Month: November 2018

John Herrman, New York Times:

In the nearly 10 years since AmazonBasics arrived, the company has manifested an alternative brand reality, one both far more comprehensive and yet less conspicuous than those of its brick-and-mortar predecessors. (A family could mostly sustain itself on Kirkland products, but it would be abundantly aware it was living in Costco’s world.) This effort is broadly understood to have been a success, generating up to $7.5 billion this year and potentially $25 billion by 2022, according to analysis by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.

Amazon-affiliated brands are promoted in search results on the site and inflated by reviews from Amazon’s Vine program, in which users receive items in exchange for their feedback. And, compared to better known competitors, they tend to be priced aggressively. In creating its own brands Amazon is indeed like any other large store. But Amazon isn’t any other large store. It’s Amazon: the world-historical logistical experiment that happens to call itself a store. It has unlimited shelf space and a boss with an eye on global domination. It tends to try a lot of things at once.

I’ve noticed that when I’m looking for something very specific — a refill pack of the exact heads my Oral B toothbrush requires, or a copy of the Gun Club’s “Mother Juno” LP — Amazon is a great place to comparison shop. Ideally, it’s less expensive and I don’t need the item, like, now; often, it’s about the same price as any store here and I do need the item, like, now.

But if I’m browsing more generally than that — if I’m looking for some kind of LED lightbulb, or a new sweater — Amazon is impossible. There’s lots of apparent choice, but it’s repetitive, overwhelming, and often from a brand I’ve never heard of at a suspiciously low price. It’s not long before I feel like I’m browsing the bin behind a factory that exclusively makes counterfeits. And there’s no indication that we want this much choice. It would be like if Apple Music advertised itself as having over a hundred million songs, but didn’t mention that eighty million of them are drunken karaoke performances of “Mambo No. 5”. It feels like a scam.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson yesterday urged Congress to pass net neutrality and consumer data privacy laws that would prevent states from issuing their own stricter laws.

“There are a number of states that are now passing their own legislation around privacy and, by the way, net neutrality,” Stephenson said in an interview at a Wall Street Journal tech conference (see video). “What would be a total disaster for the technology and innovation you see happening in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is to pick our head up and have 50 different sets of rules for companies trying to operate in the United States.”

Stephenson is right: net neutrality regulations would be simpler to comply with if they were implemented nationwide instead of on a per-state basis.

Amazon PR:

Amazon today announced that we have selected New York City and Arlington, Virginia, as the locations for our new headquarters. Amazon will invest $5 billion and create more than 50,000 jobs across the two new headquarters locations, with more than 25,000 employees each in New York City and Arlington. The new locations will join Seattle as the company’s three headquarters in North America. In addition, Amazon announced that it has selected Nashville for a new Center of Excellence for its Operations business, which is responsible for the company’s customer fulfillment, transportation, supply chain, and other similar activities. The Operations Center of Excellence in Nashville will create more than 5,000 jobs.

Scott Galloway:

Amazon’s HQ2 search was not a contest but a con. Amazon will soon have 3 HQs. And guess what? The Bezos family owns homes in all 3 cities. And, you’ll never believe it, the new HQs (if you can call them that) will be within a bike ride, or quick Uber, from Bezos’s homes in DC and NYC. The middle finger on Amazon’s other hand came into full view when they announced they were awarding their HQ to not one, but two cities. So, really, the search, and hyped media topic, should have been called “Two More Offices.” Only that’s not compelling and doesn’t sell. Would that story have become a news obsession for the last 14 months, garnering Amazon hundreds of millions in unearned media?

Both New York and Virginia have agreed to not charge the second highest-valued public company on Earth billions of dollars in taxes and give them ridiculous and unnecessary incentives, despite the already-strained infrastructure in those cities. This, just a year after Wisconsin did the same to attract a Foxconn plant which, ultimately, will fall far short of economic expectations used to justify tax breaks and subsidies there, because of course it will.

See Also: Derek Thompson in an article for the Atlantic arguing for a law prohibiting, as he puts it, “this sort of corporate bribery”.

Update: Benjamin Freed:

Under agreement between Amazon and Virginia, the commonwealth will give the company written notice about any FOIA requests “to allow the Company to seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy”.

Even for the high level of incentives that could be expected for Amazon’s PR stunt, concessions like these are extraordinary and set a highly dangerous precedent.

Nick Statt, the Verge:

The T2 is “a guillotine that [Apple is] holding over” product owners, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens told The Verge over email. That’s because it’s the key to locking down Mac products by only allowing select replacement parts into the machine when they’ve come from an authorized source — a process that the T2 chip now checks for during post-repair reboot. “It’s very possible the goal is to exert more control over who can perform repairs by limiting access to parts,” Wiens said. “This could be an attempt to grab more market share from the independent repair providers. Or it could be a threat to keep their authorized network in line. We just don’t know.”

It’s unfortunate that those are the only two possibilities in Wiens’ mind: either Apple is being a dictator or an autocrat. “We just don’t know”. Is there any reason that could be less insidious and headline-grabbing, and more justifiable?

Apple confirmed to The Verge that this is the case for repairs involving certain components on newer Macs, like the logic board and Touch ID sensor, which is the first time the company has publicly acknowledged the new repair requirements for T2-equipped Macs. But Apple could not provide a list of repairs that required this or what devices were affected. It also couldn’t say whether it began this protocol with the iMac Pro’s introduction last year or if it’s a new policy instituted recently.

Apple is requiring that repairs involving security-sensitive components use genuine Apple parts and are verified after completion — I know that’s a somewhat less attention-grabbing story, but it is a more accurate take on what the company is doing here. That’s not to defend this practice, by the way. It’s understandable, given the prevalence of badly-made fake components that could compromise security, but I wish there were alternatives for those who don’t live close to an Apple Store.

Also, for what it’s worth, I think it’s slightly irresponsible to be quoting Wiens at length for stories like these without disclosing fully that iFixit sells replacement parts and servicing tools. I know that’s fairly widely-known, but journalists should disclose financial interests or other conflicts-of-interests that their sources might hold. I don’t think there’s anything shameful or untrustworthy about putting quotes in context.

Sam Rutherford of Gizmodo, shortly after Apple announced their new iPhone lineup in September:

The new iPhones are here, and with them, Apple has once again pushed the price of smartphones even higher — especially the iPhone Xs Max which starts at $1,100 and goes all the way up to a staggering $1,450 if you upgrade to 512GB of storage.

This isn’t unusual for Rutherford; when the iPhone X was launched last year, he described its price as “eye-watering” and “outrageous”.

Rutherford today, reacting to the rumoured price of Samsung’s experimental foldable screen phone, in an article with the headline “Samsung’s First Flexible Phone Could Cost $1,700, and That Price Seems Totally Reasonable”:

That’s because Samsung’s flexible screen device — which has been dubbed the Galaxy F for now — may cost around 2 million won (about $1,760 U.S.) when it goes on sale in the first half of 2019, according to an estimate from Golden Bridge Investment published by the Korea Times.

That price may come as a major downer for people who have been searching for alternatives to the boring glass bricks we’ve been living with for the past decade or so. But if you consider the state of smartphones today, 2 million won doesn’t actually seem that outlandish.

Rutherford does a bunch of math based on guesses — like an assumption that the screen will withstand wear and tear for years — still ends up $350 short of the rumoured price of the flexible phone, and somehow just hand-waves that away.

I have absolutely no problem with anyone trying to justify to themselves the high price of a product they want. But you can bet that, if Apple were the ones launching an $1,800 phone that has two folding screens, Rutherford’s commentary would not be so glowing.

I don’t mean to pick on just one person, either. I just think it’s quite weird that it’s somehow less justifiable to charge a high price for a well-made and proven product that people actually want than it is for an experimental and gimmicky product.

Dr. Drang:

I’ve been planning to write a post about the new Apple products for over a week, but I keep getting distracted. Today, I went to Apple’s PR pages for the MacBook Air, the Mac mini, and the iPad Pro to download images and went off on another tangent. As usual, I will inflict that tangent on you.

Apple provides the product images as zipped archives, so when I clicked on the link in the press release, I was confronted with this “what do I do?” screen in Safari.

The efficient thing would have been to walk ten feet over to my iMac and download the zip files there, where they can be expanded with almost no thought. But I took the procrastinator’s way out, deciding to solve the problem of dealing with zip files on iOS once and for all.

This is one of those iOS things that has always driven me nuts, especially on my iPad. MacOS has unarchiving built into it; iOS pretends that it just doesn’t know what to do with any archive format.

iOS 11 slightly improved upon this with the introduction of the Files app. You can tap the “Preview Content” button and then tap the list button to see the contents of the archive.1 Then you can select each file individually and then tap the share button to save each file individually. That’s not very efficient at all.

There are some unarchiving apps in the store, but they’re all pretty ropey. Drang’s shortcut is probably the best solution I’ve found so far, but this is one of those things that iOS should just be able to handle.

  1. Also, Files apparently thinks that “1” is followed by “10”, unlike the MacOS Finder. ↥︎

iFixit opened up Apple’s new MacBook Air and Mac Mini and there are some notable changes to the assembly methods of each. The Mini now has user-replaceable RAM, reversing Apple’s decision in 2014 to solder it directly to the board, while the Air differs from recent MacBook Pro models by allowing the battery to be replaced independently of the top case. Yes, storage is still mounted directly on the logic board, but it’s understandable from a security perspective — it is closely linked to the T2’s hardware encryption. (See update below.) Overall, these are small but welcome improvements to repair-averse recent production techniques.

Update: It doesn’t appear that the security features of the T2 necessarily prevent a Mac from having changeable internal storage — at least, not according to the security guide and, more tellingly, iFixit’s teardown of the iMac Pro.

Ben Brooks:

For a while now I have been bouncing back and forth between using Dark Sky and Hello Weather as my tools of choice. Then a few months ago, after seeing some new features (at the time) of CARROT Weather, I decided to give the quirky app a try. The thing about CARROT is that the entire aesthetic and tone of the app makes it seem like it’s not a serious app.

However, I’ve found that it is perhaps the best weather app. Allow me to explain why.

I’ve bounced around between a lot of weather apps, but Carrot has stuck with me for a long time now. It’s not just well-illustrated and hilarious — particularly if you turn the “personality” setting to “overkill”, as I immediately did upon finding said setting — it is information-dense and customizable, too. If you haven’t tried it yet, consider giving Carrot a shot.

In the wake of several apps abusing subscriptions, Charles Arthur put together a well-illustrated guide to finding the app subscriptions management screen on iOS. It isn’t in the App Store, nor can you search for it in Settings because it’s inside of a web view. Ryan Jones previously registered a single-serving domain that redirected to the subscription management screen, but Apple legal didn’t like that.

This needs to be easier. Subscriptions are an increasingly-relevant revenue model. It has been two years since Apple revised the terms of subscriptions to make them more developer-friendly, but the management UI for users has simply never been easily-found.

Samuel Axon, Ars Technica:

If you’ve read our iPad Pro review, you know most of those claims hold up. Apple’s latest iOS devices aren’t perfect, but even the platform’s biggest detractors recognize that the company is leading the market when it comes to mobile CPU and GPU performance—not by a little, but by a lot. It’s all done on custom silicon designed within Apple—a different approach than that taken by any mainstream Android or Windows device.

But not every consumer—even the “professional” target consumer of the iPad Pro—really groks the fact this gap is so big. How is this possible? What does this architecture actually look like? Why is Apple doing this, and how did it get here?

After the hardware announcements last week, Ars sat down with Anand Shimpi from Hardware Technologies at Apple and Apple’s Senior VP of Marketing Phil Schiller to ask. We wanted to hear exactly what Apple is trying to accomplish by making its own chips and how the A12X is architected. It turns out that the iPad Pro’s striking, console-level graphics performance and many of the other headlining features in new Apple devices (like FaceID and various augmented-reality applications) may not be possible any other way.

Every passing year that Intel drops the ball is another reinforcement that Apple’s $278 million purchase of P.A. Semi ten years ago was the deal of the century, especially when they announce that they’re building a MacBook on their own architecture.

Sara Fischer and David McCabe, Axios:

AT&T will alert a little more than a dozen customers within the next week or so that their service will be terminated due to copyright infringement, according to sources familiar with its plans.


AT&T owns a content network after its purchase of Time Warner earlier this year, an entity now called WarnerMedia. Content networks are typically responsible for issuing these types of allegations to internet service providers (ISPs) for them to address with their customers.

A source said it’s unclear whether WarnerMedia was involved directly in issuing piracy allegations in these instances, although it’s possible.

Studios and record labels have been fighting for ages to get users disconnected for copyright infringement. Many of them must be thrilled to now be owned by the same people who control internet access — frequently with little competition, leaving users with few or no alternatives.

Apple wisely seeded Marco Arment with a Mac Mini review model:

It’s the same size as the old one, which is the right tradeoff. I know zero Mac Mini owners who really need it to get smaller, and many who don’t want it to get fewer ports or worse performance.

The point of the Mac Mini is to be as versatile as possible, addressing lots of diverse and edge-case needs that the other Macs can’t with their vastly different form factors and more opinionated designs. The Mac Mini needs to be a utility product, not a design statement. (Although, even as someone tired of space-gray everything, I have to admit that the Mini looks fantastic in its new color.)

This new Mini is one of the best updates Apple has shipped recently for the Mac. I know it’s more expensive than the previous model, but I really think that this is a clear instance of “we don’t ship junk”. I say that not necessarily because it’s more powerful in CPU benchmarks than any other Mac, save the iMac Pro and the highest-end Mac Pro configuration — though that’s very nice — but because it’s a product that is very capable in almost every aspect. The only exception to that is graphics performance; but, if that’s important to your workflow, you can pick up an external GPU for maximum power in that regard and have a truly excellent, albeit highly modular, system. I don’t mean this as a slight: I hope the next update is not also four years in the making.

The biggest downside to the new Mac Mini, to my eyes, is that there are simply no good Thunderbolt 5K displays out there. That market just doesn’t exist yet.

A new post by Justin O’Beirne is an immediate must-read for me, and this latest one is no exception. In fact, it’s maybe the one I would most recommend because it’s an analysis of the first leg of a four-year project Apple unveiled earlier this year. Here’s what Matthew Panzarino wrote at the time for TechCrunch:

The coupling of high-resolution image data from car and satellite, plus a 3D point cloud, results in Apple now being able to produce full orthogonal reconstructions of city streets with textures in place. This is massively higher-resolution and easier to see, visually. And it’s synchronized with the “panoramic” images from the car, the satellite view and the raw data. These techniques are used in self-driving applications because they provide a really holistic view of what’s going on around the car. But the ortho view can do even more for human viewers of the data by allowing them to “see” through brush or tree cover that would normally obscure roads, buildings and addresses.


Regardless of how Apple is creating all of its buildings and other shapes, Apple is filling its map with so many of them that Google now looks empty in comparison. […]

And all of these details create the impression that Apple hasn’t just closed the gap with Google — but has, in many ways, exceeded it…


But for all of the detail Apple has added, it still doesn’t have some of the businesses and places that Google has.


This suggests that Apple isn’t algorithmically extracting businesses and other places out of the imagery its vans are collecting.

Instead, all of the businesses shown on Apple’s Markleeville map seem to be coming from Yelp, Apple’s primary place data provider.

Rebuilding Maps in such a comprehensive way is going to take some time, so I read O’Beirne’s analysis as a progress report. But, even keeping that in mind, it’s a little disappointing that what has seemingly been prioritized so far in this Maps update is to add more detailed shapes for terrain and foliage, rather than fixing what places are mapped and where they’re located. It isn’t as though progress isn’t being made, or that it’s entirely misdirected — roads are now far more accurate, buildings are recognizable, and city parks increasingly look like city parks — but the thing that frustrates me most about Apple Maps in my use is that the places I want to go are either incorrectly-placed, not there, or have inaccurate information like hours of operation.

SmugMug is making lots of changes to Flickr, which they acquired in April from Verizon, via Oath, via Yahoo. Yesterday, they announced that they would be supporting wide colour gamuts and move to Amazon Web Services from Yahoo’s data centres; today, they said that they would — finallydisconnect from Yahoo’s account and login system.

But perhaps the biggest Flickr news of today is the discontinuation of the virtually-unlimited terabyte of storage offered to free accounts. Andrew Stadlen, Flickr’s VP of product:

Beginning January 8, 2019, Free accounts will be limited to 1,000 photos and videos. If you need unlimited storage, you’ll need to upgrade to Flickr Pro.


Second, you can tell a lot about a product by how it makes money. Giving away vast amounts of storage creates data that can be sold to advertisers, with the inevitable result being that advertisers’ interests are prioritized over yours. Reducing the free storage offering ensures that we run Flickr on subscriptions, which guarantees that our focus is always on how to make your experience better. SmugMug, the photography company that recently acquired Flickr from Yahoo, has long had a saying that resonates deeply with the Flickr team and the way we believe we can best serve your needs: “You are not our product. You are our priority.” We want to build features and experiences that delight you, not our advertisers; ensuring that our members are also our customers makes this possible.

This decision is understandable, but it is a little confusing: what happens to your pictures if you, like I, have an account that exceeds the thousand-photo limit? A footnote on Flickr’s announcement page goes partway towards explaining:

Free members with more than 1,000 photos or videos uploaded to Flickr have until Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to upgrade to Pro or download content over the limit. After January 8, 2019, members over the limit will no longer be able to upload new photos to Flickr. After February 5, 2019, free accounts that contain over 1,000 photos or videos will have content actively deleted — starting from oldest to newest date uploaded — to meet the new limit.

It sounds like they’re just going to literally delete older photos past the limit, which is pretty wild. It’s not every day that a company tells its users that, in the near future, it’s going to start deleting their data.

But what remains unanswered is if they are truly erasing old photos or if they’re just hiding them from public and user view. I would assume that, if you do pay for a Pro subscription after the February 5 deadline, these photos would once again be visible, but I don’t know that for sure. It is also unclear if there are changes for users with expired pro subscriptions. I’ve reached out to SmugMug and will update this post if I hear back with answers.

In the interim, my suggestion is to download your photos and videos, just to be safe. Head to your Flickr settings and click the button to request your account data.