Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

How to Lock Down a Compromised Skype Account

I rarely use Skype, so I was surprised when I was notified upon signing in yesterday that I needed to change my password. I didn’t really think much of it — I was about to jump into a meeting — but I was told today that one of my contacts, who I haven’t contacted over Skype in about a month, received a pretty sketchy link from me recently.

So I did a little digging and found this rather worrying November 2016 post from Tom Warren of the Verge:

This year’s attack appears to be growing in size, and Skype users might think they’re protected by Microsoft’s two-factor security, when in reality they’re probably not. Microsoft offers the ability to link a Skype and Microsoft Account together to make sign-in and security easier. If you already enabled this months ago, it turns out that Microsoft has kept your original Skype account password separate so that it can still be used to access the service with a Skype username. If that password isn’t secure or you used it elsewhere then hackers can use it to gain access to Skype, bypassing any two-factor authentication provided by Microsoft.

I spoke to a Microsoft employee, on condition of anonymity, who had a Skype account breached recently. The Microsoft employee had used two-factor authentication, but hackers were able to log in using an old Skype username and password combination. I even tested this on my own personal accounts, and I was able to log into my Skype account with an old password despite linking it to my Microsoft Account months ago. I thought I was protected by Microsoft’s two-factor authentication, but I wasn’t.

Many of us probably created our Skype accounts many years ago, well before they were acquired by Microsoft, at a time when we might have paid less attention to creating secure passwords. And because Skype is almost always accessed as an app instead of a website, most of us probably saved whatever crappy password we set at the time and forgot all about it.

It turns out that’s we haven’t been following the greatest security protocol in the world. But instead of advising users proactively, Microsoft has opted to notify users after signing in and has allowed users two ways of logging in. I think that’s a terrible policy.

You may wish to check your long-dormant Skype account to see if it was compromised, and either disable it or follow Warren’s instructions to secure it.

Chicago’s Ethics Board Fines Uber’s Former Strategist $90,000

Subrat Patnaik, Reuters:

Chicago’s ethics board voted unanimously to fine Uber Technologies Inc’s former strategist, David Plouffe, $90,000 for illegally lobbying in the city.

The ethics board said that Plouffe, who helped Uber combat onerous regulations and opposition from the taxi industry, violated the Governmental Ethics Ordinance by lobbying city officials and failing to register as a lobbyist.

I may have put together a litany of press clippings that paint a picture of Uber as a company that has repeatedly transgressed on users’ privacy and failed women as both employees and customers, but I forgot a few things: racial discrimination, their pathological objection to regulation, failure to obtain insurance, exaggerating drivers’ earnings, burdensome handout requests, hidden fees, legal problems, or their questionable business model that allows them to lose three billion dollars in one year to undercut taxi drivers in cities worldwide.

I mean, it kind of sounds bad when you put it all together like that, doesn’t it? Makes you question why anyone would continue to support a company with this kind of track record when they’re not even ten years old yet.

Mark’s Manifesto

Ben Thompson, in a well-considered response to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 5,800-word essay:

My deep-rooted suspicion of Zuckerberg’s manifesto has nothing to do with Facebook or Zuckerberg; I suspect that we agree on more political goals than not. Rather, my discomfort arises from my strong belief that centralized power is both inefficient and dangerous: no one person, or company, can figure out optimal solutions for everyone on their own, and history is riddled with examples of central planners ostensibly acting with the best of intentions — at least in their own minds — resulting in the most horrific of consequences; those consequences sometimes take the form of overt costs, both economic and humanitarian, and sometimes those costs are foregone opportunities and innovations. Usually it’s both.

Thompson’s proposed remedy is to limit Facebook’s monopoly power by restricting their ability to acquire new subsidiaries and networks, allow for portability of friends between networks, and reconsider the amount of data they collect from users.

But all of this is, I think, extremely unlikely to reduce Facebook’s ability to exploit and expand their monopoly. Their biggest lock-in is that everyone else is already there. Even if everyone could conceivably migrate their entire Facebook history to a similar network, I doubt that they would without some significant impetus to do so. Every social network with an entrenched user base has that kind of stickiness. Think of all of the people who threaten to quit Twitter after every transgression — it’s relatively easy for users to move to an alternative platform, but it’s difficult for the community to move en masse without a reason. Put more simply: users don’t abandon social networks until the social networks abandon them.

A History of Uber Since January 2014, in Excerpts

Carmel DeAmicis, reporting for Pando in January 2014:

Last month, Pando reported that an Uber driver in San Francisco had been accused of verbally and physically assaulting a passenger, James Alva. According to Alva, the driver called him a “dirty Mexican faggot” and then struck him several times when Alva tried to take a photo of him and his license plate to send to Uber.

The company confirmed that the alleged attacker was an Uber driver. However, since the police did not arrest the driver when called to the scene, the company chose not to investigate the incident further. At the time, Uber said it would temporarily suspend the driver, but not permanently ban him from driving for the company. [Updated: Since this post was published, Uber emailed to say the company deactivated this driver’s account from the system in December. Uber has not yet commented as to what prompted this change of heart.]

Throughout, Uber insisted that the driver had passed their standard background checks.

However, Pando has since learned that the driver — 28-year-old San Francisco resident Daveea Whitmire — has a criminal record, including felony and misdemeanor charges, and at least one felony conviction involving prison time. How, or why, Uber missed — or ignored — this criminal history is unclear.

In February 2014, GQ writer Mickey Rapkin spent a week as an Uber driver and interviewed CEO Travis Kalanick:

Not to make assumptions, but Kalanick probably wasn’t the first kid in his class to lose his virginity. But the way he talks now—which is large—he’s surely making up for lost time. When I tease him about his skyrocketing desirability, he deflects with a wisecrack about women on demand: Yeah, we call that Boob-er.

Gross.

Alicia Lu, writing for Bustle in October 2014:

Everyone’s favorite car service just had a major lapse in judgment. It seems that someone was thinking with their stick shift: Uber Lyon’s promotion with the Avions de Chasse app let customers be chauffeured around by amateur models instead of its regular drivers. The premise of it alone sounds pretty gross, but upon a closer look at the app’s website and the whole operation looks like the brainchild of a horny teenage boy and his older web developer friend. Coming to their senses, Uber has taken down any trace of the app and the promotion from its websites.

Matthew Williams reporting for Boing Boing in November 2014:

A few years ago, Uber posted a blog entry titled “Rides of Glory.” Uber searched its data, looking for anyone who took an Uber between 10pm and 4am on a Friday or Saturday night. Uber then searched that data for how many of the same people took another ride about four to six hours later — either from, at, or near the previous nights’ drop-off point.

“The greater the male/female ratio, the more likely that neighborhood had a Ride of Glory.”

What does this mean? Uber can track one-night stands.

Uber pulled their March 2012 post shortly after various news outlets and blogs started reporting on it in 2014.

Ben Smith of Buzzfeed in November 2014:

A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.

The executive, Emil Michael, made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn’t reflect his or the company’s views.

Sarah Lacy of Pando was the female journalist in question:

And lest you think this was just a rogue actor and not part of the company’s game plan, let me remind you Kalanick telegraphed exactly this sort of thing when he sat on stage at the Code Conference last spring and said he was hiring political operatives whose job would be to “throw mud.” I naively thought he just meant Taxi companies. Let me also remind you: This is a company you trust with your personal safety every single time you use it. Let me also remind you: The executive in question has not been fired.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Emil Michael still works at Uber.

Johana Bhuiyan and Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed in November 2014:

Early this November, one of the reporters of this story, Johana Bhuiyan, arrived to Uber’s New York headquarters in Long Island City for an interview with Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber New York. Stepping out of her vehicle — an Uber car — she found Mohrer waiting for her. “There you are,” he said, holding his iPhone and gesturing at it. “I was tracking you.”

Mohrer never asked for permission to track her.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Mohrer still works at Uber.

Johana Bhuiyan in a January 2016 followup article:

As part of the settlement, Uber has agreed to pay a penalty of $20,000 to the attorney general’s office for its failure to report unauthorized third-party access to drivers’ personal information in a timely fashion. The ride-hail company has also agreed to adopt more rigorous privacy and security practices. These practices include password-protecting and encrypting the geo-location data of Uber riders and drivers, limiting access to that information to designated employees with “legitimate business purposes”, and incorporating multi-factor authentication and other “protective technologies” to secure personal information.

Shortly before this settlement was announced, the New York Times reported that Uber was valued at $62.5 billion. At that point, $20,000 becomes just another business expense.

Charlie Warzel and Johana Bhuiyan, in a March 2016 Buzzfeed report:

According to data provided by Uber to BuzzFeed News, the company received five claims of rape and “fewer than” 170 claims of sexual assault directly related to an Uber ride as inbound tickets to its customer service database between December 2012 and August 2015.

Uber provided these numbers as a rebuttal to screenshots obtained by BuzzFeed News. The images that were provided by a former Uber customer service representative (CSR) to BuzzFeed News, and subsequently confirmed by multiple other parties, show search queries conducted on Uber’s Zendesk customer support platform from December 2012 through August 2015. Several individual tickets shown in the screenshots have also been confirmed.

[…]

In one screenshot, a search query for “sexual assault” returns 6,160 Uber customer support tickets. A search for “rape” returns 5,827 individual tickets. Other variations of the terms yield similarly high returns: A search for “assaulted” shows 3,524 tickets, while “sexually assaulted” returns 382 results.

Gabriel Samuels, in a May 2016 report for the Independent:

Uber drivers are accused of sexually assaulting or raping customers almost three times a month, according to new figures which have outraged rape campaigners.

Freedom of Information data obtained by The Sun newspaper revealed 32 assault claims were made against employees of the taxi-hailing app in London over the past twelve months, equal to one every eleven days.

The figure represents more than a fifth of all claims against taxi and car-hire drivers filed to 14 UK police forces last year, which totalled at 154 allegations including attacks in minicabs and chauffeur vehicles.

Ellie Kaufman, in a June 2016 article for Quartz:

What Uber giveth, Uber can taketh away. On May 9, Uber and Lyft stopped operating in Austin, Texas, after spending over $10 million to lobby Austin’s citizens against a city ordinance that would require ride-sharing drivers to get background checks. Voters upheld the ordinance, and the two companies pulled out of the city two days later.

[…]

In 2015 alone, 27 incidents of sexual assault or rape in Austin were reported where a driver of a ride-sharing service assaulted a passenger, according to data from the Austin Police Department. Meanwhile, only 9.2% of victims report sexual assault to the police in Texas, according to the 2015 Texas Statewide Sexual Assault Prevalence Study, and 68% of sexual assaults go unreported nationally. This means that while 27 incidents of sexual violence were reported, many more could have occurred undetected.

Mitchel Broussard, in a December 2016 MacRumors article:

A recent update to ride-hailing app Uber is generating a negative reaction online, with customers concerned over the company’s decision to track their location “from the time of trip request through five minutes after the trip ends,” no matter if the app is open or not. The only option now available for users to negate the background tracking of their location is to go into iOS Settings > Privacy > Location Services and opt-in to “Never” allow Uber location access through the iPhone.

Will Evans, in a December 2016 article for Reveal:

After news broke two years ago that executives were using the company’s “God View” feature to track customers in real time without their permission, Uber insisted it had strict policies that prohibited employees from accessing users’ trip information with limited exceptions.

But five former Uber security professionals told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that the company continued to allow broad access even after those assurances.

Susan J. Fowler, yesterday:

As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go.

[…]

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

[…]

Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being “his first offense”, and it certainly wasn’t his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his “first offense”. The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.

There is a pattern here; expect more current and ex-employees to report similar incidents.

As I was assembling these excerpts, Mike Isaac of the New York Times got ahold of a company-wide email sent by Kalanick:

It’s been a tough 24 hours. I know the company is hurting, and understand everyone has been waiting for more information on where things stand and what actions we are going to take.

Memo to Travis: nobody cares about the company itself. It’s not hurting; people have been hurt. What matters is that this stuff keeps happening, with apparently little consequence for those responsible.

Kalanick promises in the email to investigate everything Fowler disclosed and Uber’s overall attitude towards diversity in the workplace. He also discloses, for the first time, that 15% of their tech staff is female. This compares to 15% at Twitter (not 10%, as Kalanick claims), 17% at Facebook, 19% at Google (not 18%, as Kalanick claims), and 23% at Apple.

There is a deep, festering, and toxic workplace environment at Uber. It is the manifestation of its bro-ey CEO that doesn’t think that regulations should apply to his company. Creating a workplace that encourages diversity in both gender and ethnicity doesn’t seem to be very high on Kalanick’s priorities.

This is not okay. This has never been okay. Yet the only incident callous enough, in the public’s eyes, to trigger a mass boycott of Uber was when they dropped surge pricing at JFK airport after taxi drivers there went on strike following Donald Trump’s immigrant-restricting executive order.

I absolutely agree with showing support for those put at risk by sweeping policies from big, institutional powers. In this case, Uber’s drivers ought to have joined New York’s taxi drivers in protest, so users’ boycotting of the service is a straightforward way to protest Uber. But the company’s record on women’s rights, in particular, has been appalling — I didn’t even touch on rampant racism. From rape allegations made against drivers to tracking and “throwing mud” against female journalists, and an internal culture that tolerates sexism to an egregious degree, it’s clear that we must respond in force in this case, too.

So grab your phone, and delete Uber.

Update: Added the November 2014 “one night stand” post and the June 2016 report from Austin, thanks to Ryan Jones.

Techdirt Files a Motion to Dismiss Shiva Ayyadurai’s Lawsuit

Mike Masnick:

As we mentioned last month, we are currently being sued for $15 million by Shiva Ayyadurai, represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer who helped bring down Gawker. We have written, at great length, about Ayyadurai’s claims and our opinion — backed up by detailed and thorough evidence — that email existed long before Ayyadurai created any software. Once again, we believe the legal claims in the lawsuit are meritless and we intend to fight them and win. Earlier today, we filed a motion to dismiss (along with our memorandum in support) and a special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP law (along with a memorandum in support). You can see all of those below. I encourage you read through them.

The four documents prepared by Techdirt’s law firm are a well-written legalese-free “fuck you” addressed to Ayyadurai, and are well worth reading. The motion to dismiss and its corresponding supporting document take apart Ayyadurai’s case piece-by-piece in spectacularly detailed fashion. Any reasonable jury would see right through his claims.

Techdirt has also launched a survival fund. If you can, I’m sure they would appreciate your donation to help stomp out lawsuits designed to silence journalists and critics of wealthy individuals.

Acquisitions in Tech Have a Checkered History

Jan Dawson, in what amounts to a response to that dreadful Bloomberg article about Apple’s acquisition strategy:

The reality is M&A is a risky business, with one of the biggest challenges being cultural fit. That’s particularly challenging at Apple because it sees its culture as both unique and uniquely important. That means smaller deals for technology and tight-knit teams of people are a better fit than massive established businesses with large workforces. For other companies with more generic engineering and software cultures, such acquisitions may be easier.

But it’s also fair to say the biggest failures include several attempts to use big acquisitions as levers for massive strategic shifts, while the most successful acquisitions have often been logical extensions of existing businesses. Skype, Nokia, and aQuantive at Microsoft all fell into the former category, for example, whereas Zappos at Amazon, YouTube and DoubleClick at Google, and Instagram at Facebook were all fairly adjacent businesses. Big strategic shifts have rarely been enabled by taking on entirely new and different businesses – those are often best established through organic change or technology acquisitions which enable broader changes.

Apple has made plenty of acquisitions, most of which have been at relatively low prices for what they returned: custom silicon, Siri, NeXT, Steve friggen Jobs, and so on. They just don’t do acquisitions like the investment bankers in that Bloomberg article think that they should.

‘Quasistatic Cavity Resonance for Ubiquitous Wireless Power Transfer’

Matthew Chabalko, Mohsen Shahmohammadi, and Alanson Sample of Disney Research:

Wireless power delivery has the potential to seamlessly power our electrical devices as easily as data is transmitted through the air. However, existing solutions are limited to near contact distances and do not provide the geometric freedom to enable automatic and un-aided charging. We introduce quasistatic cavity resonance (QSCR), which can enable purpose-built structures, such as cabinets, rooms, and warehouses, to generate quasistatic magnetic fields that safely deliver kilowatts of power to mobile receivers contained nearly anywhere within.

This is still pretty experimental — the paper shows the setup in Fig. 3, and it’s transmitting power via a giant copper pole and conductive walls. Still, this appears to be one hell of a leap over previous wireless power solutions in terms of both its compactness and flexibility. One photo in the paper shows an iPhone mounted in a slim case with a receiver.

Just imagine a future where transmitters like these are as ubiquitous as WiFi, and the possibilities that open up when batteries can be that much smaller or, perhaps, unnecessary, in some applications.

Vice: Apple to Fight Right to Repair Legislation in Nebraska

Jason Koebler, Vice:

The legislation would require Apple and other electronics manufacturers to sell repair parts to consumers and independent repair shops, and would require manufacturers to make diagnostic and service manuals available to the public.

[…]

According to the source, an Apple representative, staffer, or lobbyist will testify against the bill at a hearing in Lincoln on March 9. AT&T will also argue against the bill, the source said. The source told me that at least one of the companies plans to say that consumers who repair their own phones could cause lithium batteries to catch fire. Motherboard is protecting the identity of the source because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

[…]

The idea that it’s “unsafe” to repair your own devices is one that manufacturers have been promoting for years. Last year, industry lobbyists told lawmakers in Minnesota that broken glass could cut the fingers of consumers who try to repair their screens, according to Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org. Byrne said she will also testify at the Nebraska hearing and “plans to bring band aids.”

I get that Apple, IBM, John Deere, and others would all prefer that this legislation doesn’t pass because it will impact their revenue. As much as I like the idea of this bill, I expect most tech companies to lobby against it. But their arguments are, so far, terrible. Lithium ion batteries and broken glass are dangerous, sure, but give people some credit — it’s not that hard to make a battery or screen swap. If I were a legislator, I wouldn’t be convinced by their arguments.

Update: Koebler in a newer article:

But the prospect of a Cupertino-based megacorporation losing business to local repair shops isn’t a very sympathetic argument at the Nebraska statehouse. And so Apple has tried a slew of other tactics, according to state Sen. Lydia Brasch, who was recently visited by Steve Kester, an Apple state government affairs specialist.

“Apple said we would be the only state that would pass this, and that we would become the mecca for bad actors,” Brasch, who is sponsoring the bill, told me in a phone call. “They said that doing this would make it very easy for hackers to relocate to Nebraska.”

These arguments are still unconvincing, and getting worse.

I don’t get why Apple apparently isn’t making an argument for innovation. For example, they could point to the Touch ID sensor’s pairing system and explain that, while it sacrifices repairability of the home button, it makes the system more secure. I’m not sure if a Nebraskan lawmaker would be convinced by this, but it’s far less bullshitty than the arguments Koebler has been reporting.

Canada and E.U. Set to Ratify CETA

Janyce McGregor, CBC News:

The European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday approved the Canada-EU trade agreement after a noisy and sometimes emotional debate.

Roughly 58 per cent of the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), setting the stage for provisional application of nearly 90 per cent of the agreement later this spring.

“This is a deal for the people,” International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said after the vote, emphasizing how the agreement will offer consumers more choice and lower costs.

The good news is that CETA will generally reduce the price of European imports in Canada, including for cars, wine, and cheese. You can imagine how happy I am.

The bad news is that the intellectual property provisions in the agreement are, generally, pretty poor. The agreement makes it illegal to create, distribute, or market any product or device that could work around DRM; it also makes it illegal for consumers to modify or strip DRM, or distribute any information on how to break DRM. That’s unpleasant.

WWDC 2017 Is June 5–9

The biggest news this year — well, so far, at least — is that it’s heading back to the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, site of the first-ever WWDC.

John Gruber got to speak to Phil Schiller yesterday about this announcement, and they’re not making the move back to San Jose for the reason I thought they might:

I asked whether the move to San Jose changed the number of people who’d be able to attend. Schiller said it did not — attendance will be about the same.

Moscone West, the site of every WWDC’s labs and sessions since 2003, has a combined floor space of about 300,000 square feet. The McEnery has about 25% more space. But I bet attendance isn’t limited by floor space as much as it is by keeping the employee-to-attendee ratio low.

A cursory glance at a couple of travel sites indicates that it’s going to be a little bit less expensive to stay in San Jose than it is in San Francisco. I’m seeing a bunch of hotels at $150–250 per night which, while not cheap, adds up to some substantial savings over the week. Rooms are going really fast, so if you’re thinking about going for the atmosphere, start looking right away.

Update: It’s a fifteen minute drive drive from the convention centre to Apple Campus 2, so I’m sure they’ll have some events there as well. Perhaps the Bash? It’s only twelve kilometres away; enterprising attendees could walk that route if they felt like it.

Stuart McLean Dies Aged 68

Deana Sumanac-Johnson and Jessica Wong, CBC News:

Stuart McLean, the host of CBC Radio’s The Vinyl Café and an award-winning humorist, has died at age 68 after a battle with melanoma.

McLean’s trademark blend of storytelling — part nostalgia, part pithy observations about everyday life — and folksy, familiar delivery made him a hit with audiences for more than 20 years. But he always maintained that success came as a surprise to him.

McLean’s voice on the Vinyl Café is etched into the minds of many Canadians. I think it’s worth etching into yours as well.

The Fake Market Tactic

Anil Dash:

[…] by carefully describing drivers in their system as “entrepreneurs” and appropriating the language of true markets, Uber has been welcomed by communities and policymakers as if they were creating a new marketplace. That has serious implications for policy, regulation and even civil rights. For example, we can sincerely laud Uber for making it easier for African American passengers to reliably hail a car when they need a ride, but if persistent patterns of bias from drivers arise again in the Uber era, we’ll have a harder time regulating those abuses because Uber doesn’t usually follow the same policies as licensed taxis.

These pseudo-market patterns also mask patterns of subsidy, like the fact that Uber’s current operations are subsidized by investors to the tune of $2 billion per year. That’s a cost that will be immediately passed along to consumers as soon as Uber succeeds in displacing conventional taxis.

A thought-provoking piece on our inability to reconcile the speed of the evolution of marketplaces with the regulations required to control monopolization and consumer-unfriendly behaviours.

Yahoo Notifies Users of Security Breach, in News That Is Not a Repeat From 2012, 2013, and 2014

Shortly after Verizon announced in July their purchase of Yahoo for slightly less than Yahoo paid for Broadcast.com, a series of alarming news articles came out notifying users of one data breach after another. In 2012, 200 million accounts were compromised; in 2013, a billion; and, in 2014, 500 million accounts were breached. In every case, Verizon said that they were unaware of these incidents until just before Yahoo disclosed them to the press and to users.

With three very high-profile incidents like these, the Verizon acquisition felt a little like it might collapse. However, earlier today, Bloomberg reported that the deal was finally ready to go through — for $250 million less than initially announced:

Verizon Communications Inc. is close to a renegotiated deal for Yahoo! Inc.’s internet properties that would reduce the price of the $4.8 billion agreement by about $250 million after the revelation of security breaches at the web company, according to people familiar with the matter.

In addition to the discount, Verizon and the entity that remains of Yahoo after the deal, to be renamed Altaba Inc., are expected to share any ongoing legal responsibilities related to the breaches, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. An announcement of the new agreement could come in a matter of days or weeks, said the people. The revised agreement isn’t final and could still change, they said.

Then, just a few hours after Bloomberg broke this news, the Associated Press reported yet another lapse in security:

Yahoo is warning users of potentially malicious activity on their accounts between 2015 and 2016, the latest development in the internet company’s investigation of a mega-breach that exposed 1 billion users’ data several years ago.

Yahoo confirmed Wednesday that it was notifying users that their accounts had potentially been compromised but declined to say how many people were affected.

There has now been a problem with Yahoo’s security every single year for the past five years. These incidents affect nearly two billion accounts cumulatively, thereby undermining the security of basically all of their users across the web.

First Look at Planet of the Apps

Husain Sumra, MacRumors:

The format of the show is similar to that of fellow talent-based reality shows The Voice and Shark Tank. Aspiring app developers descend down an escalator while pitching four judges on their idea. By the time they get to the bottom, the judges must swipe left or right to demonstrate whether they’re interested. If multiple judges swipe right on a contestant, the contestant gets to choose who they want to pair with. Once paired, the developer goes through an incubator period, getting advise from developers at big companies like Uber, until it’s ready enough to pitch to Lightspeed Venture Partners for funding.

I watched the trailer; it doesn’t look good. I like the “escalator pitch” idea, and I think Gary Vaynerchuk and Jessica Alba will be reasonably competent. But I have reservations about Gwyneth Paltrow and Will.I.Am’s involvement. And then there’s the actual premise of the show:

[Eddy Cue] says Apple is just starting out with original content, but that it wants to do more. When asked whether it could see itself becoming Netflix, Cue said Apple wants to see where it can go with its own strategy. Cue later emphasized that Apple doesn’t just want to buy shows, denying that Apple was ever interested in purchasing The Grand Tour. Instead, Apple only wants to make shows that are unique and “create culture.”

I’ve seen more than a few people write this off as a dramatized version of app development — compiling code and funding rounds, as seen through a reality TV filter. I think that’s overly kind. The premise is derivative, and the clips — so far — seem mediocre and dull. What has been shown so far does a disservice to the vast majority of developers, too.

Meanwhile, for all its faults, the Grand Tour had a genuinely good first season by its end. It may have been a shameless knockoff of the Top Gear format, but it was presented by the same cast that made Top Gear a worldwide phenomenon, and it was a genuine joy to watch. If anything, it managed to make the most recent iteration of Top Gear on the BBC look like the knock-off, not the Grand Tour.

Kirk McElhearn (via Michael Tsai):

A reality show isn’t creating culture, it’s copying a format that is tired. Reality TV is the Android phone of TV shows, and Apple could surely do better.

No matter whether I’m the right audience for this, shouldn’t Apple be shooting for more than a knockoff of X Factor, but with the singing bits replaced with clips of developers asking wealthy VCs for money?

I also think the distribution of this TV show is confused. For some reason, it will be made available through Apple Music within the Music app, despite Apple having an app literally called “TV”.

Sure, the show hasn’t come out yet. I’ll give it a shot — I’m an Apple Music subscriber, so why not? But I’m pessimistic about its chances of clearing my already-low expectations for it.

Facebook to Begin Autoplaying Video With Sound in News Feed

Buried amongst Facebook’s announcements at Code Conference comes this nugget of terrible, per Kurt Wagner:

Autoplay videos in News Feed will now play with the sound on, assuming your phone is not on silent. You can disable this feature in settings.

Anyone else getting the feeling that management at Facebook has nothing but contempt for their users?

Potential National Security Lapses by Flashlight

Philip Bump, Washington Post:

Notice, though, that the photos appear to corroborate an important detail from the CNN report. “The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents,” Liptak writes. In DeAgazio’s first photo, you can see a phone flashlight being used in that way.

Why is this important? Mobile phones have flashlights, yes — and cameras, microphones and Internet connectivity. When Edward Snowden was meeting with reporters in Hong Kong at the moment he was leaking the material he’d stolen from the NSA, he famously asked that they place their phones in the refrigerator — blocking any radio signals in the event that the visitors’ phones had been hacked. This was considered the most secure way of ensuring that the phones couldn’t be used as wiretaps, even more secure than removing the battery. Phones — especially phones with their flashes turned on for improved visibility — are portable television satellite trucks and, if compromised, can be used to get a great deal of information about what’s happening nearby, unless precautions are taken.

A 2014 report (PDF) by SnoopWall, an anti-malware developer, found that the ten most popular flashlight apps for Android overreached the permissions they required to run. All of them had permission to capture photos and get network access. In a 2016 CBS report, SnoopWall founder Gary Miliefsky said that one flashlight app his company studied captured audio and transmitted recordings to a server in Beijing.

None of this may have happened in this incident — we’re unlikely to ever know because of the inherently secretive nature of the subject — but it could have happened because of careless disregard for basic security precautions.

Update: On February 3, Senators Tom Udall and Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter to the president asking about what background checks and security precautions are employed at the Mar-a-Lago estate. No administration officials responded.

The Life of Apps Outside of the Mac App Store

A couple of weeks ago, I linked to Jeffrey Johnson’s account of Underpass, his new app, charting in the Mac App Store with a single sale. I wrote:

Of note, most of the apps ahead of Underpass are third-party implementations of popular iOS apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. And, at number thirteen in the Top Grossing chart, Apple’s long-outdated FaceTime app. That doesn’t sound like a healthy ecosystem.

Underpass is available exclusively in the App Store. Now, I want to look at the opposite of that situation. In the past two months, two other developers have shared their accounts of taking their apps out of the Mac App Store.

First, here’s Bogdan Popescu, writing one hundred days after Dash was removed from the App Store:

All of Dash’s App Store revenue has migrated to direct sales, with a slight increase.

[…]

Most of the App Store users of Dash 3 have migrated their license to the direct version. I was able to use the in-app notification mechanism I had to let them know about what’s going on so that they don’t get cut off from the app they paid for.

Paul Kafasis of Rogue Amoeba, writing about selling Piezo outside of the App Store for a full year:

The Mac App Store previously made up about half of Piezo’s unit sales, so we might have expected to sell half as many copies after exiting the store. Instead, it seems that nearly all of those App Store sales shifted to direct sales. It appears that nearly everyone who would have purchased Piezo via the Mac App Store opted to purchase directly once that was the only option. Far from the Mac App Store helping drive sales to us, it appears we had instead been driving sales away from our own site, and into the Mac App Store.

Remarkable; yet, judging by the condition of the Mac App Store, unsurprising.

The Mac App Store could have been a golden opportunity for developers. In a hypothetical world, having Apple handle credit card processing, automatic updates, quality assurance, and curation, plus putting their marketing muscle behind the store — all of these factors could have made developers happy to give up 30% of their potential revenue. But the large number and aggressive types of limitations required for apps in the store combined with Apple’s rather lax quality controls has made the Mac App Store a combined flea market and glorified Software Update utility.

Google Launches Shareable Location Lists in Maps

Valentina Palladino, Ars Technica:

The new feature adds another layer to the already-existing “save” option in Google Maps. Once you pinpoint a desired location, you can hit the “save” button to reveal a number of premade lists including “Want to Go,” “Starred,” and “Favorites.” Then you can choose the list you want the location to live in, or create a new list with a personalized title like “Vacation.” In Google Maps’ menu, you can find all your saved lists in the “Your Places” folder when you want to recall saved locations. Now each list will have a “share” button as well, which lets you grab its link to share with others or share it via different social networks. This should make it easier to share things like favorite restaurants and shopping locations with visiting out-of-town family and the like.

This is one of those features that most of us aren’t going to use very often, but when we need it, we really need it. If you’re after something similar for Apple Maps, I’ve been using Relay since it launched and I love it.

Deleted Browser History Was Being Synced With iCloud

Vladimir Katalov of ElcomSoft:

Our latest discovery concerns synced Safari history. While researching this sync, we discovered that deleting a browsing history record makes that record disappear from synced devices; however, the record still remains available (but invisible) in iCloud. We kept researching, and discovered that such deleted records can be kept in iCloud for more than a year. We updated Elcomsoft Phone Breaker to give it the ability to extract such deleted records from the cloud. Moreover, we were able to pull additional information about Safari history entries including the exact date and time each record was last visited and deleted!

Katalov says that, since being notified, Apple is now purging records older than two weeks. Apparently, however, they’re retaining synced history items deleted within the past two weeks. I see no logical reason why records of items removed from a user’s browsing history should remain synced for any length of time.

The Web Really Sucks if You Have a Slow Connection

Dan Luu:

A couple years ago, I took a road trip from Wisconsin to Washington and mostly stayed in rural hotels on the way. I expected the internet in rural areas too sparse to have cable internet to be slow, but I was still surprised that a large fraction of the web was inaccessible. Some blogs with lightweight styling were readable, as were pages by academics who hadn’t updated the styling on their website since 1995. But very few commercial websites were usable (other than Google). When I measured my connection, I found that the bandwidth was roughly comparable to what I got with a 56k modem in the 90s. The latency and packetloss were significantly worse than the average day on dialup: latency varied between 500ms and 1000ms and packetloss varied between 1% and 10%. Those numbers are comparable to what I’d see on dialup on a bad day.

Despite my connection being only a bit worse than it was in the 90s, the vast majority of the web wouldn’t load. Why shouldn’t the web work with dialup or a dialup-like connection? It would be one thing if I tried to watch youtube and read pinterest. It’s hard to serve videos and images without bandwidth. But my online interests are quite boring from a media standpoint. Pretty much everything I consume online is plain text, even if it happens to be styled with images and fancy javascript. In fact, I recently tried using w3m (a terminal-based web browser that, by default, doesn’t support css, javascript, or even images) for a week and it turns out there are only two websites I regularly visit that don’t really work in w3m (twitter and zulip, both fundamentally text based sites, at least as I use them).

I’m embarrassed to say that this site, despite my best efforts, remains very slow on a simulated 56K dialup connection, averaging around thirty seconds for the homepage to load. That’s miles better than a typical news site, which would simply fail to load, but it’s nowhere near as good as some of the more stripped-down sites that Luu tested. Since this site has a stylesheet and a little bit of JavaScript, I’m not sure it will ever become that quick, but it’s worth aiming for. Why?

The flaw in the “page weight doesn’t matter because average speed is fast” is that if you average the connection of someone in my apartment building (which is wired for 1Gbps internet) and someone on 56k dialup, you get an average speed of 500 Mbps. That doesn’t mean the person on dialup is actually going to be able to load a 5MB website. The average speed of 3.9 Mbps comes from a 2014 Akamai report, but it’s just an average. If you look at Akamai’s 2016 report, you can find entire countries where more than 90% of IP addresses are slower than that!

Your site may not explicitly target visitors in those countries, but if we’re building websites for the World Wide Web, we ought to be more considerate of users everywhere.

Sufficiently Great

I have a small confession to make. Bad arguments dressed with the tinsel of pseudo-intellectualism are like catnip to me: they drive me crazy, and I’m a total sucker for batting them around. Deep in my heart, I know that’s the intent of the author of any of these articles, yet I can’t help but want to dress them down.

So, here’s Ian Bogost, writing for the Atlantic:

Apple has great design is the biggest myth in technology today.

Alright, I’ll bite.

The only problem with this conclusion: Apple has never accomplished sufficiently great design in its electronics to justify lionizing the pedantry of design at the new Apple campus.

A bold opener. But what is “sufficiently great design”, in the context of industrial design or consumer products? One definition might be that a product becomes widely-imitated, yet never loses its iconic status. Consumer laptops, for example, have coalesced around a blueprint established by the MacBook Air. After the iPhone was released, all smartphones became iPhone iterations. If we reach back a little farther, to before Jony Ive was at Apple, virtually every laptop that succeeded the PowerBook 100 has imitated its layout.

It’s not so much that these products were popular that evidences “sufficiently great design”. It’s that all of these products established the de facto standard for the design of their product category:

  • The PowerBook 100 was the first laptop to be sold with its keyboard near the hinge of the case, creating an area for a palmrest and pointing device below it. That’s been the basic design language of laptops ever since.

  • The first MacBook Air was thin and light, and forecast the way the rest of Apple’s laptops — and then much of the industry’s imitations — would be built. The version first released in 2010 came with solid state storage as standard, and created the blueprint for most of the consumer laptops on sale today.

  • The iPhone’s litany of contributions to the modern smartphone need not be restated. It, once again, set the standard for every phone that followed.

But there’s more to great design than its capacity to be imitated. Design, after all, is about how something works in addition to how it looks. And that’s where Bogost starts to sink his teeth in:

Starting with the iPhone 5S, first released in 2014, Apple adopted a software-controlled fingerprint sensor mounted on the home button. Known as Touch ID, the feature allows users to authenticate to unlock the phone, download products from the App Store, and make payments at participating retailers with Apple Pay. But even the slightest disturbance on a finger makes Touch ID unreliable. Washed your hands recently? Ate a banana? Dug in the dirt of the garden? Touched something too warm, or too cold, for too long? Good luck authenticating with your fingerprint. A mere inconvenience when unlocking the phone, but Apple Pay won’t work at all without Touch ID. So fat chance using that new digital wallet on a rainy day, or after tactically interacting with worldly substances.

Everything that has ever been designed has required a series of decisions based on what’s possible, what’s necessary for the final product, and what reasonable compromises can be made for everything to work correctly. “Sufficiently great design”, in this context, is also about making choices and compromises that produce a better product in typical use.

In this case, the Touch ID sensor allows for a very quick way to authenticate a transaction without requiring anything to be typed or finely-manipulated with one’s fingers. In a typical use case — while holding the phone very close to an NFC sensor at a checkstand, for instance — that’s a better user experience than any currently-available alternative I can think of.

As for Bogost’s specific complaints, I’ve never had anything like those problems with Touch ID on my iPhone. Between the built-in error correction and the fast sensor in my 6S, it works almost unbelievably well virtually every time. On the off chance my fingerprint fails to read, quickly wiping my thumb on a tissue or my jeans is enough to make it work. And, realistically, if your fingers are muddy from digging in the garden, is your first instinct going to be to reach for your smartphone without washing your hands?

In 2008, [Jobs] revealed the first run of the impossibly-thin MacBook Air by sliding it dramatically out of a manila envelope. Amazing! Less so, but not shown: the inch-thick power adapter needed to charge the device. Apple still hasn’t even attempted to reduce the size — and particularly the bulky thickness — of its power supplies, even as it has systematically reduced the girth of its computers.

This argument is silly. AC adaptors are limited by two things: the width of a plug, and physics. AC adaptors are already about the same width as a typical North American or Korean outlet, and they make full use of their available space, mostly for safety reasons.

Bogost’s article contains a series of other complaints: the USB-C ports in the new MacBook Pro, the flaws of autocorrect, iTunes, and larger iPhones that are harder to handle. But poking at these individual products — and I have, too — misses the larger scope of why Apple can be considered great at design. Bogost:

Steve Jobs’s design philosophy was fascist more than it was exacting. The man was a not a demigod of design, but its dictator. He made things get made the way he wanted them made, and his users appreciated his definitiveness and lack of compromise. They mistook those conceits for virtues in the objects themselves.

The argument that Jobs was an unredeeming tyrant has been made countless times while he was alive and since his death. It’s never going to go away. The simple fact is that his general direction was, more often than not, right.

Bogost’s implication that Jobs did not compromise or that he didn’t invite argument or debate is complete bullshit, as has been documented extensively.1 The difference between the compromises that Apple has made while designing their products and those that their competitors have made is that Apple’s have generally been produced from a specific thread of Apple-yness. It’s the reason why Bogost is able to write an article like this where he points out that it’s decidedly unApple-y for the Lightning cable that comes with every new iPhone to require an adaptor to be plugged into a new MacBook. For something like that to feel unApple-y requires a general sense of what does feel Apple-y.

(Also, including the word “fascist” in an article is a great way to get noticed in 2017.)

At a time when every company bows to even the most absurd demands of the consumer, Apple never cared what its customers thought, or wanted. Instead it told them what to like, and how to like it. What a relief! The corporate design autocracy obviates the need for decision-making. Computer users won’t use floppy disks because there is no floppy drive. Later, likewise optical drives. Later, likewise mini-stereo headphone jacks. To ascribe such choices to design — or to courage — is a mistake. As I have argued before, Apple is expert at getting people to commit to Apple’s future without pondering how technology could have evolved differently.

The prior articles Bogost wrote include paragraphs objecting to the superseding of the CD-RW by the iPod and, yes, bemoaning the loss of the floppy disk. Pardon my stating the obvious, but what he fails to acknowledge is that the replacements in every single case he cites are objectively better. An iPod is a far better way to carry around a bunch of music than is a stack of CDs. Going back a generation, I don’t really need to mention how much better it is to listen to real sound recordings than it is the MIDI interpretations of them, because that’s all that would fit on a floppy.

And Apple’s bets have seemed to pay off. While there are myriad flaws in the argument that better products sell more units, the simple fact is that if the issues Bogost raises — including the obligatory whining about the dumping of the headphone jack from the iPhone — were truly show-stopping for most people, most people would not buy one. If you absolutely need a DVD drive in 2017, you’re not going to consider any of Apple’s laptops, and they’re okay with that. Their standpoint on that is, quite literally, by design.

(Also, including the word “autocracy” in an article is a great way to get noticed in 2017.)

The attention to detail around door handles and thresholds might feel like a design methodology so pedantic at the micro-level that it could only ever produce greatness at the macro.

But one could also compare the zombified reality of Apple workers plodding to work over the carefully unperturbed thresholds in their new spaceship headquarters to the sleepy drone of an army built to abide rather than to think, let alone think different. The same invisible doorways lead to and from the authorized chambers of work and gardens of leisure. So exacting!

These are, I think, the paragraphs where Bogost’s argument truly disintegrates. I’ve never worked at Apple, but not a single employee or ex-employee I’ve asked about their time there has responded by stating that they “abide rather than […] think”. When you read anything an ex-employee has written about their time at the company or hear about an interaction that someone has had with a current employee, the clearest thing that comes through is that the people working on these products really, really care about their work. That’s, perhaps, a third pillar of “great design”: true care and passion.

That leads me to addressing an argument that opened Bogost’s essay:

But if Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, when this premise is tested, it comes up wanting. In truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.

“Sufficiently great design” does not, of course, mean “free of imperfections”. But it’s also something that cannot be read solely through details. Bogost’s argument is, therefore, backwards. Apple’s biggest contribution to design has been their ability to project a broader vision of consumer electronics at vast scale while still keeping an eye on the details.

Maybe you’re someone who’s getting bored with Apple. Maybe you’re frustrated by some of the decisions they’ve made — anyone who reads this site regularly will know that I certainly am. But, as I wrote above, great design is a process of compromises and decisions. Apple’s products are not perfect, but the company’s contributions to design from both aesthetic and functional perspectives is impossible to deny. They have, truly, produced some of the most iconic, popular, industry-changing, revolutionary designs of the past fifty years. If that’s not “sufficiently great”, I don’t know what is.


  1. Steve Jobs at D in 2007: “At Apple it’s about ideas, and we argue about ideas constantly.” ↩︎

Apple’s Goals for the Mac Operating System

Stephen Hackett:

In that keynote — which has been mostly forgotten today — Schiller said that Mac OS X was designed to power the Mac “at least fifteen years, or more.”

We now live in that more timeframe.

Schiller’s statement was prescient — last year, around the fifteenth anniversary of his comment, Mac OS X was rebranded to be more in line with the nomenclature used for Apple’s other operating systems.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai, Telecom Companies’ Best Friend

Cecilia Kang of the New York Times summarizes new FCC char Ajit Pai’s first few days on the job:

Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to break open the cable box market.

In total, as the chairman of the F.C.C., Mr. Pai released about a dozen actions in the last week, many buried in the agency’s website and not publicly announced, stunning consumer advocacy groups and telecom analysts. They said Mr. Pai’s message was clear: The F.C.C., an independent agency, will mirror the Trump administration’s rapid unwinding of government regulations that businesses fought against during the Obama administration.

“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes,” said Matt Wood, the policy director at the consumer group Free Press.

“The public wants an F.C.C. that helps people,” he added. “Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

Hamza Shaban at Buzzfeed:

While Chair Pai has declined to say what measures he will take to dismantle or diminish net neutrality, he made his opposition to the open internet rules clear during his first meeting as the agency’s chief last week. “My present position is pretty simple: I favor a free and open internet and I oppose Title II,” he said, referring to the classification of broadband companies as akin to utilities, subject to more robust regulation.

In response to the criticism of Chair Pai at the press conference Tuesday, a spokesperson for the FCC told BuzzFeed News: “Consistent with the bipartisan consensus dating back to the Clinton Administration, Chairman Pai supports a free and open Internet but opposes heavy-handed Title II regulation. The Internet was free and open before the 2015 party-line vote imposing these Depression-Era regulations.”

The reversal of the decision to classify ISPs as common carriers would be a serious setback for net neutrality. Pai has previously made clear his objection to a Title II classification for ISPs. I don’t see how the principles of net neutrality can be effectively enforced without resorting to Title II.

The State of iBooks and Companion Software

Daniel Steinberg:

I’ve joked that if Eddie Cue loved reading the way he clearly loves music, then iBooks, the iBookstore, and iBooks Author would be amazing. Not only aren’t they amazing, they aren’t even good.

It’s like they’ve assigned a committed carnivore to design the meals and cook for Vegans. You need someone who loves and understands vegetables and shares the commitment to not using meat or meat products.

You’ve probably seen this piece shared all over, and rightfully so: Apple has barely mentioned iBooks in the past year, and — outside of home screen shots — iBooks isn’t featured on any of Apple’s iPad product webpages.

On iBooks Author, Steinberg writes:

iBooks Author could have been a trojan horse into the personal publishing business. It would have been classic Apple. Instead of small authors going to Amazon’s platform, they would have started with iBooks Author. Apple should have made it easy for them to push to Amazon as well. Why? Because these people wanted to publish on Amazon but they weren’t considering publishing with Apple. Thousands of authors would have come to Apple to create content and stayed with Apple after publishing content there.

OK, so iBooks Author is essentially abandonware, what about iBooks and the iBookstore.

Bradley Metrock takes issue with Steinberg’s use of “abandonware”:

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: iBooks Author isn’t abandonware, as this post claims. Calling iBooks Author ‘abandonware’ is not just factually false, but it is also a disrespectful slap in the face to the growing, diverse communities of content creators out there using it. I wish that description weren’t in this otherwise strong and insightful post.

iBooks Author was most recently updated in September; prior to that, it was updated almost exactly one year prior. That’s a glacial pace for an app, but it isn’t out of line with many of Apple’s other Mac applications. Pages, for example, saw its last major update to 6.0 in September, and the version prior — 5.6 — was released in October 2015. In between these updates were two minor bug fixing releases.

A 2016 poll by Pew Research indicated that Americans aged 18–29 were the most likely of any adult age group to have read a book in any format in the prior twelve months, and the most likely to have read an e-book in the same timeframe. That figure is likely juiced by required post-secondary reading, but there’s clearly a big market of avid readers out there. Maybe Apple isn’t the right company to go after them, but I think there’s a tremendous opportunity that Apple is sleeping on.

The Best WordPress Client for the Mac

Stephen Hackett reviewed for the Sweet Setup different WordPress clients for the Mac, and came to the correct conclusion:

If you’re like me and would rather use a desktop application than a web app to manage your WordPress site, MarsEdit is the best route. It’s full of features, easy to use, and feels right at home on macOS.

There really is no contest. I only wish I could find something as good as MarsEdit for my iPhone and iPad.

Deteriorating Belief in Silicon Valley

For the Atlantic, Anna Wiener reviewed Alexandra Wolfe’s new book about Thiel Fellowship recipients from 2011 until 2016:

[Wolfe] also undercuts her own point about the disruptive ethos of the place. “Today’s uber-nerds are like the robber barons of the industrial revolution whose steel and automobile manufacturing capabilities changed entire industries,” she writes. “But instead of massive factories and mills, they’re doing it with little buttons.” Portraying Silicon Valley’s powerful as “uber-nerds” who struck it rich is as reductive and unhelpful as referring to technology that integrates personal payment information and location tracking as “little buttons.” The effect is not only to protect them behind the shield of presumed harmlessness, but also to exempt them from the scrutiny that their economic and political power should invite.

The sort of mythology that celebrates a small handful of visionaries and co-founders blurs important social realities. Technology has always been a collective project. The industry is also cyclical. Many failed ideas have been resuscitated and rebranded as successful products and services, owned and managed by people other than their originators. Behind almost every popular app or website today lie numerous shadow versions that have been sloughed away by time. Yet recognition of the group nature of the enterprise would undermine a myth that legitimizes the consolidation of profit, for the most part, among a small group of people.

This is a recurring trope I’ve seen amongst those who report on Silicon Valley — even from technology-centric reporters.

The Neglected Touch Down State

Max Rudberg:

When iOS 10 was introduced, I had hoped to see more borrowed from watchOS, because it does a great job of providing animated feedback to taps of buttons and other elements.

[…]

In comparison, iOS feels stiff to the touch.

This is, as always, a great post from Rudberg. I think his proposed example shows promise, but I wonder if it’s something that would complement 3D Touch actions or distract from them.

Seven Years of ‘A Big iPhone’

Dr. Drang:

The biggest problem for the iPad is Apple’s unwillingness to let it become its own thing. Development of iOS is driven by the iPhone, which probably shouldn’t have the tools of a regular computer. But the iPad needs at least some of those tools if it’s to fulfill Apple’s promise to be a laptop replacement. Being yoked to the iPhone is holding it back.

This feels exactly right to me. The biggest news in iPad in recent years was the introduction of split screen multitasking and picture-in-picture video, neither of which are available on the iPhone.

Apple has long said that the iPad’s big display provides the opportunity to create a completely different app experience. At the first Retina iPad event, Tim Cook even spent stage time mocking Android tablet apps that looked like large phone apps.

But now, five years after that event, it’s not so much the apps that are scaled-up versions of a smartphone, but rather that the operating system seems largely driven by what the iPhone can do. This was an early criticism of the iPad, but I felt it was unwarranted at the time — a larger version of a familiar interface is a great way to introduce a new product category.

Five years on, I wish it felt a little more like the iPad got to be true to itself. I’m not saying that it needs its own operating system or anything, but when I see a screenshot of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s home screen that looks broadly identical to an upscaled version of my iPad Mini, I see a less compelling rationale for upgrading.

Bundled Lightning Cables Are Still USB-A Models

In my confused coverage of the definitely not new “Ultra Accessory Connector” that appeared on the confidential MFi partner site earlier today, I wrote:

Amidst the migration of Mac peripherals to USB-C, and the replacement of wired headphones with wireless models, I’m a little confused about how this fits into the bigger picture.

The short answer is that the UAC connector just another option for accessory makers, in addition to USB-A, USB-C, and Lightning. I don’t know how many manufacturers will end up using it over other connector options, but there’s one company I’m surprised hasn’t made the commitment towards a newer connector: Apple. Every new iPhone and iPad is sold with a USB-A to Lightning cable, which means they can’t be connected to a new Mac without an adaptor.

Even Apple’s latest and greatest accessories come with a USB-A Lightning cable. Jack Slater:

The AirPods charging case uses a USB-A to Lightning adapter. It’s kind of odd that for $159 you don’t get an AC adapter, although you do get the cable in the box.

To be fair, I suppose the AirPods and iOS devices aren’t explicitly designed as Mac accessories, though I expect a lot of people will use their Mac to charge those products.

So what about products that are explicitly designed as Mac accessories? All three of Apple’s Magic accessories are also bundled with — you guessed it — USB-A-to-Lightning cables. I just called my local Apple Store and they told me that there’s no way to simply swap the bundled cables; a USB-C Lightning cable would be a separate purchase.

I don’t think it’s odd that an AC adaptor isn’t included with a set of AirPods. I do think it’s wrong that you don’t get a USB-C-to-Lightning cable in the box for any of these products, especially since Apple has now sold millions of units of the MacBook and new MacBook Pro. iPods used to include FireWire and USB cables so you could pick what you wanted to use; why not do the same for USB-C? It would cut into the margins for each of these products, but I think it would send a strong message that Apple is truly committed to it as the connector of the future.

Amicus Brief Filed by 127 Companies Opposing Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration

The signatories are a who’s who of tech giants: Apple, Autodesk, Dropbox, eBay, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify, Square, Twitter, and Uber. The inclusion of the latter signee dovetails nicely with the news that Travis Kalanick left Trump’s advisory council late last week.

Notably absent from the list: Amazon. Even SpaceX and Tesla are signatories to the amicus brief, despite Elon Musk’s somewhat warm relationship with the Trump administration. It turns out that Amazon supported the Washington state legal case that caused a judge to issue a restraining order to prevent enforcement of Trump’s executive order, but they apparently can’t sign onto this amicus brief, according to JP Mangalindan:

That’s because Seattle-based Amazon had already filed a declaration in the same case explaining how the ban negatively affects the e-commerce giant. Washington’s attorney general advised Amazon not to join the amicus brief since it’s a witness in the original lawsuit, according to a source familiar with the matter.

It turns out that Microsoft, also absent from the amicus brief, filed a declaration in the original case brought by Washington, as well.

Here’s the thing: Microsoft is not absent from the amicus brief — they’re right there on page 41, the sixtieth signee. I’ve reached out to Mangalindan to ask how that squares up.

Vizio Fined $2.2M for Quietly Collecting Customer Data

In November 2015, Julia Angwin of ProPublica explained how Vizio was quietly monitoring everything that was watched on its televisions, and selling that recorded data to advertisers. Worse still, this creepy feature was turned on by default and users weren’t told about it.

The FTC got involved and today announced that they would be fining Vizio the paltry sum of $2.2 million. Libby Watson, Gizmodo:

While the court order requires Vizio to delete all data collected prior to March 2016, it doesn’t require them to stop tracking data—just to more adequately get consent for doing so. So don’t expect smart TVs to stop at least trying to track your Real Housewives binging any time soon.

Vizio is privately owned, but their annual revenue was estimated by Forbes to be about $2.9 billion. It will take them less than seven hours to earn enough money to pay their fine.

Lesley Fair of the FTC:

What did Vizio know about what was going on in the privacy of consumers’ homes? On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen that it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content. What’s more, Vizio identified viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Add it all up and Vizio captured as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs.

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details – for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices.

When I linked to Angwin’s story, I mentioned that I was then in the market for a television. I was initially leaning towards Vizio, but after hearing about this and the similarly intrusive practices of Samsung and LG “smart” TVs, I ended up buying a plain LCD TV and hooking it up to a fourth-generation Apple TV. I don’t regret it.

Apple Adds ‘Ultra Accessory Connector’ to MFi Program

Here’s something straight out of left field. Jordan Kahn, 9to5Mac:

Apple is planning to adopt a new connector type for accessories for iPhone, iPad and other Apple devices through its official Made-for-iPhone (MFi) licensing program. Dubbed the “Ultra Accessory Connector” (UAC), Apple has recently launched a developer preview of the new connector type to prepare manufacturing partners for the component that in some cases will replace the use of Lightning and USB connectors, according to sources familiar with the program.

[…]

Apple’s specs for the Ultra Accessory Connector through the MFi program currently specify use of the UAC connector (both male and female) for cables used on headphones. Apple will allow accessory manufacturers to make Lightning to UAC, USB-A to UAC, and 3.5mm headset jacks to UAC, which would allow headphones with a UAC port to connect to various Apple devices. For instance, Apple’s Beats by Dre headphones currently use a slightly larger micro-USB port, while other brands have adopted use of Lightning ports for the cable that connects to Bluetooth headphones for charging or in some cases optional wired listening.

This is a curious development. My Spidey sense is that this isn’t a port in addition to Lightning on new iOS devices, but I can’t see it replacing Lightning either. Amidst the migration of Mac peripherals to USB-C, and the replacement of wired headphones with wireless models, I’m a little confused about how this fits into the bigger picture.

Perhaps it’s an interoperable standard for all Apple devices, primarily designed for charging wireless headphones and passing audio while plugged in. Or perhaps it’s not Apple proprietary; maybe it will become micro USB-C. Apple, after all, reportedly had a leading role in the design of USB-C.

Update: This connector isn’t new. Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica (via Adam Selby):

In reality, the UAC is just Apple’s name for a port that is already used in some digital cameras and other accessories — Apple has just given it a new moniker. Currently, it goes by a few different titles: Mitsumi calls it an “Ultra Mini Connector” and Nikon calls it a “UC-E6” cable. In any case, it appears to be just another connector for the regular-old USB spec. When contacted for comment, Apple told us that it was adding the port to the MFi program at the request of licensees, not because it’s trying to push licensees to support a new kind of connector.

Well that’s certainly obscure.

An Interview With Ex-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Professor Susan Crawford spoke with Tom Wheeler at Harvard Law School:

In the Trump administration, people are talking about stripping regulatory power from the FCC, and essentially taking the agency apart (including moving jurisdiction over internet access to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). “Modernizing” the FCC is the lingo being used. What’s your thought about that?

It’s a fraud. The FTC doesn’t have rule-making authority. They’ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along.

So it doesn’t surprise me that the Trump transition team — who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept — comes in and says, “Oh, we oughta do away with this.” It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that’s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices.

Because we’re talking about one sixth of the economy. More importantly, we’re dealing with the network that connects six sixths of the economy.

Wheeler’s response to Crawford’s question about new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai does not paint Pai in a positive light:

The FCC is a five-person commission and the chairman sets the agenda, but there’s four other commissioners and it takes three votes to do anything. When I came in, I set up with each commissioner a date every other week — an hour for the two of us just to sit without staff and talk. For the last 18, 24 months [Pai] canceled every meeting. It’s hard to work for consensus when you won’t sit down with each other.

Relentless, childish obstruction is a shitty way to govern.

The FCC Has Closed Its Investigation Into ‘Zero-Rating’ Data Policies

At the beginning of December, the FCC said that AT&T and Verizon were violating net neutrality rules with “zero-rating” data policies.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

With Sponsored Data, AT&T charges other companies for the right to bypass customers’ data caps on AT&T’s wireless network. At the time same, AT&T lets its subsidiary DirecTV stream on the mobile network without counting against data caps. DirecTV technically pays AT&T for the privilege, but the money is just shifting hands from one part of AT&T to another. AT&T is using DirecTV’s data cap exemption to market the new DirecTV Now streaming service.

[…]

The “primary participant” in Verizon’s zero-rated data program is Go90, a video service offered by Verizon itself, the FCC said. Ars wrote about Verizon’s treatment of Go90 compared to competing video services 10 months ago.

Seems pretty clear-cut, right? AT&T and Verizon both advantaged their own services by not counting data consumption used by those services, thereby putting competitors at a disadvantage.

Turns out that the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai didn’t like this investigation at all.

Brodkin reports:

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau sent letters to AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile USA notifying the carriers “that the Bureau has closed this inquiry. Any conclusions, preliminary or otherwise, expressed during the course of the inquiry will have no legal or other meaning or effect going forward.” The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau also sent a letter to Comcast closing an inquiry into the company’s Stream TV cable service, which does not count against data caps.

The FCC issued an order that “sets aside and rescinds” the Wheeler-era report on zero-rating. All “guidance, determinations, and conclusions” from that report are rescinded, and it will have no legal bearing on FCC proceedings going forward, the order said.

You would be shocked — shocked, I tell you — to know that Chairman Pai used to be the associate general counsel for Verizon. As a result of this decision, the web is now, more than ever, a “pay to play” environment. More power than ever will be in the hands of the few biggest players on the web: large tech companies and American ISPs.

Jawbone Set to Exit Consumer Market

Ingrid Lunden and Brian Heater, TechCrunch:

Make way for one more pivot from Jawbone. The fitness band maker that originally started out in headsets and later made speakers, has abandoned selling and supporting consumer hardware following a deluge poor reviews and media reports that it has run out of money.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Jawbone is preparing to shift its business yet again — moving from a focus on low-margin fitness bands sold directly to consumers, to a high-margin business to business to consumer model: a health product and accompanying set of services sold primarily to clinicians and health providers working with patients.

Jawbone has always seemed to make only one type of product for a few years at a time. They have always been, in my mind, synonymous with over-loud Business — with a capital “b” — people on a train. It’s pretty astonishing how fast and how far they’ve fallen from having such a ubiquitous product.

Lawsuit Claims Apple Forced Users to Upgrade to iOS 7 by Breaking FaceTime

Mikey Campbell, AppleInsider:

Seemingly spawned from internal Apple documents disclosed during the VirnetX patent infringement lawsuit, which found Apple on the hook for $302.4 million in damages, the California action claims Apple intentionally broke FaceTime for devices running iOS 6 and earlier to avoid high monthly data relay charges from Akamai.

[…]

Citing internal emails and sworn testimony from the VirnetX trial, the lawsuit alleges Apple devised a plan to “break” FaceTime on iOS 6 or earlier by causing a vital digital certificate to prematurely expire. Apple supposedly implemented the “FaceTime Break” on April 16, 2014, then blamed the sudden incompatibility on a bug, the lawsuit claims.

The optics of this are bad, but this will likely be — amongst other things — a test of a typical software EULA. For instance, here’s section 7.41 from the one that came with iOS 6 (PDF), with emphasis:

Apple does not warrant against interference with your enjoyment of the iOS software and services, that the functions contained in, or services performed or provided by, the iOS software will meet your requirements, that the operation of the iOS software and services will be uninterrupted or error-free, that any service will continue to be made available, that defects in the iOS software or services will be corrected, or that the iOS software will be compatible or work with any third party software, applications or third party services. Installation of this software may affect the usability of third party software, applications or third party services.

Since the iOS 7 was provided free to users — and, in the course of that update, making iOS 6 officially outdated — does that mean that the above section can hold and Apple has no obligation to maintain the functionality of their older software? Furthermore, if Apple didn’t fully disclose why FaceTime stopped working on older devices, is that problematic from a legal perspective?

I guess the biggest question of all is whether the discontinuation of a single nonessential feature is tantamount to requiring users to upgrade to the newest version of the software. I doubt it.


  1. The section that follows this is the infamous one that advises you not to use Apple software to operate a nuclear facility. ↩︎

LG Is Fixing the WiFi Interference Problem in Their 5K Displays

Ina Fried, Recode:

An LG spokesman told Recode that the company is adding additional shielding to newly manufactured models.

“LG apologizes for this inconvenience and is committed to delivering the best quality products possible, so all LG UltraFine 27-inch 5K displays manufactured after February 2017 will be fitted with enhanced shielding,” the company said in an email.

Existing models will be able to be retrofitted with the enhanced shielding, which will allow the monitor to be placed near a router.

If you own an UltraFine 5K display, it doesn’t sound like you can simply bring your display into an Apple Store to have it taken care of; you’ll have to deal with LG directly. I’ve asked for clarification and will update this post if I hear back.

A thought experiment: do you think that an Apple-designed 5K Thunderbolt Display would have these issues? If it did, do you think it would be such a pain in the ass to get your display fixed?

FBI Says That It Can’t Release Documents That It Had Already Released

Here’s a weird one. Jason Leopold of Buzzfeed made a FOIA request for any talking points that the FBI had on encryption, Apple, ISIS, and similar topics. They got back to him at the end of December and stated that they couldn’t provide any of the 487 pages they said were relevant. That’s weird for at least three reasons:

  1. Leopold is asking for talking points which, by their very nature, are wont to be publicized;

  2. the FBI included a CD of blank pages in their response; and,

  3. the FBI had already released those documents to Mike Masnick of Techdirt.

Mike Masnick:

I didn’t add up all the pages sent to me, but I can tell it’s probably closer to about 100 pages than 487, so clearly the FBI is likely lying to me as well in terms of how many “responsive” documents there really were, but I’m confused as to why the FBI couldn’t release these kinds of documents to Leopold.

Masnick, naturally, did the right thing and posted everything that he received from the FBI online for all to see.

Cellbrite Tools for Cracking Older iPhones Leaked

Joseph Cox, Vice:

In January, Motherboard reported that a hacker had stolen 900GB of data from mobile phone forensics company Cellebrite. The data suggested that Cellebrite had sold its phone cracking technology to oppressive regimes such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia.

Now the hacker responsible has publicly released a cache of files allegedly stolen from Cellebrite relating to Android and BlackBerry devices, and older iPhones, some of which may have been copied from publicly available phone cracking tools.

In addition, back in December, a group calling themselves the “Shadow Brokers” dumped a bunch of older NSA tools that had been left on a server. Between these two leaks alone, it’s extremely clear that Apple was completely correct when they defended themselves last year against the FBI: it’s never “just one phone”.

Power Nap Features Rumoured to Be Moved to Custom ARM Chip

Mark Gurman and Ian King, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is designing a new chip for future Mac laptops that would take on more of the functionality currently handled by Intel Corp. processors, according to people familiar with the matter.

The chip, which went into development last year, is similar to one already used in the latest MacBook Pro to power the keyboard’s Touch Bar feature, the people said. The updated part, internally codenamed T310, would handle some of the computer’s low-power mode functionality, they said. The people asked not to be identified talking about private product development. It’s built using ARM Holdings Plc. technology and will work alongside an Intel processor.

This rumour is curious because Power Nap seems to be Apple’s implementation of Intel’s Smart Connect feature. If the Bloomberg report is right, Apple is apparently moving key Intel-specific functionality off of the CPU. Interesting.

Charting on the Mac App Store With a Single Sale

Jeffrey Johnson recently released his new encrypted chat app Underpass on the Mac App Store, and noticed something funny — it was charting:

That’s right, 1 unit sale for $0.99, giving me $0.70 after Apple’s 30% cut. The 18th top paid social networking app sold 1 unit, and the 29th top grossing social networking app made $0.70 for the developer.

If one sale puts a developer’s app reasonably high on the Mac App Store charts, that doesn’t say a lot for the Mac App Store. Of note, most of the apps ahead of Underpass are third-party implementations of popular iOS apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. And, at number thirteen in the Top Grossing chart, Apple’s long-outdated FaceTime app. That doesn’t sound like a healthy ecosystem.

The Wrong Future

Marco Arment:

What if the iPad isn’t the future of computing?

What if, like so much in technology, it’s mostly just additive, rather than largely replacing PCs and Macs, and furthermore had a cooling-fad effect as initial enthusiasm wore off and customers came to this conclusion?

On the flip side of that coin, what if Apple treated the iPad as the future of computing, instead of upscaling iPhone features to fit the iPad’s display, or hardly paying attention to it for an entire year? Would customers respond to an earnest attempt?

There are, undeniably, those who use the iPad to replace their desktops and notebooks. My parents almost exclusively use their iPads — I know this because every email I get from them includes the default signature. On the other end of that spectrum, Federico Viticci has set up his iPad Pro with a concoction of scripts and workflows that truly allows him to have virtually abandoned his Mac. And, yes, there are industries where the iPad excels.

Yet, all of that feels empty when the iPad isn’t given the kind of treatment and attention one might expect would be lavished upon the “future of computing”.

Apple’s Q1 2017 Results

Apple PR:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2017 first quarter ended December 31, 2016. The Company posted all-time record quarterly revenue of $78.4 billion and all-time record quarterly earnings per diluted share of $3.36. These results compare to revenue of $75.9 billion and earnings per diluted share of $3.28 in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 64 percent of the quarter’s revenue.

“We’re thrilled to report that our holiday quarter results generated Apple’s highest quarterly revenue ever, and broke multiple records along the way. We sold more iPhones than ever before and set all-time revenue records for iPhone, Services, Mac and Apple Watch,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Revenue from Services grew strongly over last year, led by record customer activity on the App Store, and we are very excited about the products in our pipeline.”

Federico Viticci of MacStories is, as usual, leading the coverage, and Jason Snell of Six Colors has some additional live commentary.

A few notes:

  • Impressively, for a 33-year-old business, the Mac set an all-time revenue record. However, unit sales are effectively flat year-over-year. The ASP on the new MacBook Pros is likely much higher year-over-year.

  • The iPad continued its downward trajectory in both sales and units. This is the first holiday quarter where revenue from the growing “services” category eclipsed iPad revenue. The only major update to the iPad lineup occurred in March of 2016 with the introduction of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

  • Though they’re still not breaking out the numbers, Tim Cook said that the Apple Watch had a supply-exceeding quarter. Anecdotally, I see a fair number of people wearing one every morning on the C-Train. I would be surprised if they ever disclose raw sales figures, but I also think that it’s shaping up to be a stealth hit. By contrast, FitBit had a down quarter year-over-year.

It’s a return-to-growth quarter, but not across the board. I sincerely hope that there’s a lot more for the iPad and the Mac this year.

Contrary to popular belief, though, the lack of a headphone jack on the iPhones 7 certainly didn’t hurt: 78.3 million of the damn things were sold in three months. Apple is slowly creeping towards a million a day. Wild.

Update: One reason this was such a record-breaking quarter is because it was fourteen weeks long, not the more typical thirteen. In terms of weekly averages, the quarter is generally weaker than Q1 2016.

Silicon Valley’s Responses to Trump’s Immigration Executive Orders

Casey Newton, the Verge:

Silicon Valley CEOs entered the debate over President Donald Trump’s immigration policy this weekend, offering criticisms of the seven-country immigration ban and in some cases outlining plans to support the employees it affects. The responses range in tone from mild rebuke to stern denunciation, reflecting both the varying personal opinions of the CEOs and their individual willingness to risk retribution from the federal government.

This is a crisis. I’ve been watching this story unfold since Friday afternoon and I can’t think of anything of greater importance than overturning sweeping and illegal executive orders that run against everything Americans have been told to stand for, and to be the model for the world. The responses from Silicon Valley CEOs have generally been weak arguments that preserve their business interests, rather than standing up against clear moral and ethical indignation.

So, who has been standing up? Amongst others, the tens of thousands of Americans who spent their weekend protesting these executive orders, lawyers supporting those detained at the border, and the ACLU, which filed and won a lawsuit in New York to overturn the deportation requirements of Trump’s orders. If you are able, you can make a monthly contribution to the ACLU to keep taking legal action.

Mac Sales Declined Nearly 10% Last Year

After over a decade of near-constant growth that went against the PC industry’s decline, 2016 was a down year in terms of absolute sales and sales relative to Apple’s primary competitors. Turns out that people don’t want year-old computers.

LG’s UltraFine 5K Display Can Exhibit Issues When Placed Near a Wireless Router

Heads-up, LG UltraFine 5K owners: if you’re seeing strange video quality issues, try moving your display farther away from your wireless router. Zac Hall of 9to5Mac explains:

Right out of the box, UltraFine 5K Display was hardly usable as it would consistently disconnect and even freeze my MacBook Pro which made it unusable for work on Thursday and Friday. Connecting it to my MacBook Pro consistently resulted in needing to reboot my machine to continue working.

[…]

Support responded by recommending I use the monitor away from a router as they can cause performance issues with this monitor.

I’ve never heard of this affecting the 27-inch Retina iMac, the panel of which is likely shared with the UltraFine display. My guess is that LG’s display is inadequately shielded, and the resulting problems could be a deal breaker for anyone living in a smaller apartment or working in an office with an inflexible layout.

Update: The reviews of this display aren’t good, with some users reporting issues with their wireless keyboards, various video problems, and lots of kernel panics. For a thousand-dollar display ostensibly designed in tandem with Apple, that’s pretty dreadful.

Worse still is that support is via LG, not Apple, so you can’t simply bring this display into your local Apple Store.

Apple’s New ‘Shot on iPhone’ Campaign

I really like these campaigns; they show off one of the iPhone’s greatest assets. Of note, the accompanying download doesn’t include the original photos, instead opting to use resized 30 megapixel versions. I would have loved to see how these photos looked at their original sizes.

‘Rogue’ Twitter Accounts and Confirmation Bias

Jesse Singal, New York magazine:

By now, a few outlets, including Vice, have criticized the lack of verification. But less attention has been paid to the sharing dynamic that has helped these accounts blow up in the first place. People who share these accounts and their tweets desperately want it to be the case that some brave government staffers are tweeting their resistance to the Trump agenda. Because they want it to be true, they don’t bother to ask the questions they would ask if the information didn’t confirm their political biases — they retweet and like and share in a way they simply wouldn’t in other cases.

On Jailbreaking the Apple Watch

Michael Rockwell:

The jailbreak community was a treasure trove of ideas for Apple in the early days of the iPhone. Without this vibrant community building unsanctioned apps, the App Store may never have been developed at all. The jailbreak community was the first to develop Wi-Fi syncing, multitasking, custom wallpapers, home screen folders, and even copy and paste.

This leaves me wondering what a jailbreak community could do for the Watch.

I’m not sure Rockwell frames this exactly right; while the jailbreak community was the first to implement these features, they were also on Apple’s “to do” list. Implementations of copy and paste, for instance, were pretty janky during the jailbreak era; the version that launched officially with iPhone OS 3 was an instant hit.

But I think the sentiment is largely on the nose. Jailbreaking the iPhone allowed developers and enterprising users to mess around with their dream list of features. Some of them — systemwide custom font settings, for example — will never be an official part of iOS, but I’m sure that these experiments helped Apple figure out what works within the constraints of the system. As Apple has solidified the narrative around the Watch as a fitness-oriented device, I’m not sure it needs a jailbreak, but the results could be prescient of future WatchOS versions.

A Picture of Samsung’s Forthcoming Galaxy S8

Curiously — and contra earlier rumours — the Galaxy S8 pictured at VentureBeat shows a headphone jack running along the bottom. Evan Blass:

Lastly, the pressure-sensitive input technology known as force touch is finally coming to the Galaxy brand, with the lower part of the display supposedly capable of distinguishing between different types of screen presses. Apple first included a similar technology on 2015’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

This is sloppy. “Force Touch” is what Apple calls the pressure-sensitive touch components of the Apple Watch’s display and their trackpads. “3D Touch” is the name Apple uses for the displays of the iPhones 6S and 7, as it has additional levels of sensitivity. Though Apple doesn’t have a trademark on “Force Touch”, neither term appears to be a generic name.1


  1. Though, curiously enough, a company called NextInput developed some similar-sounding technologies called “ForceTouch” and “3D ForceTouch”. NextInput isn’t on Apple’s supplier list (PDF). ↩︎

Ajit Pai Will Head the FCC and Likely Kill Net Neutrality

Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

The net-neutrality debate is about whether one class of private entities, ISPs, should be regulated in order to allow millions of other private entities, users and businesses operating online, to operate freely. Pretty much everyone agrees that they should — except for the ISPs … and Ajit Pai. Pai even wrote a 67-page(!) dissent when the order was adopted. Even Google and Facebook support the principle, in part because they often buy up the smaller startups that flourish on an unfettered internet. Imagine an internet where, rather than buying Instagram for $1 billion, Facebook instead paid for a fast lane and forced Instagram out by other means.

We already use one social network for seeing short-form messages from faraway friends, a different website for getting irritated by real-life friends, and a single app for posting small pictures from our phones. There’s one major analytics package that most popular websites use, one place most of us visit to find other websites, and one online store we use.

The consolidation of the web’s major services has happened, but it doesn’t have to be like this into eternity as long as every website has an equal chance. Pai wants to gut net neutrality and create a pay-to-play model. I can’t think of anything worse for the future of the web.

MacOS 10.12.4 Sherlocks F.lux, Adds Jaundice Mode

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

According to Apple, the update includes a new Night Shift mode that automatically shifts the display color to the warmer end of the spectrum after night, offering Mac users an alternative to F.lux. Night Shift has been available on iOS devices since iOS 9.3.

Just in time for a spray-tanned presidency, too.

I know some of you probably think I’m being deliberately obtuse, but I tried F.lux for a month several years ago and the only difference I noticed was that I doubted my onscreen colours all the time. I removed it, re-calibrated that display, and didn’t try anything similar until Night Shift was released in iOS 9.3. I had the same reaction to that as well. Neither one made any change to how I fall asleep.

But, if F.lux and Night Shift work for you, this news might make you happy.

iOS 10.3 Upgrades the File System to APFS

Perhaps the most wide-reaching change in iOS 10.3 is an upgrade to Apple’s new file system format. When it was introduced at WWDC last year, Apple said that they’d be rolling it out beginning in early 2017, so this is right on track. It’s curious, though, that they’d choose to launch such a significant change in their most popular product line. Once again, Ars Technica’S Andrew Cunningham explains it best:

It’s an approach that makes sense; there are way more iDevices than Macs out there, which would increase the number of affected users if anything goes wrong. But iOS doesn’t give users direct control of the file system or of their devices’ partition maps, so it’s a reasonably safe, controlled environment. Macs can have a wider variety of partition and file system setups, increasing the likelihood that some edge case will throw things off.

For what it’s worth, iOS 10.3 installed without a hitch on my iPhone. I haven’t yet tried creating an APFS partition on my Mac.

Apple.com Switching to San Francisco Font

Myriad and San Francisco don’t really go together. So, after Apple’s operating systems, product packaging, keynote slides, and ad campaigns all switched to using San Francisco fully, it’s about time that the website followed suit.

Curiously, it’s not universally applied across the site. After you get past the top-level pages and start digging around a little, gaps begin to appear. The recently-updated Apple Watch and iPhone 7 pages are all San Francisco all the time, but the newer MacBook Pro page still mixes Myriad and San Francisco. The iPhone SE page got the San Francisco treatment, while the iPad Pro — of which the 9.7-inch variant was announced at the same event as the SE — is set entirely in Myriad. The iPad Mini 2 purchasing page, meanwhile, showcase the old online store design.

If you wanted to read perhaps a little too much into this, you might consider the state of each product’s section indicative of the product’s lifecycle. The iPhone pages won’t be updated any time soon, so they all get the newer typographic treatments. The iPad and Mac sections are likely to be updated soon with entirely new products, and will receive the new typography then. The iPad Mini 2, meanwhile, will probably be discontinued.

Apple Releases the First Beta of iOS 10.3

My friends in Slack notified me that iOS 10.3 had been released while I was in the middle of nowhere, so I’m sure you’re all aware of the highlights. As with past iOS x.3 releases, this is likely to be the final push for this major version of iOS before the release of iOS 11. So, it makes sense that it comes with some pretty big changes.

Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica:

For starters, it adds AirPods to Find My iPhone to make them easier to find if you lose them, which, given how small they are, is bound to happen to AirPod owners eventually.

Cunningham points to an assortment of additional user-facing updates, like being able to schedule rides with Siri for a future time instead of immediately, CarPlay improvements, and enhancements to HomeKit.

There are also, of course, some great new developer APIs. Two in particular intrigue me: an app review prompt, and changeable app icons. Jim Dalrymple explains the first:

When you are prompted to leave a review, customers will stay inside the app, where the rating or review can be left for the developer. It’s easier for customers and the developers still get their reviews.

Apple is also limiting the amount of times developers can ask customers for reviews. Developers will only be able to bring up the review dialog three times a year. If a customer has rated the app, they will not be prompted again. If a customer has dismissed the review prompt three times, they will not be asked to review the app for another year.

Best of all, according to John Gruber, developers won’t be able to work around these limitations in the future by using a third-party app review prompt:

The new APIs will be eventually be the only sanctioned way for an iOS app to prompt for an App Store review, but Apple has no timeline for when they’ll start enforcing it. Existing apps won’t have to change their behavior or adopt these APIs right from the start.

Everyone knows how irritating it is to be prompted to review an app, but developers also know that it works, even if it’s clunky. It’s good to see an officially-sanctioned solution.

And, yeah, developers can now set a different icon for their app without issuing an update. When the icon changes, it will display a confirmation so that users will know what to look for. Beyond obvious aesthetic updates, I’m struggling to see a use case for this. It’s not a bad thing; I’m just intrigued by the introduction of this API and what it might mean.

iOS 10.3 also lacks a few rumoured features. Cunningham, again:

According to the list of features Apple told us about, iOS 10.3 doesn’t include a fair number of features that the rumor mill has previously suggested it would include. There’s no mention of the vaguely described “theater mode” that was making the rounds last month, nor have any changes been made to iPad or Apple Pencil-specific features as some early rumors suggested. iOS 10 hasn’t been as good for the iPad as iOS 9 was, and basic things like the Split View and app switching UIs could stand to be refined; there’s also still not a public version of the multi-user feature that Apple started testing in classrooms in iOS 9.3. Any big iPad-specific features will need to wait for iOS 11, at the earliest.

After a lacklustre year for iPad users, I anticipate iOS 11 will be a big release. There’s a lot to be done for that platform.

Update: “Theatre Mode” will apparently make an appearance in WatchOS 3.2.

What’s Left Unanswered After Samsung’s Battery Investigation

Geoffrey Fowler and Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal (paywalled, but you probably know how to get around that):

Samsung is on an apology tour for the gobsmacking screwup that led to two successive recalls of the Note 7. In interviews with us, Samsung’s mobile chief, DJ Koh, and other executives shared stacks of testing photos, results of its investigation and its plans to improve quality control.

[…]

At this point, we grade those efforts a C. Samsung was clearly serious about investigating the issue with the help of independent experts, but its explanation sometimes left us scratching our heads. While it has developed a new 8-point battery check for future phones, we don’t have a clear sense of whether these tests will raise the bar on safety, or simply catch Samsung up to other premium smartphone makers.

Of Samsung’s supposedly new tests, two — charging and discharging the phone, and simulating real-world usage — seem like the kinds of tests that I would hope all phone manufacturers run.

For what it’s worth, Apple elected not to comment on Fowler and Stern’s article.

Google’s Communication Breakdown

Let me tell you a brief story, in excerpts, of the evolution of Google’s communications apps, starting with a quote from Google employee Nikhyl Singhal in May 2013:

Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning. Future versions of Hangouts will integrate Google Voice more seamlessly.

Here’s Ron Amadeo, reporting for Ars Technica in October 2013:

The most long-awaited (and leaked) feature, SMS integration, will finally go live sometime today. Just like iMessage on iOS, Hangouts will seamlessly integrate both kinds of text communication into a single app and choose the appropriate service based on contact availability. Google Voice, Google’s portable phone number and SMS service, was not mentioned, so it sounds like those users will have to wait longer for support.

At this point, one app — Hangouts — supports SMS and proprietary messaging protocols, and allows for voice calls as well. Sounds great.

Fast forward to May 2015, with Kellen Barranger of Droid Life wondering why Google launched a new Messenger app:

After digging around in Google’s Project Fi support site last night, I think we now know why Google created their own Messenger app – Hangouts just isn’t ready for prime time yet when it comes to SMS, MMS, and group messaging. In fact, Google recommends Messenger over Hangouts.

The exact wording from Project Fi support is, “For now, we recommend using Messenger as the default SMS app. There are a few features, like group messaging, that aren’t supported in Hangouts yet.” So there you have it. Messenger lives because it’s actually pretty good at dealing with texting of all kinds, while Hangouts, after all these years, still isn’t.

Okay, so we’re back to two separate apps: Messenger should be used for SMS, while Hangouts should be used for Hangouts and Google Voice messages, and voice and video calls. This much was confirmed when, in January 2016, Google discontinued SMS support in Hangouts.

And now, today, Google has decided to update Google Voice for the first time in five years. Its visual language has been updated to match Google’s “Material” aesthetic, and they’ve improved conversation threading.

But here’s where it gets weird. Jan Jedrzejowicz on Google’s product blog:

Going forward, we’ll provide new updates and features to the Google Voice apps. If you currently use Hangouts for your Google Voice communication, there’s no need to change to the new apps, but you might want to try them out as we continue to bring new improvements.

Last year, Google introduced two new apps — Allo and Duo — to sit in the stable alongside their other messaging and communications efforts. Casey Newton, the Verge:

Three years ago, Google set out to fix its chaotic messaging strategy with a single app. This summer, getting the full Google messaging experience will mean downloading as many as four apps: Hangouts, Allo, Duo, and Google Messenger, for sending SMS messages on Android. Maybe inside Google that feels like the future. From the outside, it doesn’t look much like progress.

With the re-addition of Google Voice, that makes five apps that Android users are encouraged to have to cover their Google messaging bases. That’s almost comical.

Tidal May Have Inflated Its Subscription Numbers

Anna Washenko, for Radio & Internet News:

Tidal is facing allegations that it has inflated subscriber numbers. Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv claimed that it has obtained internal reports that show Tidal only had 350,000 subscribers in September 2015. That same month, owner Jay-Z had tweeted that Tidal was “1,000,000 people and counting.” The publication also said that in March 2016, Tidal had 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 subscribers, even though it announced publicly that it had 3 million subscribers. Tidal has not issued a comment yet about the claims.

For comparison, Apple Music has twenty million paying subscribers and Spotify has over forty million. It’s not looking good for Tidal. Also of note: I can’t find any information on the number of Pono Music subscribers, but their homepage has been “under constructionsince July.

Hands-On Impressions of the Leica M10

Leica just launched their replacement for the M9, and it looks like a worthy entry in their illustrious history of rangefinders. I really like the sound of the new ISO hardware dial, as described by Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape:

The ISO dial is new. It is nice to have the ISO dial on top of the camera. You lift the dial, turn it to your selection, and push it back down. In other words, it won’t be possible to change this setting by accident. I do wish the dial was a bit bigger. You have to pinch the dial to lift it up. The way the dial is positioned, there is very little space, which is inconvenient if you have large fingers (like me). Once again, this was a hard setting to change with cold fingers. Leica should have thought twice before sending me out on one of the coldest days in NYC. You can change the ISO using the menu, which seemed to be easier at times.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using the menus, but I’ve found that having hardware controls available keeps you in the moment. I generally have ISO set to automatic and use the hardware shutter speed and aperture dials on my camera, but there are times when I really want to be able to set the ISO. A physical control sounds like a worthy addition.

Barney Britton of DP Review was brave enough to take his review model to a rock show and the results look great. His impressions:

For all that, I’ve never really enjoyed the digital M-series models. The M8’s APS-H sensor felt like a compromise, and both that camera and the full-frame M9 always felt a little bloated, their shutters a bit too loud, their images a bit too noisy. Things got better – the Typ 240 and Typ 262 are very good cameras, and the Monochroms are fun – but neither they nor their predecessors ever really truly felt like a continuation of the classic film models. Leica claims that adding a movie mode to the Typ 240 was in response to demand from its customers, but the idea of shooting video on a rangefinder always seemed a bit silly to me.

The M10 can’t shoot video – let’s just get that out of the way. If you really need video in an M-series body, the Typ 240 is still available.

Personally, as you might be able to tell, I like the M10 a lot more than the Typ 240 and 262. There’s no single major change which makes all the difference, but rather a raft of little tweaks which add up to (in my opinion) a more attractive product than the the digital Ms which came before it.

At nearly $6,000 USD for the body alone, plus over $5,000 for an appropriate lens, the M10 is eye-wateringly expensive. But if you’re comfortable with that kind of outlay, it looks like it delivers in spades.

Google Contributor Has Been Shut Down Without a Replacement

Remember Google Contributor? It was a U.S.-only service where you could pay Google to remove their ads, with the money being distributed to the ad-supported websites you visited. Well, like so many of Google’s pet projects, it’s dead.

Andrew Martonik, Android Central:

After announcing back in December that its pay-to-remove-ads product would be replaced with something new come January, Google swiftly and abruptly shut down the service in a less-than-graceful manor. Now, it’s completely dead.

[…]

Despite claiming that Contributor would be replaced with something entirely new, we haven’t heard a peep. At this point it seems as though whatever may replace Contributor will more than likely have a new name, otherwise this whole process of shutting everything down would seem like a bit of unnecessary work. But then again, perhaps that’s a bit of foreshadowing that nothing, in fact, will replace Contributor.

Contributor wasn’t widely promoted and was never expanded beyond the United States. I wouldn’t hold your breath for a new version.

Apple Releases iOS UI Templates for Photoshop and Sketch

It has only taken nine years since the release of the iPhone OS 2.0 SDK for Apple to offer an official PSD file for mockup purposes, but it’s here, at last.

There’s a lot in this package: individual UI elements like toolbars and keyboards, blank app UIs, the iOS colour palette, and a copy of the San Francisco typeface. Some parts of this are rather familiar — San Francisco and the app icon template were both previously provided for download — but unlike the first release of the official app icon template, I’m not seeing any obvious discrepancies between these resources and the real iOS interface.

Requiem for the Thunderbolt Display

Every nerd I know can name a component of their workstation that they feel is indispensable. That one thing that, should everything else in their workflow be switched out, they’d fight to keep. Many would probably fight for their computer, while others feel an affinity towards a specific keyboard or headphones.

For me, that one special thing is my Apple Thunderbolt Display. I know: it’s crazy to spend a thousand bucks on a 27-inch display, even back when I bought it in 2012. It has other faults beyond price, too: there’s an air gap between the glass and the panel, so the image isn’t as sharp as it could be, and it’s heavy. Really heavy. I bent the desk I used for three years because of the weight of this display.

Yet, it remains the thing on my desk that I would fight the hardest to keep.1 There are a lot of reasons why, but I’ll give you just two.

First, a bit of personal history: when I was in my early teens, I saw a 30-inch Cinema Display in a local reseller’s store, and I coveted it immediately. I wanted to work on a display that large, with enough room in virtually any application for any kind of task. Its horizontal resolution was great enough that you could fit full HD video onscreen with some room left over for a clip bin. Its vertical resolution was enough to keep webpages and documents open in a more comfortable portrait orientation. My Thunderbolt Display is missing 160 pixels of vertical space, but it still feels massive — and it didn’t cost me the nearly $5,000 Apple was asking for the 30 inch Cinema Display when it was introduced in Canada.

Even better, though, is what the Thunderbolt Display does for a laptop. There are a great many complaints I’ve had with Apple’s computers over the years, but one thing I think they get absolutely right is their relentless pursuit of lightness and thinness in their portable products. When you lug a laptop around all day long, the last thing you want is for it to be heavy, or to take up more than its fair share of space in your bag. This is doubly true when travelling with it.2

However, when that laptop stops being a portable and is plopped onto a desk, the priorities of the computer change. Where overall smallness is desirable in a bag, a desk makes it possible to attach something as large and heavy as a gigantic display. Photo and video editing benefits most obviously, of course, but even something like web development is nicer on a big screen: you can have your IDE and two browser windows open at the same time, instead of juggling between windows.

While a computer is at a desk, it should be able to take advantage of a few other things that laptops aren’t very good at, too. A terrestrial gigabit Ethernet connection, for instance, better speakers, and external hard drives can all be connected. And no other product makes this as seamless as the Thunderbolt Display. Indeed, connected to my display are an Ethernet cable, two external hard drives, a Lightning cable, and a USB DAC. That’s a lot, and I have to connect just one cable to get all of those peripherals on board when I get home with my MacBook Air. I think that’s amazing.

Alas, Apple no longer makes the Thunderbolt Display. That’s probably for the best — who wants to pay $1,000 for a 27-inch display that has a density of just 109 pixels per inch? But instead of replacing it with that long-rumoured 5K Thunderbolt Display, they’ve elected to collaborate with LG on a plastic fantastic that accomplishes some of the same goals, and even improves upon Apple’s displays in some ways. It obviously features a much higher resolution — 218 pixels per inch — and a wide P3 colour gamut, and it’s priced competitively with other 4K and 5K displays on the market. It also offers even easier connectivity: because Thunderbolt 3 can provide much more power, just one cable is required to connect a new MacBook Pro to the display for both charging and data.

Unfortunately, the best reason to buy a Thunderbolt Display over its competitors hasn’t been carried over to the UltraFine 5K: it is no longer the amazing docking station that the Thunderbolt Display once was.

Instead of an assortment of ports on its back, LG’s display features just three USB-C ports. And that kind of makes sense: the future, as evidenced by Apple’s new MacBook Pro lineup, belongs to USB-C. Except the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have four USB ports; it has four Thunderbolt ports, with far greater speeds and capabilities than the standard USB spec offers, like daisy chaining.

It’s not just the variety of ports, but the quantity. Three ports is pitiful on a product like this, especially if you’d — logically — like to keep your peripherals permanently connected to it. And, while you can pick up a hub, the ports on the back of the display are apparently throttled, so a hub will be splitting an already-weakened connection. That’s disappointing on a product that’s explicitly designed to connect to Apple’s most professional notebooks.

If I were to swap my setup for a new MacBook Pro and LG’s 5K display, I’d need an Ethernet dongle, and three USB-A adaptors for my hard drives — my carefully-chosen Thunderbolt-connected drive would be getting a serious downgrade there — and DAC. I’d also want to pick up a USB-C Lightning cable, and a hub to have enough ports to run it all, and I’d have to tolerate everything running at a reduced speed.

Don’t let me get you down — LG’s 5K display might work just fine for your setup. But it doesn’t seem like an adequate replacement for the Thunderbolt Display. It doesn’t have the same hardware quality as an Apple product, it doesn’t have comparable functionality, and it has an ugly “forehead” to house the camera. Unfortunately, it seems like Apple won’t make a true successor to the Thunderbolt Display because they’re not making displays any longer. For a niche of Mac users, that’s a big loss.


  1. I recently picked up one hell of a camera, though, so it might be a tough call. ↩︎

  2. While there’s a market for the “portable workstation”, I’d wager that the discontinuation of the 17-inch MacBook Pro several years ago indicates that said market is rather tiny. Then again, perhaps the discontinuation of the Thunderbolt Display indicates that its market is also tiny. ↩︎

Secure and Trusted Phishing

Eric Lawrence:

One unfortunate (albeit entirely predictable) consequence of making HTTPS certificates “fast, open, automated, and free” is that both good guys and bad guys alike will take advantage of the offer and obtain HTTPS certificates for their websites.

[…]

By December 8, 2016, LetsEncrypt had issued 409 certificates containing “Paypal” in the hostname; that number is up to 709 as of this morning. Other targets include BankOfAmerica (14 certificates), Apple, Amazon, American Express, Chase Bank, Microsoft, Google, and many other major brands. LetsEncrypt validates only that (at one point in time) the certificate applicant can publish on the target domain. The CA also grudgingly checks with the SafeBrowsing service to see if the target domain has already been blocked as malicious, although they “disagree” that this should be their responsibility. LetsEncrypt’s short position paper is worth a read; many reasonable people agree with it.

Josh Aas of Let’s Encrypt writes in that position paper:

Let’s Encrypt is going to be issuing Domain Validation (DV) certificates. On a technical level, a DV certificate asserts that a public key belongs to a domain – it says nothing else about a site’s content or who runs it. DV certificates do not include any information about a website’s reputation, real-world identity, or safety. However, many people believe the mere presence of DV certificate ought to connote at least some of these things.

The impression that a site with a DV certificate is, technically speaking, secure is largely the fault of the browser UI. Specifically, it’s the fault of Chrome’s UI, which displays a green lock icon and the word “Secure” in the address bar for sites with DV certificates. A site with an EV certificate — the kind of certificate that “guarantees” that a site is from a specific company — is displayed in the same green, but the “secure” text is replaced with the company name. This treatment is overly generous towards vouching for DV certificates, to a misleading extent. And that’s a problem, because Chrome is the world’s most popular browser.

Other browsers treat the two types of HTTPS certificates with a little more care. Both Safari and Microsoft Edge display a grey lock icon in the address bar when a site has a DV certificate, and a green lock icon with the company name when the site has an EV certificate. Firefox, on the other hand, displays the same green lock icon for sites with DV or EV certificates, but EV certificates also display the company name; DV certificates have no additional wording at all.

I think the approach that Apple and Microsoft are taking here is much clearer than what Google and Mozilla are offering in their browsers. In that sense, Aas’ position is correct. But I think that there’s more that certificate authorities could do as well. For instance, Let’s Encrypt could automatically flag any signing attempt with words like “bank”, “PayPal”, or the names of well-known companies and their products — “Google”, “iCloud”, and so forth. Let’s Encrypt could then revoke that certificate if it is being misused.

However, even with better protections in place to restrict the use of HTTPS certificates on phishing sites, I’m not sure how much difference it will make. Plenty of people who should know better have been convinced by phishing attempts.

Google’s Custom Server Security Silicon

Simon Sharwood, writing for the Register [sic]:

Google has published a Infrastructure Security Design Overview that explains how it secures the cloud it uses for its own operations and for public cloud services.

Revealed last Friday, the document outlines six layers of security and reveals some interesting factoids about the Alphabet subsidiary’s operations, none more so than the revelation that “we also design custom chips, including a hardware security chip that is currently being deployed on both servers and peripherals. These chips allow us to securely identify and authenticate legitimate Google devices at the hardware level.”

That silicon works alongside cryptographic signatures employed “over low-level components like the BIOS, bootloader, kernel, and base operating system image.”

Via Charles Arthur who quipped:

Google is paranoid about people penetrating its security because it relies on peoples’ trust; without that it would be Yahoo.

Last year, Apple was rumoured to be designing its own server infrastructure with similar hardware-level verification and security components. I haven’t heard anything about the project since. I wonder if we’ll hear something about it later this year.

Chelsea Manning’s Sentence Commuted

Charlie Savage of the New York Times breaks the news:

President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration and made WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures, famous.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

The act of clemency could be seen as a reversal, at least in part, of the Obama administration’s unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaking: The administration has brought charges in about nine cases, about twice as many as under all previous presidents combined.

In addition, Gen. James Cartwright was pardoned today, as reported by Katie Bo Williams at the Hill:

President Obama on Tuesday pardoned retired Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused of lying to the FBI about his conversations with reporters regarding U.S. efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.

Cartwright pleaded guilty in October to one felony count of making false statements during the FBI’s investigation into leaks about the government’s role in a highly classified operation known as Operation Olympic Games.

The clandestine effort — untaken with Israel — deployed a computer virus known as Stuxnet that destroyed Iranian centrifuges used in creating nuclear fuel.

Both of these cases were troubling when they were first heard, and helped set the precedent for the treatment of leakers that the president-elect has already pledged to continue. Nevertheless, this is a positive development. Your move, Julian Assange.

Dribbble Acquirrred

Andrew Wilkinson:

When I first started MetaLab, Dan Cederholm was my hero. Bulletproof Web Design was the first book I read when I was learning the ropes, and I regularly reverse engineered his stylesheets on SimpleBits to learn CSS tricks. Anything he did, I did, and I drove my early frontend developers nuts, getting them to implement every little 1-pixel detail I’d learned from Dan.

[…]

For years, I’ve been bugging Dan and Rich, begging them to let me invest in Dribbble. I’ve been like Dennis The Menace, poking them every month or two asking them to let me know if they ever think about partnering with someone or selling the business.

This September, my moxie finally paid off. Dan sent me an email saying that he and Rich were thinking about taking on a partner. My business partner Chris and I hopped on the phone with Dan and Rich, and they told us that while they loved running Dribbble, they had been at it for eight years and were ready to team up with someone who could help them take things to the next level.

MetaLab — you’ll know them as the designers of Slack — has also restructured and is now a child company of Tiny, a la Google and Alphabet. Aside from Dribbble, Tiny also owns Designer News and Flow, a Slack-ish project management service. All from a relatively small company based in Victoria, BC. Very cool.

The Mac Mini Family Tree

Stephen Hackett, in a guest piece for MacStories:

For some long-time fans, the Mac mini brought back memories of the Macintosh LC, Apple’s low-cost Mac in the early 1990s. While totally adorable, the LC was hamstrung to hit a price point, something that Apple managed to avoid with the Mac mini, at least at first. The Mac mini was slower than other desktop Macs at the time, but I thought the compromises made were perfectly fair.

[…]

Currently, the Late 2014 Mac mini is the newest model available. While it may look like the 2011 and 2012 machines, Apple made several changes that have made its smallest Mac noticeably worse.

[…]

From its humble beginnings as the BYODKM Mac to its role as a server, the Mac mini has been a faithful workhorse for 12 years now. It deserves another chance.

I can’t help but think that the days of the Mac Mini are numbered, even more so than the Mac Pro’s. Its price points compete with the iPad line, which Apple has long said represents their vision for the future of the computer. I would love for there to be another Mac Mini, in the vein of the upgradable 2012 model, but I’m not convinced it’s likely.

South Korea Prosecutor Seeks Arrest of Samsung Chief

Ju-min Park and Se Young Lee, Reuters:

South Korea’s special prosecutor on Monday sought a warrant to arrest the head of Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, accusing him of paying multi-million dollar bribes to a friend of President Park Geun-hye.

Investigators had grilled Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee for 22 straight hours last week as a suspect in a corruption scandal, which last month led to parliament impeaching Park.

The special prosecutor’s office accused Lee of paying bribes total 43 billion won ($36.42 million) to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president who is at the center of the scandal, in order to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.

This sounded awfully familiar, so I did a little digging and found this Times article by Choe Sang-Hun, from 2007:

Prosecutors are investigating three major allegations of criminal behavior: the creation of a slush fund; bribing prosecutors and government officials; and an effort by the chairman, Lee Kun Hee, and his aide to illegally help his son take over control of Samsung.

“We are ready to unveil the truth through a stern, fair and thorough probe,” said Kim Kyong Soo, a prosecution spokesman. He said prosecutors would also investigate colleagues who allegedly received bribes from Samsung.

In previous scandals that have plagued Samsung, several executives have been convicted of illegally trying to help Lee’s son, Jae Yong, take control of management, and of bribing politicians.

But Lee’s family has escaped largely unscathed. This has lead critics to charge that Samsung runs a vast network of bribery and influence-peddling through the government, the judicial branch, and the media, making the Lee family “untouchable” – a claim vehemently rejected by Samsung.

Sam Byford of the Verge summarized the outcome of that bribery case based on “Thinking About Samsung”, a book by the company’s former legal chief Kim Yong-chul:

Lee Kun-hee resigned from Samsung in 2008 after being indicted and found guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion in Samsung’s infamous slush funds scandal. Kim Yong-chul alleged that the company had a 200 billion won (roughly $200 million) budget for bribing prosecutors and politicians into turning a blind eye to its legal misconduct. Despite prosecutors seeking seven years in jail with a fine of 350 billion won ($350 million), Lee was handed a suspended three-year sentence and fined just 110 billion won ($100 million) — a relative pittance for the world’s 106th richest man. Months later, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak gave Lee Kun-hee a second personal pardon so that he could remain on the International Olympic Committee; the Samsung chairman went on to lead a successful bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang. Amidst widespread criticism that the incident highlighted the favorable treatment given to corrupt chaebol executives, Lee returned as Samsung Electronics chairman the following year.

Like father, like son.

Barack Obama on Reading and Writing

Barack Obama, in an interview with the New York Times’ chief book critic Michiko Kakutani:

I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

Writing — by which, of course, I mean really good writing — forces both the writer and the reader to slow down and focus on what is being conveyed and in what context. That requires dexterity, but it can also lead both parties to create connections between ideas in ways that otherwise could never happen. The same thing happens in speeches; for example, Martin Luther King Jr., accepting the Nobel Peace Prize:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

In one paragraph, King manages to point out that the award he has been given is both in recognition of his ability so far — to peacefully yet forcefully fight for equality — and also alludes to the prescience of the award’s shortcomings; the need for recognizing that we are not equal is not over, even today, and the fight for equality will not always be without violence. Yet, through great effort and empathy, we can approach these ideals.

Canadian Apparel

Ellie Shechet, Jezebel:

The charred remains of long-embattled retailer American Apparel were bought at auction for $88 million by Canada’s Gildan Activewear, which plans to close its 110 remaining U.S. stores and shutter its Los Angeles manufacturing facilities. At its height in 2007, American Apparel was valued at nearly $1 billion, and late last year at between $180 and $270 million.

Around 3,500 factory and headquarters workers are expected to lose their jobs.

I’m a huge fan of American Apparel’s basics, so this news is pretty heartbreaking. The fashion industry is particularly unethical, but AA challenged aspects of that (while, of course, creating its own ethical quandaries). If you’re looking for basics made in countries with stronger employee protections, you might be interested in Stanfield’s, Reigning Champ, and Royal Apparel.

Andy Rubin’s New Venture: ‘Essential’

Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen, Bloomberg:

Rubin, creator of the Android operating system, is planning to marry his background in software with artificial intelligence in a risky business: consumer hardware. Armed with about a 40-person team, filled with recruits from Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Rubin is preparing to announce a new company called Essential and serve as its Chief Executive Officer, according to people familiar with the matter.

[…]

The centerpiece of the system is a high-end smartphone with a large edge-to-edge screen that lacks a surrounding bezel. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January, Rubin discussed the smartphone with mobile carrier executives, including some from Sprint Corp., people familiar with the talks said.

[…]

While still in the prototyping stage, Rubin’s phone is aimed at the top of the market where Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Alphabet Inc.’s new Pixel reside. It’s expected to include high-end materials and the ability to gain new hardware features over time, the people said. Representatives for Rubin and Sprint declined to comment.

That sounds a little bit like a modular phone. Consider me skeptical.

Behind the Scenes of the Project Ara Modular Smartphone

Harrison Weber, reporting for VentureBeat:

“We had a philosophy that this phone was not for the iPhone-carrying, latest Samsung Galaxy-carrying smartphone owner in the U.S.,” said Makoski. “We wanted to bring access to the internet, to the smartphone space, to those who previously didn’t have it. And part of the ways to do that is to create a platform where an India telecom could put customized radios into Ara for a $50 price point or a $100 price point, or it could scale all the way up to something for Latin America or the U.S.”

[…]

At the start of 2015, Eremenko’s dream of a $50 phone had evaporated. “The evolution of what Ara was supposed to be had changed so much because of the big question mark around what consumers actually wanted,” a source who worked on Ara told VentureBeat. “And a $50 [smartphone] is just not technically possible. That’s the truth. Anybody who makes smartphones can tell you that.”

So Ara pivoted.

“Pivoted” is a curious euphemism for “tanked”. The article also features the headline “Inside the rise and fall of the world’s most revolutionary phone”, but I’m not sure something can be called “revolutionary” when the smartphone market has moved towards more singular products, not the modular ideas of Ara. It’s a novel idea, but nobody I know was even remotely interested in assembling their own smartphone.

The Influence of Partisanship on Gullibility

Amanda Taub, New York Times, in a section with the subheading “how partisan bias fuels fake news”:

“If I’m a rabid Trump voter and I don’t know much about public affairs, and I see something about some scandal about Hillary Clinton’s aides being involved in an assassination attempt, or that story about the pope endorsing Trump, then I’d be inclined to believe it,” Mr. Iyengar said. “This is reinforcing my beliefs about the value of a Trump candidacy.”

And Clinton voters, he said, would be similarly drawn to stories that deride Mr. Trump as a demagogue or a sexual predator.

There’s a lot that can be drawn from this story, but this false equivalence masks that value. The pope never endorsed Clinton, and her aides are not assassins. But Trump said — on tape — that he could grab women by their genitals and that he “[doesn’t] even wait” to kiss someone because he’s famous and can get away with it. That’s not fake news; that’s sexual assault.

Consumer Reports Retests the New MacBook Pro Lineup

Consumer Reports:

We first evaluated the MacBook Pro laptops in December, and found that battery life results were highly inconsistent from one test to the next. (They ran anywhere from a low of 3.75 hours up to 19.5 hours between charges.) That led the laptops to receive low overall scores, despite strong showings in areas such as display quality and performance.

The process we followed with Apple is the same process we follow with any manufacturer when we discover a significant problem. We shared our test results with the company so it could better understand our findings and deliver a fix to consumers. Since Apple made a fix, we retested the laptops.

The new tests show battery lives far in excess of Apple’s estimates and anything I’ve heard from MacBook Pro owners, which suggests that Consumer Reports’ battery test is not an effective real-world benchmark. But now, at least, its results are consistent.

App.net and Micro.blog

Dalton Caldwell, cofounder of App.net:

In May of 2014, App.net entered maintenance mode. At that time we made the difficult decision to put App.net into autopilot mode in an effort to preserve funds and to give it ample time to bake. Since then every dollar App.net has charged has gone towards paying for the hosting and services needed to keep the site running. Unfortunately, revenue has consistently diminished over the past 2+ years, and we have been unable to return the service to active development.

We will be shutting down the App.net service on March 14, 2017. We are immediately turning off new signups and any pending subscription renewals. We are also going to open-source the code behind App.net on our GitHub page. You will have until the shutdown date to export your data. At that time, all user data will be deleted.

I’m surprised that App.net lasted as long as it did in “maintenance mode”, but this news isn’t exactly shocking. Even its most ardent users — by which I mean any user who has regularly opened the site in the past two years — saw this coming.

App.net’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Manton Reece launched a Kickstarter campaign for his in-development Twitter alternative Micro.blog. Reece’s campaign is off to a flying start, but I wouldn’t blame you for having lingering doubts about its future. The biggest difference between App.net and Micro.blog is that the latter can be self-hosted, and is entirely decentralized. If Reece were to stop development of Micro.blog in ten years, existing installations would continue to work as long as the programming languages that power it remain compatible.

Because of that, I think Micro.blog can have a future where App.net couldn’t. There’s less requirement for mass adoption. I hope it works out.

Apple’s 2016 Report Card

Thirty of Jason Snell’s closest friends graded Apple’s 2016, and it went about as well as you can expect:

Judging by my panel’s responses, Apple had a rough year — which I think most close observers of the company would probably agree with. While opinions on the Apple Watch, Apple’s cloud services, and developer relations were improved, there were strong negative trends for the Mac and Apple TV.

On the Mac:

“The Mac was almost entirely neglected this year,” wrote Accidental Tech Podcast’s John Siracusa, who called the never-updated Mac Pro “an embarrassment.” Many Tricks co-founder Rob Griffiths called it “a horrid year,” and most of our panelists had similar bad things to say.

The iPad was seen as generally positive in 2016, which surprised me. I tend to align more with Engst and Ritchie’s feelings here:

“It doesn’t feel as though Apple has followed through on the iPad’s promise by driving its evolution more quickly,” said Adam Engst.

“While Apple is finding its groove with technology like Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Case, they’re still not telling a compelling story,” said Rene Ritchie.

The Apple TV didn’t have a terrific year either:

“Apple just can’t seem to bring the content deals together to make the Apple TV my primary box,” said Mac Power Users podcaster Katie Floyd. “Unfortunately, if you’re a cord cutter (like I am) there’s still not a whole lot of traditional network content accessible on the Apple TV unless you buy it show-by-show through iTunes.”

And the remote still sucks.

Cloud services, software quality, and HomeKit were also on the receiving end of some pretty harsh comments, though not consistently. However, highlights in Apple’s year included the Apple Watch, iPhone, and social issues — Tim Cook’s handling of the FBI incident was a standout moment for this panel.

From my perspective, Apple’s 2016 was uneven, at best. Unlike the panel, I thought the iPad had a pretty poor 2016: the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was introduced in the spring, and then it seemed like they forgot all about the iPad’s hardware and software for the rest of the year. My Apple TV gets lots of use, but mostly as a Netflix and YouTube box; very few streaming services are available in Canada. The Mac story is frustrating, and software quality is still rough. Over the course of many of the products and updates introduced this year, I’ve also felt that Apple has struggled to establish clear narratives and compelling rationales.

On a positive note, the reliability of Apple’s cloud services have noticeably improved, iOS 10 fixes many of my biggest complaints — while introducing some new ones — developer relations seem improved, and the company’s commitment to privacy is a particular highlight.

I don’t think that 2016 is the new normal, and I’m sure the internal dialogue in Apple’s executive offices would echo many of the panel’s observations. It seems like a year in flux, and I think the fruits of it may start to be seen as soon as March. I’m not expecting a lot this year, but new Macs and a stronger commitment to the iPad as the future of computing ought to be high priorities.

For me, the critical question is how different is Apple’s lineup at the end of 2016 compared to the end of 2015?, and the answer is “not much”.

Be sure to read the panelists’ unedited comments.

Techdirt’s Fight

Mike Masnick of Techdirt makes an official response to a nasty lawsuit filed by Shiva Ayyadurai:

There is a larger point here. Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs. Ayyadurai’s attorney, Charles Harder, has already shown that this model can lead to exactly that result. His efforts helped put a much larger and much more well-resourced company than Techdirt completely out of business.

So, in our view, this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like.

As I wrote when Gawker filed for bankruptcy, the ability for the wealthy to use the legal system to bleed publications dry is deeply concerning. If the only media organizations that can survive this precedent are those that either only publish anodyne stories, or those that can afford a regular battering from billionaires, then public figures and governments will not be held to account for their actions. Smaller, independent publications — like ProPublica, Mother Jones, and Techdirt — are at least as vital as more well-known entities. I can think of little worse than accelerating the conglomeration of media companies through the bullying of independents.

If you can, throw a couple of bucks at Techdirt. They’re going to need it.

The Logic of a Rumoured 10.5-Inch iPad

Just a few months ago, I wasn’t sure about the logic of a 10.5-inch iPad; now, Dan Provost presents a compelling case:

The math works out perfectly. This new 10.5″ iPad would have the exact same resolution as the 12.9″ iPad Pro (2732 x 2048), but the same pixel density of the iPad mini (326 ppi instead of 264 ppi). Crunch the numbers, do a little Pythagorean Theorem, and you end up with a screen 10.5″ diagonal (10.47″ to be precise, but none of Apple’s stated screen sizes are exact). In terms of physcial dimensions, the width of this 10.5″ screen would be exactly the same as the height of the iPad mini screen.

Alongside some presumed software improvements,1 this would also create a more logical delineation between the “standard” iPad line and the iPads Pro. I’m very curious to see how the entire iPad lineup evolves this year, and whether Apple’s plans will enable a more central role for the iPad in my workflow.


  1. If a major iOS release this year doesn’t fix that scrolling list of rectangular app tiles in the multitasking popover, I’m going to lose my shit. ↩︎

Apple Reportedly Loses Another High-Profile Employee to Tesla

Seth Weintraub, 9to5Mac:

Chris Lattner isn’t the only high profile Apple executive who departed for Tesla over the past month, rather than sticking around to work on Titan. 9to5mac has learned that Matt Casebolt, a high profile Senior Director of Design for Apple’s Mac lineup left the company last month for a role at Tesla as Sr. Director Engineering, Closures & Mechanisms.

Casebolt is credited on patents related to the design and engineering of the MacBook Air and Mac Pro. From the outside, it sure seems like Apple’s car project isn’t retaining top talent that is interested in working on the future of transportation.

Chris Lattner Is Leaving Apple

Chris Lattner, in a post to the Swift Evolution mailing list:

I’m happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as “Project Lead” for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I’ve made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. This decision wasn’t made lightly, and I want you all to know that I’m still completely committed to Swift. I plan to remain an active member of the Swift Core Team, as well as a contributor to the swift-evolution mailing list.

That “other space” that Lattner alludes to is, according to Mark Gurman, a VP position at Tesla.

Also making news today is Daniel Gross’ announcement that he’s leaving Apple for Y Combinator. Gross directed many of Apple’s machine learning initiatives, while Lattner created Swift; these are two of the highest-profile initiatives within the company.

Update: Tesla confirms:

We would like to welcome Chris Lattner, who will join Tesla as our Vice President of Autopilot Software. […]

It must be a weird day at Apple for Project Titan team members.

Update: A fun thought experiment is to consider whether Tesla offered Lattner the position, or if Lattner sought it out.

Google Pulls Ads From Fark for Five Weeks Over Misinterpretation

Fark founder Drew Curtis:

You would probably assume that Google, a company that makes nearly all of its money from advertising, has a crack team of ninjas instantly handling issues in their publisher network. That assumption would be totally wrong.

This past October we suffered a huge financial hit because Google mistakenly identified an image that was posted in our comments section over half a decade ago as an underage adult image – which is a felony by the way. Our ads were turned off for almost five weeks – completely and totally their mistake – and they refuse to make it right.

Apple’s Statement on Consumer Reports’ MacBook Pro Battery Tests

Apple PR, in a statement provided to news outlets:

We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab.

The statement goes on a little longer, but the nutshell version comprises these three sentences. And I have issues with all of them.

Calling the Disable Caches setting “hidden” seems, at best, misleading. While it’s true that a user has to switch on the Develop menu in Safari’s preferences to expose this setting, that’s all done through Safari’s GUI. A “hidden” setting would be one that requires a Terminal command, wouldn’t it?

At any rate, arguably no battery test can truly reflect “real-world usage”, since all tests are — by definition — simulations of some kind of usage. Someone browsing the same three or four websites all day long with little else running would likely get very good battery life, while a user editing RAW photos that are synced to iCloud Photo Library would see pretty poor life. That’s just how it works. As the product becomes more targeted towards power users, the gap between the extremes of battery life will only get wider — you can bet that the number of users running Final Cut on a 12-inch MacBook is very, very low.

Consumer Reports’ browser-based battery test is, as Apple says, inconsistent with typical web browser usage. Most users will leave their cache on. But they’ll also probably browse more than ten web pages repeatedly, and might have iTunes, Messages, a couple of Finder windows, and Mail all running in the background.

We could argue about the validity of Consumer Reports’ test all day long. The third sentence in the excerpt I quoted above is the part where Apple admits that there is a flaw, but it seems pained and couched. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how a bug like this, when combined with a disabled cache, could lead to Consumer Reports seeing some test results with less than half that of Apple’s estimates, while other results were nearly double what Apple says. That’s a massive chasm, and I haven’t seen any MacBook Pro owner claiming to get battery life at the upper end of that spectrum.

The Post-Acquisition Yahoo IP Holding Company Will Be Called ‘Altaba’

Olivia Solon of the Guardian:

Verizon agreed to buy Yahoo’s search engine and web portal for $4.83bn back in July. However, Yahoo’s shareholders held onto the company’s lucrative investments – including a 36% stake in Yahoo Japan and a 16% stake in Alibaba – and patent portfolio. This remaining entity has no product and no staff members.

According to an SEC filing released today, that entity will, provided the Verizon deal goes through, be know as Altaba and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, along with five other board members, will resign from its board.

Use caution when consuming Altaba. Frequent use of Altaba may lead to headaches, back pain, and incontinence. Altaba is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children, or those over the age of sixty.

Altaba is the Tronc of 2017.

The Case for Transparency at Twitter

Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed:

In the span of a few days [Martin Shkreli] 1) direct-messaged [journalist Lauren] Duca to invite her to be his date at the inauguration, 2) changed his Twitter bio to read “i have a small crush on @laurenduca (hope she doesn’t find out),” 3) created a collage of images of Duca as his Twitter header, 4) changed his profile picture to a doctored image of Duca and her husband, where Shkreli’s face is photoshopped over Duca’s husband’s. Duca, who has over 130,000 Twitter followers, posted Shkreli’s bio and images around 11 a.m. Sunday. They went viral instantly and Shkreli was banned in just over two hours. “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted harassment, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

To Twitter’s credit, the company responded quickly to Duca’s plea and the subsequent tweets about Shkreli’s behavior. But Twitter’s vague, one-sentence justification for the suspension — the result of its long-stated policy not to comment on individual accounts for the privacy of its users — highlights a broader concern for the company in 2017: Twitter, despite its attempts to police its platform, appears unwilling to engage in the necessary transparency surrounding the harassment of its users.

The entirety of this story — Shkreli’s harassment in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands, Twitter’s response, and the ongoing abuse targeted towards Duca from Shkreli’s followers — is symptomatic of far deeper and more egregious concerns in the way we approach harassment in a primarily written form.

When I was young, I — like many of you, I’m sure — was taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m sure the sentiment behind this is earnest, but reality shows that it is complete bullshit. The tweets and messages directed towards Duca aren’t mere words; they’re a call to action to a wide audience. The laws against online harassment are inconsistent state-to-state, and federal laws require a high level of evidence which, due to the way tweets and emails can be interpreted,1 isn’t always easy to prove.

Even if that’s resolved, the intent behind this abuse won’t go away. There’s a deeper cultural problem in the way that threats against women and people of colour, in particular, are perceived. The only way to make progress here is to listen to, and empathize with, those most affected.


  1. Frequently by a white, male prosecutor↩︎

‘The Best 1.0 in Tech History’

Marco Arment:

Not only was it truly mind-blowing at the time, but in retrospect, so much of modern computing was invented for that first iPhone phone and revealed to the world for the first time in that hour. Just watch the software demos: most modern UI mechanics and behaviors, large and small, began that day.

Brian McCullough:

With ten years of perspective, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the iPhone is the fact that, for all its retrospective imperfections, the original model was in fact so conceptually perfect, right out of the gate. Automobiles had to evolve for almost 40 years until they settled into the standard configuration we are familiar with today. On their first attempt, the team at Apple managed to stumble upon the perfect form factor, the perfect incarnation of the modern smartphone. Smartphones had existed for several years previous to the iPhone, but the standard form of the smartphone as we know it today — physical keyboard-less, a single slab of screen, a “black mirror” that is both a reflection of, and a conduit for, all of our hopes and desires — they nailed it on the first try. And that’s quite remarkable. Whatever you may think about the subsequent lawsuits and charges of copycat-ing, there’s a very good reason why everyone in the industry moved toward the paradigm the iPhone pioneered.

Plenty of commentators are expressing similar sentiments today. The iPhone really is the bridge into the post-PC world.

Man Who Didn’t Invent Email Sues Techdirt for Saying So

Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

Shiva Ayyadurai, the man who claims to have invented email — and who sued now-defunct gossip blog Gawker for saying he didn’t — announced this morning that he’s filed a new lawsuit yesterday against the website Techdirt. Ayyadurai is seeking $15 million in damages — and is represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer who represented him and Hulk Hogan in their suits against Gawker.

The only person who truly believes that Ayyadurai invented email is Ayyadurai himself. It must be pretty nice to be able to use the American legal system as a means for legitimizing a false narrative, while bleeding dry any publication that bothers to fact-check those claims.

Update: In an apparent attempt to support his claims, Ayyadurai is appearing tomorrow on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show. Apt.

Update: Mike Masnick, writing in November at Techdirt:

It’s a victory for bullshit. It’s a victory for trying to rewrite history and smear the actual truth. And it was aided by Peter Thiel. I do wonder, though, if Ayyadurai continues to sue publications that properly point out that he is not telling the truth, and targets us, if Thiel will come to our aid. Hell, I’m not even a single-digit millionaire. So, clearly, he’s going to help us out, right?

Apple Celebrates the Tenth Anniversary of the iPhone’s Launch

Apple PR:

January 9 marks the tenth anniversary of iPhone’s blockbuster debut. At Macworld 2007 in San Francisco, Steve Jobs introduced the world to iPhone as three products in one — “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device.” In the ten years since, iPhone has enriched the lives of people around the world with over one billion units sold. It quickly grew into a revolutionary platform for hardware, software and services integration, and inspired new products, including iPad and Apple Watch, along with millions of apps that have become essential to people’s daily lives.

No press release for the iPhone’s tenth anniversary has been published to the official press release library, but there is one in the “Newsroom”. By contrast, no press release was published at all for the thirtieth anniversary of the Mac in 2014,1 though it was acknowledged onstage on a couple of instances.

I’m not really sure there’s anything to make of this, though. The iPhone is one of the most successful products of all time, so I’m not surprised to see a nod towards it. And, as John Gruber wrote late last year, it’s extremely unlikely that the iPhone that will be released this year will be an “anniversary” model or anything of the sort.

Update: But, for the thirtieth anniversary of the Mac, they did launch a campaign. Thanks to Matt Christensen for the reminder; I completely forgot.


  1. Nor for the 20th and 25th anniversaries in 2004 and 2009, respectively. Apple’s PR library doesn’t go back farther. ↩︎

The Humans and Machines That Built New York’s Second Avenue Subway

Derek Mead, Madison Margolin, and Alex Pasternack, Vice:

Back in June 26, 2012, a Second Avenue subway construction crew blasted rock for the future 72 St. Station in Manhattan. At that time, Motherboard dove into the story of the longest-lasting transportation project in New York City’s history. First proposed in 1929 and again in 1951, but persistently hobbled by money woes and community opposition, the Second Avenue subway finally opened this year.

We went underground to see the construction of the subway — controlled explosions, and lots of manpower and machinery — being carried out back in 2013, and again when it opened just a few days ago. We went back this week to see the fruits of one of the largest transportation projects ever mounted in human history. Here is our journey.

Untapped Cities also has an impressive set of photos from the construction of the subway, including a few before-and-afters.

Instagram Gains Support for Live Photos, Wide Colour Gamut

Aldrin Calimlim, App Advice:

Live Photos support in Instagram allows you to take any of the GIF-like images you’ve taken on your iPhone and convert it into a back-and-forth looping Boomerang video to be shared on the app’s Stories platform or as a direct message.

[…]

In addition to Live Photos support in Instagram, support for the wide color gamut of the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus has been incorporated into the app. This means that users of the newer iPhones will now be able to see and capture more vivid Instagram images.

Facebook has supported Live Photos since shortly after the iPhone 6S’ debut, so it’s a little odd that it has taken Instagram a full year more to become compatible. Both of these features are delivered via a back-end architectural adjustment, though, so an app update isn’t required. Nice.

On a side note, I haven’t seen an ad in Instagram for several months now. That’s not a complaint.

Medium’s Pivot Caught Its Publishing Partners by Surprise

After Medium announced yesterday that they would be laying off fifty employees and terminating their advertising program, they apparently forgot to give a heads-up to the publishers who moved to the platform in April.

Peter Sterne and Kelsey Sutton, Politico:

Medium’s exit from the online ad business was news to some of its publishing partners, many of whom have come to depend on the publishing platform as a key source of revenue. More than two dozen publications are members of Medium’s revenue beta program, which allows them to sell paid subscriptions to readers and to receive a cut of Medium’s native advertising revenue.

Five members of the revenue beta program told POLITICO that they did not receive any advance notice of Medium’s change in strategy before Williams’ public announcement. One publishing partner only learned about the pivot after reading an article about it on the tech news site Recode.

“Our publishers were informed about the changes by our team in addition to the post,” a Medium spokeswoman told POLITICO.

Via Jason Kottke, who writes:

New businesses are unstable…that’s just the way it is. In Silicon Valley (and in other startup-rich areas), these unstable businesses have lots of someone else’s money to throw around — which makes them appear more stable in the short term — but they cannot escape the reality of the extreme risk involved in building a new business, particularly a business that needs to grow quickly (as almost all VC-backed startups are required to do). All of which can make it difficult to enter into a business arrangement with a startup…just ask publishers working with Facebook or businesses dependent on Twitter’s API or Vine or Tumblr, not to mention the thousands of startups that have ceased to exist over the years.

Couldn’t have said it any better.

DJI Reportedly Acquires Majority Share in Hasselblad

Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape:

Hasselblad still needed to stay afloat. The investors wanted their money and they were not willing to contribute any more to this cause. What now?

Simple, the minority shareholder becomes the majority shareholder. DJI now owns the majority share of Hasselblad. You heard me right. This information has come from numerous, reliable sources. Hasselblad, the iconic Swedish camera company, is now owned by the Chinese drone maker DJI. Sooner or later, this will all become public. Maybe now that I am spilling the beans, it will be sooner rather than later. It seems that everyone inside Hasselblad knows about this, as well as some distributors and resellers. You can’t keep something this big a secret for very long, eventually, it is going to get out.

This is pretty wild. Historically, Hasselblad made some of the best film cameras in — and out of — the world. When everything turned digital, they were left behind, but have since created the wildly successful X1D. After I spent far too long gawping at some sample photos posted by Ming Thein last year, it’s no wonder it has been such a runaway hit.

DJI, meanwhile, builds some of the best semi-professional drones in the world. The attached cameras produce remarkably high-quality video, but I’m worried that Hasselblad’s name will be used to sell products they had little to do with. They’re no stranger to that — they’ve released a lot of rebadged Sony cameras — but their reputation is back on the right track with the X1D. I worry that it will be squandered.

For what it’s worth, both DJI and Hasselblad said that they could only tell me that they “have no further news about DJI’s partnership”, but TechCrunch is confirming Raber’s report.

Missing WatchOS Updates

Martin Vyderna pointed out today that it has been three weeks since Apple pulled WatchOS 3.1.1 just after it was launched due to allegedly bricking Series 2 models. The update has not yet been reinstated, and I have my doubts that it never will be.

Shortly after the 3.1.1 update was released and pulled — and just before the winter holidays — a build of WatchOS 3.1.3 was seeded to developers. My guess, without knowing anything specific, is that the bug fixes and features in 3.1.1 are considered to be relatively minor, and will be rolled into 3.1.3, likely headed for a release alongside other platform updates. I have no idea why a 3.1.2 version is apparently missing — perhaps it was intended to be the fix for the 3.1.1 update issues.

But, to reiterate, that’s all just guesswork. I’ve asked Apple for clarification, but they never return my emails, and I don’t expect them to on a matter of a minor update. The lack of urgency on this update does make the Watch feel a bit neglected, though.

Weather Line Updated With Today Widget

Weather Line, my favourite weather app, has been updated for iOS 10. I’ve been testing this release for a couple of months now and it’s a terrific update, with San Francisco used throughout the app, and a new Today widget that shows the trend graph for the next eight hours. It’s the only weather app I use, mostly because of the day’s trend line. You can grab the update free for existing users, or just $3 for new users.

Comparing the Mac Pro’s Price and Performance in 2006

Speaking of the Mac Pro, I was reminded today about a time when Apple was proud of the professional Macs they shipped. Until the middle of last year, they had a dedicated page for professional users and case studies.

And then there was the competition. Dan Frakes, Macworld:

If you caught the Mac Pro’s introduction during last week’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, you know that Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president for worldwide product marketing, punctuated his demo of the new high-end desktop by uttering the “D” word — Dell. Specifically, Schiller brought up Dell to compare its price to the standard 2.66GHz Mac Pro Quad’s $2,499 price tag. By Schiller’s math, a similarly configured Dell Precision 690 would run you $3,448 — around $950 more than the Mac Pro.

Today, you can’t even run a similar comparison because Dell doesn’t offer a Precision tower with a processor as old as the one fitted to the currently-available Mac Pro.

It’s About Trust

A guess: Apple’s greatest asset is the trust users and customers have in them to be doing the right thing for them, whether in the near term or over a longer run. You could say that about nearly any technology company, but here’s another guess: few others require a user’s trust to the extent that Apple does.

Forgive me for pointing out the obvious here, but Apple, unlike its peers, is the only company that makes hardware that can officially run MacOS and iOS. Google and Microsoft may now have their own integrated hardware and software products — in the form of the Pixel and Surface, respectively — but other companies make hardware that runs Android and Windows.

This puts Apple in a position of incredible power and responsibility. Their platforms are exceptional. Even as I complain at length about the myriad bugs and quality issues in MacOS, I’ve also used Windows recently and I can assure you that there’s a gigantic gap. Yet this responsibility, I feel, is something that they haven’t always treated with the respect it deserves.

Chuq Von Rospach, in a rightfully-popular essay on the state of Apple’s 2016:

A big percentage of complaints over the new MacBook Pro devices is that they ignore the needs of the “power” user. I think a better way to define this is that these units define “power user” different than many people who see themselves as power users do, and they’re upset (justifiably) that there aren’t options that allow them to solve their needs.

[…]

It’s been over a thousand days since [the Mac Pro] has seen an update. As Apple’s high end flagship, this is unconscionable. It shows a lack of respect for its high end power users that have depended on it.

Professional and power users are not a large market — at least, not when compared to millions of more average consumers — but they remain integral to all of Apple’s platforms. Developers rely upon the Mac to build great apps for all of Apple’s platforms, and that ecosystem is a key selling point.

And, on the subject of money, pro and power users are more likely to make a far greater investment in Apple’s platforms. A really powerful Mac runs upwards of $4,000, and pro users are far more likely to buy external displays, make large software commitments, and even buy additional computers. The market may be small, but ask a Mac-based professional video editor or composer how much they’ve sunk into their workstation, especially if they’ve been a longtime customer. They could typically have a couple of nice cars for that money.

That kind of investment feels like it has been squandered. No company should be selling the exact same computer for a thousand days at exactly the same price points, but Apple certainly shouldn’t, especially not when it’s a professional Mac. It’s this kind of thing — and continuing to sell outdated WiFi hardware, and not updating the Mac Mini or even the iMac, and reducing the future-proofing of professional Macs — that makes longtime users seriously consider fleeing the platform.

Above all, it feels like an abuse of trust. Many of us have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into Apple’s ecosystem in hardware, software, accessories, and services. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that Mac is dead, or that Apple is doomed. But, as Apple encourages ever greater investment in their entire ecosystem through various inter-device features and cloud services, they’ll need ever-greater amounts of trust. And right now, as a “power” Mac user, I’m more uneasy than I can remember.

Gamifying Health With the Apple Watch

Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

There’s something super effective for me about gaming health with easy-to-capture metrics and achievable short-term and long-term goals. I could diet and exercise on my own but I had no idea where to start before; relying on Apple Watch as a coach has totally made the difference for me. Apple Watch has tremendously helped motivate me to change my life for the better and I’m happier for it today.

Even if you — as I — don’t really track your weight or diet, Hall’s story is a great reminder of how the Watch simply makes you aware of your health. The very concept of needing a prompt to stand up or exercise more is a bit deflating, in the sense that this is something that all of us should be doing automatically, but trying to do so regularly when you’re focused on so many things at a sedentary desk job can be a bit tricky.

Silly as it may be, the achievements in Activity got me to start thinking about my physical activity a lot more this past year. I began walking to work in the spring, and continued to walk in at least one direction until partway through November. Since I didn’t want to break my monthly streak, I found a way to use Calgary’s +15 system to walk most of the length of downtown to my apartment. It’s not much, but it keeps me active, even on cold days — Weather Line reports that it’s going to feel like –32°C (about –25°F) around the time I’ll be headed home. It’s encouraging. No matter how ridiculous that may seem, the ends really do justify the means.

Insurance Firm to Replace Human Workers With IBM’s Watson

The Mainichi, with no byline:

Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance Co. is planning to slash nearly 30 percent of its payment assessment department’s human staff after it introduces an artificial intelligence (AI) system in January 2017 to improve operating efficiency.

[…]

Fukoku Mutual has already begun staff reductions in preparation for the system’s installation. In total, 34 people are expected to be made redundant by the end of March 2017, primarily from a pool of 47 workers on about five-year contracts. The company is planning to let a number of the contracts run out their term and will not renew them or seek replacements.

The insurance firm will spend about 200 million yen to install the AI system, and maintenance is expected to cost about 15 million yen annually. Meanwhile, it’s expected that Fukoku Mutual will save about 140 million yen per year by cutting the 34 staff.

About a month ago, I finished reading Cathy O’Neil’s excellent “Weapons of Math Destruction” and I’m currently midway through “Data Love” by Roberto Simanowski.1 While finding out why an institution has made a particular decision has always been somewhat difficult, both books make the case that offloading a decision to mass data collection and automation can have disastrous consequences that aren’t fully understood. Furthermore, there’s a sense of certainty and finality to a decision made by a computer program — humans can see nuance and context, but a machine typically doesn’t. And, to make matters worse, the specific rationale for a machine’s decision may never be known because the source code is almost always considered confidential.

This is the direction we’re headed in and, while I don’t want this to come off as curmudgeonly, unregulated and proprietary big data programs are making decisions we don’t fully understand or control. That ought to be concerning.


  1. Both of those links are affiliate links. ↩︎

The Leap Second

Jack Forster, writing for Hodinkee:

There probably were not a lot of us that noticed it during the countdown to midnight, and the New Year, last Saturday, but this year, time needed a tweak. At 23:59:59 on December 31, 2016, an additional second was added to UTC (Universal Time Coordinated, the international time standard) so that, for exactly one second, UTC time was 23:59:60. 

This might sound a little ‘who cares’ for most of us, but managing the Leap Second is, among other things, essential for little things like running the Internet, and ensuring GPS doesn’t think you’re halfway to the Moon when you’re just trying to find your mother-in-law’s house (literally).

Accurate time is also essential for things like HTTPS certificates and, apparently, Cloudfare’s CDN services.

France Gives Workers the Legal Right to Ignore Out-of-Hours Email

David Renshaw, the Fader:

The French government has passed a law designed to tackle the problems caused by the ‘always on’ culture of staff who are available 24/7 via their phones. As of January 1, employees of companies with over 50 members of staff now have the legal right to ignore emails sent out of office hours. This ‘right to disconnect’ is designed to quell the rise in unpaid overtime, as well as issues like burnout and sleeplessness that a permanent level of accessibility can cause.

It astonishes me that this practice has become so common and expected that it deserves a law to curtail it. Still, why should it apply only to companies with greater than fifty employees?