‘Heartbreaking’ 

Unroll.me CEO and founder Jojo Hedaya, in a blog post responding to the outcry after Mike Isaac of The New York Times revealed that the company does things like sell “anonymized” Lyft receipts to Lyft arch-rival Uber:

Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.

And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.

Give me a fucking break. They’re not “heartbroken” because their users are upset. They’re in damage-control mode because they were operating under the radar and now they’ve been revealed, very publicly, as the shitbags that they are. If you’ve signed up for Unroll.me, delete your account. They make money by selling your purchase receipts to the highest bidder. That’s their business.

Unsubstantiated, but from a post on Hacker News:

I worked for a company that nearly acquired unroll.me. At the time, which was over three years ago, they had kept a copy of every single email of yours that you sent or received while a part of their service. Those emails were kept in a series of poorly secured S3 buckets. A large part of Slice buying unroll.me was for access to those email archives. Specifically, they wanted to look for keyword trends and for receipts from online purchases.


On Uber’s ‘Identifying and Tagging’ of iPhones

Mike Isaac’s profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for The New York Times contains an accusation that, on its face, sounds outrageous:

For months, Mr. Kalanick had pulled a fast one on Apple by directing his employees to help camouflage the ride-hailing app from Apple’s engineers. The reason? So Apple would not find out that Uber had been secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased — a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines.

But Apple was on to the deception, and when Mr. Kalanick arrived at the midafternoon meeting sporting his favorite pair of bright red sneakers and hot-pink socks, Mr. Cook was prepared. “So, I’ve heard you’ve been breaking some of our rules,” Mr. Cook said in his calm, Southern tone. Stop the trickery, Mr. Cook then demanded, or Uber’s app would be kicked out of Apple’s App Store.

For Mr. Kalanick, the moment was fraught with tension. If Uber’s app was yanked from the App Store, it would lose access to millions of iPhone customers — essentially destroying the ride-hailing company’s business. So Mr. Kalanick acceded.

“Secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased” is a rather startling accusation, because it sounds like it should be technically impossible. It’s also very much unclear what information Uber was able to glean from these “identified and tagged” iPhones other than some sort of unique device identifier. Unfortunately, the Times story is very short on details here. But note that the Times is not saying Uber was “tracking” these phones. A lot of people are jumping to the conclusion that Uber was somehow tracking the location of users even after they deleted the Uber app, but the word “track” only appears in the article in the context of Kalanick having “excelled at running track and playing football” in high school.

[Update: This explains a lot, regarding the hubbub today over this story. When first published, the Times story did use the word “tracking”, but a subsequent revision changed that word to “identifying and tagging”.]

Reading between the lines, it is possible — and my gut says quite probable — that Uber wasn’t doing anything on these iPhones other than when its app was installed and running on them. From the end of the article:

The idea of fooling Apple, the main distributor of Uber’s app, began in 2014.

At the time, Uber was dealing with widespread account fraud in places like China, where tricksters bought stolen iPhones that were erased of their memory and resold. Some Uber drivers there would then create dozens of fake email addresses to sign up for new Uber rider accounts attached to each phone, and request rides from those phones, which they would then accept. Since Uber was handing out incentives to drivers to take more rides, the drivers could earn more money this way.

To halt the activity, Uber engineers assigned a persistent identity to iPhones with a small piece of code, a practice called “fingerprinting.” Uber could then identify an iPhone and prevent itself from being fooled even after the device was erased of its contents.

There was one problem: Fingerprinting iPhones broke Apple’s rules. Mr. Cook believed that wiping an iPhone should ensure that no trace of the owner’s identity remained on the device.

What Isaac is reporting here doesn’t require any code running on an iPhone other than when the Uber app is itself installed and launched. I’m speculating here, but it could be something like this:

  1. The Uber app, while installed, fingerprints the device somehow, and reports the fingerprint home to Uber’s servers, where it is tied to the user’s Uber account. (All iPhones have a Unique Device Identifier — “UDID” — but Apple banned third-party apps from accessing it in 2012. Uber either found a way to access UDIDs surreptitiously, or created some other way of uniquely identifying devices even after they’ve been wiped. It would be good to know exactly what they did, but for the sake of my argument here it doesn’t matter.)

  2. The Uber app is deleted from the device and/or device is wiped. At this point, Uber knows the fingerprint for the device, but can’t use it to track the device in any way, and they don’t care, because until someone reinstalls the Uber app on the phone it isn’t being used to book fraudulent rides.

  3. The Uber app is reinstalled on the iPhone. When it launches, it does the fingerprint check and phones home again. Uber now knows this is the same iPhone they’ve seen before, because the fingerprint matches. This is the violation of Apple’s privacy policy.

But until step 3, when the Uber app is reinstalled, I don’t think Uber was “tracking” the phone in any way. And they didn’t care — the Times says the whole project was designed to counter fraud in China, which required the Uber app to be reinstalled on stolen iPhones.

Repeating from the opening of the article, Isaac wrote:

So Apple would not find out that Uber had been secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased — a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines.

That sounds like Uber was doing the identifying and “tagging” (whatever that is) after the app had been deleted and/or the device wiped, but I think what it might — might — actually mean is merely that the identification persisted after the app had been deleted and/or the device wiped. That’s not supposed to be technically possible — iOS APIs for things like the UDID and even the MAC address stopped reporting unique identifiers years ago, because they were being abused by privacy invasive ad trackers, analytics packages, and entitled shitbags like Uber. That’s wrong, and Apple was right to put an end to it, but it’s far less sensational than the prospect of Uber having been able to identify and “tag” an iPhone after the Uber app had been deleted. The latter scenario only seems technically possible if other third-party apps were executing surreptitious code that did this stuff through Uber’s SDK, or if the Uber app left behind malware outside the app’s sandbox. I don’t think that’s the case, if only because I don’t think Apple would have hesitated to remove Uber from the App Store if it was infecting iPhones with hidden phone-home malware.

The article does raise some questions:

  • What APIs and device info was Uber using to identify iPhones? Are these API loopholes now closed in iOS? If we don’t learn exactly what Uber was using to identify devices, we cannot know that the technique no longer works. iOS users should be able to feel confident that when they delete an app, all connections between their device and the developer of the app are disconnected, and that when they wipe a device, everything personally identifying has been removed from it.

  • What exactly did Apple know about Uber’s actions in this regard when Tim Cook called Kalanick in for the meeting? Was Apple aware that Uber was specifically keeping a database of unique iPhone identifiers? If so, how?

  • What prompted Apple to investigate Uber in this regard? And why did Uber suspect Apple was going to investigate, prompting them to geofence their fingerprinting so it wouldn’t trigger in Cupertino? (My theory: the Uber app was calling private APIs, and they used the geofence to avoid calling those private APIs while the app was in App Store review, assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that all App Store reviewers work in Cupertino. App Store review can identify apps that call private APIs.)

  • Update: Why didn’t Apple require Uber to disclose what they’d done as a condition for remaining in the store? Shouldn’t iPhone users who had Uber installed know about this?

[Update 2: Will Strafach examined a 2014 build of the Uber iOS app and found them using private APIs to use IOKit to pull the device serial number from the device registry. There might be more, but this alone is a blatant violation of App Store policy. Strafach confirms that the technique Uber was using no longer works in iOS 10.]


The article also contains this non-Apple-related tidbit:

Uber devoted teams to so-called competitive intelligence, purchasing data from an analytics service called Slice Intelligence. Using an email digest service it owns named Unroll.me, Slice collected its customers’ emailed Lyft receipts from their inboxes and sold the anonymized data to Uber. Uber used the data as a proxy for the health of Lyft’s business. (Lyft, too, operates a competitive intelligence team.)

Slice confirmed that it sells anonymized data (meaning that customers’ names are not attached) based on ride receipts from Uber and Lyft, but declined to disclose who buys the information.

This is, needless to say, super shitty. We expect it from Uber. But Slice should be ashamed of themselves. Their Unroll.me service is billed as a tool to “Clean up your inbox” by identifying subscription emails and allowing you to unsubscribe from them in bulk. It’s “free” in the sense that you don’t pay them money, but they’re selling your personal information to companies like Uber. Supposedly that information is anonymized, but wiped iPhones are supposed to be anonymized too, and Uber found at least one route around that.  


Fastly 

My thanks to Fastly for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Fastly’s content delivery network was built by developers for developers — they speed up sites and applications no matter where your customers are or which devices they use. Fastly integrates seamlessly with your existing stack and workflows, delivering content quickly and securely to your end users while giving you the real-time metrics you need to make better decisions. Fastly customers include open source projects like Python and Ruby, as well as major developer and consumer companies like GitHub, New Relic, and Airbnb.

They even have a special deal for Daring Fireball readers: test up to $50 of traffic free of charge.

The Talk Show: Apple VP Lisa Jackson 

Special guest Lisa Jackson — Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives — joins the show for an Earth Day discussion of the state of Apple’s environmental efforts: climate change, renewable energy, responsible packaging, and Apple’s new goal to create a “closed-loop supply chain”, wherein the company’s products would be manufactured entirely from recycled materials.

Sponsored exclusively by:

  • Circle With Disney: Disney’s new way for families to manage content and time across devices. Use code THETALKSHOW to get free shipping and $10 off.
How Apple Won Silicon: Why Galaxy S8 Can’t Go Core-to-Core With iPhone 7 

Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore:

Conversely, Apple’s silicon team also doesn’t have to carry the baggage of competing vendors and devices. For example, Apple A10 doesn’t have to support Microsoft’s Direct X. It only and exactly has to support Apple’s specific technologies and implementations.

In other words, what iOS wants fast, the A-team can deliver fast.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: I’d prefer the iPhone over Android even if it were Android that had the massive lead in CPU performance. But Apple is literally over a year ahead of the competition — even the iPhone 6S and SE outperform the S8 in single-threaded performance.

New Apple Watch NikeLab 

New limited edition Nike Apple Watch — space gray watch with a bone-colored watch strap with near-black accents. Looks cool in a Stormtrooper-y way. (I’m thinking the pin for the watch strap should be space gray too, though, right?)

Update: Yours truly two years ago:

New Stormtroopers look like their armor was designed by Nike.

(This is a compliment, it’s a cool look.)

Apple’s New Earth Day Videos 

Lance Ulanoff, writing at Mashable:

A typical Apple promotional video has a type: Clean, dispassionate, slightly British (thanks Jony Ive) and self-congratulatory. It’s not quirky, whimsical, or funny.

But each of the four short animated stories detailing Apple’s efforts to become a 100 percent renewable company and released just a few days before Earth Day, are unlike anything Apple has produced before.

What’s more interesting is that the audio is 100 percent true and, taken by itself, not particularly funny. But when combined with the hand-drawn animation from illustrator James Blagden the stories become whimsical and even a little odd.

Apple is hosting versions of all four videos on their home page:

Speed Test Between iPhone 7 Plus and Top Android Phones 

I don’t know how much these sort of tests matter in terms of real-world experience, but it really is striking how much faster the iPhone is going through the loop the second time. Part of this is iOS being better at memory management than Android, but a big factor is that the A10 is a much faster chip than anything available for Android.

A Software Developer’s Mac Pro 

Justin Williams:

I can’t speak to what the other five types of users need, but I have a pretty good idea of what I’d want as an iOS developer who uses a Mac every day. Not that anyone in Cupertino is asking me, but if they did I’d say this is my dream Mac.

This sounds about right to me.

The New Mac Pro Needs to Be Versatile 

Marco Arment, examining the wildly-varying needs of Mac Pro customers:

Or, to distill the requirements down to a single word:

Versatility.

Just as macOS’ versatility allows iOS to remain lightweight, the ability of the rest of the Mac lineup to be more aggressive, minimalist, and forward-looking depends on the Mac Pro to cover everyone whose needs don’t fit into them. The Mac Pro must be the catch-all at the high end: anytime someone says the iMac or MacBook Pro isn’t something enough for them, the solution should be the Mac Pro.

That link is to my Macworld column from 7 years ago, which reads like it was written today:

Here’s the short version of the “Mac is doomed” scenario: iOS is the future, Mac OS X is the past, and Apple is strongly inclined to abandon the past in the name of the future.

You can’t really argue with that, can you? But the premise that the end is near for the Mac presupposes quite a bit about the near-term future of iOS.

[…]

At typical companies, “legacy” technology is something you figure out how to carry forward. At Apple, legacy technology is something you figure out how to get rid of. The question isn’t whether iOS has a brighter future than the Mac. There is no doubt: it does. The question is whether the Mac has become “legacy.” Is the Mac slowing iOS down or in any way holding it back

Conservatives Hated an Uppity Negro Golfing President 

Shaun King, in his column for The New York Daily News:

Imagine Michelle Obama demanded to live in a gold-plated penthouse in the middle of Manhattan, costs be damned, while President Obama lived in the White House alone. The outrage would be riot-level fierce. Now, conservatives no longer care.

$400 VC-Backed Juice Machine Is Completely Unnecessary 

Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski, reporting for Bloomberg:

Doug Evans, the company’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force — “enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the cost of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a “Keurig for juice.”

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands. Two backers said the final device was bulkier than what was originally pitched and that they were puzzled to find that customers could achieve similar results without it. Bloomberg performed its own press test, pitting a Juicero machine against a reporter’s grip. The experiment found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly — and in some cases, faster — than using the device.

Juicero declined to comment.

This is hilarious. Terrific video demonstration too.

But after the product’s introduction last year, at least two Juicero investors were taken aback after finding the packs could be squeezed by hand. They also said the machine was much bigger than what Evans had proposed.

This says as much about the investors as it does about the company.

Fox News Fires Bill O’Reilly 

Gabriel Sherman, reporting for New York magazine this morning:

The Murdochs have decided Bill O’Reilly’s 21-year run at Fox News will come to an end. According to sources briefed on the discussions, network executives are preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from an Italian vacation on April 24. Now the big questions are how the exit will look and who will replace him.

Wednesday morning, according to sources, executives are holding emergency meetings to discuss how they can sever the relationship with the country’s highest-rated cable-news host without causing collateral damage to the network. The board of Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Official statement from Fox News:

After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.

What an ignominious end. His last episode was just 41 minutes long, because so many sponsors had pulled out, and he doesn’t even get to say goodbye to his audience.

The Talk Show: ‘Forget About Frodo and Sam’ 

That’s right, another new episode of The Talk Show. Special guest MG Siegler returns to the show. Topics includes Virgin America’s sad fate as a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pros, “doing work” on an iPad Pro, Walt Mossberg, the absurd bloat of iOS apps, Clips, Netflix and Amazon’s spending on video, and more.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

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Video of Facebook Spaces in Action 

I’m calling this an “emperor has no clothes” moment. This is a horror show. Disembodied torsos? Virtual selfie sticks? This looks like the way people would socialize in a post-apocalyptic scenario where everyone is quarantined in a bunker to shelter themselves from the zombie virus. It’s clunky and painfully awkward.

Who the hell wants to strap on a headset to have a video call with the disembodied Wii-like avatars of their friends when they can just hold up their phones and have a regular video call where they can see their actual friends? This is stupid.

Internet Archive Now Has a Browser-Based Emulator of Classic Mac Hardware 

Jason Scott:

After offering in-browser emulation of console games, arcade machines, and a range of other home computers, the Internet Archive can now emulate the early models of the Apple Macintosh, the black-and-white, mouse driven computer that radically shifted the future of home computing in 1984.

This is amazing. HyperCard! ResEdit! Quit commands in their rightful place in the File menu!

One thing that struck me clicking around for a few minutes: the original Mac team got it wrong with their decision to only keep a menu open while holding down the mouse button. Years later, Apple switched to allowing both click-and-hold and just plain click-and-release to navigate menus. I’ve long since lost my muscle memory for the old way. The menus keep disappearing on me in this emulator.

Another thing that struck me: the classic Mac OS was beautiful. So well designed.

Update: Here’s Mac Missiles, a pretty good Missile Command clone written in 1985 by some kid named Avie Tevanian. He also wrote MacLanding, a Defender clone, but I can’t get that one to work.

Steve Ballmer Unveils USAFacts 

Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for DealBook:

On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.

Want to know how many police officers are employed in various parts of the country and compare that against crime rates? Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets and the cost to collect? Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it? That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.

He’s paid for the whole thing out of pocket:

With an unlimited budget, he went about hiring a team of researchers in Seattle and made a grant to the University of Pennsylvania to help his staff put the information together. Altogether, he has spent more than $10 million between direct funding and grants.

“Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” he said. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing.”

This is just great.

Shocker: Facebook Instant Articles Are a Bad Deal for Publishers 

Casey Newton, writing for The Verge:

But across a wide swath of major publishers, results have been uniformly weak. “The revenue in no way backed up the amount of time that was being spent on it,” says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next. DCN is a trade group that represents many large publishers, including NBC, The New York Times, Conde Nast, ESPN, Slate, Business Insider, and Vox Media. (Vox Media owns The Verge.)

At the end of last year, DCN surveyed its members on the financial performance of content published to third-party platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Google’s AMP project. It found that not one publisher reported earning more money through Instant Articles than they did through their own properties. “We make less money on Instant Articles than we do on mobile web, which is probably everyone’s experience,” said Bill Carey, director of audience development at Slate. And while Facebook reported that publishers using Instant Articles saw readers consuming 25 percent more content, most DCN members had seen no such increase.

Called it.

Cover Photo for May Issue of Bon Appétit Shot Using iPhone 7 Plus 

Anthony Ha, writing for TechCrunch:

Creative Director Alex Grossman said it made sense to finally put an iPhone pic out front with the May travel issue, particularly given the connection between photography and travel. The cover was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus, in the Tlacolula Market of Oaxaca, Mexico, and it combines people and food, with a woman showing off a strawberry Paleta.

(Also worth noting: Apple is a Bon Appétit advertiser. In fact, an ad on the back cover will highlight the fact that the cover photo was taken on an iPhone.)

Steve Lacy, Musician and Producer Who Prefers Creating Music on His iPhone 

David Pierce, writing for Wired:

A few minutes after Steve Lacy arrived at a dingy, weed-clouded recording studio in Burbank, the 18-year-old musician flopped down in a plush leather chair in the control room. Vince, one of the studio’s proprietors, came in to show Lacy how the mixing boards and monitors worked. Lacy didn’t care; he was just in it for the chair. He picked up his new black-and-white Rickenbacker guitar, then reached into his Herschel backpack and yanked out a mess of cables. Out of the mess emerged his iRig, an interface adapter that connects his guitar directly into his iPhone 6. He shoved it into the Lightning port and began tuning his instrument, staring at the GarageBand pitch meter through the cracks on the screen of his phone. […]

It’s a weird recording setup, but it’s working for Lacy. Last year, he was nominated for a Grammy for executive-producing and performing on the 2015 funk-R&B-soul album Ego Death, the third release from The Internet and Lacy’s first with the band. He’s a sought-after producer, featured on albums like J. Cole’s “4 Your Eyez Only” and Kendrick Lamar’s new “Damn.” Earlier in 2017, he released his first solo material, which he’s playing as part of the setlist for The Internet’s worldwide tour. (Somewhere in there he also graduated high school.) The only connection between his many projects? All that music is stored on his iPhone.

How Google Ate CelebrityNetWorth.com 

Adrianne Jeffries, writing for The Outline:

At the end of it, we just said ‘Look, we’re not comfortable with this.’”

“But then they went ahead and took the data anyway.”

In February 2016, Google started displaying a Featured Snippet for each of the 25,000 celebrities in the CelebrityNetWorth database, Warner said. He knew this because he added a few fake listings for friends who were not celebrities to see if they would pop up as featured answers, and they did.

“Our traffic immediately crumbled,” Warner said. “Comparing January 2016 (a full month where they had not yet scraped our content) to January 2017, our traffic is down 65 percent.” Warner said he had to lay off half his staff. (Google declined to answer specific questions for this story, including whether it was shooting itself in the foot by destroying its best sources of information.)

That’s just outright theft, pure and simple. And it’s foolish — the only reason the good data from CelebrityNetWorth exists is that the site was able to make enough money to hire a staff of researchers. Now that Warner has had to lay off half his staff, the data is surely going to suffer. Forget about “Don’t be evil”, how about “Don’t be stupid”?

AirPods Still on a 6-Week Shipping Delay 

AirPods are, in my opinion, the best new Apple product in years. I forgot to pack them on a recent trip (out to California for the Mac Pro roundtable), and using wired ear buds for a day made me love my AirPods even more.

But if you order them today, they’re still on a 6-week shipping delay. They’re either unexpectedly popular (like last year’s iPhone SE) or unexpectedly difficult to manufacture (or both).

Proposed Key Path Syntax for Swift 

David Smith, Michael LeHew, and Joe Groff, explaining why they chose backslash (\) as the syntax for their new key path proposal for Swift:

During review many different sigils were considered:

No Sigil: This matches function type references, but suffers from ambiguity with wanting to actually call a type property. Having to type let foo: KeyPath<Baz, Bar> while consistent with function type references, really is not that great (even for function type references).

Backtick: Borrowing from Lisp, backtick was what we used in initial discussions of this proposal (it was easy to write on a white-board), but it was not chosen because it is hard to type in Markdown, and comes dangerously close to conflicting with other parser intrinsics.

It kind of blows my mind that the ease of typing in Markdown would factor into a syntax decision for Swift. However, I disagree. It is not hard to type a literal backtick in Markdown. Here’s the relevant section of the Markdown syntax documentation.

In short, to include a literal backtick inside a <code> span, you can just use two backticks as the opening and closing delimiters. This input:

```Person.friends[0].name``

produces this HTML output:

<code>`Person.friends[0].name</code>

For the sake of clarity, you can include a space at the beginning (or end) of the delimited code span, which will be omitted from the output, like this:

`` `Person.friends[0].name``

Far be it for me to tell the Swift folks what to do, but I think backtick looks far better in the above example than backslash does. To me, backslash in any language should mean “escape the following character” and nothing else.

Apple’s Achilles Heel 

Neil Cybart, in his weekly Above Avalon column last week, “The Mac Is Turning into Apple’s Achilles Heel”:

Apple’s decision to change course and develop a new Mac Pro has received near-universal praise from the company’s pro community. While developing a new Mac Pro is the right decision for Apple to make given the current situation, it has become clear that the Mac is a major vulnerability in Apple’s broader product strategy. The product that helped save Apple from bankruptcy 20 years ago is now turning into a barrier that is preventing Apple from focusing on what comes next.

I read this last week and it didn’t sit right with me at all. But I couldn’t put my finger on why until this weekend. It’s actually very simple: I think Cybart’s entire premise is completely backwards. The Mac is not Apple’s Achilles heel. The iPhone is. That’s why the rest of his column doesn’t make much sense.

The iPhone hasn’t suffered because Apple is focused on the Mac. New iPhones come out like clockwork every year. Apple has really gotten it down to a science in recent years. The Mac lineup, however — and the Mac Pro in particular — has clearly suffered from a lack of attention. Where did that institutional attention go? Surely much of it went to iPhone.

I’m not arguing that it’s a mistake for Apple to devote more attention to the iPhone than any other product. Smartphones are the greatest opportunity in the history of mass market consumer goods, and also the greatest opportunity in the history of personal computing. The iPhone epitomizes everything Apple stands for. But it’s a mistake to focus so much attention on the iPhone that other important products suffer.

Fastly 

My thanks to Fastly for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Fastly’s content delivery network was built by developers for developers — they speed up sites and applications no matter where your customers are or which devices they use. Fastly integrates seamlessly with your existing stack and workflows, delivering content quickly and securely to your end users while giving you the real-time metrics you need to make better decisions. Fastly customers include open source projects like Python and Ruby, as well as major developer and consumer companies like GitHub, New Relic, and Airbnb.

Special deal for Daring Fireball readers: test up to $50 of traffic for free.

Nintendo Discontinues the NES Classic Edition, Even Though It’s So in Demand You Can’t Get One 

Nintendo:

Throughout April, [Nintendo of America] territories will receive the last shipments of Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition systems for this year. We encourage anyone interested in obtaining this system to check with retail outlets regarding availability. We understand that it has been difficult for many consumers to find a system, and for that we apologize. We have paid close attention to consumer feedback, and we greatly appreciate the incredible level of consumer interest and support for this product.

This makes no sense to me. I’ve been waiting to buy one at the regular retail price, but it looks like that’s never going to happen.

‘It’s Not What You Would Think’ 

From a Wall Street Journal report on Trump’s meeting last week with President Xi Jinping of China:

He said they hit it off during their first discussion. Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power” over North Korea,” he said. “But it’s not what you would think.”

What’s striking about this isn’t that Trump was completely ignorant about China’s relationship with North Korea. That’s not surprising at all. What’s striking is that Trump is so — to borrow Josh Marshall’s phrase — militantly ignorant that he’s not embarrassed to admit this. He’s a laughingstock around the world.

The Talk Show: ‘Good News, My House Burned Down’ 

Special guest Matthew Panzarino returns to the show for an in-depth discussion of last week’s “future of the Mac Pro” round table discussion between a handful of Apple executives and journalists who cover the company. We talk about what went wrong with the 2013 Mac Pro design, speculate on the timeline of when Apple made this decision, why touchscreen Macs are almost certainly a bad idea even though a lot of people think they want one, and more.

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Star Ratings Are Garbage, and Hurt Uber and Lyft Drivers 

Caroline O’Donovan, writing for BuzzFeed, goes deep on the problems with 5-star rating systems:

The other problem is that not everyone can agree on what the star ratings mean — not even the companies themselves. Lyft says that five stars means “awesome,” four means “OK, could be better,” and three means “below average.” But for Uber, five stars is “excellent,” four is “good,” and three is “OK.”

Individuals have different interpretations, too. “For some people, three could mean this is good, while four is great and five is perfect. Some people might say, nowhere is going to be perfect, so I’m going to say five stars is really good, and four is good,” Celis said. “The way you can interpret those stars is infinite, and most people don’t have the exact same system.”

Read through to the end for an anecdote from yours truly. Thumbs-up/thumbs-down is the way to go — everyone agrees what those mean.

Burger King Launches Commercial That Triggers ‘OK Google’ 

Sapna Maheshwari, reporting for The New York Times:

A video from a Burger King marketing agency showed the plan in action: “You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich,” the actor in the commercial said. “But I got an idea. O.K. Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

Prompted by the phrase “O.K. Google,” the Google Home device beside the TV in the video lit up, searched the phrase on Wikipedia and stated the ingredients.

But within hours of the ad’s release — and humorous edits to the Whopper Wikipedia page by mischievous users — tests from The Verge and BuzzFeed showed that the commercial had stopped activating the device.

Sort of a jackass move on Burger King’s part, but it was harmless, and it certainly got them a lot of publicity. I’m sure they expected Google to shut them down — what they wanted were all these news stories about the prank.

My question: If the commercial had used “Hey Siri” or “Alexa” instead of “OK Google”, how long would it have taken for Apple or Amazon to cut it off? And why didn’t they address Siri or Alexa?

Columbia Journalism Review: Walt Mossberg on the Future of the Tech Beat 

Walt Mossberg on the origins of his Personal Tech column for The Wall Street Journal back in 1991:

There were a bunch of computer columns in a lot of other newspapers, and certainly there were computer magazines, but these were all written by geeks for geeks. My pitch to The Journal was that I wanted to write a column that didn’t use a lot of jargon, that treated people with respect for their intelligence and that did two things. One, it helped people figure out how to make this journey into technology by telling them what was good and what was bad on the market, explaining when some new development happened what it meant, what it was, who it might be for. That was one of my goals. The other one was to the use the power of the platform and the voice that I would have in this column, because it was an opinion column in a way, was to push the industry to stop ignoring normal people and stop treating them like they were stupid. That was it. That was my idea, and it worked.

So true.

Don Rickles on The Tonight Show 

Speaking of late night talk show personalities passing away, I haven’t yet written anything about Don Rickles, who died last week. I just don’t know what to say. I fucking loved Don Rickles, and I loved the era of talk shows he embodied. I feel like he was the last person standing from the Carson era.

I blew most of the weekend digging into YouTube clips of Rickles on The Tonight Show. It’s a goldmine. Hours and hours of great bits. Seriously, if you liked Rickles and the old Tonight Show, just dig in. You’ll get lost quickly, and you’ll bust a gut.

A few of my very favorites:

Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s Mother, Dead at 95 

Daniel Kreps, writing for Rolling Stone:

Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s mother, or “Dave’s Mom” as she was known to Late Show audiences, “died peacefully” Tuesday at her home in Carmel, Indiana. She was 95.

Awful Announcing has some links to footage of her coverage of the Winter Olympics for The Late Show in 1994 through 2002. Classic stuff.

Amazon Continues to Grow Lead Over Google as Starting Point for Online Shoppers 

What’s interesting here aren’t the most recent numbers, but the stark trendline over the past three years. Amazon is eating Google’s lunch.

A personal anecdote:

Over the weekend I impulse purchased a clip-on booklight from Moleskine. It was like $19. It looked OK, and I liked the idea of having one that’s rechargeable over USB. Got it home, charged it, and it was busted — the light only worked when it was actually plugged into a USB port. Unplugged, it simply didn’t work. I looked on Amazon, and lo, this product gets terrible reviews, many of them from people seeing problems exactly like mine. The consensus is that Moleskine’s booklight is a piece of garbage. I thought, “This is why I shop for stuff like this at Amazon.”

The thought of searching through Google never entered my mind.

Samsung’s Bixby Assistant Won’t Support Voice Commands When Galaxy S8 Launches 

Nick Statt, reporting for The Verge:

However, in a statement given to The Verge this afternoon, Samsung admits that Bixby’s headline feature — voice control — won’t be ready in time for when the device ships to US consumers on April 21st. Instead, owners of the S8 will have to wait for a software update to be released later this spring.

“Key features of Bixby, including Vision, Home, and Reminder, will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21. Bixby Voice will be available in the US on the Galaxy S8 later this spring,” Samsung’s statement reads.

This voice assistant stuff is hard.


The Swiss Watch Industry Should Double Down on Mechanical Watches

Jean-Louis Gassée penned a good column a few weeks ago on the Swatch Group making their own watch OS:

Nick Hayek’s father triumphed against Japanese quartz watch makers by playing on his own turf. Trying to defeat the established smartwatch players by playing their game won’t work. Is there something in Swatch Group’s culture that predisposes it to be competitive with Google and Apple software engineers?

Just as Nokia should have embraced Android in 2010, riding on its proven combination of Design, Supply Chain, and Carrier Distribution prowess to keep a leading role in the smartphone revolution, Swatch could use its native — but circumscribed — cultural and technical skills to create beautiful, fun smartwatches … that run on Google’s software. But just like Nokia’s culture and success prevented it from seizing the Android moment, similar factors will keep Swatch from being a powerful player in the smartwatch world.

I agree. If the Swatch Group wants to make smartwatches, they should almost certainly go with Android Wear, and they’re almost certainly doomed with their pre-announced homegrown OS. And it’s crazy that even if they succeed at creating their own OS, that they think it won’t need frequent updates and bug fixes. That’s not how computer platforms work, and make no mistake, smartwatches are computer platforms.

But I think the Swiss watch industry would do well to stick to their mechanical guns. They should leave it to computerized gadgeteers to make smartwatches, and focus on making mechanical watches that stand the test of time (no pun intended). I love computers (duh), but I find mechanical watches to be a source of joy, a bulwark against the ever-encroaching computerization of everything.

The bread and butter for high-end watch companies are aficionados who own multiple watches. Almost no one uses multiple smartwatches. People might have old ones in a drawer, but just as with with phones, it’s only convenient to have one smartwatch in active use at a time. Apple knows this: that’s why they made it so easy to swap straps — multiple looks for variety, but just one watch. For watch fans who actually do want multiple watches and a smartwatch, every watch other than their one smartwatch is likely to be a mechanical.

I don’t think the Swiss watch industry has a chance of out-computer-engineering Apple. Instead they should focus on what they’ve always done: designing and making great mechanical watches — creating a breath of analog fresh air in an ever-more-digitized world. 


Netflix vs. Amazon Spending on Video Content 

Felix Richter, writing for Statista:

If you think that Amazon isn’t serious about Prime Video, the company’s video streaming service included with every Prime membership, think again. According to analysts at JPMorgan, the Seattle-based e-commerce giant is set to spend $4.5 billion on video content this year. While that is still $1.5 billion shy of the $6 billion that market leader Netflix is planning to shell out this year, it is still a pretty clear statement of intent on Amazon’s part.

Looks like Amazon is about one year two years behind Netflix in spending.

Technical Analysis of the Facebook App Bundle for iOS 

Alexandre Colucci:

The version 66.0 was a 165 MB app on an iPad Air 2 (64-bit). It was a monolithic app with its main binary being more than 100 MB.

The version 87.0 is now available: 253 MB on the same iPad Air 2 with only 64-bit code. In just 6 months, the Facebook.app size grew by 88 MB!

It’s the most popular third-party app in the world, and it’s structured like a pile of garbage. At least 40 MB of resources are duplicated. Imagine how much collective bandwidth and storage Facebook is wasting here.

A Man Was Dragged Off a United Plane After the Airline Overbooked the Flight 

Alicia Melville-Smith, reporting for BuzzFeed:

Bridges said passengers were allowed to board the flight but were later told four people would need to give up their seats for four United employees who were needed in Louisville on Monday.

She said no passengers volunteered, so a manager came aboard and said passengers would be randomly selected and asked to leave.

When asked to leave, the man in the video became “very upset” and said he was a doctor who had patients to see the next day, Bridges said. A manager then told him security would be called if he refused to leave the plane. Three security guards then removed him from his seat while other passengers yelled in disgust.

The description doesn’t do justice to the brutality of this incident. It’s a new world, where everyone is equipped with a high definition video camera.

And it gets even worse: somehow the guy got back on the plane, bloody and panicked, and United removed him again — on a stretcher.

Update: Another video. This one is hard to watch: blood streaming from his mouth, the man is repeating over and over, “Just kill me” while clutching the curtain at the back of the cabin.

Squarespace 

My thanks to Squarespace for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Here’s a fun story. The other day I got takeout from a great new steak sandwich shop here in Philly called Cleavers. They have a cool website, too. Guess what? Made with Squarespace.

You should create your next website with Squarespace. Their award-winning website templates are a beautiful way to present your ideas online. You can try Squarespace for free. When you’re ready to subscribe, get 10 percent off at squarespace.com with offer code “DARING17”.

Walt Mossberg Is Retiring in June 

Walt Mossberg:

So it seems fitting to me that I’ll be retiring this coming June, almost exactly 47 years later. I’ll be hanging it up shortly after the 2017 edition of the Code Conference, a wonderful event I co-founded in 2003 and which I could never have imagined back then in Detroit.

I didn’t make this decision lightly or hastily or under pressure. It emerged from months of thought and months of talks with my wise wife, my family, and close friends. It wasn’t prompted by my employer or by some dire health diagnosis. It just seems like the right time to step away. I’m ready for something new.

Before Mossberg, tech writing was for tech enthusiasts. Mossberg is a tech enthusiast, but what he did at The Wall Street Journal is bring enthusiasm for tech — particularly the personal computer industry — to a truly mainstream audience. His influence — especially during his years at the Journal — is impossible to overstate.

Here’s a photo I took of Mossberg talking to Steve Jobs in the hands-on area after the introduction of the original iPad in 2010.


‘So-Called’

From a New York Times report by Alan Wong:

President Xi Jinping of China is not expected to be strolling the manicured fairways of the Trump International Golf Club on Thursday, sizing up his approach shot.

Mr. Xi is known to be an avid soccer fan, bent on transforming China into a great power in that egalitarian team sport, but the Chinese Communist Party maintains an ideological contempt for golf as a rich person’s game.

That view, among others, places him at odds with President Trump, who owns more than a dozen golf courses and whose so-called Winter White House, the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., charges more than $200,000 for membership.

Describing Mar-a-Lago as “the so-called Winter White House” is pernicious at best, and I would argue it’s downright outrageous. No news organization, let alone one as prestigious in stature and as fastidious about style and usage as The New York Times, should ever describe Mar-a-Lago as “the Winter White House”. Prefacing it by “so-called” doesn’t make it right. So-called by whom? By Trump.

There is only one White House. It is in Washington D.C., and it is owned by the U.S. federal government. It is sometimes and rightly called “The People’s House”, because we the people own it, and we vote to elect the president who lives and works in it. No one profits financially when a state visit is held at the White House.

Mar-a-Lago is a private facility owned by Trump himself. When he hosts state visits there, not only does someone personally profit from it, that someone is Trump himself. Using Mar-a-Lago for official state business goes against everything that the actual White House stands for.

This is no little thing. Describing Mar-a-Lago in a news article as “the so-called Winter White House” is normalizing out and out corruption — Trump’s shameless profiteering off the presidency.

If the Times wants to quote Trump using the phrase, so be it. But the description should never be used in news copy. The New York Times has no more reason to describe Mar-a-Lago as “the Winter White House” than they do to refer to their own publication as “the failing New York Times”.