Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for May, 2013

Another Bidder for Hulu

Peter Kafka, AllThingsD:

Add one more name to the Hulu bidding derby: Yahoo, which just announced plans to buy Tumblr for $1.1 billion, has made an offer on the video website as well.

I bet they buy both Park Place and Boardwalk next, just to be dicks.

Horace Dediu’s Questions for Tim Cook

Horace Dediu:

Next week at AllThingsD’s D11 conference in LA, Apple CEO Tim Cook will be interviewed by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.

Here are some questions I’m hoping they will ask.

I’d particularly like to know the answer to number four. But these questions are so good that Mossberg and Swisher likely won’t ask them or, at least, Tim Cook won’t provide a direct answer to them. Gotta keep the secrets secret, you know?

Why Waze Is Worth More Than $1 Billion

Rebecca Greenfield, the Atlantic Wire:

Waze did something very smart from the perspective of companies trying to make money off our data: It normalized giving away our privacy. In order to run — in order to be as useful as it is — the maps app needs users giving up as much of their driving and location data as possible. You know, in order to properly crowd-source road conditions.

Is it just me, or are billion-dollar valuations being thrown around like crazy in the past year or so? You can bet Apple wants this, but you can also bet that they do not want Google to have this — Apple already licenses some map data from Waze, and they don’t want to (once again) deal with Google to license it.

The Google We Always Wanted

Ben Thompson:

The Google that I saw at I/O was, to use Jobs’ words, focused. They know exactly what their strength is – machine learning – and they know exactly what they want to be – the world’s source of all information, both facts and people.

That’s both impressive and hella scary, given that Google’s revenue structure is predicated on targeting ads. To keep ad revenue growing, they must get better at targeting ads, and to get better at targeting ads, they need more information. If you’re cool with that, that’s your own bag of hurt to deal with.

Music Every Day

A brand new iPhone ad, in the vein of “Photos Every Day”. These ads use a very soft sell, which shows a quiet confidence in the product. Take Jeffrey Zablotny’s observations of the “Photos” spot:

There’s incredible restraint in the amount of compression applied to the music in ‘Photos Every Day’. […] My point here is that if you caught this on TV, it would be substantially ‘quieter’ sounding than other ads around it.

The same philosophy exists in this ad, too; odd, in an ad ostensibly about music. But, in fact, it isn’t so much about the music as it is about the beautifully quiet way that the iPhone brings music into your life. Ever since the iPod, Apple has been the company that has made music portable, and their legacy continues with the iPhone.

I really like these new “…Every Day” ads. It’s advertising at its emotional best. But Federico Viticci thinks this is the end of the line for this format:

Sadly I don’t think there’s room for more Apple “…Every Day” ads. “Work/Messages Every Day” aren’t as emotional. Maybe FaceTime again?

I disagree. Apple can show off web browsing, as more people use the iPhone to browse the web than any other phone. Even Viticci’s example of something work-related, like calendaring or email, can be given an emotional edge if the iPhone makes work enjoyable. But I think the difficulty in that case is to establish a way in which the iPhone is used more than any other phone.

I think a combined iMessage-FaceTime ad would give the greatest emotional connection, though. Or Apple could always use David Chartier’s suggestion.

Joe Nocera Does It Again

Steve Jobs phoned Joe Nocera in 2008:

“This is Steve Jobs,” he began. “You think I’m an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he’s above the law, and I think you’re a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong.”

And lo, on the Congressional hearing regarding Apple’s tax situation:

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was a flat-out lie.

In other words, Cook spent Tuesday claiming that the sun was setting when it was actually rising, and, predictably, by the time the hearing had ended, most of the senators were agreeing with him.

Under oath, no less.

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has sorted out the nonsense:

There is something about sending tens of billions of dollars to a holding company that has tax residency in no country on earth that seems to violate the spirit of the law — despite Cook’s assertion to the contrary.

But what will be remembered about Nocera’s latest Apple column is that he called Tim Cook a liar — accusing him of telling, under oath, a “whopper” and a “flat-out lie.”

Android’s Market Share Is Literally a Joke

Yet another great article from John Kirk at Techpinions:

Not only do the high priests of market share have it wrong, they have it exactly backwards. The company with the lower market share and the higher profits has all of the leverage. The goal is to increase, not decrease, the ratio of profits to market share. Increasing market share at the cost of profits is a recipe for disaster, not a formula for success.

Designing Blogs for Readers

Speaking of hard-to-read blogs, Matt Gemmell wants you to make your blog suck less for readers:

Having had a decade to think about it, I want to share my views on what I think you do and don’t need on a blog today. Your needs may be different, but perhaps you’ll find something to think about. I bet you could simplify your blog in some way without detracting from the reading experience.

I freely break a few of these rules: I will remove my sidebar when Gemmell uses a much less ungainly font. But the ethos of a simple background, clean type, and few distractions is one that is decidedly not user hostile.

Remember Ben Brooks’ article on readability?

I wondered after thinking about this just how readable the web really is — well the web that I encounter. So I took a look at twelve different sites to see if I thought the designers behind the sites were optimizing for reading, or for ads/pageviews/money.

Out of desperation, far too many websites optimize for ad revenue. It’s hard to blame them for trying to earn an extra buck in a world where users demand everything for free, and install AdBlock. But these same companies overlook why people install AdBlock, or use Instapaper (disclaimer: I use the latter, but not the former).

Make no mistake — Gemmell has some great points in this article. But the underlying reasons as to why the web looks more like The Next Web than Daring Fireball must be addressed. A paywall certainly helps, but that’s not a universal solution (and certainly not a good one for most bloggers).

“This Shit Is Private”

Virginia Roberts, on the speculation of how much any of Tumblr’s developers will make on the $1.1 billion acquisition:

Why am I so up in arms about the finances of some software developer across the country? Because this shit is private, people. The fact that Marco [Arment] has ever mentioned anything related to any of his finances on any of his projects is a generous gesture on his part, because he clearly takes some stupid shit for it. We really are like paparazzi in this weird little nerd world, and it’s uncomfortable to share figures and income.

The site is, charitably, not the easiest to read, but it’s worth it for the point here. There’s a lot of crap and speculation being thrown at Arment, trying to figure out how much he’s making on this deal. On the well-informed side, there’s Matthew Flamm of Crain’s; on the uninformed (and stupid) side, there are people at Hacker News trying to figure out Arment’s cut based on the cost of yachts and helicopters. But none of this matters because it’s possible to be curious without being a dick. And it’s pretty dickish to trying to figure out the pay cut of anyone involved in the deals of private companies and individuals. Via Harry Marks.

GIF Creator Steve Wilhite Receives Lifetime Achievement Webby Award

“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

Look, I know you invented the format. But it’s pronounced with a hard ‘G’. If you wanted it pronounced with a soft ‘G’, you should have called it the ‘JIF’. End of story.

Apple and Corporate Taxes

From the New York Times’ live blog of the hearings:

Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, has taken the floor with a very different tone. He says he is “offended” by the hearings. Who, he said, doesn’t try to minimize their own taxes?

“Tell me what Apple has done that’s illegal,” he said.

Reasonable people here aren’t arguing that what Apple has done is illegal or criminal, just devious. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) issued a press release, in which John McCain (R-Arizona) states as such:

“Apple claims to be the largest U.S. corporate taxpayer, but by sheer size and scale, it is also among America’s largest tax avoiders,” said Sen. McCain. “A company that found remarkable success by harnessing American ingenuity and the opportunities afforded by the U.S. economy should not be shifting its profits overseas to avoid the payment of U.S. tax, purposefully depriving the American people of revenue. It is important to understand Apple’s byzantine tax structure so that we can effectively close the loopholes utilized by many U.S. multinational companies, particularly in this era of sequestration.”

The question here is not one of legality. Rather, like Arne Svenson’s “Neighbors”, it is a question of morals. Here, it’s an implicit requirement of compliance with a 35% taxation rate. Apple doesn’t comply with this, but no large corporation in the United States complies with this either. That doesn’t make it okay, but nor does it mean that it’s criminal. The tax structures created by most US companies are complex by design and by necessity.

Most tax scholars — whether they be from the libertarian CATO Institute, or the conservative American Enterprise Institute, or the centrist Brookings Institution, or liberal Center for American Progress — argue for a reform and dramatic simplification of the byzantine US tax code. But owing to the complexity of such a task, and the differing opinions of any given think tank or politician, a complete rewrite is unlikely in the near future.

Apple has published their prepared testimony (PDF).

The One-Person Product

In light of today’s acquisition news, the two founders of Tumblr have published their own recollections. CEO David Karp enthusiastically closed his press release:

As always, everything that Tumblr is, we owe to this unbelievable community. We won’t let you down.

Fuck yeah,
David

Marco Arment has written up what amounts to a history of his time at Tumblr:

David has an impeccable sense of what’s best for Tumblr, and he doesn’t need anyone else telling him what’s best for the product. Many people, myself included, have tried to convince him to go different directions, and we’ve been proven wrong every time.

Tumblr is David, and David is Tumblr.

Yahoo, Apple Discuss Deeper iPhone Partnership

Remember this story from April?

Apps powered by data from Yahoo Finance and Yahoo’s weather site already come preloaded on iPhones. Some Yahoo data, such as sports stats, help power Apple’s voice-activated “assistant” Siri.

But the companies are discussing new arrangements, including possible deals to get more content from Yahoo News and its other Web properties loaded onto Apple devices or available through an expanded Siri partnership, one of these people said.

Or, perhaps, a redesigned Flickr that’s suddenly ready for the spotlight in 2013 could be deeper integrated into iOS. Flickr uploads are already integrated into OS X.

A Better, Brighter Flickr

A full terabyte of free space, plus a completely redesigned website. And here I was thinking I didn’t care much about Yahoo any more.

“Pro” accounts no longer exist in the same way. From the help document:

Ad Free:

  • $49.99 per year
  • All the benefits of a free account
  • No ads in your browsing experience

Doublr:

  • $499.99 per year
  • 2 Terabytes of photo and video space
  • All the benefits of a free account

I wonder if the Doublr account gets ads.

Unknowable

Michael Lopp, on the ticket restrictions of WWDC:

The cap on WWDC tickets means it won’t go the way of SXSW – a wildly successful conference that has grown consistently since its inception. I used to go every year until one late night we looked around a huge sea of strangers and decided that we no longer knew this conference.

WWDC isn’t just the sessions — developers can get the sessions online if that’s all they want. It isn’t about the Bash, or the keynote, or the ability to chat with Apple engineers, or the crowd.

It’s about all of those things.

Yahoo Really, Really Buys Tumblr

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer:

I’m delighted to announce that we’ve reached an agreement to acquire Tumblr!

We promise not to screw it up.

I guess we really are writing Tumblr with an exclamation point.

Tumblr!

Kara Swisher, AllThingsD:

The Yahoo board has approved a massive $1.1 billion all-cash deal to buy Tumblr.

Sources close to the board said the deal was a foregone conclusion and was an unanimous vote by the Silicon Valley Internet giant.

The deal will be announced Monday morning, said numerous sources.

Some are born cool, some achieve coolness, and some buy it for over a billion dollars. And by “coolness”, I mean that Yahoo just bought a bunch of stupid blogs, animated GIFs, and porn, and I’m sure they’re thrilled about that.

I bet this works out well for Yahoo, though. They need people to think they’re still relevant, and this is an easy way of doing that. They haven’t been able to say that they own one of the hottest Web properties for a long time, but now they can.

Growing Pains

If you’ve been following the crop of links I’ve selected this week, it’s clear that it has been a big week for Google. From Mat Honan’s mockery to Nick Bilton’s privacy, and from video codecs to my disdain for Google+’s redesign, it might appear that I’ve been crafting a narrative of displeasure with Google over the past few days.

That hasn’t been my intent at all, however. What this week has illustrated is that Google is in an awkward place as a company. Their internal culture, their external perception, their realized products, and their conceptual ideas are all floating in a soup which has been brought to the front burner owing to this week’s I/O conference.

In the middle of the keynote of a geological time scale, Dustin Curtis tweeted:

Before last year, everything Google made was uninspired crap. Now it is carefully executed, designed well, and part of a massive vision.

I think it’s hinting at a massive vision, but I think what’s being realized throught the articles I’ve linked to this week is a clear sense of the blind spots in that vision. Google’s no longer the benevolent college search engine project. The company has the most popular search engine, smartphone operating system, and web advertising platforms, plus a massive quantity of other products of varying popularity. It’s not a small company any more; Google’s fucking enormous, but I think a great deal of people lack that sense — a perspective that has been cultivated through its spokespersons’ crafted statements which imply a sense of a smaller startup.1

This image is only one component of the cracks showing in these growing pains. What happened this week was due in part to the sheer quantity of updates announced over the course of the keynote presentation, each of which has been (and will continue to be) analyzed and critiqued. Google’s bigger vision is coming into its own, but the company is in an awkward phase of its realization of just how big they are. The commentary that you read this week has reflected that.


  1. Releases with titles like “Mo’ screens, mo’ goodness”, or the very practice of releasing most news as blog posts. ↩︎