSS etc.— known to slow down page downloads is shuttled to a separate “container”. As for ads, they load separately, usually one second after the editorial content. No more waiting for a promotional video to start playing.

I will have more on this in the near future, but I don’t see how this is much different than stripping nonessential embeds, scripts, and so on from a standard HTML page. I’m certainly struggling to figure out why a 137 KB JavaScript file is required for a page with an ostensibly reduced payload; for comparison, this entire page is about 80 KB. Like I said, I’m working on a deeper dive, but I’m seeing very little here that’s more compelling than removing all nonessential web crap and making the remaining assets more efficient.

Apple Explains How Wi-Fi Assist Works

You may have heard about a feature called Wi-Fi Assist in iOS 9, perhaps from friends reading panicky Huffington Post stories about how it’s going to eat up your cellular data and how you need to turn it off right now. Part of this is Apple’s problem — they enabled it by default and documented it poorly.

Dan Moren of Six Colors noticed that there’s now a much better explanation of how it works on Apple’s support site. More specifically, he highlights where it doesn’t work:

  • Wi-Fi Assist will not automatically switch to cellular if you’re data roaming.

  • Wi-Fi Assist only works when you have apps running in the foreground and doesn’t activate with background downloading of content.

  • Wi-Fi Assist doesn’t activate with some third-party apps that stream audio or video, or download attachments, like an email app, as they might use large amounts of data.

These exceptions are perfectly reasonable. In my months with iOS 9, I’ve never exceeded my 1 GB monthly data cap, and I’ve had WiFi assist turned on since it appeared in one of the betas. If your data plan is very tight, it may be something to turn off; if you have a pretty standard plan, though, I’d leave it on.

October 13, 2015

Apple’s Insurmountable Platform Advantage

Steve Cheney:

It is – in fact – these chip making capabilities, which [Steve Jobs] brought in-house shortly after the launch of the original iPhone, that have helped Apple create a massive moat between itself and an entire industry.

Ultimately this chip advantage is one of the little spoken, but critical elements in Apple’s vertically integrated approach. Android OEMs can copy the fingerprint sensor or the 3D Touch mechanism. They just go to the supplier that Apple buys it from. But they can’t copy the underlying software powering these ‘commodity’ chips.

With each generation, Apple’s products get closer to feeling like a singular element, with software and hardware crafted together. Every time the integration feels as tight as it’s going to get, they raise the bar. It’s uncanny, in the best possible sense of the term.

Update: As John Gruber notes, calling this “insurmountable” is an overstatement. It’s a huge, category-defining advantage, but not something impossible to chase.

The Background Data and Battery Usage of Facebook’s iOS App

I’ve been seeing reports over the past month or so that Facebook’s iOS app uses an extraordinary amount of resources when it’s in the background. This is especially true when Background App Refresh is switched off for the app, according to Matt Galligan:

It accounted for 15% of all battery drain.

Despite having background app refresh disabled, because the app isn’t “sleeping” properly when I hit the home button, it continues to drain.

That extraneous background usage, despite not providing any value to me at all, is keeping the app alive 2x longer than my actual usage.

Varying reports peg this as an abuse of VOIP backgrounding, audio backgrounding, or content-available push notifications — or perhaps all three — as a fallback when Background App Refresh is off.

Make no mistake: this is user-hostile. Facebook is actively creating channels to continue refreshing their app in the background when the user has explicitly stated that they do not want it to. Ironically, the best way to reduce the battery and data consumption of the Facebook app in the background is to switch Background App Refresh back on. Better still, remove the Facebook app from your phone, and perhaps replace it with Paper (US store only).

Twitter Announces Layoffs

From a memo Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent to staff this morning:

So we have made an extremely tough decision: we plan to part ways with up to 336 people from across the company. We are doing this with the utmost respect for each and every person. Twitter will go to great lengths to take care of each individual by providing generous exit packages and help finding a new job.

What I’m hearing from those at Twitter is that the respect and courtesy mentioned in the memo isn’t exactly present in these layoffs. People are finding out that they’ve been cut because their internal email account stops working.

Behind the Scenes of the New iMac and ‘Magic’ Accessories

Steven Levy got a backstage pass for the quiet launch of the new iMac lineup and trio of “Magic” accessories: keyboard, mouse, and trackpad:

[Phil] Schiller, in fact, has a grand philosophical theory of the Apple product line that puts all products on a continuum. Ideally, you should be using the smallest possible gadget to do as much as possible before going to the next largest gizmo in line. […]

“[The desktop’s] job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because it’s capable,” says Schiller. “Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.”

It’s very refreshing to see that Apple still devotes considerable engineering talent and effort into building products that sell at a tiny percentage of the rate of the iOS device lineup.

The new 4K iMac looks really, really good. Apple has been pushing the precision and depth of their colour gamuts across their entire lineup for the past few years, and this year’s iMacs up the bar once again. It’s not just the size of the gamut, but the precision with which it is calibrated. Surprisingly, the 21-inch model is not available with discrete graphics, but Intel’s Iris Pro has been getting rave reviews elsewhere. It doesn’t sound like a big problem.

I’m not in the market for a new computer yet, but I’m always in the market for new accessories. I currently use Apple’s standard Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad; though I don’t need to replace either, the new ones look very intriguing. All of the accessories now have built-in batteries that charge via Lightning cable. According to Jason Snell, all but the Magic Mouse work while plugged in to charge. I’m a little surprised that the mouse does not. I’m also a little bit disappointed that the mouse retains its plastic top; mine is extremely scratched.

The Magic Trackpad’s glass surface remains despite a change from an aluminum top to bright white. I think it looks great. The biggest change is the addition of Force Touch — strangely, not “3D Touch”, whatever the difference may be — instead of a fully-moving surface.

Finally, the new keyboard is kind of like a hybrid of the new MacBook’s and the old Bluetooth keyboard; the key travel is shorter, but not as short as the MacBook’s. The keys are bigger, but not enormous, and the caps are typeset in San Francisco.

These upgrades aren’t cheap. By building in the battery and new features, the price of these accessories has shot up. All three accessories used to be, in Canada, $69. Now, they range from the $99 Magic Mouse to the $169 Magic Trackpad. But my trackpad has lasted me many years since I bought it, and I trust that these should be around for longer, if Apple’s build quality is as great on these as I think it is. I’m looking forward to trying them in person.

Jason Snell reviewed the new 4K iMac for Macworld; you should check it out.

Update: It looks like the 4K iMac starts with a 5400 RPM drive, which was ludicrously slow in 2012, let alone 2015. On Newegg, going from a 1 TB 5400 RPM drive to a 1 TB 7200 RPM drive costs about $10, retail. It would be less than that wholesale. That seems like a small sacrifice for Apple on a $1,500 computer.

October 9, 2015

Apple Accounting Games Games

This is what happens when the ostensibly business-literate MarketWatch columnists misread publicly-available corporate balance sheets and present it as some sort of revelation.

“What Do You Think?”

I haven’t seen the new Boyle-Sorkin “Steve Jobs” film, but I’d like to, if for no other reason than Aaron Sorkin’s masterful sense of dialogue (and Jeff Daniels playing John Sculley). But the two previous films that tried to tell Jobs’ story have painted him in a rather negative light, as though he were a sanctimonious, petulant dictator. Based on some of the initial reviews I’ve read, this one isn’t much different. Rick Tetzeli:

The film’s title character is a one-trick pony, a grandstanding egotist who gets great work out of people by charming them or berating them. Humans stand in the way of his unchanging genius, at least until that unconvincing reunion with Lisa at the end. It’s an old and unsophisticated view that’s been trotted out since the early days of Apple.

What is true is that Jobs did some really crappy things in the earlier parts of his career: he didn’t give Woz the financial bonus on the Atari Breakout board, and he denied paternity of Lisa, his first daughter, among other notable events. But that doesn’t reflect the multifaceted nature of that time — he did great things in this time in his life alongside the shitty things — nor does it reflect the three decades of his career that came afterward.

Jobs got married and had three more kids after leaving Apple. He and his wife hosted his first daughter, Lisa Brennan, at their home for several years. To project the worst things he did onto the remainder of his career is a narrative that is regularly told, but is not accurate.

Hence this recollection, from Arno Gourdol (via Michael Tsai):

Steve had many talents. He was a gifted communicator, a deep intellect, often the smartest guy in the room, a visionary that could see better than anyone else what the future could be. Above all Steve was a leader that could inspire creative teams to do the best work of their lives. That was his greatest creation.

“What do you think?”

Four simple words that convey so much: I care about what you think, I want to listen to you, I respect you, I trust you.

I never worked for Steve; I have never worked at Apple. But I have worked for people who are very demanding, and for those who are not. The best work I’ve ever produced and the most satisfaction I’ve ever felt have come from times when my creative abilities were pushed, and when my patience was running thin. That isn’t to say that a high degree of stress and pressure should be exerted regularly on employees, but that the expectations of quality are known and pushed.

The portrait of Steve Jobs that is painted these days is that he was a jerk once and a jerk always. But the stories I’ve heard from people who know best are more inclined to say that he was a demanding but, ultimately, fair boss.

The Sorkin approach to a biopic is one in which the main characters – first, Zuckerberg; now, Jobs — are fictional entities. They are merely characters. Both “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” play up the histrionics of their protagonists and use history as a loose guide, but not as the rule. This becomes controversial when the subject matter is this fresh, and one of the subjects happens to still be alive.

Rick Tetzeli, in an article for Fast Company:

[The] last scene hinges on an imagined reconciliation with Lisa [Brennan], and depends on an astounding fiction of omission: The entire scene takes place as if Jobs is unmarried, has no kids, and hasn’t changed at all as a result. In fact, Jobs married Laurene Powell in 1991. They had three children, Reed (1991), Erin (1995), and Eve (1998). And Lisa lived with Steve and Laurene from 1992 to 1996.

The way to approach “Steve Jobs”, then, is not as a work of history or documentary; I intend to view it as a work of cinema and of fiction, and I think it will be worth watching — I love Sorkinese. But separating truth from fiction is a challenge when the narrative around Jobs’ life is still being written and changed constantly, especially by those with a vested interest in specific versions. Above all, it does feel — as Tim Cook and Jony Ive have said — opportunistic:

On Sept. 28, 2011, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton left his Culver City office and made the four-and-a half-mile trek to Century City, ready to open his wallet.

Lynton, along with producer Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan), was being given a unique opportunity to read one of the most anticipated manuscripts in publishing history: Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs.

The brilliant but mercurial founder of Apple Inc. was on his deathbed — he would die days later, on Oct. 5 — and Simon & Schuster was rushing the book into stores, which meant the publisher did not want it read widely in advance of its Oct. 24 release: Secrecy was crucial to giving Steve Jobs the type of splash that would propel it to sales of more than 379,000 copies during its first week alone. And so Lynton and Gordon closeted themselves for hours in separate offices at ICM Partners, Isaacson’s agency, and waded through the 656-page tome.

By day’s end, both men were confident this was a movie …

After reading this, I’d be surprised if these executives would be sensitive to the subject of any biopic.

The Slow Death of Comments

The venerable comments section is still rampant across the web, but plenty of new sites are omitting them entirely. The discourse generated by this feature is, in most cases, of no great value. Even the comments section of a publication like the Economist — or any other reasonably high-brow publication — is unwelcome and barely literate. On any moderately-divisive issue, the comments section turns into the written equivalent of a drunk brawl. That’s too bad, because those are the times when we most need articulate, well-reasoned discussion.

Klint Finley, Wired:

While it’s too soon to say that comment sections are outright dying— there are plenty of major sites that still have comments, including WIRED—it’s safe to say there’s a trend towards replacing them with something else.

The “something else” is interesting. A while ago, I came across a WordPress plugin that would aggregate replies on Twitter to an article and present them to moderators for approval. This kind of thing probably wouldn’t scale so well to larger publications, but it allows a little more direction over what comments are approved.

But who says that it’s necessary to present readers’ opinions on the same page as the original piece? I love my audience, but you’re reading these words because you want to hear what I have to say. Many of you reach out with corrections and ideas of your own, and I appreciate that, but it’s not necessary to have them attached to the original post. I can think of three things that comments are used for, aside from spam:

  1. Offering praise or agreement with the author. I appreciate it when people reach out to tell me that they enjoyed something I wrote, but I don’t want to turn the bottom of every post into a place where you all can praise me. I also don’t have social buttons for a similar reason.

  2. Offering disagreement with the author. If you have a different opinion, that’s cool; you should write it on your own site and send me a link.

  3. Providing a correction or amendment. Again, thank you for sending me notes on what I may have missed, but these don’t necessarily have a place on the same page as the original article. I’d like to vet them, and if there’s something I like, I’ll update the original with a link and credit.

This seems to work for me. I don’t get to provide the cool impression of dozens of people so engaged with something I wrote that they debate it below, but I get my little spot on the internet. Thanks for reading.

October 8, 2015


Mitchel Broussard, MacRumors:

The takeaway from Morrison and Evans’ videos today seems to be that while intense cases like synthetic Geekbench tests designed to push devices to their limits revealed as high as a 22% difference in battery life between devices using the two chips, real-world impacts may be much smaller depending on the mix of activities. In these specific usage patterns shown above, battery life differences between the two processors ranged from 6% to 11%.

You know how much I hate to tell you that I told you so, but I did point out that the real-world implications of the dual-sourced A9 SoCs are vastly less noticeable than benchmarking tools imply. Apple claims 10 hours of cellular web browsing; 6% of that is about half an hour. 6-11% is not insignificant, but I suspect it isn’t the kind of thing you’d really notice. I do wonder whether Apple’s tests were conducted on TSMC or Samsung hardware; perhaps they tested both and averaged the results.

Update: Matthew Panzarino over at TechCrunch received a statement from Apple:

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.


The 2-3% difference Apple is saying it sees between the battery life of the two processors is well within its manufacturing tolerances for any device, even two iPhones with the same exact processor. In other words, your iPhone and someone else’s iPhone with the same guts likely vary as much as 3%, regardless of who made them.

Reading between the lines here, Apple isn’t even saying that the processors make the 2-3% difference; they’re saying that the battery life of all shipping iPhones 6S lay within a 2-3% range of each other in real-world circumstances. That’s an incredible achievement, and demonstrates that these processors perform almost identically.

Panzarino again:

The big takeaway here shouldn’t be that there are a couple of percentage points of difference between the two bits of silicon, but that Apple has kept up with demand for the first time in forever — and that it is setting the stage for what could allow it more control over its chip design with less conflict.

I think Apple’s vastly better supply of iPhones is throwing off some of the crappier analysts who, when they didn’t see out-of-stock indications within hours of preorder availability, were a little disappointed. In reality, Apple was just able to do a better job of mitigating supply chain constraints.

A Year of Apple Pay

Graham Spencer, resident international data specialist for MacStories:

The interchange fee has become a sticking point in negotiations between Apple and international banks because outside the US the interchange fee is much lower. In the European Union, interchange fees have been capped at 0.2% of the transaction value for debit cards and 0.3% for credit cards; at those levels, Apple’s 0.15% cut is clearly untenable. This is no doubt why in the UK, the banks ultimately reached an agreement where Apple would get “a few pence per £100 transaction“.

There are reports from Australia, China and Canada, all claiming similar battles between local banks and Apple.

Given the wide presence of contactless payment terminals in Canada — many of which have sprung up over the past two or three years — I was surprised that it didn’t launch here, nor has there been much indication of progress. Overbearing commission would make sense as something that would slow its availability. But the degree to which this is true remains a mystery; Apple’s contracts with banks are, of course, secret. If the figures reported in the Financial Times and other reputable sources are true and have not significantly changed in the past year, I question whether Apple’s hardball stance is likely to prevail, or if it will hamper Apple Pay’s rollout. It worked for cell carriers, but that’s because the iPhone was a completely new and different product; Apple Pay is more convenient, but is more like an abstraction of a credit card. Banks probably don’t see themselves going anywhere or getting left behind. Commerce, after all, is vastly older than almost any other industry.

October 7, 2015

I’ve Stopped Using Piwik

Speaking of overanalysis, a few months ago, I installed the Piwik analytics package on Pixel Envy. I’ve been using Mint for a long time and, while I really like it, I’ve found that a lack of updates means that it’s not great with recent versions of Mac OS X or iOS. Piwik seemed like a good alternative. It’s lightweight, it respects Do Not Track, and it’s locally-hosted.

For the most part, my test was a success. Piwik was exactly what I thought it would be. However, I quickly came to realize that I didn’t really need all that data. I like seeing how many people visited my site and from what platform, but I don’t need much more than that.

So it’s back to all Mint, all the time for this site. I had fun with that little experiment, and it was nice to see that some of you click the links I post — even when buried several paragraphs down — but I don’t need to know that. I hope Shaun Inman updates Mint one of these days; I would buy 3.0 in a heartbeat. Even without that, it suits me fine.

Charts in Tweetbot 4

There’s a lot that I love about Tweetbot 4, but the new Activity view is not yet one of them. I like it in theory, but I find it confusing. I’ve been a little quiet on Twitter today, so my activity on the Stats tab is currently “16”.

Sixteen whats?

Sixteen activities? Sixteen interactions? Apparently, there was a message that appeared the first time I launched Tweetbot that — as with pretty much any popup — I dismissed immediately. It seems to be the total number of replies, quotes, retweets, favourites, and followers gained in the past day, but it reads kind of funny: “Today’s Activity: 16”. Maybe I’m not cut out for hyper-analyzing my social media stats.

At the top of the Stats view is a chart of the past week’s activity, so you can compare how popular you are today relative to the prior six days. Below the chart are stats of how many favourites, retweets, and new followers occurred today — none of these are interactive, however, so you can’t see who your new followers are from this view.

But the Stats tab is far nicer than Twitter’s pedantic analytics view, as Dr. Drang explains:

The idea is to give you a quick sense of what’s been going on for the past week. Again, if you want to pore over the details, go to Twitter’s analytics site to see how many of your followers are self-employed weight conscious Verizon users.

Despite this, the view I’m most interested in is not the Stats tab, but the Activity tab, which shows a real-time view of favourites, retweets, and replies. The latter is especially nice because it functions kind of like a conversation view or inbox; tapping on one of the cells will take you to the tweet. But tapping on a favourite or retweet will take you to the user profile of the person who performed that action, rather than the tweet to which it applies. That makes for an inconsistent and rather strange experience, for me at least.

Apple’s Dual-Sourced A9 SoC

Another update on a story that broke last week, this time on the confirmation that Apple has been dual-sourcing their A9 processors from Samsung and TSMC. I didn’t write about it because it didn’t seem like that big of a deal: Apple has surely run their tests and found that they perform virtually identically, so it shouldn’t matter what’s in your phone.

But there’s a general assumption that Samsung parts generally perform better than components manufactured by other companies; this probably stems from the crappy LG panels Apple shipped with the first batch of Retina MacBook Pros. Indeed, in the case of the A9, the Samsung-made part uses a 14nm process, while the TSMC part uses a 16nm process. In theory, this should mean that the Samsung edges the TSMC technically and potentially sees greater efficiency.

But a new set of numbers published on Engadget suggests that the vast majority of iPhone 6S models use the TSMC chip, while a slight majority of 6S Plusses use the Samsung chip. Why would Apple put what is supposed to be a more power-hungry chip in the smaller phone? Because the other numbers published with the article suggest that the less-advanced, bigger TSMC processors are actually more power-efficient than the Samsung processors.

In all likelihood, the chips probably perform the same, broadly speaking. I doubt that the claimed two-hour advantage of the TSMC is replicable in real-world circumstances, and I’d be surprised if there were a noticeable difference between the two. It’s unlikely that they perform identically, but they’re probably very, very close.

Update: On the other hand, John Poole has posted a Geekbench chart with two obvious spikes from iPhone 6S users who have taken their battery test. This could be low-power mode, or it could be a hundred other factors. Or it could be a difference in processor foundry. Someone should test this.

Apps Removed From Sale Are Un-Unavailable From Both App Stores

Bear with me, because this gets confusing. Last week, it was discovered that old apps no longer for sale in either App Store were being removed from users’ purchase history, meaning that they could not be re-downloaded. Yours truly:

This might all simply be a misconfiguration or a mistake, but I’ve long been worried something like this may happen. This is software that was previously purchased; while it’s no longer available for general sale, it should still be offered to those who purchased it to download again. I certainly hope this isn’t a deliberate change.

Tapbots figured out a clever workaround by making one of their old apps, Tweetbot 3, available for sale in a single country; they chose Burkina Faso. But, though I suspected this was a change made in error, Mark Brown of Pocket Gamer asked Apple and they said that it was intentional:

Now, a spokesperson for Apple has explained to PG that “if [developers] remove their apps from the store, they cannot be redownloaded until the app has been resubmitted to the App Store”.

So, bad news, right? Eli Hodapp of Touch Arcade referenced Brown’s comment in a story he wrote about the saga, and then Apple came calling:

We fired off a cursory email to Apple, but felt confident publishing this as both historically Pocket Gamer writes stories based on good sources and in nearly a decade of working with Apple, everyone gets the same response. Apple’s PR is a well oiled machine with two settings: No response (or a “No comment”) or the response. I just got off the phone with Apple’s US PR who have assured me there has been no policy change. We will update as we get more information, hopefully today.

What a saga. It sounds like this must have been a misconfiguration, but it seems odd that it has been going on for so long (well over a week now) and that it affects both stores. I also question Brown’s source — not that he lied, but that they were not fully informed, or they didn’t understand the context. As Hodapp says, Apple PR is the best in the business; if this is their blunder, it’s one of very few.

October 6, 2015

A Look at What Hermès Means to Watch Lovers

Benjamin Clymer, Hodinkee:

The [Hermès] strap you see above is arguably the greatest watch strap in the world. It has long been a secret of fine watch collectors anywhere – the quality of the stitching, and the softness of the leather, is simply unrivaled. […]

Hermès straps are not easily available. In fact, most stores around the world will not sell them to you individually, preferring them to go to existing Hermès watch owners. The dimensions are irregular too, with 17 mm tapered ends, meaning most buckles will not fit on them. That doesn’t prevent the devoted from chasing these hand-made straps all over the world.

The Hermès version of the Apple Watch became available yesterday in select retailers around the world, and it looks really desirable. If you’re disappointed with the leather bands that Apple provides,1 the ones available with the Hermès edition come from a long line of superlative leather goods, and are available in a much wider range of styles and colours.

If I were in the market for a stainless steel Apple Watch with a leather band, I think the Hermès line would be the first I’d look at — specifically, the “Single Tour” in brown. They’re not available at my local Hermès boutique; I wonder if they’d order one in from Toronto.

But I also wonder about the long-term interplay of high technology and traditional luxury. In the short term, Apple gains fashion and luxury credibility, while an old French brand remains contemporary. Over the long term, though, it’s hard to escape the temptation of seeing a first-generation technology product strapped to a very, very nice piece of leather. And, no matter how much I love mine, it is still a first-generation product. I’m optimistic that the purchasing experience in the coming generations will, in some way, take into account the precedent of a longer lifespan set by traditional timepieces.

  1. As the owner and everyday wearer of the original all-black classic buckle, I’m surprised anyone could be disappointed with it. The leather is of an extremely high quality, and it has softened over time without losing a sense of durability. I noticed a fair amount of negativity towards this strap in particular after the Watch was launched, and I’m not sure why: it’s a high-quality, fully-dyed traditional leather watch band.

    Of all the first-party straps available for the Watch, it’s the least showy and draws the fewest questions and inquiries from others, but I see that as a positive. I’m awfully tempted to pick up the brown leather version, but I’m also waiting for a nice NATO-style strap to be released now that lugs are available to third parties. ↩︎

“Makes You Wonder”

Jonny Lieberman of Motor Trend, on the new Porsche 911’s entertainment system, which only supports CarPlay and omits Android Auto:

As part of the agreement an automaker would have to enter with Google, certain pieces of data must be collected and mailed back to Mountain View, California. Stuff like vehicle speed, throttle position, coolant and oil temp, engine revs — basically Google wants a complete OBD2 dump whenever someone activates Android Auto.

This is the typical “collect everything” mantra that Google seems to have. By contrast, CarPlay only requires knowledge of when the car is moving, presumably for safety features. Could Android Auto one day use all of this information to diagnose system problems? Perhaps. Do I trust Google to collect, store, and use this much information in a way that isn’t creepy? No. Do you?

How about we instead treat data like nuclear waste?

Update: Google provided a statement to TechCrunch:

Steering this story straight – we take privacy very seriously and do not collect the data the Motor Trend article claims such as throttle position, oil temp and coolant temp. Users opt in to share information with Android Auto that improves their experience, so the system can be hands-free when in Drive, and provide more accurate navigation through the car’s GPS.


TechCrunch learned that when Google initially approached automakers concerning Android Auto, it requested a deeper data set than what is currently required. Porsche could have made the decision at that time to stop working with Google and instead focus on CarPlay. It’s unclear when this early conversation happened. Google publicly announced Android Auto at Google I/O in June of 2014.

Nobody’s providing any dates here. If Google’s policy did, in fact, change, how recently? And are automakers that signed with Google prior to the change grandfathered into providing elevated amounts of data?

Ars Technica’s Android 6 Review

As iOS becomes better at connecting different apps, Android becomes more aware of user privacy. As iOS expands to different hardware in various guises, Android becomes more polished and user-friendly. The platforms continue to converge while also innovating, and everyone wins. (How wild is it that Android and iOS both gained embedded browsers by way of Chrome Custom Tabs and Safari View Controller within the same year of updates?) But, as Ron Amadeo of Ars points out, most users won’t see this update:

If we were to ask for any new feature from a new Android version, it would be some kind of scalable update solution. Right now a custom update still needs to be built for every single individual device model, and that’s really not a workable solution when you have over 24,000 models out there. The Stagefright vulnerability seemed to be a wakeup call for the Android ecosystem, but it came too late to affect anything in Marshmallow. Google instituted monthly updates for Nexus devices, and OEMs are pledging to bring the monthly update program to flagship devices. The majority of Android devices, though—the low end devices—are being ignored. Monthly updates for Google, Samsung, and LG flagships only works out to a very small percentage of the Android install base.

The Motorola E from earlier this year will not be seeing an update — just 219 days after its release. Manufacturers are treating these phones like commodities, and regularly leave over a billion devices without critical security patches.

American Apparel Files for Bankruptcy Protection

I sincerely hope that American Apparel pulls out of this stronger than ever before. It’s disappointing that its fortunes did not improve in the wake of tragedies at contract factories used by “fast fashion” brands. Much of my wardrobe comes from the company — I have a ridiculous number of plain white t-shirts made by AA, and I’m wearing socks and a t-shirt from them right now — and I want to keep supporting them for years to come.

October 2, 2015

An Analysis of OS X Releases

Rob Griffiths calls this analysis “useless”, but I think there are some interesting takeaways. First, the amount of time between OS X releases began short, became fairly long with Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard, and are now shorter again.

Second, as with most software, OS X has become increasingly obese. Griffiths didn’t include the fresh install sizes of Snow Leopard and prior releases, likely because it varies significantly depending on configuration, but it appears to have ballooned since Mountain Lion. (Strangely, Lion and Mountain Lion are apparently the same size, despite the latter including Retina-quality assets.)