Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for August, 2012

13-Inch Retina MacBook Pro Displays in Production

Brooke Crothers reports for CNET:

Production is under way for a Retina display targeted at a more mainstream MacBook Pro, CNET has learned.

Production has begun of a 2,560-by-1,600 pixel density display that will land on a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro, NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim told CNET.

“The supply chain indications are that it’s for a MacBook Pro 13.3—not a MacBook Air,” said Shim.

I am linking to this even though it’s a reporter quoting an analyst citing a supply chain1, as it presents an interesting question: will Apple use the same Retina panel in the 13″ Pro and Air? The 13″ Pro ships with a 1,280 x 800 panel today, whereas the 13″ Air uses a 1,440 x 900 panel. A logical pixel doubling would see the 13″ Retina Air shipping with a 2,880 x 1,800 pixel display, like today’s 15″ Retina Pro.

I would assume that Apple would want to use the same panel between the two 13″ models as it’s logistically easier to produce a shared panel for a product that will presumably be in high demand. It would also make the lineup more consistent.

  1. To quote Dana Gould, referring to a tabloid story about a reality show: “It’s like a photo of a drawing of a hologram.” ↩︎

Manufactured Outrage of the Day

Pamela Jones of Groklaw has become comically outraged over the jury’s decision in Apple v. Samsung:

In two instances, results were crazily contradictory, and the judge had to have the jury go back and fix the goofs. As a result the damages award was reduced to $1,049,343,540, down from $1,051,855,000. For just one example, the jury had said one device didn’t infringe, but then they awarded Apple $2 million for inducement. In another they awarded a couple of hundred thousand for a device they’d ruled didn’t infringe at all.

She begins that paragraph by admitting that the jury made a couple of small mistakes, and that the damages were corrected to fix this. But that’s not going to stop the outrage machine (all quotes [sic]):

For example, if the jury rushed so much it assigned $2 million dollars to Apple, and then had to subtract it because there was no infringement, it raises a valid question: what was the basis for any of the damages figures the jury came up with? If they had any actual basis, how could they goof like this? Was there a factual basis for any of the damages figures? […]

There were 700 questions, remember, and one thing is plain, that the jury didn’t take the time to avoid inconsistencies, one of which resulted in the jury casually throwing numbers around, like $2 million dollars for a nonfringement.

Come on. This is farce.

It’s almost as if 700 questions might lend itself to the possibility of inconsistencies. If that’s the case, Samsung should have raised that as a possibility.

Oh wait, they did (PDF):

The verdict form in this complex case necessarily spans 20 pages and requires unanimous answers to more than 500 discrete questions across 5 different legal disciplines. The likelihood of an inconsistent verdict is a possibility despite the jury’s best efforts.

So why didn’t Pamela Jones note this in her article? Well, she did, in the first paragraph:

Late in the process yesterday at the Apple v. Samsung trial, when the parties and the judge were reviewing the jury verdict form, Samsung noticed that there were, indeed, inconsistencies in the jury’s verdict form, a possibility Samsung anticipated.

This is what happens when an unstoppable outrage machine meets a verdict it disagrees with. In this case, Pamela Jones wants readers to be mad at a jury that did its job.

Pink Floyd’s Jam to the First Moon Walk

On July 20, 1969, the members of Pink Floyd watched the Apollo 11 landing, too, but not like anyone else:

“[Pink Floyd] were in a BBC TV studio jamming to the landing. It was a live broadcast, and there was a panel of scientists on one side of the studio, with us on the other. I was 23,” [David] Gilmour writes in the Guardian. “The programming was a little looser in those days, and if a producer of a late-night programme felt like it, they would do something a bit off the wall. Funnily enough I’ve never really heard it since, but it is on YouTube.”

The jam was uploaded to YouTube, and it’s pretty spectacular.

On Design Theft

Mike Rundle:

Why did a designer throw out 20 iterations and pick the 21st design to be the one to ship? What led them to the those specific conclusions and insights? What down-the-road thinking influenced the design? Samsung doesn’t know why Apple went with a homescreen with a fixed row at the bottom, they just know that the iPhone is hot and they want all their phones to look like the iPhone in the eyes of consumers. That’s why they stole Apple’s interface designs: to short-circuit the innovation process and jump straight into the line ahead of everyone else.

Precisely. Why copy these specific elements otherwise? If they are so critical to the user experience, Samsung should have paid (or at least negotiated) on the $30 per phone price. If they aren’t worth $30 in Samsung’s eyes, then there should be no problem in tossing them. But that misses the fundamental question as to why lists bounced back at the end of the scroll in the first place.

Apple v. Samsung Jury Reaches Verdict

Three short observations:

  1. I know the jury was given guidance as to how much the damages should be, but $1,051,855,000 still seems like a mostly-arbitrary number. Apple has to pay no damages.
  2. Surprisingly, the jury ruled that Samsung did not infringe upon the iPad design patent.
  3. This is a great day to be an Apple attorney, a crappy day to be a Samsung attorney, and a shitty day for patents in general. Not a single patent was found to be invalid, even some of the more ridiculous ones. On the other hand, you’ll note Microsoft isn’t being sued over Windows Phone because it’s obviously different from the iPhone. If Samsung chose to make products that didn’t directly try to ape iOS, this case would never have happened.

The Uncanny Valley of Internet Advertising

Farhad Manjoo, for Slate:

The “uncanny valley” is a term coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori to describe the revulsion people experience when seeing robots that look and act almost, but not exactly, like humans. Badly targeted Internet ads provoke the same feeling. They’re dumber than any human salesperson, and they’re just smart enough to make you queasy.

Releasing Outside the App Store

Matt Gemmell weighs the pros and cons for each releasing in, and outside of, the Mac App Store:

I recently released a new little Mac app, Sticky Notifications. It’s not currently in the App Store, and accordingly I went through a process that many Mac developers face: deciding whether to release software on the App Store, or outside of it (or indeed both). […]

Firstly, let’s weigh up the App Store against releasing software on your own. This concerns the Mac, primarily, since you don’t have a legitimate non-App Store option for iOS devices. The pros and cons of the App Store (listed below) do apply to both platforms, of course. We’ll discuss the App Store route first.

Gemmell makes a list of “Scary Things” when selling one’s own software outside of the App Store. There are an awful lot of things to recreate, but luckily, the Mac App Store is relatively new. The problems faced with selling software on the developer’s own terms are decades old. These problems all have solutions.

The Cheapest Generation

Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann write for The Atlantic:

Needless to say, the Great Recession is responsible for some of the decline. But it’s highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re-­urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials. The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did—nor on the same things. Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.

I am of this generation, and I also don’t drive. I don’t want to, either. Like many people my age, I’d rather walk to my local market, even if it’s Safeway. It’s not just about what’s cool—it’s about what makes sense.

The most egregious example of the shift in values comes in the form of the big box “power centre“. The mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, is focused on the same urbanization efforts as Millennials embrace. Under previous mayors, retail developers were allowed to build several of these in our city. But the current administration recently rejected a proposal for another power centre (PDF mirror):

In talking about the rejection Monday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi called such car-focused shopping centres a “misguided experiment,” and said he hopes the rejection is a death knell for such developments. “I don’t think they’re particularly good retail spaces, and they’re certainly not good for the community, for traffic flow, (and) you can’t serve them easily by transit,” he told reporters. “I mean, look at Shawnessy, where you actually need two train stations to serve this vast retail area, instead of building around the site of a future train station.”

Car-focused living is out. Foot-, bicycle-, and transit-focused living is in. But while this makes for a more liveable, enjoyable community, there are economic worries. Thompson and Weissmann again:

In recent decades, the housing industry has usually led us out of recession. When the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates in the midst of the sharp recession of the early 1980s, for instance, a construction boom helped fuel the “Reagan Recovery.” With the housing market moribund, the Federal Reserve has lost a key means of influencing the economy with lower interest rates. The service-led recovery we’ve gotten instead is not nearly as robust.

Smaller houses built in dense, mixed-use neighborhoods generally take longer to build than McMansions on green-field sites. And of course, because they require fewer fixtures and furnishings, their construction spurs less economic activity.

There’s a necessary readjustment period. Recessions don’t end overnight, and these generational differences are going to have a lasting effect on the economy. Once economic factors and focus shifts smooth out, though, it has the potential to create a more sustainable, robust market.

Black Widow

Remember that time you could launch a new application, and find your friends really easily with it by connecting your Twitter account? Those days are over, my friend. First, it was LinkedIn. Then, Instagram lost the feature. Both of these losses are due to Twitter’s ever-tighter API restrictions.

There’s been another casualty. Matthew Panzarino of The Next Web explains:

The enormous blogging platform Tumblr appears to have become the next property after Instagram to have its friend-finding privileges revoked. The option to find people that you know using Twitter has been removed from the site after its axing was predicted by Matt Buchanan in an article on Buzzfeed earlier today.

The sign-up procedure of Tumblr normally includes a step that allows you to find friends on the service using Facebook, Gmail and Twitter. Now, the Twitter option has been removed.

This sucks for users, and it appears that even Twitter engineers dislike these changes. But Tumblr’s change happened in the midst of negotiations to be one of Twitter’s Cards partners, according to the Panzarino post and Marco Arment:

I’m not aware of any such history with Tumblr, so I can’t think of any reasonable explanation for Twitter’s motives here other than the obvious one: Twitter will now only permit large services to add value to Twitter, not get any value from it.

And Tumblr was (is?) even working with Twitter to be a major Cards partner.

This “value” argument seems to be a running theme amongst posts regarding this shift. Developers aren’t allowed to use Twitter as a way to add value to their apps or services unless they’re also adding value to Twitter itself. That’s harsh. Dustin Curtis has a few words to say about that:

The solution Twitter has taken involves barricading the walled garden, keeping the valuable tweet data inside Twitter, and removing all incentives for people to move to other, similar platforms.

The problem with this solution is that Twitter was built on the backs of the very developers it is now blocking. It now expects those developers to continue supporting Twitter by syndicating content into its platform, but it no longer wants to provide any value to developers in return.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter wins that bet, to the frustration of the developers and users who began using the service, and who made it great. Hell, Twitterrific alone was responsible for the bird mascot, character counts, @replies (in conjunction with users and Twitter’s engineering team), and the coining of the word “tweet”.

Twitter wants users and developers to add value to their service, but not take any from it. That’s a big bet.

Think Small

Horace Dediu briefly analyzed the apparent contradiction between Apple’s small product line, and their market cap:

Tim Cook went on:

I think this is so ingrained in our company that this hubris you talk about that happens to companies that are successful and sole role in life is to get bigger, I can tell you the management team at Apple would never let that happen. That’s not what we’re about. [We have a] Small list of things to focus on.

The irony is that by thinking small, Apple became the biggest company that ever was.

Spotify Gears up for Global Expansion

Paul Sawers for The Next Web:

It will come as little surprise to learn that Spotify is looking to spread its wings, with Canada being touted as its next launch market, possibly followed by Asia and South America.

I’m quite excited about this, considering I’m sitting here in my igloo with my dogsled team, drinking maple syrup and watching hockey.

Translation of Selected Portions of AT&T’s Blog Post Regarding FaceTime Over Their Cellular Network

A la John Gruber, here is my translation of Bob Quinn’s brand of PR-speak to plain English:

Last week, we confirmed plans to make FaceTime available over our mobile broadband network for our AT&T Mobile Share data plan customers.

Please note the very precise language I am about to use throughout this post. You will notice a trend.

FaceTime is a video chat application that has been pre-loaded onto every AT&T iPhone since the introduction of iPhone 4.

FaceTime is a video chat application that has been preloaded onto every iPhone since the iPhone 4, AT&T or otherwise.

AT&T does not have a similar preloaded video chat app that competes with FaceTime or any other preloaded video chat application. Nonetheless, in another knee jerk reaction, some groups have rushed to judgment and claimed that AT&T’s plans will violate the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Those arguments are wrong.

You won’t believe how tightly we are threading our FaceTime policies through some loopholes we found. You are going to be amazed, where by amazed, we mean “totally pissed off”.

Providers of mobile broadband Internet access service are subject to two net neutrality requirements: (1) a transparency requirement pursuant to which they must disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband Internet access services; and (2) a no-blocking requirement under which they are prohibited, subject to reasonable network management, from blocking applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.

Ready to be be amazed-slash-totally pissed off?

The FCC’s net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones. Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps. Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services. AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems.

We are reading these guidelines to the letter. The FCC prohibits blocking applications, not the use of applications. Come on, just admit you’re impressed at how we’ve managed to find these loopholes.

(I won’t name any of them for fear that I will be accused by these same groups of discriminating in favor of those apps. But just go to your app store on your device and type “video chat.”)

Oy you, look over here: Skype. I mean Skype. You know about Skype. Skyyyyyype.

Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation.

Boom, check that loophole shit out. Tell me that ain’t clever.

To be clear, customers will continue to be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi irrespective of the data plan they choose.

I need to be clear here because it looks like we’re so evil that we may have control over your WiFi network, too. This isn’t the case, but dammit, I wish it were.

We are broadening our customers’ ability to use the preloaded version of FaceTime but limiting it in this manner to our newly developed AT&T Mobile Share data plans out of an overriding concern for the impact this expansion may have on our network and the overall customer experience.

We have a shitty network. You know how every other country is going to allow their users access to FaceTime over 3G for no extra cost, like they do for mobile hotspot features? Yeah, we can’t do that unless you want AT&T service in Midtown Manhattan to be even worse than it already is.

While I’ve still got your attention, allow me to remind you that other video chat applications will continue to function on 3G without a Mobile Share plan, but FaceTime won’t, for reasons even we don’t understand.

We always strive to provide our customers with the services they desire and will incorporate our learnings from the roll-out of FaceTime on our mobile broadband network into our future service offerings.

Fuck you very much.

Amazon Glacier

Just as I bitch and moan (footnote 2) about how unrealistic it is to host my music collection online, Amazon introduces a long-term backup solution. Shawn Blanc explains:

Storage costs are just $0.01/GB. That’s 9.3x cheaper than Amazon’s Reduced Redundancy Storage and 12.5x cheaper than their Standard Storage. And Glacier gives you get the same data durability and reliability of the Standard Storage (99.999999999% durability).

Even better, one can transfer up to a gigabyte of data per month for free, and data retrievals are almost free (be sure to read the fine print). It would cost me less than $4 per month to host all my music on Glacier1, and just a few cents to access all the music I can handle. Looks interesting.

But Klint Finley isn’t convinced. He examined the terms of service and the fine print for Wired:

Because the service is designed for long-term archival needs, not active use, it’s understandable that the fees for retrieval will be high in comparison to the fees for storage to discourage the use of Glacier for general purpose storage. It will also take three to five hours to prepare an archive for downloading, which will also deter misuse of the service. Presumably, Amazon powers off the hardware until it’s needed.

This looks like a great service for long-term storage and backup, but not for active use. There goes my great idea.

  1. Cool2 name. ↩︎

  2. Stop that, Nick. ↩︎

New Hotness

I’m sure you’re familiar with the elementary school math problem where you need precisely four litres of water, but you only have unmarked containers of three and five litres. You’re supposed to juggle the water between the pails in order to get a nice, even four litres of total water.

Now picture that problem, but instead of water, you have terabytes of very precious personal data, music, photos, and videos. Instead of buckets, you have a few hard drives. And you’re not moving water as a trivial exercise, but making the move to a brand new computer to last the next five years.

I purchased a mid-2007 MacBook Pro soon after it launched. It came with Tiger (version 10.4.7, I believe), and has since been upgraded with every major (and minor) OS update, a new hard drive, and a few surprising tweaks. It has served me well in editing video and photos, and designing and building websites. It’s not just a computer any more—it’s the tool I’ve used for everything I’ve done to forge a career, and to become a better student. But it’s Old ‘N’ Busted.

On August 13, 2012, 1,865 days after placing my order for that MacBook Pro, I clicked the “Complete Order” button for a computer again, this time for a mid-2012 MacBook Air. New Hotness. It’s the 13″ model, because I tried the 11″ in an Apple Store and found Photoshop to be too cramped. I upgraded the RAM to 8GB, for future proofing, and maxed-out the processor.

It’s a huge upgrade. Not only is it a Pro to an Air, but more importantly, it’s a 2007 machine to a 2012 machine. It has a faster processor, despite being 0.4 GHz slower on paper1, faster memory (and twice as much of it), a solid-state drive, and longer battery life. It’s thinner and lighter than my Pro, it’s ridiculously powerful, and super quiet. It’s also my first unibody machine.

I will admit that it was a tough call to not choose a retina MacBook Pro. I’m mobile enough that I need a notebook, but when I’m at my desk, I connect to an external display. When I was 14, I saw a 30″ Cinema Display in person, and I’ve coveted it ever since. I purchased a Thunderbolt Display to accompany my Air, to and to replace a terrible Dell monitor. Finally, I get to own a display of nearly equivalent size, and with the same horizontal pixel count. It has a better panel, a bunch of connectors, and is about half the price, to boot.

But, as I said, I needed a flawless way to move my terabytes of stuff from one computer to another. Some things are easy: I have a bunch of movies I’ve ripped from DVDs or bought on iTunes kicking around on a MyBook, so I don’t have to move a single byte—I can just connect it to my Thunderbolt Display. Some things are a little more complicated, however. My music library is 300 GB, and is perhaps the most precious folder of data I have. Most everything else can be stored in the cloud, but my music cannot2.

Luckily, while I was looking for solutions to this mess, Paul Haddad pointed out an inexpensive Thunderbolt drive from Buffalo. I went ahead and picked up a terabyte model. I’ve split it right down the middle. Half is partitioned as a Time Machine drive for the Air, and the other half is for my iTunes library.

Everything else has to be moved over by hand, though, for two very good reasons:

  1. The Air’s drive isn’t big enough for the remainder of my data, so I can’t use Migration Assistant.

  2. I want to rid myself of the cruft I’ve built up over the years. I’m sure I have a bunch of preference files for applications I don’t have any more, documents I will never again touch, and things I simply don’t need to move over.

Most applications can be moved over with a drag and drop, or downloaded again from the Mac App Store. I had to deal with a bit of DRM nonsense on the Photoshop side, but a quick deactivation of my Pro and activation of the Air made it easier than I had anticipated. Indie applications like Yojimbo and all my Panic apps were a piece of cake to move (and Panic’s automatic serial number finder made that process totally painless).

Everything has been working swimmingly so far. I have been consistently blown away by how fast, quiet, sturdy, and elegant the MacBook Air is. The Thunderbolt Display is a wonderful piece of hardware, though it wouldn’t have killed Apple to add a 3.5mm headphone jack. Minor quibbles aside, this is an awesome upgrade. I have managed to push my MacBook Pro (and its original MagSafe cable) to five years of great use in the classroom, across France in a TGV, across the Atlantic in a Boeing, and right here on my desk. I feel exceedingly lucky.

  1. Yes, I’m aware of the megahertz myth, and the gigahertz gambit (or whatever it’s called). ↩︎

  2. Neither realistically nor cheaply, anyway. It would cost at least $600 per year to host it with Amazon S3. I can’t use iTunes Match, because it has a 25,000 song limit. ↩︎

Passwords Have Never Been Weaker, and Crackers Are Stronger

Dan Goodin wrote a great article for ArsTechnica about the dangerous new combination of incredibly fast hardware, and lazy password re-use:

Most importantly, a series of leaks over the past few years containing more than 100 million real-world passwords have provided crackers with important new insights about how people in different walks of life choose passwords on different sites or in different settings. The ever-growing list of leaked passwords allows programmers to write rules that make cracking algorithms faster and more accurate; password attacks have become cut-and-paste exercises that even script kiddies can perform with ease.

The numbers alone in this article are astounding, but it gives a little more insight into the recent surge in compromised password databases.

This article reminded me to check in on Mat Honan’s nightmare. It turns out that he recovered around 75% of his data:

When Drivesavers began looking at my machine, the first 6GB of data held a clean install of Mac OS X. And after that, all they saw was row after row after row of zeroes. That data had been zeroed out. Overwritten. No recovery.

And then numbers. That beautiful hex data started rolling across the screen. Yes, 25 percent of my drive was gone and beyond repair. But the remaining 75 percent? Hope for life. DriveSavers called me to come look at what they had found, and my wife and I drove up there on Wednesday morning.

I’m happy for Honan that he got the vast majority of his data back. As he notes, it’s disturbing how easy it was to gain access to his accounts, and how widespread these practices are.

PC Obsolescence is Obsolete

Joel Hruska for ExtremeTech:

Are there people who need more than the 8GB of RAM that the lower-tier MacBook Pro w/RD offers? Yes. But if you’re one of those people, chances are you know it already. There’s no operating system or general software suite coming down the pipe that’s going to push the 8GB limit, nothing in the works that will unexpectedly turn your hard drive (assuming you still own a hard drive) into a chittering swarm of crickets.

This is something I’ve been saying for ages, at least since the last time a friend asked what laptop they should buy. I answered that it pretty much doesn’t matter any more for the average consumer, because everything out there is ridiculously powerful today, and will continue to be for several years.

Misleading Display Specs and What They Really Mean

Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate—the guys who do those absurdly detailed display tests—wrote a great article for Gizmodo (if you can believe that) about some of the most over-hyped display specs:

Most HDTVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and monitors prominently list their display specs as a sales and marketing tool. Unfortunately, many of these specs are misleading, and are misunderstood by both consumers and professionals. This makes it harder to figure out which displays are really better. Below are many of the specs you’ll see together with brief explanations that will help you understand what they actually mean.

I was reading Dell’s marketing page for their 27-inch display the other day and was blown away by the extra-large colour gamut, 80,000:1 contrast ratio, and “billions” of colours. I thought some of those figures seemed like marketing puffery, and that’s indeed the case.

Who Cares If Samsung Copied Apple?

James Allworth writes for the Harvard Business Review:

If Apple ends up winning this case against Samsung — and either stops Samsung from releasing their phones and tablets to the market, or charges them a hefty license fee to do so — does anyone really believe that the market will suddenly become more innovative, or that devices will suddenly become more affordable? Similarly, if Samsung wins, do you really believe that Apple will suddenly slow its aggressive development of the iPhone and iPad? It’s certainly not what happened last time they lost one of these cases.