Operator — New Monospace Typeface From Hoefler & Co. 

New from Hoefler & Co.: “a monospace typeface, a monospace-inspired typeface, and a short film about type design”. Jonathan Hoefler:

In developing Operator, we found ourselves talking about JavaScript and CSS, looking for vinyl label embossers on eBay, renting a cantankerous old machine from perhaps the last typewriter repair shop in New York, and unearthing a flea market find that amazingly dates to 1893. Above is the four-minute film I made, to record a little of what went into Operator, and introduce the team at H&Co behind it.

I heard that Hoefler & Co. were working on a monospace typeface a few months ago, and the result is everything I expected: distinctive, attractive, and practical. The script face for the italics is a little wild, but why not go a little wild on the italics in a monospace typeface? (Meta note: I’m posting this from MarsEdit with Operator Mono as my editing font.)

Roger Goodell’s Unstoppable Football Machine 

Great feature by Mark Leibovich for the NYT Magazine on Roger Goodell and the state of the NFL:

And yet, everyone wants a piece of the Shield. Put it on TV, and people will watch; put it on a jersey, they will wear it. The N.F.L.’s total revenue in 2015 ($12.4 billion) is nearly double that of a decade earlier ($6.6 billion). The price of television ads during the Super Bowl has increased by more than 75 percent over the last decade. This year’s conference championship games set yet another viewership record for the league: 53.3 million people watched the A.F.C. game on CBS; 45.7 million watched the N.F.C. game on Fox. Goodell talks constantly about ‘‘growing the pie,’’ finding new revenue streams and ways to make the N.F.L. a ‘‘year-round’’ experience rather than just during fall and winter. He has said he wants the N.F.L. to achieve $25 billion in gross revenue by 2027. No league is as relentless when it comes to growth and making cash for its billionaire cartel. It’s reminiscent of a shark that will die if it doesn’t keep moving and ripping little fish to shreds.

Just to put that in context with my regular beat, Apple booked over $233 billion in revenue in its 2015 financial year. The NFL is a pervasive, overwhelming cultural force in the United States, but Apple is almost 20 times bigger financially. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, for sure, but it helps put into perspective just how big Apple has gotten.

Super Bowl 50 and the Denver Broncos’ Defense 

Michael Rosemberg, writing for Sports Illustrated:

I’m sure we can all agree, right?: The story of Super Bowl 50 was Denver’s defense. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said “the game plan was so simple” — don’t blitz too much, gang up on the run — and so is this story.

Denver’s defense dominated Cam Newton and the Panthers in a 24–10 victory. Forget the total yards, which were 315–194 in Carolina’s favor, and forget that Carolina had 10 more first downs. It was obvious by halftime that Carolina’s offense, which led the league in scoring, was overmatched.

I had Carolina winning in a blowout. That didn’t work out so well.

An Old-School Reply to an Advertiser’s Retro Threat 

Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway has written the best “go fuck yourself” piece I’ve seen in a long time.

Flash-Free Video in 2016 

Scott Wolynski and Flavio Ribeiro, writing for the NYT Open blog:

At the beginning of this year, we officially turned off Flash support for VHS, the New York Times video player. We now use HTML5 video technology for all video playback on desktop and mobile web browsers.

This might have happened eventually no matter what, but the fact that this is happening now is because of the iPhone, iPad, and Apple’s steadfast refusal to allow browser plugins on iOS.

The Apple Watch Got Marco Arment Hooked on Mechanical Watches 

Marco Arment:

A big part of that joy, for me, is that this isn’t like anything else in my life, and the difference is refreshing.

Most of my work and hobbies involve technologically cutting-edge digital electronics reliant on complex, inconsistent software, with a typical lifetime of a few years at most. Almost everything else I use and make is effectively disposable.

This is a huge part of the appeal of mechanical watches for me. No electricity. Just mechanics. They’re tangible in a way that software never can be.

For similar reasons, I still read most books on paper.


My thanks to Igloo for once again sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Igloo is an intranet you’ll actually like. It can help your company or team share information and collaborate in one unified space — from any device.

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‘Error 53’ 

Christina Warren, writing for Mashable:

What is Error 53? Well, it basically turns your iPhone into a brick. Why? Well it all ties into the Touch ID sensor on your phone. […]

The problem occurs when an unauthorized repair center replaces a home button. At first, the phone might work — with everything, including Touch ID, seeming perfectly fine.

But as soon as you go to update to a newer version of iOS (or you attempt to restore your phone from a backup), the software checks to make sure the Touch ID sensor matches the rest of the hardware. If it finds that there isn’t a match, your phone is basically bricked.

It seems very reasonable to me that iOS should check for a trusted Touch ID sensor. But, if the sensor can’t be trusted, clearly the whole phone should not be bricked — it should simply disable Touch ID and Apple Pay. And, obviously, it should inform the user why. Putting up an alert that just says “Error 53” is almost comically bad.

Microsoft, Nokia, and the Burning Platform 

Evan Blass, writing for VentureBeat:

When Microsoft acquired Nokia’s Devices and Services division in late 2013 and began integrating the storied Lumia brand into its offerings, it was hailed by Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer as “a bold step into the future — a win-win for employees, shareholders, and consumers of both companies.” Since then, Microsoft has folded much of its $7.5 billion acquisition into other divisions of the company, laid off thousands of former Nokia employees, slashed its output of smartphones per year, and eventually wrote off the entire purchase in a $7.6 billion impairment charge. Fast forward to early 2016, when we will soon see a quiet launch of what’s widely believed to be the final Microsoft Lumia-branded handset, the Lumia 650.

The most amazing part of this whole saga is that Nokia was worth only $7.5 billion in 2013. In 2000, they had a market cap of $245 billion.

Spencer Hall: ‘I Won the Super Bowl in a McLaren 570S’ 

Nice take on what it’s like to drive a $190,000 sports car.

Update on That Atlanta House Where Dozens of Missing Phones Think They Are 

Kashmir Hill, following up on this story from a few weeks ago:

Maynor thinks it’s possible that an app seeking to better locate a phone might take the IP-based location and then look next to a mapping database of wireless devices it knows in the area; with little to choose from there, it may be locking onto Lee and Saba’s router as the closest to the IP-chosen location and then pinpoint them as the exact location of the phone.

But he’s still uncertain. Maynor says he feels like Sherlock Holmes trying to solve this tech mystery.

“These are theories and I am trying to prove them. It’s like that Conan Doyle quote, ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,’” said Maynor. “But I’m still not satisfied. I want to find more of a smoking gun. We need to know what app people are using to find their phones and then look at what databases they’re relying on for location.”

Completely tangential sidenote: Longtime DF readers will recall Dave Maynor’s name.

Fred Wilson Criticizes Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for Waiting to IPO 

Biz Carson, writing for Business Insider:

“I agree with Bill Gurley on this. Man up! Woman up! Fucking do it! Don’t be chicken!” Wilson ranted, referring to another outspoken VC.

One company in Wilson’s crosshairs is Uber, the ride-hailing company valued at more than $62 billion in the private market. Its CEO, Travis Kalanick, does not appear to be in any hurry to take the company public. Kalanick sees an Uber IPO as being a few years off still, and has compared its situation to being like an eighth-grader while people are telling them to go to the prom.

Wilson, who isn’t an investor in the company, doesn’t buy it. “He’s wimping out. That should be a publicly traded company,” Wilson said.

A VC upset that a company is not going public, thus preventing other VCs from reaping huge profits? Shocker.

Tim Cook Holds Company-Wide Town Hall 

Mark Gurman, 9to5Mac:

In the days following Apple’s record Q1 earnings announcements, Apple CEO Tim Cook and other top Apple executives held a Town Hall meeting at the Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino to reveal new announcements and take attendee questions.

Multiple sources in attendance at the event said that Cook as well as newly appointed Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams each spoke and made announcements and teases related to new employee benefits, future iPad growth, Apple Watch sales, future retail stores in China, Apple Campus 2, and the future product pipeline. […]

Lots of interesting tidbits, including the fact that Apple Watch sold better in its first holiday quarter than the original iPhone did in 2007.

He also touched upon the new Cupertino Apple Campus 2, noting that Apple employees will likely first begin moving into the new campus by the end of January 2017. He emphasized how important the new theater will be in giving Apple flexibility to hold larger events on its own campus versus relying on places in San Fransisco or San Jose. Cook reportedly called the new campus a “gift” to the future of Apple employees.

It occurs to me that next month’s Apple Event might be the last one ever held in the small theater on Apple’s existing campus.

Louis C.K. on Why He Charged $5 for the First Episode of ‘Horace and Pete’ 

Louis C.K.:

So why the dirty fuckballs did I charge you five dollars for Horace and Pete, where most TV shows you buy online are 3 dollars or less? Well, the dirty unmovable fact is that this show is fucking expensive.

The standup specials are much more containable. It’s one guy on a stage in a theater and in most cases, the cost of the tickets that the live audience paid, was enough to finance the filming.

But Horace and Pete is a full on TV production with four broadcast cameras, two beautiful sets and a state of the art control room and a very talented and skilled crew and a hall-of-fame cast. Every second the cameras are rolling, money is shooting out of my asshole like your mother’s worst diarrhea. (Yes there are less upsetting metaphors I could be using but I just think that one is the sharpest and most concise). Basically this is a hand-made, one guy paid for it version of a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation.

I watched the first episode. It’s a really unusual show. On the surface level, it feels very familiar, with a cast of well-known actors and a very traditional old-school multi-camera look and feel. Horace and Pete looks like an old CBS show, in particular, to my eyes.

But what the characters do and say, and what is going on in their lives, is nothing at all like traditional TV. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition — familiar comfort-food in terms of how it looks, but unconventional in terms of what is actually going on.

In just two words: “dystopic Cheers”.

Amazon’s Retail Store Plans Go Beyond Books 

Jason Del Rey, reporting for Recode:

Amazon will indeed open up more bookstores, but it also plans to eventually unveil other types of retail stores in addition to bookstores, according to two sources familiar with the plans. It’s not yet clear what those stores will sell or how they will be formatted, but the retail team’s mission is to reimagine what shopping in a physical store would be like if you merged the best of physical retail with the best of Amazon.

So they’ll start with books, then expand to other products. Sounds familiar.

Yours Truly on Josh Topolsky’s ‘Tomorrow’ Podcast 

What I like about doing podcasts with Josh is that we disagree on so much — it’s fun, and he always makes me think.

Music Memos Is a Songwriter’s Best Friend 

Dave Wiskus, writing for iMore:

If Voice Memos are Post-Its — a quick and dirty tool to make sure I didn’t forget an idea — then Music Memos is a sketchbook. This is where I start the songwriting process, and every part of the app is designed to help facilitate the process and, most shockingly of all, guide me to the next step in fleshing the song out. […]

Music Memos has so many other tricks up its sleeves that I almost feel like someone at Apple has been reading my dream journal. An app for recording song ideas that uses a robust tagging system is something I’ve personally wanted to build for a long time, but throw in a guitar tuner, chord and tempo detection, exporting to GarageBand, and magical automatic backing instruments, and the dream becomes borderline pornographic.

I’m not a songwriter, so the app isn’t useful to me personally, but I’m really impressed by the design of this app. It is attractive, well-organized, simple, and thoughtful. And judging by Dave’s take (and Serenity Caldwell’s), it’s genuinely useful and solves a heretofore unsolved problem.

So all is not lost when it comes to Apple putting out high-quality apps.

Apple’s App Problem

Following up on Walt Mossberg’s column regarding the quality of Apple’s first-party apps, Jim Dalrymple writes:

I understand that Apple has a lot of balls in the air, but they have clearly taken their eye off some of them. There is absolutely no doubt that Apple Music is getting better with each update to the app, but what we have now is more of a 1.0 version than what we received last year.

Personally, I don’t care much about all the celebrities that Apple can parade around — I care about a music service that works. That’s it.

If Apple Music (or any of the other software that has problems) was the iPhone, it would never have been released in the state it was.

Software and hardware are profoundly different disciplines, so it’s hard to compare them directly. But it seems obvious to me that Apple, institutionally, has higher standards for hardware design and quality than it does for software.

Maybe this is the natural result of the fact hardware standards must be high, because they can’t issue “hardware updates” over the air like they can with software. But the perception is now widespread that the balance between Apple’s hardware and software quality has shifted in recent years. I see a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement with Mossberg and Dalrymple’s pieces today.

We went over this same ground a year ago in the wake of Marco Arment’s “Apple Has Lost the Functional High Ground”, culminating in a really interesting (to me at least) discussion with Phil Schiller at my “Live From WWDC” episode of The Talk Show. That we’re still talking about it a year later — and that the consensus reaction is one of agreement — suggests that Apple probably does have a software problem, and they definitely have a perception problem.

I’ll offer a small personal anecdote. Overall I’ve had great success with iCloud Photo Library. I’ve got over 18,000 photos and almost 400 videos. And I’ve got a slew of devices — iPhones, iPads, and Macs — all using the same iCloud account. And those photos are available from all those devices. Except, a few weeks ago, I noticed that on my primary Mac, in Photos, at the bottom of the main “Photos” view, where it tells you exactly how many photos and videos you have, it said “Unable to Upload 5 Items”. Restarting didn’t fix it. Waiting didn’t fix it. And clicking on it didn’t do anything — I wanted to know which five items couldn’t be uploaded, and why. It seems to me that anybody in this situation would want to know those two things. But damned if Photos would tell me.

Eventually, I found this support thread which suggested a solution: you can create a Smart Group in Photos using “Unable to upload to iCloud Photo Library” as the matching condition. Bingo: five items showed up. (Two of them were videos for which the original files couldn’t be found; three of them were duplicates of photos that were already in my library.)

My little iCloud Photo Library syncing hiccup was not a huge deal — I was even lucky insofar as the two videos that couldn’t be found were meaningless. And I managed to find a solution. But it feels emblematic of the sort of nagging software problems people are struggling with in Apple’s apps. Not even the bug itself that led to these five items being unable to upload, but rather the fact that Photos knew about the problem but wouldn’t tell me the details I needed to fix it without my resorting to the very much non-obvious trick of creating a Smart Group to identify them. For me at least, “silent failure” is a big part of the problem — almost everything related to the whole discoveryd/mDNSresponder fiasco last year was about things that just silently stopped working.

Maybe we expect too much from Apple’s software. But Apple’s hardware doesn’t have little problems like this. 

Mossberg: Apple’s Apps Need Work 

Walt Mossberg:

But there’s more than just metal, glass, and silicon to these products. Apple’s built-in software is a huge part of the experience, and has been since the company introduced the first Mac in 1984. Whether it’s the operating systems or the core apps, a major aspect of what makes both users and reviewers value Apple products is software that melds power, reliability, and ease of use. “It just works!” was a favorite Steve Jobs phrase.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.

In particular, Mossberg singles out iTunes (on the desktop), Mail, and iCloud sync issues.

Uber Rebrands 

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick:

Have you ever looked at someone’s hairstyle and thought “oh my, you peaked in the 1990s?” Well that’s a bit how I feel about Uber’s look today. It’s not just that we were young and in a hurry when we replaced our red magnet logo with today’s black badge four years ago. It’s that we were a fundamentally different company. […]

So today, we’re excited to roll out a new look and feel that celebrates our technology, as well as the cities we serve.

The new logo mark feels like a solid improvement over the old. It feels familiar, but sturdier. Everything else they’re doing with this refresh seems like a bunch of nonsense. I just don’t get it. I think it’s fine for a company as young as Uber to start over from scratch with their brand. It’s risky, because Uber is already pretty well known, but, if you decide you need a change, the sooner you do it the better. But their new brand doesn’t make for a cohesive whole. It doesn’t feel like a new version of the old Uber brand, and it gives me no sense of what the new Uber brand feels like.

I concur with Armin Vit (writing at Brand New):

The bigger issue with the redesign — far more troubling — than the logo redesign is the app icon. In this case the app icon gets more action than the logo itself. That’s the first interaction from most users. If I wasn’t a fan of the curl in the “U” of the old logo I was even less of a fan of the inward serifs of the old icon. But, hey, it was a “U” for Uber and it was shiny like the badge on the grill of a car. The new icon is completely unidentifiable in any way as Uber other than it saying “Uber” underneath. Let’s assume that it’s a matter of being used to poking on that icon for the last five or six years and that we just need to get used to poking at this new one but, even then, it seems like this is an icon for something else altogether. I don’t think there is enough strength in the bit as the principal (and literal) touchpoint. Having a separate icon for drivers that looks even less like anything doesn’t help the cause of establishing a consistent, recognizable mobile environment.

Update: Everyone I know thinks of Uber as the company whose app you use to hail a car to drive you somewhere. Uber has greater ambitions than that. That’s fine. But they created this new brand to fit with their ambitions, and as a result, it doesn’t fit with what everyone who uses them thinks of them right now. Compare and contrast to Amazon. Amazon has expanded to major new initiatives like developer web services and online streaming of video. But along the way they never broke the original brand that says “This is where you go to buy books”. This new Uber brand (and especially the app icon) does not say “This is what you use to hail a ride.”

Uber’s new icon looks like a logo for Cyberdyne Systems.

Draplin Design Co.: ‘Pretty Much Everything’ 

I got a sneak peek at this back in September, when I visited DDC’s Portland headquarters with a few friends. Chock full of great design work and hilarious prose. You should get this book.

Apple Press Event: March 15 

John Paczkowski, BuzzFeed:

Apple has finally set the date for its first big event of 2016: The Ides of March.

Sources in position to know tell BuzzFeed News the company has chosen March 15 as the date it will show off a handful of new products.

Among the devices Apple plans to unveil are the next generation version of the iPad Air and a new smaller iPhone. Approximately the same size as the iPhone 5s, this smaller iPhone will feature a 4-inch display and a faster chip. Also on board: Support for Apple Pay, the company’s mobile payment service. A selection of new Apple Watch bands is also expected.

Matthew Panzarino and Mark Gurman are both reporting the same date.

The Imperious Elon Musk 

Back in September, Stewart Alsop wrote a post on Medium telling Elon Musk “he should be ashamed of himself” because the launch event for the Tesla Model X started late and Alsop didn’t get to actually see a Model X.

In response, Musk has cancelled Alsop’s $130,000 order for a Model X. I love this guy. Sure, it seems a little childish, vindictive, and petty. But it’s fun to watch.

Reporting Scandal at The Intercept 

Betsy Reed, editor of The Intercept:

The Intercept recently discovered a pattern of deception in the actions of a staff member. The employee, Juan Thompson, was a staff reporter from November 2014 until last month. Thompson fabricated several quotes in his stories and created fake email accounts that he used to impersonate people, one of which was a Gmail account in my name.

An investigation into Thompson’s reporting turned up three instances in which quotes were attributed to people who said they had not been interviewed. In other instances, quotes were attributed to individuals we could not reach, who could not remember speaking with him, or whose identities could not be confirmed. In his reporting Thompson also used quotes that we cannot verify from unnamed people whom he claimed to have encountered at public events. Thompson went to great lengths to deceive his editors, creating an email account to impersonate a source and lying about his reporting methods.

This sort of scandal can sink a publication. Seems like The Intercept is handling this as best they can, by getting out in front of it.

But it gets even stranger: in an email sent to Gawker, Thompson says:

I’ve been undergoing radiation treatment for testicular cancer and, since I no longer have health insurance, I’ve been feverishly struggling and figuring out how to pay for my treatment. All of this, of course, has taken up my time and energy; except for the few moments I’ve spent searching for some relief.

With regards to verifying the comments, I’m in STL undergoing treatment, again, and not in NY, thus I lack access to my notebooks (which I took for most stories) to address these matters. Moreover, after finally looking over the notes sent to me, I must say this: I had a habit of writing drafts of stories, placing the names of ppl I wanted to get quotes from in there, and then going to fetch the quotes.

Dealing with a serial fabulist is so hard. Does he really have cancer? I hope not, and if he does, I of course wish him well. But what The Intercept is alleging goes far beyond getting the names wrong of sources he quoted — and being ill is no excuse for it.

MacRumors Scoop on iPhone 7 Design 

Eric Slivka, writing for MacRumors:

Apple’s iPhone 7 isn’t expected to launch until the usual September timeframe, but we’re starting to get our first hints of what we might be able to expect for the new device. According to a source who has provided reliable information in the past, the iPhone 7 body will appear very similar to the design used for the iPhone 6 and 6s, with two significant exceptions.

The first involves the rear camera, which protrudes slightly on the iPhone 6 and 6s. On the iPhone 7, the camera is said to sit flush with the rear casing, enabled by a thinner camera module. Recent rumors have indicated Apple is considering equipping the iPhone 7 Plus with a dual-lens rear camera, but the smaller iPhone 7 is expected to include a more traditional camera.

I hate that damn camera bump, so it’d be great to see it go. But man, I’m going to be disappointed if the 5.5-inch model gets the new two-lens camera and the 4.7-inch one does not.

LG’s First-Ever Super Bowl Ad 

As with many Super Bowl ads, I feel like they would’ve gotten more bang for their buck by just setting fire to a few million dollars in cash and putting the video on YouTube.

On Apple’s Share Price 

Kirk Burgess:

Fancy owning Apple Inc, the entire company, for no money down? Well if the current share price level doesn’t go any higher, in less than 8 years time someone will be able to pick up the company effectively for free.

Duke Unranked in Associated Press Top 25 for First Time in More Than Eight Years 

First Alphabet passes Apple as the most valuable company in the world, now this. Not a good day for Tim Cook.

Alphabet Passes Apple as World’s Most Valuable Company 

Jack Clark, reporting for Bloomberg:

Google reported profit and sales that topped estimates, lifted by robust sales of online ads and tighter cost controls, putting parent Alphabet Inc. on track to overtake Apple Inc. as the world’s most valuable company.

The results, reported for the first time under a new structure that separates Google’s main search and advertising operations from riskier investments, show that fourth-quarter revenue, excluding sales passed on to partners, rose 19 percent to $17.3 billion. That exceeded analysts’ average projection for $16.9 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profit, before certain items, was $8.67 a share, beating the prediction for $8.08. […]

The shares of Mountain View, California-based Alphabet rose as much as 9.4 percent in extended trading. The stock advanced 1.2 percent to $770.77 at the close in New York, giving the company a market capitalization of $523.1 billion, compared with $534.7 billion for Apple.

I saw this coming a few weeks ago.

Update: To be clear, Alphabet’s closing price today left it around $11 billion behind Apple, but their stock is way up in after-hours trading (what Bloomberg calls “extended trading”).

The Talk Show: ‘Hopped Up on Holiday Juice’ 

This week’s episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, with special guest Matthew Panzarino. Topics include Apple’s quarterly financial results, rumors of Apple working on VR handsets and “wireless” charging for iPhones, Bezos charts, and more.

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‘All Hail Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”’ 

Cinephilia and Beyond goes deep on Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, one of my very favorites among favorites:

What is now considered one of Stanley Kubrick’s most accomplished films, as well as an example of innovative, audacious filmmaking at its best, was almost given birth to by accident. After Kubrick’s dream of making Napoleon crumbled into pieces, he used this studious research and shifted his ambitions and talent into William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon. The story of an unscrupulous Irish scoundrel who marries into high society and advances in the aristocratic society of 18th century England proved an ideal ground for the master to exhibit his storytelling powers. With the significant help of his director of photography John Alcott, Kubrick created a cinematic world that could be most easily described as a moving 18th century painting. Giving its best to avoid using electric sources of artificial light, relying on the illuminating power of candles and natural lighting, investing enormous effort into costume design, Barry Lyndon looks genuine through and through. Moreover, it leaves the impression of actually being comprised of works of art taken down from the walls of some filthily rich British nobleman.

Includes links to the (very curiously formatted) screenplay, and American Cinematographer’s two March 1976 articles on John Alcott’s photography.


My thanks to Meh.com — the people who created Woot, sold Woot to Amazon, abandoned Woot, and started again — for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. If you liked Woot back when Woot was just one deal a day (and funny), you’ll like Meh.com.

Control Center 

Stephen Hackett, “The Case Against Control Center”:

I don’t think this has aged very well, unfortunately, and it’s mostly Control Center’s fault. In addition to it being confusing to have a hidden panel at the top of the screen, having one at the bottom too is a lot to handle for some users. But there’s a bigger problem in my mind: Control Center just does way too many things.

I love the top row and screen brightness settings, but as I get closer to the bottom of the screen, the usefulness of Control Center lessens. With the exception of maybe the flashlight button, I’d be fine if the bottom row went away, Calculator and that creepy new Night Mode button included.

I think Apple could simplify all of this by looking to Android’s Notifications Drawer, where all of this stuff is in one pull-down tray from the top of the screen. Pull down a little to see notifications; pull down further to reveal a set of utilities.

I couldn’t disagree more strenuously. Control Center is probably my single favorite system-level UI change to iOS ever. I kind of wish you could change the apps hard-coded at the bottom (I’d replace Calculator with PCalc, for example), but I use it all the time.

I think Notification Center and Today view could still use some improvement. But cramming Control Center into the same pull-down sheet would make things worse, not better. Putting the dynamic Notification Center at the top and the static Control Center at the bottom provides a consistent spatial familiarity. It makes these features feel like they’re part of the hardware. (And I think Android might have to make them both pull-down-from-the-top because Android phones have soft buttons at the bottom of the display.)

Loopback 1.0 

New audio app from Rogue Amoeba:

Suddenly, it’s easy to pass audio between applications on your Mac. Create virtual audio devices to take the sound from applications and audio input devices, then send it to audio processing applications. Loopback gives you the power of a high-end studio mixing board, right inside your computer.

This is the sort of app few people need, but for those who need it, it’s a godsend. I can see a lot of uses for this for screencasters and podcasters.

BBEdit 11.5 

Just 150 or so new features, changes, and bug fixes to my favorite app of all time. No big deal.

Maximum Wage 

Steven Johnson:

In other words, the tech sector doesn’t have to be the poster child of inequality’s abuses. It could actually be a role model. Take just one potential remedy as a thought experiment. Let’s say we decided as a society that no private company should have a pay ratio above 40:1. That would lead to a radical decrease in income inequality, and it wouldn’t involve a cent of additional taxes. Every private company would be allowed to keep the exact same portion of its income. The government wouldn’t be extracting money out of the private sector; it would just put some boundaries on the way the private sector distributes its money internally. Critics would scream that such a dramatic intervention would be terrible for business, but of course the one sector of the economy that has already voluntarily embraced this ratio turns out to have nurtured the most profitable corporations in the history of capitalism. This would no doubt be fiddling with the natural markets for wages, but we fiddle with these all the time, through progressive income taxes, earned income tax credits, subsidies, and tax incentives. We have a minimum wage. What if we had a maximum ratio?

Microsoft’s Devices: The Great, the Good, the Unfortunate, and the Invisible 

Paul Thurrott on Windows Phone:

It’s hard to feel good about Windows phone right now: Microsoft sold just 4.5 million Lumias in the most recent quarter, good for 1.1 percent of the smart phone market. And that’s down from 10.5 million in the same quarter a year ago. It’s even down from the previous (and non-holiday) quarter, which is … alarming, actually. This thing has fallen through the floor faster than anyone really imagined it would.

But it is worth reminding people that Microsoft is simply following through on its promised strategy of July 2015. Which was to reduce its exposure to per-unit losses (Microsoft, like Nokia, loses money on every Lumia) and keep Windows phone in market artificially, on life support, so that it could continue developing a cross platform Windows 10 and the universal apps platform. That is, Windows phone really is dead. But Microsoft will sell you one if you’re a fan.

Another sign that the platform is dead: I don’t see anyone complaining about the lack of apps and developer support any more. It’s just accepted that Windows Phone doesn’t have the apps that iOS and Android do.

iPhone 5se and Its Place in the Apple Universe 

Rene Ritchie, writing at iMore:

Instead of price-dropping the iPhone 6 or coming up with a variant of that platform, like an iPhone 6c, Apple would simply update the iPhone 5s. Even with a late 2015 A9 processor, iSight camera system, and NFC radio for Apple Pay, component costs could still be kept within Apple’s target range for price point and margins. That way, just like the iPod touch refresh last year, people who still want the iPhone 5s get it, but with specifications that deliver an updated, modern experience.

A new 4-inch iPhone with an A9 processor and Touch ID solves a few problems for Apple, in one swoop. It gives Apple a modern iPhone to sell to people who really do prefer the smaller size, and it gives them a low-end-of-the-lineup model that is technically relevant for another 18-24 months.

Weird Guardian Piece on Apple and Recruiting 

Nellie Bowles, writing for The Guardian:

When developer James Knight was on the job market recently, he considered applying to several of the big tech companies and immediately crossed Apple off his list.

“Apple’s culture is one that’s so negative, so strict, so harsh,” said Knight, a talented 27-year-old coder who left a job at Google for more lucrative freelance work. “At Apple, you’re gonna be working 60-80 hours a week and some VP will come yell at you at any moment? That’s a very hostile work environment.” […]

Knight says he and many of his friends value lifestyle over salary. “I’m the kind of person who likes to show up to work sometimes at 11, or maybe work from home one day. And Apple’s not the place you can do that,” Knight said. “Apple can move away from that culture but culture takes time. A lot of time. And stock prices drop hourly.”

I’ve been saying for a while now that recruiting and talent retention are the single biggest problem Apple faces. But my take on it is subtle. Apple is driven by A-team talent, and A-team talent is in high demand across the whole industry. And as Guy English has pointed out, it’s a lot less exciting to be working on the tenth-generation iPhone than the first-generation of something new. The other problem Apple faces is that it’s not just any A-team talent that Apple needs, Apple needs A-team talent that understands and appreciates Apple’s design-focused culture.

That said, this Guardian piece by Bowles seems to be trying to argue that Apple is having trouble hiring anyone, period. That sounds like nonsense to me. And this James Knight guy sounds more like someone who Apple wouldn’t want to hire in the first place than someone who Apple covets but can’t get.

Jim Henson’s Hilariously Violent Wilkins Coffee Commercials 

Open Culture:

Henson made 179 ten-second spots for Wilkins Coffee, a regional company with distribution in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. market, according to the Muppets Wiki: “The local stations only had ten seconds for station identification, so the Muppet commercials had to be lightning-fast–essentially, eight seconds for the commercial pitch and a two-second shot of the product.”

Within those eight seconds, a coffee enthusiast named Wilkins (who bears a resemblance to Kermit the Frog) manages to shoot, stab, bludgeon or otherwise do grave bodily harm to a coffee holdout named Wontkins. Henson provided the voices of both characters.

I laughed out loud at a bunch of these.

The Verge: ‘Windows Phone Is Dead’; Rest of the World: ‘Duh’ 

Tom Warren, The Verge:

With a lack of hardware, lack of sales, and less than 2 percent market share, it’s time to call it: Windows Phone is dead. Real Windows on phones might become a thing with Continuum eventually, but Windows Phone as we know it is done. It won’t stop Microsoft producing a few handsets every year as a vanity project, but for everyone else it’s the end of the line.

With a lack of hardware, lack of sales, and less than 2 percent market share, Windows Phone has never actually been alive. It’s never gotten off the ground.

Why Apple Assembles in China

Arik Hesseldahl, writing for Recode on Donald Trump’s “we’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries” campaign promise:

Any honest presidential candidate regardless of party should say clearly and indeed proudly that America doesn’t want these jobs to come back. Final assembly jobs are low-skilled, low-paying occupations; no American would wish to support a family on what the jobs would pay. Workers at China’s Foxconn, which manufacturers the iPhone, make about $402 per month after three months of on-the-job probation. Even at the lowest minimum wage in the U.S. — $5.15 an hour in Wyoming — American workers can’t beat that.

It’s not that simple. These jobs are certainly menial, but they’re not low-skill. As Tim Cook said on 60 Minutes:

Charlie Rose: So if it’s not wages, what is it?

Tim Cook: It’s skill. […]

Charlie Rose: They have more skills than American workers? They have more skills than —

Tim Cook: Now — now, hold on.

Charlie Rose: — German workers?

Tim Cook: Yeah, let me — let me — let me clear, China put an enormous focus on manufacturing. In what we would call, you and I would call vocational kind of skills. The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills. I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.

Charlie Rose: Because they’ve taught those skills in their schools?

Tim Cook: It’s because it was a focus of them — it’s a focus of their educational system. And so that is the reality.

Wages are a huge factor, but for the sake of argument, let’s say Apple was willing to dip into its massive cash reserves and pay assembly line workers in the U.S. a good wage. Where would these U.S.-made iPhone be assembled? A year ago Apple sold 75 million iPhones in the fourth quarter of calendar 2014. There is no facility in the U.S. that can do that. There might not be anywhere in the world other than China that can operate at that sort of scale. That’s almost one million iPhones per day. 10 iPhones per second. Think about that.

You can say, well, Apple could dig even deeper into its coffers and build such facilities. And train tens of thousands of employees. But why would they? Part of the marvel of Apple’s operations is that they can assemble and sell an unfathomable number of devices but they’re not on the hook for the assembly plants and facilities. When iPhones go the way of the iPod in 10 or 15 or 20 years, Apple doesn’t have any factories to close or convert for other uses. Foxconn does.

The U.S. can’t compete with China on wages. It can’t compete on the size of the labor force. China has had a decades-long push in its education system to train these workers; the U.S. has not. And the U.S. doesn’t have the facilities or the proximity to the Asian component manufacturers.

The only way Apple could ever switch to U.S. assembly and manufacturing would be if they automated the entire process — to build machines that build the machines. That, in fact, is what NeXT did while they were in the hardware business. But NeXT only ever sold about 50,000 computers total. Apple needed to assemble 35,000 iPhones per hour last year.

So long as assembling these devices remains labor intensive, it has to happen in China. And if someday it becomes automated — if the machines are built by machines — by definition it’s not going to create manufacturing jobs.1 

  1. I do wonder about the purported Apple car. Would that be assembled in China, too? The U.S. does have automobile manufacturing expertise. And a car is so utterly unlike any product Apple has ever made that I feel like anything is possible. ↩︎

The Curious Case of the Curious Case

Joanna Stern tested Apple’s new Smart Battery Case for five days, and likes it a lot:

Let’s get this out of the way: The bar for battery-case design is extremely low. Most are chunky and made of black matte plastic, requiring you to attach two pieces to your phone. You choose a battery case for utility, not fashion.

Apple’s Smart Battery Case, though still fairly unsightly, is ahead of those. Bend back the top and slide in your phone. It feels just like Apple’s smooth, soft-touch wraparound silicone case, except… with a protruding, awkward battery on the back. The battery juts out as if your phone will soon give birth to a rectangular alien.

Still, I’ll take it over all the ugly messes sold by Mophie, Anker and others, especially since it provides better protection for the phone. A lip curves just above the screen to prevent the glass from hitting a hard surface and an interior lining provides better shock absorption than hard plastic. Plus, the grippy material is much easier to hold and doesn’t feel like it will slip from my hands.

The Verge’s Lauren Goode disagrees:

Apple’s smart battery case is fine, then, if you want a softer case or a “passive” battery charging experience, with zero control over or understanding of how the case actually charges your phone. Maybe that’s what Apple is hoping: that buyers of this thing will slip it on and never take it off, charging their iPhones entirely through the case’s Lightning port going forward, forgetting about its big ol’ bump in the back. They will be pleased, finally, with their iPhone 6’s or 6S’s battery life, and the memory of spending an extra $99 for it, rather than having it just work that way in the first place, will eventually fade away.

It’s fine if you don’t want exterior indicator lights, or a even a case that gives you a 0 to 100 percent charge. After all, this one was designed for the iPhone, by the same company that made your iPhone. For some people, that’s a big draw.

In either case this will probably sell like hot cakes. It fits nicely in holiday stockings. ’Tis the season. Just know that from a pure performance and even a design perspective, Apple’s effort is not the best you can get.

(I can almost see her eyes rolling as she typed those italicized words in the second quoted paragraph.)

Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy best captured what most of us thought when we first saw it: “These things look weird.”

That was certainly my first impression when I got mine Tuesday morning. The looks-like-it’s-pregnant-with-an-iPod-Touch design is certainly curious. I think to understand why it looks like this we have to ask why it even exists:

  • People who use their phones heavily — power users, if you will — struggle to get through a day on a single charge with the iPhone 6/6S.

  • The Plus models offer so much more battery life that getting through the day on a single charge isn’t a problem, even for power users who are on their phones all day long. But most people don’t want an iPhone that large.

  • Apple has long sold third-party battery cases in its stores, so they know how popular they are.

  • Existing battery cases all suffer from similar design problems, as outlined by Joanna Stern above. They make the entire device look and feel chunky, and most of them are built from materials that don’t feel good. None of them integrate in any way with the software on the iPhone, and most of them use micro USB instead of Lightning for charging the case.

  • Lastly, Apple claims the Smart Battery Case tackles a problem I wasn’t aware existed: that existing battery cases adversely affect cellular reception because they’re putting a battery between the phone’s antenna and the exterior of the case.

So I think Apple’s priorities for the Smart Battery Case were as follows — and the order matters:

  1. Provides effective battery life equivalent to the iPhone 6S Plus.
  2. Feels good in your hand.
  3. Makes it easy and elegant to insert and remove the phone.
  4. Works as a durable protective case.
  5. Prevents the case’s battery from affecting cellular reception.
  6. Looks good.

That “looks good” is last on the list is unusual for an Apple product, to say the least. Looking good isn’t always first on Apple’s list of priorities, but it’s seldom far from the top. But in this case it makes sense: Apple sells great-looking silicone and leather cases for people who aren’t looking for a battery case, and all existing third-party battery cases are clunky in some way.

Ungainly though the case’s hump is, I can’t help but suspect one reason for it might be, counterintuitively, a certain vanity on the part of its designers. Not for the sake of the case itself, but for the iPhone. Third-party “thick from top to bottom” battery cases make it impossible to tell whether the enclosed phone is itself thick or thin. Apple’s Smart Battery Case makes it obvious that it’s a thin iPhone in a case which has a thick battery on the back. And I’ll say this for Apple: they are owning that hump. The hero photo of the case on the packaging is a face-on view of the back of the case.

But I think the main reasons for this design are practical. The battery doesn’t extend to the top in order to accommodate the hinge design for inserting and removing the phone. Why it doesn’t extend to the bottom is a little less obvious. I suspect one reason is that that’s where the “passively coupling antenna” is.1 Extending the battery to cover it would defeat the purpose. Also, there’s a hand feel aspect to it — normally I rest the bottom of my iPhone on my pinky finger. With this case, I can rest the bottom ridge of the hump on my pinky, and it’s kind of nice. I also like putting my index finger atop the hump.

So the Smart Battery Case looks weird. Typical battery cases look fat. Whether you prefer the weird look of the Smart Battery Case to the fat look of a typical case is subjective. Me, I don’t like the way any of them look. But after using the Smart Battery Case for three days, and having previously spent time using the thinnest available cases from Mophie, I feel confident saying Apple’s Smart Battery Case feels better when you’re holding it than any other battery case, both because of the material and its shape. It’s not even a close call. It also feels sturdier — this is the most protective iPhone case Apple has ever made, with rigid reinforced sides and a slightly higher lip rising above the touchscreen. The Smart Battery Case also clearly looks better from your own face-on perspective when using the phone. (Mophie’s cases look better than most, but they emboss an obnoxious “mophie” logotype on the front-facing chin. If Apple doesn’t print anything on the front face of the iPhone, why in the world would a case maker?)

Patents, by the way, are a non-issue regarding the Smart Battery Case’s design. A well-placed little birdie who is perched in a position to know told me that Nilay Patel’s speculation that the unusual design was the byproduct of Apple trying to steer clear of patents held by Mophie (or any other company for that matter) are “absolute nonsense”. This birdie was unequivocal on the matter. Whether you like it, hate it, or are ambivalent about it, this is the battery case Apple wanted to make.

My take is that the Smart Battery Case is an inelegant design, but it is solving a problem for which, to date, no one has created an elegant solution. Apple has simply chosen to make different severe trade-offs than the existing competition. In that sense, it is a very Apple-like product — like the hockey-puck mouse or the iMac G4.

On Capacity, Simplicity, and the Intended Use Case

Most battery cases have an on/off toggle switch, controlling when the case is actually charging the phone. The reason for this is that you can squeeze more from a battery case if you only charge the phone when it’s mostly depleted. Here’s a passage from Mophie’s FAQ page:

When should I turn on my mophie case?

To get the most charge out of your case, turn it on around 10%-20% and keep the case charging without using it until your iPhone hits 80% battery life. From there, you can either wait until it gets low again or top it off when the battery is less than 80%. Apple’s batteries fast-charge to 80%, then switch to trickle charging for the last 20%.

Simplicity is a higher priority for Apple than fiddly control. If a peripheral can get by without an on/off switch, Apple is going to omit the switch. (Exhibit B: Apple Pencil.) The whole point of the Smart Battery Case is that you charge it up and put your iPhone in it and that’s it. Complaining about the lack of an on/off toggle or external charge capacity indicator lights on the Smart Battery Case reminds me of the complaints about the original iPhone omitting the then-ubiquitous green/red hardware buttons for starting and ending phone calls. Sure, there was a purpose to them, but in the end the simplification was worth it. If your iPhone is in the case, it’s charging. That’s it.

Regarding the battery capacity of the case, here’s Lauren Goode, author of the aforelinked review for The Verge, on Twitter:

A quick comparison for you: $99 Apple Battery Case 1877 mAh, $100 Mophie Juice Pack Air 2750 mAh, $50 Incipio Offgrid Express 3000 mAh

Nothing could better encapsulate the wrong way of looking at the Smart Battery Case than this tweet. The intended use of the Smart Battery Case is to allow prolonged, heavy use of an iPhone 6/6S throughout one day. In my testing, and judging by the reviews of others, its 1,877 mAh battery is enough for that. Adding a bigger battery would have just made it even heavier and more ungainly.

And the very name of the Incipio Offgrid Express suggests that it is intended for an entirely different use case: traveling away from power for more than a day.

Which in turn brings me to Tim Cook’s comments to Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff yesterday:

Some also see the introduction of an Apple battery case as an admission that battery life on the iPhone 6 and 6s isn’t all it should be.

Cook, though, said that “if you’re charging your phone every day, you probably don’t need this at all. But if you’re out hiking and you go on overnight trips… it’s kind of nice to have.”

The Smart Battery Case would certainly help with an overnight hiking trip, but I think Cook was off-message here, because that scenario is really not what it was designed for. Big 5,000 mAh (or more) external battery chargers (or the highest capacity, extremely thick battery cases from third parties) are far better suited to that scenario than the Smart Battery Case. But Ulanoff’s preceding paragraph points to the marketing predicament inherent in a first-party Apple battery case: that it implies the built-in battery of the iPhone 6S is insufficient.

The clear lesson is that it’s far better to give a phone more battery life by making the phone itself thicker and including a correspondingly thicker (and thus bigger) internal battery than by using any sort of external battery. After a few days using this case, my thoughts turn not to the Smart Battery Case itself but instead to my personal desire that Apple had made the 6/6S form factor slightly thicker. Not a lot thicker. Just a little — just enough to boost battery life around 15-20 percent or so.2 That wouldn’t completely alleviate the need for external batteries. But it would eliminate a lot of my need — my phone dies only a few times a year, but when it does, it almost invariably happens very late at night.

I emphasized the word “personal” in the preceding paragraph because I realize my needs and desires are not representative of the majority. I think the battery life of the iPhone 6S as-is is sufficient for the vast majority of typical users. I suspect Cook went with the overnight hiking scenario specifically to avoid the implication that the built-in battery is insufficient. But the better explanation is that the built-in battery is insufficient for power users who use their iPhones far more than most people do.

My Advice

If you find yourself short on battery with your iPhone every day (or even most days), and you can’t make an adjustment to, say, put a charging dock on your desk or in your car to give your iPhone’s internal battery a periodic snack, then you should probably bite the bullet and switch to a 6S Plus. However bulky the Plus feels in your pocket and hands, it feels less bulky to me than the iPhone 6S with any battery pack. An iPhone 6S Plus, even with a normal case on it, weighs noticeably less than an iPhone 6S with the Smart Battery Case. If you need the extra battery capacity every day, you might as well get the Plus. (If you actually prefer the bigger Plus to the 4.7-inch devices, you’re in luck — you get the screen size you prefer, and a significantly longer-lasting battery. My advice here is for those who prefer the 4.7-inch size, other considerations aside.)

That doesn’t describe me, however. On a typical day, my iPhone 6S seldom drops below 20 percent by the time I go to sleep. But when I’m traveling, I often need a portable battery of some sort. Cellular coverage can be spotty (which drains the battery), and when I’m away from home, I tend to do more (or even the entirety) of my daily computing on the iPhone. Conferences, in particular, can be dreadful on battery life. At WWDC my iPhone can drop to 50 percent by the time the keynote is over Monday morning.

In recent years, rather than use a battery case, I’ve switched to carrying a portable external battery. My favorite for the past year or so is the $80 Mophie Powerstation Plus 2X. It’s relatively small, packs a 3,000 mAh capacity, and has built-in USB and Lightning cables. At conferences or for work travel, it’s easily stashed in my laptop bag, so my pockets aren’t weighed down at all, and my iPhone isn’t saddled with an unnatural case. If I do need to carry it in my pocket, it’s not too bad. It’s also easier to share with friends or family than a battery case. At night, I just plug the Powerstation into an AC adapter, and my iPhone into the Powerstation, and both devices get charged — no need for a separate charger or any additional cables.

The big advantage to using a battery case instead of an external battery pack is that you can easily keep using your phone while it charges. That’s awkward, at best, while your phone is tethered by a cable to a small brick.

If I were going to go back to using a battery case, there’s no question in my mind that I’d go with Apple’s. The only downside to it compared to Mophie’s (and the others — but I think Mophie is clearly the leader of the pack) is that it looks funny from the back. But to my eyes it doesn’t look that funny, and though third-party cases don’t look weird, they don’t look (or feel) good. In every other way, Apple’s Smart Battery Case wins: it’s all Lightning, so any Lightning peripherals you have will work, and there’s no need to pack a grody micro USB cable; it supplies more than enough additional power to get you through an active day; its unibody design makes it much easier to insert and remove the phone; and it feels much better in hand. 

  1. My understanding of how this “passively assistive antenna” works is that it takes the cellular signal and amplifies it as it passes through the case in a way that makes it easier for the iPhone’s antenna to “hear”. Sort of like the antenna equivalent of cupping your hand around your ear. I have no idea whether this is legit, or some sort of placebo marketing bullshit, but it would be interesting to see someone measure the cellular reception of (a) a naked iPhone 6S, (b) the same iPhone in a, say, Mophie battery case, and (c) the same iPhone in the Smart Battery Case. ↩︎

  2. The iPhone 6 and 6S are actually 0.2mm thinner than their corresponding Plus models. That’s sort of crazy. The difference is barely perceptible, but if anything, the 6 and 6S should be a little thicker, not thinner, than the Plus models. ↩︎︎

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