The Billions-Dollar VR/AR Headset Question

Matthew Ball wrote a thoughtful, deeply-considered essay worth your attention, “Why VR/AR Gets Farther Away as It Comes Into Focus”:

Throughout 2015 and 2016, Mark Zuckerberg repeated his belief that within a decade, “normal-looking” AR glasses might be a part of daily life, replacing the need to bring out a smartphone to take a call, share a photo, or browse the web, while a big-screen TV would be transformed into a $1 AR app. Now it looks like Facebook won’t launch a dedicated AR headset by 2025 — let alone an edition that hundreds of millions might want.

In 2016, Epic Games founder/CEO Tim Sweeney predicted not only that within five to seven years, we would have not just PC-grade VR devices but also that these devices would have shrunk down into Oakley-style sunglasses. Seven years later, this still seems at best seven years away.

The appeal and utility of all-day AR glasses is obvious. But we are obviously very far away from such devices being possible, at any price. And I don’t think such devices will ever be goggles with a screen, using cameras to show the real world. I think they must be see-through lenses that somehow include display technology that can project opaque objects and virtual “screens” within your field of vision. I am convinced we will get there. I am equally convinced we are not close to being able to make such devices.

It’s like Alan Kay’s 1972 Dynabook concept, which clearly articulated the laptops and tablets that now dominate personal computing, and but we’re as far from practical AR glasses today as we were from Kay’s Dynabook in the early ’80s, if not the late ’70s, with several extremely difficult technical problems to be solved. The original PowerBooks didn’t arrive until 1991. Or perhaps AR glasses are to VR goggles as the smartphone is to the laptop, and as the laptop is to the desktop PC. The modern smartphone, I would argue, is just a pocket-sized Dynabook. Mass-market laptops took over a decade to arrive after desktop PCs. The iPhone took about 15 years after the PowerBook. VR goggles are seemingly poised to arrive about 15 years after the iPhone.1

My strong gut feeling is that mass-market all-day AR glasses won’t be feasible until 15 or so years after the first sensational VR goggles. They’ll require that much of, and that many, generational leaps forward: chip miniaturization, battery tech, display tech, and sensor tech.

Ball, on the use-case question for VR/XR goggles today:

The examples listed above are technically impressive, meaningful, and better than ever. But the future was supposed to have arrived by now. In 2023, it’s difficult to say that a critical mass of consumers or businesses believe there’s a “killer” AR/VR/MR experience in market today; just familiar promises of the killer use cases that might be a few years away. These devices are even farther from substituting for the devices we currently use (and it doesn’t seem like they’re on precipice of mainstream adoption, either). There are some games with strong sales — a few titles have done over $100MM — but none where one might argue that, if only graphics were to improve by X%, large swaths of the population would use VR devices or those titles on a regular basis. I strongly prefer doing VR-based presentations to those on Zoom — where I spend 30-60 minutes staring at a camera as though no one else is there. But the experience remains fraught; functionality is limited; and onboarding other individuals is rarely worth the benefit because its participants seem to find these benefits both few and small. When the iPhone launched, Steve Jobs touted it did three distinct things — MP3 player, phone, internet communicator — better at launch than the single-use devices then on the market. The following year, the iPhone launched its App Store and “There’s an App for That” proliferated, with tens of millions doing everything they could on the device. The “killer app” was that it already had dozens of them.

This is, quite literally, the billions-dollar question: What are the intended use cases for Apple’s headset? After you buy it, unbox it, and power it on, what are you supposed to do with it? What features and experiences will seem worth spending a thousand or even thousands of dollars? I ponder this every day and I come up short:

  • Games — The visual appeal of a VR headset for gaming is obvious. But what’s the input story for an Apple headset that doesn’t come with handheld controller hardware? If Apple hasn’t been able to make its TV set-top box a major gaming platform after 16 years, how likely are they to do it for a headset priced like a premium PC, not like a gaming console?

  • Movies and TV — The visual appeal of a headset for watching video content is also obvious. In theory it’d be great while sitting on a plane or train — both visually and aurually immersive, like AirPods Pro but for both your vision and hearing. But who’s going to think that’s worth a thousand dollars, let alone perhaps thousands, when you’re still travelling with and carrying-on both an iPhone and a MacBook or iPad? Now that I carry tiny AirPods Pro with me everywhere I go, I don’t pack over-the-ear headphones (like, say, AirPods Max) in my travel kit, for reasons of bulk and weight — and Apple’s purportedly imminent VR/XR headset is almost certainly heavier and larger than AirPods Max.

  • Virtual meetings and FaceTime-style calls — Supposedly meetings in virtual reality with headsets are far more compelling than via Zoom with desktop/laptop/tablet displays and speakers. Let’s just concede that that’s true. But for a $1,000+ headset to be compelling for such use presents a chicken-and-egg problem: it’s only possible when all or at least most of the people in the meetings are wearing compatible headsets. A virtual meeting where everyone else is participating Zoom-style but you are wearing a VR headset is going to make you look weird. And while FaceTime is phenomenally popular and much-used for personal calls, it is an utter non-entity for business meetings. Even Apple itself uses Webex for remote work meetings. Every successful platform Apple has ever established has been fundamentally driven by fun. The Apple II was a fun computer. The Macintosh was even more fun. The iPod and Apple TV are entirely about entertainment. The iPhone was the first fun phone. Apple Watch is Apple’s least fun platform, but I’d argue it’s the most “fun” wristwatch ever made. I suppose it’s true that work meetings in VR are more fun than via Zoom because they’re so much more immersive, but they can’t be more immersive than meetings in real life, and in-person real-life work meetings are seldom “fun”, and typically are dreadfully un-fun.

  • Personal computing via virtual projected displays — Mark Gurman’s latest report on the headset claims it “will be able to show immersive video content, serve as an external display for a connected Mac, and replicate many functions of iPhones and iPads”. But if you’re connected to a MacBook with a built-in display, why go through the hassle of carrying around and strapping on a headset? The obvious answer is that virtual displays in the headset might be far “larger” than even a 16-inch laptop display, and bigger displays are better. But all reports suggest that Apple’s headset will offer a 4K display per eye. 4K is generally 3,840 × 2,160 pixels. But Apple’s old 27-inch iMac and current Studio Display are 5K: 5,120 × 2,880 pixels. I don’t see how a headset with only 4K per eye can possibly simulate a virtual display with the field-of-view size and can’t-perceive-the-individual-pixels “retina” quality of a Studio Display. At your desk, I can’t imagine how wearing a headset would be better than sitting in front of a Studio Display. When travelling — even if your “travel” is no farther than your couch or the local coffee shop — it doesn’t seem worthwhile to wear a headset when your MacBook already has an excellent display, even if only 13 inches. Perhaps I simply lack imagination in this regard, and the experience will be far more compelling than I think it would be. But I just don’t see people spending $1,000+ to do their computing work wearing a headset when their MacBook already has a display built-in, and the ability to see and participate in the real world around your display is inherent and entirely natural. If you’re carrying a hardware keyboard and a mouse/trackpad, why not carry an all-in-one laptop? And if you’re not carrying a hardware keyboard and mouse/trackpad, you’re never going to be as productive as you’d be if you did.2 And I haven’t even mentioned compute performance or battery life.

I can’t think of any other use cases for a VR/XR headset. I cannot believe that such a headset would be intended for wearing around as you go about daily life, augmenting the real world with virtual displays and ambient contextual information. That’s what we need AR glasses for, not VR goggles.

As I’ve repeated in my recent speculation about Apple’s headset, I am not dismissing it in advance. Quite the opposite — I look forward to experiencing it with great anticipation. I believe Apple must have answers to the question of why we will want to buy it, carry it, and use it in addition to and alongside all the devices we already buy, carry, and use. Why else bring it to market? But damned if I can imagine those answers, given the state of chip, display, and battery technology today. 


  1. One can certainly argue that there was a solid market for smartphones about 5 years before the iPhone — the heyday of BlackBerry and Symbian. Similarly, there have been popular VR headsets for sale — PlayStation, HTC Vive, and Facebook’s Oculus and Quest — for about 5 years. The Macintosh came about 5 years after the command-line Apple II. There were crappy but serviceable notebook computers 5 years before the PowerBook. So the pattern I’m talking about seems to be that it takes about 10 years to start one of these generational leaps with clumsy primordial products, and another 5 years for Apple to hit upon and ship the paradigm that really sticks and winds up defining the entire category henceforth. It’s not that Apple is seldom first — they’re never first, because they don’t ship their prototypes. ↩︎

  2. Do you type as well on an iPad touchscreen as you do on a real keyboard? Do you think Apple is going to ship a virtual reality keyboard where you move your fingers in the air that works as well as even an iPad touchscreen keyboard?I do not. ↩︎︎


1982 TV News Report on Arcade Video Games 

This brief report was remarkably well-done. I love everything about it, including their choice of games: Pac-Man and Defender. Includes a great shot of Midway’s Pac-Man factory floor in Chicago, where they were manufacturing 350 cabinets a day.

U.S. State Department Is Phasing Out Times New Roman, Adopting Calibri 

John Hudson and Annabelle Timsit, reporting last week for The Washington Post:

In a cable sent Tuesday and obtained by The Washington Post, Secretary of State Antony Blinken directed the department to use a larger sans-serif font in high-level internal documents, and gave the department’s domestic and overseas offices until Feb. 6 to “adopt Calibri as the standard font for all requested papers.”

“The Times (New Roman) are a-Changin,” read the subject line.

It is correct for the State Department to have a house style for documents. I’m not sure what font they should use, but it wasn’t Times, and it shouldn’t be Calibri. Off the top of my head, I’d suggest Caslon — a sturdy, serious typeface that looked good 250 years ago, looks good now, and should look good 250 years from now.

Facebook Reinstates Trump’s Accounts 

Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta:

Like any other Facebook or Instagram user, Mr. Trump is subject to our Community Standards. In light of his violations, he now also faces heightened penalties for repeat offenses — penalties which will apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest under our updated protocol. In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation.

So no matter what Trump does, the longest they’ll suspend him is another two years? This is whistling past the graveyard. Trump wasn’t suspended because he posted something, say, racist or untruthful or hateful. It’s not about Trump and his supporters being on the political right. The man tried to overthrow the democratically elected government of the United States while serving as President of the United States. He still insists he was correct to do so, and quite obviously intends to try again. If there were only one person in the world suspended from Facebook’s platforms, it should be Donald Trump. No one is more dangerous. No one is more deserving of being outcast as a pariah.

Twitter(rific) and Accessibility 

Speaking of The Iconfactory’s Ged Maheux, Steven Aquino has a brief interview with him regarding Twitterrific’s long-excellent accessibility support, and the whole Twitter shitshow:

For his part, Maheux told me in an recent interview conducted over email “accessibility should be important to any developer” but added The Iconfactory’s resolve to support it to the fullest extent possible certainly has strengthened over time. The company, he said, has garnered much feedback from people in the disability community over the years, who continually have asked for improved accessibility in Twitterrific. Moreover, Maheux explained it “really means the world to us” to have members of the community get in touch and thank them for all the hard work put into making the app as accessible as it can be to everyone.

I’ll repeat this until I’m hoarse, but the apps that best support accessibility features for disabled people invariably are also the most usable for everyone. As for the future, it’s ominous:

The loss of Twitterrific is one The Iconfactory, and especially disabled Twitter users, will mourn for some time. To its credit, Twitter’s own first-party app used to be pretty solid in terms of adopting system accessibility features like Dynamic Type and Increase Contrast on both iOS and the Mac. Of course, that all changed drastically and (likely) irreparably when Musk inexplicably and unconscionably gutted the company’s entire accessibility team as part of the layoffs that occurred in early November.

Linea Sketch 4.2 

Ged Maheux at The Iconfactory:

Organic Ink gives your sketches a rustic and natural appearance that is unlike anything previously offered in Linea. You can even tilt your Apple Pencil as you draw to quickly shade wide areas with texture.

Such a cool effect, period, but kind of amazing to see it live, not as a filter applied in post.

Users of the venerable drawing app Paper, by 53/WeTransfer, can now easily transfer their creations into Linea. When imported via iCloud, Paper files are converted into a layered sketch document, perfect for further refinement in Linea.

Spread the word about this to anyone you know with an archive of old Paper sketches. Right from the start Linea has always struck me as Paper’s spiritual successor.

LastPass Breach Is Looking Worse 

Carly Page, reporting for TechCrunch:

The breach was first confirmed by LastPass on November 30. At the time, LastPass chief executive Karim Toubba said an “unauthorized party” had gained access to some customers’ information stored in a third-party cloud service shared by LastPass and GoTo. The attackers used information stolen from an earlier breach of LastPass systems in August to further compromise the companies’ shared cloud data. GoTo, which bought LastPass in 2015, said at the time that it was investigating the incident.

Now, almost two months later, GoTo said in an updated statement that the cyberattack impacted several of its products, including business communications tool Central; online meetings service Join.me; hosted VPN service Hamachi, and its Remotely Anywhere remote access tool.

GoTo said the intruders exfiltrated customers’ encrypted backups from these services — as well as the company’s encryption key for securing the data.

This breach now sounds like a company covering its ass. LastPass users should consider everything they stored in LastPass tainted.

WSJ: ‘Banks Plan Payment Wallet to Compete With PayPal, Apple Pay’ 

AnnaMaria Andriotis, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+, Archive.is):

Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and four other banks are working on a new product that will allow shoppers to pay at merchants’ online checkout with a wallet that will be linked to their debit and credit cards.

The digital wallet will be managed by Early Warning Services LLC, the bank-owned company that operates money-transfer service Zelle. The wallet, which doesn’t have a name yet, will operate separately from Zelle, EWS said.

One goal of the new service is to compete with third-party wallet operators such as PayPal Holdings Inc. and Apple Inc.’s Apple Pay, according to people familiar with the matter. Banks are worried about losing control of their customer relationships.

I bet this endeavor will see similar success as CurrentC. In fact, I suggest they name the product “BanksC”. I’m sure the homonymous artist would love to create a logo for them.

Ivory 1.0 for iOS 

Still “early access”, but as a decade-long Tweetbot user, it feels like home. $2/month or $15/year — prices that better reflect the value of this extraordinary app than Tweetbot’s did. And how great is this?

ChatGPT: The First True Threat to Google Search? 

Dave Winer:

I went to ChatGPT and entered “Simple instructions about how to send email from a Node.js app?” What came back was absolutely perfect, none of the confusing crap and business models you see in online instructions in Google. I see why Google is worried. ;-)

No need for a winky there. The threat to Google is real. That type of search for a clearly-written one-line programming question used to produce excellent results from Google Search. For a number of years, though, search results for queries like that — both at Google and competing search engines — have been littered with junk generated by content farms. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack sometimes, combing through the query results for a proper solution.

Stack Overflow, of course, is very successful, and the whole point of it is providing a place to find good answers to programming questions. The problem with Google Search today isn’t specific to programming questions, but the general problem of answering how-to questions in any subject.

And look who’s coming — the most ruthlessly competitive company in computing history.

Chartjunk of the Week 

Ben Norton, writing for Geopolitical Economy Report:

If a student presented this in a statistics 101 class, the teacher would likely give them an F. But because it involves Washington’s public enemy number one, Beijing, the US regional reserve bank was awarded a Golden Star for exemplary service in the New Cold War.

The St. Louis Fed listed the world’s top six countries by military expenditures, but used two separate axes: the spending of China, Russia, Britain, India, and Saudi Arabia was depicted on the left axis, which went from $0 to $300 billion; but a separate right axis was created just for the United States, which went from $400 billion to $1 trillion.

This is one of the most deliberately misleading charts I’ve seen in a long time.

Twitter’s Infrastructure Continues to Crumble, Silently 

David Frum, on Twitter:

I’m doing an experiment. On my computer, I am checking the latest tweets by people I follow. On my phone, I’m checking whether their most recent tweets are showing up in the “Following” column. I’m just getting started, but even in the first dozen cases, Twitter failed to show me an absolute majority of the tweets I had requested to see. That’s the reason your engagement is down, people: Twitter is withholding requested content from those who requested it.

For me, Twitter is most valuable as an information source. But Twitter is now rapidly mutating into a source that capriciously withholds information I asked for - including from such highly official sources as the Tate Gallery in London.

It’s as if, in the days of the old newspaper, my subscription were delivered with random stories scissored out by the publisher itself, for some capricious whim of the publisher’s own.

It’s worse than that, though, because if you were delivered a newspaper with random stories scissored out, you’d know that there were missing stories. You wouldn’t know what they were, but you’d see the gaping holes in the paper. With Twitter now, there’s no indication that you’re missing tweets — let alone a huge number of tweets. And to be clear, Frum is talking about the “Following” timeline, not the “For You” algorithmic timeline. “Following” is the timeline that dates back to Twitter’s very inception: you pick accounts to follow, then you see the tweets those accounts post.

Twitter is no longer able to do that. Here’s a speculative thread explaining what might be going on — sounds like a very solid guess to me. In short: after cutting back on servers and entire data centers, Twitter can no longer keep up with its own content.

I remarked over a week ago that I was no longer seeing mentions or replies directed at my Twitter account. For a day or two I was seeing a handful of them, but now they’re gone. At this writing I see a grand total of one mention for my account going back to January 5. My Twitter mentions are nearly completely useless. For well over a decade, Twitter mentions have been my primary way of interacting with the Daring Fireball audience. Obviously that’s no longer possible. So be it. All the good action is over on Mastodon now, anyway. I’m more active there now, and just like I used to at Twitter, I read all my mentions there. I’ve updated my Contact page accordingly.

The Lisa Turns 40 

Hansen Hsu, writing for the Computer History Museum:

Happy 40th Birthday to Lisa! The Apple Lisa computer, that is. In celebration of this milestone, CHM has received permission from Apple to release the source code to the Lisa software, including its system and applications software.

Access the code here.

What is the Apple Lisa computer, and why was its release on January 19, 1983, an important date in computer history? Apple’s Macintosh line of computers today, known for bringing mouse-driven graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to the masses and transforming the way we use our computers, owes its existence to its immediate predecessor at Apple, the Lisa. Without the Lisa, there would have been no Macintosh — at least in the form we have it today — and perhaps there would have been no Microsoft Windows either.

The Lisa was a bit before my time, and so expensive that I can’t even think of an alternate universe where I might have encountered one. To this day, I’ve never seen one. The Mac interface captured a certain magic that the Lisa’s quite obviously did not — I think the Lisa ultimately failed more because of that than its price. But its influence on the original Mac is obvious.

Here’s a gem of a comment a friend spotted in the source code (appw-prefmain.text.unix.txt):

{ Welcome to the ALL Create Preferences Window.

    Through the extensive use of hallucenogens I have found
    truth and beauty. However, those same hallucenogens have
    also made me incapable of getting to Dodge Ridge to sell
    reclaimed ski wax in the parking lot.}

No idea what that means, but the early 1980s were a different era. Might have made perfect sense then.

Update: The above comment is obviously the follow-up to this comment in appw-config.text.unix.txt:

{ WELCOME to the PREFERENCES WINDOW.
    Don't be alarmed by the mess, we're just moving in.

    The author apologizes for the lack of style and elegance
    exhibited in this code, perhaps someday truth and beauty
    will be mine and I will rewrite it. However, if truth and
    beauty ever does come to me I'll prabably just leave and
    sell reclaimed ski wax in the Dodge Ridge parking lot.
    See you there!}
Polygon: ‘Timothée Chalamet Even Makes Stumping for Apple Seem Cool’ 

Ana Diaz, writing for Polygon:

The trailer basically serves as a giant sign trying to remind people about Apple TV and all of its projects, but it mainly just shows us that Timothée Chalamet is a phenomenal actor. In it, we get to see that even super successful actors like Chalamet can even be insecure about their careers or get FOMO! According to Puck, sources close to the deal disclosed Apple paid Chalamet the most it has ever paid for a celebrity endorsement. So it’s a good thing that’s he’s already charmed fans online.

This ad played during the football games this weekend, and I think it’s rather amazing. By paying a red-hot star like Chalamet simply to promote TV+, it’s a way of emphasizing the single most important aspect of TV+: that it is a quality-first streaming platform. Not the most content, by a long shot, but perhaps the best content. And inarguably, much of the best content.

That, in a nut, is the Apple way. They don’t sell the most computers or headphones or even phones, but they sell the best ones.

Windows Central: ‘Microsoft Has Laid Off Entire Teams Behind Virtual, Mixed Reality, and HoloLens’ 

Jez Corden, reporting for Windows Central:

For Microsoft to cull the entire team behind MRTK, which was due to release a new version just next month, it paints a picture of a company that perhaps no longer believes in virtual reality. There are many who believe the “metaverse” represents the next big opportunity in human-computer interfacing, but even Facebook, who rebranded its entire company to Meta in the belief of this technology, is scaling back in this area as well — laying off 11,000 staff back in November.

I think it’s worth noting that Facebook rebranded as “Meta” just as much because the “Facebook” brand is so sullied as anything else, but clearly, Mark Zuckerberg hopes to establish their headsets as a major new consumer computing platform.

It’s curious too that Microsoft would seemingly abandon its own years-long efforts in the XR space on the cusp of Apple’s entrance. It brings to mind the original Surface — a $10,000 touchscreen table the company started selling in May 2007, only to eventually cede the entire touchscreen revolution in personal computing to Apple and Android.

Update: This parody narration for Microsoft’s promotional video is the best review of the original Surface. (Via Colin Weir.)


Sponsorship Openings at Daring Fireball and The Talk Show, Early 2023 Edition

The upcoming sponsorship schedule at DF is a bit weird at the moment — this very week remains open, along with three of the next four, but then it’s sold out into April and even May is starting to fill up. The new year is always a bit of a weird time, advertising-budget-wise, but this year seems a bit weirder and more skittish than most.

Weekly sponsorships have been the top source of revenue for Daring Fireball ever since I started selling them back in 2007. They’ve succeeded, I think, because they make everyone happy. They generate good money. There’s only one sponsor per week and the sponsors are always relevant to at least some sizable portion of the DF audience, so you, the reader, are never annoyed and hopefully often intrigued by them. And, from the sponsors’ perspective, they work. My favorite thing about them is how many sponsors return for subsequent weeks after seeing the results.

If you’ve got a product or service you think would be of interest to DF’s audience of people obsessed with high quality and good design, get in touch. And again, this very week remains open, and it should be a busy week.

Also, this is something I seldom mention here on Daring Fireball, but sponsoring The Talk Show is a great opportunity for a lot of the same services and products that sponsor the website. I love the regular sponsors of the show — and the fact that so many of them return repeatedly speaks well to the results they see. But I would love to get some more variety into the list of sponsors for the show. I don’t sell these myself, but if you have a product or service you think would be of interest to The Talk Show’s audience, get in touch with Elaine Pow at Neat.fm. We have a few openings for the remainder of Q1. 


HomePod Lives

Finally:

Apple today announced HomePod (2nd generation), a powerful smart speaker that delivers next-level acoustics in a gorgeous, iconic design. Packed with Apple innovations and Siri intelligence, HomePod offers advanced computational audio for a groundbreaking listening experience, including support for immersive Spatial Audio tracks. With convenient new ways to manage everyday tasks and control the smart home, users can now create smart home automations using Siri, get notified when a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm is detected in their home, and check temperature and humidity in a room — all hands-free.

The new HomePod is available to order online and in the Apple Store app starting today, with availability beginning Friday, February 3.

“Leveraging our audio expertise and innovations, the new HomePod delivers rich, deep bass, natural mid-range, and clear, detailed highs,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “With the popularity of HomePod mini, we’ve seen growing interest in even more powerful acoustics achievable in a larger HomePod. We’re thrilled to bring the next generation of HomePod to customers around the world.”

I first wish to note how deftly this announcement is written. Joz’s quote alludes, ever so slightly, to the fact that Apple is not merely updating the HomePod with a new model, but bringing it back after a long absence. But anyone who hasn’t been paying close attention would never notice that.

The original HomePod had an unusual run, to say the least. It was announced on stage at WWDC in June 2017, and originally slated to go on sale — initially only in Australia, the U.K., and U.S.1 — in December. It didn’t actually ship until February 2018, though — the first warning sign that something was amiss. And even then, as my review noted, it was missing promised features like multi-room audio and stereo pairing of two HomePods together. Those features eventually came in software updates, but months after originally promised.

Throughout its brief life, the original HomePod faced reports of rocky sales and flaky reliability.

Apple end-of-lifed the original HomePod in March 2021, a few months after the debut of HomePod Mini, with no word on the product’s future. It seemed like the HomePod Mini was the one and only HomePod, but the name Mini suggested that a big HomePod might someday return. In the nearly two years since, the original HomePod did receive numerous software updates, adding significant features, which, for me at least, kept hope alive that a true replacement was forthcoming. And lo, here we are.

The conventional wisdom was strongly on the side that the problem with the original HomePod was its price — $350 originally, reduced to $300 in April 2019. Even I succumbed to that price-centric thinking in my brief item noting its discontinuation. I am now convinced that was wrong, though. I got it right back in 2018, when I wrote “HomePod’s Priorities”:

The difference between HomePod and Amazon Echo isn’t that they’re in different product categories. They’re in the same category. No one other than a gadget reviewer is going to put both a HomePod and Echo in their kitchen. They’re going to have one. It is, most certainly, a competition.

The difference is in the priorities behind the devices. All of them are meant to be audio players and useful voice-driven assistants for information, communication, and smart home control. They’re intended to be adopted fairly widely. But it makes a huge difference what order those priorities are in. HomePod’s first priority is clearly audio quality. That’s why it costs $350. Amazon has placed a higher priority on price, which is one reason why Echo doesn’t sound great.

The top priority for the original HomePod was its audio quality. The top priority for the new 2nd-generation HomePod remains audio quality. It’s a home theater component first, and a voice assistant second. And I continue to believe that the true HomePod experience costs $600, with a pair of them. I’ve got paired OG HomePods in both my kitchen and living room, and they sound way more than twice as good as a stereo pair than a single HomePod. Last week I got a hands-on experience with the new 2nd-generation HomePods, and the same thing is true: one of them sounds surprisingly good for its size and price, but two of them paired together sound way more than twice as good.

I suspect that reliability was the problem with the original models — some sort of design or engineering flaw that sent Apple back to the drawing board years before they expected to need a 2nd-generation model. HomePod Minis are great for what they are, but they’re no replacement for the full-size models in terms of room-filling sound quality. There are also new features in the new HomePod: temperature and humidity sensors, and, purportedly, much-improved response times for Siri commands. Heretofore latent temperature and humidity sensors have also been unlocked in the existing HomePod Minis with a software update.

We’ll have to wait for actual reviews of the new HomePod to drop before we know whether audio quality is as good or better, and whether Siri responsiveness and accuracy are actually improved, but just knowing that HomePod is back makes me happy. It’s a “you need to hear it to get it” product.

Here’s to hoping that Apple brings back the AirPower next. 


  1. English language being the obvious connection. ↩︎


Tweetbot Is Dead; Long Live Ivory 

Nice goodbye to one of the very best apps I’ve ever used, and a splendid illustration.

Meh 

My thanks to Meh for sponsoring DF last week. Here’s Meh’s deal: they put up a new deal every day, and it’s not boring stuff. As they say, “It’s actual, real, weird shit you didn’t know existed for half the price you would’ve guessed.”

How they stay in business I don’t know — the only ads they ever buy are the sponsorships here at Daring Fireball. But their website is fun every single day.

WSJ: ‘How Apple Has So Far Avoided Layoffs: Lean Hiring, No Free Lunches’ 

Aaron Tilley, reporting yesterday for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

From its fiscal year-end in September 2019 to September 2022, Apple’s workforce grew by about 20% to approximately 164,000 full-time employees. Meanwhile, over roughly the same period, the employee count at Amazon doubled, Microsoft’s rose 53%, Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s increased 57% and Facebook owner Meta’s ballooned 94%.

Apple has about 65,000 retail employees working in more than 500 stores who make up roughly 40% of the company’s total workforce.

I would argue that it’s not so much that Apple has hired “lean”, but rather that its peers have hired profligately in the last 4 years. Amazon is different because they have so many retail and warehouse jobs, but it makes no sense to me that Facebook doubled its headcount after 2019 other than that they were hiring for the sake of hiring.

Update: Good chart from Chartr showing headcounts among Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook since 2018.

Google Is Laying Off 12,000 Employees (6 Percent of Workforce) 

Sundar Pichai, in a company-wide memo:

Googlers,

I have some difficult news to share. We’ve decided to reduce our workforce by approximately 12,000 roles. We’ve already sent a separate email to employees in the US who are affected. In other countries, this process will take longer due to local laws and practices.

This will mean saying goodbye to some incredibly talented people we worked hard to hire and have loved working with. I’m deeply sorry for that. The fact that these changes will impact the lives of Googlers weighs heavily on me, and I take full responsibility for the decisions that led us here.

This is a stronger, more confident, more honest and direct memo than Satya Nadella’s at Microsoft. (Which, as I noted, went 167 nervous words before getting to the point.)

Over the past two years we’ve seen periods of dramatic growth. To match and fuel that growth, we hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today.

There are numerous reasons the tech industry wound up at this layoffpalooza, but I think the main reason is that the biggest companies got caught up in a game where they tried to hire everyone, whether they needed them or not, to keep talent away from competitors and keep talent away from small upstarts (or from founding their own small upstarts). These big companies were just hiring to hire, and now the jig is up.

There’s only one big tech company that seemingly never played this hire-for-the-sake-of-hiring game, and thus hasn’t announced any layoffs at all, let alone a headcount that would fill a basketball arena. Just one. One company that has, at its best, always kept its cool in the face of economic swings both up and down.

The Talk Show: ‘Slow-Moving Hurricane’ 

Craig Hockenberry returns to the show to talk about the demise of third-party Twitter clients, the overall Twitter shitshow, touchscreens on the Mac, and the perils of autocorrect when you have a clever username.

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Twitterrific: End of an Era 

The Iconfactory:

But, as much as it pains us to say it, Twitterrific for iOS and macOS have now been removed from both App Stores. If you had a subscription on iOS, it will be automatically cancelled by the App Store.

Finally, if you were subscriber to Twitterrific for iOS, we would ask you to please consider not requesting a refund from Apple. The loss of ongoing, recurring revenue from Twitterrific is already going to hurt our business significantly, and any refunds will come directly out of our pockets — not Twitter’s and not Apple’s. To put it simply, thousands of refunds would be devastating to a small company like ours.

A shitty situation could get even shittier.

While this chapter may have ended, our story is not over. As long as we’re able, we’ll continue improving our other apps, creating new apps, doing amazing design work for our clients, and posting awesome wallpapers to Wallaroo and Patreon. Stick around!

For a very small company, The Iconfactory has an astonishing number of useful apps in active development. Tot is a great cross-platform text scratchpad, xScope is an indispensable screen inspector for designers, and Linea is my favorite drawing app for iPad. And when you’re done with work, Frenzic is one of the very first iPhone games, now back and better than ever as part of Apple Arcade.

Twitter Officially Bans Third-Party Clients 

Karissa Bell, reporting for Engadget:

In case there was any doubt about Twitter’s intentions in cutting off the developers of third-party apps, the company has quietly updated its developer agreement to make clear that app makers are no longer permitted to create their own clients.

The “restrictions” section of Twitter’s developer agreement was updated Thursday with a clause banning “use or access the Licensed Materials to create or attempt to create a substitute or similar service or product to the Twitter Applications.” The addition is the only substantive change to the 5,000-word agreement.

Andy Baio posted a link to a diff between the previous and new agreement terms. It’s better to put it in writing and make it official, but it just makes Twitter’s claim two days ago that these terms were “longstanding” all the more absurd.


App Store Rejection of the Week: Ice Cubes, a Splendid New Mastodon Client

In the early days of Twitter I wrote a piece titled “Twitter Clients Are a UI Design Playground”. That playground dried up within a few years because Twitter locked the gates. Part of what made Twitter such a great platform for new iPhone clients was the nature of Twitter itself — a timeline of small posts is optimal for consumption on a small screen. But an essential aspect was that Twitter’s APIs were open.

Today, Mastodon’s explosive growth in the face of Twitter’s collapse has made it a new UI playground, especially so on iOS. I’m following — and using — at least half a dozen excellent new iOS Mastodon clients, each of them distinctive.1 Mastodon has that small-nugget timeline nature as Twitter, but is a truly open platform. There are no limits to what developers can choose to do with the Mastodon APIs. There are, however, limits to what iOS developers can deliver to users: App Store review.

Ice Cubes is a very fun new Mastodon client, written in SwiftUI, from Thomas Ricouard. It works great on iPhone and iPad, and while I wouldn’t call it a good Mac client yet, it is surprisingly credible on the Mac for a cross-platform app designed for the iPad. I’d call its Mac status promising. It is open source and has an open TestFlight beta (which is how I’ve been using it).

But in what can only be described as both Kafkaesque and, alas, all-too-familiar — the Ice Cubes 1.0 submission to the App Store has been held up in limbo for an entire week. The hamfisted faceless reviewer(s) looking at Ice Cubes are repeatedly rejecting it for utterly nonsensical reasons, primarily violating guideline 4.2.2, “Minimum Functionality”:

We noticed that your app only includes links, images, or content aggregated from the Internet with limited or no native iOS functionality. Although this content may be curated from the web specifically for your users, since it does not sufficiently differ from a mobile web browsing experience, it is not appropriate for the App Store.

It is now six days — a week! — after that initial rejection and Ricouard is still banging his head against Apple’s orifice. Seven rejections in six days. It’s enough to make one start pricing Pixel phones.

Ice Cubes is not just a Mastodon client. It is a good and rich one, fully embracing iOS’s platform-specific design idioms and features. You can jump on the TestFlight beta and experience it for yourself, but it’s easy to see just from the screenshots. For chrissake just look at the app icon. It is the complete opposite of a thin wrapper around a web app — it is truly native, painstakingly designed, and built using Apple’s avowed framework of the future, SwiftUI. It exemplifies what Apple encourages developers to do, and is exactly the sort of app that makes the iPhone, iPad, and Mac the platforms what they are. Native apps are what make Apple’s platforms stand apart, yet the App Store reviewer(s) repeatedly rejecting Ice Cubes apparently think iOS and Mac users are better off using the same cross-platform web apps available on Android and Windows and Chromebooks.

I don’t generally call for anyone to be fired, but an App Store reviewer who cannot see how Ice Cubes “differ[s] from a mobile web browsing experience” is an embarrassment to the company, and providing fodder for every frustrated developer who thinks Apple has completely lost its way as a company and platform steward that respects the work of independent developers.

iPhone Twitter clients were the shining lights of that design playground a decade ago. The best interfaces to Twitter, on any platforms, were all native apps on the iPhone and Mac. We’re now on the cusp of a new frontier with Mastodon, and it’s Apple’s utterly clueless bureaucratic App Store reviewers who are doing their best to lock the new playground’s gates before they even open.

Postscript: Unsurprisingly, about two hours after I published this, Ice Cubes was approved by the App Store. If you’re using Mastodon, you absolutely should check it out. And if you’re not using Mastodon, you should consider checking that out, too. It’s where the all the good action from Twitter is going. 


  1. Alas, there is not a single even tolerable Mac client yet. That’s a dark story unto itself. ↩︎


Amazon Lays Off ‘Up to 50 Percent’ of Staff at ComiXology 

Rich Johnston, reporting at Bleeding Cool:

Today, there are significant redundancies and firing occurring at Amazon, with executives sending statements to staff. This included staff members at the digital comic book publisher and distributor ComiXology, acquired by Amazon and later integrated into the main Amazon site, with reports of up to 50% layoffs.

Brutal. I don’t know anyone who likes comics who doesn’t love ComiXology.

Layoffpalooza in Tech 

Microsoft is far from alone in announcing signficant layoffs. CNBC has the tally at 60,000 total jobs:

CNBC put Google on the list, but at just 230 employees (from their health service division), that’s a different ballpark.

Microsoft to Lay Off 10,000 Employees (5 Percent of Workforce) 

Satya Nadella in a company-wide memo, after 167 words of throat-clearing:

Today, we are making changes that will result in the reduction of our overall workforce by 10,000 jobs through the end of FY23 Q3. This represents less than 5 percent of our total employee base, with some notifications happening today. It’s important to note that while we are eliminating roles in some areas, we will continue to hire in key strategic areas. We know this is a challenging time for each person impacted. The senior leadership team and I are committed that as we go through this process, we will do so in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible.

Second, we will continue to invest in strategic areas for our future, meaning we are allocating both our capital and talent to areas of secular growth and long-term competitiveness for the company, while divesting in other areas. These are the kinds of hard choices we have made throughout our 47-year history to remain a consequential company in this industry that is unforgiving to anyone who doesn’t adapt to platform shifts. As such, we are taking a $1.2 billion charge in Q2 related to severance costs, changes to our hardware portfolio, and the cost of lease consolidation as we create higher density across our workspaces.

Curious what “changes to our hardware portfolio” means.

Twitter’s Revenue Dropped 35 Percent in Q4 

Erin Woo, reporting for The Information:

Twitter’s fourth quarter revenue fell about 35% year over year to $1.025 billion, a top ad executive revealed at a staff meeting Wednesday, the most detailed sign yet of how much revenue has fallen. That was 72% of Twitter’s internal goal for the quarter, according to a slide showed to employees.

The executive, Twitter’s global sales and marketing chief Chris Riedy, also said the company is hoping to generate $732 million in revenue in the first quarter, which would be a drop of 39% from the first quarter of last year.

Bummer.

The Financial Times: ‘With $1.5 Billion Bill Due at Month-End, Elon Musk’s Options Aren’t Great’ 

Tabby Kinder, Richard Waters, and Eric Platt, reporting for The Financial Times:

The bill for Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is coming due, with the billionaire facing unpalatable options on the company’s enormous debt pile, ranging from bankruptcy proceedings to another costly sale of Tesla shares. Three people close to the entrepreneur’s buyout of Twitter said the first installment of interest payments related to $13 billion of debt he used to fund the takeover could be due as soon as the end of January. That debt means the company must pay about $1.5 billion in annual interest payments. [...]

Musk’s personal equity investment in Twitter of about $26 billion would be effectively wiped out in the event of a bankruptcy, alongside other equity stakeholders such as Sequoia Capital, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, and Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. In the queue for repayment, their investments would be behind the banks that have loans secured against Twitter’s assets, as well as the company’s unsecured lenders and trade creditors.

Boy, you’d just hate to see it.

Meanwhile, with Tesla’s stock falling 65 percent last year and Musk selling heavily, the value of his stake in the company has plunged to about $50 billion, from $170 billion when he offered to buy Twitter in April last year. That has left him with far less room to raise cash by collateralizing more shares. One alternative would be to exercise some of his stock options, though that would leave him with a large — and immediate — tax bill. The biggest concern for Tesla investors has been if Twitter continues to bleed cash then Musk may have to sell more stock. [...]

Technology equity analyst Dan Ives at Wedbush Securities said that Twitter was worth closer to $15 billion today than the $44 billion Musk paid for it.

Heck, Tesla’s stock is down 25 percent in the last month alone. Heartbreaking.


If a Tree That Was Never Announced Falls in a Forest Does It Make a Sound?

Mark Gurman, at Bloomberg, “Apple Delays AR Glasses, Plans Cheaper Mixed-Reality Headset”:

Apple Inc. is still planning to unveil its first mixed-reality headset this year, but an even more important follow-up product — lightweight augmented-reality glasses — has been postponed due to technical challenges.

The company had originally hoped to release the AR glasses after the debut of its mixed-reality headset, which combines both AR and virtual reality, but that part of the plan is now on hold. Instead, Apple will follow up with a lower-cost version of the mixed-reality headset as soon as 2024 or early 2025, according to people familiar with the deliberations. [...]

The company is focusing on the lower-cost headset instead of the AR glasses, which were once planned to be released about a year after the initial headset, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the project is still under wraps. At one point, Apple aimed to release the glasses in 2023, before delaying the launch until around 2025. Now, Apple has postponed the rollout indefinitely and pared back its work on the AR device.

The “once planned” link above points to this June 2020 report, also from Gurman, which concludes with this:

Although plans could change, in an all-hands meeting last fall, Rockwell said the first headset may be announced next year and released in 2022. Apple fans can expect the AR glasses by 2023 at the earliest.

To me, there’s some heavy spin in this piece to paint Apple’s AR glasses schedule as a significant setback and disappointment. And while Gurman has been on fire with Apple scoops lately, his coverage of the mixed reality goggles expected this year has been similarly slanted. If Mike Rockwell told Apple’s AR/VR team in June 2020 that the company’s first headset may be released in 2022 and it is released in 2023, I’m not sure that counts as late by any measure, even the rumor mill’s. And I don’t see how that concluding sentence suggests anyone in the know ever expected the AR glasses to ship in 2023, let alone qualifies as the company having “once planned” on such a date. You don’t have be an engineer to realize how much more difficult regular-looking glasses with all-day battery life, comfort, and functionality are than a bulky ski-mask-style VR headset. It never made sense to me that the AR glasses could be one year behind the bulky goggles, and no one I’ve ever spoken to with knowledge of this team’s work has ever suggested they were expected to appear a mere year apart.

To me it’s like trying to argue in 1968 that NASA’s first mission to Mars had been postponed indefinitely, when they hadn’t yet landed on the moon.

And when I say bulky, I mean bulky. Gurman seconds a tidbit first reported by The Information’s Wayne Ma two weeks ago — that the battery will be external and tethered by cable. Gurman writes:

The headset’s battery also will be cumbersome, with the company choosing to not include it in the device itself to reduce the weight and heating risks of the head-worn product. The battery will connect to the headset over a cable and rest in a user’s back pocket. Creating a lightweight device with advanced augmented reality and a built-in battery that could last all day isn’t feasible with today’s technology.

None of this really makes sense. A tethered battery sounds like an utter non-starter to me, but on the surface I’m sure it sounds like an utter non-starter to everyone at Apple too. If it’s true, it could and should be because it’s a design decision that’s worthwhile, to support an experience that’s worth the inherent hassle. It certainly shouldn’t be what it sounds like in these reports, which is “Fuck it, we need to ship something, so let’s just stick the battery on a cable and it’ll go in their pocket.

And if this original headset really is going to cost around $3,000 — which Gurman states as fact in this report, and Wayne Ma reports again tonight too — how in the world is it supposed to be news that the company is already thinking about a lower-priced version to come afterward? That’s “Dog Bites Man”. A “Man Bites Dog” story would be if Apple didn’t see any need for a headset that cost less than $3,000.

What most caught my eye in Gurman’s report was this remark from the closing paragraph (his reports often have the best nuggets at the very end):

Some people within Apple doubt that the company will ever ship AR glasses, but it remains a long-term goal.

I find that hard to believe, that anyone at Apple would think never for good AR glasses. Some ideas that feel within reach turn out to be a decade or more away, but they’re still on the horizon, and Apple’s culture is a patient, diligent, long-term-thinking culture. And an optimistic one. In 2006 it was dogma that all cell phones were destined to suck, because the carriers sucked, the carriers controlled the phones, and it seemed like no company could ever break that control. Things can change. Progress comes.

While I’m at it, Ma’s report from two weeks ago contained this, uh, eye-catching nugget:

The headset has inward-facing displays for each eye and a large outward-facing display on the front of the device. The external display can show the facial expressions of the person wearing the headset, along with other types of imagery, to people around the user, which is meant to reduce the isolation users might otherwise feel when wearing the device.

My understanding is that there is no front-facing screen, but that Apple’s team had long joked about such an idea, and perhaps someone who heard the joking mistook the idea as real and passed it along to Ma. It sure sounds like a joke to me, but maybe my understanding is wrong. Unless I’m forgetting something, Gurman has never reported on a front-facing screen. (Also, the headset has built-in headphones — why in the world would a $3,000 gadget that goes around your head need external headphones?)

Anyway. Something is definitely coming from Apple from this team this year, and I get the sense the company thinks it’s going to be something special. If true, that means it will likely also not be what most people outside the company are expecting. Outsiders inevitably base expectations on the current state of the art. But the iPhone was not an iPod phone. Apple Watch was not a Fitbit with a higher price. If Apple is still Apple, this first headset should be much more than a slightly nicer version of VR headsets as we know them. 


Simon Fraser on the Joy of the Fahrenheit Scale 

Whole bit is spot-on, but the thing about the thermostat is chef’s kiss.

Apple Announces M2 Pro and M2 Max-Powered MacBook Pros and Mac Minis 

Dan Moren has a good summary of today’s announcements at Six Colors:

As expected, Apple on Tuesday took the wraps off updates to its MacBook Pro and Mac mini lines, featuring as their centerpiece the new M2 Pro and M2 Max processors.

The MacBook Pro update is basically a speed bump: the base level $1999 14-inch model moves to a M2 Pro 10-core CPU/16-core GPU configuration, with build to configure options for M2 Pro 12-core with a 19-core GPU, or to M2 Max with 12 cores and either 30 or 38 cores of GPU. Options at $2499 and $3099 come with the higher M2 Pro and the M2 Max, respectively. Meanwhile, the 16-inch model’s base configuration, at $2499, starts with a 12-core CPU/19-core GPU M2 Pro, while the $2699 and $3499 models feature the 12-core/19-core M2 Pro and 12-core/38-core M2 Max options.[...]

On the Mac mini side, Apple has finally axed the Intel Mac model and now offers three configurations of mini, starting with the same 8-core CPU/10-core GPU M2 configuration in the MacBook Air at $599 — $100 less than its M1-powered predecessor. While a $799 model features more storage with the same chip configuration, there’s also for the first time an option for Apple’s more powerful M2 Pro chip, in a $1299 10-core CPU/16-core GPU option, with a build to order configuration also offering a bump to a 12-core/19-core GPU M2 Pro. The M2 Pro configuration also offers four Thunderbolt 4 ports on the back, up over just two on the M2 configurations.

Announcements from Apple’s Newsroom:

Apple released a 20-minute video announcing these products, hosted by John Ternus. It’s linked from Apple’s home page, but isn’t listed on their Events page, so I’m not sure if the URL is a permalink. (I wouldn’t read too much into it, but I did notice that the URL for the video has “/2022/” in the path, which makes me wonder if this was all originally intended to be announced a month ago.)

One purely cosmetic surprise to me: the Mac Mini is still only available in silver, no space gray. I would have bet (and lost) that the regular M2 models would remain silver, but the M2 Pro and Max models would have been space gray. That’s how the lower-end and higher-end Intel Mac Mini models were colored.

Tesla Video Promoting Self-Driving Was Staged, Engineer Testifies 

Hyunjoo Jin, reporting for Reuters:

A 2016 video that Tesla used to promote its self-driving technology was staged to show capabilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not have, according to testimony by a senior engineer. The video, which remains archived on Tesla’s website, was released in October 2016 and promoted on Twitter by Chief Executive Elon Musk as evidence that “Tesla drives itself.”

But the Model X was not driving itself with technology Tesla had deployed, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, said in the transcript of a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a 2018 fatal crash involving a former Apple engineer. [...]

To create the video, the Tesla used 3D mapping on a predetermined route from a house in Menlo Park, California, to Tesla’s then-headquarters in Palo Alto, he said. Drivers intervened to take control in test runs, he said. When trying to show the Model X could park itself with no driver, a test car crashed into a fence in Tesla’s parking lot, he said. “The intent of the video was not to accurately portray what was available for customers in 2016. It was to portray what was possible to build into the system,” Elluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony seen by Reuters.

When Tesla released the video, Musk tweeted, “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot.”

Shocker.

There’s Weak Sauce, and Then There’s Weak Sauce 

The @TwitterDev account, three hours ago:

Twitter is enforcing its long-standing API rules. That may result in some apps not working.

That’s the entirety of the tweet, and that tweet is the only comment the company has made. Give them a point for brevity, I suppose, but there’s literally no one on the planet who believes a word of this. Third-party clients weren’t violating any existing rules, and there’s no “may” about the fact that they stopped working because Twitter revoked their authorization credentials. If there was some way they could show even less respect for third-party client developers and users, they found it.

16 Years Ago: ‘Introducing Twitterrific’ 

I’m not sure what’s cuter: that The Iconfactory needed to explain what Twitter was, or that my @gruber account counted as “famous” on Twitter back in 2007.

What a glorious, groundbreaking app. So it goes.

Twitter’s Rummage Sale 

Online auction where you can bid on now-unneeded office equipment, furniture, coffee machines, and so forth from Twitter. Feels like something you typically see after a company has gone bankrupt and shuttered its doors, not just downsized. This is the right amount of dignity for Twitter today, though.

Craig Hockenberry: ‘The Shit Show’ 

Craig Hockenberry:

Like my mom, the API has been declining for awhile. Endpoints were removed, new features were unavailable to third parties, and rate limiting restricted what we could do. And like my mom, we struggled on and did the best we could, trying to stay upbeat about it all.

What bothers me about Twitterrific’s final day is that it was not dignified. There was no advance notice for its creators, customers just got a weird error, and no one is explaining what’s going on. We had no chance to thank customers who have been with us for over a decade. Instead, it’s just another scene in their ongoing shit show.

But I guess that’s what you should expect from a shitty person.

Personally, I’m done. And with a vengeance.

I read an early draft of this post, and this is the polite version.

WorkOS 

My thanks to WorkOS for sponsoring last week at DF. WorkOS is like “Stripe for enterprise features.” They make it easy for developers to build features needed by enterprise customers, such as Single Sign-On and SCIM.

Shipping these feature is important because they enable selling upmarket for bigger deals. Without these features, the IT department will reject your app. But these enterprise features are complex and time-consuming to build yourself, usually taking months.

With WorkOS you can integrate and ship enterprise features in minutes. Beautiful API docs guide you through every step of the way, and transparent pricing scales based on usage. It’s a product built by developers, for developers.

If You Needed Any More Confirmation, Internal Slack Messages at Twitter Show That Cutting Off Third-Party Clients Was ‘Intentional’ 

Some reporter, writing for one very expensive paywalled blog:

The reason for the suspension couldn’t be learned. Speculation on one blog this week raised the possibility that Twitter might have turned off access to the apps deliberately because they don’t help drive ad revenue. At least some don’t show ads that appear on Twitter. That means the apps may be hurting Elon Musk’s ability to stop a major decline in ad revenue in the past two months.

“One blog” was this excellent early report on the outage by Ben Schoon for 9to5Google.

It is of course true that third-party clients didn’t show Twitter’s ads, but Twitter never tried putting those ads into the feeds delivered by the APIs used by third-party clients. And it’s obviously true that third-party Twitter clients weren’t suddenly getting users to switch from Twitter’s first-party clients.

In the day and a half since users started reporting problems with the apps, neither Twitter’s official account nor the Twitter support account have explained what caused the outage, including whether it was deliberate or accidental. Musk also hasn’t commented on his Twitter account.

But a senior software engineer wrote Thursday night that “Third-party app suspensions are intentional,” in an internal Twitter command center Slack channel, used by employees to handle outages and interruptions to Twitter’s services. The engineer declined to comment when contacted by The Information on Saturday afternoon.

The internal messages seen by The Information also show that Twitter employees have been discussing when the decision would be announced publicly. A Twitter employee working on product partnerships asked on Friday morning when employees could expect a list of “approved talking points” for questions from partners related to “3party clients revoked access.”

A product marketing manager responded on Slack that morning that the company had “started to work on comms” but that there was no estimate as to when it would be ready, the messages show.

Twitter can of course do what it wants, and Musk owns Twitter so he can do what he wants. But pulling the plug on these clients and ghosting everyone on communications about it is so absurdly disrespectful. Zero respect for the users for those apps, zero respect for the developers behind them — many of whom had been building on the Twitter platform for 10-15 years. Just a clown show.

Meanwhile, using Twitter’s own apps or website, my @gruber account shows a total of 7 mentions since January 5. Using Twitterrific for Mac — the plug for which has somehow not yet been pulled — I count 239 mentions since January 5.

Twitter’s own first-party service is falling apart.

AI-Generated Stills From a Movie That Doesn’t Exist: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1976 Version of ‘Tron’ 

The New York Times has a jaw-dropping feature from Frank Pavich and Johnny Darrell:

I was recently shown some frames from a film that I had never heard of: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1976 version of Tron. The sets were incredible. The actors, unfamiliar to me, looked fantastic in their roles. The costumes and lighting worked together perfectly. The images glowed with an extravagant and psychedelic sensibility that felt distinctly Jodorowskian.

However, Mr. Jodorowsky, the visionary Chilean filmmaker, never tried to make Tron. I’m not even sure he knows what “Tron” is. And Disney’s original Tron was released in 1982. So what 1970s film were these gorgeous stills from? Who were these neon-suited actors? And how did I — the director of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, having spent two and a half years interviewing and working with Alejandro to tell the story of his famously unfinished film — not know about this?

The truth is that these weren’t stills from a long-lost movie. They weren’t photos at all. These evocative, well-composed and tonally immaculate images were generated in seconds with the magic of artificial intelligence.

It’s staggering how beautiful these stills are, and so evocative of what this imaginary film should look and feel like. You can practically hear them, they’re so sensual. The animation of stills atop the feature even feels like a trailer for the movie. Look at this on the biggest display you can.

The downside to this is that it has created in me a strong desire to see a movie that can never exist.

The Trio of Apps That Will Replace iTunes for Windows: Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Devices 

Andrew Cunningham, writing for Ars Technica:

Today, as part of a new Windows 11 preview build for Windows Insiders, Microsoft has announced that previews of new Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Devices apps are available in the Microsoft Store for download.

The Apple Music and Apple TV apps handle iTunes’ music and video functionality, just as they do on macOS, and provide access to the Apple Music and Apple TV+ subscription services. The Apple Devices app is what you’ll use to make local device backups, perform emergency software updates, sync local media, and the other things you can do with an iDevice that’s plugged into your PC (in macOS, similar functionality was added to the Finder, rather than being broken out into its own app).

Kinda sad that an app as legendary as iTunes is living out its last days as a Windows exclusive.

Meanwhile, Over at Twitter, They’re Giving Away Ads 

Suzanne Vranica and Patience Haggin, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ and Archive links):

Twitter Inc. is offering advertisers a new incentive in an attempt to woo brands back to the social-media platform, which has seen its ad business deteriorate following Elon Musk‘s $44 billion takeover.

The tech company is dangling free ad space by offering to match advertisers’ ad spending up to $250,000, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The full $500,000 in advertising must run by Feb. 28, the emails said.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer company.

Saks Unveils Plan for Casino Atop Its Flagship Manhattan Store 

Lisa Fickenscher, reporting for The New York Post:

Saks Fifth Avenue finally tipped its hand, confirming plans to bid for a casino license on the top floors of its flagship store on Fifth Avenue. [...]

The renderings show stylishly dressed guests, seated at roulette tables, posh bars and upholstered chairs, clinking cocktails. They enter the building via a separate entrance on a red carpet that extends out onto the sidewalk and opens into a vast lobby area with multiple chandeliers and plush decorative rugs.

The casino would take up three floors, starting on the ninth, where servers will be dressed in black tie and hand out champagne flutes to gamblers, Richard Baker, executive chairman and chief executive of HBC, the Toronto-based company that owns Saks told The Post. [...]

The stylish Saks casino would be similar to the one featured in the James Bond movie “Casino Royale,” according to Baker. “In Monte Carlo they have fancy casinos so why not in Manhattan,” Baker said. “Why should Manhattan have another slobby casino. … We need spectacular.”

What a grand idea. I love a nice casino but most casinos are anything but nice.

The End May Be Nigh for Third-Party Twitter Clients 

Last night around 11pm ET, Tweetbot and Twitterrific stopped working, with authentication errors. They’re still down, as are other popular clients. Twitter has said nothing, either publicly or in communications to the affected developers, so your guess is as good as mine whether this is an unintended outage from Twitter’s skeleton crew staff or a strategic decision to pull the plug on third-party clients. Last night I’d have bet — a small amount — that it was an unintentional outage. Today I’d bet the other way, that this is the end. If so, this is probably the end of my regular usage of Twitter. Twitter’s official client has been terrible ever since it was anything other than a rebranded version of Tweetie. The first-party experience has gotten worse in recent weeks during the Musk era — both in their iOS app and on their convoluted website.

(Twitterrific for Mac is still functioning, though — at least as I write this. Unlike Tweetbot, Twitterrific uses different app IDs for iOS and Mac, and whatever is going on, it seems to have affected only the most popular third-party apps.)

Update: The Iconfactory has a blog post up. No news yet, but it’s worth checking out just for the chef’s kiss custom illustration. A picture says a thousand words and this one sums up the whole situation, no matter how it turns out.

Also: What a load of bullshit it is that Twitter no longer has a comms team. Apparently that’s how Musk runs all his companies, but it’s just childish.