Seth Godin on the State of Apple’s Software 

Seth Godin:

Over the last five years, Apple has lost the thread and chosen to become a hardware company again. Despite their huge profits and large staff, we’re confronted with (a partial list):

  • Automator, a buggy piece of software with no support, and because it’s free, no competitors.
  • Keynote, a presentation program that hasn’t been improved in years.
  • iOS 10, which replaces useful with pretty.
  • iTunes, which is now years behind useful tools like Roon.
  • No significant steps forward in word processing, spreadsheets, video editing, file sharing, internet tools, conferencing, etc. Apple contributed mightily to a software revolution a decade ago, but they’ve stopped. Think about how many leaps forward Slack, Dropbox, Zapier and others have made in popular software over the last few decades. But it requires a significant commitment to keep it moving forward. It means upending the status quo and creating something new.

This doesn’t resonate for me. I think it’s the same basic gut feeling that drove Marco Arment’s widely-read “Apple Has Lost the Functional High Ground” essay two years ago. Marco’s piece was more about bugs and quality, and Seth’s is more about creativity, but underlying it all, I think, is the vague sense that all software is shitty.

And it is! Here’s Dave Winer from all the way back in 1995:

An old software slogan at Living Videotext: “We Make Shitty Software… With Bugs!” It makes me laugh! We never ran this slogan in an ad. People wouldn’t understand. But it’s the truth. We make shitty software. And so do you!

Software is a process, it’s never finished, it’s always evolving. That’s its nature. We know our software sucks. But it’s shipping! Next time we’ll do better, but even then it will be shitty. The only software that’s perfect is one you’re dreaming about. Real software crashes, loses data, is hard to learn and hard to use. But it’s a process. We’ll make it less shitty. Just watch!

Software, in general, is much better than it used to be. Unlike 1995, we don’t lose data due to bugs very often. (For me personally, I can’t even remember the last time I lost data.) But our hardware is so much better than our software, the contrast is jarring. An iPhone is a nearly perfect object. Sleek, attractive, simple. The hardware is completely knowable — there are only five buttons, each of them easily understood. iOS, however, is effectively infinite. The deeper our software gets, the less we know and understand it. It’s unsettling.

I do think Apple could be doing better with software, but I don’t think the problem has anything to do with the company being institutionally focused on hardware. And I think it’s easy to discount the great new software Apple has created in the last five years: iMessage and FaceTime, to name two that fit squarely in Godin’s list of areas where Apple has made “no significant steps forward”.

Om Malik: ‘Good Design — Inside and Out’ 

Om Malik, writing last week for The New Yorker:

When I asked John Maeda, the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, why, then, people have turned on the design of the iPhone 7, he pointed out that perhaps these critics “seem to believe that there’s some as yet unimaginable transcendence that can happen in a small, palm-shaped, rectangular device.” Maeda said that he spent time with designers at Sony and felt their frustration designing a television set “because all you can really do is design the rectangle that the TV sits within.… Everything else around that screen really doesn’t matter.” The same problem holds for the iPhone. All that matters is the screen — its size, brightness, and resolution. “Now that we have all those dimensions sated, it’s basically the challenge of designing a TV set all over again,” he added.

The New York Times Is Buying the Wirecutter for More Than $30 Million 

Peter Kafka, reporting for Recode:

The New York Times is buying The Wirecutter, a five-year-old online consumer guide. The Times will pay more than $30 million, including retention bonuses and other payouts, for the startup, according to people familiar with the transaction.

Brian Lam, a former editor at Gawker Media’s Gizmodo, founded The Wirecutter in 2011, and has self-funded the company’s growth. […]

Both sites make their money via affiliate links, which generate revenue when consumers click on them and make purchases via e-commerce sites like Amazon.

Sounds like a good deal for everyone involved. Lam’s success is well-deserved.

Squarespace Domains 

My thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. As some of you might know, Squarespace recently launched its own domains product. It’s called Squarespace Domains, and it turns the ugliest aspects of buying domains into a simple, modern experience. It’s also the first registrar to offer transparent pricing, flat rates, and free WHOIS privacy. Even better, if you’re not ready to build your website quite yet, Squarespace will park your domain with a beautiful, ad-free landing page. Register your domain. Use offer code DARING to save 10 percent.

Hacked Cameras and DVRs Powered Today’s Massive Internet Outage 

Brian Krebs:

A massive and sustained Internet attack that has caused outages and network congestion today for a large number of Web sites was launched with the help of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices, such as CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders, new data suggests. […]

According to researchers at security firm Flashpoint, today’s attack was launched at least in part by a Mirai-based botnet. Allison Nixon, director of research at Flashpoint, said the botnet used in today’s ongoing attack is built on the backs of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies. The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Nixon said, noting that Flashpoint hasn’t ruled out the possibility of multiple botnets being involved in the attack on Dyn.

Microsoft’s Stock Hits an All-Time High 

Dan Frommer:

Microsoft’s stock price reached an all-time high today, beating a previous record set in 1999 (!) in the heat of the dot-com bubble. Shares opened this morning at $60.31 — up 5 percent from yesterday’s close — and reached $60.45 in morning trading before settling.

Why is Microsoft setting share-price records in 2016?

Most importantly, investors seem to think its transformation under CEO Satya Nadella — from a company that sells Windows and Office licenses (often on discs and in cardboard boxes) to a company that sells access to software and services in the cloud — is working.

Pretty good start for Satya Nadella.

Rank and File Wells Fargo Employees on the Pressure to Rip Off Customers to Meet Sales Quotas 

Stacy Cowley, reporting for the NYT:

The scandal at Wells Fargo over the creation of unauthorized accounts shook its customers’ faith in the bank, but it took an even sharper toll on the company’s workers. A number of them say they faced a stark choice: Create new accounts by any means possible, or risk being fired for falling short of their sales goals.

Angie Payden, who worked for Wells Fargo as a banker from 2011-2014:

I started to have extreme physical stress-related symptoms as well as random panic attacks. At some point during that summer, the stress was so intense that I could no longer handle the pressure. On the banker’s desk, in the bathroom, behind the teller line and in the vault, the store kept bottles of hand sanitizer.

One morning, before meeting with a customer, in which I knew I was going to have to sell unneeded services, I had a severe panic attack. I went to the bathroom and took a drink of some hand sanitizer.

This immediately reduced my anxiety. From that point, I began drinking the hand sanitizer all over the bank.

Why Do Websites Publish AMP Pages? 

Can someone explain to me why a website would publish AMP versions of their articles? They do load fast, which is a terrific user experience, but as far as I can see, sites that publish AMP pages are effectively ceding control over their content to Google.

Here’s an example I ran into today. I wanted to read Ron Amadeo’s review of the Google Pixel at Ars Technica. From my (new) Google Pixel, I searched for “ars pixel preview”. The first search result was the AMP version of his review. Same thing on my iPhone.

If I tap the result, I get the AMP version of the Ars article, served from Google’s domain. So far, I get it. But the kicker is that I don’t see any way to get from the AMP page Google is serving to the canonical version of the article on Ars’s website. Even if I share the article, what gets shared is the URL ( On desktop browsers, these URLs do get redirected to Ars’s website. But on mobile they don’t. Share from one mobile device to another and nobody ever leaves Why would any website turn their entire mobile audience — a majority share of their total audience, for many sites today — over to Google?

It makes no sense to me.

Update: “Request Desktop Site” in both Mobile Safari and Chrome will switch you to the actual website. Good to know, I still say AMP traps mobile users onto

Pushback on Those Tesla Model S Sales Figures 

Doug DeMuro makes a strong case that the Tesla Model S is a mid-size luxury sedan, not a full-size:

So the Model S is sized like a midsize luxury sedan, and it’s priced like one, too. Why doesn’t anyone call the Model S a midsize luxury sedan?

Simple: because Tesla doesn’t want them to.

Tesla has fought incredibly hard for media sources to consider the Model S a full-size luxury sedan, for one simple reason: Its sales numbers aren’t as impressive if you compare it to more accurate rivals. As I mentioned above, Tesla sold 9,156 units of the Model S during the last quarter. In the same time period, Mercedes-Benz sold 14,672 units of the E-Class. Meanwhile, the 5 Series sold 7,430 units of an aging model nearing replacement. When a redesigned 5 Series last debuted, as it will again in the next few months, it wasn’t uncommon to see sales totals well in excess of 5,000 per month — or 15,000 per quarter. Even the Hyundai Genesis is nipping at the Model S’s heels, earning around 2,500 sales per month through 2016.

Google Has Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking 

Julia Angwin, reporting for ProPublica:

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand — literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools. […]

The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on the keywords they used in their Gmail. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

My question is simple. Why is Google doing this? To make even more money? Or because they need to do this to keep making the same amount of money? Either way it’s gross.

Don’t Hold Your Breath for an iPhone Edition

After my link today to Greg Koenig’s excellent explanation for why the new ceramic Apple Watch Edition does not presage the use of a similar material in next year’s iPhone (in short: Apple needs to produce up to one million iPhones per day, and the ceramic process Apple is using for the watch would take way too long to meet that demand), several readers asked if Apple might go the Apple Watch Edition route: make a special ceramic iPhone Edition that sells at a much higher price.

Apple certainly could do this. But I don’t think they would. I’ve often said that the iPhone reminds me of Andy Warhol’s great quote about Coca-Cola and America:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

A significantly more expensive limited edition ceramic iPhone would break from this, and in my opinion it would take away from the iPhone’s brand. iPhones aren’t cheap, but they are affordable for many, and everyone who gets one knows they’re getting the best phone in the world. An expensive limited edition iPhone would mean most iPhone buyers would know they’re only getting second best.

Apple has done this with the watch — in spades last year, with the $10–20,000 gold models — but watches are different animals. Watches, in general, have never been like Coke. There have always been low-cost watches and luxury watches.

Enough With the 10-Year Anniversary Stuff

Let me add here a note about something that’s been bothering me for months: the notion that Apple is going to do something “special” next year to commemorate the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. I would wager heavily that they won’t. Apple under Tim Cook is a little bit more prone to retrospection than it was under Steve Jobs, who was almost obsessively forward-thinking, but only slightly. They made a 40-years-in-40-seconds video to commemorate the company’s 40th anniversary this year, for example, but it was only 40 seconds long. Blink and you missed it.

Apple is not going to make a special edition of any product — let alone the iPhone, their most important product — just to mark an anniversary. Don’t tell me about the 20th Anniversary Macintosh — that was a product from the old Apple that was heading toward bankruptcy, and a perfect example of why they shouldn’t do something special to mark something as arbitrary as an anniversary.

A lot of this 10th anniversary of the iPhone speculation is regarding the rumors that next year’s new iPhones might sport a new industrial design, with edge-to-edge displays that eliminate both the top and bottom bezels from the front face. If such a design does appear next year, the timing will be purely coincidental.

What’s the logic otherwise? That Apple could have debuted that design this year, but didn’t, simply because they wanted to hold off until the iPhone’s oh-so-precious 10th anniversary? That is not how a technology company operates. To maintain its position as the leading phone-maker in the world, Apple must push forward as fast as they can. They only know one way to play the game: as hard as they can.

Nothing gets held back from any Apple product just to make the next one more special. If there is going to be a new edge-to-edge iPhone design, it will appear as soon as it is ready — no sooner, and no later. It would make no sense to hold back a more visually impressive and practically superior1 design just to be able to call it the “10th anniversary iPhone” a year from now. That would mean selling fewer iPhones this year while sticking with the familiar 6/6S form factor, and not selling any additional iPhones next year. No one — no one — is going to buy any new iPhone just because it’s the 10th anniversary edition.

Every year, Apple releases the best iPhone it is able to make. That’s it. It makes no more sense for a tech company to hold back a new design for an entire year just to mark an anniversary than it would for a, say, 99-year-old sports team to bench its star player for a year to make their 100-year-anniversary team even more special. I do believe that Apple leads the industry, but they don’t lead by such a margin that they can afford to pull their punches just for an “anniversary” marketing gimmick.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple never even mentions next year that 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. And if they do mention it, I think it will be a brief passing reference on stage, not a part of any advertising or marketing campaign.2 New iPhones — new Apple products, period — are marketed as new. Anniversaries are about getting old. 

  1. If Apple goes with an edge-to-edge display, they can either keep the display sizes the same (4.7- and 5.5-inch) and greatly reduce the overall size of the devices, or they can keep the device sizes the same as they are now and greatly increase the size of the displays. Either way is a win. (My guess though is that Apple will shrink the devices — Apple likes smaller devices.) ↩︎

  2. I’ll enjoy a nice serving of homemade claim chowder if Apple goes and names next year’s iPhone the “iPhone 10” and makes the anniversary central to its branding. ↩︎︎

BuzzFeed News: ‘Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False and Misleading Information at an Alarming Rate’ 

BuzzFeed News:

However, during the time period analyzed, we found that right-wing pages were more prone to sharing false or misleading information than left-wing pages. Mainstream pages did not share any completely false information, but did publish a small number of posts that included unverified claims. (More on that below.)

We rated 86 out of a total 666 right-wing Facebook posts as mostly false, for a percentage of 13%. Another 167 posts (25%) were rated as a mixture of true and false. Viewed separately or together (38%), this is an alarmingly high percentage.

Left-wing pages did not earn as many “mostly false” or “mixture of true and false” ratings, but they did share false and misleading content. We identified 22 mostly false posts out of a total of 471 from these pages, which means that just under 5% of left-wing posts were untrue. We rated close to 14% of these posts (68) a mixture of true and false. Taken together, nearly a fifth of all left-wing posts we analyzed were either partially or mostly false.

Christopher Mims:

I once wrote a column arguing Facebook probably hasn’t led to more partisanship. I now think that’s completely wrong.

I now think Facebook is contributing to the decline of western civilization. By helping spread misinformation.

We replaced civil society w/ self-selecting, self-reinforcing loops of affinity feeding our brains w/ social validation of dangerous untruth.

Samsung Issues Takedown on Video of Grand Theft Auto 5 Mod Turning Galaxy Note 7 Into a Bomb 

Mike Masnick, writing for Techdirt:

What it is not, however, is copyright infringement. I don’t care how you slice or dice it. It’s not copyright infringement. Samsung may be embarrassed by its exploding devices, and it may not like people making fun of them or turning them into weapons in video games, but that doesn’t matter. There’s no copyright infringement against Samsung’s copyrights in doing that. And it’s flat out ridiculous that Samsung appears to have made a copyright claim over such a video. Hopefully whoever put up the video challenges this and YouTube comes to its senses…

This is only going to bring more attention to the GTA mod.

Nintendo Switch 

Teaser video for Nintendo’s upcoming new gaming platform. Seems intriguing — connected to your TV it works like a traditional console, but you can undock it to use it as a portable.

Undocked, it’s more like a tablet than a phone, size-wise, which sounds right to me. In the same way that phones have completely supplanted pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras, phones completely own the pocket-sized space for gaming. The Switch is the equivalent of a DSLR for gaming.

Greg Koenig: ‘Why Your Next iPhone Won’t Be Ceramic’ 

Greg Koenig on why the ceramic Apple Watch Edition does not presage a ceramic iPhone:

All of this circles us back to that little booklet that shipped with the ceramic Watch Edition. I think it is a safe bet to say that if Apple was about to leverage a whole new process for the efficient manufacturing of precision ceramics for next year’s iPhone, this new Watch model would be a test balloon for at least some of those techniques. Now, it is important to note that Apple has always skillfully knife edged their marketing discussion about manufacturing by being both hyper honest in their descriptions, while being quite vague about the nitty gritty details. So if we can all agree their materials are honest, let me be very plain - there is nothing revolutionary or new about how Apple is making the ceramic Edition watch.

The process they describe is meticulously executed, and because of the nature of the design — wherein ceramics are mimicking the engineering layout of far more easily produced materials - probably the most laboriously produced ceramic watch on the market. In fact, if we scale the numbers used in the booklet up to iPhone size devices and cycle times, Apple would need 2 football field’s worth of kiln space for each ceramic iPhone to sinter for the requisite 36 hours. For the 2 hours of hard ceramic machining to finish the case details, Apple would need to go from 20,000 CNC machines, to 250,000. They would need another 200,000 employees to perform the 2 hours of hand polishing to “bring out the strength and luster.”

Fantastic article.

As Koenig emphasizes, at peak production Apple is manufacturing one million iPhones per day. If and when Apple switches from aluminum to a new material for iPhone bodies, it’ll have to be a material with which they can achieve the same scale.

Grading on a Curve, Google Pixel Edition 

Rene Ritchie:

So, everyone who’d been criticizing Apple and iPhone design immediately called Google out for aping it?

Not so much.

Well, at least they called Google and Pixel out for the same things they called Apple and iPhone out for?

Again, not so much.

Surely they drew the line at Google’s 2016 flagship missing optical image stabilization — not just in the regular-size, but in the Plus XL model as well — stereo speakers, and water resistance — things that were pointed to last year as indicators Apple was falling behind?

Turns out, not deal-breakers either.

As I wrote last month, when the first non-blurry images of the Pixel leaked.

Apple Sues Mobile Star for Selling Counterfeit Power Adapters and Charging Cables Through Amazon 

Patently Apple, quoting from a lawsuit filed by Apple yesterday:

Apple purchased the power products identified below (ASIN B012YEWP2K) from and determined that they were counterfeit. Apple was informed by, and upon that basis is informed and believes, that Mobile Star was the source of those particular counterfeit power products purchased by Apple.

Consumers, relying on’s reputation, have no reason to suspect the power products they purchased from are anything but genuine. This is particularly true where, as here, the products are sold directly “by” as genuine Apple products using Apple’s own product marketing images. Consumers are likewise unaware that the counterfeit Apple products that sourced from Mobile Star have not been safety certified or properly constructed, lack adequate insulation and/or have inadequate spacing between low voltage and high voltage circuits, and pose a significant risk of overheating, fire, and electrical shock. Indeed, consumer reviews of counterfeit Apple power adapters purchased from and from the above ASIN report that the counterfeit products overheat, smolder, and in some cases catch fire.

As for the products sold by third parties, and “fulfilled by Amazon”:

Apple makes great efforts to combat the distribution and sale of counterfeit Apple products bearing its trademarks. Despite Apple’s efforts, fake Apple products continue to flood Each month, Apple identifies and reports many thousands of listings for counterfeit and infringing Apple products to under its notice and takedown procedures. Over the last nine months, Apple, as part of its ongoing brand protection efforts, has purchased well over 100 iPhone devices, Apple power products, and Lightning cables sold as genuine by sellers on and delivered through Amazon’s “Fulfillment by Amazon” program. Apple’s internal examination and testing for these products revealed almost 90% of these products are counterfeit.

I can certainly see why Apple is suing Mobile Star (hopefully right out of business), but why not sue Amazon too? This is shameful. I’ve known for a while never to trust anything merely “fulfilled by Amazon”, but I’m actually surprised that even the “Apple” branded chargers sold directly by Amazon are dangerous counterfeits as well.

Darrell Etherington’s Google Pixel Camera Review 

Darrell Etherington, testing the Pixel camera side-by-side with the iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7:

Outdoors, you can see that while all three are very capable cameras, there are some differences that might sway personal opinion regarding which is “best.” The iPhone 7 Plus delivers more vibrant colors, with brighter defaults for light areas in both HDR and standard modes (it produces both in your gallery by default depending on the scene, so that’s how I shot and presented them here). […]

Indoors, the differences between the three cameras are more pronounced, especially in very low light. Here, the Galaxy S7 appears to have the edge when it comes to color balance, as well as noise and even possibly detail. The iPhone 7 Plus does appear to be more accurate in terms of its color capture, but it’s still tough to pick an outright favorite. The Pixel XL, to its credit, does very well in the portrait under adequate, but not bright, indoor lighting.

Ultimately, numbered ratings from third-party analyst sites aside, this is a race so close that it’s impossible to call, except by personal preference. Each of these smartphone cameras excels in some regard, but the best end result is in the eye of the beholder since none exhibits any serious flaws.

I agree with his assessment based on his examples. The Pixel’s electronic image stabilization for video is very well done, but it’s clearly not as good as optical image stabilization.

Brian X. Chen’s Google Pixel Review 

Brian X. Chen, writing for the NYT:

The absence of a major competing Android device works out especially well for Google because the Pixel is, relatively speaking, mediocre. It is slower than Apple’s iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7, Samsung’s smaller flagship phone. Photos shot with Pixel’s camera don’t look as good as the iPhone’s. And Google’s built-in artificially intelligent virtual assistant, called Assistant, is still fairly dumb.

Chen’s Pixel review is the least enthusiastic I’ve seen. His comments on the camera — he labels it “mediocre” — are out of line with most reviews. I’m not saying he’s wrong, just that his take is quite different.

CNet Compares Google Pixel and iPhone 7 Plus Cameras 

Vanessa Hand Orellana:

If you tend to shoot portraits and that’s what matters to you most, the iPhone 7 Plus is an obvious choice. Portrait mode is dSLR-esque, and we only expect it to improve by the time it gets a public release.

But if brighter colors, sharper detail throughout the backgrounds of photos and capable low-light photography is more important, it’s the Pixel. I have to admit, I initially thought Google over-promised on its new flagship — especially after those disappointing Nexus cameras — but I was wrong. It’s a new chapter for Google phones and this one earned its name.

I agree with her assessment based on most of the examples shown. I was especially impressed with the Pixel’s image from the low-light environment in the wine cellar. However, they shot both on tripods. I would’ve liked to see examples from the same environment while handheld — the iPhone 7 Plus’s optical image stabilization should make a big difference while handheld, but no difference at all on a tripod.

Why don’t any of these Pixel-vs.-iPhone camera comparisons mention wide color capture?

Bloomberg: ‘Disney Dropped Twitter Pursuit Partly Over Image’ 

Alex Sherman, Chris Palmeri, and Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg:

Walt Disney Co. decided not to pursue a bid for Twitter Inc. partly out of concern that bullying and other uncivil forms of communication on the social media site might soil the company’s wholesome family image, according to people familiar with management’s thinking.

Because I love Twitter as a service, I want to see the company thrive, but there’s no denying that there’s some justice to the fact that their longstanding inability and/or refusal to deal with trolls and harassment is sinking the company. Inc. also decided against a Twitter bid, as did Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

No one wants Twitter at this price.

Michael Nunez’s Google Pixel Review 

Michael Nunez, writing for Gizmodo:

As a lifelong Android user, I couldn’t wait to try the Pixel. It’s different than other Android phones, because it’s the first handset centered around the company’s artificial intelligence — the same omnipotent intelligence that’s vacuuming up information about you every time you use a service like Gmail, Google Maps, or Google Calendar. The “Google brain” learns your habits over time, and can help you find important information faster. The problem is that Google’s AI is too stupid to be meaningfully helpful at this stage. […]

I was particularly disappointed with Google Assistant because it’s such a promising concept. Google is moving attention away from the search bar more than ever. Instead, the company wants you to “Google” by using the messaging app Allo or voice search in Google Assistant. Ultimately, the Pixel and Pixel XL are gateways for feeding the Google brain more information about yourself. As Google’s AI gets smarter, the Assistant will become more helpful. While some people might find this creepy, I think the idea is exciting, and it’s a letdown that the tech isn’t there yet. In fairness nobody has it, and Google’s is better than what’s offered by competitors like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. The point is that as a whole, smartphone assistants aren’t smart enough to be defining features. They’re gimmicks, and Google unwisely decided to build a phone around one.

Recode: Apple Plans to Launch New Macs at an October 27 Event 

Ina Fried, reporting for Recode:

Apple is planning to introduce new Macs at an Oct. 27 event, sources confirmed to Recode. […] The Mac event is expected to take place at or near Apple’s Cupertino campus rather than in San Francisco, where the company held many recent events, including the iPhone 7 announcement.

One last hurrah for Infinite Loop’s Town Hall, I bet.

Dieter Bohn’s Google Pixel Review 

Dieter Bohn:

Even though there’s ostensibly One Google Brain behind all of it, the different lobes don’t always seem to be talking to each other. That confusion extends to the various ways that Google exists on the Pixel itself. You can only speak to the Assistant, for example, not type at it. Except that you can type at it in Allo, Google’s chat app. You can also tap the Google search button on the home screen to type queries, but that’s not technically the Assistant. Oh, and Google Now, the predictive information stream, still sits to the left of your main home screen.

That’s four different ways to talk to Google on this phone, not counting apps like Maps and Gmail. And each one has a slightly different interface and provides slightly different results. For example, the Assistant can’t recognize songs yet, but asking the exact same question with the Google search button works fine.

To be very clear: the Google Assistant is absolutely the smartest of the assistant bunch, but it’s not yet in a class of its own.

Bohn calls the Pixels a “home run”, and also has very good words regarding the camera. I quoted the above passage, though, because it suggests some rough edges regarding what is supposed to be the Pixel’s standout feature.

Walt Mossberg’s Google Pixel Review 

Walt Mossberg:

After testing the historic phone since last week, I can say that the Pixel is very, very good. In its first try, Google has landed itself in the same class as Apple’s iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S7 (that company’s non-exploding model). Like those formidable competitors, it’s comfortable and practical; fast and fluid; takes very good pictures; and is connected to a strong ecosystem.

The Pixel is easily the best Android phone I’ve ever tested, and seems to hail from a different planet than the chunky, clumsy and pokey 2008 G1 which introduced Android to the world.

Another positive Pixel review, another wisecrack about Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7.

Joanna Stern’s Google Pixel Review 

Joanna Stern:

Android people, please step forward. Good news! Your next phone-buying decision just got a heck of a lot easier. The Google Pixel is now the best Android smartphone you can buy. The other leading contender was disqualified due to spontaneous combustion.

iPhone people, it’s your turn. Ask yourself: Why do I have an iPhone? Is it because of its software, services and privacy policies? Or is it because it’s a very good phone for things like Google Maps, Gmail, Spotify and Facebook Messenger? If you’ve answered yes to the latter, the Pixel may be for you, too.

On the cameras:

The best camera is the one you have with you. In most situations, I’d rather have the Pixel camera. […]

The iPhone 7 Plus with its second lens does beat the Pixel camera. Not only does the iPhone 7 Plus optically magnify shots 2X, but it uses the dual-lens setup to gauge depth for a lens blur effect. The Pixel has a similar effect, but it looks pretty fake.

Her comparison shots are pretty compelling. The Pixel camera definitely seems pretty good.

NYT Chief Counsel David McCraw on the Response to His Letter to Trump’s Lawyers 

David McCraw:

I heard from students I had taught 30 years ago when I was a college professor, former colleagues, law school classmates I hadn’t seen in two decades, my brother’s high school girlfriend, a person who says we met at a wedding 10 years ago, my ex-wife. (Mr. Trump’s attorneys, as is often the way with lawyer letters, have not written back yet.)

One person took issue with my comma usage. Somebody suggested I be disbarred. I was made aware of a raging online debate set off by the letter over whether there should be two spaces or one after a period. […]

But my favorite email was the one that ended: “As my sister put it, ‘I’ve never wanted to hang a paragraph from a lawyer on my fridge before.’ ”

Samsung Is Setting Up Airport Kiosks to Replace Galaxy Note 7 Phones 

Sergio Quintana, reporting for ABC 7 in San Francisco:

Samsung representatives are standing by at SFO in case people bring their potentially dangerous Galaxy Note7’s to the airport. SFO says Samsung reps are now located in front of security checkpoints. Customers can go there to swap out their recalled phones or get a refund.

Seems like Samsung is finally getting on top of this fiasco, putting customers first, not their own PR.

Bill Belichick: ‘I’m Done With the Tablets’ 

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick on why he’s giving up on the NFL’s Microsoft Surface tablets and going back to paper. “Long answer to a short question, sorry.”

Apple’s deal to put iPads in MLB dugouts seems to be going better than Microsoft’s deal to put Surfaces on NFL sidelines. (One major difference: MLB’s dugout iPads are offline-only — teams can load them up with whatever information they want before the game starts, but during the games, they’re completely offline.)

‘Never Happened’ 

Eight-minute short film by Mark Slutsky. Don’t even read the description, just set aside eight minutes in a dark room with a big screen. Trust me.

Gizmodo: ‘Horror Stories From the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Flight Ban’ 

Story from a Gizmodo reader:

At the security checkpoint as a husband/partner was saying goodbye to his wife/partner, she gave her phone to him because she thought she couldn’t take it on the plane. It was a Galaxy S5 or S6, I couldn’t really tell, but definitely not a Note. So lots of confusion. Finally, we are putting a lot of faith in flight attendants who don’t know the difference between a laptop and a tablet let alone a nuanced issue like what’s happening with the Note. I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose access to our cell phones pre-take off again as a result of Samsung’s fuckup.

Saturday Night Live had a joke this weekend about “Samsung Galaxy 7’s” — without the “Note”. It’s really easy to be confused by this. I really do worry that this fuckup is going to lead to all devices being banned from use on flights.

Update: Worse for Samsung would be a ban on all “Samsung” or even just “Galaxy” phones. Here’s a recording of a Lufthansa pilot forbidding the use of all “Galaxy S7” phones.

Bloomberg: ‘How Apple Scaled Back Its Titanic Plan to Take on Detroit’ 

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, writing for Bloomberg:

By the end of 2015, the project was blighted by internal strife. Managers battled about the project’s direction, according to people with knowledge of the operations. “It was an incredible failure of leadership,” one of the people said. In early 2016, project head Steve Zadesky, a former Ford Motor Co. engineer and early iPod designer, left Titan. Zadesky, who remains at Apple, declined to comment.

Zadesky handed the reins to his boss, Dan Riccio, adding to responsibilities that already included engineering annual iPhone, iPad, and Mac refreshes. Bob Mansfield, a highly regarded manager who helped develop the original iPad, returned in April from a part-time role at Apple to lead the team.

About a month later, Mansfield took the stage in a Silicon Valley auditorium packed with hundreds of Titan employees to announce the strategy shift, according to people who attended the meeting. Mansfield explained that he had examined the project and determined that Apple should move from building an outright competitor to Tesla Motors Inc. to an underlying self-driving platform.

Making a platform that Apple would, I can only suppose, license to actual car makers doesn’t sound anything like Apple at all. I’m not disputing Gurman and Webb’s reporting, I’m just pointing out that if true, it’s the most un-Apple-like project in the company’s history.

There are ways to square this story with Apple’s traditional integrated approach. Perhaps they’re thinking, Do the software first, see if we can do something worth making, and if so, buy a car company. But even that doesn’t sound like Apple.

Marco Arment:

Even if only the big-picture story is correct and every detail is wrong, Project Titan makes no sense to me now.

The Talk Show: ‘Kicking Dirt on Them While They’re on Fire’ 

Special guest Ben Thompson returns to the show. Topics include voice control with AirPods, how to get your entire music library onto an iPhone while using iCloud Music Library, Apple Watch durability, the Dash/App Store controversy, the disappointing and frustrating state of Siri and voice-driven AI assistants, Google’s new Pixel phones and the strategy behind them, Snap’s (née Snapchat) Spectacles (and why they’re nothing like Google’s ill-fated Glass), and more.

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Peter Thiel to Donate $1.25 Million in Support of Donald Trump 

David Streitfeld, reporting for the NYT:

Peter Thiel, true to his reputation as the most contrarian soul in Silicon Valley, is doubling down on Donald J. Trump.

The only prominent supporter of the Republican candidate in the high-tech community, Mr. Thiel is making his first donation in support of Mr. Trump’s election. He will give $1.25 million through a combination of super PAC donations and funds given directly to the campaign, a person close to the investor said on Saturday.

Politics aside, this seems like a bad investment at this point.

Mod Turns Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Into a Weapon in Grand Theft Auto 5 

You can’t buy product placement like this.

SQLPro — Database Management Apps for Mac 

My thanks to Hankinsoft Development for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote SQLPro. SQLPro offers easy to use, feature-rich database clients for Microsoft SQL Server, Postgres, MySQL, Oracle, and SQLite databases. These are true native Mac apps — way faster, and way nicer than anything based on Java. SQLPro is great for creating new databases, editing schema, browsing and searching data in existing databases, and much more.

If you’re a developer looking for a native SQL management app, check out their website for more information, and download a seven-day free trial. When you’re ready to buy, use coupon code GRUBER to save 20 percent.

How the Cleveland Indians Got Their Name 

Joe Posnanski:

When I was a kid, it was an accepted fact that the Cleveland Indians were named to honor a Native American player named Louis Sockalexis.

When I was older, it was an accepted fact that the Cleveland Indians DID NOT name the team for Sockalexis, and that whole story was an invention to cover up for the nickname’s racist origins.

And, as I wrote in the even longer piece, neither one is quite fact. The truth is not exactly in the middle either; it sort of floats from side to side like a balloon dancing in the wind.

The New York Times’s General Counsel Responds to Donald Trump’s Threat of a Lawsuit 


Tesla Increases Its Lead on the U.S. Luxury Sedan Market, Beating Mercedes, BMW, and Audi 

Fred Lambert:

Tesla shocked the industry earlier this year when it confirmed having delivered 25,202 Model S sedans in the U.S. in 2015, which gave the company a 25% market share in the premium sedan market. For the first time, Tesla had surpassed market leaders like BMW and Mercedes. Furthermore, every single other large luxury sedan has seen its sales decrease during the same period.

Now the electric automaker is increasing its lead on the US luxury sedan market to such a point that the Model S is now twice as popular as the Mercedes S-Class or the BMW 7-Series. Tesla is literally selling more all-electric sedans in the US than Mercedes and BMW are selling S-Class and 7-Series combined.

I’m surprised at how few of these cars are sold overall, but it’s amazing that Tesla has already taken a commanding lead.

Verizon Says Its Pixel Phones Will Get Updates at the Same Time as Google’s 

Ron Amadeo:

A Verizon spokesperson has reached out to Ars with the following corrections about its version of the Pixel:

“First and foremost, all operating system and security updates to the Pixel devices will happen in partnership with Google. In other words, when Google releases an update, Verizon phones will receive the same update at the same time (much like iOS updates). Verizon will not stand in the way of any major updates and users will get all updates at the same time as Google.

Also, the Verizon version of the Google Pixel is carrier unlocked, so you can use it where ever you like. Finally, we have three apps pre-installed on the phone Go90, My Verizon (which is your account management tool) and Verizon Messages (your messaging app). As you noted, all three can easily be uninstalled by the user.”

Assuming this pans out, it’s the closest anyone has gotten to Apple’s total control over the software on its phones. The only difference: the (removable) pre-installed Verizon crapware apps.

Rene Ritchie: ‘Solving for Dash’ 

Rene Ritchie:

You’ll be able to hear a deeper discussion on this between Michael Gartenberg, Serenity Caldwell, special guest James Thomson, and myself on the Apple Talk podcast very soon, but here’s the consensus: Restore the developer account associated with Dash and put Dash back on the App Store. Leave the linked account banned. Monitor Dash going forward the way any other app has been monitored. And that’s it.

I think Apple already threw him his lifeline and he decided to tie it around his neck. Apple offered to do just what Rene is asking them to do, and in return only wanted Popescu to explain the circumstances that led Apple to reasonably (and perhaps correctly) assume both accounts were his.

Update: Dash developer Bogdan Popescu has given his “full story” in a statement to iMore, blaming his mother for the App Store fraud.

Walt Mossberg: ‘Why Does Siri Seem So Dumb?’

Walt Mossberg:

So why does Siri seem so dumb? Why are its talents so limited? Why does it stumble so often? When was the last time Siri delighted you with a satisfying and surprising answer or action?

I have an answer for this: when I discovered during the NBA playoffs that Siri can tell you the Vegas betting odds for sporting events.

In recent weeks, on multiple Apple devices, Siri has been unable to tell me the names of the major-party candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Or when they were debating. Or when the Emmy awards show was due to be on. Or the date of the World Series. […]

Google Now, on the same Apple devices, using the same voice input, answered every one of these questions clearly and correctly. And that isn’t even Google’s latest digital helper, the new Google Assistant.

If you try most of these broken examples right now, they’ll work properly, because Apple fixed them after I tweeted screenshots of most of them in exasperation, and asked the company about them.

Indeed, Siri now knows the date and time of the next U.S. presidential debate, but where Siri fundamentally falls apart is its inability to maintain context and chain together multiple commands. Here was my interaction trying this just now, transcribed exactly as Siri heard me:

Me: When is the next presidential debate?1

Siri: The third 2016 presidential debate will take place from 9:00pm to 10:30pm ET on Wednesday, October 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Me: OK add it to my calendar.

Siri: OK, tell me the date and time of your event.

Me: Add the next presidential debate to my calendar.

Siri: I didn’t find any appointments about ‘presidential debate’ in the next three months.

Another attempt:

Me: When is the next presidential debate?

Siri: The third 2016 presidential debate will take place from 9:00pm to 10:30pm ET on Wednesday, October 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Me: Remind me about it one hour before it starts.

Siri: OK, I’ll remind you to ‘It starts’. When would you like to be reminded?

Five years in, this seems like a reasonable (and useful) thing to expect Siri to be able to do.2


For instance, when I asked Siri on my Mac how long it would take me to get to work, it said it didn’t have my work address — even though the “me” contact card contains a work address and the same synced contact card on my iPhone allowed Siri to give me an answer.

Similarly, on my iPad, when I asked what my next appointment was, it said “Sorry, Walt, something’s wrong” — repeatedly, with slightly different wording, in multiple places on multiple days. But, using the same Apple calendar and data, Siri answered correctly on the iPhone.

These sort of glaring inconsistencies are almost as bad as universal failures. The big problem Apple faces with Siri is that when people encounter these problems, they stop trying. It feels like you’re wasting your time, and makes you feel silly or even foolish for having tried. I worry that even if Apple improves Siri significantly, people will never know it because they won’t bother trying because they were burned so many times before. In addition to the engineering hurdles to actually make Siri much better, Apple also has to overcome a “boy who cried wolf” credibility problem.

I think “assistant” is the exact right term for this class of software. But I can’t imagine how stupid an actual human assistant would have to be not to understand a request like “Find out when the next debate is and put it on my calendar.” 

  1. Even worse: If I ask “When is the next US presidential debate?” (note the “US”), Siri parses it correctly but instead of answering, falls back to an offer to display search results from the web. It seems wrong that a more specific query would fail. ↩︎

  2. To be fair, I tried the same two-step sequence (when’s the next debate?; add it to my calendar) with Google Assistant running in the Allo app on Android, and it failed in the same way. I remain unconvinced that Siri is behind the competition, and even if it is, I don’t think it’s by much. ↩︎︎

Apple Responds to Dash Controversy

Jim Dalrymple, on the Dash/App Store affair:

Apple’s anti-fraud team has apparently been working with the developer for some time to stop fraudulent positive reviews, and negative reviews on competitors’ accounts. According to Apple, all attempts to work with the developer have failed, resulting in the account being terminated.

“Almost 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected across two accounts and 25 apps for this developer so we removed their apps and accounts from the App Store,” Apple spokesperson, Tom Neumayr, said in a statement provided to The Loop on Monday. “Warning was given in advance of the termination and attempts were made to resolve the issue with the developer but they were unsuccessful. We will terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers.”

It’s really important to note that this has been going on for quite some time — it’s not a quick decision that Apple made on the spur of the moment last week. In fact, a warning was first sent to the developer two years ago, but the behavior did not change.

From what I’ve been told by sources at Apple, it’s not about Dash, which is a very popular app (and deservedly so). It’s about the other 20-some apps from the same developer, which he apparently published through one or more different developer accounts. I think one reason why the developer community has rallied behind this developer is that the account for Dash had no other apps associated with it. Now that this story is breaking, the developer community is uncovering some of these apps. Most of them are generic consumer utility apps.

I quibble with Dalrymple’s headline: “Apple Responds to Dash Controversy With Proof”. Apple claims they have proof, but they’re not showing it — it’s Apple’s word against the developer’s. Part of this, I think, is that Apple doesn’t want to reveal how their anti-fraud systems work. Part of it too, though, is that they want to protect the privacy of their communications with the developer over the years that they’ve been accusing him of fraud. Quite frankly, Apple doesn’t want to slime him. For example, note that their public statement does not address him by name.

Apple typically lets accusations like this slide. It’s a no-win situation for Apple, publicity-wise: let an accusation stand unanswered and Apple looks like the App Store is run like a banana republic, but if they dispute it, they face the optics of a hundred-billion-dollar Goliath punching down against a small indie developer. This case with Dash gained enough attention that I think they felt they had to respond. Too many developers believed that Apple acted capriciously, when in fact, according to Apple, this was the culmination of a years-long dispute.

One side or the other is lying here. And Apple is adamant that it’s not them.

Around the Web

Marco Arment:

I’m glad our community assumed the best of another developer and pressured Apple to justify this severe action. We should now accept that they have.

The public often doesn’t get the full story behind decisions and changes they see, but it’s usually not for sinister reasons — it’s often just someone taking the high road and letting another party save face.

Brent Simmons:

Apple states that nearly 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected — and that they’d given the developer notice and had tried to resolve the issue with him.

If this is true, then it would be hard to say that Apple has done anything wrong. In fact, we want Apple to notice fraudulent reviews (since they harm consumers and other developers), get them removed, and work things out with the developer.

Major update

Dash developer Bogdan Popescu has responded:

What I’ve done: 3-4 years ago I helped a relative get started by paying for her Apple’s Developer Program Membership using my credit card. I also handed her test hardware that I no longer needed. From then on those accounts were linked in the eyes of Apple. Once that account was involved with review manipulation, my account was closed.

I was not aware my account was linked to another until Apple contacted me Friday, 2 days after closing my account. I was never notified of any kind of wrongdoing before my account was terminated.

What Apple has done: on Friday they told me they’d reactivate my account if I’d make a blog post admitting some wrongdoing. I told them I can’t do that, because I did nothing wrong. On Saturday they told me that they are fine with me writing the truth about what happened, and that if I did that, my account would be restored. Saturday night I sent a blog post draft to Apple and have since waited for their approval.

The story, as best as I can figure out: there are two developer accounts tied to the same credit card, bank account, test devices, and “com.kapeli.*” bundle ID. According to Popescu, the non-Dash account was run by a relative of his, and Popescu was unaware of the review fraud they were committing and unaware that Apple considered that account linked to his own, the one used for Dash.1 Apple’s anti-fraud warnings were all given to the account controlled by Popescu’s relative, and according to Popescu, he was never notified, neither by Apple nor his relative. Neither side is disputing that one of the accounts here was involved with App Store review fraud.

Popescu concludes his response by publishing a recording of a phone call with an Apple representative. Popescu did himself no favors by doing so. For one thing, it’s a breach of trust. But for another, I think Apple comes off well in this recording. They’re bending over backwards to give Popescu another chance and have his account reinstated.

Marco Arment, in an update:

We don’t know what happened between that call and Apple’s statements tonight. I’m guessing Popescu and Apple couldn’t reach an agreement over the wording of the public story, but I think what Apple asked for in that phone call was extremely reasonable.

It seems like Popescu somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. A strange story has gotten a lot stranger. What I don’t get is why Apple went public today, even though Popescu claims to have sent them a draft statement over the weekend and never heard back.

Matt Drance:

Apple developers: the only thing you know right now is that you don’t know everything. That is the only lesson from this Dash mess. 

  1. If, as Popescu claims the two accounts were run by two different developers, it would explain the extreme discrepancy in quality. The account that committed review fraud was publishing dozens of, well, rather junky looking apps of dubious utility. The other account only published two apps: Dash for Mac and Dash iOS, both of which are of outstanding quality and utility. It’s circumstantial and obviously subjective, but one account looks like a huckster and the other looks like that of a developer with high integrity. ↩︎

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