Spotlight Performance Problems on iOS 

Nick Heer:

I’ve generally had pretty good luck with Spotlight on iOS, but I’ve long noticed that results are delayed or nonexistent after not using it for a little while, particularly if I haven’t rebooted my phone recently. I thought I was losing my head a little bit, until I found a tip on Twitter from Anand Iyer :

Settings > General > Spotlight Search > toggle Slack off

A week or so ago I ran into this, where Spotlight was running so slowly on my iPhone that it was unusable. Restarting my phone fixed the problem, but I’ll bet it was this Slack problem.

Update: Sounds like there might widespread problems with Spotlight indexing on iOS 10, because a bunch of readers have written to say they have the same problem but don’t even have Slack installed.

Update 2: Several readers are saying this was a bug in iOS 10.3.1 but has been fixed in last week’s 10.3.2 update.

How Anker Is Beating Apple and Samsung at Their Own Accessory Game 

Nice profile of Anker by Nick Statt for The Verge:

So in airports, the back of cabs, and on city streets we’re plugging into lithium-ion slabs in our pockets and bags to stay connected. The market for portable battery packs generated $360 million in the 12 months ending in March, 2017 in the US alone. The brands behind these packs are largely anonymous — Kmashi, Jackery, and iMuto — and they often stay that way.

Except Anker. The steady rise of the company’s profile is proof that it’s possible to meet one very specific consumer need and ride that wave as it continues to ripple out to other markets. A majority of Anker’s sales come from cables and wall chargers, and it’s now moving into the smart home and auto market — anywhere a plug and a cable can solve a problem.

It’s always satisfying to see a company thrive by focusing on making great products.

‘On Margins’ 

New podcast from the inimitable Craig Mod about the art of making books. The first episode is an interview with Jan Chipchase:

Researcher and author Jan Chipchase has a new book — “The Field Study Handbook.” We discuss how he came to produce this 500+ page magnum opus — a distillation of his life’s work — and why he is self publishing.

Boring Google 

Ben Thompson, in praise of Google’s “boring” I/O keynote:

Google Assistant has a long ways to go, but there is a clear picture of what success will look like: Google Photos. Launched only two years ago, Pichai bragged that Photos now has over 500 million active users who upload 1.2 billion photos a day. This is a spectacular number for one very simple reason: Google Photos is not the default photo app for Android or iOS. Rather, Google has earned all of those photos simply by being better than the defaults, and the basis of that superiority is Google’s machine learning.

Moreover, much like search, Photos gets better the more data it gets, creating a virtuous cycle: more photos means more data which means a better experience which means more users which means more photos. It is already hard to see other photo applications catching up.

Google Photos is Google at its best. Their visual recognition is clearly the best in the world right now, and Thompson makes a good point that the “virtuous circle” makes it difficult for anyone to catch up.

In addition to being a great product, technically, Google Photos also launched with a terrific ad campaign.

Every Color of Cardigan Mister Rogers Wore From 1979–2001 

Owen Philips, writing for The Awl:

Fortunately, Tim Lybarger, a 40 year-old high school counselor from just outside of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, wondered the same thing a few years ago. Back in 2011, on his blog devoted to all things Mister Rogers, neighborhoodarchive.com, Lybarger recorded the color of every sweater Rogers wore in each episode between 1979 and 2001. “When I realized such a resource didn’t exist,” Lybarger told me over email, “I just felt like somebody needed to do it…might as well be me.”

The chart below uses the data Lybarger meticulously collected to show how Rogers’ preferences for the color of his cardigan changed over time.

When I was a kid I simply loved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. (Via Kottke, of course.)

Scrolling Is Going to Change in Mobile Safari 

Here’s an interesting exchange in a Hacker News discussion about my criticism of AMP over the weekend. Malte Ubl, creator and tech lead of Google AMP:

With respect to scrolling: We (AMP team) filed a bug with Apple about that (we didn’t implement scrolling ourselves, just use a div with overflow). We asked to make the scroll inertia for that case the same as the normal scrolling.

Apple’s response was (surprisingly) to make the default scrolling like the overflow scrolling. So, with the next Safari release all pages will scroll like AMP pages. Hope Gruber is happy then :)

“Om2”, who seemingly works on WebKit for Apple added:

In current iOS Safari, webpage scrolling is inconsistent from all other scrolling on the system. This was an intentional decision made long ago. In addition, overflow areas are consistent with the rest of the system, and thus inconsistent with top-level webpage scrolling. This is semi-accidental. In reviewing scroll rates, we concluded that the original reason was no longer a good tradeoff. Thus this change, which removed all the inconsistencies: https://trac.webkit.org/changeset/211197/webkit

Having all scrolling be consistent feels good once you get used to it.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good idea for Google’s hosted AMP pages to use overflow scroll all along. The inconsistency definitely did feel weird. And the way they do scrolling prevents Safari from auto-hiding its top and bottom bars. I believe all the desired scroll effects could have been achieved without the use of overflow scroll.

That’s a pretty big change, but I’ll bet Om2 is right that it soon feels normal. Web views have had different scrolling inertia than other scrolling views ever since the original iPhone. (My beef with scrolling in AMP is not that AMP’s fast scrolling is bad and Mobile Safari’s current slower scrolling is good, but rather that scrolling in AMP pages should not feel totally different than regular web pages. And I forgot to complain about the fact that AMP’s weird implementation also breaks Mobile Safari’s ability to hide the bottom and top browser chrome toolbars. Update: One more complaint: AMP breaks Safari’s Reader mode.)

News Explorer 1.6 Supports JSON Feed 

First native app I’ve seen with support for JSON Feed. Pretty interesting take on a modern Mac feed reader, including nice support for using the keyboard arrow keys to move around the UI.

‘Becoming Bond’ 

New documentary from Hulu on George Lazenby, who played James Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and then turned down an offer for a six-picture contract. Watched it over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Stashword 

My thanks to Stashword for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Stashword is simple but feature-rich password manager for iOS and the web. In addition to passwords, Stashword can securely save notes, financial information, and more. You can even scan and save documents like your drivers license, insurance documentation, and passport.

Stashword is free to try for 15 days. Paid membership enables you to synchronize across all your devices and their website. As a special offer for Daring Fireball readers, through May 25 annual membership is just $7.99, which is 20 percent off the regular price.

MacStories’s iOS 11 iPad Wishes and Concept Video 

Federico Viticci:

I’ve been thinking about some of these ideas since iOS 9 (you can see a thread between my iOS 10 concept and this year’s version), while others would be a natural evolution for iOS on the iPad. Once again, Sam was able to visualize everything with a fantastic concept that, I believe, captures the iPad’s big-picture potential more accurately than last year.

Below, you’ll find our iOS 11 for iPad concept video, followed by an analysis of my iPad wishes with static mockups. I focused on foundational changes to the iPad’s software — tentpole features that would affect the entire OS and app ecosystem.

This isn’t a prediction of what Apple will announce at WWDC; it’s my vision for what the future of the iPad should be.

Viticci and Beckett put months of work into this, and it shows. Some of the ideas they present: system-wide drag-and-drop, a Finder app, a redesigned App Store, and much more.

The best part of this feature isn’t any specific idea, but rather Viticci’s profound enthusiasm for the iPad as a platform.

10-Year-Old Open Letter Calling for Apple to Make Glucose Monitors 

Amy Tenderich, 10 years ago, in an open letter to Steve Jobs:

If insulin pumps or continuous monitors had the form of an iPod Nano, people wouldn’t have to wonder why we wear our “pagers” to our own weddings, or puzzle over that strange bulge under our clothes. If these devices wouldn’t start suddenly and incessantly beeping, strangers wouldn’t lecture us to turn off our “cell phones” at the movie theater.

In short, medical device manufacturers are stuck in a bygone era; they continue to design these products in an engineering-driven, physician-centered bubble. They have not yet grasped the concept that medical devices are also life devices, and therefore need to feel good and look good for the patients using them 24/7, in addition to keeping us alive.

(Follow-up here in 2010.)

This was incredibly prescient, given the rumors that Apple is working on continuous non-invasive glucose monitoring for Apple Watch. Jobs didn’t live to see it, but I think it’s exactly the sort of thing he would be pushing for if he were still alive.

From chapter 37 of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs:

Even when he was barely conscious, his strong personality came through. At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. The doctors looked at Powell, puzzled. She was finally able to distract him so they could put on the mask. He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex. He suggested ways it could be designed more simply. “He was very attuned to every nuance of the environment and objects around him, and that drained him,” Powell recalled.

Scott Gilbertson: ‘Kill Google AMP Before It Kills the Web’ 

Scott Gilbertson, writing for The Register:

Quite a few high-profile web developers have this year weighted in with criticism and some, following a Google conference dedicated to AMP, have cautioned users about diving in with both feet.

These, in my view, don’t go far enough in stating the problem and I feel this needs to be said very clearly: Google’s AMP is bad — bad in a potentially web-destroying way. Google AMP is bad news for how the web is built, it’s bad news for publishers of credible online content, and it’s bad news for consumers of that content. Google AMP is only good for one party: Google. Google, and possibly, purveyors of fake news.

It’s time for developers to wake up and, as Jason Scott once said of Facebook, stop: “Shoveling down the shit sherbet” Google is now serving with AMP.

I’m on the record as being strongly opposed to AMP simply on the grounds of publication independence. I’d stand by that even if the implementation were great. But the implementation is not great — it’s terrible. Yes, AMP pages load fast, but you don’t need AMP for fast-loading web pages. If you are a publisher and your web pages don’t load fast, the sane solution is to fix your fucking website so that pages load fast, not to throw your hands up in the air and implement AMP.

But other than loading fast, AMP sucks. It implements its own scrolling behavior on iOS, which feels unnatural, and even worse, it breaks the decade-old system-wide iOS behavior of being able to tap the status bar to scroll to the top of any scrollable view. AMP also completely breaks Safari’s ability to search for text on a page (via the “Find on Page” action in the sharing sheet). Google has no respect for the platform. If I had my way, Mobile Safari would refuse to render AMP pages. It’s a deliberate effort by Google to break the open web.

Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts 

Damian Carrington, reporting for The Guardian:

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The big takeaway from this should be that climate change truly is a threat to civilization. But, I have to say, that melting permafrost wasn’t taken into consideration during the design of this vault seems like a glaring oversight.

Update: Looks like The Guardian might have shamelessly sensationalized this story. Mary Beth Griggs, reporting for Popular Science:

“If there was a worst case scenario where there was so much water, or the pumping systems failed, that it made its way uphill to the seed vault, then it would encounter minus 18 [degrees celsius] and freeze again. Then there’s another barrier [the ice] for entry into the seed vault,” Fowler says. In other words, any water that floods into the tunnel has to make it 100 meters downhill, then back uphill, then overwhelm the pumping systems, and then manage not to freeze at well-below-freezing temperatures. Otherwise, there’s no way liquid is getting into the seed bank — so the seeds are probably safe. […]

Still worried? Maybe this will help you exhale: “We did this calculation; if all the ice in the world melted — Greenland, Arctic, Antarctic, everything — and then we had the world’s largest recorded tsunami right in front of the seed vault. So, very high sea levels and the worlds largest Tsunami. What would happen to the seed vault?” Fowler says. “We found that the seed vault was somewhere between a five and seven story building above that point. It might not help the road leading up to the seed vault, but the seeds themselves would be OK.”

Sounds like the vault itself is designed to survive a climate apocalypse — it’s just the entry that isn’t.

‘It’s Borderline Stupid How Easy It Was’ 

Niclas Darville, on creating a JSON Feed template for Jekyll:

It literally took me longer to write this blog post than the JSON feed code, because I couldn’t get Jekyll to escape the Liquid code example.

On Twitter, Darville wrote:

One of the best things about @jsonfeed is how well it works as a Hello World kind of programming exercise.

Sure beats to-do lists.

Jason McIntosh described adding JSON Feed support to his home-grown blog engine as a “blowing-off-steam project”.

These reactions are exactly what I mean about JSON Feed being fun. There’s a time and place for specs that are drop-dead serious, but I think it’s often overlooked just how important fun can be in having a new spec gain traction.

Headline of the Week 

Actual headline in the staid New York Times: “Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation”.

Requiring Facebook 

Jason Ditzian, writing for The Bold Italic on what happened when the car sharing service he’d been using for 10 years was acquired:

However, City CarShare was recently bought by a corporation, Getaround. And Getaround built its platform on top of Facebook. So when I went to migrate my account over to them, I found that there’s literally no way to do it as a non-Facebook user. If I want to share cars with my fellow city dwellers, I’m compelled to strike a Faustian bargain.

To access the services of Getaround, one must authenticate their identity through Facebook. […]

I know that for you Facebook-having people, this is no big deal. You have resigned yourself to the idea of Facebook owning your data. But if you don’t, haven’t and/or won’t resign to this fate, you might end up left, like me, in a peculiar situation: the price of “sharing” a car equals money plus forking over a huge trove of personal data. Personal information is supplanting money as a form of currency.

There’s clearly a problem here, but I don’t think it’s Facebook’s fault. I think the problem is that Getaround sucks.

FCC Votes to Begin Dismantling Net Neutrality 

Karl Bode, writing for TechDirt:

Surprising absolutely nobody, the FCC today voted 2-1 along strict party lines to begin dismantling net neutrality protections for consumers. The move comes despite the fact that the vast majority of non-bot comments filed with the FCC support keeping the rules intact. And while FCC boss Ajit Pai has breathlessly insisted he intended to listen to the concerns of all parties involved, there has been zero indication that this was a serious commitment as he begins dismantling all manner of broadband consumer protections, not just net neutrality.

As you might have expected, the FCC was quick to release a statement claiming that gutting the popular consumer protections would usher forth a magical age of connectivity, investment, and innovation.

(Via Nick Heer.)

‘You Know My Name’ 

One of my very favorite songs from Chris Cornell — the opening credits theme to Casino Royale. A great song that just fits the movie so damn well.

Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Dead at 52 

The New York Times:

Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, died on Wednesday night in Detroit hours after the band had performed there. He was 52.

The death was a suicide by hanging, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon. It said a full autopsy had not yet been completed.

Fuck.

jq 

There’s a cool command-line JSON processor called jq — easily installed on a Mac via download or Homebrew, and even more easily tinkered with using the online playground. Here’s how easy jq makes it to get, say, a list of the titles from DF’s JSON feed:

curl -s https://daringfireball.net/feeds/json | jq '.items[].title'
The World’s First JSON Feed Viewer 

Maxime Vaillancourt:

Here’s a tiny proof of concept for a @jsonfeed viewer, built in an hour: http://json-feed-viewer.herokuapp.com

One of the things I love about JSON Feed is that it’s fun. JSON is so simple, and so well-supported by almost all programming languages, that you can build something interesting in just a few minutes, and something useful in an hour. There was a comment on the Hacker News thread about JSON Feed that I loved:

It is very likely than I am an idiot, but I’ve always found parsing XML too hard, specially compared to JSON which is almost too easy.

“Almost too easy” are three words no one has ever said about XML.

Apple Is Testing an Apple Watch Glucose Monitor 

Christina Farr, reporting for CNBC:

Tim Cook has been spotted at the Apple campus test-driving a device that tracks blood sugar, which was connected to his Apple Watch.

A source said that Cook was wearing a prototype glucose-tracker on the Apple Watch, which points to future applications that would make the device a “must have” for millions of people with diabetes — or at risk for the disease.

As CNBC reported last month, Apple has a team in Palo Alto working on the “holy grail” for diabetes: Non-invasive and continuous glucose monitoring. The current glucose trackers on the market rely on tiny sensors penetrating the skin. Sources said the company is already conducting feasibility trials in the Bay Area.

Non-invasive continuous glucose monitoring would be a life-changer for anyone with diabetes. But I can’t even imagine how life-changing this will be for kids with diabetes and their parents.

CMD-D: Masters of Automation Conference 

This sounds very cool: a one-day conference in August devoted to Mac and iOS scripting and automation, hosted by Paul Kent, Naomi Pearce, and Sal Soghoian.

Final Cut Pro X and Closed Captions 

Kevin Hamm:

Captions can be just text at timecode, which is simple. In their most complex, they are styled, located text at timecode. That’s it. Nothing more. I work in text and titles and timecode every day in every video I do, so there is no reason that this simple function isn’t baked in at this point. Words at timecode. That’s all it is.

That Apple is making their systems and products accessible is great. Xcode grants programmers the ability to build accessible apps, and has from the beginning, which is even better as it makes a massive part of the ecosystem accessible.

That Final Cut Pro hasn’t ever and still doesn’t create closed captions is a smudge on that image.

It seems bonkers to me that Final Cut Pro X doesn’t have support for closed captions. Coming from Apple, you’d think it would have excellent support for them. How does Apple create closed captions for their own videos?

Source Code for Panic Apps Stolen By Malware Thieves 

Steven Frank:

Last week, for about three days, the macOS video transcoding app HandBrake was compromised. One of the two download servers for HandBrake was serving up a special malware-infested version of the app, that, when launched, would essentially give hackers remote control of your computer.

In a case of extraordinarily bad luck, even for a guy that has a lot of bad computer luck, I happened to download HandBrake in that three day window, and my work Mac got pwned.

Long story short, somebody, somewhere, now has quite a bit of source code to several of our apps.

This is one hell of a story and quite a shock, but the crew at Panic kept their heads together and did the right thing: they’ve opened up completely and honestly, refused to deal with the blackmailer, and I think they are correctly unworried about their source code being leaked publicly.

Dave Itzkoff Profiles Jimmy Fallon for The New York Times 

Fascinating behind-the-scenes look at The Tonight Show, including a look inside Fallon’s briefcase (he’s got a Nintendo Switch in there).

Announcing JSON Feed 

Brent Simmons and Manton Reece:

We — Manton Reece and Brent Simmons — have noticed that JSON has become the developers’ choice for APIs, and that developers will often go out of their way to avoid XML. JSON is simpler to read and write, and it’s less prone to bugs.

So we developed JSON Feed, a format similar to RSS and Atom but in JSON. It reflects the lessons learned from our years of work reading and publishing feeds.

I think this is a great idea, and a good spec. I even like the style in which the spec is written: for real humans (much like the RSS spec). If you want to see a real-life example, Daring Fireball has a JSON Feed. I’ve got a good feeling about this project — the same sort of feeling I had about Markdown back in the day.

New Apple Videos Highlight Real-World Accessibility 

Nice piece for Mashable by Katie Dupere on a bunch of new videos in Apple’s YouTube channel, highlighting real-world usage of iOS and MacOS accessibility features. People who can’t move, people who can’t talk, people who can’t see or hear — doing amazing things. Apple’s commitment to accessibility is one of my very favorite things about the company. It’s not just the right thing to do for people who truly need these features — it makes the products better for everyone.

Update: Jim Dalrymple has all 7 videos collected on one page.

Lyft and Waymo Reach Deal to Collaborate on Self-Driving Cars 

Mike Isaac, writing for The New York Times:

Waymo, the self-driving car unit that operates under Google’s parent company, has signed a deal with the ride-hailing start-up Lyft, according to two people familiar with the agreement who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The deal calls for the companies to work together to bring autonomous vehicle technology into the mainstream through pilot projects and product development efforts, these people said.

The deal was confirmed by Lyft and Waymo.

Who knows, maybe Google would have made this same deal with Lyft even in the alternate universe where Uber didn’t steal Google’s tech. But it sure looks like Uber has made a powerful enemy.

Long Live MP3 

Marco Arment:

Until a few weeks ago, there had never been an audio format that was small enough to be practical, widely supported, and had no patent restrictions, forcing difficult choices and needless friction upon the computing world. Now, at least for audio, that friction has officially ended. There’s finally a great choice without asterisks.

MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free.

I wasn’t paying attention last week when Gizmodo, Engadget, and NPR got hoodwinked into writing “MP3 Is Dead” stories by an announcement from Fraunhofer pushing people to switch from the now-open MP3 to the still-patent-encumbered AAC.

On Twitter, Marco pointed to this 10-year-old piece from yours truly, describing the then-pipe-dream of Ogg Vorbis:

The ideal scenario would be for a genuinely open and free file format such as Ogg Vorbis to supplant MP3 as the de facto world standard. No patents, no licensing fees, a documented file format, open source libraries for encoding and decoding. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards, however. In the real world, major corporations only seem comfortable with multimedia formats backed by other large corporations.

Now that the MP3 patents have expired, the situation is even better, because MP3 has been so thoroughly vetted, patent-wise. Idealism seldom wins out in these format battles. But time always wins.

Engadget: ‘The First Television With Amazon Fire TV Built in Is Just Fine’ 

I think the big news isn’t that there’s a cheap TV with Fire built-in — it’s that Amazon is promoting it heavily on their home page. Google’s home page is probably still the most valuable advertising real estate on the Internet, but Amazon’s is almost certainly more valuable for selling consumer goods, because people visiting Amazon are ready to buy.

Loog Guitars 

Rafael Atijas, founder of Loog Guitars:

Loog Guitars are small, 3-string guitars designed to make it fun and easy for anyone to play music. They come with flashcards and an app that get you playing songs on day one.

I don’t know much about guitars, but these look cool, the prices seem very reasonable, and the app looks great. It’s a Kickstarter project, but it’s already fully-funded (several times over) and they expect to start shipping next month.

Today at Apple Launches 

Educational classes, photo walks, and more — from your local Apple Store. This, I think, is Angela Ahrendts’s biggest project at Apple to date. This is not just a program for the major flagship stores — it’s a program for every single Apple Store around the world. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Apple’s retail stores are one of the most overlooked / underestimated advantages in all of technology.

Via Sarah Perez, whose TechCrunch story points out that “The launch kicking off this week includes 4,000 sessions per day across Apple’s stores.”

Steven Levy Tours Apple Park 

Steven Levy, writing for Wired:

On a crisp and clear March day, more than five years after Jobs’ death, I’m seated next to Jonathan Ive in the back of a Jeep Wrangler as we prepare to tour the nearly completed Apple Park, the name recently bestowed on the campus that Jobs pitched to the Cupertino City Council in 2011. At 50, Apple’s design chieftain still looks like the rugby player he once was, and he remains, despite fame, fortune, and a knighthood, the same soft-spoken Brit I met almost 20 years ago. We are both wearing white hard hats with a silver Apple logo above the brim; Ive’s is personalized with “Jony” underneath the iconic symbol. Dan Whisenhunt, the company’s head of facilities and a de facto manager of the project, comes with us. He too has a personalized hat. It is an active construction site on a tight deadline — the first occupants are supposedly moving in within 30 days of my visit, with 500 new employees arriving every week thereafter — and I felt a bit like one of the passengers on the first ride into Jurassic Park.

Fantastic piece. Hard not to get a little choked up thinking about it as Steve Jobs’s final product:

“Could we have cut a corner here or there?” Cook asks rhetorically. “It wouldn’t have been Apple. And it wouldn’t have sent the message to everybody working here every day that detail matters, that care matters.” That was what Jobs wanted — what he always wanted. And the current leaders of Apple are determined not to disappoint him in what is arguably his biggest, and is certainly his last, product launch. “I revere him,” Cook says. “And this was clearly his vision, his concept. Our biggest project ever.”

When the World Is Led by a Child 

David Brooks has the line of the day:

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

The Washington Post: ‘Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador’ 

Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, reporting for The Washington Post:

In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.

The Washington Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.

Is Trump a Russian collaborator? A bumbling idiot? Both? No matter what the answer is, he’s unfit to be president. This would be comical if the stakes weren’t so high. If a cabinet secretary had blabbed about this they’d be fired on the spot.

Derek Jeter on Why He Started the Players’ Tribune 

Matthew Panzarino did a terrific job with this interview with co-founders Derek Jeter and Jaymee Messler, on stage today at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York. (Matthew very kindly set me up with backstage passes — one for me, and one for my son. Very cool.)

Derek Jeter Day 

ESPN:

Derek Jeter is the only player in MLB history to play 20+ years without experiencing a single losing season .

Great ad from Budweiser celebrating Jeter’s number getting retired today.

The Talk Show: ‘Anything Luxury’ 

For your weekend listening pleasure, a new episode of The Talk Show, featuring special guest Ben Thompson. Topics include Microsoft’s announcements from Build 2017, search engines, Amazon’s new (confusingly-named) Look and Show devices, the need for HAL 9000, Apple’s WeChat problem in China, and more.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Pingdom: Uptime and performance monitoring made easy. Use code THETALKSHOW for 20 percent off.
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Squarespace: Customizable Design 

My thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Squarespace is the simplest way to create a beautiful website. Every template is customizable, so you can make it your own. Add a portfolio to showcase your work, a store to sell your products or services, a blog to share your ideas, and more. Start now — you can try Squarespace for free. When you’re ready to subscribe, get 10 percent off at squarespace.com with offer code DARING17.


Dropping Tech Giants

Great interactive feature by Farhad Manjoo for The New York Times:

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are not just the largest technology companies in the world. As I’ve argued repeatedly in my column, they are also becoming the most powerful companies of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. But which of the Frightful Five is most unavoidable? I ponder the question in my column this week.

But what about you? If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

Great question. I love thought exercises.

My order (from first dropped to last):

  1. Facebook. I love Instagram, but could live without it. I don’t use anything else Facebook offers.

  2. Microsoft. The only Microsoft product I use regularly is Skype, for podcasting, and I suspect I could find another solution. (If I couldn’t, I might have to rethink my answer here.)

  3. Amazon. I buy stuff from Amazon almost every week. I just counted — 11 orders so far in 2017. My wife buys stuff from Amazon even more frequently. But just about anything we buy at Amazon, we could buy elsewhere. It’d be painful to replace, but not irreplaceable. There are a couple of shows exclusive to Amazon Prime that I enjoy, but none that I love.

  4. Alphabet. I already use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, so giving up Google search would be frustrating at times, but not a deal breaker. I use a few email accounts backed by Gmail, but I actually dislike Gmail, and have been procrastinating on moving all my mail to FastMail for years. I despise Google Docs. I don’t use any Android devices other than as a curiosity. I greatly prefer Safari over Chrome. YouTube, however, is irreplaceable, and so essential that it pretty much singlehandedly catapults Alphabet to #4 in my list.

  5. Apple. I mean, come on. If not for Apple I’d be stuck using computers I don’t like and a phone that I consider a distant second-best. With all the other companies on the list, what I’d miss most are certain of their services — Instagram, Skype, Amazon’s store, YouTube — but Apple is the only company in the world whose hardware I consider irreplaceable. And you need the hardware to make best use of the services from any other companies. And that doesn’t even touch upon Apple’s crown jewels: the MacOS and iOS software platforms. 


Apple’s China Problem: WeChat

Ben Thompson had a great column this week, in the wake of Apple’s quarterly results and Microsoft’s announcement of the Surface Laptop:

Did you hear about the new Microsoft Surface Laptop? The usual suspects are claiming it’s a MacBook competitor, which is true insomuch as it is a laptop. In truth, though, the Surface Laptop isn’t a MacBook competitor at all for the rather obvious reason that it runs Windows, while the MacBook runs MacOS. This has always been the foundation of Apple’s business model: hardware differentiated by software such that said hardware can be sold with a margin much greater than nominal competitors running a commodity operating system.

Hardware differentiated by superior, exclusive software is the key to understanding Apple. It’s the reason the company was founded. Apple II’s were the best personal computer hardware and had the best software. Part of why Woz is so venerated is that he was unimaginably gifted at both hardware and software. Hardware differentiated by software is how Apple survived in the late ’90s, when the company was struggling. It explains all the company’s success after that: the iPod, the resurgence of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Any comparison between Microsoft’s Surface Laptop and Apple’s MacBooks that doesn’t place heavy emphasis on the value of MacOS is vapid.

Thompson then turns to Apple’s languishing iPhone sales in China:

But that is not what is going on in most of the world: plenty of folks — more than last year — are happy to buy the iPhone 7, even though it doesn’t look much different than the iPhone 6. After all, if you need a new phone, and you want iOS, you don’t have much choice! Except, again, for China: that is the country where the appearance of the iPhone matters most; Apple’s problem, though, is that in China that is the only thing that matters at all.

The fundamental issue is this: unlike the rest of the world, in China the most important layer of the smartphone stack is not the phone’s operating system. Rather, it is WeChat. Connie Chan of Andreessen Horowitz tried to explain in 2015 just how integrated WeChat is into the daily lives of nearly 900 million Chinese, and that integration has only grown since then: every aspect of a typical Chinese person’s life, not just online but also off is conducted through a single app (and, to the extent other apps are used, they are often games promoted through WeChat).

There is nothing in any other country that is comparable: not LINE, not WhatsApp, not Facebook. All of those are about communication or wasting time: WeChat is that, but it is also for reading news, for hailing taxis, for paying for lunch (try and pay with cash for lunch, and you’ll look like a luddite), for accessing government resources, for business. For all intents and purposes WeChat is your phone, and to a far greater extent in China than anywhere else, your phone is everything.

As Thompson adds in a footnote, “Or, to put it another way, the operating system of China is WeChat, not iOS/Android.”

Thompson cites a staggering statistic: among existing iPhone users in China who bought a new phone in 2016, only 50 percent of them bought another iPhone. That is an incredible statistical outlier compared to iPhone users in the rest of the world, where Apple’s retention rates hover around the mid-80s.

Here’s a Business Insider report from November of last year, with retention statistics from 2014 through 2016 from UBS analysts Steven Milunovich and Benjamin Wilson. Business Insider leads with the iPhone’s slowly declining retention rate globally, but the real story is halfway down the page, in this chart.

According to that research from UBS, iPhone retention rates hover in the mid-to-high 80s in the U.S., U.K., and Germany. In Japan they’re in the mid-70s, but holding roughly steady. China’s numbers have plummeted — and these numbers from UBS (in the mid-50s for Q4 2016) are in line with the 50 percent number in the Chinese survey Thompson cited.

So here’s Apple’s China problem: Chinese iPhone users aren’t nearly as loyal to the iPhone platform as iPhone users elsewhere are. This is already hurting Apple financially. Apple’s Q2 2017 financial results (announced this week) were, overall, OK. But other than China, they were actually good. The drop in iPhone sales in China was so severe, and China is so big, that it singlehandedly turned a good quarter into a so-so quarter.

I subtly disagree with Ben Thompson on one point. Thompson attributes the iPhone’s slide in China to two factors:

  1. The whole “the operating system of China is WeChat, not iOS/Android” thing.
  2. The staleness of the iPhone 7 form factor.

Thompson knows Chinese culture well — he lives in Taipei, visits China often, and speaks Mandarin. My grasp of Chinese culture is rudimentary at best, and I’ve never traveled to Asia. So I defer to him on the point that the iPhone as a status symbol is more important in China than it is elsewhere.

Thompson, though, I think places too much weight on the fact that at a glance, some models of the iPhone 7 are indistinguishable from the iPhone 6 and 6S. Thompson argues that this is more of a problem in status-conscious China than it is elsewhere — that in China, there are many people who forego an upgrade to an iPhone 7 because other people won’t be able to tell that it isn’t, say, a boring two-year-old iPhone 6. I just don’t buy that. For one thing, the black and especially jet black iPhone 7 models are instantly recognizable as the latest and greatest.

But more importantly, I just think the whole “if it doesn’t have an altogether new form factor, it’s boring” thing is hogwash. I wrote an entire column about this when the iPhone 7 debuted, and won’t rehash the whole argument here. But I am convinced this viewpoint is mostly that of the tech and gadget obsessed.

Again, I’ll concede that the status symbol aspect of a high-end smartphone may well be more important in China than anywhere else in the world. But even if I also concede that the iPhone 7’s mostly-like-the-iPhone-6 form factor is a problem for the Chinese market, if the iOS platform engendered the loyalty in China that it does elsewhere, the result would be Chinese iPhone owners waiting another year for the next iPhone. Instead, according to the market research cited above, half of the Chinese iPhone owners who bought a new phone in 2016 switched to an Android device. There are some fine looking Android phones at the high end of the market, but there are none that, based on form factor alone, would explain this. And none of them have anything close to the luxury brand prestige that Apple does.

In Apple’s “hardware differentiated by software” formula, the software is more important than the hardware. That’s why gadget writers so often get Apple wrong: they’re focused solely on hardware — the object, not the experience of using the object. That’s also why the financial press so often gets Apple wrong: they focus only on the hardware because that’s where the money comes from.

If forced to choose, I would much rather run iOS on a Google Pixel than Android on an iPhone 7. I would rather run MacOS on a ThinkPad than Windows on a MacBook Pro.1 Whenever I bring up this thought experiment — would you rather run Apple’s software platform on non-Apple hardware or run some other software platform on Apple hardware — I get email from readers who say they actually do choose Apple products, especially MacBooks, for the hardware. I believe them, but those are the sort of customers with the least loyalty to Apple. If all you depend on is, say, Chrome, a text editor, and a terminal, it’s easy to switch to another laptop brand. If you depend on native Mac and iOS apps, iCloud, and iMessage, it’s arduous, at best, to switch.

If it really is true that “the operating system of China is WeChat, not iOS/Android”, that’s the whole ballgame right there. Again, my disagreement with Thompson here is subtle. He even describes WeChat’s centrality to the Chinese smartphone stack as “the fundamental issue”, leaving the supposed boringness of the iPhone 6S and 7 as a secondary issue. My difference with Thompson is that I don’t think the iPhone 6S/7 hardware is a problem at all. Personally, I think the iPhone 7 is such a great phone, and the 7 Plus in particular has such a great camera, that the quality of the latest iPhone hardware, including how it looks, shows just how much of a problem it is that WeChat, not iOS, is central to the iPhone experience in China.

That’s a real problem for Apple, because even if Thompson is right (and I’m wrong) and Apple does have a boring-looking-hardware problem in China, they can (and seem poised to) remedy that by releasing exciting new iPhone hardware this year. But if the problem is that iOS engenders far less platform loyalty in China because of WeChat’s centrality — or even worse, if WeChat is central and better on Android than it is on iOS — there’s no easy fix for Apple.

Postscript

For those of you like me, who know very little about WeChat, this 2015 piece by Connie Chan (as linked to by Thompson) is a terrific introduction: “When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China”. 


  1. I always use ThinkPads as my go-to example of high-quality PC hardware; perhaps I should start using Microsoft Surfaces? ↩︎


Judging Apple Watch’s Success

Mike Murphy, writing for Quartz, “Two Years After Its Launch, the Apple Watch Hasn’t Made a Difference at Apple”:

Apple’s biggest launch since the iPad in 2010, the Apple Watch was expected to be a hit: Given the massive financial success of the iPhone, it stood to reason that a companion device might be something customers craved.

Not so much. Apple has never shared hard numbers on how many wearables it has sold, and doesn’t even break out Watch sales in its quarterly earnings report. Instead, the device is bundled into Apple’s “Other products,” which the company says includes, “Apple TV, Apple Watch, Beats products, iPod and Apple-branded and third-party accessories.”

These articles come out like clockwork every 3 months, as Apple’s earnings report draws near. Apple told us they were not going to report hard numbers on Apple Watch right from the start, six months before it shipped. They want to keep them secret for competitive reasons.

Two years and two iterations after its launch, the Apple Watch has not proven to be as indispensable as the iPhone, or even as lucrative as the Mac, the iPad, or Apple’s services businesses. It’s unclear whether an iPhone-like overhaul, or attempts to market the watch directly to athletes or millennials, will ultimately make a difference.

(“Two years and two iterations after its launch” — I don’t know if that’s a mistake, if Murphy is counting WatchOS releases, or if he’s counting Series 1 as a full hardware iteration. But it’s sloppy writing. Most people would surely agree that there’s been only one iteration since launch, the Series 2 watches released last September.)

The nut of every “Apple Watch is a dud” story is the fact that it’s clearly not an iPhone-size business. But that can’t be the only measure of success. The iPhone is the biggest and most successful consumer product in the history of the world. Nothing compares to the smartphone market, and it’s possible nothing else will in our lifetimes. You and I may never again see a product as profitable as the iPhone — not just from Apple, but from any company in any industry. Or maybe we will. It’s a complete unknown.

But if Apple gets it into its head that they should only work on iPhone-sized opportunities, it would paralyze the company. In baseball terms, it’s fine for Apple to hit a bunch of singles while waiting for their next home run. According to Apple, they had more watch sales by revenue in 2015 than any company other than Rolex, and Apple’s “Other” category, which is where Watch sales are accounted for, had a near record-breaking holiday quarter three months ago, suggesting strongly that Watch sales were up over the year-ago holiday quarter.

These two facts are both true: Apple Watch sales are a rounding error compared to the iPhone, and Apple Watch is a smash hit compared to traditional watches and other wearable devices.