Day: 18 October 2022

In addition to the aforementioned Apple TV, Apple today announced new versions of the iPad and iPad Pro. Alex Guyot of MacStories rightly describes the resulting product selection as “strange”:

As you’ve probably noticed from the many caveats throughout this article, this iPad lineup has some issues. I’m not sure how this happened, but somehow these product lines just seem all mixed up. The lowest-end iPad (not counting the previous 9th generation iPad, which is currently still for sale) has features that the iPad Pro does not. It also has the same design as all of the other iPads, yet lacks the Apple Pencil 2 support which can be found in the rest of them. The brand-new iPad Pro models do not work with the most feature-rich iPad keyboard that Apple sells. That keyboard costs a full half of the base price of the only iPad that supports it.

Apple probably has the best parts bin of any computer company. Its range of A-series SoCs are powerful and efficient, it has years of great camera modules to pull from, and its bucket of display and materials technologies is second to none. Just about any combination will produce a product its competitors could envy.

So it is bizarre when it appears the teams digging through this bin are not on speaking terms. The flat-sided iPad hardware design feels like it was made to go hand-in-glove with the second-generation Apple Pencil. But the tenth-generation iPad does not support that four year old accessory. The iPad Air is within millimetres of the same size as the tenth-generation iPad, but does not support the new Magic Keyboard Folio accessory because the keyboard relies on a smart connector along the edge instead of on the back.

The iPad product lineup even looks and feels confusing. If you look at pictures of them side-by-side, only the 9th generation sticks out as it retains a home button on the front. The others are all flat-sided slabs of metal and glass and lack consistency in colour choices. And here is a list of current iPads, as of today, as Apple describes them:

  • iPad (9th generation)

  • iPad (10th generation)

  • iPad Mini (6th generation)

  • iPad Air (5th generation)

  • iPad Pro 11-in. (4th generation)

  • iPad Pro 12.9-in. (6th generation)

Are we sure these are the latest generation? The descriptions make the two iPad Pro sizes look like they are not comparable. The iPad Air looks like it could be newer than the 11-inch model, but older than the Mini or either suffix-less model. Or perhaps not. Who can say?

The best differentiator is cost. The list above is arranged from least to most expensive. The two lower-cost models support only the first-generation Apple Pencil, have lower-quality displays that only support an sRGB colour gamut, and have older and slower A-series chips. You have to run all the way up to the biggest iPad Pro if you want the best display. If budget is your sole guidance, you will likely understand this product line better than any names, pictures, descriptions, or blizzard of technical specifications can communicate.

I do not understand this lineup. However, I do understand the appeal of both new iPad models announced today. The new iPad Pros permit users to hover a second-generation Apple Pencil about a centimetre away from the display for pre-touch functionality. It is not the first device to support something like this, but I am looking forward to hearing how it works in practice. The tenth-generation iPad, meanwhile, comes in some of the best colours of any iPad ever, and it does look like great value for many iPad users. It helps bridge the chasm between the lowest-end model and the iPad Air, but I wonder if it also adds confusion by being so similar to both.

I am looking forward to reading the reviews of these that will presumably be published early next week.

It seems too poetic for a major journalism scandal to unfold in one corner while a high-profile effort to save the future of media — and, if you believe its marketing, the democratic world itself — is launching in another. This new effort is called Semafor, and its co-founder Ben Smith, formerly of the New York Times and Buzzfeed News, introduced the aims of its coverage:

Our approach is more literal, and it’s built from the core principles of journalism. We take people seriously when they say they know that reporters are human beings — and experts in their beats — who have views of their own. But they’d also like us to separate the facts from our views. They’d like us to be humble about the possibility of disagreement. And they’d like us to distill differing views, and gather global perspective.

A brand new place for journalism on the web means a brand new gimmick: Semafor writes its stories in the “semaform” format. Here is executive editor Gina Chua to explain:

We’re redesigning the atomic unit of written news, the article.

We’re breaking articles into:

  • The News

  • The Reporter’s View (or analysis)

  • Room For Disagreement (or counterargument)

  • The View From (or different perspectives on the topic)

  • Notable (or some of the best other writing on the subject)

Chua says the goal of separating factual information from analysis and differing opinions is to rebuild trust. Smith, in that introductory article, explicitly tied the format to instilling confidence among readers.

This misdiagnoses the problem. A habitually contrarian and cynical reader will likely not find renewed belief in the media from alumni of the New York Times, Bloomberg, NBC News, and Wall Street Journal. We have jumped well beyond skepticism of views; there is now open rejection of facts. Over one-sixth of registered American voters — and over one-third of registered Republicans — are “very” comfortable with voting for a candidate who believes the 2020 U.S. presidential election was fraudulent. Tens of millions of people are apparently totally fine with throwing their weight behind those who lie about the fundamental facts of democracy.

As Gallup explains, the decline of trust in media in the U.S. correlates with reduced faith in government and institutions. There is a striking partisan split of trust in doctors, pharmacists, teachers, and reporters. I find it hard to believe the needle will be moved by changing the organization of an article when representatives of so many major media institutions are behind it.

Semafor’s head of video Joe Posner — formerly of Vox — preemptively responded to criticisms like the one I am making in an appropriately marimba-backed series of interviews with prominent journalists and pundits. They all say they are hopeful for what Semafor is trying to do — nearly all of them use the word “try”. Posner himself admits it “all feels a little far-fetched”.

I, too, appreciate the attempt. Why would I not? I like nuance, I like — to borrow Posner’s phrase — “messy stories”, and I like testing views and analyses. Even though its team of journalists remains primarily U.S.-based, it does appear to be making an effort to offer a more worldly perspective.

But I am also someone who still believes in institutions. I trust regulators, elections, and journalists. That does not mean I do not have criticisms — I obviously do — and it does not mean I do not try to verify what I am hearing. But we do not need articles in a slightly different layout to tell us lobbyists have undue influence in their clients’ governance, elected officials often lack meaningful oversight, and corporations do all they can to dodge regulation. Democracy is being degraded in plain sight by people who undermine institutions and then point to their subsequent failures as evidence they are ineffective. Rich people are bankrolling this hostility.

Our public institutions are in a death spiral. I am skeptical that reporting about it in a different way is an effective counterbalance. Will the permanently pessimist find a new perspective when it is presented by people they enthusiastically loathe? Semafor appears to be written for me — and that is its first big problem.

Randy Gorbman, WXXI News of Rochester, New York:

Film is obviously a legacy product in a digital world, but Nagraj Bokinkere, Vice President of Industrial Films and Chemicals at Kodak, said it has seen a resurgence in the last few years.


“A few short years ago in the film finishing operation, that was a 40 hours-a-week type operation, that was the capacity we had that was adequate to meet the demand,” said Bokinkere. “But now we’re at 24/7. That’s a (four times) increase in that capacity in that step, which is still not enough to catch up with the demand.”

Curious news in the shadow of falling digital camera sales comes this apparent resurgence, however modest overall, of interest in film cameras. Unfortunately, as with vinyl records, longtime fans of the format must weather significant price increases as demand outstrips supply. At my local camera store, the price of Ilford has gone up by two dollars per roll in the last two years; a roll of Tmax 100 is four dollars more.

I am tempted to pick one of these up to replace my 2015 HD model which — you will be surprised to learn, reader — is feeling a little old. Apple dropped the price by about $50, too, while doubling the storage in the base model. Sounds pretty good, right?

Alas, it is a little more complicated than that. First, you need to upgrade to the 128 GB model if you want Thread and its better integration with smart home accessories. To be fair, it is just a $20 upgrade and you get double the storage, but even the base model of the previous generation supported Thread. Second, Apple has changed the charging port on the remote to USB-C, but chose this year to exclude a charging cable from the box. Apple now sells a one-metre long USB-C charging cable in addition to the existing two-metre version.1 It is not a big deal; it just feels a bit like a nickel-and-dime move, especially when combined with the feature reductions on the base model. So, while the price may have dropped by $50 in Canada, if you want to use an Apple TV for a smart home base station and you want to match the in-box contents of the now-discontinued 32 GB model, you are spending the same amount as before but getting four times the storage.

Which brings me back to the first sentence: I am tempted to buy one, if only because there is so much interface lag in my present model connected to an HD television that I am surprised its A8 processor could power the iPad Mini 4.

  1. It is not visible anywhere on that store page, but the meta description in the markup confirms it also supports USB 2 speeds for data transfers. $25 Canadian is pretty steep for a crappy USB-C cable that is primarily intended for power, but at least it is braided.

    Also, the remote still does not have an ultra wideband chip in it to make it easier to find. Bizarre. ↥︎

L’affaire the Wire sure has taken a turn since yesterday. First, Kanishk Karan, one of the security researchers ostensibly contacted by reporters, has denied ever doing so:

It has come to my attention that I’ve been listed as one of the “independent security researchers” who supposedly “verified” the Wire’s report on FB ‘Xcheck’ in India. I would like to confirm that I did NOT DO the DKIM verification for them.

Aditi Agrawal, of Newslaundry, confirmed the non-participation of both researchers cited by the Wire:

The first expert was initially cited in the Wire’s Saturday report to have verified the DKIM signature of a contested internal email. He is a Microsoft employee. Although his name was redacted from the initial story, his employer and his positions in the company were mentioned.

This expert – who was later identified by [Wire founding editor Siddharth] Varadarajan in a tweet – told Newslaundry he “did not participate in any such thing”.

Those factors plus lingering doubts about its reporting have led to this un-bylined note from the Wire:

In the light of doubts and concerns from experts about some of this material, and about the verification processes we used — including messages to us by two experts denying making assessments of that process directly and indirectly attributed to them in our third story — we are undertaking an internal review of the materials at our disposal. This will include a review of all documents, source material and sources used for our stories on Meta. Based on our sources’ consent, we are also exploring the option of sharing original files with trusted and reputed domain experts as part of this process.

An internal review is a good start, but the Wire damaged its credibility when it stood by its reporting for a week as outside observers raised questions. This was a serious process failure that stemmed from a real issue — a post was removed for erroneous reasons, though it has been silently reinstated. In trying to report it out, the best case scenario is that this publication relied on sources who appear to have fabricated evidence. This kind of scandal is rare but harmful to the press at large. An internal review may not be enough to overcome this breach of trust.