The Daring Fireball Linked List

Brian Roemmele on VocalIQ and the Self Learning Technology in the Next-Gen Siri 

Brian Roemmele:

It is not a secret that Siri has not kept up the pace that just about all of us expected, including some of the Siri team. The passion that Steve had seemed to have been waning deep inside of Apple and the results were Dag and Adam Cheyer moved on and formed Five Six Labs (V IV in Roman numerals) and Viv.

(VI and V are 6 and 5 in Roman numerals. IV is 4. So “Viv” could come from V-IV (5-4) or VI-V (6-5). This image from their website suggests “Viv” comes from 6-5. Anyway, Roman numerals suck.)

Tom Gruber, one of the original team members and the chief scientist that created Siri technology, stayed on and continued his work. During most of 2016 and 2017 we will begin to see the results of this work. I call it Siri2 and am very certain Apple will call it something else.

(No relation, for what it’s worth.)

Apple has always been a vital mix of internally created technology and acquired technology. From iTunes to TouchID Apple has been spectacular in identifying young and smart companies and integrating them into the very core of Apple.

Late in 2015 Apple approached a small Cambridge, England Voice AI company called VocalIQ and made a pitch to Blaise Thomson that he could not refuse. As a University of Cambridge spin out, VocalIQ had already been around for about 2 years and I had become very familiar with their amazing technology. VocalIQ built astounding technology that no doubt you and I will use every day, some day soon.

Via Nick Heer (whose excellent Pixel Envy should be on your daily reads list), who writes:

So, who’s excited for WWDC?

Forbes: Peter Thiel Has Been Secretly Funding Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuit Against Gawker 

Ryan Mac and Matt Drange, reporting for Forbes (sorry for linking to Forbes — I think this is the first time I’ve done so since they started attempting to block visitors using content blockers — but this is their scoop):

Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media. According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer. […]

Money may not have been the main motivation in the first place. Thiel, who is gay, has made no secret of his distaste for Gawker, which attempted to out him in late 2007 before he was open about his sexuality. In 2009, Thiel told PEHub that now-defunct Silicon Valley-focused publication Valleywag, which was owned by Gawker, had the “psychology of a terrorist.”

“Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda,” Thiel said at the time.

A storyline right out of pro wrestling.

(Interesting perhaps only to me: I already had tags in my CMS for “Gawker” and “Hulk Hogan”, but not for “Peter Thiel”. Apparently this September 2014 post was the only time I’ve even mentioned Peter Thiel on Daring Fireball.)

‘Scotch Trooper’ 

Very fun Instagram account.

The Information: Apple Developing Siri API and Echo-Like Device 

Amir Efrati, writing for The Information (paywall, alas):

Apple is upping its game in the field of intelligent assistants. After years of internal debate and discussion about how to do so, the company is preparing to open up Siri to apps made by others. And it is working on an Amazon Echo-like device with a speaker and microphone that people can use to turn on music, get news headlines or set a timer.

Opening up its Siri voice assistant to outside app developers is the more immediate step. Apple is preparing to release a software developer kit, or SDK, for app developers who want their apps to be accessible through Siri, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort. […]

Apple hopes to make the Siri SDK available in time for its annual conference for developers in June.

Will be interesting to see how this API works. Will the Siri extensions be packaged within existing iOS (and Mac?) apps? As for the Echo competitor — I hope they call it the Hi-Fi.

Hazel 4.0 

Speaking of Paul Kim, he just released version 4.0 of his excellent Mac utility, Hazel. If you’ve wanted an app to automatically clean up the files on your desktop and Downloads folder, that’s Hazel. Hazel does a lot more than that, but that’s the basic gist. You set up the rules you want and it just works. (If you want to know just how much more Hazel offers, David Sparks just released a two-and-a-half hour Hazel Video Field Guide that will teach you just about everything.)

Michael Tsai’s Dynamic Swift Roundup 

One more item regarding Swift and dynamism — Michael Tsai’s excellent roundup of links on the subject, including this Hacker News thread.

On Dynamism 

Paul Kim:

One thing many people seem to overlook about the dynamism of Objective-C is that it enabled NeXT (and Apple) to provide better GUI tools. Using dynamism, they were able to make GUI building declarative in nature. Connect this to that. Call this method. All stored in a file that was (and still is) data, not code. Competitors at the time (and today) resorted to code generation which is fragile and, ironically, unsafe. Yes, you could have a more declarative file format, but implementing that in using a static language required a lot of hard-coding and switch statements. Not the elegance that many people claim to be moving towards.

I’m not saying that a language has to be purely dynamic but it shouldn’t be purely static either. It think it’s spurious not to credit a level of dynamism for the quality of apps on Apple platforms over the years, and to be pedantic, the NeXT ones as well — many of which were considered the best on any platform at the time. To deny that, I feel, shows a lack of understanding of what has made the platform great all these years.

Objective-C is a very dynamic language. Swift (for now at least) is not. There are arguments on both sides, and I find the whole thing fascinating. But what I’ve noticed is that those arguing most strenuously against dynamism (or if you prefer, in favor of Swift’s relatively strict type safety) are doing so in the name of idealism. That rigorous type safety is correct almost in a moral sense (or, if you prefer, that the sort of bugs you can write with Objective-C’s dynamic features are immoral, that a modern language should prevent you from writing them in the first place).

Those arguing in favor of dynamism — and keep in mind Kim’s utterly even-handed stance quoted above — are doing so from an utterly practical perspective. We have 25 years of evidence that Objective-C and the NeXTStep/Cocoa/Cocoa Touch frameworks allow for the creation of the best apps in the world — and that they allow smaller teams to accomplish more, faster. (Exhibit A: Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web singlehandedly on a NeXT system in 1991.)

I can’t prove that dynamic nature of Objective-C and the frameworks has been essential to the success of the Mac and iOS for app development. But a lot of people who’ve spent years — or decades — creating those apps sure think so. I tend to side with pragmatism over idealism.

Why Big Apps Aren’t Moving to Swift (Yet) 

Ben Sandofsky:

I strongly believe Swift is the future of iOS development. It’s only a matter of when, and the blocker is the breakneck speed it evolves. For smaller apps, Swift is good enough. For big apps, it’s at least a year away. […]

If you’re working in a smaller app, stop reading. The benefits of Swift 3.0 probably outweigh the risks. If you’re curious about the challenges of large companies, large codebases, and complex dependencies, this post should explain why big projects are holding back.

In the run-up to WWDC (and in the wake of this announcement from Chris Lattner a week ago, that certain features slated for the upcoming Swift 3.0 have been postponed) I’ve seen a slew of great pieces on Swift and dynamic programming. Sandofsky provides a good layman’s overview of why it’s not yet practical — arguments over dynamism aside — for big apps to move to Swift.

Kirk McElhearn on iTunes 12.4 

Kirk McElhearn, writing at Macworld:

Apple has thankfully merged the two different types of contextual menus, in most locations. Instead of one menu displaying when you click the “…” button, and another when you right-click an item, the menus are the same, and work in the same way. I never understood why Apple wanted these two menus to be different, but it’s good that they’ve realized how confusing they were.

Unfortunately, there are some locations where the “new” contextual menu exists; click the “…” button next to an artist or album name, and the new menu is still there. There’s also a new Song menu in the menu bar, which reproduces the menu items from the contextual menu.

When you’re watching a movie, the Song menu changes to Movie; watch a TV show and it changes to “TV Show”. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I’ll be damned if I can recall another app that did something like this with the name of a menu.

See also: McElhearn’s follow-up with additional observations.

Marco Arment on Apple and AI 

A thoughtful piece by Marco Arment over the weekend, which spawned much discussion:

Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping that these will become the next thing that our devices are for.

If they’re right — and that’s a big “if” — I’m worried for Apple.

Today, Apple’s being led properly day-to-day and doing very well overall. But if the landscape shifts to prioritize those big-data AI services, Apple will find itself in a similar position as BlackBerry did almost a decade ago: what they’re able to do, despite being very good at it, won’t be enough anymore, and they won’t be able to catch up.

Here’s how Craig Mod put it:

When the interface becomes invisible and data based, Apple dies.

That sounds right to me. But I’m not sure I accept the premise that the rise of AI assistants will decrease in any way our desire for devices with screens. iPhone and Android doomed BlackBerry because people stopped buying BlackBerries. Even if we accept the premise that Google Assistant is going to be a big deal that Apple won’t be able to compete with, I’m not sure how that decreases demand for the devices Apple already makes.

I keep thinking back to the original iPhone introduction in 2007, when Steve Jobs touted their partnership with Google. Watch from around the 50 minute mark. Eric Schmidt even jokes that their partnership was sort of like a merger without actually merging — with Apple doing what Apple does best, and Google doing what Google does best. I don’t know if that was ever tenable in the long run, but it’s interesting to wonder where they’d be today if they had made it work.

Google’s Encryption Choices With Allo 

Hamza Shaban, writing for BuzzFeed:

Google’s “smart” replies and virtual assistant improve with use, “learning” by analyzing conversations and context. But this kind of fine-tuned processing requires a record or “memory” of chats that take place in the normal settings. Similar to Google’s web browser, Chrome, which includes its own incognito mode, the normal settings offer a more intuitive experience to consumers, Google said. The option to turn on incognito mode in Allo and enable end-to-end encryption offers additional security, but with the choice to revert back to the fuller version, Google added.

But others are concerned with the broader ramifications of Allo’s design. “Google has given the FBI exactly what the agency has been calling for,” Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist, told BuzzFeed News.

A live Google bot inside a chat stream is an interesting feature, and it can’t be done with end-to-end encryption. But this means law enforcement can require Google to hand over transcripts, and effectively wiretap your “normal” Allo chats. That’s a tradeoff many people will be willing to make. My beef is with using the words “normal” and “incognito”. Perhaps I’m spoiled by iMessage, but to me a “normal” chat is one with end-to-end encryption and no AI bot. Allo’s “normal” chats are the ones that are abnormal.

And “incognito” is absolutely the wrong word for Allo’s private chats. The word incognito means “having one’s true identity concealed”. That’s not what happens with Allo’s private chats. You’re still identified by your phone number. They should call this “private”, not “incognito”.

Project Ara, Now Less Ambitious, Still a Dumb Idea 

Remember Project Ara, Google’s modular phone project? Headline of David Pierce’s piece for Wired: “Project Ara Lives: Google’s Modular Phone Is Ready for You Now”.

After years of failed demos, public sputters, and worrisome silence, Ara works. About 30 people within ATAP are using Ara as their primary phone. Camargo actually has the luxury of worrying about things like aesthetics, rather than whether it’ll turn on. “Please pay no attention to how it looks,” he tells me, flipping the blocky smartphone over in his hands, “because it’s a prototype.” It’s not a concept, not an idea, not a YouTube video. It’s a prototype. Developer kits for Ara will be shipping later this year, and a consumer version is coming in 2017.

In what universe does this qualify as “ready for us now”? It’s not ready at all, and nothing in this story makes it sound like a good idea. It’s nonsense.

Update: I’ve been asked why I think Ara is a dumb idea. Here’s what I wrote two years ago:

How does this have any more mass market appeal than building one’s own PC? And with mobile devices, size and weight matter more than ever, and reductions in size and weight can only come through integration.

Meh 

My thanks to Meh.com for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Every day they have a new daily deal — but even if you don’t care about the daily deals, they’re worth visiting just for the stories, videos, and community. Just go there and check it out — it’s easier than trying to explain it.

The Talk Show: ‘Facebook on Your Face’ 

For your weekend listening enjoyment, a new episode of America’s favorite 3-star podcast, with special guest Rene Ritchie. Topics include Apple’s new flagship retail store in San Francisco, recent improvements to App Store approval times, and Google’s announcements at I/O this week — Google Home and Google Assistant, Allo and Duo, and Android “N” and Android Instant Apps.

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Inside Apple’s New San Fran Store 

Nice photographs from The Verge.

Apple Acknowledges ‘Error 56’, Pulls iOS 9.3.2 for iPad Pros 

Rene Ritchie:

Apple has pulled the iOS 9.3.2 update for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and is working on a fix. Apple provided an updated comment to iMore on the issue:

“We’re working on a fix for an issue impacting a small number of iPad units that are receiving an error when trying to update the software,” an Apple spokesperson told iMore. “We’ll issue an update as quickly as possible.”

Seems odd that it took so long for Apple to pull this.

The Daily Mail: Daniel Craig Done With James Bond 

Rehema Figueiredo, reporting for The Daily Mail:

Insiders said Craig turned down a £68million offer from MGM studio to return as Bond for two more films following last year’s hit Spectre. The sum included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer.

One LA film source said: ‘Daniel is done — pure and simple — he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted.’ He added: ‘He had told people after shooting that this would be his final outing, but the film company still felt he could come around after Spectre if he was offered a money deal.’

One source said that executives had finally agreed to let the actor go after growing tired of his criticism of the franchise.

Craig had a very good run, but I thought Spectre was the worst of his films. The soap opera-style plot twist with Blofeld did damage to the entire Bond canon, and wasn’t suspenseful in the least. I’m ready for a Bond who enjoys being Bond.

The Verge’s Overview of the Google I/O 2016 Keynote 

I watched most of the keynote and came away very impressed. My short take:

Under the new Alphabet organization and Sundar Pichai’s leadership, Google has focused itself on the things Google is actually good at, and which people will actually want to use. No more pie-in-the-sky stuff like Google Glass. Google is clearly the best at this voice-driven assistant stuff. Pichai claimed that in their own competitive analysis, Google Assistant is “an order of magnitude” ahead of competing assistants (read: Siri and Alexa). That sounds about right. This might be like Steve Jobs’s 2007 claim that the iPhone was “5 years” ahead of anyone else.

Pichai’s example of a query Google Assistant can handle but which “other assistants” cannot was asking “What is Draymond Green’s jersey number?” I tried that query in the Google app on my iPhone. Got the right answer: 23. I tried with Alexa on my Echo, and got the response “Hmm. I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.” I tried with Siri, and I got this.

Update: Wow. Dozens of DF readers have replied that Siri correctly answers that same question when they ask: exhibits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 on Twitter, and more via email. And lo, when I ask “What is Steph Curry’s jersey number?”, Siri nails it. But I’ve tried at least 20 times, on multiple iOS devices, with “Draymond Green” and Siri gets it wrong each time, usually sending me to that same dry cleaner in New Jersey, sometimes suggesting a Bing web search. I can’t get it to work even when I say “What’s the jersey number for Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors?” Maybe it’s my Philly accent. I tried with Derek Jeter (retired), Larry Bird (long retired), and Tony Romo (2017 Super Bowl champ-to-be) and Siri correctly answered all three — quickly.

Judge on Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee List Has Mocked Trump on Twitter 

I really liked this one.

iTunes 12.4 Brings Back the Sidebar 

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge:

The key improvement here is the removal of the drop-down menu on the righthand side of the screen, which previously held all of the options that are now exposed in the lefthand menu. That’s a real help, but the lefthand menu doesn’t take over everything. You’ll still have to search through those top tabs to find major features, like Apple Music and the App Store. (There is, by the way, no one tab that says “Apple Music” — it’s actually a combination of the For You, New, Radio, and Connect tabs.)

Bringing back the sidebar is an improvement, but the fundamental problem remains: there’s no visual hierarchy to iTunes’s multitude of sections and features. Mail, for example, has a clear hierarchy: accounts → mailboxes → messages → message details. I’m not saying iTunes could or should copy Mail’s design, but it ought to be just as clear as Mail in terms of knowing where you are, or where to find something.

MacRumors on Siri for Mac 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

In the menu bar, there’s a simple Siri black and white icon that features the word “Siri” surrounded by a box, while the full dock icon is more colorful and features a colorful Siri waveform in the style of other built-in app icons. Clicking on either of the icons brings up a Siri waveform to give users a visual cue that the virtual assistant is listening for commands, much like on iOS devices when the Home button is held down.

Why would Siri need both a menu bar item and an icon in the Dock?

NYT: Google to Introduce Voice-Activated Home Device Tomorrow at I/O 

David Streitfeld, reporting for the NYT from San Francisco, on the eve of Google I/O:

Google will introduce its much-anticipated entry into the voice-activated home device market on Wednesday, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Named Google Home, the device is a virtual agent that answers simple questions and carries out basic tasks. It is to be announced at Google’s annual developers’ conference in Silicon Valley.

Google Home will come to market in the fall — a long time away, given the speed of technology, but Google needed to plant a stake in the ground now. The device will compete with Amazon’s Echo, which was introduced less than two years ago.

Google has the speech recognition and back-end performance down. But is this going to be a Google-branded device, or a platform for OEMs like Android? The Times’s report makes it sound like a Google-branded device — none of which have done well. Update: I forgot about Chromecast, which is doing well. And Google Home might be the same sort of “just plug it in” low-cost device.

Amazon has already sold an estimated three million units.

Estimated by whom? How?

Intel Culture Just Ate 12,000 Jobs 

Jean-Louis Gassée:

But Intel had a justification, a story that it kept telling the world and, more perniciously, itself:

‘Just you wait. Yes, today’s x86 are too big, consume too much power, and cost more than our ARM competitors, but tomorrow… Tomorrow, our proven manufacturing technology will nullify ARM’s advantage and bring the full computing power and immense software heritage of the x86 to emerging mobile applications.’

Year after year (after year), Intel has repeated the promise. There are some variations in the story, such as the prospect of the 3D transistor, but mobile device manufacturers don’t seem to be listening.

Marvel Product Placement Run Amok: Tony Stark Using a Vivo Phone 

Dave Gonzales, writing for Geek:

Called a “Futurist” by Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye in the film, Stark is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s genius on the forefront of speculative technology. If Banner knows human mutation, Stark knows the machines. That’s why it’s so shocking to see Tony using a Vivo cell phone in Civil War, a cell phone that would absolutely be condemned by the US government if it were being used like it is in the film. It makes absolutely no thematic sense within the context of the film, but there’s a big reason why Marvel would endanger the theme of its most popular on-screen character.

Tony Stark using a Vivo phone is another of Marvel Studios’ ongoing attempts to make more money in the Chinese box office, which — for better or worse — has become noticeable to the American and English audiences.

Vivo doesn’t even sell phones in the U.S. They’re a mid-market Chinese brand. It’s not just gratuitous product placement — it’s simply incompatible with Tony Stark’s character. No phone would satisfy Tony Stark but his own, from Stark Industries. Stark’s phone in Iron Man 2 had subtle LG branding (bad enough), but also a prominent “Stark Industries” label on screen. But Vivo? If Marvel wants to sell out to the highest bidder for the other Avengers’ phones, that’s one thing. But not Stark.

See also: Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes’s ultimately futile resistance against James Bond using a Sony or Samsung phone, on the grounds that “Bond only uses the ‘best’, and in their minds, the Sony phone is not the ‘best’.”

(This post is proof that I’m concerned only with truly important matters in life.)

TSA Is Falling Apart 

Alan Levin, reporting for Bloomberg:

Reports filed over the time it took U.S. Transportation Security Administration to screen passengers grew more than 10-fold, to 513 this past March from 48 in March 2015. Concern about lack of courtesy by TSA screeners increased more than three-fold, to 1,012 in March from 294 a year ago. […]

The TSA is trying to get 500 new airport screeners through training and onto the job by the end of June as a growth in travelers has led to longer lines at airports. Almost 6,800 people traveling on American Airlines missed flights in March due to delays at TSA checkpoints, airline spokesman Casey Norton said in an interview earlier this month.

Almost 7,000 people in a single month, just on American. That’s unacceptable. TSA has never been competent at conducting airport screening — but this year the whole thing is collapsing upon itself.

AnandTech Reviews the iPhone SE 

Speaking of the iPhone SE and the complete dearth of similarly-sized Android phones:

As I said earlier in the review, Android manufacturers have essentially given up on making small smartphones, and most of them haven’t actually made a top tier smartphone at the 4-inch size in about four years. By 2012 things had moved to 4.5 inches or more, with Samsung also introducing the original 5.3-inch Galaxy Note near the end of 2011. Today’s idea of a compact Android phone is something like the Xperia Z5 compact, where the screen has a size of 4.6 inches, which is just a bit smaller than the screen on the iPhone 6s. Getting an even smaller screen means moving to truly low end smartphones like the Moto E, and at that point you’re discussing two entirely different parts of the market.

Even when you consider the smallest high-end devices from the Android manufacturers, it’s not hard to see that the iPhone SE comes out on top. Apple’s A9 SoC is still one of the fastest chips you’ll find in a smartphone, and it goes without saying that the Snapdragon 810 SoC in a smartphone like the Xperia Z5 Compact really isn’t comparable in the slightest. Based on my experience, the camera is also unmatched at this size and price. It’s certainly a step behind the best Android phones and the iPhone 6s Plus, but bringing the sensor from the iPhone 6s to the SE allows for some really great photos, and the best 4K recording video you’ll get on a phone.

The results of their battery life test are simply astounding. The iPhone SE beat the iPhone 6S by nearly two hours: 9.27 vs 7.45. Goes to show just how much more power larger displays consume.

The Tiny Hands Review of the iPhone SE 

Nice piece by Adrianne Jeffries for Motherboard, on the history of phone sizes:

For the past three weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone SE.

I’m an Android user. I like my widgets and my Google apps, and I always felt the iPhone was too fancy and breakable for me. This was my first experience using an iPhone as my everyday device.

The phone, which has the same processor as the iPhone 6s, is certainly fast. The camera is crisp and good in low light. The battery has remarkable stamina.

The iPhone SE is also cheaper than other iPhones, starting at $399 as compared to $649 for the 6s.

But there’s really only one thing that would make me break for an iPhone: size.

The iPhone SE’s popularity clearly suggests that a significant number of people prefer a smaller phone. But so why aren’t there any top-tier Android phones with 4-inch displays? I’m genuinely confounded by that.

Jason Snell Reviews the 2016 MacBook 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

What’s less reasonable is transmuting last year’s fair criticism into outrage that Apple hasn’t given the MacBook an immediate rethink. Given the lead time it takes to redesign hardware, the cramped space inside the MacBook shell, and Apple’s track record in keeping product designs around for at least two years, changing the MacBook design now would have been tantamount to Apple admitting that the statement it was making with the MacBook was misguided.

While I’m sure that Apple has heard the criticism and possibly even agreed with some of it, do I think that Apple regrets the overall statement that the MacBook makes? Not on your life. The MacBook is inhabiting the role that the MacBook Air used to fill in Apple’s product line — it’s the future, the cutting edge, a product that seems outlandish today but will appear commonplace tomorrow. (I’ll remind you that the MacBook Air also debuted as an impractical low-powered laptop with a single USB port — and it was nearly three years before Apple redesigned the Air hardware.)

I’m also not entirely sure why Apple would regret it. Does every computer need to offer every feature to appeal to every user? We heap our expectation and desire on every new Apple product, and the MacBook’s design pushes back. It is unabashedly a product that is not created to check all the boxes. In fact, it checks some you didn’t know existed and ignores the existence of ones you considered givens.

The outrage is coming from people who want Apple to update the MacBook Airs with retina displays. That’s not going to happen. The Airs are now Apple’s low-priced models. The Pros will get thinner (and thus more Air-like) and the new MacBook will get faster (and thus more Air-like). But the MacBook Air as we know it serves only one purpose: to hit the $899/999 price points.

MacRumors: ‘iOS 9.3.2 Bricking Some 9.7-Inch iPad Pro Devices With “Error 56” Message’ 

Juli Clover, writing at MacRumors:

While not all 9.7-inch iPad Pro users have reported problems, there have been a number of reports on the MacRumors forums and on social networks, suggesting the problem is widespread. Attempting to restore through iTunes doesn’t appear to resolve the issue. From MacRumors user NewtypeCJ:

Mine is bricked. Says it needs to be plugged into iTunes, won’t restore or update, just a big loop. Fantastic. :/

Proceed with caution, if you’ve got a 9.7-inch iPad Pro that hasn’t yet been updated to iOS 9.3.2. I have a friend whose company tried upgrading two 9.7-inch iPad Pros to iOS 9.3.2, and both of them hit this error. (They understandably left their third one running 9.3.1.) I know a bunch of people have updated their iPad Pros successfully, so it’s not universal, but it still seems dangerously common.

‘I Love “Barry Lyndon”, Because There Is No Swearing, It’s Very Nice, Picturesque’ 

Vice has a nice interview with Emilio D’Alessandro, Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant for three decades:

Why are people so fascinated by Kubrick?

People who had never met him would always be terrified before meeting him. But he was so private, so he fed off this mystery. He would make me say that I do work for him, never that I work with him. People would ask and I would have to lie! But as I worked for this company for so long, I would see people go in scared but come out smiling. People just did not know him. They did so much to make him feel like somebody who never wanted to meet people, but it’s not true at all.

Were you a big fan of his films prior to working with him on A Clockwork Orange?

I didn’t have any interest in film, I was just interested in racing. After about two months of working for his company, I still didn’t know who Stanley Kubrick was. When [we were finally introduced], I saw this person who looked like Fidel Castro and didn’t realize who he was. I thought, “Oh dear, here we go.” I expected him to smell like perfume or be more put together. When he came towards me and introduced himself as Stanley Kubrick, I nearly fainted.

D’Alessandro has a new book out, Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at His Side. Just ordered my copy.

ProPublica: ‘How Typography Can Save Your Life’ 

Speaking of typography and settings blocks of text in all-caps, Lena Groeger wrote a good piece for ProPublica:

Of course, if you’re trying to make something hard to read, then all caps is the perfect choice. Companies that set safety warnings in all caps may, intentionally or not, veil important information from consumers.

Here’s a version of the Surgeon General’s Warning that appears in Edward Tufte’s masterpiece Visual Explanations. The warning appears on a cigarette billboard and has been artfully concocted in ALL CAPS, underlined, and surrounded by a dark black border.

Glenn Fleishman on the Typographic History of Using All-Caps to Denote Shouting 

Glenn Fleishman, writing at Meh:

Previous articles on this subject — such as this previously definitive short at the New Republic — trace the explicit association of capitals with yelling (as opposed to mere emphasis) to 1984, with inferences a few decades before that.

I’m here to BLOW THIS OUT OF THE WATER, with a series of citations that date back to 1856. People have been uppercase shouting intentionally for a century more than recollected. And, as with so many things, longtime Internet users want to claim credit, when they really just passed on and more broadly popularized an existing practice.

Bloomberg: ‘Twitter to Stop Counting Photos and Links in 140-Character Limit’ 

Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg:

Twitter Inc. is making a major shift in how it counts characters in Tweets, giving users more freedom to compose longer messages.

The social media company will soon stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit for messages, according to a person familiar with the matter. The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. Links currently take up 23 characters, even after Twitter automatically shortens them. The company declined to comment.

It’s 2016 and this is big news.

Siri Creator Dag Kittlaus Shows Off First Public Demo of Viv, ‘The Intelligent Interface for Everything’ 

Impressive demo. I’m not sure what the path to ubiquity is for Viv, though, unless they get acquired by a company that makes ubiquitous hardware. Siri started as an app too, but in practice these AI assistants need to be system-level features.

Philadelphia 76ers Are First NBA Team to Announce Jersey Advertising Deal 

Advertising is like sand — eventually it spreads everywhere. It’ll be interesting to see which, if any, NBA teams decline to do this. I think it looks tawdry. I feel the same way about selling naming rights to stadiums and arenas. Easier to say as a fan than a team owner, though.

Interesting too that the Sixers are partnering with StubHub as their “Official Ticketing Partner” rather than fighting against StubHub, like the Yankees.

Berkshire Hathaway Bought $1B in Apple Stock 

Erik Holm and Anupreeta Das, reporting for the WSJ:

Berkshire Hathaway‘s new investment in Apple was selected by one of Warren Buffett‘s stockpicking lieutenants, not by the “Oracle of Omaha” himself.

Berkshire revealed an Apple stake worth nearly $1 billion early Monday, as part of Berkshire’s quarterly disclosure of its stock holdings. Mr. Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive, confirmed in an email that he was not the one who added the shares to Berkshire’s massive equity portfolio.

Mr. Buffett is famously averse to investing in tech companies, and has specifically ruled out investing in Apple before. But in recent years, he has added two former hedge-fund managers, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, to Berkshire’s investing team. They’ve shown a willingness to wade into corners of the market that Mr. Buffett himself won’t touch, including the tech sector.

Apple has long struck me as the sort of company Berkshire likes to invest in. A renowned brand, loyal customers, large profits, and a good, stable executive team that is focused on the long run. They’re obviously in technology, but Apple is nothing like a typical tech company.

Racism Is the Bogeyman 

Moving, personal story from Albert McMurry. Pass this one on.

Blue Bottle Coffee 

My thanks to Blue Bottle Coffee for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. If you’re anything like me, your day starts with coffee (and if you’re really like me, that continues straight through the afternoon). It’s worth it to make it good. Blue Bottle Coffee is excellent — and when you sign up for a subscription, you’ll get a steady supply delivered straight to your door.

To find the best coffee for their subscription service and network of cafes, Blue Bottle visits farms around the world, roasts the beans to order, and ships them to you within 24 hours of roasting. They always offer a selection of single origins, with early access to select coffees for members. You choose the frequency of deliveries, type of coffee, and quantity, so you never have to worry about getting more than you need, or worse, running out mid-week.

I’ve been a paying subscriber for over three years now, and I truly could not be happier to recommend them. Delicious coffee, interesting variety, amazing convenience. Visit Blue Bottle Coffee and you can start with a free trial.

Apple Confirms Reports of Potential Bug in iTunes; Safeguard Patch Expected Next Week 

Official statement from Apple on the “iTunes deleting your music” bug:

In an extremely small number of cases users have reported that music files saved on their computer were removed without their permission. We’re taking these reports seriously as we know how important music is to our customers and our teams are focused on identifying the cause. We have not been able to reproduce this issue, however, we’re releasing an update to iTunes early next week which includes additional safeguards. If a user experiences this issue they should contact AppleCare.

That sounds a little weird — not sure how they can safeguard against a bug if they can’t reproduce it.

Serenity Caldwell:

I read it as “we’re still not convinced it isn’t user error, but we’ll make the dialog boxes less terrible.”

Donald Trump Masqueraded as Publicist to Brag About Himself 

Marc Fisher and Will Hobson, reporting for The Washington Post:

The voice is instantly familiar; the tone, confident, even cocky; the cadence, distinctly Trumpian. The man on the phone vigorously defending Donald Trump says he’s a media spokesman named John Miller, but then he says, “I’m sort of new here,” and “I’m somebody that he knows and I think somebody that he trusts and likes” and even “I’m going to do this a little, part-time, and then, yeah, go on with my life.”

A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump’s early career experienced in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s: calls from Trump’s Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with “John Miller” or “John Barron” — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump’s top aides.

You really have to listen to the recording to believe it. (And be sure to read the update at the bottom of the article, where Trump hangs up the phone on the Post reporters.)

Philly Police Admit They Disguised a Surveillance Truck as a Google Streetview Car 

Dustin Slaughter, reporting for Motherboard:

The Philadelphia Police Department admitted today that a mysterious unmarked license plate surveillance truck disguised as a Google Maps vehicle, which Motherboard first reported on this morning, is its own. […]

“It’s certainly concerning if the city of Philadelphia is running mass surveillance and going out of its way to mislead people,” said Dave Maass, a former journalist and researcher at the nonprofit advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation. […] “If I were Google, I would be seriously rankled over the use of their logo to hide surveillance,” he said.

Swift Draws Nearly Even With Objective-C in TIOBE Index 

Speaking of the TIOBE Index, in this month’s rankings, Objective-C placed 14th (down from 4th a year ago) and Swift placed 15th (up from 18th). They’re soon going to cross paths.

Motherboard: ‘In Oracle v. Google, a Nerd Subculture Is on Trial’ 

Great write-up by Sarah Jeong on the ongoing Oracle v. Google case. This bit from the end caught my eye, though:

But Oracle v. Google does nothing to disabuse the nerd of the conviction that they are right, and that the copyright law forged by the normals is an unrigorous wishy-washy piece of nonsense. Because in this case, the law really is completely out of touch with what the technology actually is, with reality itself. Just look at the Federal Circuit opinion that ruled that APIs are copyrightable, where they say, “Google was free to develop its own API packages and to ‘lobby’ programmers to adopt them.” A federal appeals court actually proposed that in some alternate universe, Android launched and told developers to write apps in a language they’d never encountered before.

Isn’t that almost exactly what Apple did with iOS and Objective-C?

Java was incredibly popular before Android shipped — it’s been ranked first in the TIOBE index for almost two decades. So without question, basing Android on Java made it far more likely that it would gain third-party developer traction than if it had been based on a new language. But iOS shows that it’s not preposterous. Otherwise there would never be any new programming languages. (And yes, Objective-C has been around since the late ’80s — but it languished in relative obscurity as the primary language for the NeXTStep and Mac OS X AppKit APIs.)

Update: Jeong’s live-tweet coverage of the trial has been a fantastic read. An example of Twitter at its very best for “what’s happening right now”.

An iTunes Bug, Not Apple Music, May Be to Blame for Disappearing Music Libraries 

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore:

After an article went live last week accusing Apple Music of deleting your local music and replacing it with Apple Music DRM-protected copies, we put out an explainer detailing how Apple Music works — TL;DR: It’s not designed to remove anyone’s local library. […]

I will reiterate: Apple Music is not automatically deleting tracks out of your Mac’s library, nor is it trying to force you to stay subscribed to the service. In this instance, it appears that Apple Music is an unfortunate scapegoat: The real problem may be a bug with the subscription service’s container application, iTunes.

Based on several Apple Support threads, it appears that the most recent version of iTunes 12.3.3 contains a database error that affects a small number of users, and can potentially wipe out their music collection after the update. The error has been mentioned a few times, primarily on the Windows side, in the weeks since the 12.3.3 update, but appears to be rare enough that it hasn’t previously received major press. Apple did put out a support document shortly after the 12.3.3 update that walks you through some fixes if you find that your local copies of music are missing.

Caldwell has been on top of this whole “Apple Music deletes your music files” story right from the start.

Neil Cybart on Apple’s R&D Spending 

Neil Cybart, writing at Above Avalon about the lack of attention Apple watchers seem to be paying to the company’s R&D spending:

I suspect most of this has been due to the fact that Apple does not draw attention to its product pipeline and long-term strategy, choosing instead to embrace secrecy and mystery. Now compare this to Mark Zuckerberg laying out his 10-year plan for Facebook. It is easy and natural for people to then label Facebook as innovative and focused on the future. The same principle applies to Larry Page reorganizing Google to make it easier for investors to see how much is being spent on various moonshot projects. Jeff Bezos is famous for his attitude towards failing often and in public view, giving Amazon an aura of being a place of curiosity and boldness when it comes to future projects and risk taking.

Meanwhile, Tim Cook has remained very tight-lipped about Apple’s future, which gives the impression that Apple isn’t working on ground-breaking ideas or products that can move the company beyond the iPhone. Instead of labeling this as a mistake or misstep, Apple’s product secrecy is a key ingredient of its success. People like to be surprised. Another reason Apple takes a much different approach to product secrecy and R&D is its business model. Being open about future product plans will likely have a negative impact on near-term Apple hardware sales. Companies like Facebook and Google don’t suffer from a similar risk. The end result is that there is a legitimate disconnect between Apple’s R&D trends and the consensus view of the company’s product pipeline. Apple is telling us that they are working on something very big, and yet no one seems to notice or care. I find that intriguing.

From Cybart’s opening:

There are only a handful of logical explanations for Apple’s current R&D expense trajectory, and all of them result in a radically different Apple. In a few years, we are no longer going to refer to Apple as the iPhone company.

People who don’t understand Apple assume that the company is, or should be, almost singularly focused on riding out the iPhone gravy train for as long as possible. There are so many great Steve Jobs quotes, but this is the one that hangs prominently on the wall at Apple’s Infinite Loop headquarters:

If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

App Store Review Times Are Getting Shorter 

Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has cut the approval time for new submissions to its App Store from more than a week to less than two days, part of a broader push to increase revenue from services including mobile applications.

The accelerated pace allows app developers to fix bugs faster, try out new features more regularly and better react to market changes, while building developer loyalty to Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. The mean approval time has fallen from 8.8 days a year ago to 1.95 days in the past two weeks, according to AppReviewTimes.com, which analyzes user-submitted data. In December, the average was more than five days.

Wonder how Apple is achieving this. More reviewers? Lower standards?

Update: I don’t get this: “part of a broader push to increase revenue from services”. I don’t see how shorter review times will increase Apple’s revenue. If anything, it might be costing them more, since the most obvious way they could achieve this is by hiring more reviewers. In some companies everything is a cost center, but not at Apple. If these review times are not just a statistical fluke, the simplest explanation for why is that Apple is responding to long-standing complaints from developers. Remember too, that App Store leadership moved from Eddy Cue to Phil Schiller just a few months ago.

Apple Invests $1 Billion in Uber’s China Competitor Didi 

Julia Love, reporting for Reuters:

“We are making the investment for a number of strategic reasons, including a chance to learn more about certain segments of the China market,” he said. “Of course, we believe it will deliver a strong return for our invested capital over time as well.”

Didi Chuxing, formerly known as Didi Kuaidi, said in a statement that the funding from Apple was the single largest investment it has ever received. The company, which previously raised several billion dollars, dominates the ride-sharing market in China. The company said it completes more than 11 million rides a day, with more than 87 percent of the market for private car-hailing in China.

Interesting.

Apple Talk: A New, In-Depth Industry Analysis Podcast From iMore 

Rene Ritchie:

So, rather than crowd everyone and everything together onto one scattered show, we’ve split them in two specifically focused shows.

The original iMore show will continue to be all about on the community, with popular segments like Q&A and some new segments we’re working hard on and will debut soon. Apple Talk, our new show, will be all about in-depth industry analysis and critique of Apple and related companies.

They were kind enough to have yours truly as their guest on this premiere episode. Great discussion. Michael Gartenberg is a terrific addition to the iMore roster.

‘The Night Manager’ 

AMC:

The Night Manager, a six-part miniseries premiering on Tuesday, April 19, is a contemporary interpretation of John le Carré’s best-selling spy novel, which follows hotel manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) in his quest to bring down international arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).

I’m four episodes in, and really enjoying it. The first episode was a little “meh”, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Laurie, in particular, is phenomenal — a villain who conveys intelligence, charisma, and genuine menace.

The Panic Sign 

Of course Panic’s sign is the most fun sign ever. Of course.

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