Aetna to Subsidize Apple Watch for Its Health Insurance Customers 

Aetna press release:

Aetna today announced a new initiative to revolutionize members’ consumer health experience by combining the power of iOS apps and the unmatched user experience of Apple products including Apple Watch, iPhone and iPad with Aetna’s analytics-based wellness and care management programs. Beginning this fall, Aetna will make Apple Watch available to select large employers and individual customers during open enrollment season, and Aetna will be the first major health care company to subsidize a significant portion of the Apple Watch cost, offering monthly payroll deductions to make covering the remaining cost easier.

In addition to the customer program, Aetna will provide Apple Watch at no cost to its own nearly 50,000 employees, who will participate in the company’s wellness reimbursement program, to encourage them to live more productive, healthy lives.

Seems like this could be a big deal. Beth Mole, reporting for Ars Technica:

In a statement to Ars, Aetna spokesperson Ethan Slavin said that Aetna will be working directly with Apple to develop a suite of healthcare apps for Aetna customers. “Apple will have employees devoted to providing support to Aetna on this initiative,” he wrote, and “Aetna will also have a dedicated employee unit focused on this collaboration.” Slavin was mum on whether the apps would be developed using CareKit, however.

Serenity Caldwell’s Apple Watch Series 2 Review 

Speaking of Serenity Caldwell, her Apple Watch Series 2 review is incredibly detailed, and includes a good video (shot entirely with iPhone 7).

The Talk Show: ‘You’ve Got the Nubbin’ 

Serenity Caldwell returns to the show to discuss Apple’s new stuff: the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, Apple Watch Series 2 (and the semi-new Series 1), iOS 10, MacOS Sierra, and more. Or as she describes it: “In which @gruber and I grumble about Watch restores and obsess over a whole bunch of photos on an audio-only podcast.”

Sponsored by:

  • Fracture: Your pictures, printed directly on glass. Great gift idea.
  • Backblaze: Online backup for $5/month. Native. Unlimited. Unthrottled. Uncomplicated.
  • Automatic: Your smart driving assistant. The best dingus you’ll ever buy for your car. Save $20 with this link.
Úll 2016 

Úll:

Úll is a conference for people who build and love great products. We focus on great product stories, presented through an Apple-shaped lens. We treat the conference itself as a product: with a deep emphasis on the attendee experience.

Úll 2016 will explore that very Apple-y of ideas: thinking different.

November 1-2 in Killarney, Ireland. Úll is one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended — probably the best. It’s beautiful, smart, friendly, and fun. If you can make it, go.

Rich Trouton on iCloud Desktop and Documents in MacOS Sierra 

Great piece by Rich Trouton exploring the details of how iCloud Desktop and Document syncing works. He makes a good point here:

Currently, Apple provides 5 GB of storage space for free for iCloud users. That 5 GB of storage includes storage for your iCloud email, your iCloud backups for your iOS device(s), your iCloud Photo library and iCloud Drive. If you need more than 5GBs of storage space, you have to pay for it.

Considering that most folks likely have more than 5 GB of files stored in their home folder’s Documents directory, let alone their Desktop folder, there are immediate issues with enabling iCloud Desktop and Documents syncing if you’re not paying Apple for sufficient iCloud storage space.

It’s easy for me to say that Apple should give all iCloud users a lot more free storage, and I know that the company is on a “We make money from services” kick this year. But they’re the ones who keep adding new features to iCloud that require significantly more storage space.

iCloud Photo Library vs. iCloud’s 5 GB Free Storage Tier 

Rui Carmo:

There is just no sane way to archive iCloud photos on your Mac once you’ve gone past the baseline 5 GB. None whatsoever. Zip. Nada.

Photos, like iPhoto before it, remains stubbornly autistic where it regards managing multiple photo libraries — it’s possible, but fiddly, error-prone and utterly incomprehensible to the average user.

And, more to the point, there is no way to move photos directly from one library to another. This last bit, as far as I’m concerned, is inexcusable.

Right now, the only sane way to cope seems to setup a smart folder inside Photos for items older than a given threshold and manually export (and then delete) originals from that — which renders all of your nice metadata useless. […]

Apple ought to build in to Photos an archival feature that allowed me to export items from my iCloud library to an archival one on my Mac, prompting me to do so upon reaching, say, 75% of my iCloud capacity (or another set threshold) to make things easier for the average user.

That archival process would create, say, an archive bundle per year, and copy across all the metadata and album associations you’ve painstakingly defined in Photos.

You’d then be free to move those around to backup storage at will, and clicking upon an archive would launch Photos with the archive temporarily open in the sidebar so you could move things back and forth.

Carmo makes some good points in this piece, but I think he’s conflating two different issues:

  1. 5 GB of storage is not enough, and most people are never going to budge from the free tier. 50 GB for just $1 a month is a good deal, but there are way too many people who just won’t budge from “free”, no matter how cumbersome the 5 GB limit makes their life. Surely Apple will eventually increase the storage capacity of the free tier; the sooner they do so, and the larger they make it, the better.

  2. Photos should make it easier to deal with very large libraries.

Carmo is focused on #2. I think #1 is the more pressing problem. I bet the number one reason people find the need for multiple libraries in Photos is because they’re bumping up against their iCloud storage limit.

Daring Fireball RSS Feed Sponsorship Fall Schedule 

Just a few weeks left on the DF sponsorship schedule this year: one in October, two in November, and one in December. And: this current week.

Get in touch if you’ve got a cool product or service to promote, and check out the list of all previous sponsors to see how many of them have come back for repeat sponsorships.

Bloomberg: ‘Disney Is Working With an Adviser on Potential Twitter Bid’ 

Alex Sherman and Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg:

The Walt Disney Co. is working with a financial adviser to evaluate a possible bid for Twitter Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. After receiving interest in discussing a deal, Twitter has started a process to evaluate a potential sale. Salesforce.com Inc. is also considering a bid, working with Bank of America on the process, according to other people, who declined to be named because the matter is private.

Nick Bilton, on Twitter:

From (high-up) people I’ve spoken to internally at Twitter, I’ve always heard Disney is the dream suitor.

Don’t think of Disney as the Mickey Mouse/theme park company. Think of Disney as the media conglomerate that owns ESPN and ABC and which just acquired a 33 percent stake streaming media giant BAMTech. Twitter is a media company and a publishing service, not a social network.

MG Siegler on Snap’s Spectacles 

MG Siegler:

First and foremost, the very direct framing of Spectacles as a toy is smart. Under-promise, over-deliver 101. As many have noted, basically the opposite of Google Glass. Partially as a result of the stigma around that product, Snap had a very tight rope to walk here. But I think they’re going to pull it off because we already have the answer to the questions that will pop up to wearers.

Beware Desktop and Documents Folder Syncing on MacOS Sierra 

Josh Marshall had a really bad experience with the new Desktop and Documents folder iCloud syncing feature in Sierra:

So today at work I had Sierra start syncing my work Desktop and Documents folders. Later I checked in iCloud and there it all was. Awesome.

What I didn’t see were my Desktop files from my home computer. That was odd because I’d upgraded to Sierra at home the night before. So why hadn’t it worked from home?

When I got home I checked to see if I’d enabled this syncing operation on my home machine. I hadn’t. So I checked the box to enable it. But when I did it said I had too many files or too many nested folders to use this service. I poked around on Google to find out about this because I hadn’t seen any reference to any storage limits. I couldn’t find any information about this. So I moved some files off my desktop to see if I could get under whatever this limit I was bumping up against.

After moving a bunch of files, I tried again. Success! It let me do it. Then in a flash all the files on my desktop disappeared and were replaced by the files from my work desktop.

It sounds like his files weren’t vanished — they were moved to a sub-folder of the iCloud Desktop folder. But it sure looked like his files were vanished. From Ars Technica’s Sierra review:

Enable iCloud Desktop and Documents on a second Mac you’ve upgraded to Sierra, one that already has files in its Desktop and Documents folders, and you will momentarily panic, as all of your existing files are removed and replaced with the “canonical” iCloud versions. But don’t worry; everything that was already on your desktop has been moved to a subfolder in the iCloud Desktop folder named “Desktop — [Name of Mac].” From there, move files around however you want to reconcile the desktops on your Macs. […]

It takes a while for your Mac to upload all your files into iCloud the first time you turn it on — the service seems reluctant to overload your Mac or to completely saturate your Internet connection, both of which can easily happen while syncing a service like Dropbox for the first time. Going to the iCloud Drive folder in the Finder will give you status updates as well as show you how much storage space you have left in your iCloud account.

So it’s not so much that the feature is dangerous but that the experience of enabling it on a second Mac is really poorly designed. When you enable it on a Mac when there’s already an existing iCloud Desktop folder, there should be some sort of dialog that explains exactly what’s going to happen.

iFixit’s Pro Tech Toolkit 

My thanks to iFixit for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new Pro Tech Toolkit. It’s a set of tools specifically designed for modern electronics repair. They sent me one a few weeks ago and it is excellent. Even the case is nice. It has every little oddball screwdriver you might need. Last year the Apple Watch came out with a new tri-point screw, smaller than anything iFixit had seen before. Now their toolkit contains a screwdriver for that screw — which is also now used in the iPhone 7.

I actually have an older iFixit toolkit (I think I might have picked it up at a Macworld Expo, years ago?), and this new one is better in every way. These are just damn good tools. Check out iFixit’s recent teardowns of the latest phones from Apple and Samsung, and, if you’re interested in the toolkit, use coupon code “courage” (ha!) and you’ll save $5.

Snapchat Releases First Hardware Product, Spectacles 

Seth Stevenson, writing for the WSJ:

In an unmarked building on a quiet side street just off the beach in Venice, California, 26-year-old Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel stands in a small conference room. He’s draped a towel over a mysterious object sitting on a table. He is eager to the point of jitters.

“You wanna see it?” he asks, grinning widely. There’s drama in this reveal: I’m about to join an exceedingly small circle of people whom Spiegel has shown the object to. As he lifts the towel, he breaks into a delighted laugh. “Boom!”

What initially appears to be a normal pair of sunglasses turns out to be Spectacles, the first hardware product from Snap Inc., as the firm has been newly christened (Spiegel is refreshing the company name because its offerings now go beyond the Snapchat app). When you slip Spectacles on and tap a button near the hinge, it records up to 10 seconds of video from your first-person vantage. Each new tap records another clip.

Uh, those do not appear to be a “normal pair of sunglasses”.

Keith Olbermann: ‘Vin Scully Is a Legend, but He’s Not a Saint’ 

Keith Olbermann, writing for GQ, has the best appraisal of the retiring Vin Scully I’ve seen:

It is mind-bending to consider that he has not just been on 22 of the 94 annual radio and television World Series broadcasts ever, but been alive for 87 of them. It is goose-bumpy to recognize that the season he began broadcasting major league games, Connie Mack was still the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics (Mack had become A’s manager in 1901 and we’ve just passed the 130th anniversary of Mack’s debut as a major league catcher). And it almost requires the language of Light Years to realize that if you start a new job the day after his last scheduled regular-season Dodger broadcast and you stay in that gig as long as Scully has in his, you will not be leaving your new position until Sunday, September 26, 2083.

You will also have to be almost flawless at that job over these next 67 years. Lost in the pilgrimages and the longevity is the reality that unlike almost every other great broadcaster in any field and of any time, there is not only no long list of Scullyian Gaffes, there is almost no list. Amid the Kirk Gibson call, and the Bill Buckner call, and the Hank Aaron call, and the Larsen Perfect Game call, and the Koufax perfect game call — there just aren’t many mistakes.

I’ve been watching as many of his calls for the Dodgers down the stretch as I can. At 88 years old he’s still the best there is.

CNBC: ‘Twitter May Soon Get Formal Bid, Suitors Said to Include Salesforce and Google’ 

David Faber and Anita Balakrishnan, reporting for CNBC:

Twitter shares surged Friday after sources said the ailing social media company moved closer to being sold.

The sources said the company has received expressions of interest from several technology or media companies and may receive a formal bid shortly. The potential suitors include Google and Salesforce.com, among other technology companies, sources said.

The news was taken seriously enough that Twitter’s share price closed up 21 percent for the day. If this happens, I sure hope it’s Salesforce that buys them, not Google. Why? Just a gut feeling that Salesforce would be less likely to screw Twitter up. I could be completely wrong on that, though.

The Curious Case of Chris Ziegler’s Employment at The Verge and Apple 

Nilay Patel:

Hey everyone — there have been questions about Chris Ziegler and his absence from The Verge in the past few weeks. I want to provide answers for those who have been worried about him.

First, Chris accepted a position at Apple. We wish him well. […]

Chris began working for Apple in July, but didn’t tell anyone at The Verge that he’d taken a new job until we discovered and verified his dual-employment in early September. Chris continued actively working at The Verge in July, but was not in contact with us through most of August and into September. During that period, in the dark and concerned for Chris, we made every effort to contact him and to offer him help if needed. We ultimately terminated his employment at The Verge and Vox Media the same day we verified that he was employed at Apple.

This is really bizarre. Obviously The Verge can’t have staff members simultaneously working for one of the companies they cover, but surely Apple would consider this just as much of a conflict of interest as The Verge would.

No word on what Ziegler is (or was? — several little birdies have told me Ziegler is not listed in the company directory) doing at Apple. And Ziegler’s Twitter account has been silent since August 8.

iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Examples 

I installed the first developer beta of iOS 10.1 on my iPhone 7 Plus review unit, and shot a bunch of portraits on the walk home from school with my son yesterday. Here they are on Flickr, each with its corresponding image without the depth effect applied. Some of them look great, most look pretty good, and at least two of them have serious problems.

MotionMark: A New Graphics Benchmark From the WebKit Team 

Jon Lee, Said Abou-Hallawa, and Simon Fraser:

Today, we are pleased to introduce MotionMark, a new graphics benchmark for web browsers.

We’ve seen the web grow in amazing ways, making it a rich platform capable of running complex web apps, rendering beautiful web pages, and providing user experiences that are fast, responsive, and visibly smooth. With the development and wide adoption of web standards like CSS animations, SVG, and HTML5 canvas, it’s easier than ever for a web author to create an engaging and sophisticated experience. Since these technologies rely on the performance of the browser’s graphics system, we created this benchmark to put it to the test.

We’d like to talk about how the benchmark works, how it has helped us improve the performance of WebKit, and what’s in store for the future.

Some of the tests are pretty enough to be screensavers.

How Hampton Creek Sold Silicon Valley on a Fake-Mayo Miracle 

Olivia Zaleski, Peter Waldman, and Ellen Huet, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek:

In January 2014 a Creeker on the West Coast, who asked not to be identified, received an assignment in an e-mail under the subject line “Secret Shopper Squad Stores.” She was directed to buy 20 bottles a week of Just Mayo from each Whole Foods store in a large territory. […]

After the secret purchases, the e-mail instructed, she should open one or two bottles at home to check for quality — specifically, whether the mayonnaise had separated. If the jars were all right, she could donate the rest to a food bank or give it to friends. “Do not return them to Whole Foods,” the e-mail said. It also included a link to a quality-assurance survey the Creeker was supposed to fill out for each store. But no one noticed when she didn’t do it. Within weeks she had bought so much Just Mayo that her friends and local food banks couldn’t handle any more, so she began dumping it. She spent almost $12,000 purchasing the product, she says, and she could tell the buybacks had nothing to do with quality control. “But I really didn’t think about it because I cared so much about the cause.”

With the buyback program in full swing, Tetrick celebrated the product’s success. “Wow! Some @WholeFoods are selling 100+ jars of #justmayo/day,” he tweeted on Jan. 30. Four months later, a company tweet said: “Proud to announce that #justmayo is now the #1 selling mayo at @wholefoods.”

This is just outright fraud, and Tetrick doubled down on it with his claims that the buy backs were only for the purposes of quality assurance.

Also, interesting interactive art direction on this story.

Yahoo Says Hackers Stole Data on 500 Million Users in 2014 

Nicole Perlroth, reporting for the NYT:

Yahoo announced on Thursday that the account information for at least 500 million users was stolen by hackers two years ago, in the biggest known intrusion of one company’s computer network.

In a statement, Yahoo said user information — including names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, passwords and, in some cases security questions — was compromised in 2014 by what it believed was a “state-sponsored actor.” It did not name the country involved.

The company said that it was working with law enforcement officials and that it was invalidating existing security questions and asking users to change their passwords. Yahoo also encouraged people to review other online accounts for suspicious activity, change passwords and security questions on those accounts, and watch out for suspicious emails.

Verizon, in midst of acquiring Yahoo, only found out about this two days ago. Not a good coda to Marissa Mayer’s tenure, to say the least.

Update: Also, doesn’t “500 million accounts” effectively mean all Yahoo accounts in 2014? How many accounts could there have been that weren’t stolen? They’re saying “500 million” but they really mean “They stole every account”. Right? Update: Here’s a report that claims Yahoo has 1 billion “monthly active users”, but even if true, that doesn’t mean every active user is signed into an account. Even if it’s not all accounts that were stolen, it has to be most.

Google Reneges on Allo Privacy Feature 

Russell Brandom, reporting for The Verge:

The version of Allo rolling out today will store all non-incognito messages by default — a clear change from Google’s earlier statements that the app would only store messages transiently and in non-identifiable form. The records will now persist until the user actively deletes them, giving Google default access to a full history of conversations in the app. Users can also avoid the logging by using Allo’s Incognito Mode, which is still fully end-to-end encrypted and unchanged from the initial announcement.

It would have been more surprising if Google had actually followed through on their promise for Allo message retention. And I still say “Incognito” is the wrong word. They should call it “Private”. Incognito carries a “What do you have to hide?” connotation. (I know Chrome uses the same word for private tabs, but I’d argue the same thing there — they should be called “private tabs”, like Safari does.)

Google wants to read and index your chats. It’s that simple.

According to Google, the change was made to improve the Allo assistant’s smart reply feature, which generates suggested responses to a given conversation. Like most machine learning systems, the smart replies work better with more data. As the Allo team tested those replies, they decided the performance boost from permanently stored messages was worth giving up privacy benefits of transient storage.

That’s a fair tradeoff, but it also shows very clearly who is in control at Google when it comes to features/advertising potential vs. user privacy debates. When has such a decision at Google ever erred on the side of privacy?

NYT: ‘Apple Is Said to Be Talking to Vehicle Technology Companies’ 

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Brian X. Chen, reporting for the NYT:

Apple has been talking with McLaren, the automaker known for its Formula One racecars, about an investment in the company, according to two people briefed on the talks who asked to remain anonymous because the discussions were confidential.

McLaren’s aforelinked denial is in the present tense — it doesn’t preclude previous or future discussions.

Apple is also in talks with Lit Motors, a San Francisco start-up that has developed an electric self-balancing motorcycle, about a potential acquisition, according to three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were private. Apple has already hired several former Lit Motors engineers.

Even as many Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Tesla and Uber, have embarked on high-profile electric and driverless car initiatives, Apple has kept quiet. Yet internally, it has pursued a car project, called Project Titan, which has had ups and downs in leadership and direction. The layoffs at the project this month came after the appointment of an Apple veteran, Bob Mansfield, to take over the effort.

When did Daisuke Wakabayashi leave The Wall Street Journal for The Times? Must have been recently — he got the scoop for The Journal on Bob Mansfield taking over Project Titan just two months ago.

The Financial Times: ‘Apple in Talks on McLaren Supercars Takeover’ 

Matthew Garrahan and Tim Bradshaw, reporting for The Financial Times:

Apple has approached McLaren Technology Group, the British supercar engineer and Formula One team owner, about a potential acquisition, in the clearest sign yet that the iPhone maker is seeking to transform the automotive industry.

The California technology group, which has been working on a self-driving electric vehicle for more than two years, is considering a full takeover of McLaren or a strategic investment, according to three people briefed on the negotiations who said talks started several months ago.

Whether this goes through or not, one thing I’ve been thinking is that if Apple does do a car, it ought to be a beautiful car. McLaren makes drop-dead gorgeous cars.

Benjamin Zhang, Business Insider:

On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported that Apple has approached McLaren over a potential takeover or strategic investment. McLaren has officially denied that anything is happening.

“There’s no takeover, no strategic investment,” a McLaren spokesperson told Business Insider. “It’s completely untrue.”

Tim Bradshaw:

Obviously we stand by our story despite McLaren’s statement.

Hands on With the iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode 

Matthew Panzarino, after spending a few days with the still-in-beta Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus:

If you’ve skipped here to see how the heck it works, I don’t blame you. The short answer: incredibly, miraculously well in many instances. And pretty rough in others. Apple says this is still in beta and it is. It has trouble with leaves, with chain link fences and patterns and with motion. But it also handles things so well that I never thought possible like fine children’s hair and dog fur, shooting pictures with people facing away and objects that are not people at all.

What does it have major trouble with? Fine lines, wires, chain link, glass, leaves. Anything that merges with the edges of your subject a bunch of times could confuse it. The closer to the subject the harder it is for it to distinguish. Motion, too, is a no. If the subject moves a bit, ok. If it moves too much you get ghosting, as you do in HDR mode — because there is compositing involved.

Some of the examples look very good, some not so much. There’s no doubt we’re going to see a lot of these shots on Instagram and Facebook. That said, the examples aren’t good enough to make me regret ordering a 4.7-inch 7 (jet black, natch) for my personal use.

Update: Upgraded my 7 Plus review unit to the 10.1 developer beta released today, and shot a bunch of Portrait mode photos on the walk home from school with my son. Some of them are great — good enough to make the decision to go with a regular 7 weigh a little heavier on my heart. And even when it doesn’t work well, you always get the regular photo without the depth effect side-by-side in your camera roll. You can’t lose a shot by trying it with Portrait mode.


Design as Branding

Farhad Manjoo, in his State of the Art column for The New York Times, published shortly after Apple’s September 7 event, “What’s Really Missing From the New iPhone: Cutting-Edge Design”:

The absence of a jack is far from the worst shortcoming in Apple’s latest product launch. Instead, it’s a symptom of a deeper issue with the new iPhones, part of a problem that afflicts much of the company’s product lineup: Apple’s aesthetics have grown stale.

The column is accompanied by an illustration of a fellow holding an Apple logo in his hand, yawning out of boredom.

In my own take on Apple’s event, I wrote:

There is a large contingent of pundits who apparently would be more excited about a new iPhone that looked entirely different but had the exact same components as the iPhone 6S than they are by the actual iPhones 7, which are shaped like the 6S but have amazing new components. I don’t get that mindset at all. It’s like being a car pundit and judging the new Porsche 911 with a “meh” because it looks like the previous 911, and never even considering what it’s like to actually drive the new car.

Manjoo’s headline says “design”.1 In his column, he says “aesthetics”. Aesthetics is only one aspect of design. I’m sure Manjoo knows that, and I know Times columnists don’t write their headlines, their editors do. But the headline is still his responsibility.

Steve Jobs, in a 2003 Rob Walker profile of the iPod for The New York Times Magazine:

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

I’ve cited this quote frequently over the years, and for good reason. It’s a concise statement that provides deep insight into Apple’s company culture. It is true, it is meaningful, and it exemplifies what separates Apple from most other companies. At most other companies, design is what it looks like and feels like, not how it works.

But even if we just want to talk aesthetics, just what the iPhone 7 looks like, I really don’t see how Manjoo could write “Apple’s aesthetics have grown stale” after looking at this:

Apple promotional photo of a jet back iPhone 7 Plus.

That’s stale? Which product from Apple, ever, looked like that? Which phone from any other company looks like that? I feel bad for a technology enthusiast who isn’t excited by that photograph.

Here’s the genius of the black and (especially) jet black iPhones 7. In a very seductive way, they look like something new and desirable. And at the same time, they are instantly recognizable as iPhones. That is what Manjoo and similar-minded I’m-bored-with-Apple’s-designs pundits don’t get. With a highly successful product and brand, new versions need to strike a balance between familiarity, the foundations of the brand, and hot newness. The bored-with-Apple crowd just wants the hot newness.

You need to recognize a Porsche 911 as a 911. An iPhone needs to look like an iPhone. The design needs to evolve, not transform. The thing to keep in mind is that the iPhone itself, what it looks like in your hand, is the embodiment of the iPhone brand. There is nothing printed on the front face of an iPhone because there doesn’t need to be. The Apple logo is the company’s logo. The iPhone’s logo is the iPhone itself.

It is notable that the iPhone 7 breaks an eight-generation-long pattern of Apple putting out a distinctive new industrial design every other year. I think there are two factors at play. First, whatever design is coming next wasn’t ready yet. Second, after five major form factors (original, 3G, 4, 5, 6), the iPhone has gotten ever closer to its idealized form. Iconic brands don’t zig-zag. They move forward with seemingly inexorable momentum. Their evolutions often feel inevitable, not surprising. Weak brands move like ping-pong balls; strong brands move like bowling balls. A new Rolex needs to look like a Rolex. A Leica needs to look like a Leica. A new Coca-Cola bottle needs to look like a Coca-Cola bottle.

The better the iPhone gets, the longer it’s going to stretch between major new form factor designs. Ben Bajarin, writing at Recode, is on the same page as me:

The key here is that we can expect new colors, materials, or variations to deliver some dramatic new finishes each year. Yet, they remain grounded in high-end or luxury coatings, the way high-end cars strategically span certain colors and materials. The idea that during each buying cycle consumers may be confronted with new types of innovative colors and materials is an interesting idea. Again, it reminds me quite a bit of how car manufacturers use color innovation and new types of materials (carbon fiber, mesh or other types of metals) to add design flair to their cars each year.

Similarly, sports car designs are iconic. You know a Porsche 911 when you see one, no matter what year it was made. I feel similarly about Apple sticking with certain design language, and thus establishing it as iconic. Iconic car designs have slight variations year to year, but never dramatic departures from the iconic look. I feel that Apple is on a similar design path.

Back to Manjoo:

Apple has squandered its once-commanding lead in hardware and software design. Though the new iPhones include several new features, including water resistance and upgraded cameras, they look pretty much the same as the old ones. The new Apple Watch does too. And as competitors have borrowed and even begun to surpass Apple’s best designs, what was iconic about the company’s phones, computers, tablets and other products has come to seem generic.

This is a subjective assessment, and it’s one that Apple rebuts. The company says it does not change its designs just for the sake of change; the current iPhone design, which debuted in 2014, has sold hundreds of millions of units, so why mess with success?

What Manjoo is implicitly advocating here is change for the sake of change. Apple executives have emphasized this point for years: their designs change only when they believe they’ve come up with something better, not merely something different. They’re not going to change because their competitors copy the designs.

Here is a 1968 Rolex Submariner. Here is what the current incarnation looks like. It is one of the most ripped-off designs in watch history and Rolex does not care. (Or perhaps better put: they care, insofar as I’m sure they’d rather not be ripped off in the first place, but they’re not going to let imitators budge them from their own familiar design language.)

From Manjoo’s conclusion:

And while Apple has slowed its design cadence, its rivals have sped up. Last year Samsung remade its lineup of Galaxy smartphones in a new glass-and-metal design that looked practically identical to the iPhone. Then it went further. Over the course of a few months, Samsung put out several design refinements, culminating in the Note 7, a big phone that has been universally praised by critics. With its curved sides and edge-to-edge display, the Note 7 pulls off a neat trick: Though it is physically smaller than Apple’s big phone, it actually has a larger screen. So thanks to clever design, you get more from a smaller thing — exactly the sort of advance we once looked to Apple for.

An important caveat: Samsung’s software is still bloated, and its reputation for overall build quality took a hit when it announced last week that it would recall and replace the Note 7 because of a battery defect that caused spontaneous explosions. To the extent that making a device that doesn’t explode suggests design expertise, Apple is still ahead of Samsung.

The Note 7’s larger display in a smaller form factor is, unquestionably, a design win. But I would call the fact that it’s been recalled (and banned from use on all flights) for exploding batteries more than just a “caveat”. And Manjoo’s claim that “Samsung’s software is still bloated” comes just a few paragraphs after he wrote, “Apple has squandered its once-commanding lead in hardware and software design.” Which is it?

I believe Manjoo is arguing honestly. One of the many advantages of his perch at The New York Times is that he doesn’t need to chase clicks with disingenuous arguments. I also think he represents a large contingent of tech-minded Apple critics. They really are bored by the iPhone 7 design. I just think there has never been a bigger chasm between the desires of these critics and the desires of the hundreds of millions of current and would-be iPhone users. What the critics find boring and stale, the masses find familiar and iconic. 


  1. Looking at the URL slug for the column, you can see that the original headline used the word “dazzle” in place of “design”. Both words are facile in light of the iPhone 7, but again, I realize that the headline was as likely written by a Times editor as by Manjoo. ↩︎


Studio Neat Material Dock 

Even if you’re not in the market for an iPhone/Apple Watch charging dock, the video is worth watching.

Non-Blurry Photos of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL Leak 

iPhone 7 form factor largely resembles iPhone 6: terrible, Apple has lost its edge.

Google Pixel form factor largely resembles iPhone 6: crickets.

Dropbox’s MacOS Security Hack 

Back in July, Phil Stokes at AppleHelpWriter documented some downright awful behavior on the part of Dropbox on MacOS: Dropbox prompts for your admin password, then misuses that authority to inject itself into the list of apps with permission to “control your computer” in System Preferences’s Security & Privacy panel. If you remove it from the list manually, Dropbox re-injects itself the next time it launches.

If you’re still on El Capitan, Stokes has simple instructions for removing Dropbox from this list for good.

Even better: on MacOS Sierra, Apple has closed the loophole Dropbox was abusing to circumvent this.

Safari 10.0 

Now available, both for MacOS 10.12 (Sierra) and 10.11 (El Capitan). Safari is a great browser, period, but where it really shines is in its integration with MacOS as a whole: Safari 10.0 introduces Apple Pay support, picture-in-picture video playback, and a lot more.

‘Pile of Poo Gains a Thicker, More 3D Appearance in iOS 10’ 

Jeremy Burge has a detailed change log of the emoji additions and changes in iOS 10. (I believe all of these changes apply to MacOS 10.12 Sierra, as well.)

Flag: Free Photo Prints, Forever 

Remember Flag? It was a Kickstarter project from two years ago, where the idea was they’d make high-quality photo prints for you for free, with advertisements on the back of the prints. They’re back with a second Kickstarter campaign:

Huge demand for premium free prints means access to Flag is constrained by our limited production capacity. Back us now to help us purchase the equipment we need, lower costs, and deliver to more free prints, to more people, more effectively.

Free with Flag means no printing, shipping or handling fees. […]

Archival quality printers deliver eight times more detail using inks that won’t fade for up to 300 years. Flag prints on real German photo paper and doesn’t compress the images you upload in any way. Every Flag print is gallery ready.

Seven colors of ink, specially formulated eggshell paper, and 2,400 dpi print heads deliver deeper blacks, brighter whites and a wider range or rich color than the best traditional wet-chemistry lab prints.

The Kickstarter campaign is already fully funded, and the funding tiers are filling up quick. The “earlybird special” tier only has 21/1000 spots remaining, for example.

I still think the basic idea is genius: the ads allow the prints to be free of charge, but don’t distract from the prints at all because they’re on the back.

Dan Golding: ‘A Theory of Film Music’ 

Remember that episode of Every Frame a Painting I linked to the other day about the unmemorable scores of the Marvel universe movies? Dan Golding has responded with a video of his own, and it is amazing. (Among several things I learned: Hans Zimmer was in The Buggles!)

Very Important Update: Hans Zimmer was not a member of The Buggles, he simply appeared in their video for “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

Bloomberg: ‘Rush to Take Advantage of a Dull iPhone Started Samsung’s Battery Crisis’ 

Yoolim Lee and Min Jeong Lee, reporting for Bloomberg:

Few things motivate Samsung employees like the opportunity to take advantage of weakness at Apple Inc.

Earlier this year, managers at the South Korean company began hearing the next iPhone wouldn’t have any eye-popping innovations. The device would look just like the previous two models too. It sounded like a potential opening for Samsung to leap ahead.

So the top brass at Samsung Electronics Co., including phone chief D.J. Koh, decided to accelerate the launch of a new phone they were confident would dazzle consumers and capitalize on the opportunity, according to people familiar with the matter. They pushed suppliers to meet tighter deadlines, despite loads of new features, another person with direct knowledge said. The Note 7 would have a high-resolution screen that wraps around the edges, iris-recognition security and a more powerful, faster-charging battery. Apple’s taunts that Samsung was a copycat would be silenced for good.

This was miscalculated on several fronts, starting with the fact that the iPhone 7 is not dull.

Twitter Changes Character-Counting Rules for Tweets With Links and Attachments 

John Voorhees, writing for MacStories:

Twitter began rolling out changes that take back space for text in tweets. As Twitter has gradually become a multimedia experience full of images, GIFs, videos, quoted tweets, and other things, each has encroached on the 140 character limit of a tweet leaving less room for text. That just changed.

Good news too: third-party clients like Twitterrific and Tweetbot will be able to support this.

Punching Down 

The Macalope, on Dave Gershgorn’s argument that Apple is “punching down” by competing against smaller companies like Fitbit and Spotify:

Inasmuch as Apple is the largest tech company in the world depending on the day and what measure you use, yes, it’s almost always competing against a company that’s smaller than it is. So, all the golf claps to you, you’ve created Apple’s Kobayashi Maru. The only way for them to win is to lose a lot of money and market value. […]

Fitbit is a publicly traded company with a market cap over $3 billion. Sure, it’s no Apple — as the Macalope said, no one is — but it’s not exactly two hard-working nerds in a garage. Spotify, meanwhile, has 100 million active users and half a billion registered users. Apple Music has 17 million subscribers.

A much better example than Fitbit would be Pebble. That’s a true David to Apple’s Goliath. The whole argument is nonsense though. There’s only one way for Apple to operate, and that’s full steam ahead.

In the 1992 Olympics, the U.S. men’s basketball “Dream Team” played their first game against Angola. At one point they went on a 46-1 run, and that 1 point was a free throw after Charles Barkley was called for throwing an elbow at a player for Angola. After the game, Barkley faced criticism for playing too aggressively. His answer was, more or less, that he only knows one way to play: as hard as he can. Whether he was playing against the Angolan national team or the mighty Chicago Bulls, he played the same way.

Austin Mann’s iPhone 7 Camera Review: Rwanda 

Whole thing was shot on iPhone 7 and 7 Plus cameras. If you can, look at his example photos on a display with wide color gamut. Mann on the 7 Plus 56 mm camera:

It works exactly as I hoped. It is super quick to switch between lenses, even while you are rolling video. As seen in the video above, jumping from 1× to 2× while recording can be a great way to punch in and emphasize a detail.

In terms of quality, I found the 2× zoom lens to be equally as sharp as the iPhone wide-angle we’re accustomed to. However, I do not recommend the digital zoom beyond 2×. The quality of digital zoom degrades quickly and I find it unusable for photography (although it’s actually kind of nice as an animal spotting tool).

The 2× works in ALL modes (photo, video, time-lapse, slo-mo, and even pano), which surprised me. I didn’t expect it in each mode, and I really enjoyed shooting 2× panos, capturing extra detail in the area of the landscape I found most interesting.

And on search, which truth be told I’ve not played with yet:

Shooting photos is one thing; finding them and sharing them is another. The new Photos app in iOS 10 has a great search feature (the magnifying glass at top right) that hasn’t been talked about much.

I’ve found this feature to be very powerful and way beyond what I expected. For starters, I can search for a location like “Lake Kivu” to see all the photos I took on the lake. But going further, I can search for “tree” or “mountain” and immediately see all images containing trees or mountains. Even further still, I can search for “palm tree” and it accurately displays palm trees I’ve photographed in the last week.

Sticker Pals 

This week’s DF RSS feed was sponsored by Sticker Pals, the most ambitious Messages sticker app I’ve seen, with wonderful visually exuberant hand-animated illustrations by David Lanham. You’ve got to see it to get how good it is. Download it for free.

Here’s one example, just to give you a taste.

An example sticker from Sticker Pals.

The Talk Show: ‘Hey Bruh You Bumped Muh Hat’ 

Jim Dalrymple returns to the show. Not much to talk about this week.

Sponsored by:

  • Global Delight: Global Delight’s screen capture and video-editing app for Mac. 15-day free trial and save 25 percent with code FIREBALL.
  • Casper: An obsessively engineered mattress at a shockingly fair price. Use code THETALKSHOW for $50 toward your mattress.
  • Audible.com: With Audible, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Get a free 30-day trial.
iPhone 7 No-Click Home Button Requires Contact With Skin to ‘Click’ 

Myke Hurley:

So here’s a thing.

Cover your iPhone 7 home button with material (like from a t-shirt) and try to click it.

I think I worked it out, the TouchID sensor is what’s making the connection.

No sensor connection, no click.

Never occurred to me to try this. It’s the capacitive ring around the Touch ID sensor that needs contact with skin — that’s what turns on the sensor. This means no home button clicking while wearing gloves — yet another reason to cast a stink eye in the direction of this new home button.

Update: Serenity Caldwell proves that the button does work with capacitive gloves.

How to Switch Your Apple Watch to a New iPhone 

This is easy to screw up. If you want to switch your Apple Watch to a new iPhone, you have to do it in this order:

  1. Unpair your watch from your old iPhone. This creates a fresh backup of your watch on your iPhone.

  2. Back up your old iPhone, either to iCloud or to iTunes. If you use iTunes, be sure to encrypt it, otherwise your Health, Activity, and passwords won’t get backed up.

  3. Restore your new iPhone from the old iPhone’s backup.

  4. Pair your watch with your new iPhone and restore your watch from the backup.

We got a few new iPhones here at the Gruber household today and I botched this, by forgetting step 1. Had to do it all over again with two phones and watches. It wasn’t fresh in my memory because last week when I was setting up my review unit iPhones, I also had a review unit watch, so it was natural to unpair my old watch before starting.

How to Find the Shuffle and Repeat Buttons in the iOS 10 Music App 

Kirk McElhearn:

Lots of people have been asking where the Shuffle or Repeat buttons are in the iOS 10 Music app. And it’s true, they’re not easy to find.

The problem is, the screen where you swipe up to reveal them doesn’t offer any sort of visual indication that there’s a reason to swipe up. There’s no reason to suspect there’s anything that would be revealed by swiping up, just by looking at it.

The Marvel Symphonic Universe 

Every Frame a Painting’s Tony Zhou on why you can’t remember the music from Marvel movies.


Why A-Series Benchmark Scores Matter

Thom Holwerda on Twitter, quoting a tweet of mine touting the iPhone 7’s astounding Geekbench scores:

Funny how just like in the PPC days, benchmarks only start mattering when they favour [insert platform of choice].

https://twitter.com/gruber/status/776295771943600129

I like reading/following Holwerda, because he’s someone who I feel keeps me on my toes. But he’s off-base here. I’m certainly not saying that CPU or GPU performance is a primary reason why anyone should buy an iPhone instead of an Android phone. In fact, I’ll emphasize that if the tables were turned and it were Android phones that were registering Geekbench scores double those of the iPhone, I would still be using an iPhone. In the same way that I’ve been using Macs, non-stop, since I first purchased a computer in 1991. Most of the years from 1991 until the switch to Intel CPUs in 2007, the Mac was behind PCs in performance. I never argued then that performance didn’t matter — only that for me, personally, the other benefits of using a Mac (the UI design of the system, the quality of the third-party apps, the build quality of the hardware, etc.) outweighed the performance penalty Macs suffered. The same would be true today if Apple’s A-series chips were slower than Qualcomm’s CPUs for Android.

But that would likely never happen. If Apple’s in-house chips were significantly slower than the commodity chips used by Android device makers, Apple would just use those commodity chips. The mobile situation would be just like the desktop situation, where Apple uses the same CPUs as everyone else. That’s what makes the A-series chips’ performance so interesting. If the commodity chips were fastest, everyone would use them. But if the A-series chips are the fastest (and have the best energy efficiency), only Apple gets to use them.

The iPhone has all the benefits (in short: superior design) that would keep me, and I think most other iPhone users, on the platform even if it didn’t have a performance advantage. But it does have a significant performance advantage, and it is exclusive to Apple. This is an extraordinary situation, historically. And year-over-year, it looks like Apple’s lead is growing, not shrinking. It’s not a fluke, but a sustained advantage. 


All Work and No Headphone Jack Makes Nilay a Dull Boy

A (partial!) selection of sentences containing the word “headphone” from Nilay Patel’s review of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus for The Verge:

  • And, yes, Apple has removed the headphone jack.

  • Removing the headphone jack is an act of pure confidence from Apple, which is the only company in tech that can set off a sea changes in the industry by aggressively dropping various technologies from its products.

  • And now it’s decided that — yikes — the headphone jack is over.

  • And third — here it is again — there’s no headphone jack.

  • Apart from the revised camera, the new home button, the screen, and — heyo! — the headphone jack, the other notable external hardware change to the iPhone 7 is the addition of stereo speakers.

  • Let’s talk about that headphone jack, shall we?

  • So there’s no headphone jack on the iPhone 7.

  • Apple says it needed to take out the headphone jack so it could make space for better cameras, the Taptic Engine (even though the 6S also had a Taptic Engine), and perhaps most importantly, a bigger battery.

  • Apple ships a pair of its EarPods headphones with a Lightning connector in the box, as well as a Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle so you can use your traditional headphones.

  • You’re not totally out of luck if you have a big investment in corded headphones, but you’re going to want to stock up on those adapters if you regularly plug your phone into a car or have a variety of headphones you like to use — the dongle is small enough that it’s not obtrusive, but also small enough so that it’s destined to get lost if you move it around a lot.

  • At $9, the headphone dongle is the cheapest Apple hardware you can buy; the company thinks people will just buy a few and keep them permanently attached to older headphones.

  • I’ve been spending some serious time really thinking about when and where I use the headphone jack, and it turns out that I already do much of my music listening wirelessly: Bluetooth in the car, an Amazon Echo, a few Sonos speakers, a couple Bluetooth speakers here and there.

  • There’s a huge opportunity for third-party accessory makers to fill all the gaps left by the removal of the headphone jack, but it’s also clear that the first wave of accessories is going to be a little clumsy while everyone learns exactly what those gaps are and how best to fill them.

  • Down to brass tacks: do all of the new features of the iPhone 7 make up for the inconvenience of the missing headphone jack? This may or may not surprise you, but I don’t think so — not yet.

  • The entire ecosystem of new headphones and adapters required to make use of Lightning and wireless audio is just getting off the ground.

  • Only Apple or Beats headphones offer the best wireless audio experience, and you might not like how they sound or fit.

  • Make sure you factor in the extra cost of headphone adapters or Bluetooth headphones, because you’ll end up needing them.

Nilay’s review is going to age about as well as a 2007 review of the original iPhone that devoted the same amount of attention to the lack of a hardware keyboard.

Two more sentences which demand comment:

The company’s own new W1 headphones get the fancy new pairing support, but other Bluetooth headphones and speakers still use the same somewhat flaky Bluetooth setup interface as before. […]

“Other Bluetooth headphones and speakers still use the same somewhat flaky Bluetooth setup interface as before” makes it sound as though only Apple products experience this. As though Apple makes standard Bluetooth pairing cumbersome and withholds the good experience for W1 headphones. But it’s not like Android or Windows or any other platform makes standard Bluetooth pairing as effortless as pairing with AirPods.

Apple supports completely standard Bluetooth as well as anyone. The problem with Bluetooth isn’t Apple. The problem is Bluetooth. It sucks. There is no open standard for wireless audio that doesn’t suck. “Open” had its chance, and they blew it.

I highly doubt Apple is going to license its W1 chips to any other company. I get the feeling their letter-number custom silicon (A-series iOS chips, M-series motion co-processors, S-series Apple Watch chips, and now the W1 chips in the AirPods) are all for Apple’s use only. Their A-series chips have given iPhones and iPads double the single-core performance of their next competitor.

Will they open up software APIs so third-party headphone makers can pair as easily as AirPods and Beats do? I hope so, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Can other companies create their own custom silicon of the size, quality, and power efficiency of the W1? I have no idea, but (a) my hunch says no, and (b) that’s their problem, not Apple’s.

And if Apple is really serious about wireless audio, it will allow third parties to extend the AirPlay interface just like it allows third parties to extend Siri and iMessage; an iPhone without a headphone jack needs to have dead-simple integrations with all kinds of wireless speaker systems, whether they’re from Sonos or Samsung or Amazon.

This was my favorite sentence of the lot. Are iPhones with headphone jacks somehow in less need of dead-simple integrations with wireless speaker systems? 


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