Linked List: February 2014

Right-Wing National Center for Public Policy Research Pitches Hissy Fit 

I enjoy how these clowns aptly use Comic Sans.

Apple Offers More Details on iMessage Security 

Greg Kumparak, writing for TechCrunch:

So if Apple never has your private key, how do messages arrive at all of your devices in a readable form? How do your private key(s) get from one device to the other? Simple answer: they don’t. You’ve actually got one set of keys for each device you add to iCloud, and each iMessage is encrypted independently for each device. So if you have two devices — say, an iPad and an iPhone — each message sent to you is actually encrypted (AES-128) and stored on Apple’s servers twice. Once for each device. When you pull down a message, it’s specifically encrypted for the device you’re on.

‘Do Not Retweet the Band-Aid’ 

This week’s episode of The Talk Show, with special guest Joanna “AC Adapter Review” Stern. Tablets as laptop replacements, the appeal of large-screen smartphones, the nascent wearables market, and more.

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Facts and Figures From Apple’s Shareholder Meeting 

Daniel Dilger, reporting for Apple Insider:

Cook added that Apple now has 800 million iOS users and has handled over 16 trillion push notifications, with 40 billion new ones occurring every day. Apple also delivers several billion iMessages and FaceTime requests every day. Cook added that iPad now accounts for 78 percent of all tablets used throughout the enterprise.

These numbers were conflated by some people — I saw tweets saying Cook had claimed 40 billion iMessages per day, not push notifications in general. But still, that’s a big number. Push notifications are messages, so in a sense, Apple’s platform is operating at a scale very close in size to WhatsApp (which claims 50 billion messages per day), but distributed across thousands of different apps.

800 million iOS users is an enormous number as well.

Update: Jon Anhold makes a good point on Twitter:

@daringfireball I bet a fair number of those push notifications ARE WhatsApp.

Tim Cook Soundly Rejects Politics of the NCPPR, Suggests Group Sell Apple’s Stock 

Bryan Chaffin, reporting for The Mac Observer from Apple’s annual shareholder meeting:

Mr. Cook didn’t directly answer that question, but instead focused on the second question: the NCPPR representative asked Mr. Cook to commit right then and there to doing only those things that were profitable.

What ensued was the only time I can recall seeing Tim Cook angry, and he categorically rejected the worldview behind the NCPPR’s advocacy. He said that there are many things Apple does because they are right and just, and that a return on investment (ROI) was not the primary consideration on such issues.

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,” he said, “I don’t consider the bloody ROI.” He said that the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader. […] He didn’t stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

Tim Cook does not suffer fools gladly.

‘Why the Nokia X Family Is Bad for Everyone’ 

Jerry Hildenbrand, writing for Android Central:

Does Nokia want its Android legacy to be this shiny pile of lag and fail? Of course not. But chances are it will be. That’s not fair to the engineers, the fans of the brand, or the company itself. But does anyone really think Microsoft will let Nokia build a phone that rivals the latest and greatest from LG or Samsung? Of course they won’t, because that won’t drive Windows phone sales. As a business, they have to do what is best for their own sales.

The problem with the Nokia X is that it indicates a profound lack of focus. These phones are of no strategic value to Nokia. Samsung, in contrast, can afford to experiment with Tizen because they’re in a position of strength — the only handset maker other than Apple making any money. And it is in Samsung’s strategic interests to reduce its dependency on Google.

It makes no sense for Nokia, which is losing money, to reduce its dependency on Microsoft.

Tidbit From Today’s Apple Shareholder Meeting: Apple TV Generated Over $1 Billion in Revenue in 2013 

Getting harder and harder to keep calling it a “hobby”.

Sure, $1 billion is not significant to today’s Apple, but who else in the set-top market is doing $1 billion a year in revenue? Xbox and PlayStation, maybe?

‘The Government’ Is Not a Single Entity 

Marco Arment:

The argument that we don’t want “such a dysfunctional government” regulating broadband is weak: “the government” isn’t one big coordinated bogeyman that can’t be trusted with anything. That’s just rhetoric that politicians use to avoid regulation so corporations can make more money at the expense of the citizens or environment. In practice, governmental regulation works so well in most cases that it’s taken for granted and too boring for most people to even think about.

Consider the FCC’s 2011 decision to block AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile — T-Mobile is universally hailed today as shaking up the entire U.S. mobile industry to the benefit of consumers.

User Interface of the Week: Password Engine 

Previous winner back in 2009, now updated for iOS 7.

(And yes, I see the irony in posting this right after the last item.)

The Empathy Vacuum 

Splendid piece by Greg Knauss:

Which is pretty much the Internet in a nutshell, isn’t it? Exposed to the entire spectrum of human enthusiasms, it’s basically impossible not to judge. Our empathy overloads and gives up and we sit, staring at the screen aghast, that somebody, somewhere might actually believe that what they’re doing is OK, is acceptable, is even appropriate.

Everybody is somebody else’s monster.

Opting Out of Dropbox’s Arbitration Clause 

Tiffany Bridge, on Dropbox’s new terms of service:

Allow me to summarize what it means when a company wants to handle all disputes in arbitration:

No matter what they do (delete your data, privacy breach, overcharging, whatever), you don’t get to sue. Instead, THEY get to choose the arbitrator according to whatever criteria they want, and thus any dispute is decided by someone they’re paying.

Also, you can’t join a class-action suit against them. Which sounds like no big deal, but when a company takes advantage of a bunch of people all in the same small way (incorrectly assessing a service charge, for example), class action is how companies are made to clean up their act en masse, instead of waiting for thousands of people to call them up and demand their $20 back or whatever.

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems clear to me that opting out is in your best interests. I did.

Hands-On With Samsung’s Tizen OS 

Ron Amadeo, reporting for Ars Technica from MWC:

The OS runs on “prototype” hardware that very closely resembles a Galaxy S4. Tizen is a Linux-based OS primarily developed by Samsung, and, the theory goes, Samsung’s grand plot is to eventually turn Tizen into a drop-in Android replacement, own the market with an OS of its own making, and never have to deal with Google again. So far, Tizen seems a pretty accurate Android clone, but it’s shocking how far along it is. On the surface, it seemed just as capable as a TouchWiz Android device. Samsung has done such a good job of replicating the Android interface that there is very little to write about—everything looks and works similarly to the way it does on Android, just without any kind of ecosystem.

Get the popcorn.

Yahoo Webcam Images From Millions of Users Intercepted by GCHQ 

Spencer Ackerman and James Ball, reporting for The Guardian:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery — including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications — from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

There’s no other way to describe this than Orwellian. Government agencies spying on and collecting images of innocent citizens. Outrageous.

Tablets, PCs, and Office 

Benedict Evans, in a piece that pairs well with the previous item:

This brings us back to the mouse and keyboard that you ‘need for real work’, as the phrase goes. Yes, you really do need them to make a financial model. And you need them to make an operating metrics summary — in Excel and Powerpoint. But is that, really, what you need to be doing to achieve the underlying business purpose? Very few people’s job is literally ‘make Excel files’. And what if you spend the other 90% of your time on the road meeting clients and replying to emails? Do you need a laptop, or a tablet? Do you need a tablet as well as a smartphone? Or a laptop, or phablet? Or both?

Joanna Stern on Tablets as Laptop Replacements 

Joanna Stern, writing for the WSJ:

My iPad is with me every night when I doze off to sleep, it entertains me on long flights and keeps me informed during my morning commute. But when it comes to real work, the tablet fails me.

If I’m writing long emails or working on office documents, I want a larger screen, a roomy keyboard and the ability to easily juggle programs. The iPad doesn’t cut it, though there are tablets that are literally standing up to the productivity challenge.

The thinking woman’s take on consumption-vs.-work — she spent time trying to use four tablets (iPad Air, Galaxy Note Pro, Surface 2, and Lumia 2520) as full-time laptop replacements.

Netflix, Comcast, and Apple TV 

Dan Rayburn, in a Comcast/Netflix piece for Streaming Media Blog:

In a little known, but public fact, anyone who is on Comcast and using Apple TV to stream Netflix wasn’t having quality problems. The reason for this is that Netflix is using Level 3 and Limelight to stream their content specifically to the Apple TV device. What this shows is that Netflix is the one that decides and controls how they get their content to each device and whether they do it via their own servers or a third party. Netflix decides which third party CDNs to use and when Netflix uses their own CDN, they decide whom to buy transit from, with what capacity, in what locations and how many connections they buy, from the transit provider. Netflix is the one in control of this, not Comcast or any ISP.

Interesting; I live in Kabletown and watch almost all my Netflix via Apple TV, so this explains why I never encountered a problem.

Warner Bros. Logo Design Evolution 

So great.

(I love that Argo used the Saul Bass logo, which was period correct for 1980.)

On Prompting for App Reviews in Release Notes: It Works 

Supertop:

Asking politely at the end of your release notes is an effective way to encourage users to leave you a review without compromising the user experience within your app.

Project Ara: Inside Google’s Modular Smartphone 

Harry McCracken:

For instance, when Samsung announced the Galaxy S5 this week, its headline improvements included a better camera, a fingerprint scanner and a heart-rate monitor. In a world of modular phones, you might be able to pick any or all of those features and add them to the phone you already have. You’d even be able to pick among multiple cameras, or choose quirky features not meant for the masses. (Eremenko’s playful example: an on-phone incense burner.)

I’ll believe it when I see it, where by “it” I mean “a compelling commercial product based on this”.

Sure, Samsung put a fingerprint sensor in the Galaxy S5. But look at how Apple did it: with an integrated secure enclave that required a custom designed A7 SoC. 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.

Apple Releases iOS Security White Paper 

The very first sentence:

Apple designed the iOS platform with security at its core.

Makes for an interesting contrast with the previous item.

Malware Is Freedom 

Sundar Pichai, speaking at Mobile World Congress:

We cannot guarantee that Android is designed to be safe, the format was designed to give more freedom. When people talk about 90% of malware for Android, they must of course take into account the fact that it is the most popular operating system in the world. If I had a company dedicated to malware, I would also be addressing my attacks on Android.

The old Windows line of defense: Android is so popular of course it has all the malware. For some reason, though, that’s the only sort of software where Android leads iOS in third-party developer support.

(Also: Android doesn’t account for 90 percent of mobile malware. It’s 98 percent. Update: According to this report from Kapersky Lab, “A total of 99.9% of new mobile threat detections target the Android platform.”)

Update: More context on Pichai’s remarks, including several statements in which he claims, apparently with a straight face, that Android is in fact “far more secure”.

Glassdoor Reviews of Working for Samsung in San Jose 

Sounds like a fun place to work.

Android Police Shows Early Prototype of Google Watch Made by Motorola Last Year 

Yikes. No wonder they sold the company.

The Fingerprint Scanner on the Samsung Galaxy S5 Will Be Accessible by Developers 

Darrell Etherington, writing for TechCrunch:

It’s not yet clear exactly how Samsung stores and transmits its own fingerprint information to apps and services, but even opening up use of the scanner itself and fingerprint activity to third-party devs already marks a considerable departure from Apple’s approach. Samsung already announced a partnership with PayPal to allow fingerprints to enable payment verification for making purchases, and even that offers a fundamentally different philosophical take on how to use biometric information.

Maybe this is the right way to go. But how come so many people lost their shit over the clearly more-secure iPhone fingerprint sensor, and there’s not a peep about Samsung’s? Where’s the letter to Samsung from Senator Al Franken?

The Right Way to Ask for an App Review 

So not only is Threes an amazing iPhone game, they prompt for App Store reviews in a classy way too. Let’s reward this.

Where Did Mt. Gox’s Bitcoins Go? 

Joshua Brustein, writing for Businessweek:

How did the once-largest Bitcoin exchange lose hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of the digital currency?

Two words: transaction malleability. A hacker can tinker with the code that makes a Bitcoin transaction happen, so that it looks like it didn’t go through. The person who was supposed to receive a payment then asks again and, in Mt. Gox’s case, is paid again automatically. Mt. Gox has acknowledged this was happening. It seems that someone has been slowly bleeding it for months, leaving it without the funds to pay out legitimate withdrawals. But with the company being pretty tight-lipped about it for now, that’s only the best theory.

Like I tweeted last night, you’d be better off just flushing hundred dollar bills down a toilet — at least you’d understand what’s going on.

Samsung Reportedly Tried to Suppress a Film Critical of Its Safety Record 

Catherine Shu, writing for TechCrunch:

The film, which premiered earlier this month at the Busan International Film Festival, is a fictionalized story about Hwang Yu-mi, a 23-year-old Samsung plant worker who died from acute leukemia in 2007. The film’s lead character, based on her father Hwang Sang-ki, wages a legal battle against a large tech conglomerate called “Jinsung” that very closely resembles Samsung (the film’s title is based on one of the company’s mottos). The names in the film were changed in part to avoid legal action by Samsung. A South Korean court ruled in his favor, finding that Hwang Yu-mi’s leukemia may have been caused or exacerbated by continuous exposure to hazardous chemicals at Samsung’s semiconductor plants.

On Feb. 5, online newspaper NewDaily Biz posted an article about Another Family. As reported by The Verge, the publication’s president, Park Jung-kyu, allegedly then told NewDaily Biz’s editors to delete the piece and ordered them to text apologies to the Samsung executives who had complained.

Steve Perlman Demonstrates and Explains pCell at Columbia 

Compelling demo, that’s for sure.

File This One Under ‘No Shit’ 

Salvador Rodriguez, reporting for the LA Times:

Following Facebook’s acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp last week for $19 billion, BlackBerry CEO John Chen said he would not hesitate to sell his company’s messaging service for that much money.

“I work for the shareholder. Standard answer. If somebody comes to me with $19 billion, I would definitely sell it. I would recommend to the board to take it,” Chen told CNBC.

That’s like asking someone, “If you won the lottery, would you cash the ticket?” (BlackBerry’s market cap is about $5.5 billion.)

Reuters: Google Lobbies to Allow Google Glass While Driving 

Dan Levine, reporting for Reuters:

Google is lobbying officials in at least three U.S. states to stop proposed restrictions on driving with headsets such as Google Glass, marking some of the first clashes over the nascent wearable technology.

Some eight U.S. states are considering regulation of Google Glass, a tiny computer screen mounted in the corner of an eyeglass frame. Law enforcement and other groups are concerned that drivers wearing the devices will pay more attention to their email than the road, causing serious accidents. […]

Google Inc has deployed lobbyists to persuade elected officials in Illinois, Delaware and Missouri that it is not necessary to restrict use of Google Glass behind the wheel, according to state lobbying disclosure records and interviews conducted by Reuters.

How could it possibly be safe to use Google Glass while driving a motor vehicle?

‘That Is Totally Going to Happen in Real Life’ 

Mike Wehner cooks up some fresh day-old claim chowder on the Samsung Galaxy S5. (Via John Moltz.)

Adventures in the Use of the Present Tense 

Agam Shah, writing for PCWorld, “Qualcomm Overtakes Apple With Eight-Core, 64-Bit Mobile Processor”:

Qualcomm has leaped ahead of Apple in 64-bit mobile chip development with its first eight-core Snapdragon 615 chip for mobile devices, which has integrated LTE and 4K video rendering capabilities. The Snapdragon 615 will go into high-end smartphones and tablets, which should become available in the fourth quarter, a Qualcomm spokesman said in an email.

OK, then.

Apple Files Appeal in E-Book Antitrust Case 

Deepti Hajela, reporting for the AP:

Apple filed papers on Tuesday telling a federal appeals court in New York that a judge’s finding it violated antitrust laws by manipulating electronic book prices “is a radical departure” from modern antitrust law that will “chill competition and harm consumers” if allowed to stand.

@N Twitter Account Has Been Restored to Its Rightful Owner 

Josh Ong, reporting for The Next Web:

Many of you have been following with interest Naoki Hiroshima’s tale of how he was extorted into giving up his valuable @N username on Twitter. The good news is that Hiroshima is back in control of the account.

As for why it took so long for Twitter to return the account to Hiroshima, what I’ve heard is that they didn’t want to interfere with the investigations by legal authorities. It feels like a “finally” situation, but real investigations take time and need to go by the book.

Stephen Wolfram’s Introduction to the Wolfram Language 

Mind-bendingly impressive. I’m a big fan of Wolfram Alpha; this seems like a big step forward.

Mail Improvements in OS X 10.9.2 

Joe Kissell, writing for TidBITS:

I’m pleased to report that the new version of Mail in 10.9.2 (version 7.2, build 1874) is far better than its predecessors, about which I complained mightily in “Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation,” (22 October 2013) and (to a slightly lesser extent) “Mail in Mavericks: Is It Safe Yet?,” (11 November 2013). That meant I was able to delete quite a few paragraphs from my book detailing bugs and other infelicitous changes. But, to keep this in perspective: Mail is now at the point where it should have been when Mavericks was released.

Google Announces Project Tango 

Google is starting to remind me of Apple in the ’90s: announcing more cool R&D prototypes than they release actual cool products. Even the R&D team names are similar — Google’s is called “Advanced Technology and Projects”; Apple’s was called “Advanced Technology Group”.

One of the first things Steve Jobs did upon taking the helm in 1997 was kill ATG.

Nilay Patel: ‘The Internet Is Fucked’ 

Great piece by Nilay Patel at The Verge:

American politicians love to stand on the edges of important problems by insisting that the market will find a solution. And that’s mostly right; we don’t need the government meddling in places where smart companies can create their own answers. But you can’t depend on the market to do anything when the market doesn’t exist. “We can either have competition, which would solve a lot of these problems, or we can have regulation,” says Aaron. “What Comcast is trying is to have neither.” It’s insanity, and we keep lying to ourselves about it. It’s time to start thinking about ways to actually do something.

Netflix paying Comcast is the canary in the coal mine.

Economic Demographics of U.S. iPhone Buyers 

Philip Elmer-DeWitt:

One third of Apple’s U.S. sales in 2013 were to Americans making more than $100,000 a year, and of that group, Apple’s share was 65%, according to NPD (which did not provide a spreadsheet supporting that number).

The bad news is that the cream of the U.S. market is also the segment that is growing most slowly — only 4% year over year according to NPD.

The fastest growing segment — people making under $30,000 a year — grew at 42% a year, double the industry rate. Only 20% iPhone sales went to that segment of the market, compared with 35% for Samsung.

I’d say it’s rather impressive that so many people making under $30,000 a year bought an iPhone. Samsung’s phone lineup includes a slew of low-priced, low-margin models. Apple’s does not. (Via Hey Cupertino.)

You Should Follow @daringfireball on Twitter 

Mostly automated links to new posts on DF, but it’s also where I post notifications about updates to previous items.

‘Price Is What You Pay; Value Is What You Get’ 

Fortune has an excerpt from Warren Buffett’s upcoming annual shareholder letter:

In 1986, I purchased a 400-acre farm, located 50 miles north of Omaha, from the FDIC. It cost me $280,000, considerably less than what a failed bank had lent against the farm a few years earlier. I knew nothing about operating a farm. But I have a son who loves farming, and I learned from him both how many bushels of corn and soybeans the farm would produce and what the operating expenses would be. From these estimates, I calculated the normalized return from the farm to then be about 10%. I also thought it was likely that productivity would improve over time and that crop prices would move higher as well. Both expectations proved out.

I needed no unusual knowledge or intelligence to conclude that the investment had no downside and potentially had substantial upside. There would, of course, be the occasional bad crop, and prices would sometimes disappoint. But so what? There would be some unusually good years as well, and I would never be under any pressure to sell the property. Now, 28 years later, the farm has tripled its earnings and is worth five times or more what I paid. I still know nothing about farming and recently made just my second visit to the farm.

CNet: ‘Google, LG Working on Smartwatch to Be Unveiled in June’ 

Roger Cheng, reporting for CNet from MWC in Barcelona:

Google is set to unveil plans for its smartwatch-centric operating system in March, likely in a blog post, according to a person familiar with its plans. The actual smartwatch itself will make its debut at its Google I/O conference in June, the person said.

This could be fun, given that this year’s I/O is going to be at the end of June, a few weeks after Apple’s usual schedule for WWDC.

New York Post: ‘Hipster Wannabes Get Facial Hair Transplants’ 

How in the world did I link to this before Jim Dalrymple?

Apple Releases OS X 10.9.2 With Fix for ‘goto fail’ SSL Vulnerability 

If you haven’t already, drop what you’re doing and update now.

Update: Sounds like there are some significant fixes for Mail in this update, too.

Update 2: There’s a software update for Apple TV, too.

Roger Ebert on ‘Groundhog Day’ 

Roger Ebert:

“Groundhog Day” is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is.

A Thousand No’s for Every Yes 

Worth a re-link, in the wake of that last item — and for anyone who thinks Facebook buying WhatsApp or any other distraction implies some sort of missed opportunity on Apple’s part.

This short film, first shown at the opening of the WWDC 2013 keynote, is not empty marketing rhetoric or pap. It’s one of the most honest pieces of communication I’ve ever seen from Apple. This is what the company believes. And insofar as it is about feeling as much as thinking, it requires more than prose to express. It requires cinema.

And also insofar as it is about feeling as much as thinking, it sails right over the heads of the Vulcans who populate much of the tech and investor commentariat.

Just Do Something 

Eric Jackson, writing for Forbes in the wake of Facebook’s $16B acquisition of WhatsApp:

For the longest time, I’ve sat back nodding in quiet agreement with the Apple bulls who say: “We need to have faith in Tim Cook even though he’s been so reluctant to do any M&A because we don’t know what Apple is working on in its labs.”

No longer. Apple needs to start playing offense.

Apple needs to start picking off strategic assets as if their life depends on it, rather than continuing on with a plodding attitude that doesn’t match the speed of their competitive environment.

This is the worst sort of advice, suggesting a complete ignorance of everything Apple stands for. (Jay Yarow loves it, of course.) Just buy something. Spend, spend, spend. Acquire. Buy all the spaghetti, throw it against the wall, see what sticks. Wrong. Apple’s model is about focus. Apple wasn’t joking about “a thousand no’s for every yes” — that’s really how they think, what they believe. That’s the DNA.

Only one thing Jackson suggests makes any sense: Apple perhaps acquiring Tesla. I don’t think that’s likely, but I think it’s possible, for two reasons: First, Tesla could be integrated into Apple’s core business — selling high quality, well designed products that work well together. If you can imagine Apple making a car (and I can), then you can imagine Apple acquiring Tesla to jump-start the initiative. Second, Apple and Tesla share a fundamental engineering problem: batteries.

But other than Tesla, who else would it make sense for Apple to acquire for billions of dollars? No answers come to mind. Certainly not WhatsApp — as I wrote last week, Apple already has exactly the messaging platform it wants: iMessage, with hundreds of millions of users.

Conglomeration may well work out well for Facebook. General Electric has done well with that model for over 100 years. But it would be a disaster for Apple. Apple makes acquisitions for integration. Exhibit A: PA Semi — a chump change $278 million acquisition that laid the groundwork for Apple to become the leading mobile semiconductor company in the world.

Microsoft Is Wrapping Mobile Websites and Calling Them Apps 

Blair Hanley Frank, reporting for GeekWire:

The new Redfin app for Microsoft’s Windows Phone promises to deliver the core features of the online real estate service, including the ability to search for homes to rent or buy, research neighborhoods, and find an agent. But unlike Redfin’s 4.5-star apps for iPhone and Android, this app gets a 2.5-star rating, and a string of negative reviews.

“Mediocre experience at best,” says one reviewer. “Please get the real app.”

As it turns out, this isn’t a native Windows Phone app — and it wasn’t made by Redfin. It was developed by Microsoft, by packaging up Redfin’s mobile website in the form of an installable app. In fact, the existence of the Redfin app for Windows Phone was a surprise to Redfin.

Just embarrassing.

Samsung Unveils Galaxy S5 

The perfect phone for people with no taste. Garish design — both hardware and software. The gold version (shocker) is exactly what made people cringe when the gold iPhone was first rumored.

Water-resistance is a legitimate step forward in the state of the art, though. I know there’ve been other water-resistant phones, but none that will sell as well as the S5. This is one area where Apple is behind. A good solution to this problem, though, has got to involve something better than a flap over the USB port.

Claim chowder-wise, so much for the reports a few weeks ago that it would sport a 560 ppi display.

Harold Ramis Dies at 69 

So many great movies — both as a writer and director. Among my favorites, the ones that hold up the best: Caddyshack, Animal House, and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But his masterpiece was Groundhog Day, which I consider one of the most underrated movies ever made.

Worth Waiting 

Speaking of Steve Jobs’s birthday, Tim Cook tweets:

Remembering Steve on his birthday: “Details matter, it’s worth waiting to get it right.”

That’s Apple in a nut.

Begging for App Ratings 

Speaking of The Loop magazine, I agree almost entirely with this piece from Wil Shipley, on “Rate This App” prompts in apps:

So good sense is required here. Part of the problem is that Apple hasn’t provided developers with any APIs to tell if users have rated our apps, or to make it possible for users to rate apps inside the app itself. This would obviously make it less intrusive for users.

Since Apple resets apps’ ratings with every tiny release, developers find themselves wanting to ask users over and over for ratings, since they get wiped out all the time. But no customer should be asked to rate an app twice — it’s like that clueless waiter asking a customer to tip twice.

After months of debate on this, my stance is mostly unchanged. But it’s worth clarifying what the problem is. The problem isn’t asking for a review (although it is a little uncouth, even once). The problem is asking repeatedly, with every single new version of the app. The correct solution is to put a “Rate This App” button or link next to your contact and support links, and but if you do prompt the user for the review with a dialog box, do it once and only once.

And as Shipley ably describes, the root problem is with Apple’s App Store design. It’s the App Store that resets an app’s ratings with each and every release. And it’s the App Store that makes ratings so essential to success. They’ve created a system that is easily gamed, and so, inevitably, some developers are gaming the system.

The Loop Magazine: Memories of Steve Jobs 

Jim Dalrymple:

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Steve Jobs and everything he did in his life, so I wanted to put together an issue of The Loop Magazine dedicated to Steve and his accomplishments. What better day to publish it than on Steve’s birthday.

Worth it for the stories from Don Melton alone, but the whole issue is good.

John Dingell to Retire After Nearly 60 Years in Congress 

Ashley Parker, reporting for The New York Times:

Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving member of Congress in history, announced on Monday that he would not seek re-election at the end of his current term.

Mr. Dingell’s retirement, first announced by Detroit newspapers and confirmed by Democratic leadership aides, will come at the end of this year — the end of his 29th full term — and represents the end of a historic tenure in the House that began in 1955. That year, Mr. Dingell, at the age of 29, succeeded his father after he died.

Think about that career: he started in Congress during the first term of the Eisenhower administration. This short video interview is good too, albeit rather depressing regarding his views on the ever-growing influence of money in politics.

Update: Philip Klein on the span of Dingell’s career:

Dingell was elected in the year Marty McFly visited his parents and final term ends in the year McFly travels to the future to save his kids.

Flappy Bird for Commodore 64 

LOAD"FLAPPY BIRD",8

Ford Sync Said to Drop Microsoft in Switch to BlackBerry 

Craig Trudell and Jeff Green, reporting for Bloomberg:

Ford Motor Co., struggling with in-car technology flaws, will base the next-generation Sync system on BlackBerry Ltd.’s QNX and no longer use Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, according to people briefed on the matter.

Using QNX will be less expensive than licensing Microsoft technology and will improve the flexibility and speed of the next Sync system, said the people, who declined to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public.

Steve Ballmer is rolling over in his grave.

Bloomberg: ‘Microsoft Said to Cut Windows Price 70 Percent to Counter Rivals’ 

Tim Culpan and Dina Bass, reporting for Bloomberg:

Microsoft Corp. is cutting the price of Windows 8.1 by 70 percent for makers of low-cost computers and tablets as they try to fend off cheaper rivals like Google Inc.’s Chromebooks, people familiar with the program said.

Manufacturers will be charged $15 to license Windows 8.1 and preinstall it on devices that retail for less than $250, instead of the usual fee of $50, said the people, who asked not to be named because the details aren’t public. The discount will apply to any products that meet the price limit, with no restrictions on the size or type of device, the people said.

And so begins the post-Ballmer, Satya Nadella era.

The Price Is Right 

Horace Dediu:

The result is plain to see: Caring about the product means that it can be priced at a point which consumers care to pay.

Trouble is, judging by how Apple is valued, nobody believes that this is sustainable. Regardless of the evidence within Apple’s own history, it’s the exception, not the rule and the bet continues to be that they cannot continue to remain an exception.

Is Apple going to continue to repeal the laws that govern its industry, as it has for decades, or will it, as the market expects, abide by them?

Three possibilities:

  1. Apple is exceptional.
  2. Apple was exceptional, but no longer is.
  3. Apple was simply exceptionally lucky, and luck always runs out.
Apple’s SSL/TLS Bug 

Adam Langley explains, largely in layman’s terms. You don’t need to understand cryptography at all, it’s a simple C bug. He’s also set up a simple test site to show if you’re affected — iOS 7.0.6 indeed is not, but Mac OS X 10.9.1 is. I expect a similarly focused Mac OS X security update imminently.

I’ve seen speculation that this may well be a bug that has been exploited by the NSA, and that it was uncovered by an internal Apple code review after seeing certain of the Snowden slides suggesting the NSA’s ability to intercept encrypted traffic. The tell-tale sign that it was uncovered internally: there’s no credit for reporting the issue on Apple’s security notice.

(I don’t want to start a coding-style war, but I think this bug would not have happened if the code had been written using curly braces after the if statements.)

Update: Landon Fuller (remember him?) argues that this bug should have been caught through unit testing.

An Event Apart 

My thanks to An Event Apart, the design conference for people who make websites, for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. An Event Apart is an intensely educational two-day learning session for passionate practitioners of standards-based web design. If you care about code as well as content, usability as well as design, An Event Apart is the conference for you.

An Event Apart has events this year across the U.S., including Boston, San Diego, Washington D.C., Chicago, Austin, Orlando, and San Francisco. I’ve attended a few times over the years, and in every regard — content, presentation, venue, food, even the design of the badges — An Event Apart is simply top-notch. Highly recommended.

WWE and Apple TV 

Nick Paglino, writing for Wrestle Zone:

When the WWE Network launches on Monday, WWE will be offering a free one week trial of the Network, and it should be noted that customers who are interested in the free trial will still have to provide credit card information. The actual Network subscription fee will be charged to the card you provide if you do not cancel the subscription before the trial period ends.

In related Network news, The Wrestling Observer is reporting one of the main reasons why it’s not being made available via the Apple TV is because Apple is demanding a 50% cut from all Network orders placed, whereas other streaming devices such as XBox and Roku are only taking a 30% cut.

Background (via DF reader Brian Papa): The Wrestling Observer is a highly-regarded long-standing subscriber-only newsletter; much of what they report is then re-reported by free sites like Wrestle Zone.

This strikes me as ominous, if it’s accurate. Apple has steadily stuck to a 70-30 split for digital content. That’s how they split music sales, apps, in-app purchases, and books. Why press for 50-50 on Apple TV? Especially since WWE could, presumably, launch an iPad app that uses AirPlay to stream to Apple TV. A native Apple TV channel is just a convenience for the user, not a reason for Apple to press for a bigger split.

My gut feeling is that there’s something wrong about this report.

Update: I missed this MacRumors story on February 3:

WWE Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson did, however, say that the service would also be available on “a connected device I am not allowed to mention at this press conference,” presumably alluding to the Apple TV. Attendees at the service’s introductory event were also given Apple TVs to take home.

I think the confusion here stems from a confidentiality agreement that prevents the WWE from saying anything about Apple TV until the channel actually launches in an Apple TV update — presumably sometime in the next few days.

Update 2: The WWE channel appeared in a software update for Apple TV on Monday, 24 February. So yeah, the report was wrong.

Harry McCracken on iOS’s App Advantage 

Harry McCracken:

The current situation seems to me to be a largely happy one for both iOS and Android users. They’re two great platforms, each with some unique strengths and access to vast quantities of apps. But it’s not the scenario long predicted by the market share ūber alles crowd. And there aren’t even any isolated incidents that should set off little alarms in Apple’s head — a hot app or a big company announcing that it’s decided to go Android-first.

It’s a good piece, but the headline — “The Smartphone App Wars Are Over, and Apple Won” — oversells it. Nothing here is “over”. The point is, though, iOS continues to be the leading mobile developer platform, despite years of predictions of impending market-share-imposed doom. A better headline would be this line from McCracken’s piece: “Android’s gain has not been iOS’s loss.” That is the central fact that market share fanatics can’t get through their heads.

Look at PCs. Windows still has an overwhelming monopoly-sized market share. Mac OS X has better apps. iOS has way more users than Mac OS X has. If apps on the Mac can thrive in the face of Windows, apps on iOS can thrive in the face of Android. These Church of Market Share fanatics act as though the Mac died in 1997.

Most developers who want to make artistically great mobile apps make them for the iPhone; users who want artistically great apps buy iPhones. Back in 2002, my colleague Brent Simmons wrote the following on why he was writing Mac apps despite Windows’s market share:

One of the reasons I develop for OS X is that, when it comes to user interface, this is the big leagues, this is the show. That’s probably what Joel would call an “emotional appeal” — and to call it that, that’s fine by me.

TestFlight Owner Burstly Acquired by Apple 

Speaking of Apple and small acquisitions:

Apple spokesperson Kristin Huguet provided the following, which is as close to a confirmation as Apple ever gets: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

In a shocking development, TestFlight shut down support for Android earlier this week.

Tim Cook on Big Acquisitions: ‘We Have No Problem Spending Ten Figures for the Right Company’ 

Re: the previous item, here’s Tim Cook just 15 days ago:

WSJ: Apple has never made a billion-dollar acquisition. Google is snapping up everyone including your old friends at Nest. Does this alter how you think about bigger deals?

Cook: We’ve looked at big companies. We don’t have a predisposition not to buy big companies. The money is also not burning a hole in our pocket where we say let’s make a list of 10 and pick the best one. We’re not doing that. We have no problem spending ten figures for the right company that’s the right and that’s in the best interest of Apple in the long-term. None. Zero.

But we’re not going to go out and buy something for the purposes of just being big. Something that makes more fantastic products, something that’s very strategic — all these things are of interest and we’re always looking regardless of size.

So maybe my pointing out that Apple has never made a big acquisition like WhatsApp is irrelevant. Cook makes very clear that Apple would if it wanted to, if it were “very strategic”. I think my point stands though, that iMessage and FaceTime have Apple’s interests covered strategically.

Perhaps a better example based on observation of Apple’s history: I can’t recall Apple ever buying a competitor just to eliminate the competition. Facebook is taking an “If you can’t beat them, own them” approach. Apple doesn’t do that. They only make acquisitions that integrate.

Hello, iMessage? 

Jessica Lessin, in her weekly column for The Information (paywall):

As Google and Facebook vie to buy fast-growing apps for billions, I have one big question: Where is everyone else?

If Google and Facebook believe WhatsApp and messaging are strategic enough to pay $19 billion or more to own them, what are Apple, Amazon, Samsung or Twitter thinking? (Let’s ignore the fact that WhatsApp may not have wanted to sell to them and think of it from the point of view of how hard these companies should have tried to buy the startup.)

Perhaps they see themselves as being in different businesses. Or they think Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg are a little bit nuts. Time will tell on the second, but I think the verdict on the first is already clear.

I’m sure Apple never even considered acquiring WhatsApp. For one thing, Apple has never done a mega-billion-dollar acquisition. They tend to buy small companies. But for another, what could WhatsApp offer Apple? They already have iMessage, which has (I’m guessing here) at least 200 million users, and sends over 3 billion messages per day. (Sources for guesses: in June 2012, Apple claimed 140 million iMessage users; a year ago, they claimed 2 billion messages per day. I haven’t been able to find more recent numbers; if you can, let me know.) FaceTime offers video and audio calls; WhatsApp has neither. Apple has exactly the messaging platform it wants: one that adds value to its hardware products. And, with the App Store, it has a software platform that means its users also can freely use WhatsApp, Line, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM — whatever.

The other thing that struck me about Lessin’s piece: she didn’t even list Microsoft among those companies.

iOS 7.0.6 

Fixes a serious security flaw:

Impact: An attacker with a privileged network position may capture or modify data in sessions protected by SSL/TLS

Description: Secure Transport failed to validate the authenticity of the connection. This issue was addressed by restoring missing validation steps.

Cuteness Where You Least Expect It 

John Teti, writing for The AV Club, on the design of Threes’s tutorial:

It takes confidence to soft-pedal the actual tutorial content. Too many mainstream game studios build their opening tutorials to leave no possibility of misunderstanding — they browbeat you out of fear that you won’t get it. Vollmer and Wohlwend instead designed the beginning of Threes in a way that encourages organic understanding. The game assumes that there’s a reasonably intelligent and playful person on the other end of the line.

Matt Taibbi Bids Adieu to Rolling Stone 

Sign of the times: Matt Taibbi is leaving Rolling Stone to start a new publication for First Look Media. Big loss for Rolling Stone.

Chitika Reports on Chrome OS Web Traffic Share (Spoiler: It’s Minuscule) 

New Chitika report pegs Chrome OS’s share of North American web traffic at 0.2 percent.

See previously: here and here.

J2ME and WhatsApp 

TextIt, “Your Path to a $16B Exit? Build a J2ME App”:

That was the genius of WhatsApp really, they recognized that messaging apps are all about network effects and instead of focusing on the comparatively small market of the ‘developed world’, instead targeted the other 3 billion people who don’t have smartphones. And at that they have been supremely successful.

If you are anywhere apart from the States, WhatsApp is the de facto standard for messaging. Here in Rwanda, it has far more penetration than Facebook, it is used by literally everybody who has a capable device. That came about not by having some edgy new user interface, or by a gimmick around disappearing messages, but by providing real value, value that can be measured in the pocketbook of a market that is massively under served.

So the next time you are thinking about “putting a dent in the universe”, maybe you should look a bit farther, and maybe, just maybe you should start with a J2ME app.

I think they’re right that building apps for all phones is what got WhatsApp to 450 million users and the attention of Zuckerberg. I don’t think the lesson holds for any other sort of app. It was an opportunity unique to messaging.

(And WhatsApp didn’t start with a J2ME app — they started with an iPhone app.)

Vintage iPhone Claim Chowder 

Bill Ray, writing for The Register in late December 2006:

Apple will launch a mobile phone in January, and it will become available during 2007. It will be a lovely bit of kit, a pleasure to behold, and its limited functionality will be easy to access and use.

The Apple phone will be exclusive to one of the major networks in each territory and some customers will switch networks just to get it, but not as many as had been hoped.

As customers start to realise that the competition offers better functionality at a lower price, by negotiating a better subsidy, sales will stagnate. After a year a new version will be launched, but it will lack the innovation of the first and quickly vanish.

Oftentimes pundits can accurately predict almost exactly what Apple will do, but are incredibly wrong about how customers will react to it. By December 2006, there were very strong signs that an Apple mobile phone was imminent, and Ray got it almost exactly right: exquisite design, exclusive to one carrier.

The rest, not so much.

Mapping Ukraine’s Crisis 

Max Fisher, writing for The Washington Post:

Ukraine’s ethno-linguistic political division is sort of like the United States’ “red America” and “blue America” divide, but in many ways much deeper — imagine if red and blue America literally spoke different languages. The current political conflict, which at its most basic level is over whether the country will lean toward Europe or toward Russia, is part of a long-running and unresolved national identity crisis. Yes, it’s also about Yanukovych’s failures to fix the economy and his draconian restrictions against basic freedoms. But there’s so much more to it than that, which helps make the crisis so intractable.

Benedict Evans on WhatsApp 

Benedict Evans:

Second, the winner-takes-all dynamics of social on the desktop web do not appear to apply on mobile, and if there are winner-takes-all dynamics for mobile social it’s not yet clear what they are. There are four main aspects to this:

  • Smartphone apps can access your address book, bypassing the need to rebuild your social graph on a new service
  • They can access your photo library, where uploading photos to different websites is a pain
  • They can use push notifications instead of relying on emails and on people bothering to check multiple websites
  • Crucially, they all get an icon on the home screen.

Any smartphone app is just two taps away - a desktop site can crush a new competitor by adding it as a feature with a new menubar icon but on mobile there isn’t room to do that. Mobile tends to favor single-purpose, specialized apps.

On the second point, it’s not just that mobile apps have access to your photo library, it’s also that the device is the user’s camera. That enables mobile apps not just access to photos you have already taken, but also to photos you are taking right now, in the moment. In the pre-mobile world, you did stuff with photos hours or even days after you took them. Today, you do stuff with them moments after taking them.

Facebook as a Conglomerate 

Kara Swisher:

It’s a little like deciding to be Disney, said one source, owning all the good content brands. If Facebook is Disney (by the way, its COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is on the entertainment giant’s board), then Instagram is the Disney Channel (the kids love it!) and WhatsApp is ESPN (everyone loves it!).

This Facebook effort has stopped and started at the company, but insiders have been saying a lot recently that the goal is now to break out all the various functions of the whole service into big mobile apps. Hence, Messenger. And news-reader Paper. And, of course, the purchase of photo-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion, which now seems like a bargain.

Om Malik Steps Away From Day-to-Day Journalism 

Om Malik:

Living a 24-hour news life has come at a personal cost. I still wake in middle of the night to check the stream to see if something is breaking, worrying whether I missed some news.

It is a unique type of addiction that only a few can understand, and it is time for me to opt out of this non-stop news life. After five years as a “venture partner,” I am joining True Ventures as a partner, and thus bringing an end to my life as a professional journalist.

As a friend, I’m happy for him. As a reader, I’m going to miss seeing his byline.

The Verge Reviews the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 

Watching the video, I find all of Samsung’s interface customizations impenetrable. I don’t particularly care for the standard Android UI, but it’s easy to grasp. Samsung’s implementation of multiple apps on screen at once looks like a mess. It seems more complex, by far, than Mac OS X or Windows. It seems like a worst-of-both-worlds product. The “5.9” bottom-line score is dreadfully low by Verge standards.

My guess is that the thinking behind this product went no further than “We’ve had success making high-end big-ass phones, so let’s make a high-end big-ass tablet.”

‘Ukraine Burning’ 

Riveting, informative documentary from Vice News. 30 minutes well-spent if, like me, you found yourself woefully under-informed about the protests in Kiev and across Ukraine.

See also: This interview with Vice reporter Henry Langston, on the street in Kiev, on the escalating violence and death toll. Protestors are being shot to death by the police.

Four Numbers That Explain Why Facebook Acquired WhatsApp 

Jim Goetz, writing on behalf of WhatsApp investor Sequoia Capital:

Jan keeps a note from Brian taped to his desk that reads “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!” It serves as a daily reminder of their commitment to stay focused on building a pure messaging experience.

This discipline is reflected in WhatsApp’s unconventional approach to business. After one year of free use, the service costs $1 per year — with no SMS charges. This can save users trapped in expensive data plans up to $150 per year.

It’s easy to take this novel model for granted. When we first partnered with WhatsApp in January 2011, it had more than a dozen direct competitors, and all were supported by advertising. (In Botswana alone there were 16 social messaging apps). Jan and Brian ignored conventional wisdom. Rather than target users with ads — an approach they had grown to dislike during their time at Yahoo — they chose the opposite tack and charged a dollar for a product that is based on knowing as little about you as possible. WhatsApp does not collect personal information like your name, gender, address, or age. Registration is authenticated using a phone number, a significant innovation that eliminates the frustration of remembering a username and password. Once delivered, messages are deleted from WhatsApp’s servers.

The company only has 32 engineers on staff. So they have roughly 14 million active users per engineer, and the company’s acquisition price works out to $500 million per engineer. That’s simply astounding.

The article doesn’t make clear whether WhatsApp was running in the black, or what percent of those 450 million active users have signed up for the $1/year subscription. But it sounds like they’ve built a service that can profitably scale to serve everyone for just $1 per year, with no ads — through solid engineering, staying lean and mean staffing-wise, and focusing on simply making users happy through simplicity and reliability.

I don’t know if Facebook was smart to pay $16 billion for them, but bravo to the WhatsApp team for building something amazing, and cutting against the grain of the Valley’s conventional wisdom.

Facebook to Buy WhatsApp for $16+ Billion 

Mike Isaac, reporting for Recode:

Facebook plans to acquire the messaging service WhatsApp, the company announced on Wednesday.

The move marks the social giant’s biggest acquisition to date, as Facebook paid $16 billion in cash and stock for the company. In addition, the deal includes another $3 billion in restricted stock units for WhatsApp employees, which will vest over a period of time.

“WhatsApp is on a path to connect 1 billion people. The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement.

That’s a lot of money.

Samsung Goes Back to Trashing Apple With Latest Commercials 

Chris Welch, The Verge:

After some innovative advertising campaigns, Samsung’s latest commercials once again find the company setting its sights on Apple.

I love that “innovative advertising campaigns” link:

  1. The ads in question were for the Galaxy Gear watch, a product to which Apple has no competitor.
  2. One of the two spots was widely panned as a blatant ripoff of Apple’s “Hello” commercial that ran during the Oscars telecast.
Steve Perlman Unveils ‘pCell’ Wireless Networking 

Cade Metz, reporting for Wired:

Steve Perlman is ready to give you a personal cell phone signal that follows you from place to place, a signal that’s about 1,000 times faster than what you have today because you needn’t share it with anyone else.

Perlman — the iconic Silicon Valley inventor best known for selling his web TV company to Microsoft for half a billion dollars — started work on this new-age cellular technology a decade ago, and on Wednesday morning, he’ll give the first public demonstration at Columbia University in New York, his alma mater. Previously known as DIDO, the technology is now called pCell — short for “personal cell” — and judging from the demo Perlman gave us at his lab in San Francisco last week, it works as advertised, streaming video and other data to phones with a speed and a smoothness you’re unlikely to achieve over current cell networks.

“It’s a complete rewrite of the wireless rulebook,” says Perlman, who also helped Apple create QuickTime, the technology that brought video to the Macintosh. “Since the invention of wireless, people have moved around the coverage area. Now, the coverage area follows you.”

Yes, please.

Google Suggests Dos and Don’ts for Glass Users 

Under “Don’ts”:

Be creepy or rude (aka, a “Glasshole”). Respect others and if they have questions about Glass don’t get snappy. Be polite and explain what Glass does and remember, a quick demo can go a long way. In places where cell phone cameras aren’t allowed, the same rules will apply to Glass. If you’re asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well. Breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass and will ruin it for other Explorers.

I’m thinking there’s a problem here, if Google needs to expressly tell people not to be creepy. Got to give them credit for embracing “glasshole” though.

(Via Nick Bilton, who got “glasshole” to run on the New York Times website, and who found the ideal photo to accompany his post.)

BlackBerry CEO John Chen Responds to T-Mobile’s Campaign Encouraging BlackBerry Users to Switch to iPhone 

This has turned into a controversy generating lots of coverage — just look at it all. But should anyone be surprised? BlackBerry is hemorrhaging users, their bet-the-company next-generation OS is a complete flop, and the company is heading toward bankruptcy. T-Mobile is thinking, “Hey, if these customers are going to switch, let’s make sure they switch to another phone but stick with us as their carrier.”

It sucks to be BlackBerry, but T-Mobile didn’t do anything “outrageous”.

AnandTech: The Pixel Density Race and Its Technical Merits 

Joshua Ho:

While 1440p will undoubtedly make sense for certain cases, it seems hard to justify such a high resolution within the confines of a phone, and that’s before 4K displays come into the equation. While no one can really say that reaching 600 PPI is purely for the sake of marketing, going any further is almost guaranteed to be for marketing purposes.

A few readers have pointed out the similarities to the megapixel race in the camera industry, which has thankfully subsided. Only up to a certain point is higher pixel density definitely better.

‘The Semicolon’s Breezy Informality’ 

Matthew Kassel, writing for The New York Observer:

A period could very well have worked there, but as Ben Crair observes in the New Republic, they often seem too severe; and exclamation points, the kudzu of punctuation in the digital age, might make you feel like an overenthusiastic phony. But the semicolon’s breezy informality, for me, captures the unstructured, colloquial nature of digital correspondence more so than any other punctuation mark out there.

(Via Felix Salmon.)

Tinytype: A Compatibility Table Showing the Available Default System Fonts Across Different Mobile Platforms 

If this game were golf, Android would win.

Ad Age on Apple and Amazon 

Kate Kaye, reporting for Ad Age:

The lack of data both companies deliver is frustrating for marketers because these notoriously opaque giants sit atop incredible troves of information about what consumers actually buy and like, as well as who they are and where they live. One person familiar with the situation exec said Apple’s refusal to share data makes it the best-looking girl at the party, forced to wear a bag over her head.

Interesting take on Apple’s advertising initiatives, but it seems like the ad industry just doesn’t get it that Apple cares more about its customers — their experience, their privacy — than the advertisers. I also detect a sense of entitlement — not just that they want this personal information, but that they think they should have it.

‘Johnny Carson’, by Henry Bushkin 

And speaking of Carson, I’ve devoured this book by Carson’s long-time attorney and friend, Henry Bushkin. A guilty pleasure, if ever I’ve read one. It’s on iTunes too, of course.

Jimmy Fallon Kicks Off The Tonight Show 

Speaking of Lorne Michaels, here’s Jimmy Fallon’s first monologue as host of The Tonight Show, now broadcasting from New York for the first time since Johnny Carson moved the show to Burbank in 1972.

See also: this sharp piece by Owen Gleiberman for Entertainment Weekly: “Jimmy Fallon: More Than Jay or Dave, He Could Be a New Johnny Carson”.

In Conversation: SNL’s Lorne Michaels 

Great interview by Lane Brown for Vulture.

Other Leaked Galaxy S5 Specs 

The rumored display is rather astounding: 5.25 inches, 2560 × 1440 pixels, with a density of 560 pixels per inch. That’s more total pixels than a retina iPad. I know it’s AMOLED, and that means the sub-pixel count is a bit wacky, but still, that’s a ton of pixels. 2560 × 1440 is the same pixel count as Apple’s 27-inch Thunderbolt Display.

At what point do you reach the point where the pixels are small enough? Apple has defined “retina display” as meaning that individual pixels are no longer discernible from a typical viewing distance. Is it worth it — in terms of cost and battery life — to shrink pixels to the point where they are no longer discernible with the naked eye from any distance? I’m genuinely curious to see this display in person.

‘VHS vs. Communism’ 

Ilinca Calugareanu:

I was raised in Romania in the 1980s, under a Communist regime that, among countless repressions, reduced television to two hours a day of dull propaganda, traditional music, patriotic poems and censored films. One day when I was 6, my parents found a way to borrow a VCR. They invited their friends, and all night they watched grainy VHS tapes of Hollywood B-movies. I remember the films, but more so I remember how I felt when I stepped into the living room — like walking into a secret, magical and free world.

All the dialogue on these movies was dubbed into Romanian in a husky, high-pitched woman’s voice. Throughout my childhood, these films provided a glimpse into the forbidden West, resplendent with blue jeans, Coke and skyscrapers. As Hollywood movies became ubiquitous through the black market, this voice became one of the most recognizable in Romania. Yet no one knew who she was.

After the 1989 revolution I learned the true story, which I present here in this Op-Doc video.

Rumor: Upcoming Galaxy S5 to Feature Fingerprint Sensor Built Into Home Button 

SamMobile:

The sensor itself works in a swipe manner, which means that you would need to swipe the entire pad of your finger, from base to tip, across the home key to register your fingerprint properly. Also, you would need to keep your finger flat against the home key and swipe at a moderate speed or else it won’t recognise your fingerprint. The fingerprint sensor is sensitive to moisture, as well. So, don’t try to use it with wet fingers because it will, literally, give you an error and tell you to dry your fingers first.

Swipe sensors have a bad reputation for being finicky, but we shall see. (Don’t miss the comments on this article; they’re a hoot.)

Mozilla Plans to Sell Ads in Firefox Browser 

Reuters:

Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox Internet browser, will start selling ads as it tries to grab a larger slice of the fast-expanding online advertising market.

Nice, simple, clear English. Mozilla is going to sell ads in Firefox. OK.

Now go to Mozilla’s own weblog, where they announced this with the headline “Publisher Transformation with Users at the Center”. What a pile of obtuse horseshit. If you want to sell ads, sell ads. Own it. Don’t try to coat it with a layer of frosting and tell me it’s a fucking cupcake.

The Plus in Google Plus 

Claire Cain Miller, writing for the NYT (ran on the front page of yesterday’s print edition):

The value of Plus has only increased in the last year, as search advertising, Google’s main source of profits, has slowed. At the same time, advertising based on the kind of information gleaned from what people talk about, do and share online, rather than simply what they search for, has become more important.

The conventional wisdom about Google is that they’re selling our privacy to advertisers. That’s no longer a fringe opinion — it’s the consensus. They’re breeding resentment.

Mary Jo Foley: ‘Microsoft Office on iPad: It’s Alive and Coming Sooner Than Most Think’ 

From what I’ve heard, Office for iPad is impressive. It’s been held up chiefly by internal politics.

IP Camera Recorder 

My thanks to DComplex for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote IP Camera Recorder, their video surveillance app for the Mac. It’s a powerful app that lets you monitor remote video cameras — everything from just one camera, to several cameras installed across multiple locations.

You can review recorded video easily using one-click replay. Use the companion iPhone app or a web browser to monitor your cameras from anywhere, at any time.

Download the free trial today, and for the month of February, Daring Fireball readers can save 10% off the regular price using coupon “DFEB”.

Microsoft vs. Microsoft 

Ben Thompson:

So to summarize, Office is not available everywhere, and probably won’t be anytime soon, because Microsoft has a devices business to prop up. Oh, and Microsoft’s business needs are a priority over user needs. Tell me, Frank, how is that a safe bet?

Greenpeace Praises Apple for Reducing Use of Conflict Minerals 

Chris O’Brien, reporting for the LA Times:

“Apple’s increased transparency about its suppliers is becoming a hallmark of Tim Cook’s leadership at the company,” said Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Tom Dowdall in a statement. “Apple has flexed its muscles in the past to push suppliers to remove hazardous substances from products and provide more renewable energy for data centers, and it is proving the same model can work to reduce the use of conflict minerals.”

Times change.

HTC ‘Actively Exploring’ KitKat Update for One X, Blames Nvidia for Delay 

HTC has no one to blame but themselves.

‘Construction Kit Food’ 

This week’s episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, featuring special guest Jason Fried. Topics include 37signals’ decision to rebrand as Basecamp and focus on just one product, aligning customer interests with your business interests, the future of sports broadcasting, the problem with restaurant fajitas, and more.

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iOS Dominates Enterprise Market 

File this one under “Ways that iOS-vs.-Android is not like Mac-vs.-Windows”.

Apple’s 2014 Supplier Responsibility Report 

Honest question: Does any other device maker issue reports like this?

Typeset in the Future: ‘Moon’ 

Two posts in and Dave Addey’s Typeset in the Future is making a play for my favorite website of the year. So great.

Making Signo 

Rui Abreu on the design of his typeface Signo:

At this point I was thinking too much in terms of ‘reverse contrast.’ I was going for a logical, mathematical approach, so my objectives were being reduced to the mere reversal of the conventional ratio between thicks and thins. And sure enough, the results were quite simply ugly letters (not shown here). Reversing the contrast, felt more and more like an arbitrary act, an imposed mathematical inversion of a basic optical principle of letter forms. In Signo, I was trying to find a way to make this feel natural. How could a reverse contrast typeface be designed in a way that felt natural?

Excluding Cash, Google Is Now More Valuable Than Apple 

Ashraf Eassa:

To put this in perspective, Apple trades at 7.7x EV/FCF while Google trades at 30.3x EV/FCF. Now, Google and Apple aren’t exactly operating in the same businesses, and frankly, Google’s business is “safer” than Apple’s, but this valuation gap is pretty ridiculous and indicative of one thing: the market expects Google’s free cash flow to grow “to da moon” and Apple’s to, at some point, crater as a result of competitive pressures of secular headwinds.

I don’t know that anyone’s business is ever “safe” in technology. And Google isn’t making nearly as much from mobile advertising as they do from desktop browsers. I think the market has this wrong.

‘Hemingway’ on Hemingway 

Mark Liberman, writing at Language Log:

Several people have written to me about the so-called “Hemingway” app, which offers to give you detailed stylistic advice about your writing. One useful way to evaluate programs of this kind is to see what they do with good writing — and given this effort’s name, it makes sense to check out its opinion about the prose of Ernest Hemingway.

‘Highly Secretive’ 

Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica:

The least understood area of the Android ecosystem has always been the highly secretive Google Play Apps licensing process. While Android is open source, the Google applications, like the Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play Services, and others must be licensed. This licensing agreement is called the “Mobile Application Distribution Agreement” (MADA) and comes with tons of restrictions. Previously, MADA details have come out of the Skyhook case, but those agreements were from 2009, a time when Android was only at version 1.1. Thanks to the still ongoing Oracle v. Google trial, a “new” version of the Google App licensing agreement has been made public.

Don’t forget the patent licensing fees Android handset makers pay to Microsoft.

After 15 Months, Windows 8 Has Sold 100 Million Fewer Copies Than Windows 7 

Almost bad enough for the CEO to lose his job. Oh, wait.

(Interesting how the first six months track identically — OEM contracts guaranteed in advance?)

Comcast Wants to Buy Time Warner Cable for $44 Billion 

Like two dinosaurs screwing in the hopes of making an even bigger dinosaur.

Apple Passes Microsoft 

Ben Evans:

A symbolic moment, this: in Q4 2013 the number of computers sold by Apple was larger than the number of Windows PC sold globally. If you add Windows Phone to the mix they’re more or less exactly equal.

Derek Jeter Announces This Season to Be His Last 

Nothing lasts forever.

Analyst: Apple Took 87 Percent of Phone Handset Profits Last Quarter 

Patrick Seitz, reporting for Investors.com:

Apple and Samsung continue to soak up all the industry’s profits, McCourt says. Apple claimed 87.4% of phone earnings before interest and taxes in the fourth quarter, he said. Samsung took in 32.2% of industry profits. Because their combined earnings were higher than the industry’s total earnings as a result of many vendors losing money in Q4, Apple and Samsung mathematically accounted for more than 100% of the industry’s earnings.

That’s not even close to 100 percent. The rest of the industry is bleeding money. Makes me wonder what Apple’s share of tablet profits is. They’re like a profit monopolist — which, to my knowledge, is not actually a monopoly in any legal sense. Antitrust laws are set up for a world where market share and profit share are strongly correlated, which is not the case with Apple.

(Via Matt Yglesias.)

Weekend Read 1.0 

New screenplay reader for the iPhone from Quote-Unquote Apps. Screenplays are notoriously difficult to read on a small screen, because the format is tied to 8.5 × 11 pages. Weekend Read cleverly reflows PDF text, yet keeps in a recognizable screenplay style. Works with Fountain, Final Draft, and just plain Markdown files, too. Free for up to 4 documents at a time, $10 in-app-purchase to unlock unlimited documents. (Clever business model — a way to do “try before you buy” in the App Store.)

Beautiful Pixels on Vesper 

Mikhail Madnani:

Vesper is not just a minimal notes app for iPhone. It is one of the most polished pieces of software I have ever used.

28 Days of Fame: The Strange, True Story of ‘Flappy Bird’ 

Christina Warren, detailing the entire Flappy Bird story in splendid detail:

Much of the data surrounding Flappy Bird and its viral success came courtesy of Zach Williams, a developer who analyzed the numbers behind the game. […]

The game’s sheer success has led some critics to accuse Nguyen of using shady practices — including buying traffic or paying for fake reviews — in order to help Flappy Bird ascend the app charts. After looking at the data that corresponds to when Flappy Bird started to build word-of-mouth buzz, however, we can’t find any signs of impropriety, or manipulation of reviews or ratings.

The fact that Flappy Bird wasn’t a scam — but a naturally occurring spectacle that came out of nowhere — only makes its triumph that much more incredible and its removal from the App Store that much more bittersweet.

By January 25, there were 500,000 tweets per day containing “Flappy Bird”.

Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen Says App ‘Gone Forever’ Because It Was ‘An Addictive Product’ 

Lan Anh Nguyen, reporting for Forbes from Hanoi, where she interviewed Dong Nguyen:

The circumstances surrounding the interview, conducted in Vietnamese, were as much of a soap opera as his public ruminations about whether to take down the app. The interview with Forbes took place in a hotel in Hanoi, with a strict condition that Forbes not reveal Nguyen’s face. It was delayed several hours, in part because Nguyen had a sudden meeting with Vietnam’s deputy prime minister Vu Duc Dam — a remarkable turn of events for someone unknown a week ago. Nguyen says his parents didn’t even know that Flappy Bird existed, much less his role in it, until media coverage spun out of control in the past few days.

The 29-year-old, who sports a close-cropped haircut, appeared stressed. He smoked several cigarettes over the course of the 45-minute interview, and doodled monkey heads on a pad of paper.

(“Nguyen” is the most common surname in Vietnam; I presume the two are not related.)

‘These People Are All Crazy’ 

Jeff Vogel, on the indie games world and the Flappy Bird saga:

For years now, the iTunes (and lately Google Play) app store has been this gigantic, rushing torrent of infinite money, and everyone has scrambled to grab their piece.

It’s the most soulless, joyless, metric-obsessed market/ethics-free-zone imaginable. There is nothing that can’t and won’t have all fun and creativity sucked out of it to earn an extra penny from the “whales” (i.e. compulsives) who will happily shell out a hundred bucks a month to get Candy Crush Saga to let them play Bejeweled. (Hot tip: Uninstall Candy Crush Saga and play all the Bejeweled you want forever ad-free for three bucks.)

So for the last couple weeks, people, when they weren’t raging about EA’s pillaging all of their happy memories of Dungeon Keeper, were noting the runaway success of a tiny, free, ad-supported game called Flappy Bird.

Interesting to think about this aspect of the App Store in the context of the previous item, on the lack of alignment between Real Networks’ profits and their users’ best interests.

The Graph That Changed Jon Bell 

Jon Bell of UX Launchpad, on his time at Real Networks a decade ago:

One day my manager showed me a horrible graph. It was pretty simple: the graph was steady, then it dropped straight down, then after a short period, the line shot straight back up and stayed level again.

“That’s what happens when we do the right thing”, he said while pointing at the drop, “and that’s how much money we lose. We tried it just to see how bad it was for our bottom line. And this is what the data tells us.”

“Wow,” I said, taken aback. My employer clearly had two options: “do the right thing” or “be profitable”. That was the position they had maneuvered themselves into through a series of bad management decisions.

Once you’re backed into a corner like this, where your users’ happiness and satisfaction are no longer aligned with your revenue, you’ve already lost. It’s like the dark side of the Force — you should never even start down that path, or you’ll be corrupted.

Barnes and Noble Fired Its Entire Nook Hardware Engineering Staff 

Jay Yarow, Business Insider:

Barnes & Noble laid off its Nook hardware engineers, according to a source that tipped Business Insider.

The engineers were let go last Thursday, according to our source. This follows Barnes & Noble dismissing the VP of Hardware, Bill Saperstein in January.

The Nook was its answer to the Amazon’s Kindle. Barnes & Noble tried making a Nook e-reader, and a Nook tablet that competed with the iPad, and the Kindle Fire. It was a bold, and aggressive attempt to fend off the rise of Internet companies that were destroying booksellers.

Looks like it’s time for the Justice Department to go after Apple again.

How Big Is the iTunes Store? 

Horace Dediu:

On a yearly basis iTunes/Software/Services is nearly half of Google’s core business and growing slightly faster.

The iTunes “empire” of content and services would be ranked as number 130 in the Fortune 500 ranking of companies (slightly below Alcoa and above Eli Lilly).

Windows 8 Claim Chowder 

Zach Epstein, writing for BGR back in September 2011: “Sorry Apple, Windows 8 Ushers in the Post-Post-PC Era”:

Microsoft executives took to the stage at the annual BUILD developer conference on Tuesday to give the world its first real look at the future of the Windows operating system. The reception, as you’ve likely read by now, has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Apple bloggers were apparently so flustered by the platform that they resorted to bombarding Twitter with jokes about cooling fans and Silverlight instead of stopping for a moment to realize that Microsoft is showing us the future of computing.

Apple paved the way but Microsoft will get there first with Windows 8.

(Via John Moltz.)

‘Ken Turns Effect’ 

New episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, featuring special guest MG Siegler. We discuss Microsoft’s future under new CEO Satya Nadella, its past under Steve Ballmer, the design of Facebook’s new Paper app for the iPhone, and more.

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WSJ: ‘Nokia Prepares to Release Android Phone Ahead of Sale to Microsoft’ 

Sven Grundberg and Shira Ovide, reporting for the WSJ:

Nokia Corp. plans to release this month a smartphone that runs a version of Google Inc.’s Android mobile software, according to people familiar with the matter, as it concludes the sale of its handset business to Microsoft Corp.

Nokia engineers had been developing the Android phone when Microsoft was conducting due diligence on its €5.4 billion ($7.4 billion) deal to buy the Nokia handset business and license the company’s patents. The Android phone was aimed at emerging market customers, and has been tailored in a way that won’t promote some of the key Google-developed features that a more traditional Android-powered phone might, these people said.

Interesting to see what this turns out to be.

Paul Thurrott on Windows 8 

Simply scathing:

This is not open to debate, is not part of some cute imaginary world where everyone’s opinion is equally valid or whatever. Windows 8 is a disaster. Period.

While some Windows backers took a wait-and-see approach and openly criticized me for being honest about this, I had found out from internal sources immediately that the product was doomed from the get-go, feared and ignored by customers, partners and other groups in Microsoft alike. Windows 8 was such a disaster that Steven Sinofsky was ejected from the company and his team of lieutenants was removed from Windows in a cyclone of change that triggered a reorganization of the entire company. Even Sinofsky’s benefactor, Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer, was removed from office. Why did all this happen? Because together, these people set the company and Windows back by years and have perhaps destroyed what was once the most successful software franchise of all time.

Threes 

Speaking of iPhone games, a second one caught my attention this weekend: Threes. It’s a brilliant little math puzzle game, lots of fun, very clever, and featuring beautiful visual and sound design. (Loren Brichter: “This game is fantastic.”) Also, no in-app-purchase shenanigans. You pay $2 and you get a great game, that’s all.

Writing at Polygon, Ben Kuchera has the story of how the game was designed:

“It looks like the entire time we were striving for simplicity and minimalism, and that’s not true at all,” Wohlwend said. “That’s just where we ended up going. The game resisted complexity because it was such a small game, it was four by four grid, and numbers, and just the four directions. It always wanted to be simple.”

Flappy Bird 

I got caught up in the whole Flappy Bird thing over the weekend. I spend very little time playing games on my iPhone; Letterpress is the only game in recent memory that held my attention. But I spent an hour or so (total) on Flappy Bird over the past few days. I can’t see how anyone would deny that the game is ingenious — absurdly simple, looks easy, but is in fact devilishly difficult.

I really enjoyed and agree with this piece by Stephen Totilo for Kotaku. Something that should have been nothing but fun turned out sad.

Star Wars Reimagined as a John Hughes-ian ’80s High School Movie 

Brilliantly imagined by Denis Medri; my only quibble is that Vader as a bully loses the whole “I am your father” angle.

Rate Your Experience 

Penny Arcade, on “rate this app” chicanery.

On Forking Android 

Terrific piece by Peter Bright on the notion that Microsoft should abandon Windows Phone in favor of Android:

If Android were an open platform in the way that Firefox OS or Ubuntu for smartphones were an open platform, the forking suggestion would make more sense. The AOSP/GMS split wouldn’t exist. Everything would be in AOSP, so piecemeal substitution of back-end services without having to reinvent vast tracts of code and without any major compatibility implications would be practical.

But it isn’t. Not only is it not this kind of an open platform, but Google is actively working to make it functionally less open with each new release. The result is that a forker has to make a choice: they can give Google control and get the all the upsides of the platform, or they can snatch control from Google and get almost none of them.

Update: Two interesting comments on the Bright’s piece. The first, from “wffurr”, claims something I’ve seen reported before, but which I’m not sure Google has ever confirmed:

You left out Google’s licensing agreements with hardware manufacturers, which prohibits them from shipping incompatible (read non-GMS containing) Android devices based on AOSP code AND GMS devices. Basically, a hardware OEM will have all GMS applications rejected if they build an AOSP-based device for a different software vendor. Amazon has had to shop around a lot to find an OEM for the Kindle — it has to be an OEM with no ambitions of becoming their own Android brand.

If true, this rule wouldn’t affect any plans Microsoft might have for a Nokia Android fork, because Nokia doesn’t make or want to make GMS (“Google experience”) Android phones. But this rule would pose a problem for a company like Samsung, if they wanted to shift away from GMS and move toward their own fork of Android. They’d have to do it all at once — they couldn’t ease into with just a few devices.

Second, this lengthy comment — an article unto itself, length-wise — from Google employee Dianne Hackborn, who works on the Android team. Hackborn took Bright’s piece as a critique of Google’s motives. I took it more along the lines of making the case for just how much work it entails to fork Android and create a top-tier ecosystem.

The Institutional Bigotry Michael Sam Faces in the NFL 

Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans, reporting for Sports Illustrated:

While none of the executives overtly condemned Sam’s decision, their opinions illuminated an NFL culture in which an openly gay player — from the draft room to the locker room — faces long odds and a lonely path.

The executives and coaches were granted anonymity by SI.com for their honesty. Their answers were consistently unsparing.

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

Why not print the actual slur here? It’s an ugly, jarring word, but bigotry is ugly. “To call someone a faggot is still so commonplace.” That’s the NFL. I think it’s pretty clear that it’s the NFL culture, that accepts this status quo, that is chemically unbalanced.

All the NFL personnel members interviewed believed that Sam’s announcement will cause him to drop in the draft. He was projected between the third and seventh rounds prior to the announcement. The question is: How far will he fall?

“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?’”

Did any of these owners watch 42? Is there anyone who thinks today that the Brooklyn Dodgers made a mistake “breaking that barrier” when they signed Jackie Robinson? (The big difference of course, is that Robinson was an All-Star, Hall of Fame caliber player. He’d have been a standout in a color-blind era. Michael Sam isn’t projected to be that caliber of player.)

NFL Prospect Michael Sam Proudly Says What Teammates Knew: He’s Gay 

John Branch, reporting for The New York Times:

As the pace of the gay rights movement has accelerated in recent years, the sports industry has changed relatively little for men, with no publicly gay athletes in the N.F.L., the N.B.A., the N.H.L. or Major League Baseball. Against this backdrop, Mr. Sam could become a symbol for the country’s gay rights movement or a flash point in a football culture war — or both.

Mr. Sam, 24, is projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the N.F.L. draft in May, ordinarily an invitation to a prosperous pro career. He said he decided to come out publicly now because he sensed that rumors were circulating.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Mr. Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth.”

Love this line, from Outsports:

Asked if he was nervous about the step he is taking, Sam told people at a Saturday night dinner party at the Los Angeles home of publicist Howard Bragman: “You all are the ones who are nervous. I’m excited.”

I think we’ll see this more and more from young players, in all sports. They’ve grown up in a different and more accepting world. Today, we rightly celebrate this as a big deal. Soon (but not soon enough), it won’t be a deal at all.

Further Improvements to My Improved Liberal, Accurate Regex Pattern for Matching URLs 

Nerd note: back in 2010 I published a regular expression for matching URLs. I’ve since improved it, but never published the improvements until today. Henceforth, the up-to-date version will be available at this Gist.

New Relic 

My thanks to New Relic for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. New Relic provides real-time application performance monitoring for web and mobile applications. They make it super easy to get started — you can be up and running with a free demo (no credit card required) in just five minutes. They provide a ton of data, presented in a beautiful, well-designed interface. New Relic makes it easy to spot bottlenecks and isolate bugs.

Again, you can get started free of charge, and it takes just minutes to deploy. Check it out and see for yourself.

WSJ Interview With Tim Cook 

Excerpts from Daisuke Wakabayashi’s interview with Tim Cook:

WSJ: People want a bigger screen iPhone. Are you against that?

Cook: What we’ve said is that until the technology is ready, we don’t want to cross that line. That doesn’t say we’ll never do it. We want to give our customers what’s right in all respects — not just the size but in the resolution, in the clarity, in the contrast, in the reliability. There are many different parameters to measure a display and we care about all those, because we know that’s the window to the software.

“Until the technology is ready” is a very interesting answer.

WSJ: Will the smartphone market follow the PC market, where Apple is a niche player?

Cook: I don’t view it that way. There are several reasons. If you look back at the Mac/Windows battle that was going on at the time, you’d find that one of the things that was the catalyst for separating Mac from Windows share was applications. There was a vast, vast difference in the number of applications that was available for the Macintosh than what was available on Windows. Over time, that gap grew and grew and grew. And in fact, the Mac began to lose some key applications. We have over a million apps on iOS. We have over half-million that have been optimized for iPad. That half-million compares to 1,000 for Android tablets. That’s one of the reasons, although not the only reason, why the experience on Android tablets is so crappy because the app is nothing more than a stretched out smartphone app.

I love that he used the word “crappy”.

Speaking of the Sochi Olympics and iOS Devices 

Betabeat, yesterday: “Olympics Sponsor Samsung Asks Athletes to Cover Up Apple Logos”

Update: MacRumors reports:

In an email exchange with MacRumors today, an IOC spokesperson was asked about athletes being asked to cover non-Samsung logos on mobile devices. She responded saying the report was “not true”:

No it is not true. Athletes can use any device they wish during the Opening Ceremony. The normal rules apply just as per previous Games.

The Samsung Note 3 that were distributed are a gift to the athletes, so they can capture and share their experiences at the Games, and the phones also contain important competition and logistical information for competing athletes.

It is possible that Samsung requested that logos be covered, but it is not an official IOC request and athletes will not be penalized for using or displaying non-Samsung phones.

Update 2: Samsung denies it, too.

Update 3: Three-time Olympian Dominick Meichtry (Swiss swimmer) says on Twitter that he was asked to put duct tape on his phone at the 2012 summer games in London. So it’s not exactly unprecedented.

Follow the Money 

Ed Bott charts the revenue sources for Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

USA Bobsled and Skeleton Coaches Record and Analyze Their Athletes Using iPads 

The love affair is over.

Dungeon Keeper Stacks Deck in EA’s Favor When It Comes to Android Feedback 

Chris Plante, writing for Polygon:

It’s typical for an app to ask the player to submit a review after it’s been played for a few hours. A prompt appears, pointing to the app store, where the player can select 1 through 5 stars and leave a blurb of text.

In Dungeon Keeper, if the player selects the “1 - 4 Stars” option, they’re directed to a private feedback submission page. Only if the player selects the “5 Stars” option will they be taken to the Google Play page, where they can leave any rating they wish along with a blurb. The system is designed to make good feedback public and visible, and to allow EA to keep negative feedback hidden so it can be dealt with privately, or ignored entirely.

I’ve seen screenshots from a slew of apps — including Facebook — that use similar chicanery so that only users who intend to rate the app with five stars are actually forwarded on to the store. EA should be ashamed of themselves, but they’re far from alone.

In principle, these app store user ratings are a fine idea — but only in an ideal world where all such reviews are honest and legitimate. Here in the real world, developers are gaming the system.

Unlocked iPhones, the New International Currency 

Vernon Silver, writing for Businessweek:

I’ve been paying my bills with iPhones. Not with apps or on bank sites — I’ve been using the Apple hardware as currency.

It started by accident in December, during a business trip to New York. I live in Rome, where domestic work comes cheap and technology is expensive. An unlocked, gold, 32-gigabyte iPhone 5s that costs about $815 with tax in the U.S. goes for €839 (about $1,130) in Italy, roughly a month’s wages for workers who do laundry, pick up kids from school, or provide care for the elderly. When one worker heard I was visiting the States, she asked me to pick her up an iPhone in lieu of the equivalent cash for work she’d done. Lining up inside the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, I was surrounded by shoppers speaking languages from around the world. The salesman looked stunned when I said I wanted an unlocked iPhone. Just one?

Love Affair 

Zal Bilimoria, partner at Andreessen Horowitz, writing yesterday for Recode: “Our Love Affair With the Tablet Is Over”.

What I love best is that the headline says “the tablet”, not “tablets”, but then the article goes on to talk about a lot of non-iPad tablets. Tablets, in general, may well not be living up to Bilimoria’s expectations from a few years ago. The tablet, though, which is to say the iPad, is doing pretty well. Growth has slowed; in the just-completed holiday quarter, iPad sales were 26 million units, compared to 23 the year prior. But the notion that iPad usage isn’t growing — largely at the expense of Windows PCs — is silly.

This week-old tweet from Horace Dediu is as good a counterargument as any. Not just because of the data it presents, but what he used to make it.

Woz Thinks Apple Should Make an Android Phone 

DF reader Glen Turpin brought this to my attention on Twitter, asking “Does Woz have any idea what has made 21st century Apple successful?” Bless his heart, we all love him to death, but I don’t think Woz understands what has made Apple successful since 1984.

Apple Repurchases $14 Billion of Own Shares in 2 Weeks 

And Tim Cook granted an interview to Daisuke Wakabayashi of the WSJ:

Thursday, Mr. Cook reiterated that Apple plans to enter a new category this year. Apple watchers are speculating about wearable devices or a new television platform.

“There will be new categories. We’re not ready to talk about it, but we’re working on some really great stuff,” Mr. Cook said. When asked whether a new product category could mean an improvement on an existing product like an iPad Air, a lighter version of its tablet computer, or new services such as mobile payments, Mr. Cook declined to comment.

He said that anyone “reasonable” would consider what Apple is working on as new categories.

Update: Perspective on how big a $14 billion purchase is:

Apple spent $14 billion buying 3% of itself over the past two weeks, equivalent to roughly four Nests and a Motorola.

NBC News Runs Fraudulent Report on Network Security at Sochi Olympics 

Robert Graham, writing at Errata Security:

Yesterday NBC News ran a story claiming that if you bring your mobile phone or laptop to the Sochi Olympics, it’ll immediately be hacked the moment you turn it on. The story was fabricated. The technical details relate to going to the Olympics in cyberspace (visiting websites), not going to there in person and using their local WiFi.

The story shows Richard Engel “getting hacked” while in a cafe at Sochi. It is wrong in every respect.

  1. They aren’t actually in Sochi (they are in Moscow).
  2. The “hack” happens because of the websites they visit (Olympic themed websites), not their physical location. The results would’ve been the same in America.
  3. The phone didn’t “get” hacked; Richard Engel initiated the download of a hostile Android app onto his phone.

One of the devices was a brand new MacBook (which they opened like an animal), which was “hacked” when a website they visited told them to download some sort of malware masquerading as an antivirus utility. They downloaded it, launched it, and granted it an exception to Gatekeeper’s default rules, which would have prevented it from running. Pretty much the same “attack” as on the Android phone.

Ecosystem Math 

Benedict Evans:

Certainly, this isn’t ‘Windows versus Mac all over again’. There are now 490m iOS devices in use, but PCs only hit that number in around 2000, long after Apple lost the last ecosystem battle. Apple sold 51m iPhones last quarter - total PC sales in 1995 were 59.5m. That is, the iOS ecosystem now is much bigger than the winning ecosystem back then.

Even beyond that, all the other dynamics are different — the smartphone market is not driven by corporate buyers who demand commodity product based on bullet points and don’t care about design or user interfaces, for example. The relative market share of an ecosystem is relevant, but it’s not the only thing that’s relevant. We need also to think about value share, engagement share, and all the other dynamics that drive the viability of an ecosystem. The assertion that an ecosystem with close to 500m users now and over 800m in a few years will not be viable because there’s another that’s bigger seems pretty simplistic. It can’t be taken for granted that any ‘winner takes all’ dynamics will work like that.

The Best Photo Editing App for the iPhone 

Nick Heer says it’s VSCO Cam. It’s my favorite, too.

How the ‘Value Trap’ Squeezes Windows PC Makers’ Revenues and Profits 

Charles Arthur:

And how profitable are Macs on their own, even without that revenue stream? Apple doesn’t break out the figure for Mac profitability. But Horace Dediu of the Asymco consultancy reckons there’s a good-enough rule of thumb: assume that Macs have an 18.9% profit margin, which fits well enough with its historical operating margins.

That metric gives a hardware per-PC profit which has dropped from $241 to $232 — an erosion, certainly, but a margin that Windows PC makers would kill for: it’s more than 10 times greater than their per-PC profit.

Keep this in mind the next time you see someone say Apple “lost the PC war”, and risks repeating that same “mistake” with the iPhone and iPad.

Amazon Acquires Video Gaming Studio Double Helix Games 

Sarah Perez, reporting for AOL/TechCrunch:

Amazon has acquired a gaming studio called Double Helix Games, TechCrunch has learned, and Amazon now confirms. The deal was for both talent and IP, we understand. Financial terms have not been disclosed.

The Irvine, California-based company, founded in 2007 through the merger of two well-known game development shops, The Collective, Inc. and Shiny Entertainment, today employs 75 people who will now become Amazon employees and will continue to operate out of their Orange County home.

Lends credence to the rumors that Amazon is preparing its own TV console device.

Rookie: Sports Stories Told by the Players, Coaches, and Insiders 

New sports site from the team behind Devour and Uncrate, with a novel premise: Rookie’s editors pick a topic and accompanying photo, then curate a thread of comments related to the story. Like a lot of great ideas, it’s very simple, but like nothing I’ve seen before.

(I do not want to know what it cost to score the “rookie.com” domain name.)

Microsoft Employees Fondly Remember Days When CEOs Were So Big They Took Up Entire Rooms 

The Onion, apt, as usual. (Via MG Siegler.)

Paul Graham in 2007: ‘Microsoft Is Dead’ 

Prescient analysis from seven years ago:

I already know what the reaction to this essay will be. Half the readers will say that Microsoft is still an enormously profitable company, and that I should be more careful about drawing conclusions based on what a few people think in our insular little “Web 2.0” bubble. The other half, the younger half, will complain that this is old news.

I linked to this back when it was fresh, but it feels relevant again this week, and worth a re-read. Graham’s essay captures well the fear that Microsoft instilled at its peak.

Speaking of Sony Vaios 

Nikkei:

Sony is in talks to unload its sluggish personal computer operations to investment fund Japan Industrial Partners, part of a business overhaul designed to shift focus to smartphones, The Nikkei learned Tuesday.

Under the plan, the fund will establish a new company to which Sony will sell its entire PC business. The sale price is estimated at 40 billion yen to 50 billion yen ($391 million to $489 million).

Steve Jobs and Sony 

Nobuyuki Hayashi, from an interview with Kunitake Ando, former president of Sony:

Most of Sony’s executives spend their winter vacation in Hawaii and play golf after celebrating new year. In one of those new year golf competitions back in 2001, “Steve Jobs and another Apple executive were waiting for us at the end of golf course holding VAIO running Mac OS” recalls Ando; 2001 is the year, Mac OS X shipped and I am speculating this is Intel-version of Mac OS X, they hid for four and half years since then. […]

Ando liked Apple. He always felt Mac and VAIO were so close in philosophy. He especially admired the original iMac introduced in 1998. But the timing was bad for Sony, it is just about the time, Sony’s VAIO gained popularity and it is just about the time that VAIO team had finished optimizing both VAIO’s hardware and software specifically for Windows platform. Because of this, most of the VAIO team opposed asking ‘if it is worth it.’ And that was the end of story for this Mac-compatible VAIO.

Talk about ways the last decade could have been different.

(As Hayashi notes in a postscript, the Apple side of this story was told two years ago, by Kim Scheinberg in this amazing story on Quora.)

37signals Goes All-In on Basecamp 

Jason Fried:

We’re changing our name. 37signals is now Basecamp. “37signals” goes into the history books. From now on, we are Basecamp. Basecamp the company, Basecamp the product. We’re one and the same.

As one of the FAQs states, this is a really unusual strategy. I’ve long admired Jason and his team’s knack for questioning conventional wisdom, for forcing themselves to look at everything from new perspectives. I never would have expected this, but now that they’ve done it, it feels right.

iCloud and Microsoft Azure 

An old 2011 story from The Register:

But Reg sources close to Microsoft this week confirmed rumours circulating in June that Apple’s iCloud is running on Azure and Amazon. Customers’ data is being striped between the pair. iCloud was released as a beta in August and is expected by the end of this year.

Apple and Amazon did not respond to our requests to comment, while Microsoft told us: “At this time, we don’t have any comment around whether Apple is a Windows Azure customer.”

I’ve heard whispers that iCloud still makes heavy use of Azure behind the scenes, but nothing confirmed. Would be interesting to know.

What brings this to mind: Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella was the head of the company’s Server division, which Azure is a part of. (It’s a profitable and growing division, too.)

Kontra Visits a Samsung Galaxy Store 

Kontra:

No merchandise is sold in the store. 

What sense does that make?

Figure 53: David and Goliath 

Chris Ashworth, CEO of Figure 53, has yet another twist in the increasingly ironic saga of FiftyThree and naming conflicts between larger and smaller companies:

We had one big thing going for us: we already had a registered trademark, and the USPTO agreed that FiftyThree’s application, as given at that time, conflicted with our mark.

In a final effort to be neighborly but also fair, we said: “Look, we still stand by our first idea: if FiftyThree stays focused on the kinds of things you’re doing now, that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean we think anything you do is fine, and we sure as heck aren’t giving permission to do anything at all.”

After that, we waited. And I did my best to forget about it, and focus on our work, and sometimes I’d eat Tums at night.

We didn’t hear back, but we did see that they changed their trademark application, which followed the spirit of my original proposal of focusing on the kind of work they’re currently doing.

Paper, by MiSoft 

iOS app developer MiSoft, in an updated description for their drawing app Paper:

When we began working on a pure, simple, inclusive drawing app, we decided to give it the most basic of names, Paper.

We followed Apple’s Rules, that is, we went into our Developer account and created the App “Paper”. The name Paper was assigned to us by Apple as NO ONE ELSE was using it.

While working on the app over many months, other apps named “Paper” came and went. How? Do to glitches in Apple’s system. A Developer can add other words to an un-available name, or open an account registered outside the US, create an app with the same name as an existing US app, get the app approved for sale outside the US, then set the app territories to make it available in the US! They can even change the name of an older, existing non-US app and enjoy what looks like an earlier first use.

We pointed these glitches out to Apple at WWDC 2012 and, well, the next day another “Paper” app, one which added other words after the name Paper so it could post in the US App Store, received an AWARD! We felt somewhat put upon. That other app was very well funded, money talks, and they had been out “breaking things” in our market for a while. There are Best Practices in the Developer world against, in Apple’s words, “confusingly similar” names. Why didn’t that matter for these guys? Why is this not only tolerated, but awarded? Which Rules do we follow; the posted rules, the rules others use, the rules which work, or the rules which we believe in? A conundrum in many areas of mobile today.

We approached the makers of that other Paper app on the floor of WWDC after they received their award, told them our story, and offer to discuss settling this. We even later sent a message to their CEO. Nothing. So we’ve been considering our options.

Now we see this other “Paper” app is upset that an even larger company has also chosen to name an app “Paper”, same trick, by adding more words to the end.

An interesting twist on FiftyThree’s complaint regarding Facebook Paper.

Update: On Twitter, the @FiftyThree account responds:

@daringfireball Please don’t take the bait. Paper by miSoft V1 was launched Sep 20th 2012, 5 months after us. http://pic.twitter.com/hahbqTOizo

Claim Chowder, Post-Super Bowl NFL Edition 

Donald Wood, grading the 2012 NFL draft for Bleacher Report:

Pete Carroll is proving why he didn’t make it in the NFL the first time. Not only was Bruce Irvin a reach at No. 15, the Seahawks proved they were oblivious to their madness by celebrating their selection.

As if the day wasn’t bad enough, Seattle selecting Russell Wilson, a QB that doesn’t fit their offense at all, was by far the worst move of the draft. With the two worst moves of the draft, Seattle is the only team that received an F on draft day.

Russell Wilson is now one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and the Seahawks, of course, are Super Bowl champions.

What About Bill? 

Barb Darrow, writing for Gigaom:

In a Microsoft video posted this morning (embedded below), Gates said he’ll devote one-third of his time to meet with Microsoft product groups to help define next-gen products. “I’m thrilled that Satya asked me to step up and substantially increasing the amount of time I spend at the company,” Gates said.

Some Microsoft shareholders — institutional and otherwise — had advocated that Gates leave the board so that the new CEO wouldn’t have to deal with a founder looking over his shoulder. That’s certainly not going to happen now. Conspiracy theorists would say Gates made sure it wouldn’t by pushing for his own CEO candidate, one who needs him, over outside possibilities like Ford CEO Alan Mulally who was seen as Ballmer’s pick.

Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Microsoft Names Satya Nadella New CEO 

I think he’s a great choice. My only question is why it took the board so long to decide. Nice presentation on this announcement page, too.

Inside Bitcoin’s First Big Money-Laundering Scandal 

Great reporting by Adrianne Jeffries and Russell Brandom for The Verge:

A week ago, 24-year-old Charlie Shrem landed at JFK, home from giving a talk about the virtual currency Bitcoin at an e-commerce convention in Amsterdam.

The trip had gone well. Shrem’s speech made the front page of the Dutch Financial Times, his Icelandair flight had internet, and he was excited to be reunited with his girlfriend, Courtney. He did not expect to be arrested when he got off the plane. But as soon as he saw the agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS waiting for him at the gate, he knew.

Whatever the trouble was, it must have something to do with Bitcoin.

‘1.24.14’ 

New short film from Apple:

On January 24, 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh. And with it a promise that the power of technology, put in the hands of everyone, could change the world. On January 24, 2014, we sent 15 camera crews all over the world to show how that promise has become a reality.

From sunrise in Melbourne to nightfall in Los Angeles, they documented people doing amazing things with Apple products. They shot over 70 hours of footage — all with the iPhone 5s.

With lineage connecting it to the original Mac commercial:

One of the first phone calls at the beginning of the project was from Lee Clow, the ad agency creative director behind the iconic commercial that launched Macintosh in 1984, to Ridley Scott, who directed it. From the start, they knew the right director this time around was Scott’s son Jake.

John Nack Leaves Adobe for Google 

John Nack:

After nearly 14 terrific years at Adobe, it’s time for me to open a different chapter of my life, and next week I’ll be joining Google’s digital photography team.

I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that Google has big plans in the works for photography.

Two Bears, Revisited 

Great piece by Ben Thompson:

Samsung is being challenged by lower-cost competitors; the company’s average price per phone fell by $30 last year, and its share of >$400 phones slipped from 40 percent to 21 percent. This kept up Samsung’s volume — they now account for one in three smartphone sales — but the result was their first profit decline in nine quarters.

Apple had the exact opposite problem: the iPhone’s average selling price jumped from $577 to $636 quarter-over-quarter, and was only down $6 year-over year. Apple also increased its share of the >$400 market from 35 percent to 65 percent. Growth, though, was meager: a mere 7%, despite the addition of NTT DoCoMo and a much earlier China launch for the iPhones 5S and 5C as compared to the iPhone 5.

‘CSS Animation: An Interactive Guide’ 

Speaking of designing for animation, Vicki Murley is using Kickstarter to fund the follow-up to her excellent CSS Transforms: An Interactive Guide e-book. I’m in.

How In-App Purchasing Has Not Really Destroyed the Games Industry 

Interesting counterpoint, from Drew Crawford:

See, in the in-app purchase model actually predates phones. It predates video game consoles. It goes all the way back to the arcade, where millions of consumers were happy to pay a whole quarter ($0.89 in 2013 dollars) to pay for just a few minutes. The entire video games industry comes from this model. Kids these days.

I think the comparison to coin-op arcade games is fair, but I’d say it only proves that some forms of in-app purchasing in games are reasonable. Clearly, some of the techniques we’re starting to see are inexcusable.

Update: Interesting thread on ADN regarding this retort; I agree with Neven Mrgan that it doesn’t really address the points in Thomas Baekdal’s original argument. One argument is about the artistic integrity of video games; the other is about how to make money.

How In-App Purchasing Has Destroyed the Game Industry 

Thomas Baekdal:

We have reached a point in which mobile games couldn’t even be said to be a game anymore. Playing a game means that you have fun. It doesn’t mean that you sit around and wait for the game to annoy you for so long that you decide to pay credits to speed it up.

The video regarding the new mobile version of Dungeon Keeper is pretty damning.

North Korea’s Red Star OS Goes Mac 

Not designed using Origami, I’m guessing.

Using Origami to Create Paper 

Mark Wilson, writing for CoDesign:

Origami is a powerful counterpoint to Photoshop, just as Paper is a powerful counterpoint to Facebook’s standard app. It allowed the designers to mock up one of Paper’s most complex animations — something you’d never traditionally associate with Facebook UI — a booklet unfolding to reveal a news article. What’s important to note is that this animation isn’t precanned in Origami. It’s truly interactive, always anchored to your thumb and tracking it in real time, while a 3-D lighting system adds depth to the image. Not bad for a piece of software Facebook teaches its designers to use in just an hour and a half.

Origami is largely the child of Walkin, along with fellow product designer Drew Hamlin. Its development started around nine months ago, in conjunction with their work on Paper.

Paper presents an extraordinary experience. Maybe they could have gotten the same results without Origami as a design tool, but it makes sense to me that designers can better explore animated and interactive designs using tools that aren’t based on static images. Photoshop can only give you a look; Origami can give you a feeling.

Paper vs. Paper 

FiftyThree CEO Georg Petschnigg calls on Facebook to rename their new Paper app:

There’s a simple fix here. We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story. Facebook should stop using our brand name. […]

What will Facebook’s story be? Will they be the corporate giant who bullies their developers? Or be agile, recognize a mistake, and fix it? Is it “Move fast and break things” or “Move fast and make things”?

The Story Behind Apple’s ‘Think Different’ Campaign 

Somehow this slipped my attention back in 2011, when former TBWA/Chiat/Day creative director Rob Siltanen wrote it. Great story:

Jobs was quiet during the pitch, but he seemed intrigued throughout, and now it was time for him to talk. He looked around the room filled with the “Think Different” billboards and said, “This is great, this is really great … but I can’t do this. People already think I’m an egotist, and putting the Apple logo up there with all these geniuses will get me skewered by the press.” The room was totally silent. The “Think Different” campaign was the only campaign we had in our bag of tricks, and I thought for certain we were toast. Steve then paused and looked around the room and said out loud, yet almost as if to his own self, “What am I doing? Screw it. It’s the right thing. It’s great. Let’s talk tomorrow.” In a matter of seconds, right before our very eyes, he had done a complete about-face.

‘Peter’s Going to Want His Money Back’ 

Special guest Marco Arment returns for the second half of a two-part episode of my podcast, The Talk Show. Topics include the new Mac Pro, retina Macs, hard drives vs. SSDs, and a thorough examination of the implications of a big screen iPhone.

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