Mother Jones did something remarkable: they sent Shane Bauer — one of their reporters — to become a guard for a privately-run prison for four months. It’s a shocking article, and a brilliant piece of journalism.
In a complementary piece, Mother Jones’ editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery explains why they chose to investigate private prisons, and how they went about it. But there’s a critical note in her explanation:
When CCA (which runs 61 prisons, jails, and detention centers on behalf of US taxpayers) learned about our investigation, it sent us a four-page letter warning that Shane had “knowingly and deliberately breached his duty to CCA by violating its policies,” and that there could be all manner of legal consequences. The letter came not from CCA’s in-house counsel, but from the same law firm that had represented a billionaire megadonor in his three-year quest to punish us for reporting on his anti-LGBT activities. When he lost, he pledged $1 million to support others who might want to sue us, and, though we won the case, were it not for the support of our readers the out-of-pocket costs would have hobbled us.
Recall Peter Thiel’s proxy campaign against Gakwer and note the similarities. The freedom of the press has always been challenged, but an increase in income disparity and a decrease in the sustainability of the press provide increasing opportunities for wealthy individuals to intimidate and harass.
TV viewers hoping to catch all of the House Democrats’ sit-in on the House floor on Wednesday had to find other methods besides Capitol chronicler CSPAN.
That’s because it’s the House who controls CSPAN’s video and audio feeds, meaning when the leadership sent the House into recess, they cut off the feed.
With the cameras turned off, CSPAN began broadcasting a Periscope livestream of the floor from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), with the full graphics afforded to normal video feeds of the House floor.
I didn’t know it was possible for the Speaker of the House to control what gets filmed, much less that they were the control. Unless they’re working with classified materials, these sessions should always be broadcast.
At any rate, I like to imagine Jack Dorsey beaming at the television as Periscope became the video stream of record after traditional broadcast was terminated, only for him to boil into a rage as the broadcast replaced the feed with a Facebook Live source. He can’t seem to catch a break.
Some good ongoing reporting from the Ringer’s Molly McHugh on Snapchat’s directions to freelancers to use other artists’ work as reference material for Lenses. Artists have a hard enough time getting paid for the work they — we — do, let alone any acknowledgement that it’s a “real” profession requiring skill and labour. Snapchat’s trivializing of artists’ work is not unique, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less outrageous.
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-founder of the Next Web, in an article headlined “Apple Doesn’t Understand Photography” that’s getting quite a lot of traction:
The most innovative thing Apple did with their Photo app recently was the addition of a ‘Selfie’ filter. You can find the folder in your Photos app, and yeah, it is filled with Selfies.
Apart from that Apple still thinks we use photography as we did it 30 years ago: we go on a trip, take a bunch of photo’s then struggle with how to show our friends these photos when we get back from our trip.
I think van Zanten missed WWDC because I cannot figure out why he wrote this article otherwise. Case in point:
What is the problem that needs fixing? It is that photography is changing. I showed my girlfriend some tiny text on the back of a credit card. Without hesitating she pulled out her camera, took a photo, and then zoomed in on the photo to read the text.
The camera in your iPhone is a zoom in device for small text or objects.
Now you could argue there are different apps for different purposes and I should simply use Evernote for notes, Snapchat for disposable stuff and remember to delete the photos I no longer want. But that’s not how life works. I’m paying for lunch and take a quick pic of the receipt. That’s two actions: Swipe up, take photo.
I could also launch my receipts app. Then means unlocking my phone, finding the app, launching it, clicking the ‘Add receipt photo’, taking the photo, etc. That’s easily 10 steps. Nobody has time for that.
Adding a note in Evernote is also more complicated than just swiping up and launching the camera. But Apple could easily make this easier. If Apple can detect a face in a photo it should be able to detect a receipt as well. If it can detect a selfie surely it can differentiate between ‘holiday photos’ and regular snapshots. In fact, if the photo was taken on a weekday, during work hours, and close to work or home there’s a 95% chance this isn’t some kind of holiday event that needs a photo album.
iOS 10 will also ship with object detection built into the Photos app and, yes, it detects receipts. It doesn’t create albums for any of this stuff; it just tags the photo. This was all announced at WWDC; van Zanten’s article was written nearly a week after the opening keynote.
None of those images are meant to be saved ‘for later’. A year from now nobody will care about what I did at 9:06 AM while waiting in line at the coffee bar. It might be interesting for 1 other person (the person I’m getting coffee for) but it can safely disappear into the void an hour later.
Automatically deleting photos from the Camera strikes me as a terrible idea; for photos taken from within Messages, I can see the value. However, that’s still automatic deletion of user data caused by the system, and that’s rarely okay. There are features within Photos today that help solve this problem, like iCloud Photo Library and device-optimized storage, so deleting photos is rarely necessary. The aforementioned automatic scene detection features coming in iOS 10 mean that far less user intervention is necessary to organize and maintain a large photo library.
Are there loads of features I hope to see from Photos and the Camera app in future versions of iOS? Sure. But to argue that Apple “doesn’t understand photography” using issues that were solved at WWDC is callous and lazy.
Every time someone publishes the rumour that the next iPhone will lack a headphone jack, a mix of anger and incredulity floods my Twitter feed. Today’s antagonizers are Daisuke Wakabayashi and Eva Dou of the Wall Street Journal:
Apple Inc. plans to break with its recent pattern of overhauling the design of its flagship iPhone every two years, and make only subtle changes in the models it will release this fall, according to people familiar with the matter.
The biggest planned change in this year’s phones is the removal of the headphone plug, which will make the phone thinner and improve its water resistance, said people with that matter.
First, how did the copy editors at the Journal miss the weird construction of that last sentence?
Second, this isn’t really news for those of you who follow the rumour cycle. Macotakarafirst reported this back in November, and Mark Sullivan of Fast Company and Mark Gurman effectively confirmed the rumour in January. What’s different now is that it’s being reported by the Journal.1
This rumour is the new Apple Rorschach test: some people will see an iPhone without a headphone jack as an indicator that Apple is being user-hostile, or that they have their priorities all screwed up. Others will see it as yet another time when Apple is making a choice that challenges assumed standards in favour of a bold bet on the future.
Regardless of Apple’s success or failure in removing the headphone jack, history has shown that few connectors live for very long. The USB Implementers Forum is encouraging OEMs to move from the long-standard USB-A connector to the new — much better — USB-C standard. Floppy disks did not last forever, and I never want to see a VGA or DVI connector again. The headphone jack will, one day, suffer the same fate.
There are certainly some significant benefits to Lightning. It’s reversible, it’s more durable than most headphone cables, it can be made more water-resistant, and it carries both power and data.
That last point is particularly important when it comes to headphone playback controls, which are currently implemented as a clever hack. When you squeeze the remote, it simply shorts out two of the headphone wires. Smartphones interpret different squeeze patterns as play/pause, skip, rewind, and so forth. Headphone controls that send actual playback control data ought to be significantly more reliable and far easier to use.
But I have reservations about this rumour, primarily because I think the conversation around it has blurred the distinction between replacing the headphone jack with a more modern port, and replacing it with a Lightning connector.
All accessories that wish to use Lightning are required to be a part of Apple’s MFi Program. MFi accessories are subject to strict regulations set by Apple, and their manufacturers are required to pay royalties of $2 per product sold with a Lightning connector. The connector is also not found on competing devices, meaning that if a company wishes to make a product to sell to the entire smartphone user market, they must manufacture at least two variants of the product: one for iPhone users, and one for everyone else.
That might be totally fine. The market won’t be limited to next-generation iPhone users; it will be the user of any iOS device released since the iPhone 5. That’s a huge potential audience, and manufacturers aren’t going to pass that up, even if it does cost them $2 per unit. Any accessory company that doesn’t like that can use Bluetooth, which costs a flat fee for each product rather than each unit.
But there’s a tradeoff here: any company that wishes to make wired headphones for the iPhone will now be subjected to Apple’s rejection or acceptance. This probably won’t matter much to most users, the vast majority of which use the EarPods that come with their iPhone, but it does matter if you wish to change your headphones. For those of us who wish to use better headphones, or those with special requirements — for fitness, a different style, or whatever it may be — this means that our buying choices will be fewer and far between, at least for a while. Or, we’ll have to make do with a converting dongle, and that doesn’t seem elegant at all.
This is a little different than when the Dock Connector was replaced with Lightning. While it became trivial to borrow a Lightning cable off a friend or find one at an airport after a matter of months, headphones are a more personal choice for many of us. I don’t think there’s any question that it’s going to be initially frustrating, but there’s a potential bright light: the premium headphone market is booming, and it’s projected to keep growing. That gives headphone designers and manufacturers a good reason to update their wares and make them Lightning-friendly.
Regardless of market size and potential, it’s still a little hard to swallow the prospect of replacing a universal connector with a proprietary one. Call it a maybe-misguided principled stance. And yet, in a few years, I think we’ll look back on this as a quaint concern that needn’t have consumed so many angry words.
Update: This article previously stated that the cost to manufacturers for licensing Lightning was a rumoured $4 per connector. I’ve since learned that the royalty fee is $2 per product sold with any number of Lightning connectors. I have updated the article accordingly.
On an unrelated note, the Journal happens to be one of the few publications that Apple occasionally provides off-the-record information to. Make of that what you will. ↩︎
The refinements to iOS’ design language in its tenth major release do a lot for clarifying and building upon the established hierarchy of the system.
Additionally, the new language used in the Music, News, and Home apps is intriguing. That it’s only in those apps is one thing; that they’re treated similarly despite being different conceptually is another. I’m interested in ways this style could be brought to other parts of the system in the future.
According to a Parse.ly report from August of last year, Facebook now drives more traffic to news websites than Google. Many sites now depends on ad revenue earned directly from clicks off a Facebook shared link that happened to surface on some user’s news feed due to Facebook’s non-public sorting algorithms. Meanwhile, as we’ve learned recently, Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member, is trying to bring down a news publication that he dislikes. That seems like a brewing conflict of interest.
I’m not saying Thiel would even think about encouraging those algorithms to be tweaked to drive less traffic to sites that he disagrees with. What I am saying is that there’s an awful lot of power over the press today that currently rests in very few hands, and most of the people with that power have competing financial interests.
Here’s another example: Jeff Bezos is both the CEO of Amazon and the owner the Washington Post. Last summer, the New York Times published a damning book excerpt on the conditions of Amazon’s corporate employees. Publications worldwide re-reported or quoted the piece, including the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, and the Guardian — among many others — and almost all did so in a critical light.
But the Washington Post’s piece was more measured and tame. It comes across as gently critical, emphasizing defence over addressing the issues raised in the excerpt. I’m not saying Bezos had a hand in editing it, or even that the Post was reluctant to publish anything more critical. But what I am saying is that it’s hard to see how the Post’s reporting on this could feel neutral at all, given its owner’s conflict of interest.
I’m not trying to state that Bezos or the Post, in particular, are untrustworthy, but — in general — would you trust a newspaper owned by a person to report in a neutral way about a company run by that same person? Do you trust a social network to deliver the news in a neutral and fair way, even when one of the people who helps run it is simultaneously picking a fight with a specific publication?
Update: I’ve changed the last paragraph slightly to clarify that this isn’t about Bezos or Thiel specifically, but rather a broader trend.
I’ve somehow resisted covering Tronc — the company whose name sounds like a Canadian goose caught in a windsock — because, in my head, they do not exist. Alas, the Tribune Company has now started trading on the NASDAQ under that name — the sort of name your crazy uncle would make up for a nonexistent startup he thinks all the kids are using these days — so I must acknowledge the reality.
To introduce Tribune employees to the new name, which kind of sounds like someone blowing their nose through a length of PVC pipe, Tronc has made a couple of videos, and they’re full of buzzwords and B-roll.
Madison Malone Kircher has translated them to English for New York Magazine:
“The key to making our content really valuable to the broadest possible audience is to use machine learning to maximize all the time. Artificial intelligence is going to allow journalists to do their jobs more efficiently, finding the right photos the videos, the databases, the things you package your stories with.”
Translation: We’re going to replace many of the people who get laid off with “artificial intelligence,” which means those that remain will be asked to churn out more work in the same amount of time as they did in the years Bt (Before Tronc).
“Ultimately those efficiencies will help us produce more content, better content. That will make stories much more visual, much for exciting. Today, that is what people expect.”
Translation: We’re going to make more video.
I’m joking around a bit, but there are actual numbers in the video. Tronc executives Malcolm CasSelle and Anne Vasquez explain that the company currently attaches ad-supported video players to 16% of their articles; their target for 2017 is for 50% of articles to include video.
The problem is that articles that are typically published by major newspapers are not always readily-suited for video, not even half the time. And that means that purely increasing the number of CPM video players across their properties requires writing articles specifically for video, which probably means more filler.
Speaking of filler, Tronc is the sound made when packing peanuts squish and rub together.
Update: I’ve updated the headline to this piece because the original — “A Translation of Tronc’s New Welcome Video” — didn’t make any sense.
A popular app that claims to scan the Mediterranean Sea in real time for adrift refugees does not work as its developers claim it does and may be a ploy to win an advertising industry award, experts say.
The app, I Sea, was nominated at the Canne Lions awards show, an international advertising festival held this week in France, causing some to question whether it was made as a publicity stunt.
Despite its press coverage, I’m not sure I’d call I Sea “popular”, but this is pretty scummy. The Singapore branch of Grey Digital — the registered developer of the app — partnered with a legitimate Malta-based migrant aid charity, too, which seems like an opportunistic way for the agency to try to win some awards.
Update: This doesn’t seem like an honest mistake. When this was in the press last week, Grey executives were pretty clear in how they described the app:
“The app uses an algorithm that divides the satellite images of the sea into thousands of smaller plots,” explains Low Jun Jek, executive creative director at Grey. “Each of these plots is then sent or assigned to different users so they can view the plot through the app. The user will receive a notification on their phone that will prompt them to check their plot — a simple task that will take no more than one minute at most.
I didn’t have high hopes for major iPad-specific features to be announced at WWDC. Still, I was disappointed to see the iPad return to the backseat after last year’s revitalization. Every time Craig Federighi ended a segment with “it works on the iPad, too”, it felt like the iPad had become an afterthought again.
WWDC this year certainly ticked a lot of boxes, but a lack of iPad-specific enhancements continues to be a sore point. It’s very clear that Apple prioritizes iPhone development while Tim Cook continues to espouse the benefits of the iPad. From his opening remarks during the WWDC keynote:
The iPad magically transforms a glass canvas into anything that you want it to be. It’s our clearest expression of the future of personal computing.
Unlike Apple’s stance on privacy, it doesn’t fully feel like they’re practicing what they preach with iOS and the iPad. While it is a tremendous personal computer, there remain significant and glaring areas where it still feels like a jumbo iPhone in a not-so-good way.
After WWDC, I strongly believe that Apple has notable iPad-only features in the pipeline, but they won’t be available until later in the iOS 10 cycle, possibly in early 2017.
You thought last year’s show was a hell of a get for John Gruber? This year, not only did Phil Schiller appear at the live recording of the Talk Show, so did Craig Federighi. And it was a pretty good conversation.
Of course, these are two top Apple executives who are well-versed in the company’s PR policy. But it’s a truly entertaining discussion where both Federighi and Schiller can be a little loose and unscripted. The best moments are, I think, are in the second half where both executives explain how Apple is protecting users’ privacy with the upcoming photo analysis and other features coming to iOS and MacOS.
Serenity Caldwell and Mikah Sargent of iMore did a great job transcribing the show, in case you’d rather read it. It’s a good show to watch, though; everyone’s pretty light and loose — there was an open bar — and it’s just an hour long. Well worth your time.
Ashley Carman and Frank Bi of the Verge wrote an article praising Apple’s introduction of Swift Playgrounds on the iPad, but warning that it’s all a big trap:
But most importantly, Swift Playgrounds fits into Apple’s proprietary business efforts as it has a vested interest in teaching kids to code in Swift; apps built in Swift only work on iOS devices. With Swift Playgrounds, Apple is hoping its programming language will be the gateway to coding that encourages a new generation of App Store developers.
I know what you’re thinking. And Carman and Bi address it the very next sentence:
That being said, we should note that Swift is open source, so it’s possible it’ll be more widely adopted on Linux and eventually show up on Android.
Apple is trying to lock kids into building using a totally open language, much in the same way that Netscape tried to lock kids into using HTML. The hubris is overwhelming. Not Apple’s — the Verge’s.
Seth Fiegerman, reporting for Mashable on how Tumblr is doing after three years at Yahoo:
Tumblr’s stumbles under Yahoo may go down as a cautionary tale, both for the perils of a large corporation buying a hot startup and for Silicon Valley’s belief that any social network reaching hundreds of millions of people will inevitably generate boatloads of cash one day. Tumblr was slow to monetize before it was acquired, struggled to grow revenue enough to meet its new parent company’s expectations in the first year and struggled even more to keep up with ambitious goals when Yahoo began to meddle.
The massive Tumblr acquisition may also come to highlight Mayer’s broader management missteps in making flashy bets, trusting deputies with limited knowledge of a product to oversee it and some mix of arrogance or denial in failing to quickly right those wrongs when necessary.
Yahoo was floundering long before Marissa Mayer came on board, but it still feels like it’s in a dive. The acquisitions made on her watch have largely failed to pan out, and I question whether the company can ever come out of its slump.
You know that weird vibe you get when someone tells you that their email address is something-something “at Yahoo dot com”? That’s what she and they are fighting — that sense of malaise about anything Yahoo touches.
Shortly before WWDC this year, a rumour was flying around that Apple was preparing to bring iMessage to Android. I didn’t write about it because the source seemed sketchy and, for no other reason than gut instinct, it didn’t seem likely for this year.
Well, Walt Mossberg looked into it after the WWDC keynote:
When I asked a senior Apple executive why iMessage wasn’t being expanded to other platforms, he gave two answers. First, he said, Apple considers its own user base of one billion active devices big enough to provide a large enough data set for any possible AI learning the company is working on. And second, having a superior messaging platform that only worked on Apple devices would help sales of those devices — the company’s classic (and successful) rationale for years.
This year’s software enhancements greatly reduce the amount of lock-in to Apple’s services. In iOS 10, you can — on a per-contact basis — set third-party apps as the default for both messaging and voice communications. But that’s the kind of openness that doesn’t increase the likelihood of users crossing over to Android. Rather, it expands their choices within Apple’s ecosystem.
Bringing iMessage to Android is the opposite of that. It serves to increase choice for users with little incentive to keep them within Apple’s ecosystem. But, if that other rumour about Apple Pay transfers over iMessage comes true, that’s a good reason to bring it to Android. Another good reason is the forthcoming iMessage App Store.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Apple executives have, on more than one occasion, said one thing while planning another. Things may always change. But I don’t foresee iMessage working with anything other than Apple’s products anytime soon.
I’m very skeptical that this is a benefit for developers (who would have to outbid others just to protect their own app’s name as a search term) or for users (who expect what they search for to be at the top). Note, also, how the ad takes up more of the screen than the actual matching search result.
A very large company like Facebook could conceivably bid on all major social networking keywords, for example, and push down any competitors on the search results page. Or, in a more nefarious scenario, a well-funded low-quality or knockoff app could bid its way to the top of search. I’d hope Apple puts a stop to this; it would be inadequate to simply add “Report” buttons for ads that engage in this sort of behaviour.
John Siracusa seems very pleased that Apple introduced a new file system at WWDC called “APFS”, for “Apple file system”.1 It’s not coming until next year but, at first blush, it seems thoroughly modern, powerful, fast, and secure.
Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica dug through Apple’s initial documentation for the juicy bits. This sounds particularly intriguing:
Also interesting is the concept of “space sharing,” where multiple volumes can be created out of the same chunk of underlying physical space. This sounds on first glance a lot like enterprise-style thin provisioning, where you can do things like create four 1TB volumes on a single 1TB disk, and each volume grows as space is added to it. You can add physical storage to keep up with the volume’s growth without having to resize the logical volume.
Based on what I’m hearing, APFS will be making its way across Apple’s product lineup. I don’t know what the limitations are of this — if you do, please write me — but perhaps 16 GB iPhones and 128 GB MacBooks won’t be so space-constrained after all.
Each volume in an APFS container reports the same available disk space, which is equal to the total available disk space of the container. For example, for an APFS container with a capacity of 100GB that contains volume A, which uses 10GB, and volume B, which uses 20GB, the free space reported for both volumes A and B is 70GB (100GB – 10GB – 20GB).
Think of it like flexible partitioning rather than allowing multiple volumes the same amount of virtual space, which is the way I read it initially.
I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn. It doesn’t baffle me like it does Peter Bright of Ars Technica, though he does raise a good point: Microsoft’s track record with multibillion-dollar acquisitions is, well, terrible. But why would Microsoft want to own the world’s second uncoolest social network — the first, of course, being Google+ — when it’s effectively a glorified and unprofitable résumé hosting service?
Today, the always-great Kontra surfaced a 2013 article by Ann Friedman, writing for the Baffler:
On one level, of course, this world of aspirational business affiliation is nothing new. LinkedIn merely digitizes the core, and frequently cruel, paradox of networking events and conferences. You show up at such gatherings because you want to know more important people in your line of work — but the only people mingling are those who, like you, don’t seem to know anyone important. You just end up talking to the sad sacks you already know. From this crushing realization, the paradoxes multiply on up through the social food chain: those who are at the top of the field are at this event only to entice paying attendees, soak up the speaking fees, and slip out the back door after politely declining the modest swag bag. They’re not standing around on garish hotel ballroom carpet with a plastic cup of cheap chardonnay in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other.
This acquisition is exceedingly uninteresting, yet it makes total sense. The products from both LinkedIn and Microsoft are perfectly designed for middle-management types and those who aspire to be middle-management types. That market is dull. The products in that space are dull. It’s full of people working dull jobs that they really don’t want to talk about at a dinner party.
This sort of thing has now run all the way up the ladder. Microsoft and LinkedIn are associating themselves because they get to name-drop each other. LinkedIn is the name in corporate social networking; Microsoft is the name in corporate office software. LinkedIn is more legitimized now that they’re owned by Microsoft, while Microsoft gets a second successful social network — Xbox Live being its first. It’s a marriage made in, well, not heaven — probably in a ninth-floor boardroom.
[…] When Safari 10 ships this fall, by default, Safari will behave as though common legacy plug-ins on users’ Macs are not installed.
On websites that offer both Flash and HTML5 implementations of content, Safari users will now always experience the modern HTML5 implementation, delivering improved performance and battery life. This policy and its benefits apply equally to all websites; Safari has no built-in list of exceptions. If a website really does require a legacy plug-in, users can explicitly activate it on that website.
If this sounds like a great idea to you, you don’t have to wait until this autumn’s release of MacOS1 Sierra to get it. You can uninstall Flash right now. You know you want to.
I’m going with the capital-M variant until Apple changes their hardware line to “mac pro” and the menu item for Macs to “mac”, which I really hope doesn’t happen. Mary Norris needs to have a chat with Phil Schiller. ↩︎
Shirley Halperin of Billboard interviewed Eddy Cue, Jimmy Iovine, Robert Kondrk, and Trent Reznor in the wake of Apple Music’s refresh previewed yesterday. It’s a good — albeit light and PR-friendly — interview, touching on the things the team has learned in the first year of Apple Music’s availability. Most notably, it was confusing:
Reznor: I think you’ve seen the DNA of me in what we’ve shown [at WWDC] and the concepts behind what we released a year ago. It’s been really interesting for me to see how this works and how much time and patience it takes. The update of Apple Music is a result of us taking a hard look at how people actually use it — not hypothetically, but realistically.
The theme of this year’s WWDC seems to be: Pragmatic changes that, individually, are not that significant, but when used every day, greatly improve the way people use their devices in the real world.
I think the first release of Apple Music was centred around hopes on how people should use it. This update is decidedly pragmatic. It’s less idealized, more practical, and should prove far easier to use no matter how you use the Music app on your phone.