Pixate 

My thanks to Pixate for once again sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Pixate is an amazing design tool for mobile developers. Pixate enables you to visually prototype mobile apps that run natively on iOS and Android. Here’s a comment from an actual Pixate user: “Designing with Pixate is like using the original iPhone for the very first time.” Pixate sounds like magic, but it’s real. If you design or develop mobile apps, take a few minutes and watch the demo at the website and see for yourself.


Retailers Are Disabling NFC to Block Apple Pay

Eric Slivka, reporting for MacRumors:

Earlier this week, pharmacy chain Rite Aid shut down unofficial support for the Apple Pay and Google Wallet mobile payments systems, resulting in an outcry from users who have been testing out Apple’s new system since its launch on Monday. Rite Aid was not an official Apple Pay partner, but the payments system generally works with existing near field communications (NFC) payment terminals anyway, and many users had had success using Apple Pay at Rite Aid stores early in the week.

It now appears that fellow major pharmacy chain CVS is following suit and as of today is shutting down the NFC functionality of its payment terminals entirely, a move presumably intended to thwart Apple Pay. Google Wallet services are obviously also being affected by the move.

These retailers are part of a group (Merchant Customer Exchange, “MCX”) working on an upcoming mobile payment system called CurrentC. Here’s an article about CurrentC by Debbie Simurda, writing for Mainstreet Inc., a point-of-sale provider:

CurrentC mobile payments platform by Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) is a mobile wallet being developed by a group of major retailers who want greater control of payments, their mobile brand and mobile customer experience. They want to keep more of their customer data, rather than ceding to technology companies. MCX was established in 2012 and currently consists of 59 participating retailers, many large Tier 1 merchants, across all segments. […]

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

The application can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play Store. Available for both iOS and Android devices, it is designed to ‘simplify and expedite the customer checkout process by applying qualifying offers and coupons, participating merchant rewards, loyalty programs and membership accounts, and offering payment options through the consumer’s selected financial account, all with a single scan.”

  • Using CurrentC mobile payments the point-of-sale displays a QR code for the customer to read with their phone.

  • The QR code generates the payment token on the smartphone which verifies the shopper’s presence, identity and initiates the transaction between the merchant and the bank.

  • The phone connects with the cloud for authorization and sends the approval to the merchant.

CurrentC doesn’t support the contactless Near Field Communications (NFC) used by Apple Pay.

QR codes. Good luck with that. Plus, CurrentC doesn’t even work with credit cards — it only works with prepaid store cards and debit cards tied directly to your bank account. Apple Pay is built atop the credit card system; CurrentC is an attempt — futile, I say — to eliminate credit cards.

What Apple gets and what no one else in the industry does is that using your mobile device for payments will only work if it’s far easier and better than using a credit card. With CurrentC, you’ll have to unlock your phone, launch their app, point your camera at a QR code, and wait. With Apple Pay, you just take out your phone and put your thumb on the Touch ID sensor.

Tim Cook was exactly right on stage last month when he introduced Apple Pay: it’s the only mobile payment solution designed around improving the customer experience. CurrentC is designed around the collection of customer data and the ability to offer coupons and other junk. Here is what a printed receipt from CVS looks like. It looks like a joke, but that’s for real. And that’s the sort of experience they want to bring to mobile payments.

If I’m reading this right, and I think I am, these retailers who are shutting down their NFC payment systems are validating that Apple Pay is actually working, that people are actually using it. And remember, it only works with the month-old iPhones 6. Think about what happens a year or two from now when a majority of iPhones in use are Apple Pay enabled.

Think about what they’re doing. They’re turning off NFC payment systems — the whole thing — only because people were actually using them with Apple Pay. Apple Pay works so well that it even works with non-partner systems. These things have been installed for years and so few people used them, apparently, that these retailers would rather block everyone than allow Apple Pay to continue working. I can’t imagine a better validation of Apple Pay’s appeal.

And the reason they don’t want to allow Apple Pay is because Apple Pay doesn’t give them any personal information about the customer. It’s not about security — Apple Pay is far more secure than any credit/debit card system in the U.S. It’s not about money — Apple’s tiny slice of the transaction comes from the banks, not the merchants. It’s about data.

They’re doing this so they can pursue a system that is less secure (third-party apps don’t have access to the secure element where Apple Pay stores your credit card data, for one thing), less convenient (QR codes?), and not private.

I don’t know that CVS and Rite Aid disabling Apple Pay out of spite is going to drive customers to switch pharmacies (Walgreens is an Apple Pay partner), but I do know that CurrentC is unlikely to ever gain any traction whatsoever. 


Getting an iPad Air 2 on Verizon 

Sam Davies, after having to go to a Verizon retail store to get a SIM for his new iPad Air 2:

Verizon is throwing money away by trying to take control back from Apple. People who don’t follow this stuff are never going to do what I did. They’re going to buy an iPad Air 2 and just choose service from one of the providers on the Apple SIM. Even if they know to go to the Verizon store, they might be turned away by an uninformed clerk.

Verizon is trying to get people to buy tablets from them. Verizon wants to change tablet buying from “buy anywhere” to “buy from your carrier’s store”.

I was under the impression that when you bought an iPad Air 2 from Apple online, you could specify whether you wanted an Apple SIM (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) or Verizon, but no, you can’t. When you order online you only get an Apple SIM, and if you want to use it on Verizon you have to go to either an Apple or Verizon retail store.

I think Davies is right: this is a mistake on Verizon’s part.

Layer Tennis: DKNG vs. DDL 

I’m in the commentator booth for today’s Layer Tennis match, a tag-team match between Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman of DKNG Studios in Los Angeles, and Billy Baumann and Graham Erwin from Delicious Design League in Chicago. Check out the poster design work these guys do — amazing work from both sides.

Get your beverages ready and prepare to get nothing done for the rest of the day. Match starts in about an hour, 2 pm Chicago time.

Update: Just finished. Great match — terrific artwork and a lot of laughs.

AT&T Locks Apple SIM to Their Network 

Apple support document:

Using Apple SIM, you can choose from different cellular carriers and their various programs. The data plans vary by carrier. For instance, in the United States, you can choose a domestic plan from either Sprint or T-Mobile and also pick an alternate plan from the other carrier as needed. When you choose AT&T on iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, AT&T dedicates Apple SIM to their network only.

If your Apple SIM becomes dedicated to a specific network and you want to choose from other carrier programs, you can purchase a new Apple SIM from an Apple Retail store.

Sprint and T-Mobile leave the SIM alone.

Markua 

Leanpub:

Markua is a superset of almost all of Markdown that has a strictly defined mapping to book and documentation concepts and that generates PDF, EPUB, MOBI and HTML.

I love these “start with Markdown and build something new on top of it” projects.

‘Backtrace’, Debut Album From James Dempsey and The Breakpoints, Debuts at Number Five on Billboard Comedy Chart 

Dave Mark, writing for The Loop:

James Dempsey is just a regular guy, a Mac and iOS developer who worked at Apple for about 15 years, toiling away on OS X releases Leopard through Lion, the Cocoa frameworks team, and Aperture.

Dempsey is also a songwriter, writing songs with a focus on development, with titles such as Model View Controller and Gonna Needa Pasteboard. Back in 2001, James got the chance to perform a song at WWDC that was received well enough that a yearly tradition was born. His band, James Dempsey and the Breakpoints has been spooning out these developer novelty songs ever since.

“Do what you love” is always good advice. What do you get when you love making music and Cocoa programming? You get this. So great to see it doing well.

Khoi Vinh on Yosemite’s Look and Feel 

Khoi Vinh:

This is true with Yosemite, too. Spend just a bit of time with it, and you can almost picture the iterations to come, when future releases will have fully worked out the visual language and the gestalt of the interface will have cohered to a more advanced state. OS X Balboa and OS X Palisades are going to look great.

In the meantime, though, I find Yosemite lacking in polish, full of awkward decisions and unresolved tensions.

This is probably my favorite Yosemite review that I’ve seen, or at least the one that comes closest to my own thoughts on Yosemite’s visual design. It’s a great start, but it can improve in so many ways.

Regarding contrast, Khoi writes:

My biggest complaint, personally, is that this fresh coat of paint does a poor job on visual contrast. Interface elements are often so light in color and/or so close to one another in color that they “bleed” into each other all the time. The effect is a blown-out look, as if a novice photographer stepped up the exposure on her camera well beyond advisability.

I spent yesterday with “Increase contrast” turned on (System Prefs: Accessibility: Display). It’s a really interesting look — like a modern-day descendant of the original Mac UI from Systems 1-6.

Porno From Apple 

Carl Smith:

It turns out Apple thought the best way to tell us our app could be used to surf porn was to surf for porn using our app. Then send us some pictures and say take a look at these! Except they said, “Please see the attached screenshot for more information.” So with no warning…

CLICK — Well hello there handsome! […]

Apple sent us pornography without trying to mask it and with no warning of what we were going to see. This means they exposed employees of my company to things Apple themselves said was objectionable. How is this acceptable?

Crazy. I can’t help but suspect that this was the result of a mistaken App Store reviewer, not company policy. A mistake, not a policy. But still: crazy, right?

That said, I think Smith could have toned down the get-me-to-the-fainting-couch histrionics.

BBEdit 11 

Solid update to my favorite app of all time. Markdown? Created in BBEdit. My articles on Daring Fireball? The long ones have all been written in BBEdit. Some really nice improvements to syntax coloring in 11.0, and the new “Extract” feature in the Find dialog is a “Where’ve you been all my life?” addition.

As Rich Siegel spoke about at Çingleton a few weekends ago, BBEdit 11 is no longer sold through the Mac App Store. Old-school download only.

(And of course, as usual, the full release notes set the gold standard for detail.)

The Ethics of The Guardian’s Whisper Bombshell 

Ryan Chittum, writing for Columbia Journalism Review:

What The Guardian did was entirely ethical. Whisper told its reporters highly newsworthy facts about its own service. The information was all on the record. The Guardian reported it. It would have been a journalistic lapse for the paper not to have told readers what it had learned.

In fact, even had the sessions been off the record, or as Primack asserts, implicitly private, The Guardian would have had to give serious consideration to burning its sources if it couldn’t otherwise confirm the information. I’d argue that the right of the public to know that it is being gravely misled clearly outweighs the agreement by the paper not to publish that information.

The Difference 30 Years Makes 

Kent Akgungor:

80 of the original Macintosh displays fit within a single Retina 5K display.

Gmail Inbox 

Google at its best: a thorough reimagining of what email should be (along with some imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery inspiration from Mailbox). There’s a lock-in element here, because this takes Gmail even further — a lot further — from the concepts of standard IMAP, but how can you improve email in big ways without changing email in big ways?

Interesting too, that it requires a beta invitation and an altogether new app, separate from the regular Gmail app.


The iPad Air 2 (And a Few Cursory Words Regarding the iPad Mini 3)

The relationship between the iPad and the iPhone, performance-wise, has been hard to predict. I often point out that Apple is a company of annual patterns, often predictable. There’s not much of a pattern with regard to how the iPad and iPhone relate to one another.

Two years ago, when the original iPad Mini debuted, it was roughly a year behind its 9.7-inch sibling, the iPad 4. The original Mini had a non-retina display and A5 system-on-a-chip (SoC). In broad strokes, Apple took an iPad 2 and shrunk it to fit in a much smaller form factor. The iPad 4 had a retina display and an A6 SoC — and double the RAM (1 GB vs. 512 MB), a better camera, etc.

Last year, the new models were roughly all on par CPU/GPU-wise, with the A7 SoC running at about the same speed on all three devices: iPad Air, iPad Mini 2, and iPhone 5S. The Air had one small advantage over the other two devices: it was clocked at 1400 MHz instead of 1300 MHz, which gave it about a 5 percent advantage in CPU performance. The iPhone 5S had unique niceties, though, maintaining its clear position as the king of the iOS hill: a far superior camera and Touch ID, to name just two. The Air had better color gamut than the Mini, but I think it was very fair to say (which I did) that they were more or less the same iPad in two different sizes. The main thing you got when you paid the extra $100 for last year’s Air (versus the comparably-equipped Mini) was the size of the display.

This year, all previous patterns are busted.

The new iPad Mini 3 really just gets two things: Touch ID and a gold case option. Really, that’s it. Everything else about it remains unchanged.

The iPad Air 2, though, is entirely new. It’s a thorough refresh, that not only makes it a nice year-over-year improvement over last year’s iPad Air in just about every single regard, but arguably positions it above the iPhones 6 as the top-tier iOS device, period.

Let’s talk performance. The iPhones 6 still have just 1 GB of RAM. The iPad Air 2 has 2 GB. The iPhone’s A8 SoC has 2 billion transistors and two cores. The iPad Air 2’s A8X SoC has 3 billion transistors. According to Geekbench 3, Apple achieved this by going from two CPU cores to three. And the Geekbench benchmark results bear this out:

Geekbench 3 Results

Device Single Core Multi Core
iPad Air 2 1,813 4,539
iPhones 6 1,603 2,866
iPad Air 1 1,472 2,664
iPad 4 770 1,402
11-inch MacBook Air (2011) 1,773 4,137
11-inch MacBook Air (2012) 2,560 5,170
13-inch MacBook Pro (2014) 3,518 7,438

(The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are so nearly identical in Geekbench results that I simply averaged the two together under “iPhones 6”.)

The Air 2 is noticeably faster than the iPhones 6 in single-core performance, but it’s simply in an altogether different ballpark in multi-core. I couldn’t get an answer from anyone at Apple regarding whether Geekbench is correct that it’s a three-core CPU,1 but the multi-core results certainly bear that out.

It is remarkable not only that the new iPad Air 2 is faster than the iPhones 6, but also that it’s faster than a three-year-old MacBook Air, and within shooting distance of a two-year-old MacBook Air. It’s more than half as fast as today’s top-of-the-line 13-inch MacBook Pro, especially in multi-core. (Let’s not get carried away regarding this apparent third core. Single-core performance is a better measure for most of the things typical consumers do on an iPad. But still.)

Geekbench is just a benchmark, but I think it’s a fair one for a general comparison of “how fast” machines are, including machines that run entirely different operating systems.

But Geekbench only measures CPU performance — year-over-year, the iPad Air 2 is even more impressive in terms of GPU performance. Apple claims, “The A8X chip has an astonishing 2.5 times the graphics performance of the A7 chip,” and from what I’ve seen, that’s true.

The iPad is no longer following in the wake of the iPhone, performance- and specs-wise. It’s forging ahead. With 2 GB of RAM, it’s a year ahead of the iPhone (we hope) in that department. Performance-wise it’s fast enough to replace a MacBook Air for many, many people. The demos that Apple chose for last week’s event — the Pixelmator image editor and Replay real-time video editor — emphasize that. Those are performance-heavy tasks, and the iPad Air 2 handled them with aplomb.

The other factor is Metal, Apple’s new low-level graphics API, which is (at least for now) iOS-only. Apple promotes it as being 10 times faster than OpenGL. For games and creative productivity apps that take advantage of Metal — and developers of both seem to be buying in — the iPad Air 2 might be on even footing today with the MacBook Air. It really is desktop-PC-level performance.

In short, I don’t think performance is any longer a reason to buy a MacBook Air instead of an iPad Air. The choice comes down to form factor and personal preference. This marks a turning point.2

iPad as Camera

The original iPad in 2010 didn’t even have a camera — not on the front, not on the back. Now, the iPad Air 2 has both a FaceTime camera and a rear-facing (“iSight”) camera that, to my eyes, produces images with quality somewhere between that of the iPhone 5 and 5S. It suffers in low light compared to the 5S, but in sunshine, it’s pretty close.

Apple didn’t anticipate people loving to use their iPads as cameras. I certainly didn’t either. But they do, and now Apple is embracing iPad photography. And for whatever the iPad Air 2 camera lacks optically, it makes up for many things through software. Again, I think the Pixelmator/Replay demos were carefully chosen — not only did they show off the Air 2’s computational performance, they exemplified the sort of apps you might want to use if you’re using the iPad as a camera. Shoot, edit, filter, publish and share — all from one device. You can do the same from an iPhone too, but other than the optical quality of the camera (where the iPhone 6 still has a noticeable edge), the iPad is the better machine for everything else. It’s faster, and its bigger display is better for composing new shots and examining/editing the shots you’ve already taken.

And then there’s the social aspect. The iPad camera has spawned an entirely new class of applications for teachers and coaches. Apple showed a clip of Coach’s Eye during the event last week, to name one very popular example. The iPad’s size enables a teacher and pupil, a coach and player, to share the display in a way that isn’t practical on a phone (even the 6 Plus).

When the iPad debuted in 2010, the primary question was what sort of things would we want to use them for instead of our iPhones and laptops. The answers vary by taste. Email, web browsing, watching video — a lot of the things we used to do on phones and laptops we now do on tablets.

Using the camera, in conjunction with smart software, as an instructional aid is something else: brand-new territory. Something only a tablet is suited for.

Feel

The iPad 3 was the first to go retina, and it was glorious to behold. But at 1.46 pounds, it was not so glorious to just plain hold. Not only was that 50 grams heavier than the iPad 2, it was 0.6 mm thicker. Apple products get thinner and lighter over time, not thicker and heavier. (The iPad 4, released just six months after the 3, was the same size and weight. It had better performances and switched the 30-pin adapter (gross, right?) for Lightning.)

Two years later, the iPad Air 2 is an entire half pound lighter than the iPad 3 was (0.98 pounds, down from 1.46) and 33 percent thinner (6.1 mm, down from 9.4 mm). A one-third reduction in thickness and weight in just two and a half years — with the same battery life, incredible performance increases (see above), and vastly improved cameras. The camera quality deserves special recognition, because, all things considered, the image quality of a camera tends to be inversely proportional to the distance between the lens and the sensor. (That’s why the iPhone 6 has a lens that juts out from the back of its frame.)

Yet the iPad Air 2 got thinner and its camera quality has increased. Part of that is that now that Apple is taking iPad photography more seriously, they’re using more expensive camera components. But part of it is due to things other than the camera lens and sensor. Face detection for auto-focus goes through the A8X’s image signal processor (presumably, the same ISP as on the iPhones 6), and the ISP plays a major role in noise reduction, burst mode, slo-mo, and more.

The end result is a markedly improved iPad, just in terms of it being an object you hold in your hands. It really does feel like we’re getting close to just holding a piece of glass. It’s very thin, very light, and very comfortable to hold. The improved display is a noticeable improvement over all previous iPads. Retina iPhone displays have been laminated to the glass touch screen ever since the first retina model (the iPhone 4, back in 2010). It really does feel like the difference between pixels-under-glass and pixels-on-glass. Now the iPad Air 2 offers the same thing, and it’s gorgeous. Even better, the iPad Air 2 one-ups the iPhone 6, with an anti-reflective coating. It’s quite noticeable, and very welcome. On a dark screen, it’s the difference between being able to see a reflection of my own face on the display, and being able only to see a silhouette of myself. I hope and expect this anti-reflective coating to spread to next year’s new iPhones and iPad Mini. The anti-reflective coating appearing on the iPad Air 2 first is another sign that the “new” iPhone is no longer the recipient of all new model-year improvements.

One other change is worth noting in the Air 2: Apple removed the “side switch” above the volume buttons. It was an on/off toggle that could be set to function as either a silent switch or a rotation lock (configurable in Settings). Now, it’s gone, and both those functions can only be controlled via the swipe-up-from-the-bottom-of-the-screen Control Center. I only ever used it as a silent switch, but I did use it. I’m curious what Apple’s rationale was for getting rid of it, because I thought it was useful.

Personal Preference

Everything Apple is promoting about the Air 2 is true, both in terms of what you can objectively measure, and in terms of how it feels to use it. It’s thinner, lighter, faster, and has a better display and better camera. And, yes, Touch ID is great, especially if you’ve been using it for the last year on your iPhone.

I don’t think I’m going to buy one, though.

For the last two years, my day-to-day iPad has been a Mini. I like the Mini form factor so much that I switched to the original non-retina model in late 2012 even after having used the retina iPad 3 for six months or so. In terms of visual acuity, that was painful. In terms of hold-ability, though, it was a huge win. Last year I didn’t hesitate to stick with the Mini form factor once it went retina.

I spent a lot of time in this review comparing the new Air 2 to the iPad 3/4. I think that’s fair, because normal people aren’t supposed to even consider replacing their iPads on an annual basis. And from what we’re learning as the iPad era marches on, iPad users aren’t even upgrading them as often as they do their iPhones. They’re more like PCs, where people use them for several years. Anyone upgrading from an iPad 3/4 to an iPad Air 2 is going to be delighted. Anyone upgrading from an iPad 2 or original iPad is going to be amazed.

If you already have an iPad Air, it’s obviously a closer call. From the outside, Touch ID looks like the biggest change, but I’d actually rank it behind the improved display (lamination and anti-glare) and CPU/GPU performance in terms of how big a difference it makes in use. And the biggest change of all might be the reduction in weight and thickness. If you hold your iPad for long stretches of time, it really makes a difference.

But I still prefer the Mini form factor. I’m not saying it’s better in general — only that it’s better for me, personally. More than anything else, I mostly read on my iPad. When I do type on my iPad, I tend to do it iPhone-style with just my thumbs. For reading, the Air comes close to being a better iPad for me. After just four days of testing it, my iPad Mini already feels a little thick. But for typing, I’m far more comfortable with the Mini.

Which brings me to the new iPad Mini 3. Apple loaned me one of those to test alongside the Air 2. There’s really not much to review, though. Touch ID and the gold color option really are the only differences from the last year’s iPad Mini 2. Here’s what I wrote last year, in my review of the then-new iPad Air and iPad Mini 2:

So the iPad Air is an excellent year-over-year update over the iPad 4 — double the performance, and a serious reduction in size and weight. But the retina iPad Mini is an almost unbelievable year-over-year update — four times the performance, a retina display (which therefore means four times the pixels), and yet no appreciable difference in size or weight. This is the iPad Mini I expected to see next year, in 2014. But here it is today, in my hand.

Turns out I was right — we did get this year’s iPad Mini a year early. And now we still have it. But that’s OK. I think the sort of person who prefers the Mini form factor is less likely to be using their iPad in the ways that the iPad Air 2 is improved. (Anecdotally, most iPad photographers I see in the real world are using 9.7-inch iPads, not the Mini.) And the sort of iPad users who are pushing the performance limits of the platform are the sort of people who’ve preferred the 9.7-inch models all along. In short, I think the Mini really is more of a pure consumption device, and the Air is more of an alternative to a MacBook.

Choosing a Model

I’ve seen criticism that Apple now offers too many iPad models to choose from. The array of iPads for sale — three generations, two sizes, four storage tiers (16/32/64/128), and cellular-vs.Wi-Fi-only — is certainly not simple. But I don’t think it’s that tough for a would-be iPad buyer to decide. I’d say there are only four questions:

  1. What size — Mini or Air?
  2. What color?
  3. Cellular?
  4. How much more money do you want to spend?

If you answer yes to question 3, you have to answer another question: Which carrier? But with Apple SIM, that’s no longer a long-term commitment unless you choose Verizon.

Question 4 is the tricky one, because you have to evaluate multiple factors, all of which cost additional money: performance, Touch ID, thinness/weight, and of course storage capacity.

It’s not so much that Apple has complicated the iPad lineup, as that they’ve expanded it downward into lower price points. They now have models ranging from $249 (the A5-based original iPad Mini, a.k.a. the zombie iPad) to $829 (the 128 GB cellular Air 2). At any given price point, there aren’t many decisions to make beyond color. I don’t know that that’s any harder a decision to make than buying a MacBook, especially once you factor in the various build-to-order upgrades that MacBooks offer.

Storage Tiers

On that last point, I’ll reiterate what I wrote a few weeks ago regarding the iPhone lineup. Apple should not be selling 16 GB iPads. The starting tier for typical consumers should be 32 GB. There’s just not enough usable space on a 16 GB iOS device to do the things Apple has worked so hard to make easy to do. High-def slo-mo video? Panoramic photos? Console-quality games? Those things all consume large amounts of space.

I heard from a few DF readers in education and the enterprise who said that their organizations buy 16 GB iPads and they all have plenty of free space to spare. It’d be a waste to force them to buy 32 GB models. I have no doubt that’s true. And I have no doubt there are millions of consumers for whom 16 GB is more than enough storage. But I don’t think it’s enough for the majority of typical iPad users, and that’s what matters.

I also understand the product marketing angle. That there are a lot of people who will look at the 16 GB models, see that they can get four times the storage for just $100 more, and buy the 64 GB model instead — when they would’ve bought the base model if it were 32 GB. I get it. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s good short-term business sense to go with a 16/64/128 lineup instead of 32/64/128. But Apple is not a short-term business. They’re a long-term business, built on a relationship of trust with repeat customers. 16 GB iPads work against the foundation of Apple’s brand, which is that they only make good products.

Apple has long used three-tier pricing structures within individual product categories. They often used to label them “Good”, “Better”, and “Best”. Now, with these 16 GB entry-level devices, it’s more like “Are you sure?”, “Better”, and “Best”. Fine, keep the 16 GB models around for expert business and education buyers who know that they really don’t need more storage space. But don’t put devices on the tables in Apple retail stores that you wouldn’t recommend as a good product and good value to typical customers.

If you’re on the fence about buying a 16 or 64 GB new iPad, especially the Air 2, I strongly encourage you to spring the extra $100 for the 64 GB. You’ll thank me later. 


  1. “Apple claims that the A8X has three billion transistors, compared to two billion on the iPhone 6’s A8. Is that because it includes a third core?”

    Pause. “We’re not talking about that sort of detail regarding the A8X.”

    “Would you call that an interesting question?”

    Laughs. “You always ask interesting questions.” 

  2. These CPU and GPU performance gains are all thanks to Apple’s own in-house chip design team. And Metal is all-Apple. They’re not sharing these chips or APIs with anyone else. It could well turn out to be a temporary historical blip, but at the moment, it looks like one company, Apple, is single-handedly pulling away from the entire rest of the industry in terms of computing performance and efficiency. 


World Series Ballparks Are the First Pro Sports Venues to Support Apple Pay 

For the record, I’m rooting for Kansas City.

The Ikealook Hotel 

Speaking of Kubrick, Ikea has a little fun for Halloween.

BFI Releases New Trailer for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ 

Well done. I’m curious, though, whether they needed the Kubrick estate’s permission to cut this. (Someone should have flagged those botched small caps on the quote attributions.) Also: Why is this film being re-released in cinemas in the UK but not here in the US?

Siri, a ‘Sidekick’ for the Autistic 

Wonderful story by Judith Newman, on her 13-year-old autistic son’s relationship with Siri:

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.

Don’t miss this one.

Some Research on iOS’s Mysterious Storage-Consuming ‘Other’ 

Kevin Hamm:

Many people have had problems updating their iOS device to iOS 8 because they don’t have enough space. The weird thing is that many of us have plenty of space, except there’s a mysterious padding of yellow marked “Other” that is, well, unknown.

This has been going on for quite a while, and after some prodding from Wave and Gruber, I figured it was time to do some research. So, in pictures, here’s what I found.

Update: Fireballed; cached at fireballed.org.

How to Stop Mac, iPhone, iPad From Ringing for Phone Calls 

It’s a cool feature if you want it, but I have a feeling a lot of people are going to be turning it off.

Another Day, Another Writer Who Should No Longer be Allowed to Use the Word ‘Finally’ 

Mikey Campbell, writing for AppleInsider:

With today’s release of iOS 8.1, Apple finally activated SMS text forwarding from iPhone to OS X Yosemite, allowing users to send, read and reply to messages directly from their Mac.

Yosemite came out four days earlier. Four days.

Macminicolo Blog: A Look at the 2014 Mac Mini 

Brian Stucki, founder of Macminicolo:

We’ve been working extensively with Mac minis for nearly 10 years. (Yes, we’re nearing the tenth anniversary for the more-popular-than-you-think Mac. They are great servers, come and try one.) When a new machine gets released, we often get asked for feedback and any opinions on the new hardware. So below are ten things we noticed about the new Mac mini.

‘The Story Line’ 

Daisuke Wakabayashi, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

A year ago, the story line around Apple Inc. was that its formidable growth had petered out and Samsung Electronics Co. was eating its lunch. What a difference a year makes.

Driven by booming sales of its new bigger-screen iPhones, Apple on Monday said its quarterly profit rose 13%, and it predicted record holiday sales in the current three-month period.

Meanwhile, Samsung’s approach of offering smartphones at all sizes and prices in every market is struggling amid a wave of Chinese manufacturers with low-cost offerings.

I like the way Wakabayashi poses this. That was “the story line”. It wasn’t the actual truth, it turns out, it was just the story line. But whose story? Well, it was the story put forth repeatedly by, to name just one example, The Wall Street Journal itself, repeatedly. Samsung is beating Apple is a narrative that the WSJ drove. Here’s a perfect example from January 2013 (“Has Apple Lost Its Cool to Samsung?”):

Samsung’s surge in smartphones has caused more than just consumers to switch away from Apple. Some app developers have said they are now focusing more attention on Samsung devices.

Ken Yarmosh, chief executive of Savvy Apps in Washington, D.C., said his company began by making apps for Apple’s iOS operating system but lately has been focusing on Android as Samsung devices have become more prevalent, especially among his own company’s testing devices.

“There was a major flip — it was Apple, then if you have money build for Android,” Mr. Yarmosh said. “Now it’s Android first, or Android only.”

So it’s not that the WSJ was wrong. It’s the story that was wrong. Even though the WSJ wrote and drove the story. Got it.

Yosemite, Spotlight, and Privacy 

Russell Brandom, writing for The Verge, responding to a mostly-wrong piece in The Washington Post on Yosemite Spotlight and privacy:

But on closer inspection, many of the claims are less damning than they seem. There’s already a public privacy policy for the new feature, as well as a more technical look at the protections in the most recent iOS security report. That document breaks down five different kinds of information transmitted in a search: the approximate location, the device type, the client app (either Spotlight or Safari), the device’s language settings and the previous three apps called up by the user. More importantly, all that information is grouped under an ephemeral session ID which automatically resets every 15 minutes, making it extremely difficult to trace a string of searches back to a specific user. That also makes the data significantly less useful to marketers, since it can’t track behavior over any meaningful length of time. And most importantly, the data is transmitted over an HTTPS connection, so it can’t be intercepted in transit.

I’m not sure how anyone would think these suggestions would work if information weren’t being sent back to Apple. The only thing Apple could do differently is make this another one of the you-have-to-explicitly-opt-in stages when you first upgrade to Yosemite or create an account on a new Mac. But there are a lot of those on-boarding screens already — to Apple’s credit! — and in this case, even if you are using the feature, Apple has seemingly gone out of their way to protect your privacy.

This Is Tim: Apple’s CEO Answers the Analysts 

Jason Snell, now at Six Colors:

Then comes the question-and-answer session, which while hardly extemporaneous — you get the sense that most of the questions have been anticipated and talking points formulated — lets Apple CEO Tim Cook provide a level of detail into how Apple’s business is shaping up that can be illuminating.

And so, presented with minimal editing, here’s a transcript of how Cook answered the analysts on Monday.

Apple to Require 64-Bit Support and iOS 8 SDK for iOS Apps Starting in February 

Apple Developer news:

Starting February 1, 2015, new iOS apps uploaded to the App Store must include 64-bit support and be built with the iOS 8 SDK, included in Xcode 6 or later.

Keep up, or get out.

Tim Cook, in His Own Words, on the iPad’s Future 

Dan Frommer:

Apple’s iPad business was the lone drag in its otherwise strong earnings report today. iPad sales last quarter dropped 13% from the previous year, to 12.3 million, their third straight quarter of decline. The iPad, which once looked like it could become an iPhone-sized pillar for Apple, represented just 13% of the company’s sales last quarter.

It would be better for Apple if the iPad were more like the iPhone, with continuing year-after-year sales growth. Only a fool would argue otherwise. And until about two years ago, it seemed like that might be the case.

Ends up, no, the iPad isn’t the iPhone, and in a broader sense, the tablet market isn’t like the phone market. It’s more like the PC market. It would have been truly extraordinary if, with the iPad, Apple had managed to build another iPhone-sized business. But it’s still pretty extraordinary that, if you treat the iPad as a PC (and the average selling price supports that), Apple has become the largest PC maker in the world in terms of unit sales.

‘Finally’ 

Jason Parker and Nate Ralph, writing for CNet (emphasis added):

With the launch of iOS 8.1 today, Apple has finally launched Apple Pay, the new NFC payment system that lets you make purchases using an iOS device.

These guys should have their CNet CMS accounts flagged, such that they’re no longer allowed to submit copy including the word “finally”.

Apple Q4 2014 Quarterly Results 

Apple PR:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2014 fourth quarter ended September 27, 2014. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $42.1 billion and quarterly net profit of $8.5 billion, or $1.42 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $37.5 billion and net profit of $7.5 billion, or $1.18 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 38 percent compared to 37 percent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 60 percent of the quarter’s revenue. […]

“Our fiscal 2014 was one for the record books, including the biggest iPhone launch ever with iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “With amazing innovations in our new iPhones, iPads and Macs, as well as iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, we are heading into the holidays with Apple’s strongest product lineup ever. We are also incredibly excited about Apple Watch and other great products and services in the pipeline for 2015.”

This is the first time I can recall that Apple’s press release for its quarterly results doesn’t include unit sales by product line — the total number of iPhones, iPads, Macs, and iPods sold. It’s listed in the “Data Summary” PDF, but not in the press release.

Year over year, iPhone sales were up (39M from 34M), iPad sales down (12M from 14M), and Mac sales had the biggest percentage change of all, up 21 percent (5.5M from 4.5M).

Update: Looks like they stopped including unit sales numbers in the press release earlier this year. Not sure why I didn’t notice then.

Paul Krugman: ‘Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not OK’ 

Paul Krugman:

So far Amazon has not tried to exploit consumers. In fact, it has systematically kept prices low, to reinforce its dominance. What it has done, instead, is use its market power to put a squeeze on publishers, in effect driving down the prices it pays for books — hence the fight with Hachette. In economics jargon, Amazon is not, at least so far, acting like a monopolist, a dominant seller with the power to raise prices. Instead, it is acting as a monopsonist, a dominant buyer with the power to push prices down.

And on that front its power is really immense — in fact, even greater than the market share numbers indicate. Book sales depend crucially on buzz and word of mouth (which is why authors are often sent on grueling book tours); you buy a book because you’ve heard about it, because other people are reading it, because it’s a topic of conversation, because it’s made the best-seller list. And what Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz. It’s definitely possible, with some extra effort, to buy a book you’ve heard about even if Amazon doesn’t carry it — but if Amazon doesn’t carry that book, you’re much less likely to hear about it in the first place.

Igloo 

My thanks to Igloo for once again sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Igloo is an intranet you’ll actually like. It helps you share files, blog updates, coordinate calendars, and manage projects.

Create an intranet that matches your brand’s look and feel, integrates with the apps you use, and provides a cohesive experience across all devices. It’s everything your team or company needs to work better together, in one very configurable cloud platform.

Best of all, Igloo is free to use with up to ten people, and can scale to the largest enterprise. Learn more at events Igloo is hosting in New York on October 23, San Francisco on November 5, or sign up now to start building your intranet at igloosoftware.com/df.

On Yosemite’s New Window Title Bar Style 

Jason Snell:

In Yosemite, there’s a new style. You see it in Safari and Contacts and Maps, to name three prominent examples. To save space, Apple has collapsed the two rows together into one. In Safari, the “stoplight” buttons are right next to the forward and back buttons, on the same level as the URL/search bar and all the rest of the toolbar items. This has the effect of reducing the height of the chrome on a Safari window, while also reducing the open space left to actually click on and move the window around the screen.

We can argue about whether or not this collapsed toolbar/title bar thing is a good idea. What bugs me is not that it exists, but that it only exists in a few of Apple’s apps. In Mail and Preview and TextEdit and even the new iWork apps, the old style prevails. The inconsistency rankles. If Apple thinks the tool/title bar is the future, why do many of its apps not follow the format?

I think the reason Apple’s not using this style in most apps is because most apps have so many toolbar buttons that there’d be very little space left for clicking to drag the window around. And without window titles, it’d be hard to tell which window is which. Safari gets away with this because the URL field acts like a de facto window title. (And given the way that so many websites junk up their <title> tags with SEO-ish cruft, the domain name/url is often better than the actual “title” for the page — and the actual titles appear on your tabs anyway.)

That’s Apple 

Matthew Palmer:

But look behind the exploded iMac. Behind the new ‘TCON’ there’s a girl holding her father’s hand. Not brought to the centre of the frame, not inflated to be the story of the video, just a consequence of this device being in their home. That’s incredible storytelling.

That’s Apple.

You either think things like this matter in product marketing, or you don’t. If you do, you’re a lot more likely to appreciate the details in Apple’s actual products themselves.

I also think it’s worth pointing out how good the special effects are in these videos. I was kind of blown away by the shot where the camera moves and zooms in on individual pixels. Impressive CGI work.

‘You’re My Favorite Client’ 

Speaking of Mike Monteiro and excellent writing, he’s got a new book. I read it this week, and it’s just great, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another book on this topic: a book for clients and employers on how to hire and work with designers. If I were still doing freelance design work, I’d give a copy of this book to every client I worked with. Highly recommended.

See Also: This interview with Mike by Khoi Vinh:

This book has a very unorthodox tone — the second line is an expletive! Why did you take this tack?

It’s not an unorthodox tone for me. I write like I talk. And I’ve generally always had better results being myself when I write and when I speak and when I deal with clients. Obviously, I read the room and know how much to pull back. I wouldn’t curse in front of your mom, for instance.

The Retina iMac Versus the Mac Pro, on Paper 

Marco Arment:

Intel’s next CPU cores (Broadwell) are significantly delayed, so in the meantime, they released a few more high-end Haswell models. The Retina iMac’s 4 GHz option is the Core i7-4790K, which is currently the fastest CPU in the world for most single-threaded tasks.

Since the Xeons in the Mac Pro are based on the even older Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, they’ve been lagging behind even the previous iMacs for single-threaded apps. According to early Geekbench reports, the 4 GHz, 4-core Retina iMac appears to be 25% faster than the 6-core Mac Pro in single-threaded tasks and only about 15% slower in multi-threaded tasks. That’s incredible.

I ordered one yesterday. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous display, outstanding performance, and amazing technology to make it all work. They could have gone “retina” with scaling earlier, but instead, Apple waited until they could truly go pixel-for-pixel @2x retina at 27 inches. I’ve never bought a new machine with less hesitation.

As for price, keep in mind that 10 years ago, the original 30-inch Cinema Display (resolution: 2560 × 1600 pixels) cost $3300. Just the display.

The Guardian: ‘How Whisper App Tracks “Anonymous” Users’ 

Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe, reporting for The Guardian:

Approached for comment last week, Whisper said it “does not follow or track users”. The company added that the suggestion it was monitoring people without their consent, in an apparent breach of its own terms of service, was “not true” and “false”.

But on Monday — four days after learning the Guardian intended to publish this story — Whisper rewrote its terms of service; they now explicitly permit the company to establish the broad location of people who have disabled the app’s geolocation feature.

Whisper has developed an in-house mapping tool that allows its staff to filter and search GPS data, pinpointing messages to within 500 meters of where they were sent.

Update: Whisper denies everything in The Guardian’s report. Everything. (Curious that they put it on Scribd — why not on the company blog?) Either The Guardian blew it and got it wrong, or Whisper is lying.

Layer Tennis: Glenn Jones vs. Flavio Montiel 

My pal Mike Monteiro is doing the commentary, and he’s killing it. Redefining what it means to be a Layer Tennis commentator. If this keeps up he’s going to break my heart.

Apple in One Image 

Avinash Kaushik:

There are many signals that allow one to come to that conclusion. For me the latest one was the above slide from Apple’s keynote today. It represents that Apple family of products. Pause. Look at it. Think about it for a few seconds.

Isn’t it an amazing slide?

There are 50,000 ways to represent Apple products. But, there is perhaps only one incredible way to do it. It is above.

I thought the same thing yesterday when I saw this slide. If I recall correctly, they even showed it a second time. It’s a brilliant visualization.

The commenters on Kaushik’s piece, however, disagree. Worth a read. (Via Ben Thompson.)

The iPad Zombie 

Allen Pike:

The only thing we can do as developers to disavow support for these devices is require a version of iOS that won’t run on them. Unfortunately, Apple will surely continue support for the A5 in iOS 9. If they do so, we won’t have a mechanism to cut off support for these old iPads mini and iPods touch until iOS 10 has reached wide adoption, likely in early 2017.

2017.

Christian Bale ‘in Talks’ to Play Steve Jobs in Sorkin/Boyle Movie 

He’s got the look and the intensity. Who knows if a good movie can be adapted from Isaacson’s shitty biography, but that’s good casting.

John Siracusa’s OS X 10.10 Yosemite Review 

What a gift it is that we, as a community, have a library of Siracusa’s reviews all the way back to the dawn of the platform. A remarkable body of work.

‘Apple SIM’: iPad Air 2 Can Switch Between AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile 

Greg Kumparak, reporting for TechCrunch:

Whoaaa — here’s an interesting bit that went unmentioned in today’s Apple announcement: Apple has seemingly built a SIM card that lets you jump between AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile without having to swap it out (or, more annoyingly, track down/purchase a new SIM card when you want to switch carriers). Instead of swapping the card, you just pick a new carrier through the device’s on screen settings. As it should be!

Tucked into a page about the iPad Air 2’s wireless connectivity, Apple calls the new SIM — aptly — “Apple SIM.”

Curious that Verizon isn’t in there. I wonder if that’s a technical compatibility issue with their network, or a strategic decision on Verizon’s part?

Personally, the international advantage alone means I wouldn’t even consider a Verizon model, even though I’m a Verizon iPhone customer with a shared family account.


Note to Self: It’s the Storage Space, Stupid

Last night I speculated that the slow uptake of iOS 8 was about people not trusting Apple with iOS software updates — too many bugs, and too many friends and family members talking about those bugs. I still think there’s something to that angle.

But it’s very clear that I was wrong about what the primary factor is. The simple answer was staring me right in the face. It’s all about the over-the-air update requiring 5 GB of free storage space, and many people not having that much free space, and not knowing how or simply not wanting to deal with it.

I don’t think I have ever received so much reader feedback on a post in the history of Daring Fireball. Hundreds of emails. Dozens and dozens of replies on Twitter. All of them saying the exact same thing: that either they themselves or people they know want to upgrade to iOS 8 but haven’t yet or can’t because the OTA software update won’t fit on their devices.

Jonathan Hoover puts it well:

iOS 8 OTA update requires about 5GB of free space on the device. Most people, especially those who wouldn’t update until they get the badge on the settings app, don’t have 5GB free on their iPhone. They have no idea they can plug their iPhone into their computer and iTunes will update it. They don’t know they can free up space by downloading their pictures and videos to their computer. 

iPhone makes it so easy for casual users to take gigabytes of photos and videos but nearly impossible for those users to know what to do with them.

This is a serious problem for Apple, because all those 16 GB devices (let alone the 8 GB ones) aren’t going to suddenly gain more free storage space on their own. A lot of these devices might never get updated to iOS 8, but would if the OTA software worked. Unless they can rejigger the OTA software update to require less free space, iOS 8’s adoption rate might lag permanently.1

Which in turn brings to mind one of the closing paragraphs of my review of the new iPhones 6:

But I don’t understand why the entry level storage tier remained at a meager 16 GB. That seems downright punitive given how big panoramic photos and slo-mo HD videos are, and it sticks out like a sore thumb when you look at the three storage tiers together: 32/64/128 looks natural; 16/64/128 looks like a mistake. The original iPhone, seven years and eight product generations ago, had an 8 GB storage tier. The entry-level iPhones 6 are 50 times faster than that original iPhone, but have only twice the storage capacity. That’s just wrong. This is the single-most disappointing aspect of the new phones.

iOS itself takes up about 4 GB, so these 16 GB devices only have about 12 GB free right out of the box. If there is any way that Apple could have brought the base model storage up to 32 GB with the new iPhones, they should have. And it’s inexcusable that they’re still selling new devices with only 8 GB of storage.

If this decision was made simply in the interest of profit margins, and/or to nudge would-be entry-level-model buyers to the more expensive 64 GB mid-range models, whatever money Apple is making from this is not worth it, in the long run, compared to the collective goodwill they’re losing and the frustration they’re creating. 


  1. One small thing Apple could do: when alerting the user that there isn’t enough space to install the update, they could provide a link to this support article — “Resolve issues with an over-the-air iOS update” — which is actually quite helpful. 


Ads via The Deck Ads via The Deck