Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for October, 2014

John Siracusa’s OS X Yosemite Review

My favourite part of a new OS X release isn’t OS X itself; it’s Siracusa’s review of it. As comprehensive and as hypercritical as you’d want.

A few parts of this review really stood out to me. Regarding Safari:

The new address bar looks nearly identical to the one in Safari for iOS. On an iPhone, horizontal space is so constrained that the choice not to show the full URL is understandable. On an iPad, this is less true, but there’s an argument to be made for consistency. On the Mac, however, horizontal space is abundant, and pixel-for-pixel symmetry with iOS is decidedly out of fashion.

There are at least two other reasons to bring this interface to the Mac, however. The first is security. When the full URL is shown, it’s possible to fool users into thinking they are on a familiar website when they’re actually on a phishing site. One way to do this is by using a very long domain name that happens to begin with what looks like a legitimate domain name.

Unlike some others, I was not really that upset about OS X Safari’s iOS mimicry, but I hadn’t considered this angle. Smart.

Regarding Handoff:

To start, Handoff is proximity-based; it only functions when two devices are near each other. So there’s no concern that composing an e-mail on your iPhone while on vacation will cause an icon to appear next to the Dock on your Mac back at the office. Devices use Bluetooth low energy (BTLE) to discover each other. If you’re not within BTLE range (a few hundred feet, at most), Handoff is out of the picture.

This stood out to me in a different way — I’ve actually seen Handoff partially working from long distances. I’ve been kilometres away from my Mac and have seen the Safari icon appear on my iPhone’s lock screen — Safari is typically my frontmost app on my Mac anyway. I also have Power Nap enabled on my Mac, so my guess is that my Mac pings my phone when it wakes up every hour or so. This must occur over WiFi, unless I have the strongest Bluetooth signal in the world. However, I’ve never actually had a successful Handoff exchange at distance.

Another oddity: my building is one of many recovering from a massive power outage. I now have power, but fibre services are still down in my area. Last night, I was tapping out a text message on my iPhone — disconnected from my WiFi network — and the Handoff icon appeared beside my dock on my Mac. I tried clicking on it just to see if it would work, but the Handoff exchange couldn’t be completed. Bluetooth was active in this case, but WiFi was not.

Handoff’s technology seems extraordinarily complex, but it’s beautifully simple and almost boring in practice, and I love that.

Regarding iCloud Drive:

For starters, the actual location of iCloud Drive in the file system is carefully hidden. Command-click the window title or use the Finder’s Get Info command to try to get a real file path and you’ll see only “iCloud Drive” as the top-level location. You can’t even drag the iCloud Drive proxy icon from a Finder window’s title bar into a Terminal window to get a file path. Apple really doesn’t want people knowing where on disk the iCloud Drive data lives.

More weirdness lurks. At the top level of iCloud Drive, badged folders appear for each iCloud-enabled application. You can’t Get Info on these folders either; the Finder just beeps in protest.

As it turns out, everything is still under ~/Library/Mobile Documents/ in obscurely named subdirectories, but the careful subterfuge emphasizes Apple’s desire to keep iCloud Drive abstract. It is not just “a folder that syncs.” It’s not a folder at all; it’s “iCloud.”

Regarding Activity Monitor:

Earlier versions of Activity Monitor required a tedious mouse-over-and-wait action to see the URL associated with a Safari back-end process. The new Activity Monitor in Yosemite helpfully shows the URL in place of the unhelpful “Safari Web Content” process name.

Finally.

Why.I.Am

Roberto Baldwin,1 of the Next Web:

When you think wearables you don’t usually think international superstar or Salesforce. Push aside that old way of thinking aside because Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am just unveiled his smartwatch the Puls at the Dreamforce conference.

Pronounced “pulse,” the smartwatch is voice controlled via a Siri type feature called Aneeda (get it? Aneeda. I need a…). It ships with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (called Twitrist. get it? Twit wrist. Puns!), and Salesforce

“Our most personal device yet” vs. “Salesforce on your wrist”. Tough call.

But, he says “this is not a watch” instead it’s a cuff . Also, he says it has four kilowatts of DAF (Dope as Fuckness).

I was under the impression that Dope as Fuckness was measured in pascals.

Anyway, think anyone at Apple is worried about this one?


  1. Not, as it turns out, a brother Baldwin. ↩︎

Keynote Eve Jitters

Tomorrow, Apple will announce two new iPads1 and a gorgeous new Retina iMac, and launch OS X Yosemite and iOS 8.1. Apple’s been busy this year. But, as Michael Tsai’s quote roundup reveals, it hasn’t been smooth sailing — the buggy yearly iOS and OS X releases, in particular, have revealed a very rushed schedule.

This isn’t unprecedented, however. Before the first iPhone was released, Apple delayed the release of Leopard because they moved resources to finishing “iPhone OS” 1.0; when Leopard was finally released, it was a buggy mess. When they were working on the iPad, there were again significant issues in both the then-current Snow Leopard and in Lion, when it was released in 2011.

That Apple is working on yet another OS — Watch OS — isn’t a free pass for their declining software quality, however. While they were never perfect, the company has long been revered for its consistently-high quality bar. Now? Certainly not as much.


  1. When was the last time Apple leaked one of their own products? ↩︎

GT Advanced Executive Scheduled Shares to be Sold the Day Before the iPhone 6 Announcement

Juli Clover, Macrumors:

Shortly after GT Advanced missed its February payment, the company’s CEO, Thomas Gutierrez and its Chief Operating Officer, Daniel Squiller, set plans in motion to begin selling off stock. While the timing of their subsequent sales was subject to the schedules laid out in their trading plans, it is clear those plans were established after GT began having difficulties meeting its milestones.

Gutierrez set up a pre-arranged Rule 10b5-1 sale in March, which saw him selling more than 9,000 shares of GT Advanced stock on September 8, a day ahead of Apple’s iPhone announcement. Gutierrez also sold off stock throughout the year, netting more than $10 million before stock prices faltered after it became clear Apple was not using sapphire in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Totally idle speculation on my part, but with tactics like these, I wonder if GT Advanced was juicing the rumour mill too. From the outside, this was a surprise, given GT’s well-known relationship with Apple. From the inside, though, it’s now becoming clear that the whole venture has been shaky for much of the past year.

Dropped

Geoffrey Goetz, GigaOm:

Like its many predecessors, iPhoto Web Journals were a way of personalizing an online gallery of photos. It was like creating a digital scrapbook in the cloud. With it you could add titles, insert comments, include maps, weather and other information intermingled with your photos. Users of journals would typically spend a good amount of time personalizing the delivery of their online photos by telling a story alongside their photos.

The problem this time around is that there was very little notice and there really is no recourse or action that can be taken to preserve your iPhoto projects. And unfortunately there is no easy fix for this. According to Apple’s own support page concerning the migration, “Photo Books, Web Journals, and Slideshows are converted into regular albums in Photos. Text and layouts are not preserved.” And thats it, no more iCloud scrapbooking per Apple.

Apple is also dropping support for their printed products with Photos for OS X. My dad is a goldsmith, and he uses iPhoto photo books for his portfolio — they’re well-printed, nicely-bound hardcover books that he can lay out himself and order on demand for a reasonable price. I told him that these products would no longer be available; he’s gutted.

Tilde.Club

You’ve probably seen various Tilde.Club links popping up on Twitter over the past couple of weeks. Paul Ford started it:

It was pretty late at night. I had two pieces due for Businessweek, so I should have gone to bed right then. No one would have held me to my promise. But look. The kids were in bed. It doesn’t take long to set up computers in the cloud. You can do it even when you’re one or two sheets to the wind. I booted up Amazon’s cheapest and weakest fragment of a cloud computer. You do this by clicking buttons in a web page. I logged in to my new computer, made a few user accounts, and fired up a web server. This computer ran a Unix-based operating system. It was located somewhere in Virginia.

I went to bed. When I woke up 100 people were asking for accounts.

This is so great.

Microsoft CEO Tells Women Not to Ask For a Raise at Women in Tech Event

Speaking of Microsoft and diversity, here’s Nitasha Tiku of Valleywag:

What Nadella apologists (including Nadella himself) don’t seem to get is that his language and phrasing are not the issue. The issue is that in an unguarded moment, the CEO of a major technology corporation said he thinks the current system is efficient and that women eventually get appropriately compensated, despite the persistent wage gap. That doesn’t even address getting a job offer from Microsoft, which is 70 percent male.

First, I’m linking to Valleywag, so I already feel dirty. Then, Tiku goes ahead and uses the word “apologists”. But beneath that film of grossness, this is damning. It’s also, strangely, honest — this is truly what is engrained in the culture of the industry in the Valley, in particular.

Happily, Nadella apparently saw the error in his words:

Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong.

This, too, is refreshingly honest.

But all of this is lip service. It means only a fraction of actually doing something.

Microsoft Issues More Comprehensive Diversity Report

About a week ago, Microsoft released a diversity report more in line with the format of other tech companies. A guy named H. Parker Shelton not only tipped me off to this release, but added the numbers himself to scraped copy of my post, and emailed that to me. He edited HTML tables so I didn’t have to.

I have the best readers.

I’ve updated my tech diversity stats post to reflect these changes. Big thanks to Mr. Shelton for taking care of the hard work for me.

Wolpphire

This is entirely true. I’ve had this article in my “possible links” collection since it was published on September 10, titled “Analyst Who Cried Sapphire Takes Another Swing, Despite Whiffing on iPhone 6 Predictions”. It’s by Neil Hughes of AppleInsider.

I’ve had it kicking around for a while because I didn’t know what to do with it. It seemed silly and pathetic at the time, and I thought I could make fun of this hilariously out-of-touch analyst who says stuff like this:

He still holds hope that iPhone 6 cover screens will be made of sapphire, even after Apple’s announcement. In his latest note, he said GT’s output from its Arizona facility is “excessive,” and that it will “continue to be grown for iPhone 6 cover screens.”

In light of recent events, however, I’ve decided to let this pass, for three big reasons.

First, it seems kind of mean to make fun of a guy like this:

Margolis’s apparent transition to the “denial” stage of grief may be explained by his particular affinity for the GT-Apple partnership. His Twitter handle even reflects this: @Sapphirecover24.

I mean, come on — it’s kind of adorable, isn’t it? It must be pretty heartbreaking for this analyst, considering he was so bearish on GT Advanced.

That’s the second reason I’m sympathetic to this analyst: this came out of nowhere.

All of the iPhones in Apple’s lineup use sapphire, and their upcoming watch will use it for its display, with the exception of the Sport model. It’s also expected that the new generation of iPads, set to launch in a week, will have Touch ID sensors that will also use sapphire. If GT Advanced were Apple’s only sapphire supplier, they’d probably be at the peak of their output.

But the third reason is how wildly off-base AppleInsider’s Hughes is, not the analyst.

Sapphire supporters like Margolis believed and hoped that Apple and GT Advanced may have secretly discovered some sort of breakthrough that would allow Apple to build entire iPhone displays, and even iPads, made of the material this year, all while keeping up with overwhelming consumer demand for those products. They were convinced that sapphire was bound to make a big splash, thanks to a $578 million contract Apple had inked with GT, resulting in scratch-proof covers for the iPhone 6 and beyond.

You can almost feel the mockery through your screen. It’s just short of “Hey everybody, let’s all point and laugh at the stupid analyst.”

But it increasingly looks like the analyst — PTT Research’s Matt Margolis — wasn’t entirely batshit crazy. No, the iPhone 6 does not have and will not have a sapphire display.1 But, according to the Wall Street Journal, Apple was actually considering using sapphire for iPhone displays, possibly even for the 6:

As recently as a few months ago, Apple engineers were testing iPhone prototypes with a sapphire screen cover, according to the people familiar with the matter. By using sapphire as an alternative to hardened glass, Apple was hoping for a more scratch- and shatter-resistant cover for its flagship smartphones, they said.

In the end, Apple decided to scrap the sapphire screens for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and stick with Corning Inc.’s heavy-duty Gorilla Glass.

Maybe the Journal is wrong, and AppleInsider should gloat, as Daniel Eran Dilger so frequently and unfortunately does. But I think this is a pretty depressing story all around: a promising and innovative company gone bankrupt, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people potentially losing their jobs, and a really sad analyst to top it all off. And Dilger is dancing on GT’s grave, because that’s what he does.

Back to AppleInsider’s Hughes for the final word, from a month ago:

To quote the legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

Indeed.


  1. I’m just talking about the iPhone 6 here, not necessarily the 6S, or whatever. ↩︎

The Magazine is Closing

It’s been a good two-year run, but Glenn Fleishman is shutting it down:

The Magazine will stop publishing its every-other-week issues on December 17, 2014, cancel all outstanding subscriptions, and automatically provide pro-rated refunds (either through Apple or directly) for subscriptions that continue past December 31, 2014. (We will be in touch directly with Kickstarter backers who subscribed via our Year One book campaign.)

No reason is provided; my hunch is that the subscriber count dropped precipitously. For a product philosophically opposed to advertising, that’s a death knell. I’m not sure about you, but my favourite article in the Magazine will always be “You Are Boring” by Scott Simpson. It was published way back in the fourth-ever issue; perhaps that’s telling.

Update: Glenn has elaborated on his “glog” that the shrinking subscriber count is, indeed, to blame. Unsurprisingly.

iOS 8 Adoption Stagnates

Aside from the myriad bugs in the past month, Stephen Hackett thinks that iOS 7’s significant overhaul might have dissuaded many from updating:

I think the shock of iOS 7 (what I have named the OMG I UPDATED MY PHONE AND EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT syndrome) is a factor as well. While iOS 8 is not drastically different to operate, the users who were surprised by iOS 7’s well-known UI changes are just the ones to be afraid of it happening again.

I think it may be the opposite: iOS 8 has very little in the way of immediately-apparent user changes, so what’s the incentive to upgrade?

On iPods, iTunes, DRM, and Lock-in, in 2014, for Some Reason

Mikey Campbell, AppleInsider:

According to plaintiffs, Apple allegedly stifled competition in the digital music space by implementing FairPlay DRM protocols that supposedly “locked” iPod users in to the iTunes ecosystem. By making songs purchased through competing services unplayable on iPods at the time, Apple is said to have dissuaded users from switching over to other platforms, specifically those built by RealNetworks.

This is like some kind of archaeological dig — a lawsuit by RealNetworks against iTunes DRM and iPods.

I have argued many times that companies in a market dominating position have a responsibility and an obligation to behave in accordance with a different set of rules than their underdogs. It doesn’t matter that they might have the best product — Google is the best search engine, while iPods were the best portable music players at their time. The market has decided that these should dominate but their dominance must mean more careful rules assigned to the companies responsible.

However, this suit seems farcical. Campbell, continued:

The case revolves around RealNetworks’ “Harmony” technology, a workaround for FairPlay DRM that allowed customers to buy songs through the Real’s music store and play them back on iPod. Apple responded by releasing a software update that, among other enhancements, disabled Harmony content.

Harmony was not a workaround for FairPlay; Harmony was a reverse-engineered version of FairPlay. In order to maintain their standing with record labels, Apple almost certainly had an obligation to ensure the security of FairPlay. I can’t imagine that their agreement with record labels did not involve updating their software to ensure FairPlay wasn’t compromised.

Why didn’t RealNetworks use their own DRM format instead of reverse-engineering Apple’s? They were probably worried that Apple wouldn’t buy a license to their own scheme, thereby enabling playback on iPods. This is a fair concern; Apple didn’t license anyone else’s music DRM schemes. Apple does license third-party DRM when it made sense — you’ll recall DRM-encumbered Audible books can be listened to on iPods and everything else Apple makes — and it might have made sense in RealNetworks’ case, provided that they ever made a case for it.

But this is predicated on the necessary inclusion of DRM. If the songs did not have DRM, they could be played on iPods without any hiccups. Therefore, the claim in the suit that Apple actively prevented the playback of music acquired from non-iTunes sources is completely ridiculous. Should all companies be required to license all DRM formats? I’m surprised this suit has been going on for ten years, and that it has not yet been dismissed.

iPhone 6 Looks

Khoi Vinh:

If there’s a single thread that runs through nearly every piece of Apple hardware, it’s conviction, the sense that its designers believed with every fiber of their being that the form factor they delivered was the result of countless correct choices that, in totality, add up to the best and only choice for giving shape to that particular product. Apple hardware has always looked utterly convincing because they have always been brimming with conviction.

Looking at these two iPhone 6 models, I can’t truly bring myself to believe that that’s the case.

I’ve now seen a large number of iPhones 6 in the wild, as well as played with one briefly, and I couldn’t figure out what was bugging me about its industrial design. Vinh articulates it beautifully. The iPhone 6 is a very nice product; a worthy entry in Apple’s aluminum-and-glass motif. But it doesn’t feel nearly as confident in its own skin. Design is about making the right compromises, but the iPhone 6 feels compromised.

Don’t get me wrong — every iPhone has been compromised in order to make all the radios work. The original iPhone had a black plastic piece on the back, while the iPhone 3G(S) (and 5C) had their backs made entirely out of plastic. The 4(S) had its antennas moved to the exterior to avoid marring the beautiful mirrored sandwich hardware, but there were occasional attenuation issues with this setup. The 5(S), meanwhile, has glass “windows” at the top and bottom of the back.

In that vein, the 3G(S) and 5C were, perhaps, the most honest and straightforward, but those models all feel distinctly less premium than any other iPhone. The plastic seams on the iPhone 6 are simply a continuation of this theme, but they feel somehow weaker and less confident. It feels almost as if the radio engineering team got an all-aluminum case to start, then cut away just enough metal to allow for radio passthrough.

It’s not ugly by any means; it’s one of the nicest iPhones to have shipped so far. It’s just not as beautiful as, for instance, its predecessor; despite its far better build quality, it feels almost less precise than my 5S. It’s achingly close to an industrial design I can love, but it’s not there yet, I don’t think.

“Fanboys, I Weep For Your Souls”

Dan Lyons linked to Business Insider’s overview of the Apple Watch show-off event in Paris, writing:

This is Apple in 2014, post Steve. Fanboys, I weep for your souls.

I know Lyons is going for the easy troll here, but I’ve seen a similar sentiment since the Apple Watch was rumoured, and escalating since its launch. Yes, at its core, the Apple Watch is a computer, but the intent of the product is a watch. Watches are fashion accessories. That’s what the Pebble either misses or, if you believe their marketing materials, consciously avoids. Why wouldn’t Apple choose to associate with fashion designers and fashion houses to launch the product?