Month: April 2016

Dr. Drang:

Yesterday, I discovered that Apple had changed the URLs of all its online man pages. Without, I should add, creating redirects so old links would continue to work. This broke all the man page links I had here at ANIAT and undoubtedly broke links across the internet.

Adding a redirect from the prior URL to the new one is old-hat basic stuff. I’d be shocked about this if I didn’t run into an issue earlier this year where I discovered that Apple News links don’t automatically redirect from the http:// version to the https:// version, and simply display a 404 error page instead.

This stuff is entry-level.

Intel has been struggling. After announcing plans to cut 11% of their workforce, they’re now terminating their smartphone SoC plans, as reported by Ian Cutress and Ryan Smith of AnandTech:

Today’s big news out of Intel is along these lines, and with strategy and workforce news behind them, we have our first announcements on product changes that will come from Intel’s new strategy. In a report on Intel’s new strategy published by analyst Patrick Moorhead, Moorhead revealed that Intel would be radically changing their smartphone SoC plans, canceling their forthcoming Broxton and SoFIA products and in practice leaving the smartphone market for at least the time being.

Given the significance of this news we immediately reached out to Intel to get direct confirmation of the cancelation, and we can now confirm that Intel is indeed canceling both Broxton and SoFIA as part of their new strategy.

Intel really missed the boat on the post-PC era, as Apple likes to call it. What a shame. I hope they can get back on some more solid footing.

Great post from Sebastiaan de With on the evolution of emoji on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone:

Significant design differences in emoji can be a hassle at best, but at worst it completely alters the meaning of a communication, and creates a jarring disconnect between the intended meaning the sender is trying to convey to the recipient. Imagine if the letters of our latin script varied depending on the phone you used!

The development of the Latin alphabet occurred over the span of thousands of years. We’re seeing a minor subset of that take place in real time, comparatively speaking. That’s absolutely fascinating to me.

Bizarre back-and-forth between Piet Brauer, the developer of a GitHub app for the iPad, and Phil Schiller on Twitter, collected by Michael Tsai. In short, Brauer’s app was rejected for using a web view to allow people to sign in with GitHub because that login page — which GitHub controls — has their own registration links on it. Brauer had to inject some CSS onto the page to hide those links, and was still rejected on the same grounds:

11.13: Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the app, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected

I understand why this rule is in place — Apple doesn’t want companies to subvert their 30% cut by placing the purchasing mechanism on a webpage. But this seems like a case where the spirit of the rule should apply more than the letter of it. Even App Review thinks it’s ridiculous.

John Voorhees, MacStories:

Today Apple announced a new Apple Music API via its Affiliate Program Newsletter. According to Apple, the API:

…allows iOS apps to directly control Apple Music playback and more. We encourage affiliates to use the Apple Music API to provide a superior user experience by integrating music into their apps.

With the Apple Music API you can:

  • See if a user is currently an Apple Music member

  • See which country the user’s account is based in

  • Queue up the next song or songs based on a song ID for playback

  • Inspect playlists already in My Music or create a new playlist with a title and description (see App Store Review Guidelines for limitations).

It’s still early days for this API. I hope the door opens soon for apps that can provide their own recommendation engines and use Apple Music for the backend; I’m not sure that’s possible with this API yet. It’s a good start.

Mark Bergen and Ina Fried, Recode:

For years, Google has struggled to get sure footing on its various hardware initiatives — moving delicately to handle partners and, at times, deliver products that consumers actually use. When one of its hardware chiefs, Regina Dugan, who ran its Advanced Technology and Project group, departed for Facebook, we reported that Google was plotting a hardware shake-up.

Here it is now. Osterloh will now oversee Google’s Nexus devices. His new hardware division also includes a suite of products called the “living room,” demonstrating Google’s priority on owning that space.

It also includes Glass. Nest will continue to live in its own little silo, working on products that directly compete with Google’s.

Christina Warren, Mashable:

On the earnings call, Apple tried to spin numbers about upgrade cycles and the new customer wins it’s making over Android users. And that’s all well and good. But the device that might have the biggest impact on sales in the short term wasn’t even counted in the Q2 2016 earnings — the iPhone SE. […]

The product didn’t go on sale until March 31 so none of the sales were accounted in this earnings report, but Apple made a point to say that “demand has been very strong,” adding that it “exceeds supply at this point.”

In response to an analyst’s question, Cook went further saying that “it is clear that there is a demand there even much beyond what we thought.”

Only Apple knows exactly what the sales split is between the three different iPhone sizes currently available — in fact, they announced during the introduction of the iPhone SE that they sold 30 million four-inch iPhones in 2015. That’s about 13% of the total number of iPhones sold in 2015, so it’s not a huge market, but it’s still pretty significant.

Perhaps Apple figured that the SE would retain a fairly similar share of iPhone sales — that is, that those buying four-inch models chose to do so based primarily on screen size — and didn’t factor just how many people would dump a larger iPhone or Android model. Here’s hoping this can encourage a more regular four-inch update.

Interesting article from Thomas Gryta in the Wall Street Journal last week:1

Since the early days of Apple Inc.’s iPhone, most customers have avoided paying for the full price for the latest model. But the success of AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. since 2013 in shifting customers into plans that force them to pay the full price for devices — and separate that cost from monthly service fees — has consumers holding on to their devices longer.

Citigroup estimates the phone-replacement cycle will stretch to 29 months for the first half of 2016, up from 28 months in the fourth quarter of 2015 and the typical range of 24 to 26 months seen during the two prior years.

Since the separation of phone and plan is fairly common throughout the rest of the world, this basically means that the American phone replacement cycle is more closely aligning with that of a lot of other places.

Perhaps that provides an incentive for Apple to more rapidly iterate on the industrial design of their flagship iPhone models instead of the tick-tock pattern they’ve held to since the 3G.

  1. Unless you have an account, you’ll probably have to do that thing where you Google the URL and click through. Sorry. ↥︎

One of the bright sparks from today’s Q2 earnings release was record revenue in the “Services” category (Apple Music, iTunes, the App Stores, iBooks, and so forth). On the call, both Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri emphasized that they’d continue to develop and improve all of their cloud services.

I certainly hope that’s the case because, as David Sparks notes, that category is in dire need. Cloud services may be generating record revenue, but they’re almost certainly Apple’s least-refined offerings:

My favorite music largely includes obscure living jazz artists and less obscure dead jazz artists. I’ve wasted hours favoriting albums and marking other “recommended” playlists as ones I don’t like. Nevertheless, I open iTunes nearly every day as I work at my iMac and get the same Selina Gomez [sic] album thrown at me in place of Theloneus Monk.

When I said that I was concerned that one of Cook’s comments on the call seemed to indicate that “shareholders come first, and Apple’s entire R&D strategy revolves around them”, this is what I meant: celebrating record revenues in a product category that is the source of many blemishes on Apple’s record. It’s an earnings call — and one in which they have to find bright spots for investors for whom $50 billion in revenue just isn’t enough — but I hope the internal discussion reinforces that financial results are not necessarily indicative of product quality or satisfaction.

Apple’s thirteen year seemingly-limitless growth machine has — dare I say, finally — found its limits. In a greater context, this quarter didn’t suck: Wikipedia’s list of record corporate quarters is somewhat outdated, but Q2 2016 would easily rank among the top twenty-five of all time corporate quarters in both revenues and profits. There were plenty of high points sprinkled throughout their earnings release today, as Jason Snell notes in his wrap-up post.

But, as Snell’s year-over-year unit growth graph shows, for the first time, all of Apple’s product lines sold fewer units than in last year’s Q2. Nothing can escape that simple fact.

Additionally, Apple is forecasting a significant decrease in year-over-year revenue for next quarter: $41–$43 billion compared to about $50 billion last year.

The financial media is having a field day with this, and I’m not surprised — while Apple forecast it in their last earnings release, it’s still big news. The tech press gets to keep running clickbait “Apple is doomed” articles. But I hope Apple’s reaction to this is to dig their heels in and deliver some spectacular products.

And that brings me to a remark Tim Cook made today:1

Creating value for shareholders by developing great products and services that enrich people’s lives will always be our top priority and the key factor driving our investment and capital allocation decisions.

I get that it’s an earnings call and extremely fragile shareholders want reassurance, but I wish this was phrased differently. What I hope Cook means by this is that Apple’s top priority is to create really great stuff and provide exemplary services that they hope people will buy and love, thereby assuaging trepidatious hedge fund billionaires.

But the way it’s phrased here is that shareholders come first, and Apple’s entire R&D strategy revolves around them. I sincerely hope this is just poorly articulated, because if it’s taken at face value, it’s deeply concerning.

  1. Apologies to those of you not running a supercomputer — it’s an iMore link. Their great coverage continues to be belied by a shitty website. ↥︎

Kind of in line with the previous link, Joshua Topolsky on the state of big media companies:

Video will not save your media business. Nor will bots, newsletters, a “morning briefing” app, a “lean back” iPad experience, Slack integration, a Snapchat channel, or a great partnership with Twitter. All of these things together might help, but even then, you will not be saved by the magical New Thing that everyone else in the media community is convinced will be the answer to The Problem.

Beneath the Snow Falls and Facebook bots, what really makes a media company tick is its ability to deliver great stories in just the right voice. That’s why I write the way I do, and link to articles like these — I hope you, reader, see that. All of this other stuff is just stuff. It’s an extra delivery mechanism. But if all that’s being delivered is crap, the tinsel of the new hotness is immaterial.

On a related note, the Verge — Topolsky’s old haunt — launched a new gadget blog called Circuit Breaker. Its gimmick? The website is, as Nilay Patel puts it, “the backend for the Facebook mobile experience”.

Just a taste of Anna Wiener’s brilliant essay for N+1 magazine:

An old high school friend emails out of the blue to introduce me to his college buddy: a developer, new to the city, “always a great time!” The developer and I agree to meet for drinks. It’s not clear whether we’re meeting for a date or networking. Not that there’s always a difference: I have one friend who found a job by swiping right and know countless others who go to industry conferences just to fuck — nothing gets them hard like a nonsmoking room charged to the company AmEx. The developer is very handsome and stiltedly sweet. He seems like someone who has opinions about fonts, and he does. It’s clear from the start that we’re there to talk shop. We go to a tiny cocktail bar in the Tenderloin with textured wallpaper and a scrawny bouncer. Photographs are forbidden, which means the place is designed for social media. This city is changing, and I am disgusted by my own complicity.

“There’s no menu, so you can’t just order, you know, a martini,” the developer says, as if I would ever. “You tell the bartender three adjectives, and he’ll customize a drink for you accordingly. It’s great. It’s creative! I’ve been thinking about my adjectives all day.”

This is so very, very good.

M.G. Siegler:

Believe me, I too am full of Apple Watch gripes. The main issue, in my view, is that I simply never use the apps. And wasn’t that supposed to be the point of the thing? Instead, I use the device almost solely for push notifications, which, don’t get me wrong, are still useful. In fact, some, like the notification you get when an Uber is arriving, are extremely useful. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in terms of overall experience thus far.

And yet, one year later, I’m still wearing the thing every day.

Maybe I’m delusional. But I don’t think so. I feel like I still see a ton of people wearing them around as well. And actually, increasingly so. Yes, I live in San Francisco, so maybe I’m in a bubble (but not the Bubble).

Calgary is in the middle of a recession, but I have also seen a lot more Apple Watches lately while on my commute, on the pathway system, or on the streets. There’s a lot that I’m hoping for, both in software and in hardware, but as far as “failures” or “flops” are concerned, the Watch is a long way off, and the potential is huge.

If apps loaded in a few seconds instead of the 15–30 that they take today and the side button could be reprogrammed — almost any other function would be better than the contacts wheel — that would go a long way towards making the Watch more predictable and useful.

Shai Oster of Bloomberg was given a tour of one of Pegatron’s factories where iPhone models are assembled. In their latest supplier audit report, Apple says that they’ve been working hard to improve overtime compliance, and it seems that it’s working: they report a 97% compliance rate for 2015, up from 92% just three years earlier (PDF).

Worker pay is still a significant weakness for many tech company suppliers. While it has been improving, Oster illustrates how far it has left to go:

One improvement Pegatron executives were eager to share was increased income transparency. Employees can now check their hours, pay stubs, and monthly lodging and food expenses at touchscreen terminals throughout the campus. Including overtime, take-home pay averages 4,200 yuan to 5,500 yuan ($650-$850) a month. One employee, who helped workers access the automated information stations, showed her base salary was 2,020 yuan. An iPhone 6 in China costs 4,488 yuan.

For comparison, comparable factory workers in the United States, while not well-paid, earn an average of about $14 per hour.1 Assuming full-time occupation — and not the six-day workweek that contract factories consider “standard” — that works out to a wage of about $2,400 per month. The same iPhone 6 model costs just $549 in the U.S. or about 23% of a single month’s wages, compared to 81%–220% of a Pegatron employee’s monthly earnings.

Living conditions vary significantly around the world, and those for factory workers appear to have improved by leaps and bounds over what they once were, but there’s a ways to go yet.

  1. I took an average of three factory or assembly workers that would be in a comparable field. You can find them by searching the BLS’ tables for “Machine Feeders and Offbearers”, “Team Assemblers”, and “Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers”. ↥︎

Jon Hendren:

Usage is down not because users are tired of Twitter as a concept, they’re tired of Twitter, Inc. making 5 bad moves for every good one. As frivolous new features haphazardly got thrown on top of the pile, Twitter, Inc. neglected to address the kinds of abuse and harassment that drove existing users away for good. The apps and web interface became slower and clunkier. Algorithmic feeds and 10,000-character limits are now said to be coming down the line. Everything that first made Twitter appealing is on the way out. If I didn’t know better, it would seem like they were trying to get rid of people.

It’s amazing to think that a company whose content is provided for free, who gets free mass advertising from basically every angle, and whose only real responsibility is to Not Break Itself can’t figure out how to be sustainable. The only thing Twitter has going for it in 2016 is the fact that many users will stick around for lack of a better alternative. Whether that’s months or years is anyone’s guess.

An absolutely essential essay from Riccardo Mori:

In the end, I think that what the next ‘MacOS’ needs most is focus. Focus on what it has historically done best — ‘just working’. I don’t think that the current problems of OS X have much to do with its old age or its old models. It’s more a matter of identity. […]

What makes people love iOS, what makes people think iOS is much simpler than OS X is, I believe, its reliability. iOS feels positively predictable, dependable. This kind of reliability should become the main focus for the next ‘MacOS’, not just a continued aggregation of old, newer, and borrowed features swept under the carpet of a translucent, attractive UI.

I’m generally wary of essays that are about what Apple “should” or “needs to” do, but this isn’t that. It’s a rational critique of the OS X of today, and thoughts on directions it could take to preserve the qualities that make it a Macintosh.

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice:

In the morning of April 14, Chris Vickery, a hacker and security researcher, was browsing Shodan, a search engine for internet-connected devices and servers, when he noticed an unusually large database of more than 100 gigabytes on an Amazon cloud storage called “padron2015.”

As it turned out, the database contained the personal information, including full names, home addresses, and national identification numbers, of virtually all registered voters in Mexico. The information had been left completely open to anyone, as there was no passwords or any other protection on it.

You might think that governments would be cracking down on their information security after the personal data of hundreds of millions of others was leaked recently, but I guess not.

Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich:

As I told the NAI, the disclosures and choices companies offer to people must address the many forms of tracking companies are using, including proprietary techniques that combine technologies like cookies, fingerprinting, cookie syncing, and many others. They also must apply when companies track consumers not on one, but across multiple devices. People can’t be led to believe tracking is more limited than it is, or that they’ve blocked all tracking when that’s not the case. And if the choices offered to people don’t cover all the ways a company tracks them, the company must clearly and prominently say so. I also told the NAI that these choices must be easy to understand and use, and shouldn’t require multiple steps.

I think the FTC would be shocked to find out how much information can be — and is — collected during casual browsing of the web, for which there is little way to reliably opt out. Targeted, behavioural advertising ought to be something consumers must opt-in to, not out of.

The Economist:

Antitrust sceptics see the Android case as yet more proof that such legal action is just not worth it in the fast-moving tech world. Even if a decision comes soon, it will take time for a remedy to change things on smartphone screens. And by then the market for mobile software may have changed completely: instant messaging apps are growing into application platforms of their own and text-based services called “chatbots” are poised to become an alternative to apps. But it is easy to forget that although in the Microsoft case, too, the remedy came late and was of limited relevance, being under antitrust scrutiny forced the company to offer competitors more room. One of the main beneficiaries was none other than Google.

Since the tech industry does move so quickly while the legal system tends to move slower — particularly for complex cases like this — decisions are often made after they’re entirely relevant. Apple’s long-running dispute with Samsung, for example, produced a list of largely-outdated devices barred from import into the United States. But cases like these can also be an attempt to put the infringing parties under closer watch, in addition to being a formal list of charges to be settled. Put another way: there’s the strictly legal rationale, and then there’s the behavioural rationale.