Linked List: December 2012

One Last Morsel of 2012 Claim Chowder 

A year ago I said this would be fun to revisit today. I was right.

Update: Even better, Deagon claims today that his year-ago prediction was right, claiming as proof Apple’s stock decline over the past three months. Year over year (as opposed to cherry-picking the last three months, when Apple’s share price has seen a sharp decline) Apple’s stock price is up 26 percent since Deagon’s original prediction. So, he’s trying to argue that stock price is a gauge of coolness, and that despite Apple’s stock being up 26 percent over the last year, he was correct that Apple would “lose cool” over 2012. Sure, makes perfect sense. (He also points to a Strategy Analytics survey that claims the number of iPhone owners who plan to buy another iPhone as their next phone dropped from 93 to 88 percent year over year, but neglects to point out that Android tends to fare terribly in such surveys. Android handset makers dream of 88 percent retention rates.)

Why TNW Decided to Stop Publishing the Android Version of Their Magazine 

The Next Web:

All of that wouldn’t have been a problem if we had seen a market for our magazine on Android. And we did believe there would be one. We had gotten enough requests for it and had gotten the impression there were thousands of anxious Android tablets owners holding their breath for an Android version of our magazine. Unfortunately we’ve found out that although Android users are very vocal they aren’t very active when it comes to downloading and reading magazines. Or maybe they just don’t like our magazine. You never know.

To give you some insight in how little uptake we saw on Android here are some statistics: for every Android user that downloads an Android magazine we have 80 iOS downloads.

The comments are a goldmine of Church of Market Share fanaticism.

Save Publishing 

“Just drag this bad boy into your bookmarks bar and expect your mind to be blown.” Great bookmarklet by Paul Ford.

‘I’d Rather Be Hit in the Head by an iPad Mini Than a 650-Page Book’ 

Nick Bilton continues his crusade against the FAA’s mindless rules regarding consumer electronics:

These conflicts have been going on for several years. In 2010, a 68-year-old man punched a teenager because he didn’t turn off his phone. Lt. Kent Lipple of the Boise Police Department in Idaho, who arrested the puncher, said the man “felt he was protecting the entire plane and its occupants.” And let’s not forget Alec Baldwin, who was kicked off an American Airlines plane in 2011 for playing Words With Friends online while parked at the gate.

Dealing with the F.A.A. on this topic is like arguing with a stubborn teenager. The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane’s avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among millions of fliers.

Disgraceful for a U.S. government agency to be spreading what amounts to nothing more than voodoo.

The Guardian Publishes Stats on the Size of Their Commenting Community 

Speaking of The Guardian:

At least 20% of the comments left on the Guardian website each month come from only 2,600 user accounts, who together make up just 0.0037% of the Guardian’s declared monthly audience.

Talk about a vocal minority.

A Little More 2009 Claim Chowder: ‘Should Apple Make a Netbook? If Tim Cook Wants to Be Its CEO, Yes’ 

Charles Arthur, in February 2009:

Apple needs to react to changing market conditions. It has before: when it last made a quarterly loss, in the first quarter of 2001, Steve Jobs realised it was because he had focussed on giving the computers DVD-reader drives, rather than CD-burning ones. A rapid focus on CD burners followed, along with heavier emphasis on iTunes: the CD-inspired “rip, mix, burn” is rather better than the DVD-gazing “insert, click, watch”.

So should Apple introduce a netbook? Hell, yes. If it wants to get into a market that is expanding rapidly, which is giving an old version of Windows — the long-past-end-of-life XP, or “Windows Zombie” as it’s becoming known to analysts — then it needs to roll its sleeves up. There’s a big market there waiting to be tapped.

Ouch. Here’s where Arthur went wrong. Apple’s 2001 about-face on CD-burners (and digital music in general — they launched the first iPod later that year) was an acknowledgement of a genuine mistake. Computers were better with CD-burners because people really used them.

Netbooks, for the most part, were simply about making notebook computers cheaper, not better. Apple’s long-term strategy has been and should remain solely about making things better, and introducing great new things.

Claim Chowder, Circa 2009: ‘Why Apple Must Do a Netbook Now’ 

David Carnoy, writing for CNet in 2009:

Ken: “A lot of people would pay $599 for an Apple Netbook.”

Me: “No one’s buying the Macbook Air at $1,800.”

Ken: “I wouldn’t say no one.”

Me: “OK, but it’s sort of the Apple TV of laptops. It’s just not that relevant. Most people would prefer buying a more powerful notebook that weighs a little more for a grand.”

Wonder what would happen if Apple sold the Air for $999?

Another From the Archive: ‘Apple to Netbooks: Drop Dead’ 

Tim Cook on netbooks, back in 2009:

“For us, it’s about doing great products. And when I look at what is being sold in the netbook space today, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens, and just not a consumer experience… that we would put the Mac brand on, quite frankly. And so it’s not a space, as it exists today, that we’re interested in, nor do we believe that customers in the long term would be interested in.”

From the Archive: ‘Apple “Netbooks”, Eh?’ 

Yours truly, back in 2008, regarding a “prediction” that Apple was about to announce a $599 netbook at Macworld Expo:

Yes, there is a market for $500 laptops. But Apple doesn’t need to serve this market any more than BMW needs to serve the market for $12,000 sedans. Apple may well create a product in this price range in the future — perhaps the long-rumored touchscreen tablet — but their hand is not forced.

I still think a $500 or so touchscreen tablet would be a successful product for Apple.

(Also: How ancient does a story about Apple making announcements at Macworld Expo sound today?)

Sayonara, Netbooks 

Charles Arthur, The Guardian:

Still, there’s an eWeek article from July in which ABI says that “consumer interest in netbooks shows no sign of waning, and the attraction remains the same: value rather than raw performance.”

Actually, the number sold in 2013 will be very much closer to zero than to 139m. The Taiwanese tech site Digitimes points out that Asus, which kicked off the modern netbook category with its Eee PC in 2007, has announced that it won’t make its Eee PC product after today, and that Acer doesn’t plan to make any more; which means that “the netbook market will officially end after the two vendors finish digesting their remaining inventories.”

That stinks. Apple still hasn’t gotten around to making one.

Shiny Things and TLAF Christmas Sale 

My thanks to Shiny Things and The Little App Factory for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their 2012 holiday sale. These are best-of-breed iOS education titles and Mac media utilities, with deals of up to 50 percent off. Titles include Jungle Picnic, Quick Math, the award-winning RipIt and Tagalicious. Available for a limited time only, so don’t wait.

Crime Is Up and Bloomberg Blames iPhone Thieves 

Yet another group hopelessly biased toward Apple: thieves.

Hartmut Esslinger’s Early Apple Computer and Tablet Designs 

Some gorgeous prototypes, with a few turkeys sprinkled in. Splendid “What if?” fodder.

Working Conditions Improving at Foxconn in China 

Keith Bradsher and Charles Duhigg, reporting for the NYT’s “iEconomy” series:

He turned to the only Apple executive in the room, the senior vice president for operations, Jeff Williams. Apple needed to change as well, the inspector said. Apple, to its credit, had been working for years to improve conditions in overseas factories, but the company was treating such problems too much like engineering puzzles, the inspector said. […]

March meeting to California, changes began. Among them, say people with firsthand knowledge, was the hiring of roughly 30 professionals into Apple’s social responsibility unit in the last year, which tripled the size of that division and brought high-profile corporate activists into the company. Two widely respected former Apple executives — Jacky Haynes and Bob Bainbridge — were recruited back to help lead the unit, reporting ultimately to Mr. Williams and the chief executive, Timothy D. Cook.

Rumors of an Apple/Intel Smart Watch 

Eric Slivka, MacRumors:

Chinese site TGBus reports that Apple and Intel are currently working together on a Bluetooth-enabled smart watch. According to the report, the watch will include a 1.5-inch OLED display from RITEK subsidiary RiTdisplay and will launch in the first half of next year.

Maybe Apple is working on a smart watch. Perhaps, if Apple is working on a smart watch, they are sourcing certain component chips from Intel. Maybe Intel is working on a smart watch. I’ll bet Intel would love to collaborate with Apple on a smart watch.

But there is no way in hell that Apple is working with any other company, Intel or otherwise, on the design of any unannounced new products. Think, people.

If You See a UI Walkthrough, They Blew It 

Max Rudberg:

These apps have chosen to reduce details to achieve a minimal UI, but in the process the UI has also become harder to use. Unfortunately a UI walkthrough is quite an inelegant way to explain the core functionality of an app. It can be a frustrating obstacle before you can dive into an app, and you have to remember all of those new ways of using it once you get in.

A good rule of thumb is that the user should be able to figure out how to use an app just by looking at it.

iPad Versus the Competition Based on a Sample of User Tweets on Christmas 

Results sound about right to me: iPad nearly an entire order of magnitude out in front; Kindle Fire second and the clear winner in the “tablet other than iPad” category; Nexus a clear third but sort of disappointing; Surface near zero. Here’s a comment from A.X. Ian, who created the graphic, explaining his methodology.

One critique is that iPad owners are more likely to tweet than other tablet owners because Twitter support is now built into iOS. I think that’s probably backwards — that if there’s a pro-iPad bias to this technology, it’s that active Twitter users are more likely to choose an iPad than non-Twitter users are. Likewise, someone who primarily just wants to read books on their tablet is more likely to buy a Kindle Fire than the average person. So Apple’s lead in tablet sales may very well not be quite as large as this analysis indicates, but I bet it’s in the ballpark.

(Via Andy Baio — and look at how many people have retweeted or favorited that one.)

Vic Flick’s Riff 

Brief NPR piece on the guitarist behind that riff in the James Bond theme.

WSJ: ‘Google Designing “X Phone” to Rival Apple, Samsung’ 

Amir Efrati, reporting for the WSJ:

Engineers at Motorola Mobility are hard at work on a sophisticated handset — known internally as the “X phone” — but the Google Inc. unit is running into some obstacles in its effort to provide more potent competition for Apple Inc., said people familiar with the matter.

Seven months after being acquired by Google for $12.5 billion, Motorola is designing its marquee handset with cutting-edge features to stand apart from existing phones when it is released next year, these people said.

But while Google is known for swift execution on the Web, its new hardware unit has run into hurdles associated with manufacturing and supply-chain management that have caused the company to rethink some initial plans for the X phone, such as using a bendable screen, these people added.

Sounds terribly exciting at first glance. Finally, Google’s real plan for Motorola: a secret new phone and tablet that will change everything! But it’s all just vapor. There’s nothing specific in this report. The whole thing boils down to someone from Motorola telling Efrati that they’re trying to make a great new phone for next year. As though that’s any different than what everyone else is doing.

What would be insane, considering how Apple and Samsung are dominating the handset market, would be if Motorola sources told the Journal that they’re not working on anything to rival Apple and Samsung. Just keep in mind the rule of vaporware: there’s an enormous chasm between “We’re working on something” and “We have something ready to sell”.

New Relic 

My thanks to New Relic for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. New Relic provides state-of-the-art web app performance measurement and monitoring tools. They make it really easy to get started: sign up, install their agent tool, start collecting data, and boom, you’ve got x-ray vision into your app. New Relic works with Ruby, PHP, Python, Java, and .NET. Among their happy customers: GitHub, Shopify, Groupon, and Nike.

Free sign up, no credit card required, no sales calls, no lengthy installation of software. You can be up and running in under five minutes. They’ve even got a special deal for Daring Fireball readers, including a special t-shirt and two extra free weeks of service — that’s 30 days of great analytics data at no cost. If you’re a web developer, you’re nuts if you don’t check them out.

‘Luxury’ vs. ‘Premium’ 

Interesting point by DF reader Peter Milburn — I might have been better off using premium in place of luxury in yesterday’s “A Big Misunderstanding”. More of a connotation of quality and value. I still like “luxury for the mass market”, though.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek 

Fascinating, harrowing reporting by John Branch for the NYT. But also commendable for the presentation — beautiful, informative, cutting-edge HTML5 web technology at work. Don’t read this one in Instapaper, read it on the Times website. (Via Jon Tang.)

Typeface Review: Apple Color Emoji 

Si Daniels reviews Apple’s Emoji font for Typographica:

Of course color fonts are nothing new, with overprinting techniques in use from the earliest days of movable metal type. In digital typography layering has long been used to achieve multicolor results and color bitmap fonts have been around a while. However, Mac OS X Lion and the inclusion of the Apple Color Emoji font represent the first time a modern operating system has included both support and a showcase color font. Although the technology is basic, with color bitmaps included at two sizes in a proprietary “sbix” table, in years to come, as color fonts gain traction, we’ll look back to 2011 as the year it all began.

Of even more significance is the fact that the glyphs included in the font are Unicode encoded. In an effort initiated by Google and with significant help from Apple and Microsoft, 722 Emoji symbols were included in the recently published Unicode 6.0 standard, putting Emoji on par with the Latin alphabet and other writing systems encoded in Unicode.

BlackBerry 10 Web Browser Scores Highest on Benchmarks 

Good for them, but there’s more to a great browser experience than benchmark-able performance. Brag about this stuff after it ships.

How Do We Read Code? 

Eric Holk:

Another observation is that naming things accurately seems to help.

Too bad naming things well is notoriously difficult.

The Glass Something or Another 

This week’s (and final of the year) episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, with special guest Dave Pell. Topics include news media, branding, independent publishing, and the new Google Maps app for iPhone. Also, I think we talked about the growing trend of legalized and decriminalized marijuana, but I sort of forget.

Brought to you by Global Delight, makers of terrific camera, video, screen capture, and volume boosting apps. They’re having a huge sale for the holidays and a chance to win an iPad mini.

As Usual, Apple Is in Trouble 

Here’s a guy, “Tyler Durden” at ZeroHedge, who sees these discounted iPhones at Wal-Mart as a sign that Apple’s margins are going down the tubes:

And, as Reuters reports with its Friday night bombshell report, Apple has finally thrown in the towel on pretending there is a supply shortage and admitted there is simply not enough demand at the given price point, by proceeding to sell the margin flagship iPhone 5 at a third off the original price, at the bargain basement commodity expert Wal-Mart of all places.

People believe what they want to believe. The rest of the post suggests pretty strongly that this guy thinks the iPhone’s popularity is a fad, and a waning one at that. But he’s either confused or willfully ignorant if he thinks a subsidized price drop from $190 to $127 is “a third off” the iPhone’s actual price. Unsubsidized 16 GB iPhone 5 cost $650, retail. That’s certainly not what Wal-Mart pays wholesale, but I feel pretty confident Apple’s margins are going to be just fine this quarter.

Reuters: ‘Wal-Mart Selling iPhone 5 at Big Discount’ 

Alistair Barr, reporting for Reuters:

Wal-Mart said it is selling the 16 GB Apple iPhone 5 for $127, versus an original price of $189.97. The price is valid with a two-year contract from wireless carriers Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, the retailer added.

Wal-Mart said it is also selling the 16 GB iPhone 4S and the 16 GB iPad with Retina display and WiFi at discounts.

The offers will be available for 30 days in about 3,000 of Wal-Mart’s stores, which were not identified. They are not available online, according to the retailer.

Interesting, but I don’t think it’s a big deal. For one thing, they’re apparently only offering 16 GB models. But the bigger reason is that their iPhone discount is largely symbolic because of the subsidized pricing. It’s a discount, but I think “big discount” is misleading.

Update: And the discount retina display iPads are remaindered iPad 3 units, not the iPad 4. (Still, a great deal. I bet those iPads sell fast.)

David Carr on Brian Lam and Wirecutter 

Really enjoyed this piece by David Carr on former Gizmodo editor Brian Lam’s recent and very different Wirecutter, but this bit stuck out:

Mr. Lam’s revenue is low, about $50,000 a month, but it’s doubling every quarter, enough to pay his freelancers, invest in the site and keep him in surfboards. And now he actually has time to ride them. In that sense, Mr. Lam is living out that initial dream of the Web: working from home, working with friends, making something that saves others time and money.

In what way is $50K/month — doubling every three months — “low” for a site with a small staff? I’d say that’s great revenue, and eye-popping growth.

Why You Should Want to Pay for Software, Instagram Edition 

Alexis Madrigal:

Truly, the only way to get around the privacy problems inherent in advertising-supported social networks is to pay for services that we value. It’s amazing what power we gain in becoming paying customers instead of the product being sold.

New Instagram Terms of Service 

The Facebook-ification is starting:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

Where by “metadata”, they’re not talking about exposure and shutter speed. They’re talking about location. Just awful.

Trim Poster 

Clever new font helps Swedes avoid having their pricks cut off.

Criterion Collection to Release ‘Badlands’ in March 

Rejoice — finally, a great digital restoration of Terrence Malick’s brilliant and beautiful debut.

(And they’ve just released a new edition of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which depending on my mood is on my all-time top-10 list, and regardless of my mood my top-20 list. Christopher Nolan’s debut Following, and Michael Cimino’s infamous Heaven’s Gate, too.)

University of Chicago Solves Their ‘Abner Ravenwood’ Mystery 

A bit of a letdown, but still amusing.

The Progress of the Human Mind 

Thomas Jefferson:

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

When Apple Attempted to Buy Dropbox 

Worth a re-link, Victoria Barret’s 2011 profile of Dropbox for Forbes:

Jobs presciently saw this sapling as a strategic asset for Apple. Houston cut Jobs’ pitch short: He was determined to build a big company, he said, and wasn’t selling, no matter the status of the bidder (Houston considered Jobs his hero) or the prospects of a nine-digit price (he and Ferdowsi drove to the meeting in a Zipcar Prius).

Jobs smiled warmly as he told them he was going after their market. “He said we were a feature, not a product,” says Houston. Courteously, Jobs spent the next half hour waxing on over tea about his return to Apple, and why not to trust investors, as the duo — or more accurately, Houston, who plays Penn to Ferdowsi’s mute Teller — peppered him with questions.

Jobs may well have been right that Dropbox is a feature, not a product, but it’s a hell of a good feature, and one that iCloud does not provide.

Dropbox: The Linchpin 

Warren Ellis, after describing his process for writing using an iPad:

Why do I do this? I’ve always hated lugging laptops around, and have always looked for efficient mobile solutions. I had one of those early Asus netbooks. I had a Treo. Hell, in the 90s, I had a Handspring Visor. And I figured that since the iPad was light, instant-on, built for wifi and supposedly fucking magical, I should be able to make it work as a mobile work solution without having to screw around with laptops and crappy batteries and all the rest of it. In the mornings, I just grab the iPad and case and go out into the back garden and sit at the table and am ready to go. I go back to the office, wake up the laptop, and thanks to Dropbox everything I’ve done is already there. It works for me.

The good news for Apple is that not only do many people work on their iPads, they enjoy doing so. The whole key to the growing popularity of iPads is that people enjoy using them instead of PCs (including Macs) for numerous tasks.

The scary part though, is that one recurrent theme I see in nearly every single “how I write on the iPad” story is Dropbox. It’s the linchpin in the workflow. Scary, because Dropbox is outside Apple’s control. Scary, because if not for Dropbox, many of these people would not be using their iPads as much as they are. Scary, because Apple’s iCloud falls short of Dropbox.

Long-time readers know that I seldom opine that Apple should acquire other companies. But Apple should buy Dropbox.

Update: Ideally, Dropbox will simply remain a thriving independent company, and iOS and Mac users will continue to use it as it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I can even see how Apple buying Dropbox might make things worse, if Dropbox were “improved” to be more iCloud-like rather than vice-versa. Or if Apple turned it into an iCloud-only feature, locking out other platforms. Why I think Apple should buy Dropbox, though, is that if they don’t, someone else might. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook? (Microsoft is the only one of those that wouldn’t worry me, actually.)

iTunes 11 and Colors 

Wade Cosgrove, of Panic:

iTunes 11 is a radical departure from previous versions and nothing illustrates this more than the new album display mode. The headlining feature of this display is the new view style that visually matches the track listing to the album’s cover art. The result is an attractive display of textual information that seamlessly integrates with the album’s artwork.

After using iTunes for a day I wondered just how hard it would be to mimic this functionality — use a source image to create a themed image/text display.

The World’s Greatest T-Shirts 

Thumbnail of a classic state gray DF logo t-shirt.

DF t-shirts, still available.

Update, Monday 17 December: We’re heading into the final production run on the shirts, so the deadline for ordering is today.

Profit as Motive 

Benoit Maison, in reference to my belief that Apple values user privacy much more than does Google:

It’s easier to care about your users’ privacy when your business model does not depend on eroding it.

Agreed. There’s no reason to be anything but cynical about both Apple’s and Google’s motives — with regard to mapping, and everything. Profit. The difference with regard to privacy is that Apple profits almost solely through the sale of hardware products. Google profits almost solely through targeted advertising.

I happen to think that Google’s executive leadership, Eric Schmidt in particular, holds some creepy views on privacy. But I’m not asking anyone to believe Apple’s superior (in my view) stance on privacy is particularly noble. As Maison tweeted, it’s easier for Apple to protect, rather than exploit, users’ privacy because such a stance aligns with their business model.

Tonx 

My thanks to Tonx for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Tonx is my favorite coffee company in the world. They scour the globe for great beans, roast them expertly, and then seal them up and immediately ship them to you. All you have to do is sign up and you’ll never again worry about having fresh delicious coffee beans in your kitchen, office, or wherever.

Tonx also has terrific customer service. Their website is chock full of tips on brewing, and you can contact them with any questions you might have about technique or gear.

If you’re a coffee drinker, or looking for a great gift for a coffee drinker, give Tonx a try.

Open Your Eyes 

Warren Buckleitner, “reviewing” for the NYT a slew of crummy tablets as gifts for kids:

My young testers, ages 3 to 12, kept reaching for the iPad first for good reason. They could find the apps they wanted, and the entire experience was familiar. But who wants to pay $300 for the iPod Touch 5, $329 for an iPad Mini or $400 for the lowest-priced iPad 2?

Uh, your young testers?

The Blame Game 

Evan Wiener asks some good questions:

Was Google holding back turn-by-turn navigation from Apple to strengthen Android? If so, didn’t that force Apple’s hand to look elsewhere for map data with a turn-by-turn solution?

That’s not it. Google wasn’t trying to bolster Android by withholding turn-by-turn and vector tiles from iOS. If that was their goal, they wouldn’t have made a standalone iPhone app with these features. They were withholding those features as a negotiating tactic to get Apple to integrate iOS Maps further with Google’s services. (This I’ve heard from numerous sources, from both sides of the negotiations.)

What if Google was strong-arming Apple? Google needs to collect user location data to serve up location-based ads, so what if Apple was protecting me by defaulting to not share user data with Google, who has a profit motive to shove their ugly ads in my face? I could see Google saying that’s a deal breaker for them.

Right, that’s pretty much it.

Google wanting iOS users to be able to sign in — if not be downright encouraged to sign in — to their Google account, that’s easy to understand. That’s how Google makes money, by selling ads that target us based on the information they collect as we use their services. Apple not wanting to grant such access to Google is easy to understand as well. For one thing, Apple sincerely values the privacy of its users more than Google does. Remember the thing with magazine app subscriptions — where magazine publishers wanted Apple to provide them with personal information about subscribers, and Apple wouldn’t allow it? And part of it too is simple competition — why would Apple help Google pull further ahead in a lucrative and essential service?

I’d say neither company was being a “jerk” here. Apple and Google were both acting in their own interests.

Dr. Drang on the iOS Maps State of Affairs 

Dr. Drang:

Overall, I see this as a win for Apple and a lesser win for Google. More important, it’s a big win for iPhone users.

Speaking of Obsessive Fans Re-Creating Props From Classic Harrison Ford Movies 

Norman Chan, writing for Tested:

The incredible story behind the construction of Han Solo’s original blaster in Star Wars and the two-year effort by prop replicators to painstakingly recreate it down to the last detail.

Abner Ravenwood’s Journal 

Fantastic story from the University of Chicago admissions department. So great. Update: Perfect joke by Luke Johnson.

15 Years of BBC News Online 

Seems a little ridiculous that the chart labels 2010 “Tablets take off” — not the iPad, but generic “Tablets” — but then for 2011 has “Kindle Fire launched”.

Saul Bass Poster Sketches for ‘The Shining’ 

Details, details, details.

The Unlikely Persistence of AppleScript 

Yours truly, writing for Macworld:

To recap: Decidedly old-school-Apple/pre-NeXT technology. A programming language syntax that frustrated experts and failed to achieve its intended goal of empowering non-programmers to program. A technical mismatch with the Cocoa application framework. You need this historical context to understand how unlikely AppleScript’s long-term success was. Someone with access to a time machine could make a lot of money by going back to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 1998 and accepting wagers that AppleScript would be alive and well in the year 2012.

I really like how this piece turned out; it captures a lot of what I’ve been trying to say about AppleScript for years.

#4A525Aholes 

Speaking of Flickr and DF t-shirts (which are now available for purchase), when yours arrives, don’t forget to send a photo to the best group on Flickr. Going to be tough to beat this one, though.

Flickr for iPhone 2.0 

Complete redesign of Flickr’s iPhone app. There’s a lot to like. Clearly, it’s heavily inspired by Instagram, but at this point I don’t see how it couldn’t be. Scrolling is fast and smooth, and I like the way photos cleverly snap to the edge as you pan side-to-side through a user’s photos.

This, finally, is a good way to use Flickr from a phone.

Australian Police Warn of Safety Concerns From Google Maps 

ABC News in Australia:

Now police in Colac, west of Melbourne, say faults with Google maps are putting people’s lives at risk along the Great Ocean Road and in the southern Otways.

DF T-Shirts Now Available 

Thumbnail of a black DF logo t-shirt.

In production as I type, shipping soon. US domestic orders placed today will almost certainly arrive before Christmas. International orders, no guarantees — shipping times outside the U.S. vary greatly.

Jackass of the Week: Reuters 

Chris Taylor, writing for Reuters:

But when it comes to immediate impact on their wallets, maybe they should be thinking about something else entirely: The Apple tax.

Americans are shelling out big bucks annually to outfit the entire household with Apple products. And they are spending hundreds - if not thousands of dollars - more each year for the unexpected Apple “taxes” — add-ons that lock them into the Apple system: iTunes downloads for music, movies and games, along with subscriptions and accessories.

Taxes are mandatory payments to the government, enforced by law.

Remember, this is not something that consumers are being forced to pay.

Wait, I thought he was saying it was a “tax”?

They are dipping willingly into their own pockets, because they’re essentially slaves to the devices.

“Slaves” and “willingly” in the same sentence. Jiminy.

As for Martorana, his family’s indentured servitude to Apple looks like it will continue indefinitely. He is looking to replace his MacBook with a newer model within a year or so, which he guesses will cost at least another $1,300. While he loves the products unreservedly, he sees no way out of the annual Apple tax.

If only he could simply decide to stop buying stuff.

Best part is that Reuters credits not one but two editors at the bottom of the piece. If this isn’t the dumbest thing I read all week I fear for my sanity.

Update: Nestled amidst the stupidity is some fascinating data on Apple’s growth:

In 2011, the average amount U.S. households spent on Apple products was $444, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty. That figure has been rising smartly every year. In 2010 it was $295. Back in 2007, it was only $150.

Microsoft Pressing Apple to Take a Smaller Cut on App Store Sales 

John Paczkowski:

So the company has been pushing Apple to adjust the 70/30 revenue split in its developer license agreement. Predictably, Apple has refused to comply. It’s not yet clear what sort of concession Microsoft is seeking, but whatever it is, Apple’s evidently not willing to consider it. Indeed, I’m told it has taken a “the rules are the rules” stance, which would suggest it’s not at all willing to negotiate a different split. Apple’s position: If a customer comes through its gateway, it feels it is deserved the commission outlined in 11.12 of its developer license.

Good luck with that, Microsoft.

Field Notes ‘Expedition Edition’ 

These notebooks look amazing, and the testing videos are just great.

Nokia Engineer Shows How to Pirate Games From the Windows 8 Store 

Why would an engineer from Nokia post something like this?

‘Room for Growth’ 

Chitika, comparing the web traffic generated by Nexus tablets to the Surface RT:

To quantify this study, Chitika Insights looked at a sample of tens of millions of tablet impressions from the Chitika ad network, specifically from the U.S. and Canada, from November 12 to November 18 2012.

Domestically, Google Nexus tablet users are generating more than seven times the Web traffic of the Microsoft Surface, but it is important to note that the original Nexus 7 had a head start, debuting this past July. With time, it would seem likely that this gap will narrow as Surface sales grow.

Let’s put this in perspective, though. Nexus tablets generated seven times more traffic than the Surface, but still didn’t account for an entire percentage point of tablet web traffic. All Nexus tablets combined amount to just 0.91 percent — not of web traffic in total, but tablet web traffic.

So, lots of room for growth for Nexus too.

List of iOS/OS X Emoji 

“FACE WITH OPEN MOUTH AND COLD SWEAT”. “PILE OF POO”. So great.

(Via Tom Gewecke.)

Twitter Adds Photo Filters to Its Mobile Apps 

The Twitter/Instagram standoff has escalated into a shooting war.

Update: The Android version is out, but the iOS version is still pending approval in the App Store. So why announce it today? Perhaps because Instagram had an update that did hit the App Store today. Makes Twitter look petty.

The old one was dated, no argument there. But the new one is just awful — one of the worst logos I’ve ever seen. It has no heft, no gravitas. It looks like a frame from a “wait for content to load” animation.

Last line of the article nails it.

Update: Armin Vit’s coverage at Brand New; it certainly looks better without the gradient, but it’s still a terrible mark for a major university.

Australian Police Warn Motorists Against Use of Apple Maps 

The hits just keep on coming. The problem for Apple is that it’s not enough to improve their mapping data — they have to improve it before the public’s perception of their mapping data is irreparably damaged.

Update: Fixed already, but the PR damage is done.

iTunes 11’s Mysterious Cloud Icon 

Matthew Panzarino:

Just to the right of the button almost anyone who is signed into iTunes will see a small cloud icon appear. Clicking on it does nothing, there is no tooltip and it sometimes animates in various ways. This has led to confusion about its purpose. When I saw it I felt I knew right away what it was, but thought I’d do a little testing to make sure my hypothesis was correct.

If you’re wondering what the cloud icon is, it’s actually very simple: It means that some part of your library is in Apple’s cloud.

It’s not quite that simple, though. Read through to the end for the update.

Rethinking the iPhone Lock Screen: A Counterpoint 

“Cybermoai”:

Just because a design looks good doesn’t mean it has been well thought out.

‘The Real Thing’ 

Beautiful short film about an amazing car. (Via Shawn Blanc and Cameron Moll.)

How Michael Lopp Instagrams 

I still can’t believe how much better the original Instagram filters were than the current ones.

Joe Stump on Switching From iPhone to Android 

Good list of what’s great and what stinks on Android.

Bold Poker 

Crazy idea, exquisitely well done:

Bold Poker replaces your deck of cards with iPhones. A whole bunch of iPhones.

Crazy because why not just use a real deck of cards, right? Exquisite because just look at it.

‘Steve Wouldn’t Eat an Energy Bar’ 

This week’s episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, featuring special guest John Moltz. Topics include The Magazine and the demise of The Daily, Tim Cook’s media blitz and Apple’s recent management shake up, Twitterrific 5, and Apple’s next design aesthetic.

Brought to you by Tonx — the best coffee in the world, right to your door.

Does S Stand for Spring? 

Horace Dediu ponders the notion that Apple is moving from annual to six-month product cycles.

Tim Cook’s ‘Rock Center’ Interview on YouTube 

If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the 20 minutes. Part two here.

New Relic 

My thanks to New Relic for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. New Relic provides state-of-the-art web app performance measurement and monitoring tools. It’s easy to get started: sign up, install their agent tool, start collecting data, and boom, you’ve got x-ray vision into your app. New Relic works with Ruby, PHP, Python, Java, and .NET. Among their happy customers: GitHub, Shopify, Groupon, and Nike.

If you’re a web developer, you’re nuts if you don’t check them out. Free sign up, no credit card required, no sales calls, no lengthy installation of software. You can be up and running in under five minutes. They’ve even got a special deal for Daring Fireball readers, with two extra free weeks of service — that’s 30 days of awesome analytics data at no cost.

Craig Mod Follows Up on Subcompact Publishing and The Daily 

Craig Mod:

In the end, The Daily chose the wrong slice from the tablet publishing distribution dichotomy. Right now (and certainly two years ago!) you get to choose one, and only one:

  • Large → Many: A huge publication with massive overhead that’s distributed on everything
  • Small → Few: A lean publication with small overhead that’s laser focused on a single platform

They went for the most ridiculous non-option: a huge publication with massive overhead, laser focused on a single platform.

Tablets Are Waiting for Their Movable Type 

Ryan Singer:

Remember the web before Movable Type? If you wanted a blog you had to program one. You had to know databases and webhosts and PHP or Perl. If you were “just” a web designer, or a writer with ideas, you had to hire an in-demand web programmer to make it happen. Publishing was expensive and hard. […]

Now is a great time for another Movable Type.

The Real Threat That Samsung Poses to Apple 

Interesting guest post at Asymco by James Allworth. I disagree with him that smartphone hardware has yet been commoditized — at the low end, sure, but there have always been low-end commodity cell phones. At the high end though, it’s still early days. There are many dramatic innovations yet to come.

But his story about Dell and Asus, from Clayton Christensen’s latest book, is quite interesting:

Asus came to Dell and said, “We’ve done a good job fabricating these motherboards for you. Why don’t you let us assemble the whole computer for you, too? Assembling those products is not what’s made you successful. We can take all the remaining manufacturing assets off your balance sheet, and we can do it all for 20 percent less.”

The Dell analysts realized that this, too, was a win- win… […]

Then, in 2005, Asus announced the creation of its own brand of computers.

Improving the iOS Keyboard 

Speaking of writing on the iPad, Federico Viticci:

I think the discussion on the iOS keyboard often mixes writing with editing. Personally, I believe the iOS keyboard is great for writing, because it’s just a normal keyboard, but iOS text selection is in serious need of an update, because it feels outdated.

As Viticci goes on to say, the answer is not adding more rows to the keyboard.

Writing on the iPad 

Jason Snell:

I can’t argue with the results. Pieces I’ve been promising myself to write for weeks remain empty text files in my MacBook’s Dropbox folder, while 800-word essays sprout from my iPad in no time.

Not the case for me, but fascinating nonetheless.

Another Thought Regarding Reed Hastings’s Trouble With the SEC Regarding His Facebook Posts 

This is why Apple (and its executives) mostly eschew social networking.

‘Recency’ vs. ‘Recentness’ 

I ran into an intriguing (to me at least) language issue today, wherein I needed a nominal form of recent. My first thought was recency; my second recentness. Ends up both are accepted. (I went with recency.)

T-Mobile to Abandon Phone Subsidies 

Kevin Fitchard, writing for GigaOM:

T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere confirmed that the iPhone will be among the Apple products that T-Mobile sells next year, but he said that T-Mo will sell it in a far different way than other carriers. T-Mobile is eliminating all device subsidies in 2013, requiring new customers to pay full price for their phones up front, buy it on installment or bring their own unlocked devices, Legere said speaking at corporate parent Deutsche Telekom’s Capital Markets Day in Bonn. […]

T-Mobile will have to explain to customers that they will actually save money over the length of a two-year contract by paying a lower value plan rate. And while there would be truth in T-Mo’s claims, it’s still a hard sell to many consumers, especially with the iPhone’s huge price tag dangling in front of them.

Could be a huge change to the U.S. phone market if it works.

‘Made in the USA’ Is Back, Baby 

Jason Kottke:

Earlier this morning in a post about Apple manufacturing their products in the US, I wrote “look for this “made in the USA” thing to turn into a trend”. Well, Made in the USA is already emerging as a trend in the media.

Reed Hastings and His Facebook Posts 

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, on Facebook:

In early July, I publicly posted on Facebook to the over 200,000 of you who subscribe to me that our members had enjoyed over 1 billion hours in June, highlighting how strong our content was. There was press coverage as there are many reporters and bloggers among you, my public followers. Some of you re-posted my post. Again, we did not also issue a press release or file an 8-K about this.

SEC staff informed us yesterday that they are recommending that the SEC bring a civil action against us for my July 1 billion hour public post, asserting we violated “Reg FD”. This rule is designed to ensure that individual investors have equal access to information as large institutional investors, by prohibiting selective disclosure of material information. The SEC staff believes that I gave you all “material” investor information in my post and that we needed to instead release the June viewing fact “publicly” with an 8-K filing or press release.

This seems bogus, no? Is not a public Facebook posting the modern equivalent of a press release?

Update: Next time he should post on Google Plus — that way no one would notice.

Update 2: Based on my email, it seems like a lot of people are confused about the public nature of these posts from Hastings. These aren’t things that are only visible to other Facebook users, or to people who follow Hastings on Facebook. They’re public posts, visible to anyone who visits the URL, just like blog entries. The best argument I’ve seen against Hastings actions is not about the public/private distinction, but that this was his personal account, not the company’s account.

Behind the App: Twitterrific 5 

Craig Hockenberry:

I’ve always loved shows that take you behind the scenes of creative efforts: Project Runway and Classic Albums being two of my favorites. Here’s one about the development of Twitterrific 5.

Google Releases Snapseed 1.5, Now Free 

Glad to see Google continuing to develop Snapseed.

Extensive Tim Cook Interview With Businessweek Editor Josh Tyrangiel 

Tim Cook:

“So just to be clear, I wouldn’t call that a process. Creativity and innovation are something you can’t flowchart out. Some things you can, and we do, and we’re very disciplined in those areas. But creativity isn’t one of those. A lot of companies have innovation departments, and this is always a sign that something is wrong when you have a VP of innovation or something. You know, put a for-sale sign on the door.”

This is an interesting perspective:

“Think about it. We changed the vast majority of our iPhone in a day. We didn’t kind of — you know, change a little bit here or there. iPad, we changed the entire lineup in a day. The most successful product in consumer electronics history, and we change it all in a day and go with an iPad mini and a fourth- generation iPad. Who else is doing this? 80 percent of our revenues are from products that didn’t exist 60 days ago. Is there any other company that would do that?”

(You can read the same interview on Businessweek’s website, broken across 11 (!) web pages, or read it all on a single page on Bloomberg’s site.)

Tim Cook Announces Plans to Manufacture Macs in U.S. 

Excerpt from a longer interview with Brian Williams airing tonight on NBC’s “Rock Center”. And maybe I could have held my breath: the New York Times is giving the news decent coverage.

Philip Greenspun: ‘Christmas Gift for Someone You Hate: Windows 8’ 

Philip Greenspun:

Microsoft has had since October 2008 to study Android. It has had since June 2007 to study iPhone. It seems as though they did not figure out what is good about the standard tablet operating systems.

This, from a guy who’s so anti-Apple that he gives credit for the desktop interface to the Xerox Alto, not the Mac.

T-Mobile to Carry Apple Products in U.S. Next Year 

The last of the four major U.S. carriers.

马上着手开发 iOS 应用程序:介绍 

Apple has released a Chinese translation of “Start Developing iOS Apps Today”.

Twitterrific 5 for iOS 

Delightful update to the granddaddy of iOS Twitter clients. Total overhaul of the UI — very flat, very light, a slew of very nice little touches. You have to see it.

Erica Ogg Interviews Loren Brichter 

Erica Ogg:

He built his own version of the user interface framework, the software that sits right above the graphics processor on an iOS device. Apple creates that for developers — it was completely unnecessary for him to do this. But this is the kind of thing he considers “fun.”

“It’s insane,” he admitted. “But I wanted to experiment with different ways of driving graphics.… Apple’s [UIKit] is the best, but I wanted to try.” The experiment was a resounding success — and now has a million guinea pigs testing his code via Letterpress. And, he said, “there have been zero issues” with what he built.

Some New iMacs Marked as Being ‘Assembled in USA’ 

Can’t wait for the NYT’s front-page story on this for their “iEconomy” story. Holding my breath.

Android’s Back Button 

My least favorite thing about both Android and Windows Phone is the system-wide Back button design pattern. Ron Amadeo of Android Police has a good piece here illustrating how confusing and frustrating it can be. Every time I spend time with an Android phone this drives me nuts. Windows Phone seems a little more predictable, but I still think iOS has this right: let each app provide its own internal navigation between screens, and let the system provide a way to switch quickly between recently used apps.

When it does exactly what you expect, the system-wide Back button is convenient. But when it doesn’t, it’s maddening. With iOS, switching back to the previous app requires something more than a single tap (double-press Home then tap in switcher bar, or the four-finger swipe), but it’s never confusing and never takes you somewhere unexpected.

(Via Jim Seth.)

The ‘Mad Men’ Economic Miracle 

Adam Davidson, writing for the NYT:

This business model, perhaps as much as artistic creativity, is responsible for TV’s current golden age. Networks have effectively entered into a quality war. Basic-cable channels have to broadcast shows that are so good that audiences will go nuts when denied them. Pay-TV channels, which kick-started this economic model, are compelled to make shows that are even better. And somehow, they all seem to be making insane amounts of money. This year, NBC Universal’s cable operations are expected to bring in around $5 billion, half of which is profit. Viacom’s revenue will be more than $8 billion, with 49 percent profit. Apple had one of its best years ever in 2012, but its profit margin is expected to be only 37 percent, which is still well above its 23 percent average over the past five years. An auto company would be thrilled with something in the high single digits.

What I love is that it’s entirely predicated on producing better and better shows. It’s profitable and the art is great.

Rethinking the iPhone Lockscreen 

Interesting ideas from Brent Caswell. Unlike most iOS lockscreen mockups I’ve seen, this feels properly iOS-y. (Via Jim Dalrymple.)

Apple and Google; Design and Web Services 

Patrick Gibson:

My friend and co-worker Tom has a thesis about Apple’s biggest problem: Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services.

Update: The problem, I agree with. But Gibson’s proposed solution is a bit preposterous.

‘Always’ 

Brian Stoffel, writing for The Motley Fool:

I think that, at less than 10 times expected earnings for 2013, Apple is a good buy.

Finally, we have Whole Foods. I know that many people think the stock looks pretty pricey, and with it currently at 37 times earnings, I don’t blame them for thinking so. But consider this simple maxim: The highest-quality companies will always trade for a premium.

Curious use of “always” given the preceding paragraph, no?

‘It’s Funny, I’ve Actually Only Been to New Jersey a Couple of Times’ 

Op-ed in The Onion by Bruce Springsteen:

For the record: No, I don’t know the best place to eat in Asbury Park. I only named my first album after that city because I liked the way it sounded. No, I don’t know how the Devils are doing this season. No, I don’t know the fastest way to get from Long Branch to the Parkway.

Frankly, I don’t even know what the Parkway is.

Foldify 

This is why we still have printers. (Via Scott Stevenson.)

iTunes Store Now in Russia, Turkey, India, South Africa, and 52 Additional Countries 

119 countries in total.

BBEdit 10.5 

Among a slew of other new features, BBEdit is now retina-ready:

“BBEdit looks really sharp on a Retina display,” said Rich Siegel, founder and CEO of Bare Bones Software, Inc. “While any customer with a Retina Mac will appreciate this, we also took the opportunity to add a number of new features, so that we could release a robust update that offered something useful for everyone. If there isn’t something in 10.5 that excites you, check your pulse.”

See the usual copiously documented release notes for the rest. My favorite new feature: Preview Filters.

Gmail 2.0 for iOS 

Multiple account support, finally, among a bunch of other improvements to what I consider the only serious alternative to Apple Mail. (At least now that Sparrow is end-of-life. Speaking of which, no idea whether this Gmail update includes work from the Sparrow team.) Update: MG Siegler tweets: “And no, Sparrow team had nothing to do with it, I hear.”

It’s nice to have a built-in webview for previewing links without leaving the app. Apple Mail feels out of date in this regard — always jumping you over to Safari to open links made sense in 2007. It feels outdated in the App Store world of today, where everyone is used to web pages opening in an in-app webview in just about every app that contains links.

I like how the iPad version keeps the sidebar visible, even in portrait. I do not understand why the iPhone version seemingly has no way to go to the next or previous message without going all the way back to the message list. The use of Helvetica Neue Light renders text terribly on the iPad Mini; the use of Arial for a few elements is simply inexcusable (but unsurprising).

Damn, Was Steve Jobs Prescient or What? 

Re: the aforementioned slide 24 from Mary Meeker’s 2012 Internet Trends deck, I’m reminded of this quote from Steve Jobs in his interview with Wired in 1996:

The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That’s over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it’s going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade.

“10 years” pretty much coincides with Wintel’s breaking point on Meeker’s chart.

There’s also this quote, from the mid-’80s, presumably while Jobs was still at Apple:

If, for some reason, we make some big mistake and IBM wins, my personal feeling is that we are going to enter a computer Dark Ages for about twenty years.

His only mistake was ignoring the threat posed by Microsoft, worrying only about IBM instead.

Mary Meeker’s 2012 Internet Trends 

Speaking of Microsoft’s nightmare scenario, slides 9 and 22 seem apt. Slide 24 is probably the best, though — tells the history of both Apple and Microsoft.

Update: He’s credited under the chart, but the data for slide 24 (and a better version of the same chart) come from — who else? — Horace Dediu.

Steve Ballmer’s Nightmare Is Coming True 

Jay Yarow lays out the case against Microsoft:

Last year, we concluded by saying, “Fortunately for Microsoft, none of this is going to happen. Windows 8 will reassert the dominance of the Windows PC. Office and other business products will remain corporate necessities, and developers will never be able to ignore Microsoft. Windows Phone will become a viable third mobile platform, the Xbox will continue to dominate the living room, and new products will surprise the pundits who thought Microsoft couldn’t innovate. Even Bing will finally make a profit someday.”

This year, it’s a lot harder to say much of that. Windows 8 doesn’t seem to be reasserting the dominance of the PC. Windows Phone is not a viable third platform. Bing is still burning money. The Microsoft nightmare scenario is actually becoming a reality.

In a nut, Microsoft is losing relevance. That’s deadly.

Quartz on Jolla 

Christopher Mims has an interesting piece for Quartz on Jolla, the spin-off from Nokia’s MeeGo mobile platform. Some interesting ideas in there. But I don’t get the headline at all: “Here Comes the First Real Alternative to iPhone and Android”.

This is sheer sensationalism and the laziest sort of tech punditry. When something is announced but as-yet unreleased — like Jolla — it’s easy to project upon it whatever one wants. You might not like Windows Phone 8 or Blackberry, but they are alternatives to the iPhone and Android. You can go into a store today and buy one. Jolla, today, is vaporware. And it’s silly to argue that there haven’t been other alternatives: Palm’s WebOS, Symbian, and yes, MeeGo. It’s just that they all failed. The iPhone and Android have forged a duopoly not because there are no alternatives, but because they’ve beaten all the alternatives.

News Corporation Shuts Down The Daily 

Memo from the editor and publisher, announcing that the last issue will be December 15.

‘A Therapeutic Dose of Imodium’ 

On this week’s episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, very special guest star Merlin Mann joins yours truly to talk about booze, iTunes 11, and the sorry state of over-the-counter cold medication in the U.S.

Brought to you by two great sponsors:

  • Camera Plus Pro: Beautiful, powerful, and simple camera and photo editing app for iPhone.

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The Cost of Selling Galaxies 

The last chart in this Horace Dediu piece is rather astonishing.

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