The Daring Fireball Linked List

Netflix: The Monster That’s Eating Hollywood 

Joe Flint and Shalini Ramachandran, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

It is expanding into new genres such as children’s fare, reality TV and stand-up comedy specials — including a $40 million deal for two shows by Chris Rock. The shift has unnerved some TV networks that had become used to Netflix’s original content being focused on scripted dramas and sitcoms.

Netflix’s spending on original and acquired programming this year is expected to be more than $6 billion, up from $5 billion last year, more than double what Time Warner Inc.’s HBO spends and five times as much as 21st Century Fox’s FX or CBS Corp.’s Showtime. It spent close to $10 million an episode on “The Crown,” a lavish period drama about a young Queen Elizabeth II.

Its shock-and-awe spending — combined with that of Amazon and other new players — is driving up costs industrywide and creating a scarcity of people and equipment.

TV network executives five years ago: This is great, we found someone willing to pay us for our back catalog of old crappy TV shows.

TV network executives today: Nobody could’ve seen this coming, this is terrible.

(We just watched Dave Chappelle’s two new stand-up specials for Netflix over the weekend. Fucking hilarious — highly recommended.)

iOS 10.3 Switches to the New APFS File System 

David Sparks:

When Apple first announced this new system, I expected it would be years before we saw it on iPhones. The iPhone is the lifeblood of Apple and changing filesystems can sometimes cause problems. Now here we are less than 12 months after announcement and Apple’s installing APFS across all iPhones and iPads.

Following my usual “fire, ready, aim” philosophy about these things, I already updated all of my iOS devices and while the update took a while (converting a file system is never a fast process), everything went just fine and devices are all working just like before. Indeed, I’m writing this post on my updated iPad Pro.

I upgraded my phone today, and it did seem to me that it took an unusual amount of time. Understandable, considering it was changing the file system. This is one of those things where if it all goes according to plan, normal people will have no idea it happened. But for us nerds, what Apple pulled off today seems almost impossible — tens of millions of devices are being upgraded to an altogether brand new file system, in place, silently. My sincere congratulations to Apple’s file system team on a job well done.

WWDC Registration Is Open 

Apple:

The opportunity to buy tickets to WWDC 2017 is offered by random selection. Register by Friday, March 31 at 10:00 a.m. PDT for your chance to join thousands of others coming together to change the world.

Also, save the date: the live episode of The Talk Show will be held Tuesday evening, June 6, in the gorgeous California Theatre right across the street from the McEnery Convention Center. I’ll post ticketing information soon.

Uber Executives’ Visit to Seoul ‘Escort Bar’ Resulted in HR Complaint 

Amir Efrati, reporting for The Information:

Ms. Holzwarth, who described the bar in vivid detail in an interview with The Information, said she and Mr. Kalanick left less than an hour after the men in Uber’s group picked some women to sit with. She doesn’t know what happened after she left.

Mr. Michael’s call prompted her to discuss her concerns with Uber’s top public relations executive Rachel Whetstone and Mr. Kalanick, among other people. She described and provided correspondence of those conversations for this story.

“I’m not going to lie for them,” she said in an interview with The Information this week. In the interview, she described Mr. Kalanick as “part of a class of privileged men who have been taught they can do whatever they want, and now they can.”

She said she wouldn’t have considered speaking publicly had Mr. Michael not attempted to “silence” her.

Sounds like this was less like a strip club and more like a brothel:

High-end escort-karaoke bars are fairly common in Seoul, often frequented by businessmen, who pick out women to drink with. Karaoke is typically a feature of the evening. The men can choose to have sex with the women as well. Prostitution is illegal in South Korea.

HealthFace for Apple Watch 

My thanks to Quentin Zervaas — remember Streaks? — for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote HealthFace. HealthFace goes deep on exposing health information as a complication on any Apple Watch face. Any data from HealthKit can be shown, and it’s easy to configure it to show different data on different watch faces — you can, say, show your sleep data on the Utility face and your blood pressure on Modular. The interface for configuring the complications is better than Apple’s.

If you have any interest in displaying your HealthKit data on your Apple Watch, HealthFace is the app for you. And it’s a great deal — a one-time purchase of just $1.99.

Black Screen on a Red iPhone 7 

I’m 100 percent convinced this looks better than the white bezel.

‘Hello, Bob’ 

Washington Post reporter Robert Costa:

President Trump called me on my cellphone Friday afternoon at 3:31 p.m. At first I thought it was a reader with a complaint since it was a blocked number.

Instead, it was the president calling from the Oval Office. His voice was even, his tone muted. He did not bury the lead.

“Hello, Bob,” Trump began. “So, we just pulled it.”

At a meta level, it’s fascinating to me that Trump made these phone calls personally. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’s phone call to New York Times columnist Joe Nocera back in 2008:

On Thursday afternoon, several hours after I’d gotten my final “Steve’s health is a private matter” — and much to my amazement — Mr. Jobs called me. “This is Steve Jobs,” he began. “You think I’m an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he’s above the law, and I think you’re a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong.” After that rather arresting opening, he went on to say that he would give me some details about his recent health problems, but only if I would agree to keep them off the record. I tried to argue him out of it, but he said he wouldn’t talk if I insisted on an on-the-record conversation. So I agreed.

‘Repeal and Replace’ Claim Chowder 

Philip Bump, reporting for The Washington Post:

“I never said I was going to repeal and replace in the first 61 days,” he said to Costa with a laugh — undercounting his time in office by a bit. When he offered a public statement a bit later, he’d figured out the proper number. […]

Trump is correct: At no point in time did he pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare in 61 or 64 days. Instead, he pledged to demand a repeal on Day One — even if it took a special session of Congress to make it happen. He pledged on several occasions to repeal it “immediately.” The message he conveyed to his voters was very much not that “this is something we will get to eventually” but that this was something that would come first on the agenda.

How Paul Ryan Played Donald Trump 

Ezra Klein, writing for Vox:

Donald Trump promised to be a different kind of president. He was a populist fighting on behalf of the “forgotten man,” taking on the GOP establishment, draining the Washington swamp, protecting Medicaid from cuts, vowing to cover everyone with health care and make the government pay for it. He was a pragmatic businessman who was going to make Washington work for you, the little guy, not the ideologues and special interests.

Instead, Trump has become a pitchman for Paul Ryan and his agenda. He’s spent the past week fighting for a health care bill he didn’t campaign on, didn’t draft, doesn’t understand, doesn’t like to talk about, and can’t defend. Rather than forcing the Republican establishment to come around to his principles, he’s come around to theirs — with disastrous results.

Here’s how Trump learned the news that the vote on the AHCA bill had been called off:

In the mid-afternoon, a beaming Mr. Trump climbed into the rig of a black tractor-trailer, which had been driven to the White House for an event with trucking industry executives, honking the horn and posing for a series of tough-guy photos — one with his fists held aloft, another staring straight ahead, hands gripping the large wheel, his face compressed into an excited scream.

At a meeting inside shortly afterward, Mr. Trump announced that he was pressed for time and needed to go make calls for more votes.

A reporter informed him that the vote had already been called off.

Here’s the “tough guy driving a truck” pose.

‘Pass the Heinz’ 

Brilliant. Heinz is actually running ads from Don Draper’s rejected ketchup campaign from Mad Men:

Fifty years ago, in the fictional world of Mad Men, Don Draper pitched a daring ad campaign to Heinz execs, for the brand’s ketchup, that proposed not showing the product at all. Instead, the ads would show close-ups of foods that go great with ketchup — french fries, a cheeseburger, a slice of steak — but without any ketchup in sight.

Don’s proposed tagline: “Pass the Heinz.”

They’re great ads, and this is a great gimmick.

(Via Kottke.)

FedEx Offers Customers $5 for the Inconvenience of Requiring Adobe Flash 

Ina Fried, writing for Axios:

Adobe Flash has been on the ropes since Steve Jobs went on his famous tirade 7 years ago, but that doesn’t mean some sites don’t still require it.

For its part, FedEx is apologizing to customers and offering $5 discount for the fact that printing labels online still requires the browser plug-in.

FedEx needs to get its shit together. This is pathetic.

Also, “tirade” is a terrible description of Steve Jobs’s “Thoughts on Flash”. The dictionary defines tirade as “a long, angry speech of criticism or accusation”. Go ahead and re-read Jobs’s essay. There’s not a single angry word in it. What made it so devastating is that it wasn’t angry. It was calm, cool, collected, and true.

If it had been an angry rant, it would have been easily dismissed without needing to be factually refuted — “That’s just Jobs being a prick again.” The fact that it wasn’t angry, and because it was all true, made it impossible to refute.

(Via Dave Pell’s NextDraft.)

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Has a Shitty Radar 

Kim Hart, Axios:

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin riled the tech community this morning when he told Axios’s Mike Allen that displacement of jobs by artificial intelligence and automation is “not even on my radar screen” because the technology is “50-100 more years” away. Mnuchin also said he is “not worried at all” about robots displacing humans in the near future. “In fact, I’m optimistic.”

Report issued today from PricewaterhouseCoopers:

Millions of workers around the world are at risk of losing their jobs to robots — but Americans should be particularly worried. 38 percent of jobs in the U.S. are at high risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years, according to a new report by PwC.

4-Year-Old Boy in U.K. Saved His Mother’s Life Using Siri 

From the 999 transcript:

Operator: Hello, this is the police. What is your emergency?

Roman: Hello, I’m Roman.

O: Where’s your mummy?

R: She’s at home.

O: Where are you?

R: At home as well.

O: Can you do me a favour? Can you go and get mummy?

R: We can’t, she’s dead.

O: You said mummy was there – what do you mean she’s dead?

R: It means that she’s closing her eyes and she’s not breathing.

Apple Acquires Workflow 

Whoa, huge news for iOS nerds. Matthew Panzarino has the scoop:

Workflow has been around for a couple of years and we’ve covered it and its updates. It shares some similarity with the service IFTTT, in that it allows people to group together a bunch of actions that can allow them to perform complicated tasks with one tap. It had built up a sizeable number of users and downloads over the past few years.

Workflow the app is being acquired, along with the team of Weinstein, Conrad Kramer and Nick Frey. In a somewhat uncommon move for Apple, the app will continue to be made available on the App Store and will be made free later today.

This certainly provides ammunition against the argument that Apple no longer cares about power users. For me this is Apple’s most intriguing and exciting acquisition in years.

Personally, Workflow never really clicked for me, but I’ve been meaning to give it another try. The problem for me isn’t Workflow itself, but iOS. MacOS, at a conceptual level, matches the way my brain works for nerdy custom automation stuff — I just get Unix shell scripting languages, AppleScript-able Mac apps, and NeXTstep’s brilliant system-wide Services menu. Doing things the iOS way via Workflow looks cool, but whenever it comes down to it, it always feels easier to me to just wait until I’m at a Mac and create it there.

But one of the things that has always impressed me, and which has paid off for them in the end, is that Workflow stayed true to the platform. Workflow was designed from the ground up as a true and native iOS service. It is one of the most iOS-y pieces of software ever created. They took the severe limits of inter-application communication on iOS and embraced them.

Gizmodo: ‘Samsung’s New iPad Pro Is Just Fantastic’ 

Alex Cranz, Gizmodo:

Coming a year after the launch of Apple’s first 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the new iteration from Samsung feels daring. While it has the same sleek lines, is just as light, and possesses the magnetic connection on one side for easy keyboard cover attachment, Samsung’s iPad Pro for 2017 is, inexplicably called the Galaxy Tab S3, and unlike previous iPads this one runs on Android.

Samsung is so stupid with their insistence on printing their ugly logo on the front face of any device where it’ll fit. You’re obviously supposed to use this tablet in landscape orientation any time it’s connected to the keyboard case, or any time you watch a video. For many users, that might be the majority of their time using the device. And when the device is in landscape, the logo is oriented wrong. That’s just plain stupid.

And look at their asymmetrical copy of the iPad’s Smart Connector. Says everything you need to know about Samsung’s care for the little details.

The Talk Show: ‘Hubbo Is in Decline’ 

New episode. Special guest Merlin Mann. Enjoy.

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Quick Thoughts on Today’s New Apple Stuff 
  • Product Red Special Edition iPhone 7 and 7 Plus: Looks cool. But I think I’d rather see it with a black face.

  • New 9.7-inch just-plain “iPad”: Looks like the supply chain rumor mill was almost entirely wrong about new iPads. No new iPad Pro hardware at all. Just a no-adjective 9.7-inch “iPad” to replace the iPad Air 2. It’s a nice update for the budget-conscious: the new iPad has a brighter screen and an A9 instead of an A8 chip, and costs $70 less. As predicted, Apple is clearly putting the “Air” brand out to pasture.

  • Clips: Looks cool, especially the part about dictating the titles verbally. But it doesn’t ship until April.

  • New Apple Watch Bands: None of these colors speak to me, personally, but I will say that comfort-wise, Apple’s nylon bands are my favorite.

  • Update: Also, the iPhone SE storage tiers have been bumped from 16/64 to 32/128 GB. That means Apple is no longer selling any 16 GB iPhones (or iPads for that matter).

(A thought about the missing updates to the iPad Pro lineup: it seems like the supply chain leaks are mostly related to displays. A 10.5-inch display would necessarily require a new hardware design, because that’s a new display size for iPads. But what if the next update to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro also sports a new smaller-bezel design? Same display size as the current big iPad Pro, but a smaller footprint? When Apple makes multiple sizes of the same device family, they generally look as similar as possible other than the difference in size. It would be weird if, later this year, Apple released two new iPad Pros, but only one of them sported a new edge-to-edge display.)

Disability in the Age of Trump 

Beautiful, moving comic by Amanda Scurti.

Guetzli: A New Open Source JPEG Encoder From Google 

Robert Obryk and Jyrki Alakuijala, of Google Research Europe:

At Google, we care about giving users the best possible online experience, both through our own services and products and by contributing new tools and industry standards for use by the online community. That’s why we’re excited to announce Guetzli, a new open source algorithm that creates high quality JPEG images with file sizes 35% smaller than currently available methods, enabling webmasters to create webpages that can load faster and use even less data.

Guetzli [guɛtsli] — cookie in Swiss German — is a JPEG encoder for digital images and web graphics that can enable faster online experiences by producing smaller JPEG files while still maintaining compatibility with existing browsers, image processing applications and the JPEG standard. […]

And while Guetzli produces smaller image file sizes without sacrificing quality, we additionally found that in experiments where compressed image file sizes are kept constant that human raters consistently preferred the images Guetzli produced over libjpeg images, even when the libjpeg files were the same size or even slightly larger. We think this makes the slower compression a worthy tradeoff.

They’re not exaggerating. I installed Guetzli (via Homebrew) and it produces JPEGs that are about one-third smaller and yet look the same to my eyes. It’s a significant breakthrough for such a venerable image format.

There is, of course, a catch. Image processing is really slow. It takes about 8 minutes for Guetzli to process a single iPhone camera image on my 5K iMac. That doesn’t mean Guetzli isn’t useful — it just isn’t useful in a user-facing context. If I ran a site that published photos, I’d hook it up in the background on the server hosting my images.

Charlie Warzel Profiles Techmeme’s Gabe Rivera 

Charlie Warzel, writing for BuzzFeed:

Techmeme, then, wields tremendous power over a tremendously powerful group of people. And as its founder, Rivera has been quietly defining Silicon Valley’s narrative for the industry’s power brokers for more than a decade. But Rivera is uncomfortable — or unwilling — to reckon with how his influence has affected one of the most important and powerful industries in the world. The result is that Rivera can cast himself both as a gimlet-eyed insider with a powerful readership and as a mostly anonymous entrepreneur running a niche link blog from the comfort of his home. It’s a convenient cognitive dissonance.

I visit Techmeme once or twice on typical workdays. But I find it essential when I’m on vacation or otherwise offline for large stretches of time — it’s a great way to quickly check whether anything happened I need to know about. Nothing else like it.

Pixure 2.2 and PanelKit 

Pixure is Louis D’hauwe’s excellent pixel art app for iPad and iPhone. It’s a terrific app. You might want to check out the latest version even if you aren’t interested in creating pixel art, though — it’s the first version using D’hauwe’s own open source PanelKit framework. PanelKit allows apps to turn popovers into draggable panels, and allows for them to be pinned into place as stay-open sidebars. It caught my eye a few weeks ago on Twitter, and now that I can play with it in an actual app, I’m even more impressed with the ingenuity.

Update: Reminds me of the tear-off menus in MacPaint, Hypercard, and NeXTstep.

Anthony Bourdain Does Not Want to Owe Anybody Even a Single Dollar 

Anthony Bourdain, on his approach to personal finance after having not filed taxes for 10 years and running up credit card debt that he ignored until he was 44:

That was really the first time I started thinking about saving money. About not finding myself in that terrifying space, that uncertainty that goes back to childhood. Will the car get fixed? Will we be able to pay for tuition? In very short order, I contacted the IRS and I paid what I owed. I paid American Express. Since that time, I am fanatical about not owing anybody any money. I hate it. I don’t want to carry a balance, ever. I have a mortgage, but I despise the idea. That was my biggest objection to buying property, though I wasn’t in the position to pay cash.

The reports of my net worth are about ten times overstated. I think the people who calculate these things assume that I live a lot more sensibly than I do. I mean, I don’t live recklessly — I have one car. But I don’t deprive myself simple pleasures. I’m not a haggler. There’s not enough time in the world. I tend to go for the quickest, easiest, what’s comfortable. I want it now. Time’s running out.

(Via Kottke.)

‘There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air’ 

Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker, reporting for The Washington Post:

But in Monday’s remarkable, marathon hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said there was no such evidence. Trump’s claim, first made in a series of tweets on March 4 at a moment when associates said he was feeling under siege and stewing over the struggles of his young presidency, remains unfounded.

Comey did not stop there. He confirmed publicly that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with Russia, part of an extraordinary effort by an adversary to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.

Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as “fake news.” That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.

“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. “Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-boggling event.”

As is our current predicament.

Leaked Images of Samsung Galaxy S8 From Evan Blass 

Looks like Samsung is beating Apple to the “hardly any chin or forehead” punch. The top and bottom have bezels, but they’re so small Samsung couldn’t print their ugly logo on the front, finally moving past one of the worst aspects of every other Samsung phone to date.

Are they really going to call the bigger model the “Plus”? They’re really going to rip off Apple’s naming?

Google to Revamp Ad Policies After Big Brands Boycott 

Joe Mayes and Jeremy Kahn, reporting for Bloomberg:

The U.S. company said in a blog post Friday it would give clients more control over where their ads appear on both YouTube, the video-sharing service it owns, and the Google Display Network, which posts advertising to third-party websites.

The announcement came after the U.K. government and the Guardian newspaper pulled ads from the video site, stepping up pressure on YouTube to police content on its platform.

France’s Havas SA, the world’s sixth-largest advertising and marketing company, pulled its U.K. clients’ ads from Google and YouTube on Friday after failing to get assurances from Google that the ads wouldn’t appear next to offensive material. Those clients include wireless carrier O2, Royal Mail Plc, government-owned British Broadcasting Corp., Domino’s Pizza and Hyundai Kia, Havas said in a statement.

The flip side of the theory that we, as users, are Google’s product, not their customers, is that advertisers are Google’s actual customers. And so here they are, responding promptly to their customers’ complaints.

Daring Fireball Sponsorship Openings 

Down to just four open spots between now and the end of May — but that includes this week and next. We’ve had some great first-time sponsors recently. If you’ve got a cool product or service to promote, get in touch.

Uber President Jeff Jones Is Quitting, Citing Differences Over ‘Beliefs and Approach to Leadership’ 

Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan, reporting for Recode:

Jeff Jones, the president of Uber, is quitting the car-hailing company after less than a year. The move by the No. 2 exec, said sources, is directly related to the multiple controversies there, including explosive charges of sexism and sexual harassment.

So was Uber’s toxic culture a surprise to Jones? Or was it even worse than what he was braced for?

Chuck Berry Dies at 90 

Great clip from 1987’s Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll, with Chuck Berry teaching Keith Richards how to properly play the opening licks of “Carol”. Perfect.

See also: This letter from Carl Sagan and NASA creative director Ann Druyan to Berry in 1986.

Quip Electric Toothbrush 

My thanks to Quip for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Quip is a vibrating electric toothbrush with a two-minute timer, and automatic delivery of fresh brush-heads every three months. Everything your teeth need, nothing they don’t.

Quip was named one of the 25 best inventions of 2016 by Time magazine. Just look at it, it’s adorable. Special offer for DF readers: get your first brush-head and toothpaste refill for free.

Recreating Asteroids With Lasers 

Seb Lee-Delisle recreated the vintage Asteroids coin-op game using lasers, and the result is glorious. Great video from Matt Parker.

Why YouTube Switched From 5-Star Ratings to Thumbs Up/Down in 2009 

I got a lot of pushback from readers regarding my post yesterday supporting Netflix’s switch from a 5-star rating system to a simple thumbs up/down system. The gist of the complaints is that some people do carefully consider their star ratings, and do value the granularity of being able to say that you like/dislike something a little or a lot. But of course some people take that care. The problem is that most people don’t, and collectively, 5-star rating systems are garbage.

This post from YouTube back in 2009 shows it with data: when they had a 5-star rating system, the overwhelmingly most common rating was 5-stars. The next most common was the lowest, 1-star. 2-, 3-, and 4-star ratings were effectively never used.

For a personally curated collection, 5-star ratings can be meaningful. But for a recommendation service that averages ratings among all users, they are not. It’s the difference between designing for the ideal case of how people should behave versus designing for the practical case of how people actually behave.

The Case Against Uber 

Daniel Compton lays out the case that Uber coordinated with Anthony Levandowski to steal Google subsidiary Waymo’s self-driving car technology:

From Waymo’s filings, it seems that they have Levandowski dead to rights on stealing their LiDAR designs. That alone should be enough to bring Uber’s self-driving car program to a halt and cause some big problems for Levandowski. California’s Trade Secrets law is weaker than other states, but if successful, Waymo will be able to seek an injunction, damages, and attorney’s fees. Because all law is securities law, the SEC may also be able to bring a case against Uber (similarly to their case against Theranos).

See also: Compton’s update yesterday.

Netflix Is Ditching Five-Star Ratings in Favor of a Thumbs-Up 

Lauren Goode, reporting for The Verge:

Netflix will soon be changing its ratings system for the first time in several years, switching from a traditional five-star rating to a thumbs-up / thumbs-down system, Netflix vice president of product Todd Yellin said in a press briefing today.

“Five stars feels very yesterday now,” Yellin said. “We’re spending many billions of dollars on the titles we’re producing and licensing, and with these big catalogs, that just adds a challenge.” He added that “bubbling up the stuff people actually want to watch is super important.”

I give this change a thumbs-up. Everyone knows what “like” and “dislike” mean. People have very different opinions on 1-5 star ratings.

(A “meh” — neither like nor dislike, would be good too.)

The Curious State of Apple Product Pricing 

Another good column from Neil Cybart at Above Avalon:

It is very difficult to find a pair of wireless headphones priced lower than AirPods. In the run-up to Apple unveiling AirPods this past September, the wireless headphone market consisted of the following players:

  • Kanoa: $300
  • Bragi Dash: $299
  • Erato Apollo 7: $289
  • Skybuds: $279
  • Earin: $249
  • Motorola VerveOnes+: $249
  • Samsung Gear IconX: $199
  • Bragi Headphone: $149

Given the preceding list, a strong case could have been made for Apple to price its new wireless headphones at $249, or even $299. The fact that Samsung priced its Gear IconX at $199 seemed to suggest a sub-$200 retail price for AirPods was unlikely. Instead, Apple sent shockwaves pulsing through the market by pricing AirPods at only $159. The action instantly removed all available oxygen from the wireless headphone space. The idea of Apple coming out with a new product that would underprice nearly every other competitor was unimaginable ten years ago.

He makes a strong case that Apple Watch is underpriced compared to its competition, too.

AirPods are still showing a delivery estimate of “6 weeks”. Either demand remains unexpectedly strong or production remains unexpectedly difficult (or some combination of both).

Clickbait Headline of the Day: Wired 

Provocative headline on Brian Barrett’s piece for Wired on Alexa coming to the Amazon iOS app: “Siri’s Not Even the Best iPhone Assistant Anymore”:

What makes Alexa on iOS so intriguing isn’t just that it’s there, but where. There was already an Alexa app, a rudimentary utility that let users fiddle with the settings on their Amazon Echoes. And there have been a handful of third-party paid apps that brought some Alexa voice functionality to the iPhone. Now, though, Alexa will live inside the main iOS Amazon app, one of the most popular downloads in the entire App Store.

That puts iPhone and iPad owners just two taps away — one to open the Amazon app, the next to activate the microphone — from a voice assistant that doesn’t just rival Siri, but surpasses it in significant ways. Alexa’s popularity should already be giving Apple fits. Now it’s coming from inside the phone.

First, Alexa in the Amazon iOS app isn’t even rolled out to everyone yet. When I try it, the only voice commands I can issue are related to buying things from Amazon.

Second, it’s ridiculous to argue that Siri doesn’t have a nearly insurmountable convenience advantage. Alexa is only “two taps” away if your iPhone is already unlocked and you’re on the home screen where the Amazon app resides. From a locked iPhone, Siri can be invoked without even touching the phone (“Hey Siri…”) or with a single long-press on the home button. If you want to argue that Alexa is better overall than Siri, go ahead (and it seems clear that Alexa is better at some things), but on any given device, the only voice assistant that matters is the one that’s built into the system.

Alexandra Petri: ‘Trump’s Budget Makes Perfect Sense and Will Fix America, and I Will Tell You Why’ 

Alexandra Petri, writing for The Washington Post on Trump’s proposed budget cuts:

Environmental Protection Agency: We absolutely do not need this. Clean rivers and breathable air are making us SOFT and letting the Chinese and the Russians get the jump on us. We must go back to the America that was great, when the air was full of coal and danger and the way you could tell if the air was breathable was by carrying a canary around with you at all times, perched on your leathery, coal-dust-covered finger. Furthermore, we will cut funding to Superfund cleanup in the EPA because the only thing manlier than clean water is DIRTY water.

Funnier than the column itself is the fact that the White House itself promoted it, presumably because they only read the headline. (No idea why The Daily Beast brands the piece as “fake news”. Satire — no matter the fact that it sometimes sails over the heads of the humorless — is not fake news.)

Swatch Group Developing Its Own Watch OS 

Corinne Gretler, reporting for Bloomberg:

Swatch Group AG said it’s developing an alternative to the iOS and Android operating systems for smartwatches as Switzerland’s largest maker of timepieces vies with Silicon Valley for control of consumers’ wrists.

The company’s Tissot brand will introduce a model around the end of 2018 that uses the Swiss-made system, which will also be able to connect small objects and wearables, Swatch Chief Executive Officer Nick Hayek said in an interview Thursday. The technology will need less battery power and it will protect data better, he said later at a press conference.

Worth noting: the Swatch Group is a conglomerate that owns a wide range of watch brands, including Omega.

I see three major problems with this plan:

  1. Developing your own OS is hard. Most such efforts never really get off the ground (e.g. Samsung’s Tizen). Some get off the ground but never get anywhere (e.g. Windows Phone). It’s especially hard for a company that doesn’t already have experience developing software platforms.

  2. A third-party watch OS is never going to have tight integration with phones running iOS or Android.

  3. “Around the end of 2018” is a long ways off. I expect Apple to ship major updates to Apple Watch in September 2017 and again in 2018. So whatever Swatch is planning isn’t going to debut competing against WatchOS 3 and second-generation Apple Watch hardware — it’ll be competing against WatchOS 5 and fourth-generation Apple Watch hardware. Good luck with that.

Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute 

Daniel Victor, reporting for The New York Times:

A class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers hinged entirely on a debate that has bitterly divided friends, families and foes: The dreaded — or totally necessary — Oxford comma, perhaps the most polarizing of punctuation marks.

What ensued in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and in a 29-page court decision handed down on Monday, was an exercise in high-stakes grammar pedantry that could cost a dairy company in Portland, Me., an estimated $10 million. […]

The debate over commas is often a pretty inconsequential one, but it was anything but for the truck drivers. Note the lack of Oxford comma — also known as the serial comma — in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

The dairy company argued that “packing for shipment” and “distribution” were two different items in the list; the truck drivers argued that it was just one item: “packing for shipment or distribution”.

Google Home Now Testing Audio Ads 

Katyanna Quach, writing for The Register:

In a car-crash video, uploaded to Twitter by Bryson Meunier, a Google Home is asked: “Okay Google, what’s my day like?” The chatbot answers the question by telling him the time, the weather and what his commute is like. So far, so good.

But then, it sneakily adds: “By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast opens today.” Soft piano music is played, and the ad continues running.

“For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle. Have a good one,” it cheekily concludes, referring to the movie’s character. Now, we’re aware of the irony of complaining about ads spouted by a device, only to then offer to play the ad to you, but it’s honestly so creepy and stupid, it’ll make you reconsider the myth that Google hires only the smartest people on the planet.

Google’s initial response is laughable:

This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.

Paper Airplane Icons 

Daniel Jalkut, on the use of paper airplane icons to represent sent email:

I was curious to know if another email app used paper airplanes to represent drafts before Apple Mail did. I went out Googling and found all manner of representations, usually employing the paper envelope, or another snail-mail related symbol. None of them, except Mail, uses a paper airplane.

So my modest research suggests that the use of a paper airplane was a pretty novel bit of design. Was it an Apple innovation, or did it debut in some prior app I haven’t been able to track down?

After all these years using Apple Mail, I never before noticed that the Drafts icon is a sheet of paper with a folding diagram to turn it into an airplane.

Bloomberg Feature: ‘Did Uber Steal the Driverless Future From Google?’ 

Fascinating feature by Max Chafkin and Mark Bergen for Bloomberg Businessweek:

As Google’s car project grew, a debate raged inside the company, reflecting a broader dispute about the direction of autonomous vehicles: Should the tech come gradually and be added to cars with drivers (through features like automatic parking and highway autopilot) or all at once (for instance, a fleet of fully autonomous cars operating in a city center)? Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon professor, preferred the latter approach, arguing that incremental innovations might, paradoxically, make cars less safe. Levandowski believed otherwise and argued that Google should sell self-driving kits that could be retrofitted on cars, former colleagues say.

Urmson won out, and according to two former employees, Levandowski sulked openly. After one dispute between the two, Levandowski stopped coming to work for months, devoting his time to his side projects. This didn’t stop Page and Brin from discreetly acquiring 510 Systems and Anthony’s Robots for roughly $50 million in 2011.

Seems like a bizarre company culture that allows an executive to just stop coming to work for months at a time.

Levandowski seemed to struggle in other ways as well. In December, Uber dispatched 16 self-driving cars, with safety drivers, in San Francisco without seeking a permit from the California DMV. The test went poorly — on the first day, a self-driving car ran a red light, and the DMV ordered Uber to halt its program in the state. The company suffered further embarrassment when a New York Times article, citing leaked documents, suggested that Uber’s explanation for the traffic violation — that it had been caused by human error — wasn’t complete. The car malfunctioned, and the driver failed to stop it.

The misdirection came as no surprise to the Uber employees who’d spent time at Otto’s San Francisco headquarters. Someone there had distributed stickers — in OSHA orange — with a tongue-in-cheek slogan: “Safety third.”

“Safety third”. Hilarious.

Jon Rubinstein Named Co-CEO of World’s Biggest Hedge Fund, Fired 10 Months Later 

Mary Childs, reporting for The Financial Times 10 months ago:

Bridgewater has chosen former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein as the new co-chief executive of the world’s biggest hedge fund, replacing Greg Jensen as part of a 10-year handover from founder Ray Dalio.

Mr Rubinstein, who also sits on the boards of Amazon.com and Qualcomm, is expected to join Bridgewater in May and to share the co-CEO role with Eileen Murray.

Now:

Bridgewater Associates co-CEO Jon Rubinstein is stepping down and transitioning to an external advisory role in April after 10 months on the job, the firm told clients in a note Wednesday.

“While over the last ten months Jon has helped build a plan to re-design our core technology platform and has brought in a group of extremely talented executives to build out our technology leadership, we mutually agree that he is not a cultural fit for Bridgewater,” Bridgewater founder, chairman, and co-CIO Ray Dalio wrote in the note.

Pi Fest 

Nice collection of science and research apps for the Mac, at a discount of up to 50 percent. Great apps, great deal.

Jonathan Zdziarski Joins Apple 

Jonathan Zdziarski:

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve accepted a position with Apple’s Security Engineering and Architecture team, and am very excited to be working with a group of like minded individuals so passionate about protecting the security and privacy of others.

This decision marks the conclusion of what I feel has been a matter of conscience for me over time. Privacy is sacred; our digital lives can reveal so much about us – our interests, our deepest thoughts, and even who we love. I am thrilled to be working with such an exceptional group of people who share a passion to protect that.

“A matter of conscience” is, I think, exactly how Tim Cook feels about this. Great hire for Apple.

Systems Smart Enough to Know When They’re Not Smart Enough 

Good piece by Josh Clark on the problems with “one true answer” search responses:

Speed is a competitive advantage, and time is considered the enemy in most interfaces. That’s reflected in our industry’s fascination with download and rendering speeds, though those metrics are merely offshoots of the underlying user imperative, help me get this job done quickly. “Performance isn’t the speed of the page,” says Gerry McGovern. “It’s the speed of the answer.”

But it has to be the right answer. While this approach works a treat for simple facts like weather, dates, or addresses, it starts to get hairy in more ambitious topics — particularly when those topics are contentious.

I agree with Clark: this is a design problem. It’s a design mistake if you display the wrong answer in a way that makes it look like it’s certainly correct. It’s not a design mistake if you display that same wrong answer in a way that makes it clear that the answer isn’t certain.

How to Block Auto-Play Videos in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox 

Kirk McElhearn:

Auto-play videos suck. They use bandwidth, and their annoying sounds get in the way when you’re listening to music and open a web page. I happen to write for a website that uses them, and it annoys me to no end. (My editors have no control over those auto-play videos, alas.)

But you can stop auto-play videos from playing on a Mac. If you use Chrome or Firefox, it’s pretty simple, and the plugins below work both on macOS and Windows; if you use Safari, it’s a bit more complex, but it’s not that hard.

Auto-play videos are so user-hostile that there ought to be a way to turn them off without needing an extension or hidden developer preference.

WSJ: ‘Intel in $15 Billion Deal for Self-Driving Tech Firm Mobileye’ 

Austen Hufford, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Intel Corp. on Monday said it struck a deal to buy Mobileye NV for about $15.3 billion, the latest investment by a technology company in the future of self-driving cars. […]

Mobileye makes chip-based camera systems that power semi-automated driving features that are already being used in cars, and is working to put that technology in the center of self-driving cars of the future.

Is there any major company in tech that is not investing heavily in self-driving cars?

‘ShatChat’ 

MG Siegler:

Unlike most of the internet, I don’t tend to be one of those people who hates new features when they roll out simply because they’re different. There are exceptions, of course. But for the most part, I try to keep an open mind and often like many new features and fully recognize that even if I do not, any fervor over such changes is likely to subside quickly in the ever-shifting quicksands of internet time.

Which is to say, I gave “Messenger Day” a few days. I still absolutely hate it.

Facebook seems bizarrely obsessed with Snapchat.

Alphabet’s Waymo Asks Judge to Block Uber From Using Self-Driving Car Secrets 

Read between the lines on this one and it looks like Uber is in some real trouble. They got caught red handed.

Squarespace Domains 

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