Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for February, 2015

The Artful Dodge

John Gruber pours cold water on Daisuke Wakabayashi and his sources:

The way it reads to me is that Wakabayashi’s sources for the June 2014 story were not “familiar with the matter”, but rather were familiar with, at best, already-outdated plans to ship a more fitness/health-focused Apple Watch in 2014. And his report this week reads more like an attempt to make it look like it’s the Apple Watch that is actually coming in April that is wrong, not his reporting from last year.

Plans change, but Wakabayashi wants to pen the narrative again.

Barack Obama Speaks With Kara Swisher

It’s about time an interview like this occurred. The United States needs a President who is well-versed in technological issues. Barack Obama is far better than any of his predecessors and his competitors in this department, but still not always brilliant. Case in point:

Let’s talk about encryption. What’s wrong with what Google and Apple are doing? You have encrypted email — shouldn’t everybody have encrypted email, or have their protections?

Everybody should. And I’m a strong believer in strong encryption. Where the tension has come up, historically, what has happened, is that — let’s say you knew a particular person was involved in a terrorist plot. And the FBI is trying to figure out who else were they communicating with, in order to prevent the plot.

Traditionally, what has been able to happen is that the FBI gets a court order. They go to the company, they request those records the same way that they’d go get a court order to request a wiretap. The company technically can comply. The issue here is that — partly in response to customer demand, partly in response to legitimate concerns about consumer privacy — the technologies may be built to a point where, when the government goes to …

They can’t get the information.

The company says, “Sorry, we just can’t pull it. It’s so sealed and tight that, even though government has a legitimate request, technologically we cannot do it.”

Is what they’re doing wrong?

No, I think they are properly responding to a market demand. All of us are really concerned about making sure our …

So what are you going to do?

Well, what we’re going to try to do is to see: Is there a way for us to narrow this gap? Ultimately, everybody — and certainly this is true for me and my family — we all want to know that if we’re using a smartphone for transactions, sending messages, having private conversations, that we don’t have a bunch of people compromising that process.

So there’s no scenario in which we don’t want really strong encryption. The narrow question is going to be if there is a proper request for … this isn’t bulk collection, this isn’t sort of fishing expeditions by government.

Where there is a situation in which we’re trying to get a specific case of a possible national security threat — is there a way of accessing it? If it turns out it’s not, then we’re really gonna have to have a public debate. And, you know, I think some in Silicon Valley would make the argument — which is a fair argument, and I get — that the harms done by having any kind of compromised encryption are far greater …

This excerpt is extremely revealing. First, it’s obvious just what a good interviewer Kara Swisher is. She doesn’t allow for digressions or monologues; she wants the answers.

But it also reveals — or at least suggests — that the President believes there’s a middle ground between strong encryption and accessibility by law enforcement. While I’m empathetic to his hopes, the fact is that any encryption strong enough to protect against financial fraud or message interception by nefarious third parties is also strong enough to prevent the FBI from poking around. There is simply no way to have strong encryption that offers a law enforcement-only backdoor.

Swisher presses him on this for a little bit afterward, but it’s clear that he’s not budging. And that’s fair. The President of the United States, regardless of who it is, sees dozens of national security threats dropped into their lap every morning, and it’s hard to reconcile that with a hard-line stance on personal privacy.

The President is right: there needs to be a debate on how much we value our privacy, weighed against the actual threat and consequence of violent crimes committed using the same tools we all use. But I don’t know that such a debate will produce a singular right answer.

My Favourite Records of 2014

2014 was a weird year for new music, he began his month-and-a-half-late choice retrospective. After a totally killer 2013, it was pretty hard to imagine 2014 could top it. And, indeed, it didn’t, I don’t think. The closest we got to an “MBV” moment this year was a new D’Angelo record — which was great, by the way, so keep reading — but there were a few absolutely incredible records released over the past twelve months, and I’d like to highlight them. Some of these are obvious and you probably own them already; others are much more unique. I’d like to think that there’s something on this list for everybody.

All of the album links are iTunes affiliate links, so if you’d like to financially support what I do here and you want new music, please feel free to click through and buy an album from these links. If you like the sound of a record but would prefer not to buy through the affiliate link, please search the record out and buy it from your local independent music store.

Beyoncé — Beyoncé

I start this list with an omission from my favourite albums of 2013. Released right at the tail end of last year, Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album cemented her as the world’s biggest pop star. While it was conceived as entwined musical and video components, I’ve only “watched” the album a couple of times. However, since each song on the album has a video, when every song is, in effect, a single, no song is a single. Through explorations of beauty, marriage, feminism, and sexuality, Beyoncé is truly best listened to as a full album, not as individual songs. To top it all off, the album is produced with a special kind of finesse and care that I haven’t heard in a long time. It’s an event unlike any album released this year. Praise Queen Bey.

Picks: Ghost/Haunted; Drunk in Love; Yoncé/Partition; Flawless

Beauty & Ruin — Bob Mould

Bob Mould spent the majority of his twenties and thirties defining and influencing the sound of alternative rock music in the 1980’s and ’90’s, as the frontman of Hüsker Dü and Sugar, as well as forging a successful solo career. On Beauty & Ruin, Mould has decided to take stock of decades of being a badass rock icon, which isn’t exactly a novel concept. But Mould approaches it with the kind of ferocity and intensity only he can muster, backed by a crazy-tight rhythm section. The album’s opener, Low Season, was panned by critics, but it’s one of my favourite songs on the record — it has a very special kind of warmth. But, then again, so does the rest of the album.

Picks: Low Season; Little Glass Pill; Tomorrow Morning

Our Love — Caribou

Eking a sense of emotion or genuine passion from electronic instruments is no small feat. The subtle differences in the way two guitarists may place their fingers on the fretboard aren’t really present between two different MIDI arrangements; at least, not in the same way. Some artists, like Burial, embrace the inherent coolness of electronic instruments to further their sonic investigation into loneliness and despair. Dan Snaith, as Caribou, has gone the other way and somehow imbued his electronic music with a sense of genuine warmth, as he ruminates on — and you may have been expecting this from the title — love. Love for his fans, for his family, for his wife, and for his new daughter. Opener “Can’t Do Without You” is neatly juxtaposed at the end by “Your Love Will Set You Free”: the first, an exploration of a love presumed lost; the latter, a love that Snaith can count on. This back-and-forth duelling-narrative element weaves itself through much of this record in a subtle and intriguing way that inspires effortless repeat listens.

Picks: Can’t Do Without You; Our Love; Your Love Will Set You Free

Here and Nowhere Else — Cloud Nothings

Do not adjust your dial: Here and Nowhere Else often does sound like it is being transmitted through a poor AM connection. It’s this lo-fi charm blended with post-hardcore delivery and pop catchiness that makes for one of the year’s best records. With its eight tracks clocking in at a neat 31 minutes, there’s very little room for waste or error, and it’s plain that the band is cognizant of that. But, though most of the songs on here are sub-four-minutes, there’s a wonderfully extended jam on “Pattern Walks”, elaborating on the band’s unique take on noisy, aggressive indie rock. It marks a departure from its predecessor in a number of ways — a new guitarist, and drums mixed really loud — but it’s just as catchy as ever, despite being way, way noisier. After seven breakneck songs, though, the album closer is tender, melancholic, and almost sweet. It’s a perfect end to a brilliant album.

Picks: No Thoughts, Pattern Walks, I’m Not Part Of Me

Black Messiah — D’Angelo and the Vanguard

In his twenty year career, D‘Angelo has released a total of three records. That’s glacial by any standard, but his work has never been disappointing. His previous record, Voodoo, set the template and high watermark for all R&B that followed it, and Black Messiah will surely be no different. It has been in the works for something like ten years, and it shows: every drum line, every melody, every vocal, every harmony, and every sample feels honed to perfection, and simultaneously utterly effortless. There feels like more focus than ever on D’Angelo’s unique vocal style, with hints of Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton floating over largely-real instrumentation, including drums by ?uestlove. If this record has even a whiff of the impact that Voodoo did, expect plenty of D’Angelo’s contemporaries to ape his unique style, more or less. But savour this original moment. It feels more like an event than a simple album release.

Picks: 1000 Deaths; Really Love; Another Life

Glass Boys — Fucked Up

Every time I think Fucked Up couldn’t produce a more dense, orchestral version of hardcore, they turn up the dial just a little more, making the resulting sound just a little more powerful. One day, if they’re not absolutely careful, it will become claustrophobic; for now, though, it’s cinematic and melodic in a most unique way. Though each record they make now will be inevitably compared to The Chemistry of Common Life, I think that’s a little unfair. This is a completely different beast than both Chemistry and interim release “David Comes to Life”; it’s simultaneously less ambitious, in the sense that it’s not a rock opera drama, and more ambitious, in that it attempts to breathe fresh life into those clichés of youth and age. And I think it works. Featuring a brilliant collection of guest vocalists from Dinosaur Jr. and the Tragically Hip, Glass Boys tugs pretty hard at the nostalgia heartstrings without straying onto the cheesy side. It’s warm and folky, for a hardcore punk record, and I love it.

Picks: Warm Change; Paper the House; The Great Divide

El Pintor — Interpol

There is no greater false hope than thinking the next Interpol album might actually be great. And yet here I am. Hoping.

I was wrong.

I’m glad I stuck with my apparently false hope. After two fairly mediocre albums and the departure of original bassist Carlos Dengler, Interpol has reemerged as a tight three-piece, with an energy and vigor unseen since — dare I say it? — the Turn on the Bright Lights days. Yes, the album still occasionally falters — Everything Is Wrong is a bit of a slog — but the strongest songs on El Pintor sit right with the strongest songs the band has ever released. “Fuck the ancient ways,” indeed, but El Pintor doesn’t totally distance itself with the band’s formula. It’s an alluring balance between fresh energy and expected style.

Picks: All the Rage Back Home; My Blue Supreme; Tidal Wave.

Sines — Jakob

Eight years ago, Jakob released the gorgeous Solace; after that, things got a little quiet. They still toured and played loads of shows, including opening for Tool for two of the band’s Australian tours, but a new record seemed elusive; or, at the very least, stuck in development hell. But, at long last, an album has emerged, and it’s amazing. It’s post rock as only Jakob know how to do it, complete with towering guitar lines, precise percussion, and warm bass lines. Yeah, it opens with the somewhat-predictable “Blind Them With Science”, but stick with it; it’s an adventure and a journey, and decidedly not much of a destination. I appreciate the band’s dedication to building an atmosphere over an easy end product: it feels explorative, not definitive.

Picks: Emergent; Harmonia; Resolve

Darlings — Kevin Drew

It took just one song into seeing one of Kevin Drew’s live performances for me to really get this record. Despite my affinity for Canadian indie royalty by way of Broken Social Scene, et. al., I’m not that familiar with Drew’s solo output. To be fair (to me), he has just one prior solo record. But “Darlings” is a wonderful exercise in slow burning warm and fuzzy indie rock. It reminds me an awful lot of one of my all-time favourite records, “Know By Heart”, by the American Analog Set: it’s unobtrusive and quiet, yet somehow demands your attention to every note. It’s like a warm blanket and a mug of tea. There are lyrics, and I’m sure they’re very nice; they seem to speak to romance, sex, monogamy, and all sorts of hot topical. But this is a record about feel, more than anything, for me at least. And it feels really good.

Picks: Mexican After Show Party; You Gotta Feel It; And That’s All I Know

Run the Jewels 2 — Run the Jewels

It’s generally hard for me to pick a “record of the year”. I tend to come up with a list of ten or fifteen albums that I really loved and will keep listening to in the years to come, but I can’t ever pick one that strikes me as the best. This year, though, Run the Jewels 2 easily took that crown. It has everything: a keen mix of social awareness and braggadocio over spectacular production, in a perfect back-and-forth style with moments of aggression and tenderness in harmony. It feels urgent and necessary, and very of-the-times. It’s a landmark kind of record, with guest contributions galore — including brilliant verses from Zack de la Rocha and Gangsta Boo, and a haunting chorus by Boots — mixing with El-P and Killer Mike’s exquisite duelling. I love this record.

Picks: Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck); Early; Love Again (Akinyele Back)

Heal — Strand of Oaks

There’s a bit about halfway through “JM”, the song in the middle of the album, where you get the sense as a listener that Timothy Showalter has poured absolutely everything into this record. It certainly reads like it: as he was in the middle of recording the album, he had a near-death accident that markedly changed the tone of the songs. A bunch of songs were mixed to be huge — far bigger than any of his previous work, and seemingly written to lift the roofs off stadiums, not small clubs or bars. Yeah, there’s a little bit of cheese on this record, but so what? This is ambitious, haunting, and at times, deceivingly charming. It feels like Showalter is willing to bear all to, indeed, heal.

Picks: Shut In; JM; Wait For Love

Seeds — TV on the Radio

After the tragic 2011 death of bassist Gerard Smith, TV on the Radio took a few years to grieve and regroup. Their first album as a reformed band, though without a full-time bassist, is a beautiful, disconcerting, yet oddly charming work. The attributes of a sound as distinctive as is TV on the Radio’s become more acute when paired with a subject as delicate and challenging as death, and all that comes with that. It’s not an instant classic in the way “Return to Cookie Mountain” was for me, and it does drag a little towards the middle, but it’s one hell of an impressive effort that improves with each listen.

Picks: Could You; Winter; Lazerray

Deep Fantasy — White Lung

I was eating dinner a few nights ago with a friend of mine who I haven’t seen for the better part of a decade1 and he pointed out that there’s something uniquely fascinating about a sub-30-minute record. Case in point: White Lung’s effort this year, flying by in less time than my daily commute, but packing a series of impressive punches along the way. In a year of seemingly nonstop degredation of women, as a whole, Deep Fantasy is a vital feminist voice, exploring its most pressing and necessary challenges. As with most great short-and-fast records, not a second of this album’s 22-minute running time feels wasted. Despite the aggressive delivery, though, there are plenty of catchy and, often, downright beautiful melodies to make this record feel more pop than it truly is. That’s nothing but a compliment, by the way.

Picks: Face Down; Just For You; In Your Home


There are plenty of records this year that I really enjoyed, but weren’t necessarily “favourites”, for whatever reason. Here’s a small selection.

The Worst Album of the Year

Last year, I proclaimed Jay Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” to be the worst record of the year, on account of its genius creator getting lazy. This year, there’s an awful lot of choice.

By the criteria of last year’s “winner”, Pink Floyd’s “The Endless River” is an easy contender. I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan — let’s face it, who actively dislikes Pink Floyd? — but they’re clearly just trading on their name at this point. “The Endless River” was an insipid record that I had to force myself to slog through. There are remnants of past Floyd, with almost self-conscious instrumental references to the greatest albums of their long and impressive career, but there’s very little on this record that I seek to listen to again. It feels like an endless river. Of boring.

I should, in fact, pick truly terrible records for this coveted prize. Lil Wayne released an album in 2014 that contained a song called “Bitches Love Me”, which included this gem of a lyric:

She said “I never want to make you mad
I just want to make you proud”
I said “Baby just make me cum
Then don’t make a sound”

Apparently, nobody involved with this record’s production found anything wrong with this. I am beside myself. I defer to the Rap Critic on this one.

Nickelback decided that writing songs about drugs and sex and booze wasn’t enough any more, so they wrote a protest song:

Head high, protest line
Freedom scribbled on your spine
Headline, New York Times
Standing on the edge of a revolution
Hey, hey, just obey
Your secret’s safe with the NSA
In God we trust, or the CIA
Standing on the edge of a revolution

It is truly this century’s “Eve of Destruction”, if Barry Mcguire kept hitting his head on a concrete wall while being forced to fill in a counterculture Mad Lib.

Alas, this award must go to the sole artist capable of producing a bad record from the first whiff of it.

And that, of course, is U2.

U2 gets ragged on a lot these days. They haven’t released anything really good since “The Joshua Tree”, but they mostly remained inoffensive for the past couple of decades. That all changed with “Songs of Innocence”, which was pushed to every iTunes account on the planet for free. Why is that so bad? Well, allow me to quote myself, like some kind of asshole:

[A] music library is a deeply personal collection. It is the whole sum of your life’s soundtrack. It has songs that played while you were laughing with friends, crying alone, making out with your significant other, cooking, cleaning, falling asleep, waking up, working, walking, and so much more. As we are able to take increasing amounts of music everywhere with us, we are increasingly experiencing our lives alongside a soundtrack. Songs of Innocence is an unwelcome wart on my life’s soundtrack. It has inserted itself into my library near albums of far greater importance to me. It feels like a violation of something I cherish.

Was it the worst music I’ve heard all year? No. It’s like the wallpaper in a dentist’s office. But imagine your dentist showing up at your house and re-papering your living room to match their office. It’s deeply offensive purely because it’s so invasive. I blame U2 and Apple equally for this shitstorm. “Songs of Innocence” was the worst album of 2014.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! And thank you for reading. See you next year, hopefully when a list like this is more relevant. Like I wrote at the top, these are all affiliate links, so buying a couple of these albums will help support this site financially. If you think affiliate links are wrong — or that putting together a list like this is kind of a lazy way of making a few bucks even though, and I swear this is true, I am genuinely recommending all of these records — that’s fine: please buy the albums of your choice at your local independent record store.

  1. If you’re reading this, hi Scott. ↩︎

Dan Lyons Continues to Be an Insufferable Jackass

Dan Lyons sounds jealous:

There is surprisingly little to be learned about Sir Jonathan Ive in this 17,000-word piece in The New Yorker, except this: The fucker gets driven to work in a Bentley Mulsanne, “a car for a head of state,” as Ian Parker puts it.

That one detail says it all. If you want to know who wields the real power at Apple, look no further. The Mulsanne starting price is a tick over $300,000, and can go higher (like if you get the special Grey Poupon refrigerator, I guess)…

Jonathan Ive is probably the best-known industrial designer anywhere, and determines the direction of both the hardware and software of one of the world’s biggest companies. A $300,000 car isn’t really that big of a deal in that context, is it?

…but the price is not the point.

Oh? Enlighten me, Lyons.

The point is the chauffeur. His name is Jean.

This is crazy even by Dan Lyons’ extremely high standards.

You know how Wikipedia typically lists notable people with a certain given name? There are so many people named Jean that Wikipedia just presents you with a list of articles that begin with Jean.

Ive, possibly the most influential person at Apple including Tim Cook, has a chauffeur. His name is the French equivalent of John. This is outrageous to Dan Lyons.

And then this article gets really weird:

There’s no word in the article about whether Ive makes Jean wear a uniform, and if so, whether Ive designed the uniform himself, and if so, if he selected his driver by making a few dozen candidates line up and pose to see which one would look best in the uniform that Ive designed, and/or which ones would agree to have plastic surgery to make themselves look just so in that uniform and hat.

Every time you think Dan can’t get any more abstruse or bizarre, he proves you wrong. He is truly a gift that keeps on giving, except it’s like receiving a flaming bag of dog shit on your doorstep that increases in size with each delivery.

Jon Ive is off the fucking rails…

Yes, Jonathan Ive is the one off the fucking rails. Not you, Dan. Jony. Got it.

…and the only person who could rein him in is no longer among the living.

Steve Jobs owned a fucking plane, which almost certainly had a pilot, who might have had a French name. Bring on the proportional outrage.

This article is so fantastically terrible that the link goes instead to a video of a dog riding a bicycle. If you’d like to read Lyons’ particular brand of bizarre, feel free to Google any of the quotes in this post. You have better things to do, though.

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

The Verge’s John Lagomarsino wants you to stop speeding up your podcasts:

Radio — like film, music, TV, theater, and dance — is a temporal art. It relies on the passage of time to play with anticipation, tension, and release. A good radio producer knows how long a thought will linger in a listener’s consciousness, and either grants her that time, or purposely denies it. A conversation between two hosts is riddled with pregnant pauses and interruptions designed to head off miscommunications. We’re used to these patterns, and a good podcast is paced to play into them. Why, then, should we mess with that balance in the name of efficiency?

Lagomarsino cites the dramatic and deliberate pauses in shows like This American Life and Serial — and even The War of the Worlds — as instances where a podcast app’s speed adjustment feature would ruin the moment. But most podcasts aren’t like Serial; most podcasts are a few guys talking aimlessly about topics that interest them. For every This American Life that’s made worse by a speed adjustment feature, there’s a 5 By 5 show that’s made unquestionably better by such a feature.1

Podcast acceleration features are there because the people who build podcast apps also listen to podcasts. Most podcasts simply don’t respect the listeners’ time.

  1. I don’t mean to rag on 5 By 5, but the network is full of shows that are little more than casual banter. ↩︎

Debating the Rules and Ethics of Digital Photojournalism

These sorts of articles and debates are always interesting to me because, while it’s true that digital tools make photo manipulation easier, photos have never been 100% free of manipulation.

In college, I took a class on the history of photography, and we were presented with this incredible photo of an arched promenade, and we were asked what was odd about it. After a beat, the professor noted that it was actually a composite of several negatives, each taken at a different focal length. I wish I remembered the name of this particular photo to cross-reference this account, but I don’t think I’m mistaken. Photo manipulation has a very long history.

On the other hand, these are examples of photojournalism, which one expects to be unadulterated. On the other hand, are different white balance or exposure settings adulterating an image by transforming its mood? Such photos would, after all, be straight out of the camera, so to speak. Is the determination of whether manipulation is excessive like pornography, in that “you know it when you see it”?

Goodbye, Mini Stores

Pour one of those travel-sized bottles of whatever out for the Mini Store. Like so many other smaller stores, I’ve always held an affection for Apple’s Mini Store concept.1 It scales horribly, especially for Apple’s current size and demands, but it’s always been a very unique concept. And now it’s gone.

  1. I really like kiosks, and I can’t explain why. I like the tiny retailers inside train stations, I like newsstands, and I really like weird hole-in-the-wall shops. Colour me crazy. ↩︎

Apple Watch’s First Quarter

Daisuke Wakabayashi, in a Wall Street Journal article entitled “What Exactly Is an Apple Watch For?”:

When Apple Inc. started developing its smartwatch, executives envisioned a state-of-the-art health-monitoring device that could measure blood pressure, heart activity and stress levels, among other things, according to people familiar with the matter.

But none of those technologies made it into the much-anticipated Apple Watch, due in April. Some didn’t work reliably. Others proved too complex. And still others could have prompted unwanted regulatory oversight, these people said.

That left Apple executives struggling to define the purpose of the smartwatch and wrestling with why a consumer would need or want such a device. Their answer, for now, is a little bit of everything: displaying a fashion accessory; glancing at information nuggets more easily than reaching for a phone; buying with Apple Pay; communicating in new ways through remote taps, swapped heartbeats or drawings; and tracking daily activity.

Lorraine Luk and Daisuke Wakabayashi, also for the Journal:

Apple has asked its suppliers in Asia to make a combined five to six million units of its three Apple Watch models during the first quarter ahead of the product’s release in April, according to people familiar with the matter.

Half of the first-quarter production order is earmarked for the entry-level Apple Watch Sport model, while the mid-tied Apple Watch is expected to account for one-third of output, one of these people said.

Orders for Apple Watch Edition – the high-end model featuring 18-karat gold casing – are relatively small in the first quarter but Apple plans to start producing more than one million units per month in the second quarter, the person said. Analysts expect demand for the high-end watches to be strong in China where Apple’s sales are booming.

Analyst Ben Bajarin on Twitter:

I have multiple supply chain sources which suggest a lot more than 5m Apple Watches being built.

(Presumably he means in its first quarter.)

Finally, Apple, in July 2010:

The Company began selling iPads during the quarter, with total sales of 3.27 million.

“It was a phenomenal quarter that exceeded our expectations all around, including the most successful product launch in Apple’s history with iPhone 4,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iPad is off to a terrific start, more people are buying Macs than ever before, and we have amazing new products still to come this year.”

So, the Apple Watch is an aimless gadget that doesn’t meet Apple’s expectations and is “struggling” to find purpose, which will sell at least five million units during its first quarter, which is 60% more than the number of iPads sold during that product’s first quarter, which was the most successful consumer electronics product launch in history at the time, and in the Watch’s second quarter, a terrific number of the presumed pricey “Edition” model will exceed one million units.

Either Apple executives have no idea how to run a company any more, or the Journal is trying to write the story line again.

Jonathan Ive and the Future of Apple

The New Yorker’s Ian Parker put together an incredible portrait of Apple from the perspective of Jony Ive, with a level of depth and access never before allowed. It’s really very long, and it is impossible to summarize; every word is worth reading. There are details about the Apple Watch (“an Apple Watch uses a new display technology whose blacks are blacker than those in an iPhone’s L.E.D. display”); about Ive’s personal views (the near palpable sigh when asked about the camera bulge on the iPhones 6); and about what makes him tick. Do make half an hour to fully digest this.

Ive certainly has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. After Steve Jobs resigned his CEO post, and again after he died, Apple’s stock price was — perhaps surprisingly — unaffected. But if and when Jony Ive leaves Apple, I can’t imagine their share price and their perceived future viability would be unaffected to the same or greater extent. Jobs left a willing and public successor, Tim Cook, in his wake; Ive doesn’t have anyone like that. He is both irreplaceable, and yet he must eventually be replaced.

The Fantastic Apple Car

Jean-Louis Gassée:

An autonomous car is good PR and to some it may seem like an inevitability, but as Lee Gomes, a former tech writer for the Wall Street Journal, explains in this Slate piece: The autonomous Google car may never actually happen. This isn’t because Google engineers are incompetent, but because actual, in-the-wild autonomous driving is fraught with countless intractable exceptions. What happens in heavy rain or snow, or when the software behind the camera has trouble recognizing objects that are blown onto the road? What happens when your car approaches a a last minute detour around new construction site?

There are a lot of really great reasons why Apple isn’t building a car. The rumours are pretty explicit; the WSJ is pretty clear that it’s definitely a car project, and not CarPlay-related. Daisuke Wakabayashi, who co-wrote the WSJ story, has decent sources, but he also couched his story in words that make it sound more like a distant and implausible rumour:

The Cupertino, Calif., company has several hundred employees working secretly toward creating an Apple-branded electric vehicle, according to people familiar with the matter. The project, code-named “Titan,” initially is working on the design of a vehicle that resembles a minivan, one of the people said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple ultimately could decide not to proceed with a car. In addition, many technologies used in an electric car, such as advanced batteries and in-car electronics, could be useful to other Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad.

Apple often investigates technologies and potential products, going as far as building multiple prototypes for some things that it won’t ever sell. Any car would take several years to complete and obtain safety certifications.

My impression of this whole thing, for what it’s worth, is that Apple experiments with lots of things immediately related to products and services they’re already working on or shipping. They’ve done it with both software and hardware.1

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is, indeed, a team at Apple that is building a very early prototype of an electric car. I doubt the final result is to be a minivan. I think it’s most likely that this is not aimless spitballing, but nor is it something that they’re entirely committed to shipping. Yet.

  1. Remember the cellular MacBook Pro and the “Asteroid” breakout box for GarageBand, references to which shipped in GarageBand 2.0?

    On the software side — to name just one example — early internal builds of Yosemite included a version of iOS’ Control Centre, similar to Notification Centre, which was to appear on the lefthand side of the screen. This was scrapped in later internal builds. ↩︎

The Requirement of Perpetually Lowered Standards

Seth Godin:

Google the source of so much traffic is under huge pressure from Wall Street to deliver increased profits, and until self-driving cars kick in, the largest share of those earnings is going to come from the ads they sell. To maximize their profit, Google has spent the last nine years aggressively working to increase the share of ads on each page in their search results, as well as working hard to keep as many clicks as they can within the Google ecosystem.

If you want traffic, Google’s arc makes clear to publishers, you’re going to have to pay for it.

Which is their right, of course, but that means that the ad tactics on every other site have to get ever more aggressive, because search traffic is harder to earn with good content. And even more germane to my headline, it means that content publishers are moving toward social and viral traffic, because they can no longer count on search to work for them. It’s this addiction to social that makes the web dumber. If you want tonnage, lower your standards.

Google is decreasingly rewarding great writing online, because what people click on — and, therefore, what people “want” — are listicles, clickbait headlines,1 and rushed “shareable” graphics. I get that perspective for marketers, but there’s still a place for great writing on the web. It’s just getting harder to find.

  1. Say, for instance, “Is Google Making the Web Stupid?”. I don’t blame Godin for choosing this title, because it is proving his point. ↩︎

Google Has Made Its Internet Archive Impossible to Search

I don’t see any reason why Google would drop Google Groups’ search-by-date functionality. I presume few people use that feature, but those who do are more likely to be power users. It can’t take a huge amount of resources to keep supporting that feature, and its removal leaves a lot of power users feeling cold towards Google.

Workflow 1.1

1.1 is a really big update to Workflow, including a crap-ton of new actions. I’m still trying to figure out a perfect “Post to Pixel Envy”-type action-type workflow, though, that will include selected text in Safari — ideally with formatting and links preserved — and convert it to Markdown. It’s a fun app to play with; there are so many possibilities.

David Carr: Your Best Friend

Hamilton Nolan, writing on Gawker:

The first time I met David Carr, maybe seven years ago, I mistook him for a crazy person. (He actually was a crazy person, in the warmest possible sense of the word.) He was a big guy, and he walked with a hunched-over shuffle, and when I spied his indistinct shape walking towards me from a couple of blocks away I assumed he was a homeless man in a trenchcoat, struggling for each step. The fact that he was a feared and respected media figure at a fancy newspaper always seemed like a wonderful cosmic prank against the existence of stereotypes. Within five minutes of meeting, he was telling the sort of personal stories that most people reserve for their very, very closest friends. Before you knew it, you were telling the same kind of stories. And then you were friends for life. There is a great story in his book about a surprise birthday party for him where everyone wore t-shirts saying “I Am A Close Personal Friend of David Carr,” and I have no doubt that everyone believed it, because it was true. If you were friends with him then so was your family and so were your friends and so were their friends.

Here’s a beautiful story from Anthony De Rosa:

A common refrain you’ll hear in the stories people will tell about David is that he made you feel comfortable. Sure, he was intimidating at first and intense. He could turn a phrase that often took a second to decipher. But once you settled in, you were under his spell. He knew how to get you to be sincere and at your least self-aware. He was unguarded which led you to be unguarded. This was also a key to why he was such a great reporter, along with the masterful way he could string words together.

And Nick Bilton:

I had come out to Los Angeles for a month to try and escape New York, where the life I had built there was crumbling. Upon my arrival in Hollywood I had taken over an empty desk in the The New York Times L.A. Bureau. While the new environment was a temporary distraction, I often took quick walks downstairs where I burst into tears and felt sorry for myself, overwhelmed by what life was throwing my way.

As I stood outside one afternoon, doing just that, my phone bleated with a message from David Carr. “How are you doing Nickols?” he asked, a nickname he often used for me in lieu of Nick.

In tears, I told him, “Not good.” Explaining that it was over. That my life had fallen apart. That I… and then, he calmly interrupted me, explaining that he was in L.A. on a last minute trip, and instructed me to meet him on the rooftop of The Standard Hotel downtown in 30 minutes. “Don’t take the freeway,” he said. “I’ll never see you again.”

Remember TechMeme on the day Steve Jobs died? It’s just as busy today on MediaGazer: dozens upon dozens of people celebrating the talents of David Carr, and sharing their personal stories and memories.

As for me? I never got the opportunity to meet the man. I was just a reader, poring over every word he wrote for the past several years. He had a singular ability to string words together in a way that felt more like they were hewn from his thoughts than merely words on a page. It clearly took a lot of effort for him to put his stories together — you should watch the film “Page One” — but it resulted in a near-effortless read. And I’m going to miss that greatly.

Goodbye, David Carr

Awful news from the Times:

David Carr, who wrote about media as it intersects with business, culture and government in his Media Equation column for The New York Times, died at the office on Thursday. He was 58.

Just yesterday, Carr brilliantly juxtaposed Jon Stewart’s retirement from the Daily Show with Brian Williams’ suspension:

Both men spent more than a decade on top of their businesses for good reasons. Mr. Stewart had a remarkable eye for hypocrisy, found amazing writers and executed their work and his own with savage grace, no small feat. Mr. Williams managed to convey gravitas and self-awareness at the same time while sitting atop one of the best television news operations in the business. They were kings of their respective crafts.

I’m going to miss Carr’s columns a lot. The man was brilliant.

Apple’s 2015 Supplier Responsibility Report

Apple’s annual supplier reports are a particularly unique combination of depressing and promising. They’re the latter because Apple is really the only tech company — and, really, one of the only companies period — that does such extensive audits and makes them public, embarrassing blemishes and all.

They’re the former because they show just how dismal the working conditions are of those who assemble much of the physical components of our daily lives. Think: if these are the conditions that are revealed when Apple audits factories that they’ve worked with for a very long time, imagine the conditions in factories that go unaudited.

If we want to outsource manufacturing in exchange for lower prices, I think we have an obligation to be cognizant of the working conditions of those who produce our goods. It’s extraordinarily difficult to purchase products that are guaranteed to be produced in a totally ethical environment, but we can do our best to support companies that make an attempt, or avoid purchasing from companies that aren’t nearly as ethical.

You can read Apple’s full report here (PDF).

Now It’s Google’s Turn to Face the Wrath of Shitty Journalism

Rob Price, for — surprise, surprise — Business Insider:

Last year, a record 1 billion Android smartphones were shipped. Theoretically, Google should be in a position of massive growth: Android phones are increasingly less expensive compared to Apple’s, while its potential customer base is expanding as the next billion people get access to the internet in emerging markets.

And yet, for the first time ever, sales of Android devices declined in Q4 compared to Q3. Google is failing to capitalise on what should be an easy market, as it faces growing competition from up-and-coming budget smartphone manufacturers, like Xiaomi.

Search — Google’s bread-and-butter — is another problem area. While it remains the dominant player in the sphere, it is now in decline. Thanks to a Yahoo!-Mozilla deal that saw Yahoo’s search bundled with the Firefox browser, Google’s share of the search market is below 75% for the first time in years.

Certainly, Google isn’t growing at the rate that they once were, but, as Price points out, they just set an Android unit shipment record last year. And, while Google Search now has less than 75% market share, it’s still — by far and away — the most popular search engine for most of the world.

Apple is also reportedly mulling over dropping Google search as a default from its iOS Safari browser for a competitor or in-house version. It’s still unconfirmed, but it would be a massive blow for Google if it happened.

To interpolate the idiom, “it’s amazing how future Apple products beat current Google products”. Apple has made no indication that they’re creating a search engine, but if they do, who knows how well it will perform,1 or what it will do to Google?

There’s no single, existential threat to Google.

That’s weird. Price’s BI colleague Jim Edwards — who is a masterful trollthinks differently:

Apple is now an existential threat to Android

It seems like BI writers think they sound smarter when they use the phrase “existential threat”. It doesn’t actually make their writing or reporting any better, though.

  1. Judging by Apple Maps’ search function, not particularly well. ↩︎

Foxy Lady

Apparently, Siri is programmed to match the word “fox” to that one truly abysmal song, and whatever developer added that Easter Egg didn’t realize that there are potentially other reasons someone may ask Siri about foxes.