Month: September 2023

Vox Media held its Code Conference this week in Laguna Niguel. It was the first iteration of the conference in which hosting duties would not be handled by Kara Swisher, who was only listed as a speaker. It seems that Swisher was supposed to interview General Motors CEO Mary Barra, but Barra could no longer participate for some reason, and so Swisher instead interviewed Yoel Roth.

About an hour after Swisher and Roth finished their surprise session came the highlight of the event, if you can call it that: an interview with Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino — who reflexively insists on calling it “X” for some reason — in which she was both evasive and unprepared for the kinds of questions you might expect she would be asked.

Alex Heath, the Verge (non-paywalled link):

Throughout the conversation, she repeatedly dodged specific questions about the state of X’s business, at times revealing that she may not actually know the answers. X now has “something like” 200 to 250 million daily active users, she said at one point. She clearly didn’t know the status of Musk’s plan to enforce a stricter paywall and said it’s looking like X will turn a profit sometime early next year.

Yaccarino sounded confused and surprised to be asked about the paywall idea, which was announced over a week ago. In fairness to Yaccarino, it can be hard to keep up with news, which is why it is so useful to have an app on your iPhone’s first home screen that allows you to keep your finger on the pulse.

Peter Kafka, at Vox (hey, it is a Vox event, so I might as well quote liberally from the company’s writers):

On the health of Twitter’s platform under Musk: She repeated earlier claims that the company now has more than 540 million users — more than double than the user base Musk cited last November. “When you look at the length of time spent, engagement on X, the key metrics are trending very, very positively,” she said.

Kafka cites a Reuters article to bolster the “more than double” claim, but it does not provide evidence of that. Reuters, in July, repeats Musk’s claim of 540 million monthly users, but it is comparing that to the 229 million monthly active users in the pre-Musk era of Twitter. Those metrics — much like view counts — are not interchangeable.

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

But… we’re not done yet. Because the other data point Musk revealed: “100 million to 200 million posts per day” also tells us something.

That is… below what Twitter used to have. Way below. A study in 2019, that had tracked tweets per day from 2012 through 2019 showed that in 2019 tweets per day were between 320 and 340 million per day. Or… somewhere around twice what Musk is claiming today.

It is Yaccarino’s job to make Twitter more palatable — especially on a public stage — and to act as a sort of buffer for its owner’s whims. It is Kafka’s job — and the job of media personalities — to avoid simply repeating what was said without giving it adequate context.

Alex Pasternack, Fast Company:

The bigger irony is that Google employees’ chat conversations had “history off” set as the default. That explanation dovetails neatly with part of the government’s own argument about Google’s anticompetitive behavior.

Google, argues the DOJ, knows the power of defaults to influence user choice, and was able to maintain its monopoly partly because it weaponized that power, for instance by paying Apple billions a year to make Google the default search on Safari on iPhones. The placement was apparently crucial for Google, which the DOJ estimates controls 89% of the U.S. search market. At trial, it emerged that Apple once tried to divert a fraction of search data to its own search engine, in a possible prelude to competition; Google quickly nixed that.

My “I talk about [Revenue Sharing Agreement] related things all day and I don’t have history on for all my chats :)” t-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.

None of the players in the Google antitrust case want any of this stuff public. They are all — including Apple and Samsung — taking extraordinary measures to avoid scrutiny by observers and the press. It appears many of these same businesses have learned from that time executives like Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt conspired to minimize cross-company poaching, proved in part by emails like those from Schmidt which read “I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later”.

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games:

As we shared earlier, we are laying off around 16% of Epic employees. We’re divesting Bandcamp and spinning off most of SuperAwesome.

Nicole Carpenter, of Polygon, says about 830 people will be without a job. I feel bad for them.

Songtradr bought Bandcamp:

Bandcamp is an online music store and community with over 5M artists and labels where fans can discover, connect with, and directly support the artists they love. This acquisition will help Bandcamp continue to grow within a music-first company and enable Songtradr to expand its capabilities to support the artist community.

Songtradr will also offer Bandcamp artists the ability and choice to have their music licensed to all forms of media including content creators, game and app developers and brands. This will enable artists to continue to own and control their music rights, and increase their earning capacity from Songtradr’s global licensing network.

I hope Songtradr will be as hands-off as Epic Games was.

I suspected Epic acquired Bandcamp last year as part of its competition arguments against app marketplaces. Indeed, less than two months after it bought the company, it was using it in a complaint (PDF) against Google.

It seems notable to me that Bandcamp workers recently unionized, and that performers in video games might strike if studios do not comply with their reasonable requests, like a “set medic to be present at dangerous stunts, just as on film and television sets”, according to Danielle Broadway at Reuters.

Matthew Cassinelli asked how people are using their iPhone’s Action Button and collected some of the best responses in this post. Unfortunately, I do not see any with download links; if you would like to use one, you will need to re-create it. There are some great ideas here, though.

I have set mine to launch Obscura.

Update: If you are so inclined, you could use it to file bug reports in Feedback Assistant.

Fresh off of duplicating the math round from “Countdown”, the New York Times decided to take the Connecting Wall round from “Only Connect” and subtly rebrand it as Connections. It was released in June, but I only learned about it today via Andy Baio, who points to Conlextions by Lex Friedman as a more challenging option.

Or, if you like, you could play PuzzGrid, which I think is a more faithful interpretation of the Connecting Wall with the spirit of a fan-made tribute rather than the Times’ rip-off.

Matt Stoller:

But this Google trial? By far the most important moment was when Judge Mehta denied a third-party motion to broadcast a publicly accessible audio feed of the trial for fear that information Google wishes wouldn’t be disclosed become public. Indeed, Google lawyers have explicitly argued that the judge should avoid allowing documents to become public solely because it is “clickbait.” To put it differently, the search giant literally argues material should stay sealed merely because if that material is interesting. Imagine if Bill Gates, or say, a routine defendant in any case, could have availed himself of that innovative legal argument!

The New York Times live-blogged the first day of the trial, but has not done so for any subsequent days. Given the recap posted by Stoller, it is not hard to see why: most of it has been conducted behind closed doors and away from the press using sealed evidence. Perhaps these discussions really would cause irreparable harm to Google if they were publicized. Notably, however, Judge Mehta tipped his hand ahead of the trial by noting he would “take seriously when companies are telling me that if this gets disclosed, it’s going to cause competitive harm”, which is kind of like laying out the instructions for how to ensure anything untoward remains a secret.

Kate Knibbs, Wired:

Obituary pirating, where people scrape and republish obituaries from funeral homes and websites like, has been an ethically dubious business for years. Piracy websites are often skilled enough at search engine optimization to rise to the top of search results, and they use the resulting traffic to charge a premium for digital ads that appear next to text lifted wholesale from funeral homes, local newspapers, and other authorized obituary publishers. Occasionally, these pirate sites go a step further, manipulating bereaved people into buying sympathy gifts like candles or flowers and pocketing the money.

The flood of YouTube obituary videos is a janky update on this practice. Some of these channels upload dozens of death notice summaries every hour, abandoning any pretense of looking like an official source of information in an effort to churn out as many videos as they can.

I stumbled across this industry earlier this year after a family friend died. Two of the three YouTube channels I found in June are now gone, but the third continues to churn out videos with titles that are copied from English-language obituaries, but with what sound like unrelated contents in a different language.

A few weeks ago, my wife generously gifted me the Lego Concorde set. I got around to building it this weekend. It was the first time I had experienced a full Lego set in about twenty years, but it felt exactly as magical as I had remembered. As a kid, I would have felt all the joy and wonder of something so intricate — and so large; the Concorde model is over a metre long — replicating what has to be the most captivating airplane ever built.

Those emotions hit me pretty hard as an adult building it, too, but I could not help but think of how different the real-life version of projects like these used to be conceived compared to how they are now. In the Verge’s coverage of this Lego set, Sean Hollister notes a resurgent interest in supersonic planes, with orders from several airlines for the Boom Overture. As it happens, I am currently reading Ashlee Vance’s “When the Heavens Went on Sale” about the rapid privatization of space.

I am not an expert in any of this. This is not a history lesson, though I did try to avoid any factual errors. Call this little more than a late Sunday night rambling post of how I am feeling now. Pure vibes ahead.

Both the Concorde and the majority of space exploration are products of extraordinary engineering efforts backed by entire countries, bestowing them with a larger purpose than simple business economics. To be sure, it is incredible to read about how private spacecraft from Rocket Lab deliver into orbit tiny satellites made by Planet Labs which create global imagery that, for example, gets used by journalists to uncover oil tankers spoofing their location. That is incredible.

I also wish there was room for these kinds of big, national-level projects of collective pride. Landing on the Moon was a big moment for the entire world, but a particularly special one for people in the United States; the Space Shuttle continued the record of having a national space icon. Concorde was a partnership between British and French interests and it produced something (almost) entirely unique. I do not mean this in a nationalist sense, nor do I want to sound like a full-on communist — though it is strange to me how those two vastly different labels could be seen in the same set of things. Magnificent projects like these seem as though business motives were disregarded in favour of doing something really, really great. Something special.

It is hard to look at the 1950s or 1960s and want to bring almost anything to the present day. The world now is overall a much better place than it was then. Perhaps my rumination is misplaced. But it is bizarre to feel like efforts like these are not possible today because they lack a purpose we care about now. The closest approximation we have now seems to be NASA’s attempt to send people to Mars in the 2030s. NASA is planning to build to that by sending people to the Moon in around 2025, in a craft outsourced to SpaceX. This mission, like Boom’s existence, feels like a retro chic callback to a glorious past mixed with the financialized world of today. Perhaps I do not have an accurate point of reference but it would be nice, I think, if projects like these were a more collective effort that entire nations or the whole world could get behind, as projects for the good of humanity.

In case you have not already heard, let me break the news: this year’s iPhones have a USB-C port where the Lightning port used to be. Aside from the physical attributes of each, the main difference between these ports is that Lightning is a proprietary port specific to Apple devices, while USB-C is an open specification which anybody can use. Or, rather, it is an open set of specifications, and everybody who wants to sell a product in Europe must have a compliant charging port beginning next year. This situation is mostly good today, if a little confusing, and I think it will still be pretty good years in the future.

The main problems with USB-C have been well-documented, here and elsewhere. In short, while USB-C describes the shape of the plug, the indistinguishable cables and ports can each support a vast range of capabilities, from audio adapter mode, through power delivery and USB 2.0 speeds, all the way up to Thunderbolt 5. The plugs look the same, and the cords do not differ in any way other than thickness. This confusion is not exclusive to USB-C: the USB 3 standard was introduced with USB-A ports that looked the same as their USB 2 counterparts, especially in Apple’s implementation; and Lightning has supported USB 3 speeds on some iPad models, but only with some accessories that look very similar to their USB 2-only counterparts. But USB-C takes this mix-and-match approach of capabilities, ports, and cables to an extreme.

The confusion is the bad news. The good news is that I have read seemingly everywhere that most people do not sync their iPhones with a cable any longer. Apparently, there are “wireless” technologies which can do this stuff over the air. The living future is wild. If the only reason you connect your iPhone to a cable is to charge it, I have good news: basically none of this matters and just about any USB-C cable should work fine. I swapped the Lightning cable on my nightstand for a spare USB-A to USB-C cable that came with my keyboard — standards are great. If you, like me, still have an ample supply of USB-A wall adapters and have purchased a non-Apple device in the past five years, you probably have one laying around as well. This is the most any of this is relevant to many people.

But transfer speed matters to me and, well, this is my website. I still sync my iPhone over a wire: I do not trust Apple’s cloud music matching shenanigans and, while I have Wi-Fi syncing enabled, it is dramatically slower than even the miserable cable Apple has been shipping for a long time. I used iPerf to test the Wi-Fi transfer speed between my iMac and my MacBook Pro, and it reported an average of about 100 Mbps. That is a steep downgrade from even USB 2 speeds, never mind USB 3.1 This is important enough to me that it is one of the reasons why I bought the 15 Pro over the standard iPhone 15.

I currently sync around 107 GB of music from my Mac to my iPhone. While the math suggests that should be accomplished in around half an hour at USB 2 speeds, it is not so simple. From previous experience, I know a fresh sync usually takes at least 45 minutes, if not closer to a full hour. Unfortunately, while the iPhone 15 Pro is capable of transfer speeds twenty times faster than its predecessor, the cable in the box is not. However, I have a high-speed cable at my desk already — again, standards are great — so I could take advantage of this. The same fresh sync with my new iPhone took just twelve minutes.

Yeah, this rules.

Okay, so that is not even close to a 20× improvement, and those of you who have Android phones are probably laughing at how long it took for the iPhone to get here. To the latter crowd, I hear you. To the former, I do not think music syncing has ever run at full USB speed ever since it was baked into iTunes. I have no idea why.

Nevertheless, that is a huge improvement, which raises the obvious question: what took so long? If Lightning was capable of USB 3 transfer speeds, why was it limited to a handful of iPad Pro accessories? Why did Apple replace Lightning with USB-C in the iPad in 2018 but retain Lightning in the iPhone, AirPods, and its “Magic” line of Mac accessories? While I do not think it was spite or ego driven, Apple has not provided its own rationale. The closest it ever came to explaining Lightning’s longstanding presence was when it introduced the standard in 2012 — when Phil Schiller said it was a “modern connector for the next decade”. That is less of a defence than it is a commitment and, to be fair to Apple, it exceeded those expectations by one year.

So Apple established an ecosystem with its proprietary connector, and it said it would keep it around for ten years. But that does not preclude improving Lightning, as it did in the iPad Pro. There might be some great reasons why Apple never evolved the iPhone’s connector, but we are only able to speculate. That is also true for keeping a mix of USB-C and Lightning products in its lineup. It could have felt stung by the negative press coverage after the Lightning transition, or maybe it wanted to preserve its ecosystem of first- and third-party products out of stability and perhaps control.2 But we do not know because it has chosen to put its weight behind objecting to the E.U.’s mandated USB-C standard instead of explaining why Lightning is just so darn great.

So let us talk about that.

Apple’s Greg Joswiak, in an interview with Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal last year, said he prefers to understand what governments want to accomplish, but to leave the details to businesses like Apple. I kind of get where he is coming from on this. Joz also cites the E.U.’s previous dedication to standardizing around Micro USB, which likely would have sucked today, and it is not difficult to see a similar problem for the future. If Apple or some other business develops a wired connection which is better for the iPhone than USB-C but incompatible with its spec and plug shape, it will be hamstrung, right?

Not so: it already produces a dizzying array of iPhone SKUs, including region-specific variations: the United States has a version without a physical SIM card, while the version sold in China and Hong Kong supports dual physical SIM cards. In addition, there are two other versions depending on local cellular frequency requirements. When multiplied by colours and capacities, I count 232 individual iPhone 15 and 15 Pro SKUs. If Apple needs to make a special E.U. market version, it already has that capability — and if the rest of the world gets a much better iPhone, you can bet Apple will emphasize that in its marketing. E.U. users will complain to their representatives. It will work out just fine.

This is all speculative, however, and these arguments would be far easier to believe had Apple updated its Lightning implementation on the iPhone since its launch. If it was constantly innovating in port design or speed, sure, I would have more sympathy. But it has not and, so, I do not. Besides, the rumour mill is certain the next major innovation in iPhone ports is no ports at all. Selfishly, I hope that is not the case; see my own experiences above. We can also only speculate about whether the iPhone was due to get USB-C this year regardless of legislation pushed by the E.U., or if Apple would continue to ride the Lightning connector.

What I do know for sure is how much better my iPhone user experience has been out of the gate with this high-speed USB port. Setup was faster, accessories are more universal, it is a more capable product, and I faced no transition problems. Your experience may vary. Mine, though, is much better than it used to be, and it is baffling to consider the non-cynical reasons why it has taken this long to get here.

  1. I am not sure why this is the case, as the router and devices on the same network each report internet speeds of upwards of 200 Mbps, and the router shows it is connected to each of my Macs at somewhere between 500 Mbps and 1 Gbps. Alas, I would rather have a nail through my foot than spend a weekend diagnosing network problems. What matters is how fast Wi-Fi syncing is in the real world — in my real world — not in theory, and wired connections blow it out of the water every time. ↥︎

  2. The press coverage after the USB-C transition has been nothing like it was with Lightning eleven years ago. The most negative article I found was from the Telegraph and, frankly, that barely counts. CNBC went with a headline focusing on the cost of an adapter, Dan Moren, for Macworld, pointed out all the places Lightning still exists in Apple’s lineup, and USA Today published a weird article that places the iPhone’s cost on a timeline of its connector options. Maybe some publication crappier than the Telegraph posted something even click-baitier, but that is basically going to be disreputable by default. ↥︎

Normally, I would not cover a patch update, even if it does contain fixes for three actively exploited vulnerabilities — something which seems increasingly routine. In this case, it is notable because many of you will likely be receiving new iPhones shipping with iOS 17.0 in a matter of hours. (It is before 11:00 am in Australia as I write this.)

You may wish to make one of two choices:

  1. update your current iPhone, and be sure to update the new one before trying to restore from backup; or

  2. wait to update until after your new iPhone arrives tomorrow and you have restored from backup, and perhaps enable Lockdown Mode to be safe.

The latter option is probably not your best choice, but either way should preserve backup compatibility. Just something to keep in mind.

Update: Well, after I hit “publish”, I saw a tweet from Ramal showing an iOS 17.0.2 update that Apple says is available for all iPhone 15 models, and “fixes an issue that may prevent transferring data directly from another iPhone during set-up”.

Jared Spataro, of Microsoft:

Today at an event in New York, we announced our vision for Microsoft Copilot — a digital companion for your whole life — that will create a single Copilot user experience across Bing, Edge, Microsoft 365, and Windows. As a first step toward realizing this vision, we’re unveiling a new visual identity — the Copilot icon — and creating a consistent user experience that will start to roll out across all our Copilots, first in Windows on September 26 and then in Microsoft 365 Copilot when it is generally available for enterprise customers on November 1.

This is a typically ambitious effort from Microsoft. Copilot replaces Cortana, which will mostly be dropped later this year, and is being pitched as a next-generation virtual assistant in a similar do everything vein. This much I understand; tying virtual assistants to voice controls does not make much sense because sometimes — and, for me, a lot of the time — you do not want to be chatting with your computer. That is certainly a nice option and a boon for accessibility, but clear and articulate speech should not be required to use these kinds of features.

Microsoft’s implementation, however, is worrisome as I use a Windows PC at my day job. Carmen Zlateff, Microsoft Windows vice president, demoed a feature today in which she said “as soon as I copy the text, Copilot appears” in a large sidebar that spans the entire screen height. I copy a lot of stuff in a day, and I cannot tell you how much I do not want a visually intrusive — if not necessarily interruptive — feature like this. I hope I will be able to turn this off.

Meanwhile, a bunch of this stuff is getting jammed into Edge and Microsoft 365 productivity apps. Edge is getting so bloated it seems like the company will need to make a new browser again very soon. The Office features might help me get through a bunch of emails very quickly, but the kinds of productivity enhancements Microsoft suggests for me have not yet materialized into something I actually find useful. Its Viva Insights tool, introduced in 2021, is supposed to analyze your individual working patterns and provide recommendations, but I cannot see why I should pay attention to a graphic that looks like the Solar System illustrating which of my colleagues I spoke with least last week. Designing dashboards like these are a fun project and they make great demos. I am less convinced of their utility.

I get the same kind of vibe from Copilot. I hope it will be effective at summarizing all my pre-reads for a meeting, but I have my doubts. So much of what Microsoft showed today requires a great deal of trust from users: trust in its ability to find connections; in its accuracy; in its ability to balance helpfulness and intrusion; in its neutrality to its corporate overlords. One demo showed someone searching for cleats using Microsoft’s shopping search engine and getting a deal with the browser-based coupon finder. It is a little thing, but can I trust Copilot and Microsoft Shopping are showing me the best quality results that are most relevant, or should I just assume this is a lightly personalized way to see which companies have the highest ad spend with Microsoft?

It seems risky to so confidently launch something like this at a time when trust in big technology companies is at rock-bottom levels in the United States, especially among young people. Microsoft is certainly showing it is at the leading edge of this stuff, and you should expect more from its competitors very soon. I am just not sure giving more autonomy to systems like these from powerful corporations is what people most want.

Chris Vallance, BBC News:

Peers have passed a controversial new law aimed at making social media firms more responsible for users’ safety on their platforms.

The Online Safety Bill has taken years to agree and will force firms to remove illegal content and protect children from some legal but harmful material.


Lawyer Graham Smith, author of a book on internet law, said the bill had well-meaning aims, but in the end it contained much that was problematic.

“If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, this is a motorway,” he told the BBC.

Remember how, a couple of weeks ago, there was lots of press coverage celebrating an apparent withdrawal of provisions in the bill which required encryption to be broken, largely based on a Financial Times report? You may recall my subtly different interpretation based on the actual words of Lord Parkinson promoting the bill’s passage, and an actual reading of the text of the bill, which indicated that regulators would be granted the power to build something impossible.

Well, I do not mean to gloat — this is a very serious issue — but it seems I was right. Did that sound like gloating? Sorry.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation:

A clause of the bill allows Ofcom, the British telecom regulator, to serve a notice requiring tech companies to scan their users–all of them–for child abuse content.This would affect even messages and files that are end-to-end encrypted to protect user privacy. As enacted, the OSB allows the government to force companies to build technology that can scan regardless of encryption–in other words, build a backdoor.

Glyn Moody, Techdirt:

So it seems the UK government’s idea is that Internet companies will be ordered to come up with ways to break end-to-end encryption while maintaining privacy. But don’t worry, because that magic encryption backdoor will only be there as a “safety net”, not as something that will ever be used routinely. Of course.

It seems plausible to me for regulators to avoid making any immediate orders that providers of encrypted messaging services should do the impossible. But one day a model case will come along — and we will be having this discussion all over again.

By the way, it is not just encrypted messaging which has been put at risk in the U.K. because of this bill. The resources of the Wikimedia Foundation will probably be blocked in the U.K. because those sites — wisely — do not engage in mass data collection or user profiling, so they cannot effectively verify users’ ages.

Denise Lu, New York Times Magazine (via Rusty Foster):

I was still using iTunes until 2019, when Apple decided to sunset the app and replace it with a new media player called Music (not to be confused with Apple Music, the streaming service). The appeal of the app remains the same: a media player where I can see my entire music library hosted on my local machine rather than in the cloud. […]

I sympathize with this — though, judging by the number of bug reports I have filed against it, I suspect Apple has forgotten it builds a Music app for MacOS.

[…] In fact, I have several libraries across different devices and drives that — much to my dismay — all differ from one another slightly. What I lack in portability, I make up for in security. […]

I cannot understand this. I have just one music library and I am determined to keep the metadata on each song and album just so. That is why there is no chance I will enable the “Sync Library” option; I have zero confidence in Apple’s ability to avoid fucking it all up. (Did I mention how many bug reports I have filed against the Music app?)

That separation is key, I think, and one reason I reject the premise of this article. The headline chosen by the Times is “Want to Enjoy Music More? Stop Streaming It”, which I find awfully prescriptive. Buying music and maintaining a local media library is meaningful to me and, I am sure, many other people. But I also enjoy sampling all the albums unlocked by my streaming subscription.

If anything, I think that is the recommendation I would give: if you want to enjoy music more, try enjoying more music. Listen to intimidating albums. Listen to stuff everyone else is listening to. Listen to things you do not understand. Listen to classic records you have not spent any time with. Check out the recommendations from reviewers, old-school blogs, and YouTubers. Try to make it through albums you think you dislike, and resist the urge to turn on something more familiar. Maybe your first impressions of any of these things will be confirmed, but maybe you will find something you like so much that you want to buy it.

Streaming services are all the piracy with none of the guilt. It is a broken model that is only slightly better than when this stuff came through illicit downloads from risky places. If someone can buy music outright, artists will benefit, but I cannot see how it implicitly makes them a better music enjoyer.

Chris Niccols, PetaPixel:

Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max bring a lot to the table across the board, from a gaming-ready chip, to USB-C, and — of course — photography. It is that last point where we are putting the emphasis, and this review is specifically for those of you who care about the iPhone as a camera.

If the iPhone is less a telephone and more of a camera, it makes sense to review it from that perspective. When the 24 megapixel mode was announced last week, I had to wonder why that became an option since it uses the same 48 megapixel sensor as the 14 Pro with the same pixel binning. Turns out it does wonders for retaining detail and reducing the over-processed look of iPhone photos.

John Herrman, New York:

The internet promised, among other things, absolute audience surveillance, full measurability, and perfect knowledge of who was watching what, when, and for how long. What it delivered, instead, was metric tons of metric bullshit. Endowed with new powers of self-measurement, media companies, advertising firms, and online platforms have turned metrics into something approaching misinformation. […]

Everyone knows it is not really possible to measure how many people see a print advertisement. A web ad, though, is supposed to have certainty, as Herrman writes: it is being shown to just the right audience this many times. None of that is true. But the people who are responsible for this have destroyed the privacy of billions of people while pretending this is a realistic goal. Just one more tracking script and one more data category — that ought to do it.

Howie Singer and Bill Rosenblatt, in an excerpt from their new book “Key Changes”, as published in the Wall Street Journal:

In 1972, the Temptations hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, winning three Grammys, with a seven-minute version of the song “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Before the Temptations sing a word, an instrumental introduction featuring organ, guitar, bass, and a hi-hat cymbal ebbs and flows for more than four minutes. If the group were in the studio today, the title chorus would most likely have been featured much earlier in the song. That’s because music streaming services pay artists based on the number of plays each month, and to count as a play, a user must listen to the song past the 30-second mark. […]

This is quite a good article about how streaming incentivizes big-name artists to release large quantities of shorter songs more frequently. This particular example — which sets up the article’s premise — bugged me, though perhaps it plays better in the book. In its context here, however, it suggests songs like the Temptations track in question were routine chart-toppers. This is not the case.

During the week it hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, the next nine songs below it were almost all about three-and-a-half minutes long, with the exceptions of the 2:44 “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, and “I’d Love You to Want Me” by Lobo which is just over four minutes long. Oddly enough, there was one other seven-minute song on the list that week, but it was in fortieth place, down from a peak of 27, and earlier that year, Don McLean’s nine-minute “American Pie” topped the charts.1 But the vast majority of songs in the top 50 did not even cross the four-minute mark.

Stories about how hit songs are getting shorter are a popular genre with similar diagnoses — streaming incentivizes brevity. Unfortunately, most of these articles rely on a single study which only stretches back to 2000. A more fulsome analysis by Mark Bannister shows peaks of much longer songs in the early 1980s through early 1990s, plateauing at a higher average in the mid-to-late 1990s, before falling. Today’s average song lengths would be fairly typical on the charts of fifty years ago.

This is fascinating to me. Without reading the book — though it is on my list and I am looking forward to it — it suggests the things which motivated single and album releases in the 1960s are somewhat replicated in today’s streaming environment. You can kind of see that if you start looking: pop songs were short and catchy, typically written by someone other than the performer, and singles were bundled with a bunch of filler songs to make an LP. Buying an entire record is no longer the point, but getting people to listen to a entire record’s worth of songs is. iTunes created a market for singles in the digital era; streaming services have created a market for relentless single-length songs.

Still, sometimes trend breakers appear. A couple of years ago, a Taylor Swift song hit number one on the Billboard charts, which is not extraordinary in itself. What was notable is its length: a shade over ten minutes.

  1. The incentives of radio at the time may have something to do with why the occasional seven-minute song bubbled up the charts. ↥︎

Stephen Nellis, Reuters:

Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi, who oversees its consumer marketing efforts, is taking over the firm’s Surface and Windows businesses with the external PC makers and retail partners, as longtime product chief Panos Panay steps down.

Bloomberg reported that Panay is being hired by to run the unit responsible for the firm’s Alexa and Echo products, replacing David Limp, the unit’s current chief who has said he plans to retire this year.

Just a few weeks ago, Panay tweeted about his excitement to be “talking AI innovation” at Microsoft’s press conference on September 21. As of Friday, it seems that tweet was deleted. Bizarre timing.

I promise I am nearly done with new iPhone posts, but I want to leave you with this one from Max Read:

Here in 2023, that air of mystery and expectation is gone. Every phone looks the same; every announcement has been widely leaked. But there is still a good reason to attend to Apple’s marketing extravaganzas: The fake texts.

A truly rich text — and, appropriately, there is someone named Rich in this year’s texts.

I thought this analysis by Wally Nowinski, of PerfectRec, was intriguing, but perhaps not completely convincing. Nowinski says the most recent batch of iPhones are, with the exception of the Pro Max, the “most affordable” iPhones since the product’s launch, when adjusting for inflation, and has the figures to prove it. The data is sound. The point of this is what I did not find as compelling.

For a start, it is purportedly a price comparison of unlocked iPhone models in the United States, which immediately makes it less relevant to me. But it is worth noting that Apple did not sell unlocked iPhones in the U.S. until the iPhone 4 in June 2011 — just before the launch of the iPhone 4S — and that the original iPhone was $499 but only worked with AT&T when it came out.

A brief aside, as we are discussing the historical value of unlocked iPhones: while the original iPhone was released without a subsidized contract, it was so tied to AT&T that the first strategies for unlocking one for use on another carrier involved soldering the board. Unlocked iPhones were so coveted at the time that George Hotz swapped the second one he made for a Nissan 350Z and three (locked) iPhones.


This is going to seem self-defining, but Nowinski’s analysis is true for any fixed price because that is how inflation works, and central banks have encouraged modest inflation. Everything else is getting more expensive and a dollar has less spending power, but a thousand-dollar iPhone is still a thousand dollars with more money going around. But that has been true for any thousand-dollar product in the U.S. since the iPhone’s launch, save for a few months in 2020 and the fallout from the 2008 housing crash.

What is more curious to me is that this is the only metric by which the flagship iPhone has become less expensive since its 2007 release. According to this analysis, the base price of a flagship model iPhone has increased from an inflation-adjusted $732 for the original model to $999 for the iPhone 15 Pro. And the Pro models are, I think, the true successors of the iPhone lineage — they get the new SoCs, the new cameras, and new industrial designs. The non-Pro models now get last year’s Pro camera systems, last year’s SoC, and — in the case of the iPhone 15 — last year’s special industrial design touch by way of the Dynamic Island.1 They are a newer expression of the n–1 strategy.

Across the history of each of the product lines, in fact, there are only two instances in which Nowinski’s pricing table shows price decreases:

  • The iPhone 5C is grouped with the iPhone SE line and, thus, appears to show a $150 decrease from the 5C to the SE.

    I do not think this is the correct grouping for these models. The simultaneous releases of the iPhone 5C and 5S were more akin to today’s regular and Pro split. The iPhone 5C was an iPhone 5 with a plastic case instead of aluminum, and Apple only shipped the iPhone 5 for one year. The 5C was not the budget line that is the iPhone SE, but it was not the flagship that year either.

  • The iPhone XR was $50 more expensive than the iPhone 8 of the previous year, and that was matched by a $50 decrease with the iPhone 11 the following year. But, again, not the flagship.

Though it is possible to find isolated cases of Apple dropping the nominal price of its products — like the second-generation iPod Mini, the iMac G4, and the MacBook Air — it has been fairly rare since the iPhone’s introduction. Instead, it tends to hold price points steady for as long as it can. For example, it has tried to maintain a consumer laptop at the sub-thousand-dollar price point since at least 2002. And, sure enough, this analysis basically holds true for that product, too: today’s 13-inch base model MacBook Air with the M2 chip may cost a hundred dollars more than an iBook G3 did in 2002, but the iBook would today cost an inflation-adjusted $1,700.

What I find more interesting about Nowinski’s analysis is the cost of the Plus-model iPhones. They had an inflation-adjusted cost that was just about a thousand dollars — the same price point that today’s “Pro” iPhones start at. Those were the models which introduced a multi-camera setup to the iPhone line and added new photography capabilities. It proved there are plenty of people who will put up with an enormous iPhone if it has the best camera — which sounds familiar. To be sure, many big iPhones are sold to people who want big iPhones. But I would bet a large number of iPhone 7 Pluses, iPhone 12 Pro Maxes, and — now — iPhone 15 Pro Maxes are sold to people who want the best camera in an iPhone, hands and pockets be damned.

  1. A ProMotion display with a higher refresh rate, however, remains a Pro-only thing. ↥︎

As part of a partnership between Google and iFixit, the latter has created a repair guide for the Pixel Tablet — and it is a very weird product inside.

Ron Amadeo, Ars Technica:

I have never seen a mobile device be built like this from a major company, especially one that costs $500. Usually this style of “individual components sparsely mounted on risers” is reserved for counterfeit SSDs that are really just thumb drives and a lead weight repackaged in a bigger box, or maybe “mini” consoles that end up being a single chip in a box. I cannot overstate how strange it is to see a major OEM just mount a few spare parts in a box and call it a day.

I am sure it is a fine tablet, and there are probably reasons for this, but it really looks like a hobbyist effort. Bizarre.