Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for April, 2021

Spring

Where I live, my balcony overlooks most of the financial hub of the city. Calgary has the greatest amount of office space per capita of any city in Canada — and, right now, it is lifeless. Has been for over a year. Every now and again, I spot someone walking around one of the floors of the building nearest me, perhaps a member of the maintenance staff or someone coming in to grab a file. Mostly, though, there are only artifacts of the people who used to work there. Some of them have settled into their home offices; some have perhaps been laid off.

I am one of the lucky ones who gets to work from home. I cannot complain. But my apartment gives me a high-level view of the still bizarre and difficult circumstances we are living through.

Calgary’s city centre is in a river valley; the majority of residential areas are on the high hills surrounding it. Off in the distance, behind rows of houses, I can see the airport. On a nice evening, I used to sit on the balcony while reading or writing, keeping one eye on the planes. Every couple of minutes there would be another arrival or departure. It was warm this evening; I stood on the balcony with a glass of wine and stared at the airport, and it stared quietly back. It was a long time before I saw an arrival.

Today was a nice summer-like day, particularly after last week’s wintry conditions. It was also the day we recorded the highest number of new cases and the highest total active cases in Alberta since this pandemic began.

The extremes of spring weather in Calgary sure feel like a metaphor for how things are going. The end of this pandemic seems to be in sight as people get vaccinated. The warm days are going to encourage people to spend less time indoors where viral particles suspended in airborne droplets spread and infect. Before we get to the end, we have to get through this new wave of infections — and it is kicking our ass.

There was this great metaphor that I am sure someone tweeted a little while ago, and I cannot find any record of it. It has been stuck in my head for weeks now, and I thought of it while looking out at the airport tonight. It goes something like this: pilots who are disoriented or lost will often be so distracted by trying to figure out where they are that, by the time they have their bearings again, they are at risk of fuel starvation.1

I hope this does not come across as aloof. I have a very comfortable life, all things considered. I get to work from home and I do not have to spend time around people very often, so it can be easy to forget the global emergency we are living through — only to be jolted back to reality. As I was heading back to my apartment after dropping some laundry off, the elevator stopped on another floor. The door opened to reveal someone in a hazmat suit. I found out there is a positive case on that floor.

The warmth of spring feels fake, like a lie nature is telling to distract from the turmoil and suffering and fatigue and loss. I know that something close to normalcy is perhaps months away, and I may be vaccinated within weeks. But the distance between here and there will be measured in deaths as much as it will be in doses. The statistics in this province have never been more alarming and the future has never felt so reassuring. I feel like I am living in a paradox.


  1. If you know who tweeted this, please get in touch. I would like to give them credit. ↩︎

L’Affaire du Magic Keyboard

Nicolas Furno, writing for iGeneration last week and translated by Google:

While the 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is broadly similar to the 2018 and 2020 models, the new tablet stands out on one point: it’s thicker, at precisely 0.5mm. It might not sound like much, but it’s enough for Apple to adjust its Magic Keyboard, the iPad Pro’s dedicated trackpad keyboard. And according to the documentation provided to the Apple Stores that we have been able to consult, the old Magic Keyboard is not compatible with the large iPad Pros of 2021.

Documentation apparently supplied to Apple Stores and independently confirmed by the Verge indicated that the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro would be incompatible with the Magic Keyboard released last year. The new iPad Pro is just a hair thicker — or, if you want to be precise, somewhere between six and twenty-eight human hairs thicker.

Predictably, there was much frustration about this, and why not? The Magic Keyboard is a $350 accessory that makes a huge difference in the functionality of an iPad Pro, so you would expect it to last longer than a single generation of product. Plus, one of the advantages of making the keyboard separate from the computer — unlike, say, a laptop — ought to be that you can make major upgrades to one part while not making the keyboard redundant. On the other hand, if the difference in thickness has such a significant effect, why would Apple sell a poorly-fitting Magic Keyboard for a year? And how many people upgrade their iPad Pro every year anyway?

Well it turns out that many of those frustrated posts were in vain, as an Apple support document spotted by Chris Ball today made clear:

The first generation of the Magic Keyboard (A1998) is functionally compatible with the new iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation) with Liquid Retina XDR display. Due to the slightly thicker dimensions of this new iPad Pro, it’s possible that the Magic Keyboard may not precisely fit when closed, especially when screen protectors are applied.

Last week, Matt Birchler tried to understand how much of an impact the size and weight difference of the new model may have on his 2020 Magic Keyboard:

To test out the difference, I took a few sheets of printer paper, which happen to be almost exactly the size of the 12.9” iPad Pro, and stacked 7 of them on top of each other, closed the Magic Keyboard, and checked the fit.

The thing closed perfectly, and frankly didn’t feel any different from what it feels like without the additional thickness.

I guess we will see how true this is when reviewers get their hands on the new iPad Pro but, if you are one of the rare few upgrading your last-generation model immediately, I do not think there is cause for concern. The white one sure looks nice, though.

Apple Sold a Lot of Stuff in Its Second Quarter

Apple also had a quarterly earnings conference call today. A couple of observations based on Jason Snell’s excellent charts:

  • The Mac had its best quarter ever, with $9.1 billion in sales. The last three quarters have been fairly consistent for Mac sales; in reverse order: $9.1 billion, $8.7 billion, and $9.0 billion. The Mac business is booming.

  • At $7.8 billion in sales, the iPad also had one of its best quarters in years, only surpassed by the previous quarter’s $8.4 billion — unless you rewind to Q1 2015, when Apple sold nearly $9 billion worth of iPads. And that was a massive drop from Q1 2014 with about $11.5 billion in iPad sales.

    The rolling average is now trending up after sitting more-or-less flat for about three years, reflecting Apple’s renewed interest in the product. That is a good sign for its long-term health.

In Its Quarterly Earnings Call, Facebook Discusses the Projected Effects of App Tracking Transparency on iOS

Although App Tracking Transparency only shipped this week as part of iOS 14.5, Apple announced it last year, and it got Facebook all riled up. The company has aggressively campaigned against the feature, arguing that it will harm small businesses because, as Facebook’s Dan Levy wrote, precisely targeted ads bring businesses’ costs down:

This affects not just app developers, but also small businesses that rely on personalized ads to grow. Here’s why. Small businesses have small budgets. For these small budgets to work, they have to be targeted at the customers that matter to small businesses. It doesn’t do a local wedding planner any good to reach people who aren’t planning a wedding. Likewise, it doesn’t do a small ecommerce outfit selling customized dog leashes any good to reach cat owners. Put simply, by dramatically limiting the effectiveness of personalized advertising, Apple’s policy will make it much harder for small businesses to reach their target audience, which will limit their growth and their ability to compete with big companies.

This line of reasoning was thoroughly debunked by Facebook’s ex-employees and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Andrés Arrieta who pointed out that behaviourally-targeted ads are often more expensive than more weakly-targeted versions because of the many intermediaries taking their cut. These types of ads produce mixed results for advertisers, have little benefit for publishers, are not very well targeted, and require us to sacrifice our privacy with few ways of opting out.

Then, in a Clubhouse chat with Josh Constine last month, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook “may even be in a stronger position” after the introduction of App Tracking Transparency because of Facebook’s uniquely large amount of user data. But that was contradicted somewhat in today’s quarterly earnings report in a comment from CFO David Wehner (emphasis mine):

We expect second quarter 2021 year-over-year total revenue growth to remain stable or modestly accelerate relative to the growth rate in the first quarter of 2021 as we lap slower growth related to the pandemic during the second quarter of 2020. In the third and fourth quarters of 2021, we expect year-over-year total revenue growth rates to significantly decelerate sequentially as we lap periods of increasingly strong growth. We continue to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recently-launched iOS 14.5 update, which we expect to begin having an impact in the second quarter. This is factored into our outlook.

On the call, Wehner said that the impact would be “manageable” due to the company’s increased investments in e-commerce. How much Facebook’s own revenue will be impacted will, as the company says, be seen later this year. This quarter, however, there are no such worries for Facebook.

Barbara Ortutay, Associated Press:

The company said it earned $9.5 billion, or $3.30 per share, in the January-March period. That’s up 94% from $4.9 billion, or $1.71 per share, a year earlier.

Revenue grew 48% to $26.17 billion from $17.44 billion.

But for the small businesses Facebook ostensibly cares about, things got more expensive:

The average price of ads on Facebook grew 30% from a year earlier, while the number of ads increased by 12%.

Alex Heath of the Information on Twitter:

Takeaway from Facebook earnings:

  • Its pricing power for ads is increasing dramatically as Apple makes cheap ads less efficient

  • The business is becoming more efficient as it grows (43% operating margin!) […]

As is often the case for stories about privacy changes — whether regulatory or at a platform level — much of the coverage about App Tracking Transparency has been centred around its potential effects on the giants of the industry: Amazon, Facebook, and Google. But this may actually have a greater impact on smaller ad tech companies and data brokers. That is fine; I have repeatedly highlighted the surreptitious danger of these companies that are not household names. But Facebook and Google can adapt and avoid major hits to their businesses because they are massive — and they may, as Zuckerberg said, do even better. They are certainly charging more for ads.

That is not to say that we should give up and accept that these businesses destroy our privacy to enrich themselves and their shareholders. If we threw in the towel every time we realized that lawmaking was difficult or that laws would be broken sometimes, we wouldn’t have any laws.

You may have noticed my pivot from Apple’s platform rules to a more regulated approach. That is because I maintain that a legal solution is the only correct one. While I am glad this new control exists in iOS, privacy is not something people should buy. And, pursuant to Facebook’s earnings and forecast, there should not be a benefit from the increased scarcity of data due to better privacy controls.

Microsoft Seeks to Replace Calibri as the Default Office Font

Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica:

“Calibri has been the default font for all things Microsoft since 2007, when it stepped in to replace Times New Roman across Microsoft Office,” the Microsoft Design Team opined in Calibri’s de facto obit. “It has served us all well, but we believe it’s time to evolve.”

Calibri is not quite Microsoft’s universal default. As far as I can tell, the default font for user interfaces is still a variant of Segoe, as it has been since Windows Vista’s debut.

As pictured above, the new potential default fonts are called Tenorite, Bierstadt, Skeena, Seaford, and Grandview. All five are sans serifs — shots fired at the legacy of Times New Roman — and the Microsoft Design Team made a case for each when unveiling these new options.

Last time Microsoft refreshed the default typography in Office, it introduced six typefaces beginning with C: three sans-serifs in Calibri, Candara, and Corbel; two serifs, Cambria and Constantia; and Consolas, a monospaced choice. And, while I have always disliked all of them except Corbel, I think Calibri’s default status has made it more grating over time. But that ubiquity also means it has featured in some pretty interesting stories in its time.

At first glance, I think these new ones are much nicer. My favourite is Seaford; unsurprisingly, it is the one Tobias Frere-Jones had a hand in creating. The lack of a serif option is disappointing.

Toyota Subsidiary Acquires Lyft’s Autonomous Vehicle Development Project

From the company’s press release:

Lyft, Inc. announced today that the company has signed an agreement with Woven Planet Holdings, Inc., (“Woven Planet”), a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation, for the acquisition of Lyft’s self-driving vehicle division, Level 5. The transaction also includes multi-year non-exclusive commercial agreements between Lyft and Woven Planet to accelerate the development and enhance the safety of automated driving technology.

That makes two. Like Uber, Lyft said in its S-1 initial public offering document that autonomous vehicles were a key long-term bet for business sustainability. Neither Uber nor Lyft have turned a profit, though both companies believe they are on the verge of doing so, and the pipe dream of fully autonomous vehicles appears to have been a massive distraction and money sink.

Gorge

While many news organizations were satisfied with covering today’s launch of App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14.5 as a feature that, at most, illustrates a key difference between Apple and Facebook, for example, Mike Isaac and Jack Nicas of the New York Times decided to write a parallel article about the apparently fractured relationship between the companies’ CEOs. And it is a doozy.

I do not like these kinds of articles at the best of times. Regardless of how closely executives are tied to the companies they are involved with, I do not think there is much value in seeing them as inextricably linked. I do not think we can extrapolate personal animosity from competitiveness, and I think the CEO-as-celebrity narrative is a worrisome premise.

So this is the kind of article that I am going to approach with trepidation. Sure enough, it is chock full of anecdotes that do not simply portray Apple and Facebook as two companies that have some competitive overlap and very different approaches to privacy, but an “all-out war” between two bitter enemies in Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg. I did not learn much but, as I re-read the article, a single paragraph stuck out:

Those contrasts have widened with their deeply divergent visions for the digital future. Mr. Cook wants people to pay a premium — often to Apple — for a safer, more private version of the internet. It is a strategy that keeps Apple firmly in control. But Mr. Zuckerberg champions an “open” internet where services like Facebook are effectively free. In that scenario, advertisers foot the bill.

This reads like a Facebook PR person has spun it already, since it is the distillation of the company’s false compromise between privacy and revenue. It also misrepresents how lock-in and opt-in work on the internet.

If you want to talk about control over the internet, you really have to start with Facebook, Google — and, to a lesser extent, Amazon. All three companies insidiously lock people into their data-mining platforms without presenting a real means of consent or opting out. In addition to being de facto infrastructure, these companies never really stop tracking you. They can stop showing you ads based on the personalized data they have collected, but they may continue to slurp up behavioural information anyhow. And that’s only the three biggest companies in this space; there are thousands of other ad tech businesses and data brokers gorging themselves on data you never meaningfully consented to sharing.

Apple’s apparent control over the internet is comparatively meagre. If you rid yourself of all Apple hardware and software, you quit using its services, and you delete your iCloud account, you have zero affiliation with Apple. As far as it knows, you no longer exist. This is undoubtably a tedious, time-consuming, and expensive thing to do — but you can entirely opt out of Apple’s ecosystem. I know many people who have.

It is hard to see how Apple’s greater emphasis on privacy enables it to have more control over the internet in the long run. You would have to be a deeply cynical person who believes Apple would oppose a strict national privacy law — something Cook has repeatedly called for — because it creates a market for Apple’s more privacy-friendly products, and you would have to ignore the overwhelming majority of people who demand greater privacy online for that to be true. Of course Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, would rather you buy your technology products from Apple, but this company policy is not mere veneer. It is a longstanding commitment — though it is imperfect and has its limits — as is the company’s stance towards an open internet.1

But an open internet does not mean one in which all advertising is individually targeted using data farmed through independent apps and websites that serve as proxies for the surveillance practices of Facebook and Google. In the history of advertising, the privacy-hostile premise that these companies are selling is fairly recent. Shooting for pinpoint relevancy is a waste of time and privacy when relevant enough ads can be targeted to someone browsing a list of coffee cake recipes, an article about wedding locations, or a local news story. Mediocre ad targeting was good enough to buy an entire Batmobile.

Forget the apparent “war” between Cook and Zuckerberg personally, or even between the companies they chair. Both Apple and Facebook believe that many users, when presented with the option of whether to allow third parties to track their activity, will say no. But the new thing is not the tracking, it is the request for explicit permission — and Facebook appears to think that it will struggle to convince people it should be allowed to strip-mine their behaviour. We ought to be asking whether this was ever ethical. It seems most people would disagree.

Ads can keep funding the internet; Apple is not eradicating advertising from its platform. It is only requiring that users give consent to how much they would like to be surveilled. It speaks volumes about Facebook that it believes those are necessarily the same thing.


  1. A non-exhaustive list of privacy commitments: device encryption; masking Bluetooth and MAC addresses; Safari’s tracking prevention mechanisms, including ITP and share button tracking; local categorization of images in Photos; privacy labels in the App Store; non-specific location data in apps; and background location notifications. Many of these features are not recent. For example, since the mid-2000s, Safari defaulted to allowing only first-party cookies and cookies from websites you visited. ↩︎

App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14.5 With Craig Federighi

Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal:

But the most important and most controversial update? App Tracking Transparency — abbreviated to ATT. The privacy feature requires any app that wants to track your activity and share it with other apps or websites to ask for permission.

“We really just want to give users a choice,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, told me in an exclusive video interview. “These devices are so intimately a part of our lives and contain so much of what we’re thinking and where we’ve been and who we’ve been with that users deserve and need control of that information.” He added, “The abuses can range from creepy to dangerous.”

The interview is on YouTube, and Apple also put together its own video to explain this feature.

There are lines that stand out in each of those videos that I think are worth consideration. In Stern’s interview, Federighi says that the non-Allow option on the prompt is not labelled “Do Not Track” because “it’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game around other ways that an app might scheme to create a tracking identifier”; in Apple’s video, the narrator says that “some apps have trackers embedded in them that are taking more data than they need”. Both of these statements reflect the reality of a world where it is valuable to accumulate vast troves of personal behavioural data. Apple says that it will permit no workarounds but, even though it controls the sole native app marketplace for iPhones and iPads, some things will inevitably slip through.

The only way to curb this behaviour is to devalue personal data collection. In my ideal world, advertising could not be targeted based on behavioural characteristics. If that cannot happen, there are other ways of legislating privacy, like creating a framework for personal data usage and ensuring the agency responsible for it has the resources to enforce its rules. Until any of these things happen, the concept of privacy — and the word itself — will be part of a public relations strategy.

To be very clear, I do not mean to imply that Apple does not believe in privacy as a core value. It truly does, and has done for decades. Nor is this pure fluff and marketing; this App Tracking Transparency policy will make a real difference, and you can tell that based on how much Facebook is throwing a tantrum over it. But it bums me out that privacy is not something that people just have, but rather something they must buy — one feature of many on a checklist.

iOS and iPadOS 14.5 Are Out

Federico Viticci of MacStories has a surprisingly deep dive of this .x update, but there are plenty of gems in here. For example, the most noticeable aspect of this update may be the ability to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask via your Apple Watch; the subtlest but, I have decided, most delightful new thing is this Shortcuts tip:

You can now also control your device’s orientation lock settings via the ‘Set Orientation Lock’ action. With this action, you can either toggle orientation lock, or you can use parameters to specifically set it to ‘on’ or ‘off’. The ‘Set Orientation Lock’ action is going to be particularly useful for all those users (yours truly included) who dislike having to find the proper toggle in Control Center.

I keep orientation lock on at all times but now, when I launch Halide, orientation lock toggles off, and then switches itself back on when I leave the app. This does seem like something Apple could provide an API to developers for — the Camera app is able to rotate its UI and the photos it takes without toggling orientation lock — but it is an excellent workaround.

This is a significant update, and Viticci’s overview is a good place to start while it is installing on your devices.

Max Headroom

Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch interviewed Greg Joswiak and John Ternus about the new iPad Pro:

One of the stronger answers on the ‘why the aggressive spec bump’ question comes later in our discussion but is worth mentioning in this context. The point, Joswiak says, is to offer headroom. Headroom for users and headroom for developers.

“One of the things that iPad Pro has done as John [Ternus] has talked about is push the envelope. And by pushing the envelope that has created this space for developers to come in and fill it. When we created the very first iPad Pro, there was no Photoshop,” Joswiak notes. “There was no creative apps that could immediately use it. But now there’s so many you can’t count. Because we created that capability, we created that performance — and, by the way sold a fairly massive number of them — which is a pretty good combination for developers to then come in and say, I can take advantage of that. There’s enough customers here and there’s enough performance. I know how to use that. And that’s the same thing we do with each generation. We create more headroom to performance that developers will figure out how to use.

“The customer is in a great spot because they know they’re buying something that’s got some headroom and developers love it.”

I buy this argument, particularly as the iPad is the kind of product that should last years. Since the first-generation iPad Pro, iPads have seemed to be built for software and workflows that are two or three years down the road. But the question about the iPad for about that same length of time is less can you? and more would you want to?, and I hope the answer to that comes sooner than a few years out.

Rich Countries Are Refusing to Waive IP Rights on COVID-19 Vaccines

Sam Meredith, CNBC:

Members of the World Trade Organization will meet virtually in Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday to hold informal talks on whether to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines and treatments.

The landmark proposal, which was jointly submitted by India and South Africa in October, has been backed by more than 100 mostly developing countries. It aims to facilitate the manufacture of treatments locally and boost the global vaccination campaign.

Six months on, the proposal continues to be stonewalled by a small number of governments — including the U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

These vaccines unquestionably ought to be in the public domain. As with the polio vaccine, huge sums of public funds were directed towards developing all of the major vaccines available in Canada, the United States, and across Europe. It is not like manufacturers will be unable to sell vaccines, but their formulas should not be proprietary.

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson oppose this measure, with Pfizer saying that it has shared its formula with others to increase production capacity. And it is perhaps the case that production is to blame for the struggle to keep up with literal worldwide demand more than licensing issues. But we should not depend on the whims of companies deciding whether to share their formulas, for how long, and at what cost. These vaccines should not be part of an intellectual property portfolio — an asset for the investor class. They should not even be subject to a temporary waiver. These vaccines are necessary for the world to function and they must be freely available.

Classic Macintosh One-Bit Painting on an iPad Pro

Matt Sephton:

I’ve started work on the next in my 1-bit Woodblocks series: “Tekagami” (Ito Shinsui’s “Hand Mirror”). So it’s a good time to talk about how I turned an iPad Pro into the ultimate Classic Macintosh.

[…]

The most important aspect of this setup is that it runs System 7 and the various apps I use. That is the core of my classic Macintosh experience and the goal I had in mind. The hardware running System 7 is merely a conduit.

That said, the iPad Pro is more portable, reliable and capable than my real Macintosh. That’s 30 years of hardware progress for you.

You owe it to yourself to see Sephton’s one-bit paintings.

More Notes on the New iMac

I have not felt this enthusiastic about new Macs in a while but, I tell you, these new iMacs seem pretty terrific. The power of the M1 combined with a Pro Display XDR-reminiscent design in a bunch of great colours? I’m not in the market for a new iMac but I am hoping these colours make their way onto some redesigned MacBook Air models as I begin thinking about replacing the nine year old model I am writing this on.1

Speaking of the colours, Jason Snell at Six Colors:

Put it all together and that’s not just seven new iMac colors, it’s 18 keyboard variations and 14 pointing-device variations. While at launch Apple will only be providing the color-matched accessories with an iMac purchase, if history is any indication they will eventually be available for anyone to purchase. Given how many Apple Watch bands there are, Apple seems to have gotten very good at managing product inventory with a whole lot of variations. Good thing!

I was thinking about this the other night. Nearly all of Apple’s major hardware comes in multiple colours and with multiple storage options. There are regional variations, too, like the China-specific dual physical SIM iPhone models.

Also, on the new magnetically-attached power and ethernet connector:

In practical terms, the force required to yank the magnetic power cable off the iMac is the same force required to yank the current iMac’s plastic power plug out of its socket. So it seems unlikely that there will be a spate of disastrous iMac unpluggings laid at the feet of the choice to use magnets.

Good to know; this is not like MagSafe in either its original guise or the new iPhone connector, where it is designed to disconnect gracefully. But many leaks point toward something more true to a MagSafe-like connector on some updated Mac notebooks. I am hopeful.


  1. My previous laptop, a MacBook Pro, was wheezing after just five years; my Air is still humming along just fine. ↩︎

Apple’s M1 Positioning Mocks the Entire x86 Business Model

Speaking of the M1 in the iPad, here’s Joel Hruska, writing for Extreme Tech:

If that doesn’t seem like a fusillade across x86’s metaphorical bow, consider the issue from a different perspective: According to Apple, the M1 is the right CPU for a $699 computer, and a $999 computer, and a $1,699 computer. It’s the right chip if you want maximum battery life and the right CPU for optimal performance. Want the amazing performance of an M1 iMac, but can’t afford (or have no need) for the expensive display? Buy a $699 Mac mini, with exactly the same CPU. Apple’s M1 positioning, evaluated in its totality, claims the CPU is cheap and unremarkable enough to be sold at $699, powerful and capable enough to sell at $1699, and power-efficient enough to power both a tablet and a pair of laptops priced in-between.

No single x86 CPU is sold this way or positioned as a solution to such a broad range of use cases. There are three reasons why. First, PC customers generally expect higher-end systems in the same product family to offer faster CPUs. In the past, both Apple and x86 systems were sold in such fashion. Second, Intel and AMD both benefit from a decades-old narrative that places the CPU at the center of the consumer’s device experience and enjoyment and have designed and priced their products accordingly, even if that argument is somewhat less true today than it was in earlier eras. Third, no single x86 CPU appears to be capable of matching both the M1’s power consumption and its performance.

The iPad Pro uses a proven desktop-class processor; the MacBook Pro benefits from the efficiency of running on this same chip. It is an extraordinary statement, and this is just the first batch of products all on what is nominally the same system-on-a-chip.

It Is Once Again Time for Apple Executives to Say That the iPad and Mac Are Not Merging

It is a couple of days after Apple has announced a new iPad, which means it is also time for the company to drop the big no as it frustratedly explains why the iPad and Mac are remaining separate products. This time, the job has fallen on Greg Joswiak and John Ternus.

Andrew Griffin, the Independent:

“There’s two conflicting stories people like to tell about the iPad and Mac,” says Joz, as he starts on a clarification that will lead him at one point to apologise for his passion. “On the one hand, people say that they are in conflict with each other. That somebody has to decide whether they want a Mac, or they want an iPad.

“Or people say that we’re merging them into one: that there’s really this grand conspiracy we have, to eliminate the two categories and make them one.

“And the reality is neither is true. We’re quite proud of the fact that we work really, really hard to create the best products in their respective category.”

An iPad that runs MacOS would suck just as much — albeit for different reasons — as a Mac that ran iPadOS. But now that they are all on the same silicon, it makes the ways in which the iPad is limited by its software that much more noticeable. Griffin points out that Apple demoed Final Cut Pro on a Pro Display XDR to show how powerful the M1 is in a Mac, but could not do any of that with an iPad because the software does not exist. He even tries to coax Joz into admitting that Apple is working on professional apps for the iPad, with predictably little success. Jason Snell pointed out, in an article for Macworld, many other ways the new iPad Pro cannot use all the power it has.

But I see it in more simple terms than that. If you toggle between a few resource-hungry apps on a Mac and then go back to Safari, it picks up where you left off; if you open the camera and a few other apps on an iPad and then switch back to Safari, your open tabs might reload. If you pause the music you are listening to so you can watch something in your browser, then try to resume playback, it is a crapshoot whether it resumes correctly, starts the song again, or entirely forgets that you were listening to music — and it is worse with AirPlay.1

There are plenty more of these tiny little friction-increasing flaws showing that iPadOS remains similar to the smartphone operating system it was derived from. They are particularly frustrating on a product that shines when it most feels like your finger is directly manipulating the onscreen elements. There have been issues just like these since I bought my very first iPad and, though I want one of these new iPad Pro models, I find it hard to justify being frustrated by the same problems on a much nicer screen.

I do not mean to be so critical or negative all the time. It is just that I really love using my iPad, and it could so easily be something I pick up more often if not for these seemingly ground-level issues. I hope, as Federico Viticci wrote, the gaps in this story will be filled in come WWDC.


  1. You may remember that, earlier this week, I said that I own a base model iPad, so you may think memory exhaustion is a reasonable side effect of not having a higher-end model. But I would counter that I have never had these problems on a Mac of any specification, though I have only owned models from the Mac OS X era. ↩︎

All the Little Things in Apple’s Spring

Federico Viticci, MacStories:

Apple events are always packed with little details that don’t make it into the main presentation or are easy to miss in the flurry of announcements. Some tidbits are buried in footnotes, while others are tucked into word clouds on Keynote slides or in release notes. Today’s event was no exception, so after having a chance to dig in a little deeper, here is an assortment of details about what Apple announced.

If you have been aching for a new case for your iPhone or a new Apple Watch band, you are spoiled for choice. That “Arizona” leather MagSafe wallet is a terrific colour, and I wish it were available as a case.

Hermès has a new nylon Apple Watch band in a few colours. At $319 in the U.S., it is expensive even for a luxury product, costing about twice what Omega charges for its nylon NATO straps. Ouch.

Viticci has done a great job collecting all of these accessories and non-marquee products.

Revisiting Incorrect Reports That Cellebrite Cracked the San Bernardino iPhone

Speaking of Cellebrite, I thought it would be a good time to look back at all of the reports that confidently — and, we now know, incorrectly — stated that it was responsible for cracking the iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

It all started with a March 23, 2016 report from Sagi Cohen in Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth:

The FBI has been reportedly using the services of the Israeli-based company Cellebrite in its effort to break the protection on a terrorist’s locked iPhone, according to experts in the field familiar with the case.

This article came two days after the FBI announced that a third-party vendor, which we now know to be Azimuth, would likely be able to help crack the iPhone in question.

Note that the Office of the Inspector General claimed in its report (PDF) about this case that the FBI began contacting vendors “on the eve” of its February 16, 2016 court filing, “including contacting an outside vendor who he knew was almost 90 percent finished with a technical solution that would permit the exploitation of the Farook iPhone”. It is entirely possible that the FBI contacted Cellebrite as it was trying to figure out how to get into this iPhone.

However, that quickly escalated in a March 31 Bloomberg article by Monami Yui and Aleksandra Gjorgievska:

Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization Ltd. worked with the FBI to crack an iPhone connected in a terrorist attack, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified as the matter is private. Neither Cellebrite nor the FBI have confirmed the link, and a spokesman from parent Sun Corp. on Thursday said the company isn’t able to comment on specific criminal cases.

“Cellebrite […] worked with the FBI to crack an iPhone […] according to people familiar with the matter” we now know to be incorrect, but it was already evident less than two weeks later courtesy of a Washington Post report by Ellen Nakashima:

The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone with the help of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau at least one previously unknown software flaw, according to people familiar with the matter.

[…]

The bureau in this case did not need the services of the Israeli firm Cellebrite, as some earlier reports had suggested, people familiar with the matter said.

Nakashima was also one of the reporters responsible for confirming Azimuth’s role.

Despite multiple articles in 2016 noting that Cellebrite was ultimately not involved in the cracking of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, reporting on the company has continued to link it to the successful unlocking of that device, often citing that Bloomberg story as evidence.

So, let’s summarize. First, Azimuth, not Cellebrite, was responsible for cracking the iPhone 5C used by one of the people responsible for the San Bernardino attack. Second, Bloomberg’s sources were clearly wrong, and it would not be the first time that a Bloomberg infosec story had dubious evidence.

Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike Got His Hands on a Cellebrite Device

Moxie Marlinspike of Signal recently got his hands on a Cellebrite device and analyzed it from a security practices perspective. From what I understand, this is the first time an investigation into these devices has been made public, and it is not good for Cellebrite.

I wanted to focus on a specific claim in this piece:

Also of interest, the installer for Physical Analyzer contains two bundled MSI installer packages named AppleApplicationsSupport64.msi and AppleMobileDeviceSupport6464.msi. These two MSI packages are digitally signed by Apple and appear to have been extracted from the Windows installer for iTunes version 12.9.0.167.

[…]

It seems unlikely to us that Apple has granted Cellebrite a license to redistribute and incorporate Apple DLLs in its own product, so this might present a legal risk for Cellebrite and its users.

I reached out to Cellebrite earlier today with questions about this claim and have not heard back. I will update this post if I get a response. While I wait, I think it is noteworthy that Apple has used Cellebrite devices to copy iPhone data in its stores. I do not know if Apple remains a Cellebrite customer, though I have asked.

Marlinspike also hints at theoretical retaliatory measures:

Given the number of opportunities present, we found that it’s possible to execute arbitrary code on a Cellebrite machine simply by including a specially formatted but otherwise innocuous file in any app on a device that is subsequently plugged into Cellebrite and scanned. There are virtually no limits on the code that can be executed.

[…]

In completely unrelated news, upcoming versions of Signal will be periodically fetching files to place in app storage. These files are never used for anything inside Signal and never interact with Signal software or data, but they look nice, and aesthetics are important in software. […]

This is a cute idea but I am concerned about its repercussions if it were carried out which, for legal reasons, I imagine is unlikely. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world are already itching to weaken encryption. Do we want a messaging service taunting them for a cheap laugh? If the purpose is to weaken evidence extracted by Cellebrite devices by introducing chaff into the system it is again not something I am sure is desirable for maintaining the legality and ready availability of strong encryption.

Marlinspike leads his post by listing the many countries with dubious human rights records that Cellebrite counts as customers. This is the part that does not sit right with me about private exploit marketplaces. I am grateful that they exist because they give law enforcement a way, with a warrant, to crack devices that does not require eliminating encryption or deliberately adding a back door. I do not like that private companies have different standards of accountability than state-run organizations.

To be very clear: I am not arguing that I would prefer that police forces began collecting zero-days, nor that intelligence agencies have a good record for following the law, nor that operating only within democratic countries would guarantee lawful and just use. But it is concerning to see companies like Cellebrite selling their services in jurisdictions where they are being used to further policies ranging from the oppressive to the authoritarian. If we are to have a private marketplace for vulnerabilities — and I do not realistically see it going anywhere — there must be greater incentives for ethical sales and responsible disclosure.

The Verge’s Profile of Kosta Eleftheriou

Sean Hollister, the Verge:

Recently, I reached out to the most profitable company in the world to ask a series of basic questions. I wanted to understand: how is a single man making the entire Apple App Store review team look silly? Particularly now that Apple’s in the fight of its life, both in the courts and in Congress later today, to prove its App Store is a well-run system that keeps users safe instead of a monopoly that needs to be broken up.

That man’s name is Kosta Eleftheriou, and over the past few months, he’s made a convincing case that Apple is either uninterested or incompetent at stopping multimillion-dollar scams in its own App Store. He’s repeatedly found scam apps that prey on ordinary iPhone and iPad owners by luring them into a “free trial” of an app with seemingly thousands of fake 5-star reviews, only to charge them outrageous sums of money for a recurring subscription that many don’t understand how to cancel. “It’s a situation that most communities are blind to because of how Apple is essentially brainwashing people into believing the App Store is a trusted place,” he tells The Verge.

There’s a lot to unpack there: fake free trials, fake reviews, subscription awareness. We could write an entire story about each. Today, I’d like to focus on how one guy could find what Apple’s $64-billion-a-year App Store apparently cannot, because the answer is remarkable.

It is remarkable because it is so simple. Hollister was easily able to replicate Eleftheriou’s scam-finding techniques, which combines data that Apple makes publicly available and information estimated by SensorTower. Some of these scams are raking in, according to Eleftheriou and SensorTower’s data, millions of dollars per year, and they are plentiful. They are so commonplace that Eleftheriou found more hidden casinos yesterday. This article is damning.

Apple undoubtably prevents some scams from making it into the App Store and makes others unavailable if they have been approved. But it should not be so easy for anyone to find so many of these apps with egregiously expensive subscription scams that run for months — they should not be that commonplace. As Ben Thompson wrote today, Apple’s reviewers seem “far more effective in figuring out how to navigate from a privacy policy on a web page to a purchase page” evading Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism than finding scams. I could not have said it better myself.