Month: January 2024

Justin Ling, on January 12:

In a hour-long special, I’m Glad I’m Dead, [George] Carlin returns to talk reality TV, AI, billionaires, being dead, mass shootings, and Trump.

It premiered to horrified reviews. Carlin’s daughter called the special an affront to her father: “Humans are so afraid of the void that we can’t let what has fallen into it stay there,” she wrote on Twitter. Major media outlets breathlessly reported on the special, wondering if it was set to harken in a new era of soulless automation.

This week, on a very special Bug-eyed and Shameless, we investigate the Scooby Doo-esque effort to bring George Carlin back from the dead — and prank the media in the process.

Ling was one of few reporters I saw who did not take at face value the special was, as claimed, a product of generative “artificial intelligence”. Just one day after exhaustive coverage of its release, Ling published this more comprehensive investigation showing how it was clearly not a product of “A.I.” — and he was right. That does not absolve Dudesy of creating this mockery of Carlin’s work in his name and likeness, but the technological story is simply false.

Cory Doctorow:

The modern Mechanical Turk — a division of Amazon that employs low-waged “clickworkers,” many of them overseas — modernizes the dumbwaiter by hiding low-waged workforces behind a veneer of automation. The MTurk is an abstract “cloud” of human intelligence (the tasks MTurks perform are called “HITs,” which stands for “Human Intelligence Tasks”).

This is such a truism that techies in India joke that “AI” stands for “absent Indians.” Or, to use Jathan Sadowski’s wonderful term: “Potemkin AI”:

This Potemkin AI is everywhere you look. […]

Doctorow is specifically writing about human endeavours falsely attributed to machines, but the efforts of real people are also what makes today’s so-called “A.I.” services work, something I have often highlighted here. There is nothing wrong, per se, with human labour powering supposed automation, other than the poor and unstable wages they are paid. But there is a yawning chasm between how these products are portrayed in marketing and at a user interface level, the sight of which makes investors salivate, and what is happening behind the scenes.

By the way, I was poking around earlier today trying to remember the name of the canned Facebook phone and I spotted the Wikipedia article for M. M was a virtual assistant launched by then-Facebook in 2015, and eventually shut down in 2018. According to the BBC, up to 70% of M’s responses were from human beings, not software.

Salvador Rodriguez, Wall Street Journal:

Meta Platforms is hoping Apple’s launch of the Vision Pro can reinvigorate its $50 billion metaverse effort, which consumers have yet to widely embrace.


Meta employees see the Quest and its software ecosystem emerging as a primary alternative to Apple in the space, filling the role played by Google’s Android in smartphones, the people said.

The success or, more likely, failure of Meta’s concept of a metaverse should be viewed separately from its ability to sell headsets. If Meta wants to position them as one and the same, it is a less appealing concept to me. One of the things Apple has done very well with the first generation Vision Pro is positioning it as familiar and expected within its futuristic context.

David Heaney, UploadVR:

Android is a semi-open software platform. Any phone maker can integrate the open-source core of Android for free and without permission, and can integrate Google’s services and the Google Play Store by agreeing to certain compatibility criteria and preinstalling Google’s suite of apps.

The Meta Quest platform on the other hand is exclusive to Meta’s own devices. Its strategy is more akin to wanting to be a second Apple than what Google did with Android. That sounds more like BlackBerry than Android, and the market combination of iPhone and Android killed off BlackBerry.

Via Charles Arthur:

Note this implicitly accepts the Vision Pro as the iPhone of XR, which is possible – but it might be the iPad.

If it is the iPad of this world, it implies it may be the leader in a market the public seems uncertain about. Sales-wise, it may not be a bad thing for Apple, but it does require buy-in in a sector where non-tech people seem hesitant. There is a difference between financial success and cultural success.

I noted above the familiarity of the Vision Pro — how it is a benefit that, if you have used an Apple device, you know the apps and services which will be on it. That expectation also applies to the company behind it. Apple is a known quantity. Buyers can be reasonably confident their $3,500 headset will not be abandoned after a couple of years. Meta, conversely, has a poor track record for hardware: its phone collaboration sucked and it scrapped its latest efforts by way of the Portal and an in-development watch. Apparently, it will not be making a second-generation Quest Pro. It has an Apple-like approach to hardware and software integration while taking a Google-like approach to product development. I bet that is not a successful long-term strategy.

As Twitter becomes more insular and technically unreliable, I have increasingly turned to Nitter, which describes itself as a “free and open source alternative Twitter front-end”. It mirrors posts and profiles, does not require users to be signed in, and is faster than Twitter’s own website.

Naturally, the mechanism behind this is unofficial and seems to rely on a network of Twitter accounts. And, it seems, Twitter is taking them down and cutting off the path by which Nitter worked:

If nothing changes, all remaining instances will go down eventually: Instances rely on guest accounts, which are valid for a certain time and of which you need a ton to run a public instance. The API for this got taken down and it doesn’t look like a fluke this time.

Twitter is unfortunately still a place where newsworthy things happen. I linked to a tweet only yesterday, and I imagine that will continue so long as people keep posting things of relevance there. That is true despite instability on the site; posts, threads, and the entire site often fail to load for me, but Nitter provided an excellent fallback service. Sadly, no longer.

Nathan J. Robinson, of Current Affairs, spoke to Brian Merchant, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, about his book “Blood in the Machine”. Published last year, it tells the history of the Luddites and finds parallels in today’s technologies.

Merchant, in response to a question from Robinson about the widespread misconception that Luddites are merely anti-technology:

Luddism is about questioning who machinery serves. It’s really a question of political economy, of being able to locate exploitative or abusive uses of technology, and in which cases machinery becomes hurtful to commonality. So, as a framework, I think it’s one that we can certainly apply today, which is why I found it so interesting.

This is a worthwhile ongoing pursuit. There are those who insist technology is politically neutral, mere tools, and what we do with it is a separate issue. But it is far more nuanced. There are different incentives when, for example, generative machine learning tools are being used in positions of power compared to when they are used by an outsourced temporary workforce. We ought to always question how new technologies will likely be used, and whose power they will serve.

By the way, Merchant’s book is a good read. Worth checking out.

Joseph Cox, 404 Media (this page may be login-walled, which 404 justifies for business reasons):

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary apps, including popular ones such as 9gag, Kik, and a series of caller ID apps, are part of a global surveillance capability that starts with ads inside each app, and ends with the apps’ users being swept up into a powerful mass monitoring tool advertised to national security agencies that can track the physical location, hobbies, and family members of people to build billions of profiles, according to a 404 Media investigation.


Patternz’s marketing material explicitly mentions real time bidding. This is where companies in the online ad industry try to outbid one another to have their ad placed in front of a certain type of user. But a side effect is that companies, including surveillance firms, can obtain data on individual devices such as the latitude and longitude of the device. Patternz says it is analyzing data from various types of ad formats, including banner, native, video, and audio.

It is important to be cautious about the claims made by any company, but especially ones which say they are operating at unprovable scale, and market themselves to receive rich government contracts. It does not seem possible to know for sure whether Patternz really processes ninety terabytes of data daily (PDF), for example, but the company claims it creates a direct link between online advertising networks and global surveillance for intelligence agencies. It does not sound far fetched.

Cox’s story builds upon reports published in November by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties — one regarding Europe (PDF) and a slightly different one focused on the U.S. (PDF). Both of those reports cite exploitations of real-time bidding beyond Patternz. All stories paint a picture of an advertising system which continues to ingest huge amounts of highly personal, real-time information which is purchased by spooks. Instead of agencies nominally accountable to the public monitoring the globe with a sweeping, pervasive, all-seeing eye, there are also private businesses in this racket, all because of how we are told which soap and lawn care products we ought to buy.

Even if you believe targeted advertising is a boon for publishers — something which seems increasingly hard to justify — it has turned the open web into the richest and most precise spyware the world has ever known. That is not the correct trade-off.

Probably worth keeping an eye on a case in California’s Northern District, filed in 2021, which alleges the privacy problems of Google’s real-time bidding system amount to a contract breach.

Online privacy isn’t just something you should be hoping for – it’s something you should expect. You should ensure your browsing history stays private and is not harvested by ad networks.

By blocking ad trackers, Magic Lasso Adblock stops you being followed by ads around the web.

Magic Lasso Adblock screenshot

It’s a native Safari content blocker for your iPhone, iPad, and Mac that’s been designed from the ground up to protect your privacy.

Rely on Magic Lasso Adblock to:

  • Remove ad trackers, annoyances, and background crypto-mining scripts

  • Browse common websites 2.0× faster

  • Double battery life during heavy web browsing

  • Lower data usage when on the go

So, join over 280,000 users and download Magic Lasso Adblock today.

My thanks to Magic Lasso Adblock for sponsoring Pixel Envy this week.

In more Apple news from today — this time unambiguously good — automatic transcriptions of podcasts are coming in iOS 17.4:

Apple automatically generates transcripts after a new episode is published. Your episode will be available for listening right away, and the transcript will be available shortly afterwards. There will be a short delay while we process your transcript. If portions of your episode change with dynamically inserted audio, Apple Podcasts will not display the segments of the audio that have changed since the original transcription. Music lyrics are also not displayed in the transcripts.

Great for accessibility and for finding that one moment in an episode. I prefer Overcast but this is a feature anyone can use occasionally as a kind of personal podcast search engine.

Apple’s response to the E.U.’s Digital Markets Act has arrived. In theory, this is the biggest ever change to the way native apps are distributed and sold on iOS. Between the complexity and caveats, however, this is not a Mac-like software experience on the iPhone — though I am not sure I fully understand what it is.

Let me back up to December 2022. I hate quoting myself but, well, here is something I wrote in response to a Bloomberg report from Mark Gurman about Apple’s Digital Markets Act preparations:

It will be interesting to see how Apple frames this shift for its European customers. It has spent years claiming its first-party App Store policies are a reason why people buy iPhones. While it can continue to promote its own App Store as the best option, it would look silly if it created the impression of reducing security for European users while rolling this out. The same is true of its privacy stance if, as also reported by Gurman, it makes its Find My network more permissive to third-party trackers. Apple may also want to preserve its existing strategy wherever regulators do not require its software and services to be more interoperable, but that could make it look like European customers have more choices than users in, say, the United States — which they probably will.

The answer to this public relations conundrum is found in a bitter press release. The tone is not really a surprise; I guess I would also be frustrated if I were required to change the way my platform has worked for sixteen years. But, still, it is quite something to read paragraphs like this one:

The new options for processing payments and downloading apps on iOS open new avenues for malware, fraud and scams, illicit and harmful content, and other privacy and security threats. That’s why Apple is introducing protections — including Notarization for iOS apps, an authorization for marketplace developers, and disclosures on alternative payments — to reduce risks and deliver the best, most secure experience possible for users in the EU. Even with these safeguards in place, many risks remain.

Or these two sentences describing how Safari will present a list of third-party browsers on first launch:

This change is a result of the DMA’s requirements, and means that EU users will be confronted with a list of default browsers before they have the opportunity to understand the options available to them. The screen also interrupts EU users’ experience the first time they open Safari intending to navigate to a webpage.

To be fair, confirmation screens are probably not the best way to drive browser diversity. The status quo also sucks: arguably the only reason why Google Chrome is not wholly dominant is because of decisions made by platform vendors like Apple and Microsoft. Then again, the state of the browser market is evidence of how little competition matters when people have familiar choices.

Back to the App Store; Apple is making several changes in the E.U., including:

  • Third-party payment processors can be used within apps, and developers can also link to external payment destinations from within an app.

  • Lowered commission of 10–17%, down from 15–30%, with an optional use of Apple’s payment processor at an extra 3%.

  • Third-party browsers can now use different browser engines.

In addition to these and other E.U.-specific changes, Apple is permitting streaming game apps worldwide.

The headline announcement is the addition of third-party app stores in iOS — and, it seems, only iOS. Apple has built MarketplaceKit to facilitate this, will require Notarization of all applications regardless of distribution channel — which sounds different than the MacOS Notarization process because it involves real people — and has an extensive explanation of its rationale for this system. This is not really “sideloading” or the Mac-esque experience some have been envisioning because these “marketplace apps” — as Apple is calling them — will be the only other way of installing native iOS apps. The way you will get the marketplace apps themselves, Apple says, is via the web, but other kinds of third-party software are not able to be installed on an iPhone this way. In other words, you can download apps from an app store or the App Store.

In the questions-and-answers section near the end, it says its “traditional business model has reflected the value” of the platform, and these new E.U. rules have “separate[d] out the many ways Apple creates value for developers”. To bridge the gap, it will charge a Core Technology Fee of €0.50 under certain conditions, which is in line with what I expected would happen. In its press release today, Apple says almost all developers will pay the same or less, and less than one percent will need to pay the Core Technology Fee. Many of those are probably the massive developers you can immediately think of. Notably, this is the first time entirely free applications will pay any kind of per-user fee to Apple, and it is not cheap.

Developers are not automatically opted into this new arrangement. They will be able to choose whether they stick with the current terms, or agree to the new terms — but the new contract is required to distribute an app through a different marketplace, or to use a different payment processor. In return, developers get lower commission, but must pay the Core Technology Fee if they exceed one million annual E.U. installs of their app.

That is my rundown of these changes and I think I got everything right, but there is a lot I missed out on. I think David Barnard has a very good Twitter thread with more details, and Jason Snell at Six Colors has a good overview. I thought this was a particularly keen observation by Snell:

I have to think that Apple will have a team of security people watching carefully as these features roll out across the EU. But there will also be a team of PR people ready to publicize any incident that feeds into Apple’s narrative about the DMA endangering EU citizens.

I fully expect unscrupulous people will take advantage of this new arrangement and Apple will spread the word. But it is not as though the App Store itself is free of scams; Michael Tsai has an entire category of posts dating back more than a decade. Even if scams make their way into third-party marketplace apps, a real person at Apple has seen and approved them, as explained in the question-and-answer segment:

The Notarization process involves a combination of automated checks and human review to help ensure apps are from credible parties, free of malicious content like malware, function as promised, and don’t expose users to egregious privacy and security risks or fraud.

This is still Apple’s platform and it still wants it to be safe. It remains to be seen whether the E.U. will view today’s announcements as sufficiently compliant with the letter and spirit of the DMA, and I suspect there will be questions about the amount of control Apple will retain, and the Core Technology Fee it will charge.

I have two questions:

  1. Will any of this be worthwhile for developers? If Apple’s numbers are accurate, it makes the E.U. look like a more desirable region for iOS app distribution. At least there are options and choices.

    On a related note, one wonders if it will be beneficial for users. As I wrote in my self-quote above, Apple says the App Store is part of users’ buying decisions. That is, it seems to believe people use iPhones in part because of the way it controls its available software. The problem is that it will be difficult to get a sense of whether users actually value the App Store on its merits if these new features are not popular amongst developers.

  2. Is this foreshadowing similar changes to Apple’s other restricted platforms, or perhaps expanding them worldwide? Earlier today, I would have thought this is a plausible take. But the more I think about it, the more I believe Apple will continue its established path until other governments force a change. I would be happy to be proven wrong, especially if this policy change is ultimately beneficial to developers.

So, knowing all of that, how would one go about getting their hands on these updates? Apple says all of these things will be rolling out in March, and the new APIs and frameworks are included in the iOS 17.4 beta seed released to developers earlier today.

These features are only available to E.U. users, and Apple is being as restrictive with these changes as it is for censorship in China. One cannot simply change their iPhone’s region in Settings to an E.U. member state. As previewed last year, there is a new process that validates feature availability based on, according to Filipe Espósito of 9to5Mac, the billing address on file and the device location, among other qualities.

Still, if Apple can be an Irish company for tax reasons, my iPhone should be able to become Irish for device control reasons.

It does leave me with one final question: how are developers outside the E.U. able to test compliance with these new capabilities? Perhaps I missed this in the documentation, but it seems like this may be one additional restriction to keep these alluring features geographically gated. Pity.

Even if this is not everything developers and advanced users may have hoped for, it is a radical shift for Apple’s non-Mac platforms. There is much to look forward to, and some things to be worried about. Mostly, though, this leaves many questions because of the cautious and confusing approach Apple is taking. There are perhaps good, well-founded reasons for doing so, and I do not think it is always intending to be as brutal as its decisions appear. But Apple’s relationship with developers has been on rocky ground for years and its latest policies are a reminder of the company’s control. Meet the new boss? Well, you know how that goes.

A little thing I noticed when I was looking up great older Mac software is how much of my appreciation for it was driven by its feel. I put Coda on my list of all-time great Mac software because Panic worked hard to make it feel just right — just the way they had intended. When I look at screenshots of Aperture, I remember how its atmosphere of technical precision was still friendly.

There are plenty of reasons why that is, but I think a major one is their tactile quality. Everything which can be manipulated not only looks like it can, but invites you to do so. And there is no more foundational tactile interface element than a button.

Niko Kitsakis:

This should make it clear why there is a reason that the virtual buttons in our graphical user interface should indeed look like buttons: They should communicate that they can be used. When they just look like icons, they don’t do that.

One objective of the visual interface language introduced in MacOS Big Sur was, according to Alan Dye, to “[reduce] visual complexity to keep the focus on users’ content” which meant, for example, that “buttons and controls appear when you need them, and they recede when you don’t”.

In practice, it means interfaces become ambiguously interactive. A design system of line art glyphs floating in detail-free window chrome makes it easier to create light and dark themes, but it also turns everything into a flavourless smear of grey tones.

One of the great examples of this is Time Machine. Its original aesthetic invited emotional investment in — of all things — backing up your computer. I remember wanting to create a backup just so I could see that interface work. Unfortunately, its current guise is an accurate interpretation of the phrase backup utility, and little more. This is not specifically an argument in favour of decorated, glossy, detailed user interface elements — though I do like those — but it is an argument in favour of craft. Of heart and soul. I know what I am supposed to feel when I look at Time Machine in Leopard. But with this current iteration? I have no idea.

Today’s Time Machine does have one thing going for it compared to many other visual interfaces in MacOS: at least it has buttons that look more-or-less like buttons.


CUPERTINO, Calif., January 24, 1984 — Apple Computer today unveiled its much-anticipated Macintosh computer, a sophisticated, affordably priced personal computer designed for business people, professionals and students in a broad range of fields. Macintosh is available in all dealerships now.

Via Stephen Hackett, who highlights a quote in that press release from Steve Jobs (emphasis Hackett’s):

“With Macintosh, the computer is an aid to spontaneity and originality, not an obstacle. It allows ideas and relationships to be viewed in new ways. Macintosh enhances not just productivity, but also creativity.”

That still defines the Mac today, four decades after it was introduced. This is why I fell in love with the Mac in the first place way back at my high school newspaper, and why I still love it today.

Plenty of people have spent this anniversary reminiscing about what the Mac means to them; Michael Tsai has a good roundup. On “Upgrade”, a six-member panel reflected on the best Macs, software, and accessories in a duplicate-free draft format; they also pointed out their “Hall of Shame” moments. It seems a little hacky for me to invite myself to add on but, heck, why not?

Without spoiling the episode, my pick for my favourite Mac has to be the one I am typing this on: the 14-inch M1 MacBook Pro. The laptop is the definitive configuration of a modern Mac, and this model is a near perfect example.

Picking my favourite Mac software is massively difficult. I dug up a seventeen year old hard drive to jog my memory, and it is a long list. From Apple, my picks are: Aperture, Exposé, the original space-themed version of Time Machine, and the ability to type special characters by using the option key. From other developers, my picks are Coda, Homebrew, NetNewsWire, Pulp, Things, and myriad joyful Twitter clients like Bluebird and Twitterrific. I could go on. If I had to pick only one to reincarnate, it would probably be Aperture.

My favourite accessory has to be the 30-inch Cinema Display. The Thunderbolt Display was a worthy successor, but the aspect ratio was just a little better on the original gigantic Apple display.

As for a Hall of Shame thing? That would be the slow but steady encroachment of single-window applications in MacOS, especially via Catalyst and Electron. The reason I gravitated toward MacOS in the first place is the same reason I continue to use it: it fits my mental model of how an operating system ought to work. I love how I can float a bunch of application windows all around my desktop and it still feels organized and workable; when I try to do the same thing on my Windows P.C. at my day job, it is nowhere near as good. Uniwindow applications rob users of the best parts of this model.

Riley Griffin, Bloomberg:

The administration plans to soon unveil the new executive order, which will direct the US Attorney General and Department of Homeland Security to issue new restrictions on transactions involving data that, if obtained, could threaten national security, according to three people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named as the details are still private.

The draft order focuses on ways that foreign adversaries are gaining access to Americans’ “highly sensitive” personal data — from genetic information to location — through legal means. That includes obtaining information through intermediaries, such as data brokers, third-party vendor agreements, employment agreements or investment agreements, according to a draft of the proposed order.

Like the X-Mode settlement earlier this year, this does not reflect a principled stance on data brokers. The Biden administration has not reached the conclusion that this shady industry trading barely-legal data is terrible for Americans’ privacy and should be abolished. Its objection to the ways in which this information can be used by political adversaries is real, sure, but it can still be made available if passed through intermediaries. There is no reliable way of geofencing the kind of data sold by these brokers; I have found my own (Canadian) personal information in databases of brokers who insist they only hoard details about U.S. citizens.

The only way to effectively restrict this trade is to reduce the amount of data that can be collected. Cut it off at the source.

Paul Kunert, the Register, September 2022:

The DRM-like mechanism [HP Dynamic Security] resulted in the print hardware returning a message that the carriage was damaged and an HP-branded toner was required. A Dutch ink seller spotted the move, saying the mass rejection was actually set up in March 2016 and the software was activated in September that year.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation then got involved, demanding HP reverse the policy, but this was ignored. However in Australia in 2018, HP offered compensation for not disclosing the software’s impact to customers that bought the devices with the DSF pre-installed or to anyone that received it via the firmware update. A class action settlement was reached in the US last December.

In Europe, a similar settlement was reached in September 2022. However, by March 2023, HP was at it again.

Scharon Harding, Ars Technica:

HP customers are showing frustration online as the vendor continues to use firmware updates to discourage or, as users report, outright block the use of non-HP-brand ink cartridges in HP printers. HP has already faced class-action lawsuits and bad publicity from “dynamic security,” but that hasn’t stopped the company from expanding the practice.

As Harding reports, HP spent years defending this practice as necessary to protect its intellectual property and to provide “the best consumer experience”, which sounds familiar. Ten months and another class action suit later, HP has another rationale to explain away this horrible practice.

Harding again, Ars:

Last Thursday, HP CEO Enrique Lores addressed the company’s controversial practice of bricking printers when users load them with third-party ink. Speaking to CNBC Television, he said, “We have seen that you can embed viruses in the cartridges. Through the cartridge, [the virus can] go to the printer, [and then] from the printer, go to the network.”


HP acknowledges that there’s no evidence of such a hack occurring in the wild. Still, because chips used in third-party ink cartridges are reprogrammable (their “code can be modified via a resetting tool right in the field,” according to Actionable Intelligence), they’re less secure, the company says. The chips are said to be programmable so that they can still work in printers after firmware updates.

In December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission noted in a blog post it would investigate specious privacy and security justifications for locking out competition:

Where dominant market participants use privacy and security as a justification to disallow interoperability and foreclose competition, the FTC will scrutinize those claims carefully to determine whether they are well-founded and not pretextual, and whether the chosen approach is tailored to minimize anticompetitive impact.

This post was seen by the New York Times as a response to the then-current controversy over Apple’s blocking of Beeper Mini. The lens in the paragraph I quoted above could easily be applied to App Store policies and HP’s printer ink shenanigans, too.

One other thing from that CNBC interview:

Andrew Ross Sorkin: Long-term mode, do you think that the idea of third-party cartridges at all are a bad idea? There should be no third-party market?

Enrique Lores: Our view is that we need to make printing as easy as possible, and our long-term objective is to make printing a subscription.

Kick rocks!

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac:

Apple will pay up to 10% more per play in royalties for tracks where a spatial version is available. This is starting with January’s payouts.

Crucially, Apple Music users do not necessarily have to listen in Spatial Audio for the artist to be rewarded with the bonus payout.

I am still iffy about the concept of Spatial Audio tracks. Like previous efforts of mixing music in surround sound, songs work best when it they are recorded with the intention of mixing in Spatial Audio. Is a ten percent bonus on the notoriously stingy payouts of music streaming services worth the effort and cost of songs made in this way?

It is probably worth keeping this tucked in the back of your mind when Apple announces at some point in the future the number of available Spatial Audio tracks.


A question the technology press loves to ask is some variation of what supplants the smartphone? and the answers are always unsatisfactory. Mainly that is the case because it does not seem like the right question. The smartphone is a near-perfect convergence device that has touched every fibre in the fabric of the world. But I think it is a perennial question because it is a device that still feels new; a personal computer, on the other hand, seems like a permanent fixture. For many people, the computer on our desk or lap feels like it has always been there.

What if it made more sense to ask: what comes after the P.C.?

It is a question worth asking not because the P.C. is old, but because we can ask if there are things which could be done better. That might be something the P.C. does right now, but not as well as we imagine it could, or it is something we wish were possible but is limited by the form factor.

In Apple’s world, the answer to this question seemed to be the iPad. While Apple began referring to the post-P.C. era well before its introduction, the iPad was the device which supercharged ideas about moving beyond the P.C. and doing everything from this new era of mobile-first devices. Yet even though it was a sales hit, particularly in its first few generations, the capabilities of the iPad have been an ongoing struggle and controversy.

Partly that is because of software design choices. iPadOS is built on iOS; it is an evolution of an operating system made for touch screens — which is a good thing — and, more specifically, for touch screen phones. It means every advanced capability we take for granted in MacOS — multitasking, layers of application windows, pointers, multiple display support — has needed to be rethought and rebuilt for a tablet-specific environment. It means we are fourteen years into the iPad experiment and, even though its screen has grown by three diagonal inches since it debuted, it remains a device that still feels connected to the 320 × 480 pixel display it rode in on.


My dad bought his first digital camera in 2004, a Nikon Coolpix 4500. I remember that bizarre swivelling camera design about as well as I remember walking into the store to buy it with him; it also happened to be an authorized Apple reseller.

On one table was an iMac G4 paired with the surprisingly good Pro Speakers. But it was the model on another table I remember most: a Power Mac G5 connected to a 30-inch Cinema Display. I could sit down in front of the “world’s fastest” P.C. and open Safari or iTunes on the world’s biggest display. Even using those boring applications felt like the business when they were projected onto this huge canvas.

Anyone who has cooked with enthusiasm knows how cramping a foolscap-sized cutting board is. Displays are exactly like that. Working on a large, high-resolution screen — just like the one I sat in front of in that Apple reseller twenty years ago — feels almost limitless, constrained only by its two dimensional form.

So what happens if the display and, with it, the impression of the entire computer were abstracted away to create an environment?

Vision Curious

Apple is calling this “spatial computing” — not virtual or augmented reality, though those are components of it. And the device with which it is entering the field is called the “Vision Pro”. That name has been dissected to no end for its suffix, Pro. It implies this is not the version for consumers, but for a more selective group of individuals: specifically, those who have $3,500 in dicking around money. But it is the Vision part of the name that I am most interested in. It is not only describing the computer-in-your-eyes aspect of the product, it conveys to me this is Apple’s perspective on where it thinks personal computing will be heading. This is truly Apple’s vision of the future. Trepidations with this version aside, I think I get it, and I think I am on board.

Even if this product, which is supposed to usher it in, is almost on users’ faces, it still seems so far away. Virtual and augmented reality are, in my mind, part of a brand new industry — but it is not. In 2023, IDC says, 8.1 million headsets were sold worldwide. For comparison, in 2014, the year before the Apple Watch went on sale, less than five million smartwatches and fitness bands were shipped, according to the now-defunct Smartwatch Group. Then Apple molded that segment in its image. Of course, how many smartwatches and headsets are being sold does not tell you how many are actually being used; it is entirely plausible that eight million drawers have a headset stuffed near the back.

Even knowing all of this, I cannot help but feel Apple is redefining the personal computer in a way that has so far eluded other attempts from it and others. Perhaps the eventual Vision line will not entirely replace the Mac, but I could see that being the case for lots of people, not just those who would also find an iPad or an iPhone an acceptable working device. Most of us have jobs that could benefit from having more space, even if we are just spending time in spreadsheets or building an email campaign. Putting a development window and a browser window side-by-side on my 27-inch iMac is workable but cramped. I am imagining how great it could be if I could put those windows all around me, plus more for different browser widths. A desktop projected across an entire field of vision is, in theory, more capable and more elegant than multiple monitors, especially if there is no discernible loss of quality.

At least, that is how it appears from the outside looking in. I have not even glanced at a Vision Pro in person, let alone spent time with one. (That is why this post is titled “Vision Curious”, not “Vision Pro Impressions”.) But it is not hard to see an ambitious roadmap: to one day augment or even replace the Mac with something simultaneously more expansive and more portable. Apple is not the first to think along these lines, but it is the first to have a full stack of hardware, operating system, and applications created specifically for this endeavour. No other company has all of those things; they are all dependent on processors of others’ design, or third-party operating systems — or both.

If I am right — if the intended trajectory of this thing is successful and it one day takes the role of the Mac for many people — the Vision Pro will benefit from a gentle introduction. Face it: computer goggles look real weird. It is probably a big reason for the failure of Google Glass, and why Microsoft’s HoloLens is only used in niche contexts. We have a lot to get used to if this category is to become commonplace, so it helps if users need to learn as few new things as possible. Perhaps the most captivating thing about what I have seen so far is the way Apple presents the software as exactly what you are used to. Even the native VisionOS versions are pitched as “the familiar apps you know and love”. As someone uneasy with this entire product category, this grounding element is important.

Of course, those same apps exist in an entirely new context. This is the part where my curiosity takes over and I have no expectations. I have read as much as I can from those who have used the Vision Pro in what are, as of writing, limited demonstration environments. I am only able to imagine what it feels like to be fully immersed in the article you are reading, a movie you are watching, a game you are playing, or something you are making.

The Vision Pro sure sounds compelling. It looks about as good as computerized ski goggles are capable of, it has some familiar qualities to prevent users from getting completely lost, and all the demo impressions I have read suggest it is a transformative experience.

Hold on, though; here is the catch: while Apple says the Vision Pro is capable of displaying a MacOS environment as a 4K display within the virtual environment, VisionOS is based on iPadOS. Given the system’s design and the way one navigates within it, this is not a surprise. Yet, here I am, already questioning whether VisionOS will be able to keep Safari tabs in memory or if it will reload them after using other applications, like iPadOS has always done. Can Photos in VisionOS create Smart Albums? Heck — can it even display Smart Albums?

Maybe VisionOS is great in ways iPadOS has not yet been able to achieve. I am optimistic. However, my impression from a distance is that a wearable computer with the capabilities of MacOS — though not necessarily running MacOS — is compelling to me, but a wearable computer with the capabilities of iPadOS is less so.

It is not just system abilities at stake, but platform restrictions, too. After Apple announced the unsurprising rules by which it would govern purchases made on iOS via links in third-party apps, I was reminded of how the Mac is an outlier in the company’s platform strategy. Every other operating system Apple makes is based on iOS in technology and policy. The Mac is special by choice. Apple could always extend more advanced operating system functionality to its other devices if it chooses. If Apple’s intention is for this headset to lay the groundwork for a mainstream Mac-adjacent platform, I hope it will not be constrained by console-like policies.

Aside from the platform-specific apprehension of an iPadOS-based product, I have questions about isolation. A headset is also necessarily personal, qualities of which Apple has both leaned into and distanced itself from. In its announcement, Apple mentions the “private […] 4K display” connected to your Mac, but is also careful to explain how “users stay connected with those around them” through the EyeSight display on the headset’s outward-facing plane.

However, none of this permits others to share the same experience. Sometimes, this is desirable, saving us from creative directors peeking at a work in progress and offering their incisive feedback unprompted. Sometimes, though, it creates friction. How many of us watch movies with a partner, or want to collaborate with a group of people on a project, or want to show the friend next to us this really funny video? Apple would probably say there are solutions for these things, like AirDrop, AirPlay, and SharePlay. These little interpersonal moments necessarily become digital.

I do not know that this is good or bad, just radically different. The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Nguyen wrote about changing interaction standards for headphones, since many have passthrough audio. A fully immersed person is another step up from that. I still think it is only respectful to remove headphones when talking to someone, just like it is always right to always turn the lights off when you are the last person to exit a room.

Apple also makes products that are better tailored to those kinds of situations, and it would be happy to sell you those. Maybe that is the way of the future for a lot of people: more devices for more specific contexts. Smartphones are convergence devices but so are laptops — just ones that are differently capable and less portable. A headset does not replace a P.C. as a do-it-all device for nearly any occasion. However, if you spend most of your computer time alone — and many of us do — it could be an example of a deconvergence device. People love their phones, so why try to replace them? They are a hub around which every other piece of technology revolves, from the headphones and smartwatch you choose to the vast app-centred economic sector.

The things which are piquing my interest and the things I am concerned about are not exclusive to the Vision Pro; lots of tech companies have tried similar concepts. If Apple is putting its weight behind it, it is clearly trying to transform it from a somewhat niche interest to major platform. Definitely not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day it will be commonplace — or, at least, that is the pitch.

The introduction of the Vision Pro felt entirely different than any recent product from a famously user-conscious company like Apple because this first version is clearly not intended for adoption by millions. Even if Apple sells every single one made this year, it will only be of minor relevance to the company’s total sales. It feels closer to a first draft than most recent all-new Apple products. For the iPad and Apple Watch, for example, none of the first-party apps were shipped in compatibility mode. Its relatively restrained launch reinforces how different the Vision Pro is in its first iteration.1

But a muted debut does not necessarily imply a lack of confidence in this category. On the contrary, I think the first impressions I have seen so far, while carefully choreographed for choice journalists, have been more convincing than an Apple executive’s enthusiastic presentation ever could be. Maybe it is a testament to marketing susceptibility, but this is the first time I have felt a headset like this has made sense. The early Oculus demos I experienced twelve years ago were technically impressive but I did not see how it could fit with what I am interested in. What I have seen from other efforts in the intervening years is a focus specifically on “augmented reality” and “virtual reality”. But gaming is not my bag, and neither is immersion in a “metaverse”, and neither, still, are persistent projections in my eye everywhere I go — as far as I know. But being able to read, write, browse the web, edit photos, and design things on a room-filling scale in high resolution with many of the tools I already use? That is exciting.

Apple’s term for this has been “spatial computing”, and I do not think that is a pure blue ocean invention of language to make it harder to compare Apple’s thing to other headset. It sounds right. There are certainly elements of augmented and virtual reality, but those are components of a more expansive imagination of what can be done when a powerful computer sits millimetres in front of your eyes.

It is poetic for the Vision Pro to ship barely more than a week after the Mac turns forty. I can hardly imagine a world without the Mac and, in a Wired interview with Steven Levy, it seems Greg Joswiak cannot either, saying it is “a product that defines who we are”. I do not think the Mac needs to die for spatial computing to succeed. However, it appears we are at the beginning of another forty-year trajectory, and I am cautiously on board.

  1. It is also the first new platform Apple has introduced in its pandemic-era prerecorded press announcement style instead of an in-person event. ↥︎

Want to experience twice as fast load times in Safari on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac?

Then download Magic Lasso Adblock — the ad blocker designed for you. It’s easy to set up, blocks all ads, and doubles the speed at which Safari loads.

Magic Lasso Adblock is an efficient and high performance ad blocker for your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It simply and easily blocks all intrusive ads, trackers, and annoyances in Safari. Just enable to browse in bliss.

Magic Lasso screenshot

By cutting down on ads and trackers, common news websites load 2× faster and use less data.

Over 280,000+ users rely on Magic Lasso Adblock to:

  • Improve their privacy and security by removing ad trackers

  • Block annoying cookie notices and privacy prompts

  • Double battery life during heavy web browsing

  • Lower data usage when on the go

And unlike some other ad blockers, Magic Lasso Adblock respects your privacy, doesn’t accept payment from advertisers, and is 100% supported by its community of users.

With over 5,000 five star reviews, it’s simply the best ad blocker for your iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Download today via the Magic Lasso website.

My thanks to Magic Lasso Adblock for sponsoring Pixel Envy this week.

David Mills, inventor of Network Time Protocol, died this week aged 85.

When I saw the news first at Ars Technica, I confess I had no idea who this person was and, while I was vaguely aware of the importance of synchronized clocks in computing, I had no full appreciation for the work involved or how fraught it is.

Nate Hopper, in a 2022 New Yorker article:

Should Internet time synchronization run on rigorously tested and battle-worn but whimsical and arguably bloated code that someone may still struggle to fully understand, even after devoting decades to it? Or should it be based on a nimbler, less pedantic standard designed by people who can’t agree on what’s best? There won’t be one answer: no open-source author has enforcement power over what implementations companies and system administrators choose to deploy. (According to Stenn, much of the Internet still utilizes version three of N.T.P., which was published in 1992.) Finding consensus can be difficult for both clocks and people. […]

This article reminded me of a list of falsehoods programmers believe about time, which I return to read every now now and again. Not because it is something I need to reference for my work, but only because it is a good reminder of how we often take for granted the most basic building blocks of society.

Something as seemingly straightforward as keeping track of time is, as it turns out, unbelievably complicated. Even if one knows this fact, it can be difficult to fully grasp. Mills was a key part of a group of people who were ultimately able to get enough things synchronized to make modern life possible.

Andy Greenberg, Wired:

When she had started that process of probing the Bitcoin ecosystem, [Sarah] Meiklejohn had seen her work almost as anthropology: What were people doing with bitcoin? How many of them were saving the cryptocurrency versus spending it? But as her initial findings began to unfold, she had started to develop a much more specific goal, one that ran exactly counter to crypto-anarchists’ idealized notion of bitcoin as the ultimate privacy-preserving currency of the dark web: She aimed to prove, beyond any doubt, that bitcoin transactions could very often be traced. Even when the people involved thought they were anonymous.

This is an excerpt from Greenberg’s 2022 book “Tracers in the Dark” which, like virtually everything Greenberg writes, I enjoyed immensely.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in November:

Last October, the Attorney General issued regulations creating the DPRC [Data Protection Review Court] within the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties at the Department of Justice. The DPRC serves as the second level of the new redress process established by the President through Executive Order 14086, which also strengthened other safeguards for U.S. signals intelligence activities. […]

This court was established after the U.S. passed the CLOUD Act in early 2018, just before the E.U.’s GDPR was to take effect. This was pointed out in a July 2020 Forbes article by Robert E.G. Beens, CEO of Startpage, who goes on to write:

The U.S. economic center of gravity is Silicon Valley. When you think about all the personal data that big tech companies can provide to U.S. government intelligence agencies, it’s not surprising that there was a “long history of close cooperation” between them and intelligence agencies’ offices.

I believe many big tech companies have an immense economic interest in making sure any online privacy regulations are weak and do not limit their business models too much because knowledge, to them, can also equal power.

I stumbled upon this article via a February 2023 Lawfare piece by Paul Rosenzweig, who linked to it in this paragraph:

The DPRC addresses a long-standing grievance among Europeans, who for years have said that they lack an adequate review and redress process for alleged privacy violations by the U.S. government and, most particularly, by the intelligence community. Though many think those complaints overstated, Biden’s executive action nonetheless constituted an effort to mitigate the charge.

Clearly, that is not Beens’ perspective, and a gross distortion of what was argued in that Forbes piece. Nevertheless, Rosenzweig does write about a curious consequence of the DPRC and which complaints against intelligence gathering operations it allows:

A fair assessment of the DPRC must also recognize that, in at least one way, its status as an executive body may be a net benefit to European complainants. This is because Europeans will have standing to bring their challenges and have them heard on the merits. Americans in American courts will not.

Rosenzweig cites Clapper v. Amnesty International establishing the inability to find standing for Americans to sue over mass surveillance by the U.S. government. You can learn more about that case over on the Five–Four podcast.

Alfred Ng and John Sakellariadis, Politico:

The court’s location is a secret, and the Department of Justice will not say if it has taken a case yet, or when it will. Though the court has a clear mandate — ensuring Europeans their privacy rights under U.S. law — its decisions will also be kept a secret, from both the EU residents petitioning the court and the federal agencies tasked with following the law. Plaintiffs are not allowed to appear in person and are represented by a special advocate, appointed by the U.S. attorney general.


“90 percent of the cases will never even see that court,” [Max] Schrems said of the DPRC. “If [intelligence agencies] do their jobs well, no one is even going to bring a case because they wouldn’t know they’re under surveillance.”

The secrecy of this court is, much like that of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a legal and civil rights nightmare waiting to happen. I cannot see that it matters whether one is more worried about the implications it may have on U.S. law or E.U. citizens, the secrecy is the problem.

It was Microsoft’s “landmark event”, according to the New York Times, and an “‘iPhone moment'” when it introduced Bing juiced with OpenAI. Google was “scrambling” because Bing was now “better”. Given how “competition is a click away”, you might think this triumph for Microsoft could manifest in a wave of new users, especially after Google’s “embarrassing” response.

Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica:

A year later, it looks like Microsoft’s AI efforts may have helped Bing on the margins, but they haven’t meaningfully eroded Google’s search market share, according to Bloomberg. Per Bloomberg’s analysis of data from Sensor Tower, Bing usage had been down around 33 percent year over year just before the AI-powered features were added, but those numbers had rebounded by the middle of 2023.

Microsoft hasn’t given an official update on Bing’s monthly active users in quite a while — we’ve asked the company for an update, and will share it if we get one — though Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Yusuf Medhi told Bloomberg that “millions and millions of people” were still using the new AI features.

You could attribute the perpetual disinterest in Bing to any number of factors: Google rapidly responded, Google remains the default in almost everybody’s browser, and Google is synonymous with online search. One thing Microsoft did get from its year of absorbing OpenAI features into its apps is a new valuation high.