Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for March, 2015

“He Could Be a Jerk, but Never an Asshole”

Steven Levy read an advanced copy of Becoming Steve Jobs and he seems impressed:

In their new tome, [Brent] Schlender and co-author Rick Tetzeli capture the thoughts of the people closest to Jobs in rare interviews seemingly granted to get the record straight. The subjects include [Jony] Ive, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple’s former head of communications Katie Cotton, Pixar CEO Ed Catmull, and Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs. Others who were otherwise uninclined to cooperate did so at the urging of some of the aforementioned insiders. The implicit message seems to be that although almost all of those people participated in the official biography, they very much feel that the Steve Jobs they knew has still not been captured. Catmull’s authorized quote about the new book is telling: “I hope it will be recognized as the definitive history.”

Becoming Steve Jobs is the anti-Walter.

Walter Isaacson’s authorized bio didn’t just over-emphasize the negative aspects of Jobs’ personality, it grossly misrepresented the way Apple works and thinks. Consider the amount of times in the book where Isaacson portrayed a battle between “design” — as an aesthetic pursuit — and “engineering”:

“Before Steve came back, engineers would say ‘Here are the guts’ — processor, hard drive — and then it would go to the designers to put it in a box,” said Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller. “When you do it that way, you come up with awful products.” But when Jobs returned and forged his bond with Ive, the balance was again tilted toward the designers. “Steve kept impressing on us that the design was integral to what would make us great,” said Schiller. “Design once again dictated the engineering, not just vice versa.”

On occasion this could backfire, such as when Jobs and Ive insisted on using a solid piece of brushed aluminum for the edge of the iPhone 4 even when the engineers worried that it would compromise the antenna. But usually the distinctiveness of its designs — for the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad — would set Apple apart and lead to its triumphs in the years after Jobs returned.

  1. The iPhone 4’s edge was the antenna itself, and it was made of stainless steel, not aluminum.

  2. The “antennagate” thing was overblown to begin with.

  3. This wasn’t some kind of battle between hardware engineers concerned only with functionality, and designers only concerned with the way the product looks. Both designers and engineers at Apple are obsessed with making great stuff. I have no knowledge of how the company arrived at the use of external antennas, but what I do know is that the iPhone 4 came with a much larger battery and a tightly-packed set of internals. Maybe the antenna drove the size reduction; maybe what seems like cause was actually effect. Maybe, therefore, it was an engineering decision that allowed the company to achieve their hardware goal of near-impossible thinness. But we don’t know this because Isaacson doesn’t explain it, or even really acknowledge it.

    Isaacson did not fully grasp this core, fundamental thought: that design is not purely aesthetic, but an all-encompassing term to define how a product works, feels, and — yes, sure — looks. It’s not the thing that happens last; it starts, ends, and accompanies a product throughout its entire development cycle. Beyond Jobs’ personality, that’s what Isaacson’s bio failed to capture.

If Isaacson could not understand what design meant to Jobs, how could he write the book of record about Jobs’ professional life? Correcting that fundamental flaw is what I hope Becoming Steve Jobs achieves.

Update: In his own words (via Steve Troughton-Smith).

With Great Power Comes Great Assholery

The Wall Street Journal (accidentally) got their hands on some internal FTC documents surrounding the Google antitrust case, and they’re amazing. Brent Kendall, et. al., reports:

In discussing one of the issues the FTC staff wanted to sue over, the report said the company illegally took content from rival websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor Inc. and Amazon to improve its own websites. It cited one instance when Google copied Amazon’s sales rankings to rank its own items. It also copied Amazon’s reviews and ratings, the report found. A spokesmen for TripAdvisor didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

When competitors asked Google to stop taking their content, Google threatened to remove them from its search engine.

From a separate report by Brody Mullins:

One way Google favored its own results was to change its ranking criteria. Google typically ranks sites based on measures like the number of links that point to a site, or how often users click on the site in search results.

But Marissa Mayer, who was then a Google vice president, said Google didn’t use click-through rates to determine the ranking for its own specialized-search sites, because they would rank too low, according to the staff report. […]

Instead, Google would “automatically boost” its own sites for certain specialized searches that otherwise would favor rivals, the FTC found. If a comparison-shopping site was supposed to rank highly, Google Product Search was placed above it. When Yelp was deemed relevant to a user’s search query, Google Local would pop up on top of the results page, the staff wrote.

Everyone suspected this. Now we know.

I would never argue that Google is an altruistic organization, or that what they’re doing here isn’t in their obvious business interest. But Google has huge market share, and any company that has a vastly dominant market share has a responsibility to not be an anticompetitive dickhead.

The 160-page critique concluded that Google’s “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

Exactly. So why did this case — which, by the way, recommended a lawsuit against Google — result in no charges and no suit?

Google was the second-largest corporate source of campaign donations to President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.

Yet another example of just how well the system works.

Russell Brandom Is Contradictory and He Should Feel Bad or Maybe Good Probably

The Verge’s Russell Brandom thought the New York Times was rather harsh on smartwatches:

Could your smartwatch be GIVING YOU CANCER? That’s the claim made by a new article in The New York Times by Nick Bilton, originally titled “Could wearable computers be as harmful as cigarettes?” Editors have already changed the headline to the more anodyne “The health concerns in wearable tech” in the face of substantial criticism, but the problems with the piece go much deeper than a bad headline.

[…]

Bilton quotes a single qualified physician before moving on to an osteopathic physician named Dr. Joseph Mercola who “focuses on alternative medicine.” Mercola has been outspoken on the link between cell phones and cancer, occasionally as a guest on the Dr. Oz show, and has a lucrative side business selling homeopathic products on his website, Mercola.com. He has been the subject of four separate letters from the FDA for mislabeling products or promising health benefits that are not supported by the medical literature. The fact that he’s being quoted as a health expert by The New York Times is astounding, as some have already noted.

Brandom thought Bilton’s article was so bad that he titled his debunking article “The New York Times’ smartwatch cancer article is bad, and they should feel bad”, and subtitled it “Cram it, Bilton”. Cute.

But what about if the Verge was able to gin up page views with its own hyperbolic and poorly-reported story? And what if Russell Brandom were the author of said story? How would that look? Well, how about a similarly snappy headline for starters?

The new MacBook’s single port comes with a major security risk

Perfect. Brandom, or his editor, was able to tie a potential security risk in USB ports to Apple’s hot new product. That’s a guaranteed win for page views.

So, Russell, tell me more about this security risk:

But while the new port is powerful, it also comes with serious security problems. For all its versatility, Type-C is still based on the USB standard, which makes it vulnerable to a nasty firmware attack, and researchers are also concerned about other attacks that piggyback on the plug’s direct memory access. None of these vulnerabilities are new, but bundling them together with the power cord in a single universal plug makes them scarier and harder to avoid. On a standard machine, users worried about USB attacks could simply tape over their ports, but power is the one plug you have to use. Turning that plug into an attack vector could have serious security consequences.

The biggest concern is the BadUSB vulnerability, first published last year. The attack lives in the firmware of a USB device and infects computers during the earliest stages of the connection, long before users get a chance to see what’s on the device or decide whether to open it up.

Judging by its permalink, that link goes to an article, also by Brandom, that was originally titled “This published hack could be the beginning of the end for USB”, but which has been retitled with the more tame “USB has a huge security problem that could take years to fix”.

Now what if the “MacBook” article was found to be wildly inaccurate?

These articles are pure clickbait. The main exploit in question, called BadUSB, was discovered 8 months ago. In theory, it could be used to attack most USB devices, including Macs, iPads, Windows PCs, and more. But making it seem like the new 12-inch MacBook, and to a lesser degree, the new ChromeBook Pixel, has some sort of new vulnerability because of using USB-C is disingenuous at best.

[…]

Gizmodo seems to believe the 12-inch MacBook is vulnerable to this direct attack, even going so far as to suggest that the NSA will distribute hacked USB-C power adapters designed to take over your notebook. But unlike Thunderstrike on vulnerable Macs (see “Thunderstrike Proof-of-Concept Attack Serious, but Limited,” 9 January 2015), the USB port uses Intel’s xHCI (eXtensible Host Controller Interface), which can’t be placed into a DFU (device firmware upgrade) mode to overwrite the MacBook’s firmware. Thus the MacBook itself can’t be infected with BadUSB, so plugging in an unknown power adapter can’t give someone control of your MacBook.

If I were an asshole, I’d use Brandom’s “cram it” subtitle against him, but I’m not, so I won’t. I will, however, point out that staffers at the Verge seem to have internalized clickbait. They’re pretty good at writing it themselves, and pretty good at calling it out. But which side they’ll take seems to depend on the kind of page views they can expect.

Update: The difference between the Times and the Verge is that when the former screws up, they usually admit it.

An Extensive Interview With Tim Cook

I’ve noticed that Cook does a lot more interviews than Steve Jobs typically did. It feels like an extension of his unique style. Jobs was a showman, and enjoyed doing entire keynote presentations on his own; Cook is slower, quieter, and more deliberate in the way he speaks. An interview format suits Cook’s style really well.

Force Touch

Thomas Brand:

This weekend I had the opportunity to try out the new Force Touch trackpad on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. The sensation of a physical click is so good I had to turn the computer off, disabling the haptic engine, just to make sure I was using the new trackpad. With the MacBook Pro turned off the trackpad doesn’t move. (Clicking on it gives you the same sensation as pressing on the palmrest.) But after turning the MacBook back on, clicking the trackpad gives you the same sensation as the old trackpad where the surface is depressed.

This sounds almost impossibly good. I can’t wait to try one of these.

Welcome to Macintosh

About a year and a half ago, a few notable writers started to give the vibe that they were a little disillusioned with the state of tech podcasts. First, it was Harry Marks; then, Ben Brooks. And I agreed with both of them: I think tech podcasting was in a pretty serious rut that it has had a hard time climbing out of. The genre has largely consisted of lightly-edited conversations about the week’s tech news between people whose blogs you already read. Yours truly:

I appreciate the craft that [Myke] Hurley and others bring to the space. But a time commitment of two hours per podcast per week is arguably a lot, and I often don’t get the sense that podcasters respect listeners’ time. I will sit through an album from start to finish, and it will take about an hour; a podcast can be twice that length, and if it’s unedited conversational rambling, I will struggle to finish the episode. It’s simply not worth that amount of time.

Happily, I think the tech podcasting space is finally starting to get interesting.

First up is the recently-reimagined Inquisitive from Hurley. The episodes marked “Behind the App” offer a well-crafted, succinct look at the challenges and rewards facing app developers today. It’s wonderful; you should check it out.

But Mark Bramhill’s podcast “Welcome to Macintosh” is in a league of its own. There have been two episodes so far, and both feature great interviews with people you know and trust, edited and put together in a really slick package.

Both of these shows are fantastic. They feel like the This American Life of tech podcasts, insomuch as they’ve both raised the production value to an all-time high. I highly recommend them both.

New NYT Style Guide Now Available

This is the first update to the Manual of Style and Usage since 1999 and, naturally, the vast majority of the updates reflect the changing ways in which we use the English language, and the addition of brand new words created since then. Some highlights, courtesy of Benjamin Mullin of Poynter:

friend. Do not use as a verb, as in friended, except for special effect when writing about social media.”

web, the. This form (lowercase) is acceptable in all references to the World Wide Web.”

iPad, iPhone, iPod. But uppercase as the first word of a sentence or headline.”

abbreviations “…abbreviations popular in online and texting slang should be used only rarely, for special effect, and should be rendered as readers most often see them: BTW, FYI, LOL, OMG, tl;dr, etc.”

Some of these fly in the face of the way language is actually being used, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s particularly interesting that the Times will continue to capitalize camelcase brands at the beginning of sentences; to my eyes, “IPod” looks less correct than “iPod”, even following a period.

This is also the first time the Manual of Style has been available in digital formats. If you’d like to support the site, you can buy it in Kindle or iBook formats using the magic of affiliate links. If you’d rather not give me a slice of your purchase, you can find those books yourself. Jerk.

Google Has Added Human Reviewers for Apps

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Google Play, Google’s marketplace for Android applications which now reaches a billion people in over 190 countries, has historically differentiated itself from rival Apple by allowing developers to immediately publish their mobile applications without a lengthy review process. However, Google has today disclosed that, beginning a couple of months ago, it began having an internal team of reviewers analyze apps for policy violations prior to publication. And going forward, human reviewers will continue to go hands-on with apps before they go live on Google Play.

The most incredible part of this? Nobody seems to have noticed. The only comment I could find about any kind of delay in the approvals process was this tweet, and I’m not even sure it’s directly related. That’s really impressive. I’m not sure how Google is doing this — whether they’re just throwing a lot of people at this, or if it’s mostly automated with a slight human touch — but it’s a target that Apple can aspire to with the App Store.

Bumpy Pixels

Alex Gollner:

When I dragged the clip to its maximum length I did feel a little bump. Without looking at the timeline and looking at the viewer, I could ‘feel’ the end of the clip.

This feature presages the ability for UI pixels to be ‘bumpy’ – for user to feel the texture of application UIs without having to look at where the cursor is. This means that seemingly textured software keyboards and control layouts will be able to be implemented on future trackpads, iPhones and iPads.

This is a game-changer. Imagine how this can be implemented as an accessibility feature, too.

Update: Craig Hockenberry:

The iPhone showed us how amazing touch could be as an input device, [Apple Watch] will show us how awesome it can be as an output device.

To Pimp a Butterfly

I promise this has a tech angle.

One of the most-anticipated new albums this year — Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” — was released a little earlier than anticipated: today, instead of the scheduled March 23 release date. I had preordered the album earlier this month, so I downloaded it right away. Apparently, this was accidental, according to reporting by Lars Brandle of Billboard:

Seems the early release also came as a surprise for some of Lamar’s inner sanctum. Anthony Tiffith, the CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, which represents Lamar, was less than impressed. He tweeted. “I WOULD LIKE 2 PERSONALLY THANK @Interscope FOR FUCKING UP OUR RELEASE… SOMEBODY GOTS 2 PAY 4 THIS MISTAKE !!!! #TOP”

Tiffith has since deleted that tweet, but kept a few others indicating that he wasn’t happy with the early release. A few hours later, Apple switched the album back to preorder status, and Spotify buried the album deep inside search results. Then, another couple of hours later, I guess all parties involved figured the album was as good as released, so the iTunes copy was put back on sale, and Spotify stopped deep-sixing it.

This debacle revealed why I choose Spotify as a way to augment my local library instead of replacing it. Instead of hiding the record, Spotify could entirely revoke access to it, but Apple can’t remove my local iTunes files. Score one for the old-school local library.

However, this situation also reminded me of just how maddening the iTunes preorder experience continues to be. I’ve preordered a fair amount of albums — because I am apparently an idiot — and something goes wrong every time. A few years ago, I didn’t get the notification that my album was available to download until nearly a day later. On another preorder, I had to do the repeated sign-out-restart-sign-in-reauthorize dance to get it to download.

With today’s release, I am unable to download “The Blacker the Berry”, which is odd because it’s the first single from the album and was made available for download when I preordered. It simply says “Purchased” beside the song, in place of the “Download” button, and does not appear in my purchase history. I’ve tried every trick I can think of, and nothing is working, so I’ve put in a request with iTunes support.

The iTunes Store was supposed to be the saviour of online music. It was supposed to be the legal version of Napster: easy access to millions of songs that can be bought and downloaded with one click. But it’s this kind of shoddy user experience that makes it needlessly difficult to keep supporting artists.1 What’s particularly bizarre is that iTunes is Apple’s most prominent software product for Windows. One would assume Apple would work their hardest to bring the best user experience possible to these potential customers, but the results don’t support that.

By the way, the album is fucking great. You should buy it.


  1. I also recently purchased a few gifts for some friends that didn’t use the credit I had on my iTunes account. ↩︎

Weekend Reads

It’s a very warm and sunny Friday here in Calgary, so I’m not ready to dive into heavy think pieces. I’m sitting here sucking up an iced cappuccino. So, with that in mind, here are a few lighter reads.

Kevin Fanning, wrote a great piece for the Lifted Brow called “Now That’s What I Call Brand Engagement”:

He didn’t notice you – he was holding a giant neon slushie up to his face and taking a picture of himself kissing it. Making out with it. Licking it and tonguing the sides of the cup, his eyes rolled back in the throes of passion, while his other hand held out a phone. You watched as he took the selfie in one shot, like it wasn’t even complicated, like the angle and the light and the framing of the face weren’t witchcraft at all, but merely incontrovertible laws of physics.

He flipped and one-thumbed the buttons on his phone while pulling on the straw with his teeth. He suddenly looked up, caught you staring, and smiled. A smile like a bright new billboard, popping up to save you from the unending boredom of the horizon.

“I’m very excited about my Flavorberry slushie,” he said.

“Yes,” you said. “I can definitely tell.”

“Very. Excited.” He held your stare.

Why Every Gadget Feels Like Shark Dick”, written by Claire L. Evans for Vice:

This texture is somewhat undefinable. It’s variably described in plastics industry literature as “silky” and ”soft-touch,” but the way my friend’s vaporizer felt wasn’t new to either of us, nor is it likely unfamiliar to you. Shark dick, if you will, is everywhere. My iPhone case is made of the stuff, as are the buttons of all the remote controls in my house, the ridges of my earbuds, and my FitBit wristband. Start groping and you’ll find instances in every room of your house.

I’m using “shark dick,” of course, as an umbrella term, under which fall a variety of texturally similar materials: silicone, thermoplastic elastomers, polyurethanes, and rubbers. These share physical properties—hydrophobia, biocompatibility, durability, heat resistance, grippiness—that make them highly desirable for consumer applications from design and engineering standpoints alike. And while not all these materials are created equally, they all provoke the same reaction.

They practically beg us to touch them.

And Casey Johnston wrote “All The iPhone Apps You Can’t Delete Are There For Rich People”, which is spectacularly unquotable for all the right reasons.

Update: One more link that I meant to share: “Your Favorite Photoshop Experts Open Photoshop 1.0”. I complain about Adobe and Photoshop a lot, but I’ve got it good compared to early ’90s designers.

How Apple Makes the Watch

A truly wonderful in-depth exploration of the production processes of the Apple Watch, as documented in the material films. Greg Koenig:

Jonny Ive often speaks of care. It is an odd word to use as it doesn’t imply the traditional notion of “craftsmanship” in the classic, handmade sense. Nor does it imply quality or precision in the way a Japanese car manufacturer or German machine tool maker would. “Care” implies a respect for the raw materials and end result, with little concern about what it takes to link those two ends of the production chain together, and we see that highlighted with the Watch. Apple could very easily have forgone forging to create stainless steel cases, just like everyone else. Hardening gold alloy with cold working could have been eliminated, putting them on par with the rest of the industry. Nobody will see or feel the inside pocket for the microphone on the Sport, yet it has been laser finished to perfection.

I see these videos and I see a process that could only have been created by a team looking to execute on a level far beyond what was necessary or what will be noticed. This isn’t a supply chain, it is a ritual Apple is performing to bring themselves up to the standards necessary to compete against companies with centuries of experience.

The FCC’s Rules for Net Neutrality Are Now Public

And, surprising absolutely nobody, they’re perfectly reasonable. If you don’t want to read all 400 pages (PDF), Jacob Kastrenakes of the Verge has a decent summary:

The order focuses on three specific rules for internet service: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. “A person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management,” the order states, while outlining its rules against throttling.

This is absolutely reasonable. I get that some people in the United States are especially cynical about regulatory bodies, but this is agreeable.

The Transit App on Apple Watch

Excusing my mild obsession with this app — hey, I take public transit a lot — this is one of those cases where the Apple Watch makes sense. It takes the thing you use for checking the time and repurposes it to show you something immediately related to the current situation. Apple isn’t articulating this well, possibly for a good reason, so it’s up to us seeing it live, in person, to make the connection.

Beginning the Conversation

Jim Ray:

Today, though, I can’t figure where this fits in my life, and I’m someone who’s owned the first-gen of every product Apple has released this century (I waited in line an hour for the first iSight camera). Maybe it’s because I’m a dad now with income that’s hardly disposable. Maybe it’s because I own several mechanical watches that I never wear because they don’t quite match my personal style and not a single Apple watch is something I’d consider a complement. Maybe because I’ve become increasingly wary and weary of the surge of notifications and the drain on my own cognition and mindfulness and I’m skeptical that another device is going to help solve that.

This is the way I’m feeling too, but I’m also intrigued to try it and see how real people are using it in real life. There could be something to turning off all notifications on your phone, and just getting a handful of important ones passed through to your watch. We shall see.

Ray, continued:

The Edition watch is hardly Apple at its best. If anything, the Edition feels like a manifestation of the kind of empty criticism Apple has endured for decades: that they hermetically seal commoditized components in a veneer of design, packaged with slick marketing and a powerful brand. I hope the Edition becomes truly limited and is dropped in future generations.

Scathing, but Ray isn’t wrong. Imagine if Rolex made watches that ranged from $350 to $17,000 with the exact same internals. Do you think the buyers of the priciest watches wouldn’t feel slightly cheated? Do you think that people spotting on the street a $17,000 version of their $350 watch wouldn’t feel like that person is just showing off?

I don’t know if the pricing of the Edition is right or wrong; I’m clearly not part of the target market for them. Apple probably doesn’t know for sure, either. There are people out there who might lap these things up, and that’s fine. But it feels so conspicuous, ostentatious, vulgar, and — most importantly — so unlike Apple. They don’t really do expensive for expensive’s sake.

But even though this is clearly something completely new for Apple, they don’t jump into markets without conducting some research first. I’m intrigued to see how it pans out.

The Mandatory Apple Watch App in iOS 8.2

Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech (via Michael Tsai):

During Monday’s Apple press conference in San Francisco, Tim Cook announced that iOS 8.2 would immediately begin rolling out to compatible iDevices—as in, any device that could already run the original version of iOS 8. Along with expected bug fixes, the update’s biggest addition was support for the upcoming Apple Watch. It’s a fact that users are now being bonked over the head with thanks to the creation of a dedicated, mandatory app.

Machkovech also notes that owners of Android Wear or Samsung Galaxy Gear devices download an optional app to manage the device. This is pretty callous of Apple. It’s yet another app that you can’t uninstall, so it — like Tips, Newsstand, Compass, Game Centre, and perhaps Health and Podcasts — is likely to end up in a user’s junk apps folder. This seems like an awfully hard sell for a product that Apple is aiming to take a soft sell retail strategy with. It doesn’t even have a very pretty icon, either.

At least I’m running the 8.3 beta, so I don’t have to deal with it. Yet.

Assorted Additional Thoughts on Monday’s “Spring Forward” Event

As with practically every Apple event, Monday’s produced a lot to think about. Despite my longer, more focused missive, I have not exhausted my opinion bank. Aren’t you lucky, reader?

Apple TV

The price drop on the Apple TV combined with language that Tyler Poage noticed makes me think that a more significant Apple TV update is imminent.

MacBook

The new MacBook does everything — including charging — with the sole USB-C connector aboard, but I know a lot of people who will want to charge their iPhone from their MacBook. There is no Lightning-to-USB-C cable, for perplexing reasons. I’m surprised that Apple’s solution to this is for the user to also purchase and lug around a $19 adapter, especially when the power brick could have an additional USB-A port on it for power only. I get that it’s not particularly ideal; it would be more convenient and safer if your phone were connected to your laptop instead of both to the wall. But it’s a feature that would be desperately appreciated in a pinch.

Watch

Tim Cook’s awkward interview with Christy Turlington Burns brought global attention to a great charity, albeit looking a little tone-deaf when placed in the same segment of the presentation as the unveiling of a solid gold watch. But this was significant for another reason: it might be the first time a woman has been onstage at an Apple event since Microsoft’s Roz Ho back in 2007, as far I can recall. It’s both a positive development, and a comment on the anemic state of Apple’s recognition of the role of women in their company.

According to Jony Ive’s profile in the New Yorker, the Watch will require significant changes to Apple’s retail stores:

The table previously covered with a flat cloth was now uncovered: it was a glass-topped Apple Watch display cabinet, accessible to staff from below, via a descending, motorized flap, like the ramp at the rear of a cargo plane. Ive has begun to work with Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice-president of retail, on a redesign—as yet unannounced—of the Apple Stores. These new spaces will surely become a more natural setting for vitrines filled with gold (and perhaps less welcoming, at least in some corners, to tourists and truants). Apple had not, overnight, become an élite-oriented company—and it would sell seventy-five million iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, many of them in China—but I wondered how rational, and pure of purpose, one can make the design of a V.I.P. area. Ive later told me that he had overheard someone saying, “I’m not going to buy a watch if I can’t stand on carpet.”

According to Asymco’s Horace Dediu, the display cabinets that Apple has been using for Watch promo events will be very similar to the cabinets installed in retail stores. This retail update was not acknowledged and only barely previewed at the “Spring Forward” event, which makes me question just how much of a makeover the stores will be getting. Is it just an additional table and a safe for the Edition models? What about that “carpet” comment in the quote above? Why not invite Angela Ahrendts onstage to preview those changes?

Also, Apple will apparently be selling it through third-party retailers, but it so far seems as though the third-party retailers will be limited to department stores and boutiques, at least at first. It’s likely that a display setup similar to that of the ones at Apple retail stores will be used. I wonder when and how such a setup will come to existing Apple retail partners, like Best Buy. Will they even be allowed to sell the Edition model? I wager not; nobody goes into a Best Buy looking to drop ten grand on a watch.

Also, the Watch marks the return of the black tax. The stainless steel model starts at $549, but you have to go all the way up to a $1,049 link bracelet model to get a “Space Black” stainless steel model. It’s even $100 more expensive than a standard link bracelet stainless steel model. But — damn — does it ever look good.

It’s All Broken

If it’s an Apple online service, it’s probably been down for much of today. The App Store? Down. iTunes Store? Down. The dev portal? Down. Apple’s in-store credit card processing? You bet that’s down. Why? A DNS mis-configuration. What a mess.