Month: March 2015

A while back, Jay-Z and a bunch of other musicians purchased Tidal, which is one of the only streaming platforms around that also offers lossless music. They relaunched the service yesterday, and it was really weird: the unveiling started with a speech from a Tidal executive who introduced all of the major musician backers one at a time, each to tepid clapping and a few shouts, probably from Tidal staffers.1 Then, Alicia Keys took the mic and gave a speech about how music changes everything, closing it with a quote by Nietzsche, which seemed like a depressing turn.

Then, Radiohead’s “National Anthem” played2 while each musician signed a declaration of some kind. The song went on way too long while the artists all sort of hung around, then got a group photo, and walked off the stage. Bizarre.

Then came a prerecorded video of all these artists sitting in a warehouse or some kind of photo studio talking about how this is some kind of revolution. Which seems a little overcooked, to be honest.

The service itself is $10 per month if you opt for high quality 320 kbps streaming, which is pretty much the same as any other streaming service. For $20 per month, you get lossless streaming. As I’ve written many, many times in the past, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between high quality compressed audio and lossless audio. Tidal thinks you can, so they’ve set up an A/B test of five songs. I picked all five lossless files successfully on my first, but if anything, the difficulty with which I had choosing between them — even though I know what to listen for — convinces me that high quality compressed formats are just fine.

The artists say that they want their music heard the way with the quality they intended. But most music made today is terribly mastered and engineered, including much of the music from these artists. Tidal doesn’t make any of this better; it just means you can hear the full sonic range of clipping. Kanye West’s “New Slaves” clips, while Deadmau5’s “Avaritia” just barely skates under the limit. So even if you can tell the difference between lossless audio and lossy audio, what difference does it make to the actual recording quality or the listening experience?

If artists were serious about starting a revolution and trying to get their work heard in a more respectable, high-fidelity way, they’d fire Rick Rubin and Nick Raskulinecz, improve the mastering of their records, and not rip off their peers.

  1. Chris Martin and Calvin Harris couldn’t even be bothered to get on a plane to New York, so they Skyped in. The revolution may not be televised but it will be video conferenced. ↥︎

  2. Which, by the way, is cut from all the videos I can find, presumably for licensing reasons. So there’s just this silence while a bunch of people sign a piece of paper. ↥︎

John Paczkowski, of Buzzfeed, on Tim Cook’s public coming-out and Washington Post op-ed:

Note that this is all happening ahead of Apple’s biggest product launch since iPad. Note too, that until mid-2014, Cook had been a very private person. Indeed, in his Bloomberg editorial he cites his desire for privacy as a key reason for not coming out as gay sooner. By penning these op-eds and participating in these interviews he’s forfeiting that privacy. And in doing so, he’s allowing Apple to shape public perception of him as a leader — an altruist, a philanthropist, and a CEO every bit as worthy of leading Apple as Jobs.

A wonderful piece from Paczowski. Cook has managed to retain Apple’s most innovative and technically-brilliant aspects in the post-Jobs era while making the company far more directly philanthropic. Cook himself is setting himself up to be far more giving than Jobs. That’s not a knock on the latter; Jobs famously felt like Apple could be indirectly philanthropic by making products that empower people. But the company has grown significantly since Jobs died, and it’s a responsibility of the largest companies in the world to be role models.

Topher Kessler:

In order to reduce glare for its various displays, Apple uses anti-reflective coatings that should absorb, interfere with, and redirect reflected light rays while allowing transmitted light emanating from your display to pass through to your eyes. As with any material that is adhered to another, this coating may strip off under certain conditions — including extreme heat or cold, uneven pressure, warping, and cleaning with caustic agents — things generally well beyond the intended and supported use of your Mac.

However, owners of some Retina MacBook Pros sold since mid-2012 are reporting that the coatings on their displays are peeling progressively under normal use. When this occurs, the systems show what appears to be light-colored stains on the display. Since the coating is translucent, the separation can’t always be seen easily in dark conditions with the display on, but it’s more apparent when the display is turned off in a bright environment.


Though this problem doesn’t necessarily hamper the overall functioning of the Mac, those affected would like their systems to be fixed. Unfortunately, Apple has not (yet) officially recognized the problem. In some cases, Apple has accepted and fixed affected machines, but at other times the company refuses to address the problem, claiming it is purely cosmetic.

As Michael Tsai says, I don’t get why a lawsuit seems necessary for Apple to do something about this. It would be better for everyone if Apple simply replaced affected displays free of charge, so long as no other evidence of significant damage is found. Apple retains loyalty with their best customers and gets a pool of affected devices to try to isolate the problem, and customers are impressed with the great service they receive. And, yeah, it probably costs Apple a fair amount of money: the “Staingate” site claims 1,181 affected people in their database, as of writing, and that a repair costs $800. But, assuming that the display costs Apple something like $400, that’s about a $500,000 repair bill for these users. That’s about what it costs Apple to replace broken entrance glass at one of their flagship stores. In this case, they should just suck it up.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

If you have AT&T’s gigabit Internet service and wonder why it seems so affordable, here’s the reason—AT&T is boosting profits by rerouting all your Web browsing to an in-house traffic scanning platform, analyzing your Internet habits, then using the results to deliver personalized ads to the websites you visit, e-mail to your inbox, and junk mail to your front door.


AT&T charges at least another $29 a month ($99 total) to provide standalone Internet service that doesn’t perform this extra scanning of your Web traffic. The privacy fee can balloon to more than $60 for bundles including TV or phone service. Certain modem rental and installation fees also apply only to service plans without Internet Preferences.

Deplorable and outrageous.

Keith Phipps makes the argument for the Dissolve that Blu-Ray discs are the new vinyl records:

In a piece headlined, “Who are the 6 million people still getting Netflix by mail? I’m one of them,” Guardian tech reporter Alex Hern lays out the most compelling arguments for films on disc, particularly on Blu-ray. They look better—even a 1080p stream can show signs of compression—they sound better, and they’re not dependent on the reliability of an Internet connection. Beyond this, they still make money, even if it isn’t as much money.


There were better 2014 films than Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, for instance, but few as fascinating, controversial, or so famously the product of a clash between a director and a studio who didn’t always see eye-to-eye. And while it’s probably too soon to perform a full look at the whole, uncensored story, surely the film’s Blu-ray—which lists at $41.99—should have included more than three 20-minute making-of featurettes. Part of what made DVDs so exciting in their golden age was the wide variety of features found on many discs—and expected of high-profile releases of Noah’s scale. Why should a superior technology be giving viewers less?

Even though I’m an avid collector of physical media, I never hopped on the Blu-Ray train. The artifacts in a 1080p stream aren’t noticeable to me at typical viewing distance, and the typical convenience of a $5 rental1 or Netflix stream outweighs the slightly better quality of a $25-plus Blu-Ray. And many purchased iTunes movies now come with extras, too.

Vinyl isn’t just experiencing a resurgence because of a better perceived quality;2 it’s also about the experience of the product. There’s the careful balancing of the needle on the record, the requirement of flipping it over partway through, and the generous space afforded to creative artwork and packaging. There’s also the warm, analog sound, which isn’t better by any technical merit, but which sounds more human, or just a little bit less precise. Even if they had beautiful packaging, Blu-Ray discs don’t really have any of this. They’re still crisp, digital movies, placed into a mysterious box that reproduces the image in silence and darkness. It’s too cold and too calculated for a vinyl-style resurgence, with the exception, perhaps, of the most dedicated cinephile.

  1. Speaking of which, I tried to rent “Rosemary’s Baby” last night on iTunes and it took several iterations of quitting the app and restarting it to make it work. I kept getting the most perplexing errors, like that my iTunes Library file couldn’t be found, to my momentary panic. ↥︎

  2. See also Hydrogen Audio’s vinyl myths article↥︎

Tim Cook, in a guest piece for the Washington Post:

A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.

Others are more transparent in their effort to discriminate. Legislation being considered in Texas would strip the salaries and pensions of clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ marriage ban later this year. In total, there are nearly 100 bills designed to enshrine discrimination in state law.

These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.

It takes a lot of guts for the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world to step into the arena and defend what is right and just on an issue that is, for some reason, still controversial.

Steven Aquino for MacStories:

The part that struck me about using Force Touch was how useful it was in alerting me that I clicked something. Clicking a word did two things: (1) it showed me the definition; but (2) more importantly, I felt the click at the same time. Feeling my action was key because it let me know that I’m clicking without me having to rely solely on my vision to know that I clicked. And that’s the accessible part – the Force Touch trackpad gives me yet another cue (beyond the popover animation and sound of the click) that something happened.

This is an extraordinary invention for those who don’t have the greatest eyesight, but it’s something that will enhance the user experience for all of us. Even if you have all of your senses more or less intact, think of the number of times you’ve mis-clicked a button, or dragged a video clip by the wrong amount. The horizontal-to-vertical translation of axes, combined with the abstraction created by a mouse or a trackpad demands a high level of hand-eye coordination. Any improvement towards making this as natural and intuitive as possible is a win for everyone.

Gary Allen is going to stop writing the venerable IFO Apple Store, but he leaves us with one final, beautiful thought:

My final advice is: don’t overthink Apple. Instead, remember Steve Jobs and his boundless enthusiasm and joy—especially  on stage—for what the products can accomplish and make possible. It’s fine to speculate on sales numbers and stock price. But it’s more pertinent to wonder how FaceTime or other Apple product feature can bring distant people together, to help diverse cultures understand one another to make a better world.

I’m glad that Allen has been able to spend so much time doing something that he truly loves, and grateful that he’s shared it with us for so long. But I’m going to miss the site. I read it daily, and it’s a brilliant and well-written resource. Thank you, Gary.

Mat Honan, Buzzfeed:

“We want you to see the world through other people’s eyes,” says 26-year-old Periscope founder (one of two) Kayvon Beykpour. “It’s a two-way teleportation device, and interactive enough that viewers can affect the experience.” […]

“The magic moment in Periscope is when you realize you can affect what you’re seeing,” he argues. “This isn’t live-streaming — it’s teleportation.”

It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for this concept to return. Remember Qik? It was an app for jailbroken iPhones that allowed live video streaming and broadcasting to Twitter, albeit without the in-app chat that’s so crucial to the experience of Meerkat and Periscope. What happened to Qik? Skype bought it in 2011 and “pivoted” it away from where the puck was going. Oops.

From an engineering perspective, the automatic sizing and spacing is pretty cool. From a user perspective, everything about making a tweet shot in Instapaper is completely invisible and easy. A very clever design.

Daniel Jalkut has, as usual, a very intelligent take on that ridiculous controversy about whether developers and commenters withhold criticisms of Apple in order to stay in their good graces. But I found this part most telling:

As a company, Apple doesn’t care about individual developers. This works both ways of course: they don’t go out of their way to help, but also don’t go out of their way to harm. When a developer benefits or suffers at the hands of Apple, I believe it’s always thanks to either a wide-sweeping corporate policy that affects all developers, or to an individual at the company whose everyday choices on the job can have a profound impact. An editor who chooses to feature an app on the store, for example, or a reviewer who chooses to notice and raise a fuss about a slightly non-compliant behavior in an app.

There are at least two ways to look at this, and neither are incorrect. On the one hand, it’s great that Apple is made of people who, collectively, generally support developers as a group, but don’t pick on particular developers.

But then there are enough cases where a single individual can make decisions that are so maddeningly inconsistent with precedent that it can ruin any developer’s day. Sometimes, it’s when they reject an app from an indie developer for breaking rules that don’t exist. Other times, it’s when they allow apps from massive developers that fly in the face of actual rules.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: it isn’t the App Store rules themselves that are frustrating for developers, but the inconsistent way in which they are enforced. If Apple wanted to disallow buttons or other interactivity in Notification Centre widgets, that’s fine, as long as it’s in writing and enforced consistently. It obviously limits what developers are able to do, but if there are an agreed-upon set of rules, it’s easy for them to know what to invest their time into building. When a rule is not written, and when it is only sometimes enforced, profoundly stupid things happen.

Ben Sisario and Brian X. Chen, New York Times:

Almost a year after agreeing to pay $3 billion for Beats, the maker of hip headphones and a streaming music service, Apple is working with Beats engineers and executives to introduce its own subscription streaming service. The company is also planning an enhanced iTunes Radio that may be tailored to listeners in regional markets, and, if Apple gets what it wants, more splashy new albums that will be on iTunes before they are available anywhere else, according to people briefed on the company’s plans.

If I’m reading this right, that basically means there will be three iTunes services available: purchasing, streaming, and “radio” streaming. That doesn’t seem right; I would imagine the radio component would be integrated into the streaming component. I also wonder how soon they’ll be able to offer any streaming service outside of the US.

It’s odd to see Apple in a position of trying to make up lost ground in the online music space. That was the space in which they used to lead; now, they’re playing catch-up to far more established companies. However, the big iTunes brand has already allowed Apple to become an established player in the streaming space in the US, even with their relatively limited offering.

Sisario and Chen, continued:

In a sign of how important Beats is in reshaping Apple’s digital music, the company has made a musician a point man for overhauling the iPhone’s music app to include the streaming music service, as opposed to an engineer. Trent Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails frontman who was the chief creative officer for Beats, is playing a major role in redesigning the music app, according to two Apple employees familiar with the product, who spoke on the condition they not be named because the plans are private.

This, though, is very exciting. I use the Music app all day, every day, and it has remained basically unchanged since iOS 1.0, aside from the addition of iTunes Radio.

From their blog:

On iOS, you can enable Instant Sync in Settings to allow Instapaper to send you silent push notifications when you save a new article. The silent push notification allows the iOS app to download the new content from the server immediately, and the result is better syncing between your iOS devices and our servers.


Saving with the iOS extension just got a whole lot faster! We reworked the iOS extension (again) to shorten the time it takes to save an article to just a fraction of a second. The extension will still show for an additional two seconds in case you want to save to a specific folder, but you can dismiss it by tapping anywhere on the screen.

I’ve been using this for a little while now and it’s completely changed the way Instapaper works for me, for the better. It feels completely seamless. I remember being a little worried when Betaworks bought Instapaper, but they’re doing great stuff with the service and its companion apps.

The Journal has been steadily drip-feeding stories based on reporting they gleaned from a leaked FTC report. Now, they’ve just dumped the whole 160-page document online, for your reading pleasure. Knock yourself out with these barely-refined internal communications written by employees of an agency that regulates marketplace competition. Oh, the narrative arc that awaits you.

If you’re not the type to go spelunking in long-ass internal reports, Danny Sullivan has found the juicy tidbits for you.

Parker Higgins:

I was looking at the HTML source of a recent New York Times story about a tragic plane accident — 150 people feared dead — and noticed this meta tag in its head:

<meta property="ad_sensitivity" content="noads" />

There are no Google results for the tag, so it looks like it hasn’t been documented, but it seems like a pretty low-tech way to keep possibly insensitive ads off a very sensitive story—an admirable effort. It’s interesting in part because it’s almost an acknowledgement that ads are invasive and uncomfortable. They cross over into the intolerable range when we’re emotionally vulnerable from a tragic story.

Federico Viticci of MacStories:

Today, I feel comfortable saying that Fantastical 2 is the best calendar app for Mac I’ve ever used. It’s really simple as that, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t recognize the effort that went into this new version of the app. No other calendar client – not Apple’s Calendar, not Sunrise, and certainly not the original Fantastical – gets close to the masterful blend of simplicity and power of Fantastical 2.

Fantastical 2 fixes my biggest complaint with Fantastical 1: that I couldn’t use it enough because I had to open Apple’s comparatively crummy stock Calendar app to see a full window view. I can’t wait to take this for a spin.

This isn’t a free update, which seems to have rankled a few people on Twitter and Designer News. At $50, it’s definitely not for everyone. But when a company is trying to build sustainable software, that typically requires going against the relentless tide of free or “freemium” apps. Whether it’s worth $50 is up to you to decide. Me? This is an easy buy.

Emma-Kate Symons of Quartz wrote a truly abysmal op-ed today, in which she dusts off the tired old Apple-as-religion/cult metaphor for another go-around, this time related to the published-today Becoming Steve Jobs bio. Normally, I wouldn’t link to something so awful, but this bears special exception because not only is it spectacularly unclever, it gets downright offensive:

In the new biography Cook even expands on the theological notion of one body, one flesh, linking himself to Jobs, by giving the startling tidbit that he offered to give a part of his liver to the pancreatic cancer sufferer back in 2009.

There’s nothing anyone can really say to such an article that doesn’t presuppose an adherence to the supposed cult. That is, if I find this article offensive or mean-spirited, it is assumed that I am taking offence because I am part of the religion. Denying that only fuels the premise of the article. It’s the style of writing they teach at the “when did you stop beating your wife?” school of journalism.

But this one sentence could only be penned by someone with a truly profound lack of empathy. If all Symons wanted to do was rabble-rouse, I’m sure she could have accomplished that without resorting to extraordinary personal attacks. Shame on Quartz for ever allowing this to be published.

By the way, if you want a far more clever barb at Apple, John Oliver has you covered.

You may have seen on last night’s Daily Show that presidential hopeful Ted Cruz gave a speech at Liberty University in which he implored the attendees to text “constitution” to 33733, with little context. It wasn’t just selective Daily Show editing, either; publications covering the event didn’t offer any additional context, and Cruz’ official Twitter account didn’t either.

I did some digging after watching this and it turns out that 33733 is the vanity number for a company called Tatango:

Tatango comprises of a team of seasoned retail SMS marketing experts located in both Seattle & San Francisco. Our passion at Tatango is to help retailers solve their SMS marketing challenges, while at the same time building easy to use, yet powerful enterprise-grade software to manage the scale of even the largest and complex retail SMS marketing campaigns.

(My, they sure do want to rank well for “retail SMS marketing”, don’t they?)

So they’re a company that provides SMS spam services, something which Cruz didn’t disclose. Nor did Cruz disclose how to opt out of his SMS spam. Tatango, however, does:

Msg&Data rates may apply. To opt out, text STOP to 33733 and 68398.

Not only do you have to text “STOP” to the number you’re receiving texts from, you also have to send it to a completely different vanity number. Seems sleazy for this company, and irresponsible for Cruz not to disclose any of this information.

In the Watch HIG, Apple recommends using black backgrounds for application UIs:

A black background blends seamlessly with the device bezel and maintains the illusion of no screen edges. Avoid bright background colors in your interface.

This doesn’t tell the entire story, though, because it’s likely that the Apple Watch uses an (AM)OLED display.

Craig Hockenberry:

One of my first impressions of the [Apple Watch] user interface was that it used a lot of black. This makes the face of the device feel more expansive because you can’t see the edges. But more importantly, those black pixels are saving power and extending the life of the display. It’s rare that engineering and design goals can align so perfectly.

And from what we’ve seen so far of the watch, that black is really really black. We’ve become accustomed to blacks on LCD displays that aren’t really dark: that’s because the crystals that are blocking light let a small amount pass through. Total darkness lets the edgeless illusion work.

As with iOS on the IPS LCD displays of the iPhone and iPad, the Apple Watch uses the inherent qualities of the display technology to define the choices behind the UI. Black doesn’t show quite as well because, as Hockenberry says, a small amount of light still gets through. There’s no hit to power consumption when the display is entirely white because the backlight is always on, and the subpixels merely change the arrangement of the crystals to vary their brightness. That’s one reason why iOS is basically made of white.

On the flip side, subpixels of (AM)OLED displays are also its backlight, as it were. The colours used in the onscreen content determine how much power is being used; when white is used, it means all of the subpixels in the white area are turned on, which makes the display use far more power than it would outputting darker colours.1 Therefore, the Apple Watch’s UI is mostly black. (AM)OLED displays also typically display colours with far greater saturation than LCD displays, so Apple is also using a lot of very bright colours in the Watch UI.2

I’d love to see the Watch display under a microscope. Can’t wait until the Anandtech crew get their hands on one.

  1. Most Android phones use (AM)OLED displays, so I find Google’s “Material” design language and its use of all-white backgrounds incongruent with its likely deployment. ↥︎

  2. In hindsight, this also explains the greater use of bright colours in iOS, and Apple’s focus on making iPhone displays that have a full sRGB colour gamut to reproduce those colours as precisely as possible. Apple likes consistency. Sometimes. ↥︎