Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for October, 2012

Mr. Windows 8

Speaking of Windows 8, Jay Greene writes for CNet:

[Steven] Sinofsky’s model stems from his desire to keep tight reins on complex development processes. But some critics say it can sometimes border on micromanagement. One current Microsoft executive recalled getting a call from Sinofsky a few years ago, questioning a modest budget request buried deep in a planning spreadsheet. That might not seem particularly extraordinary, except that the executive didn’t report to Sinofsky, but rather to one of Sinofsky’s direct reports.

“To this day, I don’t know if he was just trying to rattle my cage of if he really cared,” the executive said.

The more I read about Microsoft’s internal culture, the more it sounds like a bureaucratic administrative nightmare. Even down to the way Sinofsky talks about product planning (“We are adjusting to operating in a way that optimizes for executing within a planned framework.”) speaks volumes about the kind of work environment that permeates the company. How can anyone come up with creative and simple solutions for complex problems in that place?

Two Angry Dudes v. Apple

Steven Musil reports for CNet:

Zach Ward and Thomas Buchar filed a putative class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Northern California on Friday alleging that the tech giant violated antitrust laws by locking iPhone buyers into voice and data contracts with AT&T Mobility. The plaintiffs claim that Apple violated the Sherman Act’s prohibition on monopolization by not obtaining consumers’ contractual consent to have their iPhones locked when the tech giant entered into a five-year exclusivity agreement with the wireless carrier in 2007.

This sounds like something that AT&T would be enforcing, not Apple. The former has a (significant) incentive to keep customers locked to their network, while the latter just wants you to buy their product. Apple doesn’t care what carrier you use your iPhone on. So, why would Ward and Buchar sue them, not the carrier?

Well, it turns out that the SCOTUS ruled in AT&T v. Concepcion that people cannot file a class action suit against a wireless carrier, or at least not easily. Via The Brief.

Dear Ed Bott: No, Windows 8 Is Not the New XP

Daniel Eran Dilger:

Bott is right that people have complained about Windows as long as Microsoft has sold it. But he appears to be oblivious to a signifiant new problem facing Windows 8: people and businesses aren’t buying as many PCs as they once were. They’re buying iPads.

Microsoft would love to get those people buying a Surface, but it’s just too damn confusing. They’ve created their own mess.

Windows RT License Cost

Horace Dediu posted a photo to Twitter of this China Post story which claims that Windows RT licenses cost between $90 and $100. If that’s true, it’s going to be very, very difficult for third parties to compete with the $499 Microsoft Surface. Third parties are in a tight spot when deciding between a very expensive Windows license which will make a more desirable tablet, and a free Android license for a tablet that few will buy.

The AAPL Slingshot

AAPL is down around $100 from about a month ago. Why? Philip Elmer-Dewitt explains the slingshot:

A guy running a hedge fund, having taken who knows what position in a high-profile security, trashes it on TV, on the Web and in e-mails to clients shortly before what are almost certainly going to be record quarterly earnings, and then when the shares lose some value, brags that he’s been “correct on the stock.”

13-Inch Retina MacBook Pro Pictures Surface

This suggests an answer to a question I asked on Twitter a while back: would a retina 13-inch Pro share a panel with a retina 13-inch MacBook Air? The 2,560 × 1,600px resolution suggests that they will not. I prefer the size of the UI elements of my Air over the 13-inch MacBook Pros I’ve used.


On Tuesday, I was browsing my usual sources of news when I found this post on Bruce Schneier’s blog , with the ominous headline “Apple Turns on iPhone Tracking in iOS 6”.

The post linked to this piece from Jim Edwards, which carried this headline:

Apple Has Quietly Started Tracking iPhone Users Again, And It’s Tricky To Opt Out

By those headlines, I assumed this would be a repeat of the Locationgate thing from 2011. Ah, but no: this was about ad tracking, and Apple’s switch from UDID (Unique Device Identification) to I(D)FA, which stands for “Identifier for Advertising”.

This whole thing is a bunch of mongering crap based on gross distortions of elements of truth.

In iOS 4 and prior, Apple allowed advertisers and developers access to a device’s UDID. This is a hardcoded, unique identifier assigned to each iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. While the UDID is effectively anonymous, only assigned to a device rather than a particular user, some advertisers and developers with little concern for privacy began tying the device ID with other information they could collect, such as their name, phone number, email address, and so forth.

In 2011, Apple let developers know that they would be rejecting apps that continued to access UDIDs. They phased out most third-party access to that device ID in iOS 5, and did so completely in iOS 6 due to the obvious security implications. This meant that for the past year, most advertisers were unable to add any sort of user tracking code.

However, in iOS 6, Apple introduced a new identifier specifically for advertising purposes called IDFA. IDFA is a huge improvement over the old ID because it’s temporary, it’s explicitly for ads, and can be disabled. This makes me wonder why the aformentioned piece by Jim Edwards makes it sound like Apple is snooping through your phone for the explicit purpose of selling you to advertisers:

The company has started tracking users so that advertisers can target them again, through a new tracking technology called IFA or IDFA. […]

In iOS 6, however, tracking is most definitely back on, and it’s more effective than ever, multiple mobile advertising executives familiar with IFA tell us. (Note that Apple doesn’t mention IFA in its iOS 6 launch page).

Now, Jim Edwards is no idiot. He knows that he needs to mention the obvious opt-out ability and ensure you know that Apple is indeed not shilling you to advertisers. But Business Insider needs their ad revenue1, hence the linkbait title, followed by phrases like these:

iOS 6 users are able to turn off tracking, which they weren’t before. […]

The IFA does not identify you personally — it merely provides a bunch of aggregate audience data that advertisers can target with ads.

Edwards does raise a good point with regards to the way Apple has implemented the setting. One would assume that it’s under the Privacy submenu, but it’s actually under General, then About. Confusing and buried, but the ability to disable it, and the temporary identification code presents a significant improvement over the old method. While I personally have switched on the “Limit Ad Tracking” switch because of my own concerns with ad tracking privacy, the fact of the matter is that this is much, much better than Apple’s previous implementation.

If you’re concerned, Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica has a good explanation of the transition.

There you have it. Just enough FUD if you’re browsing Business Insider headlines to keep their ad revenue high.

  1. Ironically enough from an ad network which “uses cookies to uniquely identify a browser, which gives Market advertisers the ability to show targeted ads that are relevant to you”, which is almost exactly what Mr. Edwards’ article is so vehemently against. ↩︎

My Walletless Month

The headline of Christina Bonnington’s Wired article says “Happier, Healthier and Ready to Ditch Cash Forever”. The body of the article says otherwise:

There were also issues with the technology as it currently stands. Multiple retail employees told me of issues with Google Wallet — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I experienced this myself on two separate occasions, when NFC readers seemed to refuse to acknowledge my phone’s chip.

I also had problems with the Square Wallet app. More than once, I came upon places that were listed in the app’s directory but that did not actually accept it. One did not even have the card reader set up. The worst offenders were in Honolulu, where there was likely a discrepancy between the owner or manager who began setting up Square (or merely signed up for it) and employees who weren’t informed about how it works.

It’s hard to do in 2012, but it’s slowly getting easier. I find that it’s impossible to leave the house with just my Interac and Visa cards, my ID, and a couple of payment apps on my phone. There are still far too many places that just take cash, or where paying by card is too tedious for a small amount.

Why Microsoft’s Surface Ad Might be a Miss

I really like Microsoft’s new Surface ad. But Stephen Hackett’s explanation of why it’s a miss is spot-on:

I don’t think the Surface ad is as effective as Apple’s were, however. It’s not because the spot is bad — I actually think it’s pretty damn clever. But Apple went with the brand building after it had introduced the world to the iPod. People knew what white headphones meant in 2007. I’m not sure people know what a keyboard case is about in 2012 quite yet.

Also causing a small problem is the end logo, which uses Microsoft’s new square brand. I don’t think that people have been exposed enough to the Surface, the keyboard cover, or the new logo for this ad to make sense.

Tapbots’ Mark Jardine on Designing Tweetbot for Mac

Nice little interview regarding the design aspects of the newly-released Tweetbot for Mac.

By the way, the $20 price point is getting people surprisingly upset—just take a look at the comments in the linked post above. $20 for a high-quality product that you probably use constantly every day doesn’t seem like a steep price to pay at all. People whine about the $3 cost of Tweetbot for iPhone, too.

Google Earnings Come Early; Shares Drop

Note that this earnings statement includes over $500 million in losses on Motorola’s end.

At any rate, the earnings dropped because analysts projected around $1.60 more per share than the actual results. This doesn’t mean that Google missed anything, but rather that analysts have once again set their estimates way off-base.

John Herrman of BuzzFeed notes that Google’s profit proportion shrunk:

This might seem odd considering that the report says Google made $2.74 billion in income last quarter. But that’s lower than expected, and lower than the same quarter last year. Google’s overall revenues, on the other hand, are up 45% from the same time last year, which means that its income is far less in proportion to how big it is: 19% of revenues last quarter, vs 37% in 2011. Google is growing, but its profits are shrinking.

Like I noted above, the big difference year-over-year is that this Q3 report includes the Motorola acquisition. I think it’s far too early to make a judgement as to whether that was a good or bad move until this time next year.

A Small Apple Talent Acquisition

Liz Gannes and John Paczkowski sort out this mess of stories for AllThingsD:

What’s really happening is that Color’s engineering team — about 20 people, comprising almost the entire company — is being “acqhired” by Apple at what’s being called a “nominal” price of something like $2 million to $5 million, according to multiple sources familiar with both sides of the situation. To repeat, there are no “double-digit” millions involved, according to many people familiar with the deal.

Apple is not buying Color’s technology, intellectual property, domain names or liabilities. Those are being left with the company, which still has considerable cash in the bank — something like $25 million — and is going to be wound down.

Glad to hear something straight from this. The past day has been a mess of rumours.

This acquisition makes sense for Apple. The team that built Color is, from what I hear, very talented and adept. The product simply sucks.

Microsoft Fails to Explain Windows 8 vs. Windows RT

Sean Hollister of The Verge called a bunch of Microsoft stores to ask if the reps could explain the difference between the two new versions of Windows:

I told some of them I was interested in Surface with Windows 8, and waited to see if they’d correct me and tell me it had Windows RT. (None did.) I asked others if Windows RT and Windows 8 were the same thing. I asked all of them what the differences between the two operating systems were — several times if I needed to — and I asked about any jargon or terminology that I thought an average buyer might have trouble understanding.

Damning. To be fair, Windows 8 isn’t out for another week, but customers will be inquiring. But if the staff doesn’t know the difference, there are going to be a lot of confused customers. Imagine if iOS for the iPad looked identical to OS X, but didn’t run any OS X apps.

Apple Announces Special Event for Oct. 23

When contacted for elaboration, an Apple spokesperson offered this hint:


Okay, they didn’t. But wouldn’t it be hilarious if Katie Cotton said that?

Interestingly, Apple won’t be using their own auditorium, as I expected, or the Yerba Buena centre. Instead, they’ve opted for the beautiful California Theatre in San Jose. This is the same venue they used for the “One More Thing…” event in 2005, where they introduced the redesigned iMac G5, iPod with video, and TV shows on the iTunes Store.

I previously noted that an event that combined Mac and iPad updates would be messy. But perhaps, like the “One More Thing…” event, they’re going to use an act-based motif. It’s appropriate for the theatre setting.

Mapping The Entertainment Ecosystems

Graham Spencer for MacStories:

[S]martphones and tablets are devices that have universal appeal, so for Apple or any of the other three to win the smartphone or tablet “race” – an entertainment ecosystem that is available across the world, not just in the US, isn’t just a cool extra feature, it’s a necessity. The US may be one of the biggest markets for such devices today, but is there any doubt that these devices will rival the prevalence of personal computers (which are everywhere) in years to come?

As someone not based in the US, I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to make this sort of cross-comparison. These maps show very clearly the enormous lead Apple has over its rivals in the sales of music, movies, and TV shows. Amazon, of course, has a simply colossal lead over everyone in the eBook space. Interestingly, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has zero support across the board.

Real Artists Ship

In Microsoft’s mind, they leaked their pricing early. To the rest of us, it’s about time they revealed how much they’re selling the Surface for:

The 10.6-inch Surface, powered by Windows RT, will go on sale on October 26th and will be priced starting at $499 for the 32GB version without Touch Cover and a 32GB version with the Touch Cover for $599. […]

The company has also listed the prices for its Touch Cover, at $119.99 each, and Type Cover for $129.99.

Microsoft is undercutting the equivalent iPad by $100, but I’m not sure that’s enough. It isn’t a price point I’m wowed by. Keep in mind that this is the ARM version, which cannot run standard Windows apps and therefore doesn’t have the ecosystem that either the iPad has, or that its Windows name suggests.