Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for February, 2017

Techdirt Files a Motion to Dismiss Shiva Ayyadurai’s Lawsuit

Mike Masnick:

As we mentioned last month, we are currently being sued for $15 million by Shiva Ayyadurai, represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer who helped bring down Gawker. We have written, at great length, about Ayyadurai’s claims and our opinion — backed up by detailed and thorough evidence — that email existed long before Ayyadurai created any software. Once again, we believe the legal claims in the lawsuit are meritless and we intend to fight them and win. Earlier today, we filed a motion to dismiss (along with our memorandum in support) and a special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP law (along with a memorandum in support). You can see all of those below. I encourage you read through them.

The four documents prepared by Techdirt’s law firm are a well-written legalese-free “fuck you” addressed to Ayyadurai, and are well worth reading. The motion to dismiss and its corresponding supporting document take apart Ayyadurai’s case piece-by-piece in spectacularly detailed fashion. Any reasonable jury would see right through his claims.

Techdirt has also launched a survival fund. If you can, I’m sure they would appreciate your donation to help stomp out lawsuits designed to silence journalists and critics of wealthy individuals.

Acquisitions in Tech Have a Checkered History

Jan Dawson, in what amounts to a response to that dreadful Bloomberg article about Apple’s acquisition strategy:

The reality is M&A is a risky business, with one of the biggest challenges being cultural fit. That’s particularly challenging at Apple because it sees its culture as both unique and uniquely important. That means smaller deals for technology and tight-knit teams of people are a better fit than massive established businesses with large workforces. For other companies with more generic engineering and software cultures, such acquisitions may be easier.

But it’s also fair to say the biggest failures include several attempts to use big acquisitions as levers for massive strategic shifts, while the most successful acquisitions have often been logical extensions of existing businesses. Skype, Nokia, and aQuantive at Microsoft all fell into the former category, for example, whereas Zappos at Amazon, YouTube and DoubleClick at Google, and Instagram at Facebook were all fairly adjacent businesses. Big strategic shifts have rarely been enabled by taking on entirely new and different businesses – those are often best established through organic change or technology acquisitions which enable broader changes.

Apple has made plenty of acquisitions, most of which have been at relatively low prices for what they returned: custom silicon, Siri, NeXT, Steve friggen Jobs, and so on. They just don’t do acquisitions like the investment bankers in that Bloomberg article think that they should.

‘Quasistatic Cavity Resonance for Ubiquitous Wireless Power Transfer’

Matthew Chabalko, Mohsen Shahmohammadi, and Alanson Sample of Disney Research:

Wireless power delivery has the potential to seamlessly power our electrical devices as easily as data is transmitted through the air. However, existing solutions are limited to near contact distances and do not provide the geometric freedom to enable automatic and un-aided charging. We introduce quasistatic cavity resonance (QSCR), which can enable purpose-built structures, such as cabinets, rooms, and warehouses, to generate quasistatic magnetic fields that safely deliver kilowatts of power to mobile receivers contained nearly anywhere within.

This is still pretty experimental — the paper shows the setup in Fig. 3, and it’s transmitting power via a giant copper pole and conductive walls. Still, this appears to be one hell of a leap over previous wireless power solutions in terms of both its compactness and flexibility. One photo in the paper shows an iPhone mounted in a slim case with a receiver.

Just imagine a future where transmitters like these are as ubiquitous as WiFi, and the possibilities that open up when batteries can be that much smaller or, perhaps, unnecessary, in some applications.

Vice: Apple to Fight Right to Repair Legislation in Nebraska

Jason Koebler, Vice:

The legislation would require Apple and other electronics manufacturers to sell repair parts to consumers and independent repair shops, and would require manufacturers to make diagnostic and service manuals available to the public.


According to the source, an Apple representative, staffer, or lobbyist will testify against the bill at a hearing in Lincoln on March 9. AT&T will also argue against the bill, the source said. The source told me that at least one of the companies plans to say that consumers who repair their own phones could cause lithium batteries to catch fire. Motherboard is protecting the identity of the source because they are not authorized to speak to the press.


The idea that it’s “unsafe” to repair your own devices is one that manufacturers have been promoting for years. Last year, industry lobbyists told lawmakers in Minnesota that broken glass could cut the fingers of consumers who try to repair their screens, according to Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org. Byrne said she will also testify at the Nebraska hearing and “plans to bring band aids.”

I get that Apple, IBM, John Deere, and others would all prefer that this legislation doesn’t pass because it will impact their revenue. As much as I like the idea of this bill, I expect most tech companies to lobby against it. But their arguments are, so far, terrible. Lithium ion batteries and broken glass are dangerous, sure, but give people some credit — it’s not that hard to swap a battery a screen. If I were a legislator, I wouldn’t be convinced by their arguments.

Update: Koebler in a newer article:

But the prospect of a Cupertino-based megacorporation losing business to local repair shops isn’t a very sympathetic argument at the Nebraska statehouse. And so Apple has tried a slew of other tactics, according to state Sen. Lydia Brasch, who was recently visited by Steve Kester, an Apple state government affairs specialist.

“Apple said we would be the only state that would pass this, and that we would become the mecca for bad actors,” Brasch, who is sponsoring the bill, told me in a phone call. “They said that doing this would make it very easy for hackers to relocate to Nebraska.”

These arguments are still unconvincing, and getting worse.

I don’t get why Apple apparently isn’t making an argument for innovation. For example, they could point to the Touch ID sensor’s pairing system and explain that, while it sacrifices repairability of the home button, it makes the system more secure. I’m not sure if a Nebraskan lawmaker would be convinced by this, but it’s far less bullshitty than the arguments Koebler has been reporting.

Canada and E.U. Set to Ratify CETA

Janyce McGregor, CBC News:

The European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday approved the Canada-EU trade agreement after a noisy and sometimes emotional debate.

Roughly 58 per cent of the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), setting the stage for provisional application of nearly 90 per cent of the agreement later this spring.

“This is a deal for the people,” International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said after the vote, emphasizing how the agreement will offer consumers more choice and lower costs.

The good news is that CETA will generally reduce the price of European imports in Canada, including for cars, wine, and cheese. You can imagine how happy I am.

The bad news is that the intellectual property provisions in the agreement are, generally, pretty poor. The agreement makes it illegal to create, distribute, or market any product or device that could work around DRM; it also makes it illegal for consumers to modify or strip DRM, or distribute any information on how to break DRM. That’s unpleasant.

WWDC 2017 Is June 5–9

The biggest news this year — well, so far, at least — is that it’s heading back to the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, site of the first-ever WWDC.

John Gruber got to speak to Phil Schiller yesterday about this announcement, and they’re not making the move back to San Jose for the reason I thought they might:

I asked whether the move to San Jose changed the number of people who’d be able to attend. Schiller said it did not — attendance will be about the same.

Moscone West, the site of every WWDC’s labs and sessions since 2003, has a combined floor space of about 300,000 square feet. The McEnery has about 25% more space. But I bet attendance isn’t limited by floor space as much as it is by keeping the employee-to-attendee ratio low.

A cursory glance at a couple of travel sites indicates that it’s going to be a little bit less expensive to stay in San Jose than it is in San Francisco. I’m seeing a bunch of hotels at $150–250 per night which, while not cheap, adds up to some substantial savings over the week. Rooms are going really fast, so if you’re thinking about going for the atmosphere, start looking right away.

Update: It’s a fifteen minute drive drive from the convention centre to Apple Campus 2, so I’m sure they’ll have some events there as well. Perhaps the Bash? It’s only twelve kilometres away; enterprising attendees could walk that route if they felt like it.

Stuart McLean Dies Aged 68

Deana Sumanac-Johnson and Jessica Wong, CBC News:

Stuart McLean, the host of CBC Radio’s The Vinyl Café and an award-winning humorist, has died at age 68 after a battle with melanoma.

McLean’s trademark blend of storytelling — part nostalgia, part pithy observations about everyday life — and folksy, familiar delivery made him a hit with audiences for more than 20 years. But he always maintained that success came as a surprise to him.

McLean’s voice on the Vinyl Café is etched into the minds of many Canadians. I think it’s worth etching into yours as well.

The Fake Market Tactic

Anil Dash:

[…] by carefully describing drivers in their system as “entrepreneurs” and appropriating the language of true markets, Uber has been welcomed by communities and policymakers as if they were creating a new marketplace. That has serious implications for policy, regulation and even civil rights. For example, we can sincerely laud Uber for making it easier for African American passengers to reliably hail a car when they need a ride, but if persistent patterns of bias from drivers arise again in the Uber era, we’ll have a harder time regulating those abuses because Uber doesn’t usually follow the same policies as licensed taxis.

These pseudo-market patterns also mask patterns of subsidy, like the fact that Uber’s current operations are subsidized by investors to the tune of $2 billion per year. That’s a cost that will be immediately passed along to consumers as soon as Uber succeeds in displacing conventional taxis.

A thought-provoking piece on our inability to reconcile the speed of the evolution of marketplaces with the regulations required to control monopolization and consumer-unfriendly behaviours.

Yahoo Notifies Users of Security Breach, in News That Is Not a Repeat From 2012, 2013, and 2014

Shortly after Verizon announced in July their purchase of Yahoo for slightly less than Yahoo paid for Broadcast.com, a series of alarming news articles came out notifying users of one data breach after another. In 2012, 200 million accounts were compromised; in 2013, a billion; and, in 2014, 500 million accounts were breached. In every case, Verizon said that they were unaware of these incidents until just before Yahoo disclosed them to the press and to users.

With three very high-profile incidents like these, the Verizon acquisition felt a little like it might collapse. However, earlier today, Bloomberg reported that the deal was finally ready to go through — for $250 million less than initially announced:

Verizon Communications Inc. is close to a renegotiated deal for Yahoo! Inc.’s internet properties that would reduce the price of the $4.8 billion agreement by about $250 million after the revelation of security breaches at the web company, according to people familiar with the matter.

In addition to the discount, Verizon and the entity that remains of Yahoo after the deal, to be renamed Altaba Inc., are expected to share any ongoing legal responsibilities related to the breaches, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. An announcement of the new agreement could come in a matter of days or weeks, said the people. The revised agreement isn’t final and could still change, they said.

Then, just a few hours after Bloomberg broke this news, the Associated Press reported yet another lapse in security:

Yahoo is warning users of potentially malicious activity on their accounts between 2015 and 2016, the latest development in the internet company’s investigation of a mega-breach that exposed 1 billion users’ data several years ago.

Yahoo confirmed Wednesday that it was notifying users that their accounts had potentially been compromised but declined to say how many people were affected.

There has now been a problem with Yahoo’s security every single year for the past five years. These incidents affect nearly two billion accounts cumulatively, thereby undermining the security of basically all of their users across the web.

First Look at Planet of the Apps

Husain Sumra, MacRumors:

The format of the show is similar to that of fellow talent-based reality shows The Voice and Shark Tank. Aspiring app developers descend down an escalator while pitching four judges on their idea. By the time they get to the bottom, the judges must swipe left or right to demonstrate whether they’re interested. If multiple judges swipe right on a contestant, the contestant gets to choose who they want to pair with. Once paired, the developer goes through an incubator period, getting advise from developers at big companies like Uber, until it’s ready enough to pitch to Lightspeed Venture Partners for funding.

I watched the trailer; it doesn’t look good. I like the “escalator pitch” idea, and I think Gary Vaynerchuk and Jessica Alba will be reasonably competent. But I have reservations about Gwyneth Paltrow and Will.I.Am’s involvement. And then there’s the actual premise of the show:

[Eddy Cue] says Apple is just starting out with original content, but that it wants to do more. When asked whether it could see itself becoming Netflix, Cue said Apple wants to see where it can go with its own strategy. Cue later emphasized that Apple doesn’t just want to buy shows, denying that Apple was ever interested in purchasing The Grand Tour. Instead, Apple only wants to make shows that are unique and “create culture.”

I’ve seen more than a few people write this off as a dramatized version of app development — compiling code and funding rounds, as seen through a reality TV filter. I think that’s overly kind. The premise is derivative, and the clips — so far — seem mediocre and dull. What has been shown so far does a disservice to the vast majority of developers, too.

Meanwhile, for all its faults, the Grand Tour had a genuinely good first season by its end. It may have been a shameless knockoff of the Top Gear format, but it was presented by the same cast that made Top Gear a worldwide phenomenon, and it was a genuine joy to watch. If anything, it managed to make the most recent iteration of Top Gear on the BBC look like the knock-off, not the Grand Tour.

Kirk McElhearn (via Michael Tsai):

A reality show isn’t creating culture, it’s copying a format that is tired. Reality TV is the Android phone of TV shows, and Apple could surely do better.

No matter whether I’m the right audience for this, shouldn’t Apple be shooting for more than a knockoff of X Factor, but with the singing bits replaced with clips of developers asking wealthy VCs for money?

I also think the distribution of this TV show is confused. For some reason, it will be made available through Apple Music within the Music app, despite Apple having an app literally called “TV”.

Sure, the show hasn’t come out yet. I’ll give it a shot — I’m an Apple Music subscriber, so why not? But I’m pessimistic about its chances of clearing my already-low expectations for it.

Facebook to Begin Autoplaying Video With Sound in News Feed

Buried amongst Facebook’s announcements at Code Conference comes this nugget of terrible, per Kurt Wagner:

Autoplay videos in News Feed will now play with the sound on, assuming your phone is not on silent. You can disable this feature in settings.

Anyone else getting the feeling that management at Facebook has nothing but contempt for their users?

Potential National Security Lapses by Flashlight

Philip Bump, Washington Post:

Notice, though, that the photos appear to corroborate an important detail from the CNN report. “The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents,” Liptak writes. In DeAgazio’s first photo, you can see a phone flashlight being used in that way.

Why is this important? Mobile phones have flashlights, yes — and cameras, microphones and Internet connectivity. When Edward Snowden was meeting with reporters in Hong Kong at the moment he was leaking the material he’d stolen from the NSA, he famously asked that they place their phones in the refrigerator — blocking any radio signals in the event that the visitors’ phones had been hacked. This was considered the most secure way of ensuring that the phones couldn’t be used as wiretaps, even more secure than removing the battery. Phones — especially phones with their flashes turned on for improved visibility — are portable television satellite trucks and, if compromised, can be used to get a great deal of information about what’s happening nearby, unless precautions are taken.

A 2014 report (PDF) by SnoopWall, an anti-malware developer, found that the ten most popular flashlight apps for Android overreached the permissions they required to run. All of them had permission to capture photos and get network access. In a 2016 CBS report, SnoopWall founder Gary Miliefsky said that one flashlight app his company studied captured audio and transmitted recordings to a server in Beijing.

None of this may have happened in this incident — we’re unlikely to ever know because of the inherently secretive nature of the subject — but it could have happened because of careless disregard for basic security precautions.

Update: On February 3, Senators Tom Udall and Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter to the president asking about what background checks and security precautions are employed at the Mar-a-Lago estate. No administration officials responded.

The Life of Apps Outside of the Mac App Store

A couple of weeks ago, I linked to Jeffrey Johnson’s account of Underpass, his new app, charting in the Mac App Store with a single sale. I wrote:

Of note, most of the apps ahead of Underpass are third-party implementations of popular iOS apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. And, at number thirteen in the Top Grossing chart, Apple’s long-outdated FaceTime app. That doesn’t sound like a healthy ecosystem.

Underpass is available exclusively in the App Store. Now, I want to look at the opposite of that situation. In the past two months, two other developers have shared their accounts of taking their apps out of the Mac App Store.

First, here’s Bogdan Popescu, writing one hundred days after Dash was removed from the App Store:

All of Dash’s App Store revenue has migrated to direct sales, with a slight increase.


Most of the App Store users of Dash 3 have migrated their license to the direct version. I was able to use the in-app notification mechanism I had to let them know about what’s going on so that they don’t get cut off from the app they paid for.

Paul Kafasis of Rogue Amoeba, writing about selling Piezo outside of the App Store for a full year:

The Mac App Store previously made up about half of Piezo’s unit sales, so we might have expected to sell half as many copies after exiting the store. Instead, it seems that nearly all of those App Store sales shifted to direct sales. It appears that nearly everyone who would have purchased Piezo via the Mac App Store opted to purchase directly once that was the only option. Far from the Mac App Store helping drive sales to us, it appears we had instead been driving sales away from our own site, and into the Mac App Store.

Remarkable; yet, judging by the condition of the Mac App Store, unsurprising.

The Mac App Store could have been a golden opportunity for developers. In a hypothetical world, having Apple handle credit card processing, automatic updates, quality assurance, and curation, plus putting their marketing muscle behind the store — all of these factors could have made developers happy to give up 30% of their potential revenue. But the large number and aggressive types of limitations required for apps in the store combined with Apple’s rather lax quality controls has made the Mac App Store a combined flea market and glorified Software Update utility.

Google Launches Shareable Location Lists in Maps

Valentina Palladino, Ars Technica:

The new feature adds another layer to the already-existing “save” option in Google Maps. Once you pinpoint a desired location, you can hit the “save” button to reveal a number of premade lists including “Want to Go,” “Starred,” and “Favorites.” Then you can choose the list you want the location to live in, or create a new list with a personalized title like “Vacation.” In Google Maps’ menu, you can find all your saved lists in the “Your Places” folder when you want to recall saved locations. Now each list will have a “share” button as well, which lets you grab its link to share with others or share it via different social networks. This should make it easier to share things like favorite restaurants and shopping locations with visiting out-of-town family and the like.

This is one of those features that most of us aren’t going to use very often, but when we need it, we really need it. If you’re after something similar for Apple Maps, I’ve been using Relay since it launched and I love it.

Deleted Browser History Was Being Synced With iCloud

Vladimir Katalov of ElcomSoft:

Our latest discovery concerns synced Safari history. While researching this sync, we discovered that deleting a browsing history record makes that record disappear from synced devices; however, the record still remains available (but invisible) in iCloud. We kept researching, and discovered that such deleted records can be kept in iCloud for more than a year. We updated Elcomsoft Phone Breaker to give it the ability to extract such deleted records from the cloud. Moreover, we were able to pull additional information about Safari history entries including the exact date and time each record was last visited and deleted!

Katalov says that, since being notified, Apple is now purging records older than two weeks. Apparently, however, they’re retaining synced history items deleted within the past two weeks. I see no logical reason why records of items removed from a user’s browsing history should remain synced for any length of time.

The Web Really Sucks if You Have a Slow Connection

Dan Luu:

A couple years ago, I took a road trip from Wisconsin to Washington and mostly stayed in rural hotels on the way. I expected the internet in rural areas too sparse to have cable internet to be slow, but I was still surprised that a large fraction of the web was inaccessible. Some blogs with lightweight styling were readable, as were pages by academics who hadn’t updated the styling on their website since 1995. But very few commercial websites were usable (other than Google). When I measured my connection, I found that the bandwidth was roughly comparable to what I got with a 56k modem in the 90s. The latency and packetloss were significantly worse than the average day on dialup: latency varied between 500ms and 1000ms and packetloss varied between 1% and 10%. Those numbers are comparable to what I’d see on dialup on a bad day.

Despite my connection being only a bit worse than it was in the 90s, the vast majority of the web wouldn’t load. Why shouldn’t the web work with dialup or a dialup-like connection? It would be one thing if I tried to watch youtube and read pinterest. It’s hard to serve videos and images without bandwidth. But my online interests are quite boring from a media standpoint. Pretty much everything I consume online is plain text, even if it happens to be styled with images and fancy javascript. In fact, I recently tried using w3m (a terminal-based web browser that, by default, doesn’t support css, javascript, or even images) for a week and it turns out there are only two websites I regularly visit that don’t really work in w3m (twitter and zulip, both fundamentally text based sites, at least as I use them).

I’m embarrassed to say that this site, despite my best efforts, remains very slow on a simulated 56K dialup connection, averaging around thirty seconds for the homepage to load. That’s miles better than a typical news site, which would simply fail to load, but it’s nowhere near as good as some of the more stripped-down sites that Luu tested. Since this site has a stylesheet and a little bit of JavaScript, I’m not sure it will ever become that quick, but it’s worth aiming for. Why?

The flaw in the “page weight doesn’t matter because average speed is fast” is that if you average the connection of someone in my apartment building (which is wired for 1Gbps internet) and someone on 56k dialup, you get an average speed of 500 Mbps. That doesn’t mean the person on dialup is actually going to be able to load a 5MB website. The average speed of 3.9 Mbps comes from a 2014 Akamai report, but it’s just an average. If you look at Akamai’s 2016 report, you can find entire countries where more than 90% of IP addresses are slower than that!

Your site may not explicitly target visitors in those countries, but if we’re building websites for the World Wide Web, we ought to be more considerate of users everywhere.

Sufficiently Great

I have a small confession to make. Bad arguments dressed with the tinsel of pseudo-intellectualism are like catnip to me: they drive me crazy, and I’m a total sucker for batting them around. Deep in my heart, I know that’s the intent of the author of any of these articles, yet I can’t help but want to dress them down.

So, here’s Ian Bogost, writing for the Atlantic:

Apple has great design is the biggest myth in technology today.

Alright, I’ll bite.

The only problem with this conclusion: Apple has never accomplished sufficiently great design in its electronics to justify lionizing the pedantry of design at the new Apple campus.

A bold opener. But what is “sufficiently great design”, in the context of industrial design or consumer products? One definition might be that a product becomes widely-imitated, yet never loses its iconic status. Consumer laptops, for example, have coalesced around a blueprint established by the MacBook Air. After the iPhone was released, all smartphones became iPhone iterations. If we reach back a little farther, to before Jony Ive was at Apple, virtually every laptop that succeeded the PowerBook 100 has imitated its layout.

It’s not so much that these products were popular that evidences “sufficiently great design”. It’s that all of these products established the de facto standard for the design of their product category:

  • The PowerBook 100 was the first laptop to be sold with its keyboard near the hinge of the case, creating an area for a palmrest and pointing device below it. That’s been the basic design language of laptops ever since.

  • The first MacBook Air was thin and light, and forecast the way the rest of Apple’s laptops — and then much of the industry’s imitations — would be built. The version first released in 2010 came with solid state storage as standard, and created the blueprint for most of the consumer laptops on sale today.

  • The iPhone’s litany of contributions to the modern smartphone need not be restated. It, once again, set the standard for every phone that followed.

But there’s more to great design than its capacity to be imitated. Design, after all, is about how something works in addition to how it looks. And that’s where Bogost starts to sink his teeth in:

Starting with the iPhone 5S, first released in 2014, Apple adopted a software-controlled fingerprint sensor mounted on the home button. Known as Touch ID, the feature allows users to authenticate to unlock the phone, download products from the App Store, and make payments at participating retailers with Apple Pay. But even the slightest disturbance on a finger makes Touch ID unreliable. Washed your hands recently? Ate a banana? Dug in the dirt of the garden? Touched something too warm, or too cold, for too long? Good luck authenticating with your fingerprint. A mere inconvenience when unlocking the phone, but Apple Pay won’t work at all without Touch ID. So fat chance using that new digital wallet on a rainy day, or after tactically interacting with worldly substances.

Everything that has ever been designed has required a series of decisions based on what’s possible, what’s necessary for the final product, and what reasonable compromises can be made for everything to work correctly. “Sufficiently great design”, in this context, is also about making choices and compromises that produce a better product in typical use.

In this case, the Touch ID sensor allows for a very quick way to authenticate a transaction without requiring anything to be typed or finely-manipulated with one’s fingers. In a typical use case — while holding the phone very close to an NFC sensor at a checkstand, for instance — that’s a better user experience than any currently-available alternative I can think of.

As for Bogost’s specific complaints, I’ve never had anything like those problems with Touch ID on my iPhone. Between the built-in error correction and the fast sensor in my 6S, it works almost unbelievably well virtually every time. On the off chance my fingerprint fails to read, quickly wiping my thumb on a tissue or my jeans is enough to make it work. And, realistically, if your fingers are muddy from digging in the garden, is your first instinct going to be to reach for your smartphone without washing your hands?

In 2008, [Jobs] revealed the first run of the impossibly-thin MacBook Air by sliding it dramatically out of a manila envelope. Amazing! Less so, but not shown: the inch-thick power adapter needed to charge the device. Apple still hasn’t even attempted to reduce the size — and particularly the bulky thickness — of its power supplies, even as it has systematically reduced the girth of its computers.

This argument is silly. AC adaptors are limited by two things: the width of a plug, and physics. AC adaptors are already about the same width as a typical North American or Korean outlet, and they make full use of their available space, mostly for safety reasons.

Bogost’s article contains a series of other complaints: the USB-C ports in the new MacBook Pro, the flaws of autocorrect, iTunes, and larger iPhones that are harder to handle. But poking at these individual products — and I have, too — misses the larger scope of why Apple can be considered great at design. Bogost:

Steve Jobs’s design philosophy was fascist more than it was exacting. The man was a not a demigod of design, but its dictator. He made things get made the way he wanted them made, and his users appreciated his definitiveness and lack of compromise. They mistook those conceits for virtues in the objects themselves.

The argument that Jobs was an unredeeming tyrant has been made countless times while he was alive and since his death. It’s never going to go away. The simple fact is that his general direction was, more often than not, right.

Bogost’s implication that Jobs did not compromise or that he didn’t invite argument or debate is complete bullshit, as has been documented extensively.1 The difference between the compromises that Apple has made while designing their products and those that their competitors have made is that Apple’s have generally been produced from a specific thread of Apple-yness. It’s the reason why Bogost is able to write an article like this where he points out that it’s decidedly unApple-y for the Lightning cable that comes with every new iPhone to require an adaptor to be plugged into a new MacBook. For something like that to feel unApple-y requires a general sense of what does feel Apple-y.

(Also, including the word “fascist” in an article is a great way to get noticed in 2017.)

At a time when every company bows to even the most absurd demands of the consumer, Apple never cared what its customers thought, or wanted. Instead it told them what to like, and how to like it. What a relief! The corporate design autocracy obviates the need for decision-making. Computer users won’t use floppy disks because there is no floppy drive. Later, likewise optical drives. Later, likewise mini-stereo headphone jacks. To ascribe such choices to design — or to courage — is a mistake. As I have argued before, Apple is expert at getting people to commit to Apple’s future without pondering how technology could have evolved differently.

The prior articles Bogost wrote include paragraphs objecting to the superseding of the CD-RW by the iPod and, yes, bemoaning the loss of the floppy disk. Pardon my stating the obvious, but what he fails to acknowledge is that the replacements in every single case he cites are objectively better. An iPod is a far better way to carry around a bunch of music than is a stack of CDs. Going back a generation, I don’t really need to mention how much better it is to listen to real sound recordings than it is the MIDI interpretations of them, because that’s all that would fit on a floppy.

And Apple’s bets have seemed to pay off. While there are myriad flaws in the argument that better products sell more units, the simple fact is that if the issues Bogost raises — including the obligatory whining about the dumping of the headphone jack from the iPhone — were truly show-stopping for most people, most people would not buy one. If you absolutely need a DVD drive in 2017, you’re not going to consider any of Apple’s laptops, and they’re okay with that. Their standpoint on that is, quite literally, by design.

(Also, including the word “autocracy” in an article is a great way to get noticed in 2017.)

The attention to detail around door handles and thresholds might feel like a design methodology so pedantic at the micro-level that it could only ever produce greatness at the macro.

But one could also compare the zombified reality of Apple workers plodding to work over the carefully unperturbed thresholds in their new spaceship headquarters to the sleepy drone of an army built to abide rather than to think, let alone think different. The same invisible doorways lead to and from the authorized chambers of work and gardens of leisure. So exacting!

These are, I think, the paragraphs where Bogost’s argument truly disintegrates. I’ve never worked at Apple, but not a single employee or ex-employee I’ve asked about their time there has responded by stating that they “abide rather than […] think”. When you read anything an ex-employee has written about their time at the company or hear about an interaction that someone has had with a current employee, the clearest thing that comes through is that the people working on these products really, really care about their work. That’s, perhaps, a third pillar of “great design”: true care and passion.

That leads me to addressing an argument that opened Bogost’s essay:

But if Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, when this premise is tested, it comes up wanting. In truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.

“Sufficiently great design” does not, of course, mean “free of imperfections”. But it’s also something that cannot be read solely through details. Bogost’s argument is, therefore, backwards. Apple’s biggest contribution to design has been their ability to project a broader vision of consumer electronics at vast scale while still keeping an eye on the details.

Maybe you’re someone who’s getting bored with Apple. Maybe you’re frustrated by some of the decisions they’ve made — anyone who reads this site regularly will know that I certainly am. But, as I wrote above, great design is a process of compromises and decisions. Apple’s products are not perfect, but the company’s contributions to design from both aesthetic and functional perspectives is impossible to deny. They have, truly, produced some of the most iconic, popular, industry-changing, revolutionary designs of the past fifty years. If that’s not “sufficiently great”, I don’t know what is.

  1. Steve Jobs at D in 2007: “At Apple it’s about ideas, and we argue about ideas constantly.” ↩︎

Apple’s Goals for the Mac Operating System

Stephen Hackett:

In that keynote — which has been mostly forgotten today — Schiller said that Mac OS X was designed to power the Mac “at least fifteen years, or more.”

We now live in that more timeframe.

Schiller’s statement was prescient — last year, around the fifteenth anniversary of his comment, Mac OS X was rebranded to be more in line with the nomenclature used for Apple’s other operating systems.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai, Telecom Companies’ Best Friend

Cecilia Kang of the New York Times summarizes new FCC char Ajit Pai’s first few days on the job:

Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to break open the cable box market.

In total, as the chairman of the F.C.C., Mr. Pai released about a dozen actions in the last week, many buried in the agency’s website and not publicly announced, stunning consumer advocacy groups and telecom analysts. They said Mr. Pai’s message was clear: The F.C.C., an independent agency, will mirror the Trump administration’s rapid unwinding of government regulations that businesses fought against during the Obama administration.

“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes,” said Matt Wood, the policy director at the consumer group Free Press.

“The public wants an F.C.C. that helps people,” he added. “Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

Hamza Shaban at Buzzfeed:

While Chair Pai has declined to say what measures he will take to dismantle or diminish net neutrality, he made his opposition to the open internet rules clear during his first meeting as the agency’s chief last week. “My present position is pretty simple: I favor a free and open internet and I oppose Title II,” he said, referring to the classification of broadband companies as akin to utilities, subject to more robust regulation.

In response to the criticism of Chair Pai at the press conference Tuesday, a spokesperson for the FCC told BuzzFeed News: “Consistent with the bipartisan consensus dating back to the Clinton Administration, Chairman Pai supports a free and open Internet but opposes heavy-handed Title II regulation. The Internet was free and open before the 2015 party-line vote imposing these Depression-Era regulations.”

The reversal of the decision to classify ISPs as common carriers would be a serious setback for net neutrality. Pai has previously made clear his objection to a Title II classification for ISPs. I don’t see how the principles of net neutrality can be effectively enforced without resorting to Title II.

The State of iBooks and Companion Software

Daniel Steinberg:

I’ve joked that if Eddie Cue loved reading the way he clearly loves music, then iBooks, the iBookstore, and iBooks Author would be amazing. Not only aren’t they amazing, they aren’t even good.

It’s like they’ve assigned a committed carnivore to design the meals and cook for Vegans. You need someone who loves and understands vegetables and shares the commitment to not using meat or meat products.

You’ve probably seen this piece shared all over, and rightfully so: Apple has barely mentioned iBooks in the past year, and — outside of home screen shots — iBooks isn’t featured on any of Apple’s iPad product webpages.

On iBooks Author, Steinberg writes:

iBooks Author could have been a trojan horse into the personal publishing business. It would have been classic Apple. Instead of small authors going to Amazon’s platform, they would have started with iBooks Author. Apple should have made it easy for them to push to Amazon as well. Why? Because these people wanted to publish on Amazon but they weren’t considering publishing with Apple. Thousands of authors would have come to Apple to create content and stayed with Apple after publishing content there.

OK, so iBooks Author is essentially abandonware, what about iBooks and the iBookstore.

Bradley Metrock takes issue with Steinberg’s use of “abandonware”:

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: iBooks Author isn’t abandonware, as this post claims. Calling iBooks Author ‘abandonware’ is not just factually false, but it is also a disrespectful slap in the face to the growing, diverse communities of content creators out there using it. I wish that description weren’t in this otherwise strong and insightful post.

iBooks Author was most recently updated in September; prior to that, it was updated almost exactly one year prior. That’s a glacial pace for an app, but it isn’t out of line with many of Apple’s other Mac applications. Pages, for example, saw its last major update to 6.0 in September, and the version prior — 5.6 — was released in October 2015. In between these updates were two minor bug fixing releases.

A 2016 poll by Pew Research indicated that Americans aged 18–29 were the most likely of any adult age group to have read a book in any format in the prior twelve months, and the most likely to have read an e-book in the same timeframe. That figure is likely juiced by required post-secondary reading, but there’s clearly a big market of avid readers out there. Maybe Apple isn’t the right company to go after them, but I think there’s a tremendous opportunity that Apple is sleeping on.