By John Gruber
Sky Guide brings the beauty of the stars down to Earth.
Alan Sepinwall, writing for Rolling Stone:
A lot happens over the course of the 90-minute Succession series finale, “With Open Eyes.” Alliances are made, broken, and made again. Votes happen, fortunes rise and fall, losers become winners, and vice versa.
For all intents and purposes, though, the only part that matters is a five-minute sequence toward the end.
I’m always wary of recency bias, but at the moment I’d put Succession in the hall of fame for the best TV shows ever. Four great seasons, a rich ensemble of vivid memorable characters, never a bad episode, and a truly great finale.
See also: Sepinwall’s ranking of the top 25 characters on Succession, from least to most despicable.
Neil Jhaveri, founder and lead developer of Mimestream, the terrific new native Mac email client for Gmail, joins the show to talk about email, Mac apps, and indie software development.
Adam Engst, writing at TidBITS:
Where Mimestream shines is in its attention to visual form and functional detail — the small interface elements and features that make working with email feel familiar, fluid, and fast. I spend hours per day in email, and while I’m willing to tweak my working habits slightly to match what an app can do, I prefer it to accommodate my idiosyncrasies.
For instance, I seldom delete messages. My Google account has plenty of space, and Gmail’s performance doesn’t degrade with massive email stores, so I prefer to keep everything for posterity and focus my attention on unread and starred messages. So it’s vital that my email client supports that approach rather than pushing its own concept of Inbox Zero or whatever philosophy it might have.
I can’t predict what refinements and affordances will make working with your email a joy, so I want to share some of what I find compelling about Mimestream. Many of these aren’t unique, they’re just very well done, and the result is that using Mimestream feels like driving a well-engineered automobile instead of a low-end car that feels like it was assembled from cheap, off-the-shelf components.
My thanks to Kolide for their continuing sponsorship support here at DF — they sponsored Daring Fireball last week, and they are the presenting sponsor at the upcoming The Talk Show Live From WWDC. They’re a great company with a great product.
Here’s an uncomfortable fact: at most companies, employees can download sensitive company data onto any device, keep it there forever, and never even know that they’re doing something wrong. Kolide’s new report, The State of Sensitive Data, addresses this issue head-on.
Kolide offers a more nuanced approach than MDM solutions to setting and enforcing sensitive data policies. Their premise is simple: if an employee’s device is out of compliance, it can’t access your apps. Kolide lets admins run queries to detect sensitive data, flag devices that have violated policies, and enforce OS and browser updates so vulnerable devices aren’t accessing data.
To learn more and see Kolide in action, visit kolide.com.
It’s funny what gains traction for the long haul, and what turns out, in hindsight, to be a flash in the pan. I, for one, never would have predicted that WordPress would grow to become, by far, the most popular CMS in the world, and the foundation of a thriving company whose primary goal is making the web a better platform.
After a few years in public beta, Mimestream 1.0 is out, and it’s fantastic. Mimestream is a Mac email client specifically for Gmail. They’ve got plans to expand to iOS, and plans to perhaps expand to IMAP (and JMAP) email accounts in the future, but as it stands today, Mimestream does one thing and does it incredibly well: it’s a true Mac app for Gmail. It’s both a great Mac app and a great Gmail client. $5/month or $50/year, with a two-week free trial.
Apple Mail is free. Gmail in a browser window is free. But after two years with Mimestream, I couldn’t put down my credit card fast enough.
I quipped yesterday that I thought Ivory for Mac wasn’t just the best Mac Mastodon client, but the only good one. A bunch of readers chimed in to endorse Mona, by Junyu Kuang, as a good Mac client. I had tried Mona a while back, and found it lacking in numerous ways on the Mac, but I took another look yesterday and my readers are correct: it’s a very solid Mac client now. Free to try, $10 to go “pro” on any one platform (Mac, iPhone, iPad), and just $16 to go pro on all three. Those are introductory prices that are going up on June 1.
Zoë Schiffer and Casey Newton, reporting for Platformer:
Spaces are hosted on Twitter’s own servers and servers rented from Amazon Web Services. AWS servers for Spaces are “insanely underprovisioned” relative to the need for them, according to a former employee who worked on the project.
On Wednesday, the lack of servers led to a predictable series of cascading failures. In the run-up to the event, engineers expected that Spaces would be able to accommodate hundreds of thousands of users. But too many people joined the first stream simultaneously, and the app kept crashing as a result.
Musk’s own Twitter app crashed repeatedly during the event, we’re told. Musk, who uses the employee-only build of the app known as Earlybird, was said to be furious afterward.
I’m sure he was.
Inside the largest Slack and Discord channels of former tweeps, the mood after DeSantis’ botched announcement was nothing short of jubilant.
I’m sure it was.
Speaking of Tapbots, here’s Andrew Logan writing for Texas Monthly:
Amir Shevat, Twitter’s former head of product for the developer platform, who lives in Round Rock, was responsible for ensuring that the tools Twitter provided independent software developers using the platform met their needs. He said about 17 percent of engagement on Twitter, historically, was through third-party apps, which played a vital role in defining Twitter’s identity.
To my knowledge no one at (or formerly at) Twitter has ever revealed that before. Obviously the overwhelming number of Twitter users only ever used Twitter’s own first-party clients. The reason third-party clients were so important to Twitter, though, is that Twitter power users were drawn to them.
Jardine said he has received positive feedback on the initial launch of Ivory, which he admits was released without all the features he wanted to include. Users being excited about his work is uplifting, he said. But that’s not what entirely motivates him. “Without [Ivory], we have no business,” Jardine said. “There’s a lot of pressure riding on it.”
Despite the pressure, Haddad seems to be thriving in this brave new world. “I’m not at the whims of a dictator anymore,” he said.
Amen to that.
Now shipping in the Mac App Store: Tapbots’s Ivory for Mac. I’ve been using it in beta for a few months, and don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s not just the best Mac Mastodon client, it’s the only good one that exists. $15/year just for the Mac client, but the real deal is Ivory’s $25/year “universal” subscription for Ivory across both MacOS and iOS.
Ivory for Mac is written using Catalyst, but it by no means is just Ivory for iPad with a few tweaks. (If that’s what it were, Tapbots could have shipped it months ago, when Ivory for iPhone and iPad shipped.) Ivory for Mac is a Mac app. But, numerous Catalyst-isms show through. System-wide Services menu items don’t work. Smart punctuation (automatic curly quotes and proper em-dashes when you type two hyphens) only work when you type slowly. Some views scroll via standard keyboard shortcuts (space/shift-space, Page Up/Page Down), but some don’t. A lot of these are things that I consider shortcomings in Apple’s Catalyst framework — the whole point of Cocoa from 20+ years ago is that standard controls get standard behavior out of the box, relieving developers from the drudgery of making simple expected platform-standard features work. Catalyst isn’t like that — or at least isn’t like that yet.
But this is Ivory for Mac 1.0. Progress during beta testing was steady, and knowing Tapbots’s high standards, I’m quite sure will continue to be. And on the whole, Ivory for Mac as it stands today is not just a glass of ice water in hell, it’s a whole pitcher. If you use Mastodon on a Mac, you’re nuts if you don’t try Ivory.
See also: John Voorhees’s review at MacStories.
There hasn’t been a decent Tetris game for the Mac in decades, but now you can play it on a Chicken McNugget. What a world. (Via Kottke.)
I hate to complain as Markdown continues its march to world domination,* but it’s really dumb that Discord added syntax for underlining (and ugly syntax at that). The only reason underlining should be used today, in any context, is to indicate hyperlinks. Any other use of underlining should be considered a typographical faux pas.
* Where by hate I of course mean love.
Taegan Goddard, writing at Political Wire on Ron DeSantis’s much-ballyhooed campaign launch on Twitter Spaces yesterday:
In the end, the event had all of the appeal of a glitchy conference call.
Politics aside, the event was humiliating for Elon Musk and Twitter. The space crashed on the server side several times, and it crashed the Twitter app on my iPhone at least 6 or 7 times. And even when it finally got going, the audio quality was terrible.
There were hints about this last fall, but now it’s official: Bungie is reviving Marathon:
Marathon is currently in development for playstation 5, xbox series x/s, and pc with full cross play and cross save.
This news either evokes some strong feelings and memories, or you were not a Mac gamer in the ’90s. I get it, but it seems downright criminal that the Mac isn’t on their platform list.
Always an interesting perusal. Apps on my iPhone that made the list: Flighty, Camo, and Knotwords. Oh, and Universe — a very ambitious website/store builder for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
If I’ve seen these snapshots before, I’d forgotten them. Extraordinary how casual they are, sitting on the floor in a cramped bedroom like teenagers. Nice find from the gang at Poolsuite. (Andy Hertzfeld tells a bit of the backstory to this in “A Mac for Mick” at his Folklore site.)
First batch of tickets is on sale now.
Location: The California Theatre, San Jose
Showtime: Wednesday, 7 June 2023, 5 pm PT (Doors open 4 pm)
Special Guest(s): Yes
Discount Student Ticket Pricing: Available
Video of the show will, of course, be published at the end of the week, but will not be livestreamed. If you want to watch live, be there or be square. I am, I will admit, nervous — I am anything but a natural stage performer — but so very excited to be back in the big theater for the first time in four years. (!) It’s a beautiful space, and I do so enjoy meeting the readers and listeners who attend. The enthusiasm from the audience is always palpable, and so energizing. All year long, as I write and record podcasts, I know I have a big audience out there. But man, when I walk out on stage at the WWDC live show, I can feel it. It’s quite a thing.
I can’t wait to see you there. Should be a good one this year, too.
Pam Clark, writing for the Adobe Blog:
We are thrilled to announce that the Photoshop (beta) app has released Generative Fill, the world’s first co-pilot in creative and design workflows, giving users a magical new way to work. Generative Fill is powered by Adobe Firefly, Adobe’s family of creative generative AI models. Starting today, Photoshop subscribers can create extraordinary imagery from a simple text prompt.
This brings two imaging powerhouses together — Photoshop and generative AI, enabling you to generate content from inside Photoshop with a text prompt and edit it with Photoshop’s comprehensive range of tools to create extraordinary results.
“Extraordinary” is no exaggeration. Just amazing stuff.
See also: This 5-minute video on Adobe’s YouTube channel, and this thread on Twitter from Adobe’s Scott Belsky.
More see also: Rands gets some mind-blowing results in 30 seconds; a mind-blowing 18-minute tour of the feature on YouTube by Aaron Nace at Phlearn.
All five items on The Verge’s list are AI-related, topped by an AI-powered personal assistant (named Copilot, natch) built into the Windows 11 task bar.
How many AI announcements will Apple have at WWDC?
CNN — now owned by Warner “Bros” Discovery, who, as I’ve mentioned, are morons — is learning the same thing as Twitter: there’s no mainstream audience for right-wing media, and no mainstream tolerance for insurrectionists or their sympathizers. Two weeks ago they embarrassed themselves by handing over a prime time hour of TV to Donald Trump. WBD CEO (and Biff-Tannen-in-glasses lookalike) David Zaslav bragged, “Republicans are back on the air.”
Now, reports Justin Baragona at The Daily Beast:
More than a week after CNN’s disastrous town hall with former President Donald Trump, the negative impact the fiasco had on the network’s ratings is coming into clearer focus. Last week, the cable news pioneer suffered its lowest-rated week since June 2015, averaging just 429,000 total daily viewers from Monday-Friday. CNN was also down double digits compared to the same week last year in both total viewership and in the key advertising demographic of viewers ages 25-54. MSNBC more than doubled CNN’s daily audience, drawing 976,000 total viewers, while Fox News averaged 1.4 million. [...]
Since the town hall, CNN has seen several of its weeknight hours — including Anderson Cooper — fall behind Newsmax, the fringe-right channel that has surged since Carlson’s ouster. And on Friday night, the channel’s much-hyped interview show hosted by Chris Wallace averaged only 224,000 total viewers at 10 p.m., drawing 60,000 fewer viewers than Newsmax’s offering.
Losing to Newsmax. Jiminy.
Charlie Warzel, writing for The Atlantic:
Twitter has so fully assumed the role of a far-right platform that it might be killing its competitors. When Parler shut down in April, its parent company noted that “no reasonable person believes that a Twitter clone just for conservatives is a viable business any more.” Left unspoken is the reason: Twitter has become a right-wing echo chamber.
If Musk weren’t too preoccupied lapping up approval from trolls, reactionaries, and Dogecoin enthusiasts — a few of the constituencies left on his site that still seem to adore him — the Parler statement should worry him. Right-wing alt-tech platforms may attract investors and a flood of indignant new users with persecution complexes, but they are, ultimately, bad businesses.
A fairer headline would be “Twitter Is a Far-Right-Friendly Social Network”, but that’s enough to be a problem.
I still check in on Twitter, but with each passing week, less and less. It’s not fun, it’s hard to use without Tweetbot, and the new algorithm that puts paying Twitter Blue users’ replies at the top of every thread has ruined political Twitter. It’s like letting people suffering from incontinence try on all the pants in a store before anyone else.
And the right-wing veer is most obvious in the ads that I see. (And I now see a lot of them — one every 3–4 posts.) Almost all of them are for no-name gimmicks and gadgets, the sort of crap that used to be sold at the mall at Spencer Gifts or in the middle of the night on cable TV commercials.
One of the few exceptions I see is Apple, which continues to place ads on Twitter.
Special guest: Jason Snell. Topics: Headset, headseat, headset. And no baseball talk other than how games might look in VR. Also: Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for iPad, and GM’s dumb decision to drop CarPlay.
Sigmund Judge, on Twitter:
Max launches today, and with it brings yet another chapter in the battle between Warner/Discovery executives and Apple TV customers.
@StreamOnMax switches away from Apple’s native video player in the continued pursuit of creating an inferior product...
I told you these Warner “Bros” Discovery executives are morons. On all the good platforms, you have to install an altogether new app. Why not just update the existing HBO Max app with (yet another) a new name and icon? Because they’re morons. (Even better: when I launch the old HBO Max app on my Apple TV, it doesn’t tell me anything about the new app — it just shows an error screen saying “Something went wrong.”)
This much moronity I expected. But it gets worse. As Judge documents, with the new app they’ve once again dropped tvOS’s excellent native video player for a custom video player that utterly sucks: “up next” support in the TV app is now broken or missing, HDR and frame-rate match are gone, the new video player doesn’t support the Siri remote’s jog support, no picture-in-picture, and no support for the wonderful “What did they just say?” feature (speak that to your Siri remote and the video jumps back 10 seconds or so and temporarily enables subtitles).
HBO Max was a really good tvOS app. Max is a poor one.
Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:
YouTube’s biggest ad innovation for 2023? It might be borrowing a well-worn page from old-fashioned linear TV.
At the YouTube Brandcast upfront event Wednesday in New York, execs announced the introduction of 30-second unskippable ads in top-performing YouTube content on TVs — you know, just like the commercials that have run on broadcast and cable networks for decades. YouTube also will start testing new “Pause Experiences” for YouTube on TV screens, showing an ad when viewers pause a video akin to the pause ads Hulu first bowed four years ago.
I bring this up on my podcast often, but it never ceases to depress me that 20 years ago, when TV-watching first became computerized through DVRs like TiVo and ReplayTV, one of the primary selling points was the ability to fast-forward through commercials. Computers made watching TV not just a little better, but a lot better. That’s what computers can do. That’s why we love them.
Now though, in the streaming era, more and more we’re seeing streaming apps making commercials unskippable. They’re making TV watching not just worse but a lot worse. That’s also what computers can do. That’s why we hate them.
No surprise which side of this Google is on.
Location: The California Theatre, San Jose
Showtime: Wednesday, 7 June 2023, 5:00 pm PT
Tickets: First batch goes on sale Tuesday 23 May
Special Guest(s): For me to know and you to find out
Previous Shows: On YouTube
(Next batch will go on sale later in the week.)
Spain has advocated banning encryption for hundreds of millions of people within the European Union, according to a leaked document obtained by Wired that reveals strong support among EU member states for proposals to scan private messages for illegal content.
The document, a European Council survey of member countries’ views on encryption regulation, offered officials’ behind-the-scenes opinions on how to craft a highly controversial law to stop the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in Europe. The proposed law would require tech companies to scan their platforms, including users’ private messages, to find illegal material. However, the proposal from Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner in charge of home affairs, has drawn ire from cryptographers, technologists, and privacy advocates for its potential impact on end-to-end encryption. [...]
Of the 20 EU countries represented in the document leaked to WIRED, the majority said they are in favor of some form of scanning of encrypted messages, with Spain’s position emerging as the most extreme. “Ideally, in our view, it would be desirable to legislatively prevent EU-based service providers from implementing end-to-end encryption,” Spanish representatives said in the document.
If the EU goes ahead with this, I think it means the end of services like WhatsApp, Signal, and iMessage in the EU. There’s no way to architect a messaging system that uses E2EE in some regions and doesn’t in others. The only way to comply would be to rearchitect these systems to not use E2EE anywhere. Signal certainly wouldn’t do that. Apple wouldn’t either.
Denmark and Ireland expressed support for scanning encrypted messengers for child sexual abuse material while also endorsing the inclusion of wording in the law that protects end-to-end encryption from being weakened. The ability to do this would rely on the invention of technology that can scan encrypted messages for illegal content without altering or breaking the security features offered by encryption — a feat cryptographers and cybersecurity experts have said is technically impossible.
It is technically impossible. There is no he-said/she-said debate here. The cryptographers are correct and the lawmakers are so ignorant that they’re proposing a fantasy. It’s a downwind effect of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous maxim that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic: the technology of E2EE is so far above the heads of lawmakers and law enforcement officials that they feel free to demand magic solutions. “Just nerd harder.”
The Netherlands, however, stated that this would be possible through “on-device” scanning before the illegal material is encrypted and sent to its recipient. “There are … technologies which may allow for automatic detection of CSAM while at the same time leaving end-to-end encryption intact,” the country’s representatives stated in the document.
Somewhere in Cupertino, a head bangs against a desk.
Adam Satariano, reporting for The New York Times:
Meta on Monday was fined a record 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) and ordered to stop transferring data collected from Facebook users in Europe to the United States, in a major ruling against the social media company for violating European Union data protection rules.
The penalty, announced by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, is potentially one of the most consequential in the five years since the European Union enacted the landmark data privacy law known as the General Data Protection Regulation. Regulators said the company failed to comply with a 2020 decision by the European Union’s highest court that Facebook data shipped across the Atlantic was not sufficiently protected from American spy agencies.
But it remains unclear if or when Meta will ever need to cordon off the data of Facebook users in Europe. Meta said it would appeal the decision, setting up a potentially lengthy legal process.
A billion here, a billion there, and soon enough you’re talking about real money.
Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan, writing on the Neeva blog:
In early 2022, the upcoming impact of generative AI and LLMs became clear to us. We embarked on an ambitious effort to seamlessly blend LLMs into our search stack. We rallied the Neeva team around the vision to create an answer engine. We are proud of being the first search engine to provide cited, real-time AI answers to a majority of queries early this year.
But throughout this journey, we’ve discovered that it is one thing to build a search engine, and an entirely different thing to convince regular users of the need to switch to a better choice. From the unnecessary friction required to change default search settings, to the challenges in helping people understand the difference between a search engine and a browser, acquiring users has been really hard. Contrary to popular belief, convincing users to pay for a better experience was actually a less difficult problem compared to getting them to try a new search engine in the first place.
I tried Neeva, briefly, but it never stuck for me. Part of the problem, even if you’re open to trying new search engines — clearly a big if — is that there’s a bit of a renaissance at the moment in new search engines. I’d been using DuckDuckGo as my default for years, but about six months ago I switched to Kagi, and so far I haven’t looked back. I pay $10/month for Kagi. A paid search engine! Good search results and absolutely zero clutter from ads or paid placement. They’ve also got a GPT-backed search that includes up-to-date results and works very fast.
James Vincent, writing at The Verge:
Earlier this year on the 8th of May I deleted all my tweets, just under 5,000 of them. I know the exact day because I tweeted about it.
This morning, though, I discovered that Twitter has restored a handful of my old re-tweets; interactions I know I scrubbed from my profile. Those re-tweets were gone. I remember surveying my bare timeline with satisfaction before thinking, “great, time to draw attention to myself.” But now they’re back. You can see them by scrolling down my timeline past May 8th, with even more appearing if you select “tweets with replies.”
Twitter is far from alone being a service where “deletion” needs dick quotes around it. This bug is bad and likely will soon be fixed, but the persistence of ostensibly deleted tweets is a profound design flaw.
(The nightmare scenario: a bug that exposes DMs — which infamously are not encrypted — publicly.)
Lia Haberman, writing at ICYMI:
Codename: P92, Project 92 or Barcelona, as it’s been alternately called.
Tagline: “Instagram for your thoughts.”
All new details have surfaced based on secret calls Meta has been having with select creators, hinting at a potential release in late June. Here’s what I’ve been told by a creator who met with Meta.
The decentralized app is built on the back of Instagram but will be compatible with some other apps like Mastodon:
- There’s a single sign-on with your IG username and password
- You can sync up with your existing followers
- Your handle, bio and even verification will carry over from IG
- Users on other apps will be able search for, follow and interact with your profile and content
Sounds like it’s ActivityPub-compatible, which is how it will be possible to federate with Mastodon instances.
Chimp Empire is a four-part (an hour-ish each) documentary about two rival chimpanzee groups in Uganda. It’s one of the best, most enjoyable, most engaging, and most informative cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. My wife and I devoured it. It’s extraordinarily beautiful and compelling. It’s a story about two warring groups, replete with interesting characters and compelling drama. Scheming, backstabbing, loyalty, social climbing, bravery, cowardice. It’s all there.
The question my wife and I kept asking ourselves was, How the hell did they capture this remarkable footage? It couldn’t be fake, but it seemed utterly impossible how close the camera crews got to the chimps — including while the two tribes fight. Netflix has a behind-the-scenes video and story that explains how this was even possible:
While it would normally be impossible to capture the intimacy of warring chimps in the wild, the filmmakers benefited from an environment long marked by human activity — thanks to a constant swarm of researchers. “It took 25 years to reach the point where we can walk out and be near the chimps. We’re humans, so the chimps just see us as an extension of the presence that’s been in the forest for years,” Reed told Netflix.
This familiarity allowed the camera crew to capture Chimp Empire’s most stunning scenes. But up-close encounters were still just as bizarre as you might expect.
“I remember suddenly being aware that the Ngogo chimps were all around. It’s like being on The Truman Show or something — you feel like you’re on a set, because you can’t quite believe they’re real,” Reed said. “They’re so human, you know that they’re assessing you in the same way that you’re assessing them. You can’t quite believe that they accept you into their world. You go where they go, but they make all the decisions. The only thing you can control is where you turn your cameras, or whether you keep up with the action. It’s quite humbling, and I quite like it. The only thing you can do is put yourself in the best position possible to record what they’re doing.”
If you’ve got Netflix, start watching Chimp Empire tonight. If you don’t have Netflix, sign up for a month just to get Chimp Empire. Just watch it first, then read the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Lauly Li, reporting for Nikkei Asia:
Apple is getting involved in the mass production of next-generation displays to lessen its reliance on rival Samsung and increase its own control over the supply of a key component, Nikkei Asia has learned. Taking a hands-on approach to production is a stark contrast to the iPhone maker’s usual approach of providing display makers with screen specifications and leaving the actual production to them. [...]
Displays are one of the most expensive components in all of Apple’s devices. Since the American company first introduced OLED displays on its iPhone in 2017, its reliance on Samsung Display for the screens has only grown. To reduce that dependence and gain price-bargaining power, Apple tried to bring in other suppliers, namely LG Display and China’s display champion BOE Technology, but they lag the South Korean leader in terms of technology and quality stability, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.
“Apple has spent at least $1 billion on the R&D and samples for micro-LED technologies in the past nearly 10 years,” said one of the people who has been directly involved in the project for years. “It wants to secure more control over the next-gen display technologies for its future products.”
Apple’s relationship with Samsung is one of the most interesting in all of tech. On the consumer side, Samsung has been Apple’s only serious rival for high-end phones for almost the entirety of the smartphone era. But for certain chips and especially displays, Samsung has been one of Apple’s most essential suppliers. So I think it’s quite obvious why Apple would try to take display development into its own hands. Imagine if Apple had a display technology lead analogous to its performance-per-watt chip technology lead.
From the Cook Doctrine: “We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.”
(I’ve also long wondered how much effort Apple is putting into developing its own camera sensors.)
My thanks to Onin for sponsoring last week at DF. Onin is a free iPhone keyboard app that puts your calendar right in your keyboard. Or is it a calendar app that adds a keyboard? Whichever way you want to look at it, it’s a very clever idea. Most people only add a fraction of their events they work out in a messaging app in their calendar. With Onin, you can check your availability, add new events, and even share invites — right inside any app where you use the keyboard. It works with all your existing calendars (after granting it access), in all your apps, and is end-to-end encrypted.
It’s free and fun — I say check it out.
If Apple is releasing a VR/AR headset this year, it makes more sense for a dedicated event or bundle it with a Mac event in the fall.
There is too much ground to cover at WWDC, and 30 min is not enough to tell the full product story.
I’ve been thinking about this too. The WWDC keynote is always packed. And in recent years, Federighi has gotten Apple’s software factory into such disciplined shape that there are always major updates to every single platform. There are going to be major new features to announce and demo for iOS/iPadOS 17, MacOS 14, and WatchOS 10. I suspect we’re going to see new Mac hardware announced. If it’s just the 15-inch MacBook Air, that’s an easy announcement: it’s a MacBook Air with a bigger display. But if it’s the M-series Mac Pro (finally), that’s going to demand some presentation time. Last year’s keynote ran 1h:48m; here’s a rundown from The Verge of the major announcements.
But I do think the headset is going to be announced at WWDC. There’s just too much smoke for there not to be a fire. And, seemingly, Apple isn’t quietly trying to dampen expectations for the headset behind the scenes. The same thing happened with the iPhone before Macworld Expo 2007 — there were rampant rumors that the Apple phone was finally coming, and no one hearing from sources that it wouldn’t. They might have ideally wanted to announce it before this year’s WWDC at a special event, but if they want developers to start creating software for the platform, this is the time. (And why wouldn’t they want developers to start working on ideas?)
Apple does not like for keynotes to run longer than two hours. The glaring exception that springs to mind was the WWDC 2015 keynote, which ran a grueling 2h:25m. That was the one with a long section on Apple Music with Jimmy Iovine on stage. Probably the worst WWDC keynote ever, and the only one that ever felt under-rehearsed.
Here’s the thing though: post-COVID keynotes aren’t just pre-recorded, they’re very tightly edited. I suspect we’ll get a keynote that still comes in under 2 hours even with an entire 40-minute-ish segment announcing both the headset and xrOS. It’ll just go fast. Fitting the headset and xrOS developer frameworks into the old-style on-stage WWDC keynote would have posed a problem. I don’t think it’s a problem with the new “keynote movie” format.1 We won’t come out of the keynote thinking it was too long; we’ll come out of it with our heads spinning because it’s going to cover so much, so fast. ★
And if I’m right, I bet this is one of those years where after the keynote is over, and people start poring over everything Apple puts on the web, we discover a surprising number of very cool iOS and MacOS features that didn’t make it into the keynote. Anything and everything from the OSes might get cut to make time for the headset, xrOS, and Mac hardware announcements. There’s a whole second State of the Union technical keynote in the afternoon where features cut from the main morning keynote can go. ↩︎
Back in November, David Simon left Twitter and signed off with this exquisite essay:
I know there are many who found neither decorum nor dignity in the blunt ugliness of what for me was very much a bit of decade-long performance art. There I was in the gutter, trading spit and flinging sewage. Well, yes, but it was fun. And if you came correct, we could argue, perhaps even laugh, as many new friends came to understand. But if you came to play, we played. I’m from Baltimore, where The Dozens are an American cultural artform like any other.
An aggrieved bystander once called the act graceless. I readily agreed:
“This is Twitter. There is no grace. None. Here in an orgy of organized disinformation and trollery, our republic has come to die. There is no teaching the fuckmooks and deplorati. Go down swinging. Use every cruel word. Invoke their mothers. Lather them with contempt. Enjoy.”
In need of an outlet while the WGA strike continues, he’s back. (And hell yeah I just invoked “Learn Spelling” on trollery, deplorati, and especially fuckmooks.)
Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:*
Other key figures in Apple’s top ranks, such as Craig Federighi, senior vice president for software engineering, have also kept their distance and seemed wary of the headset, according to people familiar with the project. Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president for hardware technologies, has privately been a skeptic, likening it to a science project. Internally he’s warned that building the high-performing chips needed for the device could distract from new iPhone chips, which would probably drive more revenue.
That’s some legitimately juicy gossip. But I’m not sure how Federighi, the head of all software at Apple, could keep any distance at all from Apple’s first major new software platform since the iPhone.
Srouji’s group did end up developing some of Apple’s most advanced chips to date for the headset, while iPhone speed gains have indeed slowed in recent years.
Well of course Srouji’s group developed advanced chips for the headset. Where else would the chips come from? “Well Tim, Johny is skeptical about this project, so I guess we’ll commission all the custom silicon designs from Qualcomm.”
And comparing benchmark results for iPhones vs. Android phones, I’d love to know what speed gains have slowed. It seems like nonsense to me. If anything, Apple’s A-series chips are further ahead of the competition than ever in both raw performance and performance-per-watt.
In an attempt to keep headset wearers engaged with the real world, the device will have an outward-facing display showing their eye movements and facial expressions. Apple regards this feature as a key differentiator from enclosed VR headsets. One person familiar with the device says the exterior screens allow people to interact with a headset wearer without feeling as if they’re talking to a robot.
I’ll buy this front-facing display rumor if there’s a Cylon mode.
Otherwise I’ll stick with my previous understanding that this is an internal joke that has been taken as real; that it would look goofy, not humane; and that even if it didn’t look goofy, it would make no sense to add the financial cost of an outward-facing display to an already-expensive device, and even less sense to incur the battery-life drain of powering that external display on an already-battery-life-constrained device.
OpenAI, in a postscript to their iOS app announcement:
P.S. Android users, you’re next! ChatGPT will be coming to your devices soon.
Are Android users next, or are they last? Is there anyone else in line?
Anyway, I guess Fred Wilson isn’t an advisor to OpenAI?
Aaron Tilley and Yang Jie, reporting last week for The Wall Street Journal, “Apple Is Breaking Its Own Rules With a New Headset” (News+ link):
Apple’s launch plans break many of its traditions and rules about new products that have become the industry gold standard. Unlike other Apple products, the device is debuting in a still-experimental mode. Apple predicts slower adoption for the headset compared with the Apple Watch or the iPhone, both of which quickly became consumer must-haves. Taking seven years in development before hitting the market, it will be one of the most complex consumer products any company has ever sold.
That’s a lot to unpack in one paragraph. Here goes:
I’d argue Apple has never introduced two new products the same way. Every new product introduction has been different. I honestly don’t know any more about the headset than the rumor mill consensus but I guarantee it isn’t in an “experimental mode”. Neither Apple Watch nor iPhone “quickly became consumer must-haves”. Here’s a report from Daisuke Wakabayashi in ... checks notes ... The Wall Street Fucking Journal itself in April 2016, a year after Apple Watch shipped, that says, in the opening paragraph, “Yet the smartwatch is dogged by a perception that seems premature given the history of Apple’s most popular devices: disappointment.” (The next paragraph claimed that “sales of iPhones are slowing”.)1
The pattern for Apple’s entries into new product categories generally goes like this:
A few paragraphs later in Aaron Tilley and Yang Jie’s report:
For Apple’s first new major product in a decade — the Apple Watch was announced in 2014 — Chief Executive Tim Cook has a lot on the line as the device attempts to dominate the virtual world where people spend time for work or leisure, called the metaverse, which hasn’t yet reached mass adoption or understanding.
There is growing skepticism among some investors and potential future partners that consumers will spend money and time on the metaverse. They note some early adopters are disillusioned with the technology.
It’s a sidenote perhaps, but I’d argue that AirPods are a major new product — and that AirPods Pro are the first true mass-market augmented reality devices. The fact that they’re audio-only, and not visual, blinds people (sorry) to the fact that they’re remarkable AR products. Apple doesn’t break out unit sales, but estimates suggest that if AirPods — just AirPods — were a standalone company, it would have more revenue than Nvidia, Adobe, or Uber, and might soon catch up to Netflix. But that’s a sidenote.
The bigger issue is that back in October, in an on-stage interview, Greg Joswiak was asked to complete the sentence “The metaverse is...”, and his answer was, “...a word I’ll never use.” The fact that people don’t use or even know what the hell the metaverse means is irrelevant to Apple’s headset. I don’t know how much more clear Joz could have been without revealing Apple’s headset then and there — Apple’s not making something that’s just like what other companies already have on the market. That on-stage interview was with ... checks notes ... Joanna Stern at The Wall Street Journal Tech Live conference. It’s enough to make you think Wall Street Journal reporters don’t read The Wall Street Journal.
That no XR headset introduced so far has made much of a dent in the universe isn’t a sign that Apple’s effort is ill-fated. It’s a sign that Apple has an opportunity. In a sense, Apple does have one tradition when entering a new product category: they endeavor to make the first one good enough to be criticized. ★
Here’s a paragraph for the Annals of Prognostication from that same 2016 Wakabayashi report for the Journal:
And yet, there are detractors such as Fred Wilson, co-founder of venture-capital firm Union Square Ventures, in December declared the Watch a “flop.” Mr. Wilson, who owns shares of Fitbit through a fund, had earlier predicted the Watch wouldn’t be a “home run” like the iPad, iPhone and iPod, saying many people wouldn’t want to wear a computer on their wrist.
Fred Wilson, the next best thing to Jim Cramer. ↩︎
Ashley Belanger, reporting for Ars Technica:
Today, the European Union approved a comprehensive set of cryptocurrency regulations seeking to lay the groundwork for how crypto is regulated globally. The rules — which make providers liable if they lose investors’ crypto assets — will go into effect in 2024 across 27 EU member states.
The EU’s muscular regulation regime finally lands on a worthwhile target.
Kim Ahlberg, posting on Mastodon:
Putting some money into SMCI after reading @gruber’s posts calling out Bloomberg¹ on their bullshit story has been a good move so far…
¹ Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all.
Supermicro (SMCI) was the company whose server motherboards Bloomberg alleged were compromised by rogue chips designed to surreptitiously phone home to Chinese intelligence servers. Bloomberg presented zero actual evidence then, and five years later, zero evidence of such rogue chips has been found. Every company Bloomberg alleged was compromised flatly denied the report. Bloomberg has never retracted the report, thus forever tarnishing their journalistic integrity. Here’s my first report on the story, and this search should get you to my follow-ups.
When Bloomberg published their spectacular but seemingly completely false report, Supermicro’s stock price plummeted by almost half, from $21.50 to $11.65 per share.
I can’t believe I never thought to follow-up on their share price, given my years-long zealotry reminding people, via footnotes in other reports from Bloomberg, that “The Big Hack” was by all available evidence complete bullshit, yet never retracted.
Turns out Supermicro has done OK in the intervening years. Their stock closed today at $164.56 — over 14 times higher than it was after “The Big Hack” dropped. That’s a tidy return for Ahlberg and anyone else who invested similarly. What a nice postscript to a disgraceful story. ★
Jennifer Elias, reporting for CNBC back in early April (sorry — I’m cleaning up old open tabs):
Among the equipment changes, Google is pausing refreshes for laptops, desktop PCs and monitors. It’s also “changing how often equipment is replaced,” according to internal documents viewed by CNBC.
Google employees who are not in engineering roles but require a new laptop will receive a Chromebook by default. Chromebooks are laptops made by Google and use a Google-based operating system called Chrome OS.
It’s a shift from the range of offerings, such as Apple MacBooks, that were previously available to employees. “It also provides the best opportunity across all of our managed devices to prevent external compromise,” one document about the laptop changes said.
Google has this backwards. They should force all their engineers to use Chromebooks, and let everyone else continue using MacBooks. Maybe then they’ll turn ChromeOS into something useable for real work.
Google employees have also noticed some more extreme cutbacks to office supplies in recent weeks. Staplers and tape are no longer being provided to print stations companywide as “part of a cost effectiveness initiative,” according to a separate, internal facilities directive viewed by CNBC.
“We have been asked to pull all tape/dispensers throughout the building,” a San Francisco facility directive stated. “If you need a stapler or tape, the receptionist desk has them to borrow.”
A Google spokesperson said the internal message about staplers and tape was misinformed. “Staplers and tape continue to be provided to print stations. Any internal messages that claim otherwise are misinformed.″
Please tell me they haven’t dismantled the slides.
Brooks Barnes, reporting for The New York Times:
In March, Disney called Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida “anti-business” for his scorched-earth attempt to tighten oversight of the company’s theme park resort near Orlando. Last month, when Disney sued the governor and his allies for what it called “a targeted campaign of government retaliation,” the company made clear that $17 billion in planned investment in Walt Disney World was on the line.
“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said on an earnings-related conference call with analysts last week.
On Thursday, Mr. Iger and Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chairman, showed that they were not bluffing, pulling the plug on a nearly $1 billion office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando. It would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the region, with $120,000 as the average salary, according to an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Vote for Republicans, they’re good for business.
Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:
Porsche is signing on to be the second EV maker to officially adopt support for EV routing in Apple Maps. This means that Porsche Taycan drivers can now use Apple Maps via CarPlay, signaling Porsche’s continued commitment to CarPlay as other automakers abandon Apple’s platform.
It’s not other automakers plural. It’s just one: GM.
But I’m sure GM knows better than Porsche.
Michael Wayland, reporting last week for CNBC:
General Motors has hired former Apple executive Mike Abbott to lead a newly created software unit for the Detroit automaker. Abbott, former vice president of engineering for Apple’s cloud services division, will join GM as executive vice president of software, effective May 22. He will report to GM CEO Mary Barra.
Abbott’s newly created role will bring together three separate functions within the company: software-defined vehicle and operating systems; information and digital technology; and the company’s digital business. [...]
GM has a target to grow profit margins and double its revenue to about $280 billion by the end of this decade. That includes significant growth in new business units and software.
I’m not familiar with Mike Abbott, but it sounds like his expertise is entirely in cloud services, not user-facing software design and engineering. So I don’t think Barra was thinking “Apple makes great software that people love, so we should hire someone from Apple who knows how to lead such a team”,1 but instead more like “Apple has built an $80 billion per year services division that continues to grow each quarter, so we should hire someone who knows how to lead such a team”. Barra is looking at Apple’s services revenue, not the quality of Apple’s CarPlay.
That’s fine, and maybe someone like Abbott is exactly who GM needs. But I don’t look at this hire and think that GM is any more likely to come up with a CarPlay-quality interface for its own platform. Some back-of-the-envelope math on Barra’s services revenue goals for GM makes it sound to me like Mike Abbott is being tasked with designing an in-dash slot machine.
When GM announced they were dropping CarPlay from their EVs last month, Reuters reported that “Barra is aiming for $20 billion to $25 billion in annual revenue from subscriptions by 2030.”
That seems very ambitious.
Let’s look at GM’s current subscription services revenue. Here’s Larry Printz, writing for Motley Fool last July:
According to company officials, GM generated nearly $2 billion in subscription services revenue and EBIT margins north of 70% in fiscal 2021. The automaker currently has more than 4 million subscribers. For 2021, GM’s global revenue was $127 billion, meaning that if forecast proved true, OnStar accounted for 1.6% of GM’s worldwide revenue. While that may seem like a minimal contribution to the bottom line, that figure should grow thanks to recent additions to OnStar.
GM recently announced a subscription plan for its SuperCruise self-driving feature, which is free for the first three years on new vehicles. It also opened OnStar to owners of non-GM vehicles through a smartphone app, which should bring additional subscribers — and income.
To grow from $2 billion to $20 billion (the low end of Barra’s stated goal) by 2030, it seems safe to assume she’s expecting this growth to come from future car sales, not GM vehicles that are already on the road today.
GM sells about 6 million vehicles per year — but that number has been declining since a peak of 10 million in 2016. Presumably, these future services will require vehicles equipped with GM’s new software platform. Right now they’re claiming this system will only be going into EVs, and in 2022, only 1.7 percent of GM vehicles sold were all-electric.
So let’s be generous and say that by 2030, GM has sold 30 million vehicles eligible for and subscribed to the company’s new services. I think 30 million is very generous — if not outlandish — and would require them to put the new software platform in their gas and hybrid vehicles, too. Keep in mind they only had 4 million subscribers in 2021 and their vehicle sales are in decline.
$20 billion in revenue from 30 million subscribers = $666/year/vehicle = $55/month/vehicle. That’s in line with their current average of $500/year per services subscriber ($2 billion in revenue from 4 million subscribers, per Motley Fool above), but it’s a lot of money per subscriber. I just don’t see how they grow from 4 million subscribers today to 30 million or more by 2030.
What services could they offer that new car buyers would pay north of $50/month for? Maps and navigation? Everyone has that on their phones already. Music and podcasts? Everyone has that on their phones already. Crash detection? By 2030 everyone will have that on their phones already (or at least they will if they have iPhones, but I bet that will soon become a standard feature on Android phones too). GM wants to sell “behavior based insurance” (translation: tracking/surveillance), but according to Reuters, their goal for insurance is just $6 billion/year by 2030. I find it hard to see where the rest of the money will come from.
GM executives might be dreaming that car buyers will pay GM for services they already get on their phones by not supporting CarPlay and Android Auto, but today’s reality shows that people will just buy $5 mounts to attach their phones to their vehicles’ dashboards. And if every other automaker continues to support CarPlay and Android Auto, it just seems like this entire endeavor will turn into an expensive boondoggle that steers would-be GM buyers to other brands.
One idea that occurred to me is the equivalent of Apple’s services revenue dark matter: payments from Google for default placement as Safari’s search engine. Neither Apple nor Google has ever disclosed those numbers, but one recent estimate pegs it at $20 billion per year. At a minimum, it’s $10 billion per year. Those payments from Google go into “Services” in Apple’s quarterly results. Apple now reports $20 billion in services revenue per quarter — so most of that is coming from the App Store, and then customer subscriptions to things like iCloud Plus, Apple Music, etc., but somewhere around 20-25 percent of it comes from Google paying to be the default search engine in Safari. With GM’s upcoming in-house software system not supporting CarPlay or Android Auto, but made in partnership with Google (based on Google’s confusingly-named Android Automotive platform) presumably Google Maps (and/or Waze?) will be the one and only choice for mapping and navigation, and perhaps Google will pay GM for that privilege? And for default placement for other services like music? Even if that’s the deal, though, I don’t see how it gets GM close to $20 billion in services revenue per year. Apple gets $15-20 billion from Google for default search engine placement in Safari on over one billion iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Even my kindest, most optimistic estimate pegs eligible GM vehicles at just 30 million by 2030. Would Google pay GM 30–40 times more per car to provide the default mapping app than they pay Apple per iPhone/iPad/Mac? That doesn’t make sense to me, but I suppose it’s theoretically possible that mapping surveillance data is that valuable to Google. I really fucking doubt it, though.
The one and only thing I can think of that GM can charge a subscription for that drivers can’t get via their phones is semi-autonomous driving. GM calls this Super Cruise and currently charges $25/month for it, or $15/month for drivers who also subscribe to OnStar. (OnStar offers roadside assistance and crash detection — which, again, everyone will have for free with their phones by 2030.) But Super Cruise could exist as a standalone subscription feature alongside support for CarPlay and Android Auto — and in fact does today. Charging a subscription fee for Super Cruise doesn’t require GM to drop support for CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
I can’t see how these ballpark numbers make any sense. It’s an enormous bet against the primacy of the phone in people’s lives, with no one yet, in any industry, ever having won a bet against the phone. GM’s $20–25 billion target for services revenue by 2030 feels like a Kendall Roy number — plucked out of thin air by someone just making up figures in an Excel spreadsheet until they get the
SUM() result they’re looking for. ★
I don’t think there’s any chance whatsoever this could have happened, but imagine if GM had hired Scott Forstall to lead their software division. That would have been interesting. ↩︎