Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2017

Winners of the 2017 iPhone Photography Awards

This is, naturally, the tenth anniversary of the iPhone Photography Awards, and the winning photographs this year are — as you’d expect — stunning. Be sure you don’t miss the winners and honourable mentions in the sub-categories like news and events, nature, and landscape.

Even with some digging, I know very little about the iPhone Photography Awards, largely because they don’t explain a lot about themselves. There seems to be no published documentation about who the judges are or what they’re looking for, and — combined with its entry fees — I don’t know how respectable it is as a talent-based contest. It may very well be completely legitimate, but they don’t provide a lot of information, which is why I’m a little hesitant to link to it.

But it is the longest-running iPhone-specific photography contest around, as far as I can tell, and that makes for a rare opportunity to compare some of the best iPhone photography of this year against some of the best shot with the original iPhone. That camera may have been nothing to shout about, but it was paired — eventually — with the ability to share and edit those photos directly on the device. That changed everything about what we can do with the camera we always have with us.

Aside from image quality, I think the most noticeable change in recent years is the variety of locations that have been featured amongst the winners. The original iPhone was only sold in seven countries which, even when travel is taken into consideration, severely limited its ability to capture the world. But its availability quickly ramped up with successive generations, and you can now find photos shot with an iPhone pretty much everywhere.

Jay-Z Releases ‘4:44’ Exclusively for Sprint Customers and Existing Tidal Users

Olivia Craighead, the Fader:

JAY-Z’s thirteenth studio album, 4:44, drops tonight at midnight, and it’s an exclusive to TIDAL subscribers and Sprint customers. However, fans will have to sign up for TIDAL before midnight in order to hear the album. After midnight, the album will only be available to Sprint customers, a source close to TIDAL confirmed to The FADER.

I get the motivation for artist to make their new release exclusive to a single platform for a period. Aside from limitations arising from deliberate artistic decisions, they’re a way for a musician to make a little extra money from the deal in a climate of decreasing album sales and low streaming royalties. They also create an opportunity for the platform to get a bunch of new subscribers — the only time anyone talks about Tidal is when they have an exclusive new release.

I don’t get the strategy around this release, though. Why set an arbitrary deadline for subscriptions before the album drops? I doubt anyone is going to switch mobile carriers to get this record — even though it’s probably Jay-Z’s best work since ‘The Black Album’ — and it isn’t like people don’t have options if they missed the signup window. What’s the goal here?

Update: Micah Singleton, the Verge:

In the last four years, Jay Z has released two albums, both through non-traditional means. While most artists would sign with a record label to release their album, the most successful hip-hop artist of all time, a man worth $810 million, has made deals with a smartphone maker and carrier to cover distribution and promotion. The total value of the agreements, which include not just Jay Z’s music, but his businesses is a whopping $220 million.

No matter how good I think this record is — and I do genuinely think it’s one of my favourite Jay-Z records — it will always be a little undermined and sullied by how much of a corporate play it is.

See Also: Anthony Fantano’s take. He doesn’t like this exclusivity arrangement either.

Canada’s Top Court Rules That Injunctions Concerning the Web Can Have Global Effect

Leah Schnurr, Reuters:

Canadian courts can force internet search leader Google to remove results worldwide, the country’s top court ruled on Wednesday, drawing criticism from civil liberties groups arguing such a move sets a precedent for censorship on the internet.

In its 7-2 decision, Canada’s Supreme Court found that a court in the country can grant an injunction preventing conduct anywhere in the world when it is necessary to ensure the injunction’s effectiveness.

“The internet has no borders – its natural habitat is global,” the Supreme Court wrote in its judgment. “The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates – globally.”

This seems like a grave overreach of a single court’s powers with a dangerous precedent. If a less-friendly country did anything like this, it would immediately be seen as a global threat.

I recognize that I’m posting this in the wake of defending the E.U.’s decision to fine Google €2.4 billion for anticompetitive behaviour — a decision that will likely have global consequences. But that was a single finding around a single case, and it doesn’t outright state that Google must change their global practices to comply.

McMansion Hell Is Back Online and Zillow Won’t Sue After EFF Legal Response

Earlier this week, I wrote about the chilling effect money is having on the freedom of the press. As I was in the middle of writing that post, Kate Wagner of McMansion Hell announced that she had received a cease and desist letter from one of Zillow’s attorneys.

The EFF stepped into assist Wagner and, earlier today, sent their legal response to Zillow (PDF), ending in this truly magnificent paragraph:

Our client intends to relaunch McMansionHell.com shortly and will not be deleting any posts. In the interests of compromise, and because Wagner no longer wishes to use Zillow’s website, she will no longer source photographs from Zillow for her blog. Given this, we sincerely hope Zillow will have the good sense not to trouble a court of law with this matter. However, if Zillow does intend to file suit, please be assured that our client is prepared to defend herself against your spurious claims.

Well, Zillow saw the error of their ways — and, probably, how much of a massive PR blunder they made with this — and won’t be suing Wagner:

We have decided not to pursue any legal action against Kate Wagner and McMansion Hell. We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, including with attorneys from the EFF, whose advocacy and work we respect. EFF has stated that McMansion Hell won’t use photos from Zillow moving forward.

It was never our intent for McMansion Hell to shut down, or for this to appear as an attack on Kate’s freedom of expression. We acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our partners – the agents and brokers who entrust us to display photos of their clients’ homes.

It may not have been their intention, but a letter from a lawyer can be powerful enough to make anyone stop what they’re doing — even it’s completely legal. This response sucks, though: Zillow could have at least apologized for being so deeply wrong.

Chalk one up for the indies today.

On the Blame for iOS 11’s Active Location Services Status Bar

Some followup on the blue status bar indicating an app using location services, which will be part of iOS 11. Matthew Panzarino:

Thanks I guess. But this is hurting the user more than it’s helping. It’s Apple pointing fingers on battery life. The Politibar.

I know this came from some bad behavior on behalf of location apps but it puts the onus on the wrong party.

I get where Panzarino is coming from here, but I disagree that this is mis-assigning blame. Some apps should reasonably be granted background access to a user’s location, and the user should be clearly aware of when that’s the case. This status bar isn’t a problem for those apps; it is a problem for apps when they are sneaky about using location services in the background. I don’t see how that can possibly hurt users.

Also, if this is shaming apps that are eating up battery life by displaying which are using location services in the background, so be it: shaming works.

A reasonable argument could be made that Apple should apply more stringent screening to apps that use location services. Even so, they may not catch every instance of nefarious behaviour; this status bar ought to do that. A reasonable argument could be made that the iPhone’s battery should be bigger, but Apple has long tried to balance battery life expectations with thinness and lightness. I’d love to get much longer battery life from my phone, but I also don’t want my phone to have the added thickness and weight of the iPhone battery case.

Your priorities may differ, but I think it’s very helpful for users to tell them when apps may be consuming more of their battery life — particularly when they’re using location services in the background and the user isn’t fully aware of that.

Oversimplifying the E.U. Google Antitrust Case

A bit of follow-up from yesterday’s announcement by the European Union that they are fining Alphabet €2.4 billion for abusing its dominance in search. Ben Thompson:

The implications of saying this is monopolistic behavior goes to the very heart of Google’s business model: should Google not be allowed to sell advertising against search results for fear that it is ruining competition? Take travel sites: why shouldn’t Priceline sue Google for featuring ads for hotel booking sites above its own results? Why should Google be able to make any money at all?

This is the aspect of the European Commission’s decision that I have the biggest problem with. I agree that Google has a monopoly in search, but as the Commission itself notes that is not a crime; the reality of this ruling, though, is that making any money off that monopoly apparently is. And, by extension, those that blindly support this decision are agreeing that products that succeed by being better for users ought not be able to make money.

I think Thompson’s discomfort with the E.U.’s decision comes from an earnest place, but he drastically oversimplifies the rationale for their punishment. He lays it out beautifully: more people use Google because it’s simply better, and it isn’t like users can’t choose a different search engine — they just don’t.

But when Thompson says

Google has a monopoly in search, but as the Commission itself notes that is not a crime; the reality of this ruling, though, is that making any money off that monopoly apparently is

that isn’t what the Commission is saying at all, and it’s a total oversimplification of what they actually concluded.

Rather, per their press release:

Google has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service: Google’s comparison shopping results are displayed, in a rich format, at the top of the search results, or sometimes in a reserved space on the right-hand side. They are placed above the results that Google’s generic search algorithms consider most relevant.

[…]

On the other hand, rival comparison shopping services are subject to Google’s generic search algorithms, including demotions (which lower a search entry’s rank in Google’s search results). Comparison shopping services in the EEA are prone to be demoted by at least two different algorithms, which were first applied in 2004 and 2011, respectively.

The Commission did not find either of these things objectionable on their own; they found them objectionable together, in combination with Google‘s dominance in web search. Even though Google Product Search is a glorified ad unit, it has many of the features of a product comparison website. Contra Thompson, though, my interpretation is that it doesn’t make searching for products better for users primarily because it’s an ad unit — and Google decided to bury the rankings of competing product search sites, where users might find far better deals from companies that don’t advertise with Google.

The Commission’s decision seems very nuanced, and that is potentially a problem when similar cases will be decided in the future. But that nuance might also be relieving to those who, like Thompson, worry that this case may have effects that reach far beyond the Commission’s intentions. In the future, similar cases ought to need Google’s combination of dominance in general web indexing and advertising, their encroachment into different but related markets, and their ability to reduce the discoverability of competitors.

Misleading and Egregious Reporting of Alleged WhatsApp Encryption Vulnerabilities by the Guardian

In January, the Guardian published an alarming report from Manisha Ganguly alleging a serious encryption vulnerability in WhatsApp:

A design feature that could potentially allow some encrypted messages to reach unintended recipients is present within the WhatsApp messaging service.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has about one billion users, has not made it widely known that there is an aspect of WhatsApp that results in some messages being re-encrypted and resent automatically, without first giving the sender an opportunity to verify the recipient.

Campaigners have expressed concern about how this aspect of WhatsApp could potentially be exploited to conduct surveillance.

In the first version of this article, the headline said that this was a WhatsApp “backdoor”, but Zeynep Tufekci quickly pointed out how misleading that description was in an open letter to the Guardian signed by dozens of computer security professionals:

WhatsApp’s behavior increases reliability for the user. This is a real concern, as ordinary people consistently switch away from unreliable but secure apps to more reliable and insecure apps. The imagined attack on WhatsApp, on which your reporting is based, is a remote scenario requiring an adversary capable of many difficult feats. Even then, the threat would involve only those few undelivered messages, if they exist at all, between the time the recipient changes their phone and the user receives a warning.

In the full scheme of things, this is a small and unlikely threat. The preconditions of the attack (which is not a backdoor) would in practice mean that the attacker had many other ways of getting at their target.

Despite this cogent explanation, Tufekci and the co-signers of this letter barely heard from the Guardian. They amended the problematic piece with a link to the letter and removed the word “backdoor” from their reporting, but did not retract the story. The Guardian’s ombudsman was ostensibly on a very long vacation because, try as the letter signers might, the newspaper simply wouldn’t acknowledge how deeply flawed their reporting was.

Today, however, an update in the opinion section of the paper from reader’s editor Paul Chadwick:

In a detailed review I found that misinterpretations, mistakes and misunderstandings happened at several stages of the reporting and editing process. Cumulatively they produced an article that overstated its case.

The Guardian ought to have responded more effectively to the strong criticism the article generated from well-credentialled experts in the arcane field of developing and adapting end-to-end encryption for a large-scale messaging service.

This is about the most honest and straightforward admission that the piece from January — six months ago! — should never have been published. However:

This made a relatively small, expert, vocal and persistent audience very angry.

This sentence deeply undermines the credentials and the rationale of the responsible professionals who brought this issue forward. By framing them as “small” and “vocal”, it makes them sound unreasonably concerned. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Chadwick states in the very next sentence:

Guardian editors did not react to an open letter co-signed by 72 experts in a way commensurate with the combined stature of the critics and the huge number of people potentially affected by the story.

Chadwick also refuses to suggest a retraction of the story, despite effectively stating that none of the concerns presented in the original article are valid — and acknowledging the damage that the article caused in Turkey, in particular. I agree with him stating that the article should not be deleted entirely, but I think that the message added to the top of the original article is far too soft. It should be in a big-ass yellow box, and it should explicitly state that the Guardian found the concerns that they raised to be misleading and damaging. Anything less is a tacit admission that they still stand by their story, even after implying today that they don’t.

iOS 11 Will Show a Blue Status Bar When an App Is Always Using Your Location

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Many apps prior to today only allowed users to pick between “Always” and “Never,” when it came to sharing their location data. Obviously, by selecting “Never,” certain apps that needed location to work would simply be unusable. With iOS 11, the third option – “While Using the App” – can be selected for any app, even if the developer didn’t make it available before.

The blue bar goes a step further to actually warn users when apps set to “Always” are actively tracking location.

Remember when Uber said that they would start tracking users’ location for up to five minutes after their ride had ended? Word on the street is that changes like the blue status bar and forcing an “Only While Using App” option when an app requests location access were directly inspired by that incident. Users should have total control over when an app is allowed access to their location, and they should know exactly when that information is being used.

E.U. Fines Google €2.4bn Over Abuse of Search Dominance

Rochelle Toplensky, Financial Times:

The European Commission ended its seven-year competition investigation on Tuesday, concluding that the search group had abused its near-monopoly in online search to “give illegal advantage” to its own shopping service.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said Google “denied other companies the chance to compete” and left consumers without “genuine choice”.

“Google’s strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn’t just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results and demoting those of competitors. What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules.”

The fine levied against Google — technically, I think, against Alphabet — is record-breaking for the European Union. Rani Molla, Recode:

How big? Well, it’s more than twice as big as the next biggest fine against Intel in 2009. Google, one of the world’s most valuable companies, posted $5.4 billion in profit on $24.7 billion in revenue in the first quarter of this year.

Maya Kosoff, Vanity Fair:

Critics have accused Vestager, the competition commissioner and antitrust chief, of unfairly singling out U.S. companies for anti-trust probes. A year ago, the European Commission ordered Apple to repay $14.5 billion in back taxes, plus interest, to the European Union after spending years funneling its profits through an Irish subsidiary in an attempt to lower its tax bill. In May, Vestager fined Facebook 110 million euros for allegedly providing incorrect or misleading information during the commissions’s probe into its acquisition of WhatsApp. That same month, Amazon reached an agreement with Vestager to conclude her commission’s anti-trust investigation into the e-commerce giant’s e-book contracts.

I think reactions painting this as anti-American or anti-Google are missing the point of the E.U.’s decision. This is about reinforcing that companies with monopoly-like market share ought to behave more cautiously than those without. Google may have the most popular search engine on the planet for a justifiable reason, but it’s not a punishment to suggest that that kind of power ought to be treated with an elevated level of care.

Bob Murray’s Very Silly Lawsuit Against John Oliver

Speaking of rich assholes using the legal system to try to silence critics, Mike Masnick of Techdirt assessed the lawsuit filed by Bob Murray — a rich asshole — against John Oliver, HBO, and Last Week Tonight:

Anyway, when we wrote about the case yesterday, we noted that we had to do it based solely on the reporting of the Daily Beast, as they broke the story and — for reasons I still don’t understand — refused to post the actual complaint. However, now we’ve obtained the full complaint and can dig in on how incredibly silly it is. It appears to be a quintessential SLAPP lawsuit, where the entire point is not to bring a legitimate cause of action, but to chill free speech that criticizes Bob Murray. As Ken “Popehat” White notes, it’s “lawsuit as theater” and “an unapologetic political screed” — that is, apparently designed to rile people up, rather than to present a reasonable legal argument.

Luckily, Oliver has the backing of HBO’s legal department. But imagine if an independent newspaper or website published a similar story: they likely would not be able to afford a basic defence of the truth. This isn’t even about the First Amendment — it’s about whether the press can continue to publish completely factual items critical of wealthy people.

Amazon’s Box With Screen Gets Reviewed

It looks like the embargo lifted for reviews of the Amazon Echo Show. Overall, it sounds like another competent front-end for Alexa, but see if you can spot a trend.

Alex Cranz, Gizmodo:

It even has a camera for video calling! Though it currently only works with other Alexa-enabled devices, including Echo and the Alexa app on your phone. It’s a neat concept, and can be fun to use. When I was testing the Echo Show at the office I shouted “call home” and the Echo in my apartment immediately startled my dog and my roommate, and being able to simply say “call mom” and have your mom’s face appear on screen feels like some Star Trek futurist wonder. But it also means that now Amazon isn’t just listening to everything you do, it’s also watching everything you do, and that can feel… creepy. Particularly if you keep the Echo Show in your bedroom.

Mat Honan, Buzzfeed:

It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give people permission to automatically connect with your device. Here’s how it works. Let’s say my father has activated Drop In for me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, ‘Alexa, drop in on Dad.’ It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father’s device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds of the call, my father’s video screen would appear fogged over. But then there he’ll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he doesn’t answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look nice today.

Ry Crist, CNet:

That brings us right to Alexa’s new “Drop In” feature. Enable it, and you’ll be able to authorize specific contacts to peep in on your camera feed regardless of whether or not you actually pick up the call. When they do, they’ll see a blurred feed for the first 10 seconds, during which you have the option of disabling the camera or rejecting the call outright. You’ll also see a notification on screen whenever someone is actively viewing your feed. The feature pairs with a motion sensor in the Echo Show itself that — again, when authorized — lets your contacts know when it senses you nearby. Seems a bit creepy, but it also sounds like a pretty sensible way of keeping an eye on an aging relative.

Yeah, Drop In does seem really creepy. It may be disabled by default and blur the video feed for the first ten seconds, but it doesn’t do the equivalent of blurring for the audio. And wasn’t it just recently that people were putting tape over their the cameras on their computers just in case?

Matt Blaze:

And if “Drop In” control is implemented at server side, that means even if it’s configured off, it can be turned on remotely.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people fawning over this thing, and I kind of get why — if you’re in the Amazon echosystem ecosystem and you like what Alexa can do for you, this gives you all of that plus stuff that works better on a screen. But I still see it as more invasive than helpful, and it looks like one of those digital picture frames that you could pick up at Circuit City ca. 2007. I’ll pass.

Nobody Speak

Sean O’Neal, with one hell of a lede for A.V. Club:

You wouldn’t assume there’s a connection to be made between Donald Trump and Hulk Hogan’s penis. But such is the world we live in now — a garishly stupid, casually surreal cacophony of professional wrestling posturing, corporate authoritarianism, and open hostility toward the journalists whose job it is to decry those things, guided by the whims of billionaires pretending to be populists, and carried out by people so sick of bad news, they’ve decided news itself is the problem. It’s that ugly morass that writer-director Brian Knappenberger aims to capture with his compelling if slightly lopsided documentary Nobody Speak: Trials Of The Free Press. And it’s a subject that should appeal to anyone who doesn’t wield the words “the media” as an insult.

I watched Nobody Speak over the weekend. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it as a film: it’s clunky and jarring, and is soundtracked with a thumping synth that might have come with whatever editing software was used to make it. But, even with its faults — and there are many — it is an important documentary about the ways wealthy individuals are trying to suppress critical news stories. It’s a topic I’ve covered fairly regularly here — from the Hogan/Thiel/Gawker case to Shiva Ayyadurai suing Techdirt — because I think it’s among the most grave dangers to a well-informed democracy.

As I was writing this, Kate Wagner — creator of McMansion Hell — announced that she had received a cease and desist letter from Zillow. I’m not a lawyer,1 but the architectural critique Wagner offers would almost certainly fall under fair use as held up by a similar 2013 decision. But the only way for Wagner to confirm that her critique falls under fair use is for her to fight Zillow — a company valued at over $9 billion — in court, which would be extremely expensive for her. Zillow can fight Wagner all they want and they’ll come out ahead — even if they lose in court, they will have cost her a fortune in legal fees or force her to abandon her livelihood.

It’s a bullying tactic, plain and simple. I can’t think of a greater threat to independent writers and journalists than wealthy individuals and companies threatening legal action over critical articles.


  1. Great start, I know. ↩︎

Gmail Will Stop Using Emails for Ad Targeting

Google Cloud SVP Diane Greene:

G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalization, and Google has decided to follow suit later this year in our free consumer Gmail service. Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change. This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products. Ads shown are based on users’ settings. Users can change those settings at any time, including disabling ads personalization. G Suite will continue to be ad free.

I know I have a fairly hard-line stance on targeted advertising, but I think even the most generous person could agree that Google should never have been using Gmail users’ emails for ad targeting purposes. Even Google seems aware of that — check out the super defensive tone they take in their Gmail ads support article.

The Apps Are Too Damn Big

Matt Birchler:

“App thinning” is not a magic bullet that erases this problem though, as Facebook Messenger, which shows as being 154 MB, still downloaded 99MB of data for its update.

Of note, Apple does not allow you to download apps or updates that are over 100 MB, and the only app update I was not able to perform was for Facebook. The Facebook app is advertised as being a whopping 251 MB app, and I don’t know what the update size is, but it was over 100 MB. Has Facebook changed so much in the past 3 days since an update that it needed to replace over 40% of its code?

[…]

And of course, Facebook has such great release notes for each of these updates that really justify why these updates are so critical…

I’d hate to add a roadblock for developers issuing app updates, but I really wish Apple would approve their change logs. It could even be automated: if a change log is exactly the same as the previous one, reject it. If any developer wants to send me hundreds of megabytes of updates every couple of weeks, the least they could do is explain what they’re changing.

Snowballing App Sizes

Here’s something that isn’t exactly news at this point: apps are taking up more space than they used to. Randy Nelson of Sensor Tower:

Of the top 10 most popular U.S. iPhone apps, the minimum growth we saw in app size since May 2013 was 6x for Spotify. As the chart above shows, other apps, especially Snapchat, have grown considerably more.

In fact, Snapchat is more than 50 times larger than it was four years ago, clocking in at 203 MB versus just 4 MB at the start of the period we looked at. It’s not the largest app among the top 10, however. That distinction goes to Facebook, which, at 388 MB, is 12 times larger than it was in May 2013 when it occupied 32 MB. It grew by about 100 MB in one update during September of last year.

Gmail is another standout in terms of sudden app size growth, having grown from 41 MB last October to 197 MB in November (an almost 5x or 380 percent increase) after a redesign.

Nelson is far from the only person to observe the egregious sizes of popular apps. Search Twitter and you can find hundreds of complaints about the sizes of Facebook, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Twitter itself, and loads of others. People — especially those who update their apps over a cellular connection — are noticing the sizes of these updates.

But the numbers presented by Nelson are inaccurate compared to the apps’ sizes when they’re on a device. The size shown in the App Store is the total app size including all possible assets and code variants. However, iOS is smart enough to download only the assets needed for each specific device, provided the developer set things up correctly when submitting their app to the store.

For example, Nelson says that Snapchat is now 203 MB which is, indeed, the size shown in the App Store (actually, 213 MB as of the most recent update). But the copy of Snapchat on my iPhone 6S is 121 MB — a little more than half the size indicated in the store. The version of Facebook that I just downloaded to my phone is 159 MB compared to the monstrous 388 MB app shown in the store.

So the situation is not as dire as it appears; yet, these apps are still enormous. For comparison’s sake, I have a version of the Facebook app on my hard drive from April 2012 and it’s just 13.1 MB. Where’s all the extra weight in today’s app coming from? A chunk of it is due to an increased app binary: the 2012 version clocks in at 7.8 MB, while the June 2017 release is 43.3 MB. But the biggest change is in the Frameworks folder, especially because many of today’s Facebook apps include the same FBSharedFramework.framework file, which is over 250 MB in its uncompressed form.

Twitter provides another example of maddening bloat. A version of their app from March 2016 is 64 MB; a version from earlier this month clocks in at 122 MB.1 If you crack them open, you’ll see a 66.4 MB Twitter binary in the old version, but the newer version is just 144 KB — that’s kilobytes. Once again, the culprit for the increased app size can be found in the Frameworks folder — a nearly-200 MB directory. While many of these frameworks are relatively small and named logically, the biggest — the 100 MB T1Twitter.framework — isn’t easy to identify. It appears to be the bulk of the Twitter app in framework form.

One more, just for comparison, is the LinkedIn app. In March 2016, it was 105.7 MB; in June 2017, 200.1 MB — both versions downloaded from iTunes. The binary size has stayed pretty similar at about 1 MB in each, but the newer app’s Frameworks folder has exploded from 177.5 MB to 247.3 MB.

Not all big apps have an over-large Frameworks folder. But when I started examining these apps, I was a little surprised to find that first-party frameworks are a big component of large file sizes for apps from the App Store’s biggest developers. It appears to me that major developers — the Facebooks and LinkedIns of the world — are using frameworks to make it easier for disparate teams to build different components of their apps.

The thing that I don’t get is that all three of these apps are, from a user’s perspective, just windows into websites. Twitter is mostly just text, so it’s hard to understand why a 122 MB app is needed to show a feed. It’s the same thing for Facebook — the vast majority of what will be displayed in the app is downloaded live from a gigantic database, rather than existing within the app itself.

I think that leads to something else we should all remember: users don’t really care about apps — they care what they can do with apps. Nobody is excited to download the Skype app for the application; they’re excited to make a video call to their grandparents. Users aren’t stoked about buying a drawing app — they can’t wait to paint pictures on their iPad. An app should be well-built and a joy to use, but there should be no more application than is absolutely necessary for users.

And that’s what all this comes down to: respect for users. Apps should be as small as possible because users have a lot of other stuff that they want to put on their devices, and the only reason they’ve allowed some of that storage space to be occupied by a particular app is because they want to do something with it. Apps from good developers respect that.


  1. In Twitter’s case, there’s effectively no difference in app sizes between the version downloaded through iTunes on my Mac and the size reported on my iPhone. ↩︎

Susan Fowler Proved That One Person Can Make a Difference

Kara Swisher wrote a tribute for Recode to Susan Fowler and the effects four months after her now-infamous blog post:

Yes, that was it: Susan Fowler showed us the donkeys that were worshiped as kings by the VCs and investors and boards and, yes, the media, too.

But post-Fowler, you could not ignore it, because she pulled off what poet Louise Gluck wrote about in her poem, “Circe’s Power”: “I never turned anyone into a pig. Some people are pigs; I make them look like pigs.”

Which is to say that Fowler did everyone in tech a public service by doing nothing more than making pigs look like pigs.

I doubt anyone in tech will make as much of a difference as Fowler did this year — or, indeed, in the next few years as the effects of her post continue to be felt. Her decision to publish was courageous. But it’s also a reminder that it’s necessary to take concerns like hers seriously every single time, regardless of perceived tone or incredulity. Believe the women and people of colour — and others, of course, but those groups more frequently than not — when they explain the ways that they are isolated, bullied, and unfairly treated at any company.

The Fraught History of FireWire

Richard C. Moss, Ars Technica:

The rise and fall of FireWire — IEEE 1394, an interface standard boasting high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data transfer — is one of the most tragic tales in the history of computer technology. The standard was forged in the fires of collaboration. A joint effort from several competitors including Apple, IBM, and Sony, it was a triumph of design for the greater good. FireWire represented a unified standard across the whole industry, one serial bus to rule them all. Realized to the fullest, FireWire could replace SCSI and the unwieldy mess of ports and cables at the back of a desktop computer.

Yet FireWire’s principal creator, Apple, nearly killed it before it could appear in a single device. And eventually the Cupertino company effectively did kill FireWire, just as it seemed poised to dominate the industry.

The beauty of FireWire is that it had promised, consistent speeds no matter how long the file transfer took. That meant that transferring equivalent data was way faster on a FireWire 400 connection than it would be using USB 2, which made it great for storing large libraries of music, movies, and photos, and especially good for system backups. When I used a mid-2007 MacBook Pro, it was always connected to two FireWire drives: one for Time Machine, and one for my music collection.

Thunderbolt has effectively replaced that niche now — for me, and for lots of others, too — but Apple won’t be making the same mistakes they made with FireWire:

FireWire’s innovations as a technology were drawing attention from the tech press—Byte magazine awarded it Most Significant Technology, for instance—but within Apple, Teener recalls that simply keeping the project alive required a conspiracy between FireWire’s Apple and IBM collaborators. Supporters kept the project funded by each telling their marketing guys the other companies were going to use it.

Getting funded and getting shipped is not the same thing, however. The decision-makers in the Mac engineering and marketing groups refused to add FireWire to the Mac. “Their argument was, ‘Well, show us that it’s being adopted in the industry, and we’ll put it in,'” explained Sirkin. It was their technology, but they didn’t want to be first to push it.

This time, Apple’s going all-out with their commitment to Thunderbolt — the newest MacBook Pros have no other kinds of connectors, aside from the headphone jack. Also, Apple isn’t in a mid-1990s-esque disarray and, this time, Intel has made Thunderbolt 3 entirely royalty-free to try to spur adoption.

Reviewing the First iPhone

Backchannel is now at Wired, unfortunately — I really don’t want my readers to have to deal with Wired’s anti-adblock nonsense — but this is a good piece from Steven Levy:

On a sunny Sunday 10 years ago, I was strolling down Broadway in the Flatiron district of New York, listening to music on my phone. The song was suddenly interrupted by a call. A familiar voice barreled into the earbuds.

“What do you think?”

It was Steve Jobs, asking for my opinion on the yet-to-be-released iPhone, which I had been using for about a week. I was one of four reviewers who received early units, and it turned out that Jobs pestered each one of us. (A couple of days earlier I had gotten a warning that Steve might call, “just to say hi.”) Though Jobs would never admit it — Hey, just a friendly call, buddy! — Apple was under pressure for what might have been the riskiest product launch in its history.

But the pressure was on me and my three colleagues as well. This was arguably the most hyped product of all time—a New York magazine cover was declaring the product “The Jesus Phone,” not as an endorsement but a statement of how this as yet-unvetted slab of glass and aluminum had become a repository of all our hopes and dreams. What if one of us was an outlier — either positive or negative — and his take (yes, we were all guys) proved disastrously wrong?

One of the things Scott Forstall pointed out in his interview with John Markoff is how these initial reviews framed the iPhone in the context of BlackBerrys and other “smartphones” of the era. I get that, but the iPhone was so clearly advanced for its time that early reviews simply weren’t able to capture or contextualize that.

Recall Steve Jobs’ “a widescreen iPod, a mobile phone, and an internet communications device” bit from the Macworld 2007 keynote: big applause for the iPod, huge applause for the phone, and a light golf clap for the internet communicator. It turns out that the third thing was, by far, the most important aspect of the device.

See Also: The Internet Archive has a copy of Steven Levy’s 2007 review.

Update: I have corrected both instances of Steven Levy’s name because not all Stevens are Stephens. It’s been a long week.

John Markoff’s Interview With Scott Forstall and Three Original iPhone Team Members

John Markoff of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California scored an impressive and wide-ranging interview with members of the original iPhone team — including Scott Forstall — to mark the tenth anniversary of its launch. If you’re just interested in the Scott Forstall bit, Philip Elmer-DeWitt posted a trimmed version.

Even though you probably know the short versions of a lot of these stories, I highly recommend watching the full interview. It’s pretty awesome hearing all of them speak at length about such a high-stakes project, but that’s particularly true for Forstall. There are details in every story they tell that you may not have ever considered, like Forstall’s story of demoing the iPhone for the first time for Cingular’s CEO and being concerned about WiFi access at the hotel.

If you have two hours of listening time today and you’re debating whether to spend it on a podcast or this, choose this interview.

Update: I’ve just noticed that Elmer-DeWitt‘s trimmed version omits Forstall‘s heartwarming stories about producing Broadway shows, and a fantastic story about Microsoft sending him a dead fish.