Why Is the Split Keyboard Not Available on iPad Pros? 

I really like my new 11-inch iPad Pro. I’m using it more than I’ve used an iPad in a long time, especially for reading. It’s my favorite device for reading ever, and I read a lot. But it has been driving me nuts that it doesn’t support a split on-screen keyboard.

I tweeted about this a few weeks ago and a few people replied with the answer that the new iPad Pros have a different on-screen keyboard than the non-Pro iPads, one that more closely resembles the key layout of a hardware keyboard. It’s true that the keyboard is different, but that doesn’t explain why you can’t split it. Why not allow it to be split and revert to the same split keyboard as on non-Pro iPads? What makes this more baffling is that the bigger the iPad is, the more likely it is that you need a split keyboard — and the iPad Pros are the biggest iPads Apple has made. I want to type with my thumbs, iPhone-style, and can’t, because my iPad is too big. And I have relatively large hands and I’m using the 11-inch iPad Pro, not the 13-inch one. I’m not even sure Craig “Fleshy Palms” Hockenberry could thumb-type on a 13-inch iPad Pro.

The bottom line is that because I want to thumb-type, I type better on-screen with my iPhone than I do my iPad, and I can type better on an old iPad than my new one that cost $1,000. This is just baffling to me — so much so that until I found Apple’s support document confirming that the split keyboard is not available on 11-inch or bigger iPad Pros that I thought maybe the problem was me not knowing how to turn it on.

Don’t Fuck With a NASA Engineer 

Mark Rober:

Someone stole a package from me. Police wouldn’t do anything about it so I spent the last 6 months engineering up some vigilante justice. Revenge is a dish best served fabulously.

This is so good. Also, fart spray is apparently a real thing.

Forbes: ‘We Broke Into a Bunch of Android Phones With a 3D-Printed Head’ 

Thomas Brewster commissioned a £300 (roughly $380 USD) 3D-printed copy of his own head:

For our tests, we used my own real-life head to register for facial recognition across five phones. An iPhone X and four Android devices: an LG G7 ThinQ, a Samsung S9, a Samsung Note 8 and a OnePlus 6. I then held up my fake head to the devices to see if the device would unlock. For all four Android phones, the spoof face was able to open the phone, though with differing degrees of ease. The iPhone X was the only one to never be fooled.

Apple doesn’t get enough credit for how good Face ID is (and how good Touch ID has always been).

The Talk Show: ‘Out on Home Video’ 

Matthew Panzarino returns to the show. Topics include recent blockbuster movies, motion smoothing on TVs, iPhone demand rumors, Apple’s Made For iPhone (MFi) program, and more. Recorded live from The Overlook Hotel in Sidewinder, Colorado.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Linode: Instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode Cloud. Get $20 in credit with promo code talkshow2018.
  • Tres Pontas: Single-family-estate coffee, freshly roasted and delivered right to your door. Save 10 percent off a subscription with code thetalkshow.
  • Jamf Now: Set up and protect your Apple devices at work. First 3 devices are free.
Alfonso Ribeiro Sues Fortnite and NBA 2K Creators for Stealing His Carlton Dance 

Did not wake up today thinking I’d be linking to a TMZ story about Alfonso Ribeiro, but here we are. This story feels like 2018 in a nutshell.

Apple Music Connect, R.I.P. 

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac:

Apple Music Connect appears to slowly be going the way of iTunes Ping. Apple has started notifying Apple Music artists that it is removing the ability for artists to post content to Apple Music Connect, and previously posted Apple Music Connect content is being removed from the For You section and Artist Pages in Apple Music. Connect content will still be viewable through search results on Apple Music, but Apple is removing artist-submitted Connect posts from search in May. […]

Apple also says “Connect posts from artists are no longer supported” on this support document.

Two areas where Apple has never really succeeded: serious gaming and social media. Two areas where Steve Jobs never seemed interested: serious gaming and social media. I just don’t think either of these things are in Apple’s DNA.

You can argue, of course, that the distinction between casual and serious gaming is arbitrary, and that Apple is killing it in casual gaming on iOS. But I think people who play serious games see a very clear distinction, and Apple isn’t part of that world.

Last Call on This Round of DF T-Shirts and Hoodies 

Just a few hours left before I shut down the ordering page so we can start printing. We’ll start shipping them out on Monday or Tuesday.

Outlier 

My thanks to Outlier for sponsoring this week at DF. Outlier makes hardcore quality clothing, with obsessively sourced raw materials. Their clothes are designed for performance, durability, and movement. They are, simply, excellent.

Outlier has sponsored DF a few times before, and I have a few of their shirts, pants, shorts, and socks. Their quality is just amazingly good. And they’re built to last. I’m wearing their GD Cottonweight Merino Longsleeve as I type these words — looks great, feels great. Super simple but so nice.

Apple Music Now Live on Amazon Echo Speakers 

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac:

Apple Music support on Amazon Echo speakers is starting to roll out in the United States through the Alexa app on iOS and Android a few days ahead of schedule. You can now connect your Apple Music account with Echo speakers through the Alexa app and use Apple’s music streaming service with Alexa voice control.

Once you connect your Apple Music account to Alexa, you can set the music service as your default music library source and default music station source. This lets you request music from Apple Music without telling Alexa which service to use each time.

Reminder: DF T-Shirts and New Hoodies 

Thumbnail of a Daring Fireball logo hoodie.

Just a reminder: we’re taking orders on these items, but only through the end of this week. We’ve even got brand-new DF logo stickers we’ll include with each order, including 1-inch circles that should look nice on an AirPods case.

Algoriddim: ‘Why We’re Moving to Subscriptions’ 

Algoriddim:

After more than 8 years as a paid-for app, djay for iOS is changing. With the latest release, we are now offering a single universal app as a free download which offers everything you need to DJ, along with an affordable new monthly Pro subscription service with power user features, video mixing, music production tools, and most importantly, unlimited access to a large library of audio loops, samples, FX, and visuals.

It makes sense for Omni to add subscriptions as an option for OmniFocus, and it makes sense for Algoriddim to go all-in on subscriptions with this update to Djay. Until now they had like 6-7 SKUs for iOS, with different tiers and different apps for iPhone and iPad. Now they have one universal app, with a free mode that is more functional than ever, and a single paid subscription tier that unlocks everything. And they’re offering a substantial first-year discount to existing users of their paid apps. Simple, fair, and clear.

Optional OmniFocus Subscriptions 

Ken Case, co-founder of The Omni Group:

We think our current licensing model meets a lot of needs, and we will continue to offer this model for licensing our apps: we prefer for customers to view our apps as an investment, not an expense.

But our current model doesn’t cover every situation. It’s designed for software that you run on your own devices, where you can buy something from us and run it for as long as you wish (so long as you keep a compatible system around to run it). With this model, we still have customers running software they purchased from us 20+ years ago. (That’s a good investment!)

But as I mentioned in January’s roadmap, OmniFocus for the Web is a different sort of product. It’s a version of OmniFocus that runs on our computers, not yours. Running it on our computers means we have to maintain those computers, their network connections, power, and so on, as a constantly available online service, for as long as customers use the product. Running that service costs us money every month, so if we want the service to be sustainable we need an income stream which brings in money every month to cover those costs. In other words, this service model requires subscriptions — an arrangement where customers pay us money each month to keep the service going. […]

The OmniFocus subscription will cost $9.99/month, giving you access to the web service as well as OmniFocus Pro on all your Mac and iOS devices. If you’ve already invested in OmniFocus 3 and just want to add the web service, the cost for that will be $4.99/month.

I think it makes complete sense (and the pricing is very fair) for Omni to add subscriptions as an option. I can imagine, a few years from now, an Omni suite subscription, similar to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, that covers all of their apps on all platforms. Subscriptions are the way of the future for commercial software.

Washington Post Story on Apple’s Product Prices 

Geoffrey Fowler and Andrew Van Dam, writing for The Washington Post:

Apple this year became a trillion-dollar company. But it also became the thousand-dollar company: Suddenly you need at least 10 Benjamins to get the best new iPhone or the big iPad Pro.

Apple has never made cheap stuff. But this fall many of its prices increased 20 percent or more. The MacBook Air went from $1,000 to $1,200. A Mac Mini leaped from $500 to $800. It felt as though the value proposition that has made Apple products no-brainers might unravel.

Here’s the nut:

Most technology products are commodities that go down in price over time. Apple has worked very hard not to become a commodity.

I don’t think most of the Post’s comparisons are fair. Apple’s prices are going up not because they’re raising prices for the sake of higher prices, but because they’re designing more expensive products. Stainless steel costs more than aluminum. OLED costs more than LCD. Two cameras are more expensive than one. The new Mac Mini is significantly more expensive than the old one, but it’s a very different product even though from the outside it looks very similar — the old Mac Minis were built using mobile components; the new ones are built with desktop ones. The Mac Mini has gone pro, and its prices reflect that.

Imagine if Apple Watch had started out with only the aluminum models, and the stainless steel versions hadn’t appeared until this year. Clearly that would be considered a new higher-priced product, not a higher price for the same product. Likewise, no one is arguing that Apple has significantly reduced Apple Watch prices because they’re no longer selling the Edition models.

You can certainly argue that Apple is making a strategic branding mistake by making more expensive products. But it simply wasn’t an option to sell the iPhone X/XS as it exists for iPhone 7 prices.


Opening New Tabs Next to the Current Tab in Safari

The way Safari tabs work on the Mac:

  • If you ⌘-click a link or use the contextual menu to open a link in a new tab, that new tab will be created next to your current tab.
  • If you make a new tab with File → New Tab (⌘T), the new tab will be created at the rightmost end of the tabs in the current window.

This is the way Safari tabs have worked as long as I can remember, and it matches the way tabs work on other browsers on the Mac.

It’s fine if you don’t have a lot of tabs. But I always do, and the behavioral mismatch has long bothered me. If I have, say, 10 tabs open in a window and I’m currently using, say, tab 2, when I type ⌘T to open a new tab it feels like the rightmost end of the row of tabs is “way over there”, but what I want is the new tab to open “right next to where I am” — like what happens when I ⌘-click a link.

A few months ago I asked on Twitter if there was a secret preference in Safari that would change this to what I want — which is for new tabs to always open right next to the current tab. There is no such preference. I set about trying to figure out if this could be done using AppleScript, but I couldn’t figure it out.

Jeff Johnson figured it out, though, and was kind enough to share the solution and explain the rather ungainly syntax required.

Here’s my slightly modified version of Johnson’s solution:

tell application "Safari"
    tell front window
        set _old_tab to current tab
        set _new_tab to make new tab at after _old_tab
        set current tab to _new_tab
    end tell
end tell

What tripped me up is that in Safari’s AppleScript object model, tabs have an index property. The leftmost tab in a window has an index of 1; the next tab 2, etc. But index is a read-only value — you can’t change the index to move a tab, and you can’t create a new tab with a specific index value.

As Johnson notes:

Here’s the somewhat unintuitive AppleScript. It’s “at [location specifier]”, where “after [item]” is a location specifier.

Which gives us “make new tab at after _old_tab”. AppleScript’s English-Likeness Monster rears its head.

Ungainly syntax aside,1 this simple script works exactly how I want it to. I use Red Sweater Software’s excellent FastScripts to provide a system-wide scripts menu, and assigned this script the shortcut ⌘T in Safari. FastScripts “sees” the ⌘T shortcut before Safari does, so when I invoke it, the script runs instead of the File → New Tab menu command. One could set it up using Keyboard Maestro just as easily. If you don’t use either FastScripts or Keyboard Maestro, I don’t know what to tell you other than that you’re missing out.

I’ve been using this for two months, and at this point it feels indispensable. I was using a different Mac the other day where I hadn’t yet set this up, and it felt like Safari was broken. Which, yes, also means that ⌘T in Safari on iPad now feels broken. 


  1. Given my complaints about AppleScript’s goofy syntax here, I thought this might be a good example to try to recreate in JavaScript for Automation (JXA). Apple added JXA as an alternative to AppleScript back in MacOS 10.10 (which, yes, was called OS X 10.10 at the time). Maybe I’m missing something, but I’ll be damned if I could get it to work. Maybe the problem is me being a JavaScript dummy, but I sort of think this might not be possible in JXA because JXA might be an unsupported hot mess. If someone can prove me wrong, let me know. ↩︎


The Original Macintosh User Manual 

An old link from 2007 I stumbled across this morning, while looking for a link to Steve Jobs’s open letter on the original iPhone price cut. Worth a re-link for sure.

Peter Merholz:

I recently purchased an original Macintosh User Manual (thanks eBay!). I had seen one at a garage sale, and was struck by how it had to explain a total paradigm shift in interacting with computers. I figured I could learn something about helping make innovation happen.

Daring Fireball T-Shirts and Hoodies 

Thumbnail of a Daring Fireball logo hoodie.

Taking orders on these items through the end of the week, and we’ll start sending them out after they’re printed this weekend. I’m wearing a print test of the hoodie as I write this — lightweight but very warm.

Samsung Partners With Fake Supreme Brand in China 

Stefan Etienne, writing for The Verge:

Samsung is getting criticized by hypebeasts everywhere after it claimed to be collaborating with Supreme; in reality, it partnered with a Supreme rip-off. Samsung is actually partnering with a fake legal brand, a rival company based in Barletta, Italy, that beat Supreme NYC in a court case this summer regarding who can use the brand name in Italy.

Partnering with a legal counterfeit brand is one of the Samsung-iest things Samsung has ever done.

Not Understanding the Concept of a Trade-In 

Peter Cohan, founder of Peter S. Cohan and Associates, writing for Inc under the jacktastic headline “Apple Is Offering a 40 Percent Discount on iPhones. Here’s Why Steve Jobs Would Hate It”:

How so? On December 2, Apple added a new banner to the top of its website advertising the iPhone XR for $449, $300 less than its official sticker price. The deal, noted with an asterisk and described at the bottom of the page, requires customers to trade in an iPhone 7 Plus, a high-end handset from two years ago.

O how mighty Apple has fallen!

To put it in perspective, the plunge in the iPhone gross margin has been precipitous. As I mentioned, In 2012, the iPhone had a 71 percent gross margin. Before the 40 percent discount, the iPhone X had a much lower gross margin of 48 percent — its price was $749 and the cost of the parts was $390, according to IHS Markit.

By discounting the price to $449, the iPhone gross margin drops to 13 percent.

I’m not even sure where to start here. First, it is indeed interesting that Apple is promoting the iPhone XR based on the $450 price with a trade-in of an iPhone 7 Plus. Does this signal that XR sales are weak? Does it run counter to the iPhone’s premium brand? Reasonable questions.

But did the iPhone have 71 percent profit margins in 2012? No, it did not. That’s nonsense. But as I wrote about Cohan six years ago, when he was calling for Tim Cook to be fired, “He’s like a stage magician doing a card trick who asks the audience, ‘Hey, everyone close your eyes for a second.’”

If you’re trading in an iPhone 7 Plus to get an iPhone XR for $450, you’re not just giving Apple $450. You’re giving them $450 and an iPhone 7 Plus. Apple refurbishes and resells traded-in iPhones; they don’t just toss them in the trash. Refurbished iPhone 7 Plus models are not cheap, either: $480/$570/$650 for 32/128/256 GB.

‘Really Not Very Good’ 

Owen Williams, writing for Motherboard:

One of the biggest problems today is that despite Chromium’s popularity, it’s really not very good on the resource front: it drains battery, hogs system resources and generally doesn’t play nice. This, largely, has been because Google and Chromium don’t own their own operating system (outside of ChromeOS), and don’t get exclusive access to low-level system APIs that Safari and Edge have enjoyed.

There’s a lot I disagree with in this piece, but this bit takes the cake. “Really not very good on the resource front” ought to be nominated for understatement of the year. Safari isn’t more efficient because it has “exclusive access” to system APIs. It’s more efficient because the WebKit/Safari team places a higher priority on efficiency than Chrome’s team does. It’s that simple.

This difference in priorities is why Google forked Chrome’s rendering engine from WebKit in 2013. Which, in turn, makes me wonder what the endgame will look like with Microsoft adopting Chrome. Is Microsoft really going to stick with Chrome, under Google’s ultimate control, or will they fork it, the way Google forked WebKit?

Update: Owen Williams just admits he made this shit up about using private APIs.

Doxie Mobile Scanners 

My thanks to Doxie for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week to promote their lineup of excellent scanners. If you want to go paperless in 2019, Doxie is the way to do it. Doxie quickly and reliably scans all your documents, receipts, and photographs with ease.

Thanks to its small footprint, rechargeable battery, and expansive memory, Doxie consistently delivers high-resolution scans wherever you are — no computer required. Their great native apps for Mac and iOS then let you save, share, and send your paper to the cloud.

Doxie is a must-have if you refuse to compromise on quality and want a straightforward way to finally go (and stay) paperless.

This week only, Doxie is giving DF readers a super secret 35 percent discount. Enter Amazon promotion code FIREBALL at checkout on any of Doxie’s three great models: Doxie Q, Doxie Go SE, or Doxie Go SE + Wi-Fi.

Mueller Briefs: Bad News for Trump, Manafort, and Cohen 

Ken White, writing for The Atlantic:

The president said on Twitter that Friday’s news “totally clears the President. Thank you!” It does not. Manafort and Cohen are in trouble, and so is Trump. The special counsel’s confidence in his ability to prove Manafort a liar appears justified, which leaves Manafort facing what amounts to a life sentence without any cooperation credit. The Southern District’s brief suggests that Cohen’s dreams of probation are not likely to come true. All three briefs show the special counsel and the Southern District closing in on President Trump and his administration. They’re looking into campaign contact with Russia, campaign-finance fraud in connection with paying off an adult actress, and participation in lying to Congress. A Democratic House of Representatives, just days away, strains at the leash to help. The game’s afoot.


Electron and the Decline of Native Apps

SwiftOnSecurity, regarding Microsoft’s switch to Chromium as Windows’s built-in rendering engine:

This isn’t about Chrome. This is about ElectronJS. Microsoft thinks EdgeHTML cannot get to drop-in feature-parity with Chromium to replace it in Electron apps, whose duplication is becoming a significant performance drain. They want to single-instance Electron with their own fork.

Electron is a cancer murdering both macOS and Windows as it proliferates. Microsoft must offer a drop-in version with native optimizations to improve performance and resource utilization.

This is the end of desktop applications. There’s nowhere but JavaScript.

I don’t share the depth of their pessimism regarding native apps, but Electron is without question a scourge. I think the Mac will prove more resilient than Windows, because the Mac is the platform that attracts people who care. But I worry.

In some ways, the worst thing that ever happened to the Mac is that it got so much more popular a decade ago. In theory, that should have been nothing but good news for the platform — more users means more attention from developers. The more Mac users there are, the more Mac apps we should see. The problem is, the users who really care about good native apps — users who know HIG violations when they see them, who care about performance, who care about Mac apps being right — were mostly already on the Mac. A lot of newer Mac users either don’t know or don’t care about what makes for a good Mac app.

There have always been bad Mac apps. But they seldom achieved any level of popularity because Mac users, collectively, rejected them. Microsoft Word 6.0 is the canonical example. Word 5 for Mac was a beloved app and solid Mac citizen. Word 6 was a cross-platform monstrosity. Mac users rejected it, and its rejection prompted Microsoft — at the height of its mid-’90s power and arrogance — to completely re-think its Mac strategy and create a new business unit devoted to the Mac. Microsoft’s Rick Schaut wrote a terrific piece on the whole saga back in 2004:

OK, so Mac Word 6.0 was big and slow relative to the memory that most computers had available at the time we shipped it, but that’s not the reason why Mac Word 6.0 was such a crappy product, or at least not directly. […]

Moreover, while people complained about the performance, the biggest complaint we kept hearing about Mac Word 6.0 was that it wasn’t “Mac-like.” So, we spent a lot of time drilling down into what people meant when they said it wasn’t “Mac-like.” We did focus groups. Some of us hung out in various Usenet newsgroups. We talked to product reviewers. We talked to friends who used the product. It turns out that “Mac-like” meant Mac Word 5.0.

We spent so much time, and put so much effort into, solving all the technical problems of Mac Word 6.0 that we failed to make the UI of Mac Word 6.0 behave like Mac Word 5.0. […]

The other thing we figured out as a result of coming to understand what “Mac-like” meant was that we weren’t going to be able to deliver “Mac-like” products if Office remained a singular product from which both the Win and Mac versions were built. The mere fact that “Mac-like” was an issue at all meant that there were some fundamental differences between the Win Word market and the Mac Word market. If we were to understand both those markets, then our Mac products and Win products needed separate marketing and PGM organizations. The lessons we learned from Mac Word 6.0 are some of the reasons that Mac BU exists today.

I disagree, strongly, with one aspect of this: what Mac Word users saw as Mac-like wasn’t whatever Word 5 was — it was that Word 5 really was Mac-like in design. Word 6 wasn’t objected to for being different, it was objected to for being literally un-Mac-like. It looked and worked like Word for Windows.

As un-Mac-like as Word 6 was, it was far more Mac-like then than Google Docs running inside a Chrome tab is today. Google Docs on Chrome is an un-Mac-like word processor running inside an ever-more-un-Mac-like web browser. What the Mac market flatly rejected as un-Mac-like in 1996 was better than what the Mac market tolerates, seemingly happily, today. Software no longer needs to be Mac-like to succeed on the Mac today. That’s a tragedy.

Even Apple, of all companies, is shipping Mac apps with glaring un-Mac-like problems. The “Marzipan” apps on MacOS 10.14 Mojave — News, Home, Stocks, Voice Memos — are dreadfully bad apps. They’re functionally poor, and design-wise foreign-feeling. I honestly don’t understand how Apple decided it was OK to ship these apps.

Another one I just ran into on Mojave is the new Mac App Store app. It certainly looks nice, but I noticed a few days ago that it doesn’t support the Page Down and Page Up keys for scrolling (nor the Home and End keys for jumping to the top and bottom) in any of its views.1 Open an article and hit Page Down, and instead of scrolling down, it just beeps. Beeps, I say. The only way to scroll is with a mouse or trackpad. In an app from Apple, used by nearly everyone. Even the Marzipan apps support these keys for scrolling, which shouldn’t be surprising, because support for these keys and other standard behavior comes for free with the underlying developer frameworks. The Mojave App Store app must be doing something very strange for these keys not to work.2

The Mojave App Store app certainly isn’t written using Electron. But the problem with Electron apps isn’t really Electron — it’s the decline in demand for well-made native Mac apps. And that is ominous. The biggest threat to the Mac isn’t iPads, Chromebooks, or Windows 2-in-1’s — it’s apathy towards what makes great Mac apps great. As I tweeted regarding this Page Down/Up thing:

Things like this are canaries in the coal mine regarding the state of the Mac. If even Apple doesn’t get basic fundamentals — like supporting Page Up/Down, things which should work in a scrolling view out of the box — how are we to expect any developer to?

The new App Store app on Mojave certainly looks better. But developers at Apple, of all companies, should know that design is how it works


  1. After posting about this to Twitter, a couple of people argued that it should be no surprise that these keys don’t work because modern Apple keyboards don’t have these keys. First, that’s wrong — the large Magic Keyboard has these keys. But even if you’re using a MacBook or a smaller keyboard you can use them using the Fn key. Fn↓ = Page Down; Fn↑ = Page Up; Fn← = Home; Fn→ = End. Enjoy. ↩︎

  2. While I’m in full-on you-kids-get-the-hell-off-my-lawn mode here, let me mention another Mojave gripe that is clearly the work of young developers at Apple. The Finder’s File → Show Original command has had the shortcut ⌘R since, I think, System 6. (Select an alias or symlink and this command will reveal the original file.) File → Make Alias was ⌘L. In Mojave, ⌘R has inexplicably been remapped to Rotate Right and ⌘L to Rotate Left. (These seem to be invisible menu items in the Edit menu? They’re not menu items, but the Edit menu highlights when you invoke them.) The shortcut for Make Alias is now ⌤⌘A and Show Original is now ⌤⌥⌘A. In and of themselves these new shortcuts aren’t bad, I suppose, but these are awfully longstanding shortcuts to change. And, I’ll add, the new shortcuts don’t even match the ones in Photos, where they’re named Rotate Counterclockwise (⌘R) and Rotate Clockwise (⌥⌘R). Photos’s shortcuts, where rotating in the other direction is an Option-key variant rather using an entirely different letter, seem more Mac-like to me. Preview, on the other hand, uses the commands names Rotate Left and Rotate Right, and the same ⌘L and ⌘R as the Mojave Finder. I give up. ↩︎︎


Emails Show Facebook Is Well Aware That Tracking Contacts Is Creepy 

Kashmir Hill, in an excellent piece for Gizmodo:

Then a man named Yul Kwon came to the rescue saying that the growth team had come up with a solution! Thanks to poor Android permission design at the time, there was a way to update the Facebook app to get “Read Call Log” permission without actually asking for it. “Based on their initial testing, it seems that this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all,” Kwon is quoted. “It would still be a breaking change, so users would have to click to upgrade, but no permissions dialog screen. They’re trying to finish testing by tomorrow to see if the behavior holds true across different versions of Android.”

Oh yay! Facebook could suck more data from users without scaring them by telling them it was doing it! This is a little surprising coming from Yul Kwon because he is Facebook’s chief ‘privacy sherpa,’ who is supposed to make sure that new products coming out of Facebook are privacy-compliant. I know because I profiled him, in a piece that happened to come out the same day as this email was sent. A member of his team told me their job was to make sure that the things they’re working on “not show up on the front page of the New York Times” because of a privacy blow-up. And I guess that was technically true, though it would be more reassuring if they tried to make sure Facebook didn’t do the creepy things that led to privacy blow-ups rather than keeping users from knowing about the creepy things.

The Facebook executives who approved this ought to be going to jail. Facebook is to privacy what Enron was to accounting.

Microsoft Is Adopting Chromium 

Joe Belfiore, VP of Windows at Microsoft:

We will move to a Chromium-compatible web platform for Microsoft Edge on the desktop. Our intent is to align the Microsoft Edge web platform simultaneously (a) with web standards and (b) with other Chromium-based browsers. This will deliver improved compatibility for everyone and create a simpler test-matrix for web developers.

This is really rather stunning news, especially when you think back to the browser war in the 1990s. And I don’t think it’s a good thing for the web.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Sad to see Microsoft throw in the towel on their own browser rendering engine. The web doesn’t benefit when developers are encouraged to “just test in Chrome” through consolidation. We need a strong, diverse set of browsers. HANG IN THERE FIREFOX!

After Microsoft makes this switch, the only remaining major browser engines will be Chromium, Mozilla/Gecko, and Safari/WebKit. On the other hand, they plan to bring Edge to MacOS:

Microsoft Edge will now be delivered and updated for all supported versions of Windows and on a more frequent cadence. We also expect this work to enable us to bring Microsoft Edge to other platforms like macOS.

Microsoft making a browser for the Mac again also brings back memories of the ’90s, when IE was the best browser for the platform.


The World’s Shortest Review of Apple’s $40 iPhone XR Clear Case

So I got the Apple clear case for the iPhone XR this morning, and I still have my review unit, so I tried it out. In a nut: it’s great.

Feel-wise it’s sort of half plastic-y, half rubbery. Plastic-y enough that it doesn’t stretch from the edges of the phone. Rubbery enough that it feels nice and grippy without being too grippy — it slides in and out of a jeans pocket easier than an Apple silicone case. Unlike any of Apple’s other iPhone cases, there is a very slight lip around the camera cutout on this case. I don’t know why, but it means the phone doesn’t quite sit flush back-down on a flat surface. My best guess is that the case is so thin it needs the lip lest the camera bump jut out.

It is very clear. I’m not a case guy but everyone who is says clear cases yellow over time. I have no idea whether this case will yellow over time, because it just showed up this morning, but I will say it is perfectly clear right now.

I bought a $20 well-rated third-party clear case for the XR a few weeks ago, made by Totallee, and I’d say that case is OK. It’s way more rubbery, which means it has more (undesirable) give at the sides, and it isn’t quite as clear — even brand-new it’s already slightly more yellow-y.

Also, Apple’s clear case has no aroma. I’ve been trying a bunch of third-party iPhone cases recently and a lot of them literally stink.

As a point of reference, I use my iPhone without any case at least 95 percent of the time. So, maybe you should just ignore me. But when I do use a case, I want it for grippy-ness. My favorite cases are Apple’s leather ones — they’re a good balance of overall niceness, grippy-ness, protection, and button-feel. I think Apple’s silicone cases are too grippy — there’s too much friction going in and out of a jeans pocket. To me, this XR clear case is much closer in niceness to Apple’s leather cases than their silicone cases. Even the button feel is better than the silicone cases.

“Clear” is really hard to do well, and it’s no surprise to me that Apple has done it best — I think they’re the leading material design company in the world.

You can say $40 is too much for an iPhone case, but I’d say Apple’s $40 clear case is easily worth twice as much as the $20 clear cases I’ve tried. If I bought a XR and wanted to use a case, this is the case I would buy. It’s so good it makes me wonder why Apple doesn’t make clear cases like this one for the iPhone XS and XS Max. 


Google Allo to Shut Down in March 

Almost unbelievable that Google still can’t get a messaging platform off the ground.


Proof That iOS Still Hasn’t Gotten Undo Right

I’ve been reading Apple’s App Store awards for 2018, and something jumped out at me. Both the iPhone and Mac apps of the year are image editors: Procreate Pocket on iPhone, Pixelmator Pro on Mac. Both are excellent apps, well-deserving of these awards. Here’s Apple’s story on Procreate Pocket; here’s their story on Pixelmator Pro (both of which articles are only visible from iOS or MacOS Mojave, in the App Store app — I feel like I’m linking to AOL content here).

What struck me was this paragraph from Apple’s story on Procreate Pro:

Even curious hobbyists will be drawn (pun intended) to the simple user interface. As you’re creating, you can readily go back and remove the rogue line you just drew by tapping with two fingers. (Didn’t mean to undo the stroke? Tap with three and it’ll reappear.)

The whole story is only seven paragraphs long, and one of them is devoted to explaining how to invoke Undo and Redo. This is — inadvertently on the part of the App Store editorial team — a scathing indictment of the state of iOS’s user interface standards.

Before reading a word of it, how much would you wager that Apple’s story on Pixelmator Pro for Mac does not mention how to invoke Undo and Redo? I would’ve bet my house — because even if you’ve never even heard of Pixelmator, you of course know how to invoke Undo and Redo in any Mac app: Edit → Undo and Edit → Redo, with the shortcuts ⌘Z and ⇧⌘Z. In fact, even their placement in the Edit menu is always the same, in every Mac app: the first two items in the menu.

Undo has been in the same position in the same menu with the same keyboard shortcut since 1984. Undo and Redo are powerful, essential commands, and the ways to invoke them on the Mac have been universal conventions for almost 35 years. (Redo came a few years later, if I recall correctly.)

iOS does in fact have a standard convention for Undo, but it’s both awful and indiscoverable: Shake to Undo, which I wrote about a few months ago. As I mentioned in that piece, iOS does have support for the ⌘Z and ⇧⌘Z shortcuts when a hardware keyboard is connected, and the iPad’s on-screen keyboard has an Undo/Redo button. So for text editing, on the iPad, Undo/Redo is available through good system-wide conventions.

But on the Mac, Undo and Redo are invoked the same way for any action in any app — everything from editing text and making illustrations, to trashing or moving files or mail messages.

There is a common convention for Undo/Redo in iOS drawing apps — circular arrow buttons, counterclockwise for Undo and clockwise for Redo. (And, thankfully, these are the same icons used for Undo/Redo on the iPad on-screen keyboard. Consistency is not completely lost.) You can see them in these screenshots from Apple Notes and Linea Go on iPhone.

But it speaks to how weak this convention is that Procreate Pocket could do something not just different but totally different — multi-finger taps with no on-screen buttons — and not just get away with it but be celebrated by Apple for it. I’m not saying Procreate’s two/three-finger taps are better or worse than on-screen buttons. (Well, stay tuned.) And I can see the thinking — screen space on an iPhone is so precious that any reduction in on-screen buttons is a win in terms of reducing UI clutter and maximizing the screen space available for showing the content of the illustration. Also, I’m sure the two/three-finger taps are very fast once you’re used to them.

The developer of a drawing app on iOS is forced to make a choice:

  • Do the obvious thing and add persistent “⟲” and “⟳” buttons, consuming precious screen real estate.
  • Do the non-obvious thing and implement Undo/Redo with gestures like Procreate’s multi-finger taps.
  • Do the stupid thing and rely on Shake to Undo, even though most people don’t know Shake to Undo exists, and even if they do, probably hate it and/or feel silly doing it.1

Personally, if I were designing an iOS drawing app I’d go the first route, and follow Apple Notes’s lead with “⟲” and “⟳” buttons. (Linea supports the two- and three-finger taps in addition to its explicit buttons — they too are a quasi-convention.) But to Procreate’s credit, they clearly know these multi-finger tap gestures are both unusual, not intuitive, and utterly non-discoverable, because the very first thing they do when you first launch the app is teach you about them.2 Think about that: iOS user interface conventions are so shallow, so widely and wildly inconsistent, that an app proclaimed by Apple as the very best of the year has to start, as the very first thing you see when you launch them, by teaching you how to use Undo. That’s a sad state of affairs.

Apple created wide-ranging Human Interface Guidelines and preached consistent adherence to them as a top priority from the very earliest days of Mac not for some abstract reason, but for very practical reasons. From the 1987 edition of the Human Interface Guidelines:

The purpose of visual consistency is to construct a believable environment for users. The transfer of skills is one of the most important benefits of a consistent interface, especially for beginning users. […]

Consistency makes it easier for a user to learn new applications; it also makes it less likely that a user who follows habits learned from one application will make a disastrous mistake when using a different one.

Or feeling utterly lost in a different app — like not knowing how to use Undo. If there’s a mistake the original HIG made, it was emphasizing “especially for beginning users”. Seasoned users benefit too — they’re the ones whose habits and expectations are broken by apps that break conventions.

What it comes down to, I think, is that the menu bar has become a vastly underestimated foundation of desktop computing. Once heralded, the menu bar is now seen as a vestige. I’m not arguing that iOS should have a Mac-style menu bar.3 I’m simply pointing out that without one, iOS is an 11-year-old platform that is still floundering to establish consistent conventions for some basic features, let alone complex ones, that are simple and obvious on the Mac.

Imagine going back in time to tell a MacPaint user in 1985 that they’d have to learn how to use Undo in an Apple-award-winning paint app in 2018. That’s where we are. 


  1. Think about using Shake to Undo to undo the last, say, four strokes in a drawing app. You’d have to shake, then confirm the undo action in the confirmation alert, and then repeat that sequence three more times. That’d be infuriating. ↩︎︎

  2. One counterargument to my complaint here is, I’m sure, something along the lines of “If the app shows you explicitly how to use the two- and three-finger taps when you first launch it, what’s the problem? So what if it’s different?”. Here’s the problem. What happens if you install the app, go through the first-run lesson, and then don’t use the app again for, say, six months? I personally had Procreate Pocket installed for years and I either never knew or had completely forgotten about this. And I would have never guessed to try a two-finger tap for Undo. One overlooked aspect of consistency, of adhering to the idiomatic design patterns of the native platform, is that doing so helps users guess how to do something they’ve never done before. ↩︎︎

  3. Is anyone willing to argue that the “More” popover in Apple’s iWork apps for iOS apps is something other than a menu bar hidden behind a decidedly un-Apple-like “···” button? The thinking here seems to be “We need a menu bar for a bunch of commands in a hierarchical structure, but we don’t want to admit we need a menu bar on iOS so we’re not going to make one, and instead we’ll just use a popover on iPad and a modal full-screen sheet on iPhone and hide them behind this admittedly ungraceful dot-dot-dot button.” Which puts these apps in the ridiculous situation where all of the commands fit on screen on iPhone but you have to scroll to see them all on iPad, even though the iPad has a much larger display, because Apple constrained these popovers with a maximum height smaller than an iPhone display.

    What exactly does Apple mean by “More” for these commands and sub-menus hidden behind the dot-dot-dot button? More than what they could fit in the interface of these apps without a menu bar — that’s what. “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not more so” goes the old design adage. The contortions Apple is willing to jump through on iOS to avoid creating a system-standard functional peer to the Mac menu bar fall into “but not more so” territory. ↩︎︎


Apple Announces Clear iPhone XR Case 

Finally. I’ve got one coming — will report on it once I have it.

Also available today: Apple’s 18W USB-C charger that’s included with iPad Pro, for $29.

React Native Accessibility Is Pretty Bad 

Doug Russell:

So I’ve been recently saddled with some React Native problems. […]

So I do what I always do, I fire up VoiceOver. I had read the docs for React Native when it was new. I knew they were aware of accessibility, so maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.

(You’ll be very surprised to learn it was quite a bit too bad.)

Some of the issues were specific to the project. They didn’t understand VoiceOver or how accessibility works in React, so I spent a bit of time fixing those problems before I got into the weeds.

Where I realized there were some tricky problems, and maybe some intractable problems, was when I dug into React Navigation. This is the library recommended (but not maintained) by Facebook for navigation in new projects.

Wrong-headed developers want to use cross-platform frameworks like React Native because they think it’ll save them time and resources, but if they want to do it right — and good accessibility support is most certainly part of doing it right — they’re making things harder on themselves. What they should admit openly is that they don’t care about doing it right, and in many cases are trying to cover up for the fact that they don’t know how to do it right.

Apple’s Game of the Year: ‎Donut County 

Slogan: “Be a hole”, which caused me to read it twice. (Via the App Store’s Game of the Year story, which, I shit you not, you can’t read on a Mac.)

Linea 2.5 

Clever new update to The Iconfactory’s iOS drawing app:

Simply draw a rough circle, square, rectangle, oval, or polygon and hold at the end. After a configurable delay, ZipShape will activate and transform your rough version into a clean, precise shape. It works with all of Linea’s drawing tools — including the new fill tool.

You don’t have to be perfect — after the shape is generated, there are transform handles you can use to tweak its final position and appearance. No rulers or stencils required!

Linea 2.5 adds a bunch of cool new features, but this ZipShape one is a real standout.

I’ve been impressed by Linea since it debuted, but I’m actually using it a lot more now with Apple Pencil 2. There’s a well-known photography adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s why Apple Pencil 2 is so much better — it’s with me so much more often.

Samsung Used a Stock DSLR Photo to Fake Their Phone’s ‘Portrait Mode’ 

Dunja Djudjic, writing at DIY Photography:

Earlier this year, Samsung was busted for using stock photos to show off capabilities of Galaxy A8’s camera. And now they did it again – they used a stock image taken with a DSLR to fake the camera’s portrait mode. How do I know this, you may wonder? Well, it’s because Samsung used MY photo to do it.

Not only is this outright fraud, they did a terrible job in Photoshop doctoring the image.

Djudjic:

Sadly, it’s nothing new that smartphone companies use DSLR photos to fake phone camera’s capabilities. Samsung did it before, so did Huawei. And I believe many more brands do it, we just haven’t found out about it yet. I’m pretty sure that Samsung at least bought my photo legally, even though I haven’t received the confirmation of it. But regardless, this is false advertising.

It’s undeniable that smartphone cameras are getting better (and there are more and more lenses with every new phone). But, we definitely shouldn’t trust the ads showing off their capabilities, or at least take them with a grain of salt.

I know one brand that does not do this.

Gaming the App Store 

David Barnard:

So, let’s talk about how developers are gaming the App Store and why it matters to the future of the platform. Any one of these tactics might seem somewhat bland individually, but when tens of thousands of apps deploy multiple tactics across many categories of apps, the impact can be measured in hundreds of millions of users and likely billions of dollars.

I’ve been focused on researching the weather category the past couple years as I’ve been working on my weather app, Weather Up, but these tactics apply to pretty much every category on the App Store.

None of this is news, but it continues to surprise me that Apple hasn’t cracked down on all of these scams, especially the ones that trick people into paying for subscriptions. That’s just outright theft. The apps that sell your location data to third parties are a head-scratcher too — surely Apple doesn’t want this going on.

Apple should put together an App Store bunco squad. A small team that polices the store for scammy apps and nips them in the bud. They could start just by combing the lists of top-grossing apps. It’s not just about protecting users and punishing bad actors — these scams keep good honest apps from rising to the top, and they undermine trust in the system. It’s in no one’s interest for “subscriptions” to be equated with “scams”. And I actually think it would be a fun and satisfying job — who wouldn’t enjoy busting bad guys?

Apple Debuts Online Store With 10 Percent Discount for U.S. Veterans and Active Military 

10 percent is a pretty great deal — worth sharing this with any friends or family who qualify.

The Talk Show: ‘A Vivid Nightmarescape’ 

New episode of the podcast: Dieter Bohn joins the show to talk about Google’s new Pixel Slate Chrome OS tablet/laptop, the Pixel 3, Google’s fascinating new Night Sight camera mode, speculation on how Apple might move the Mac to ARM chips, and more.

Brought to you by:

  • Banktivity: Powerful personal finance app for Mac and iOS with a great native UI. Save 10 percent on the Mac version with coupon code THETALKSHOW at checkout.
  • Casper: Get $50 off select mattresses with code talkshow. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Fracture: Your photos printed in vivid color directly on glass — great holiday gift.
Quinn Nelson’s MacBook / MacBook Air / MacBook Escape Shootout 

Don’t let the sensational headline scare you off from this video — it’s a really fair and interesting comparison between the 12-inch MacBook, new MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar. His conclusion, basically, is that if you want something remarkably thin and light, that’s the MacBook, not the Air, and otherwise you get a faster computer and a better much brighter display with the MacBook Pro.

I’m still bullish on the new Air for people with non-Pro performance needs, but this did make me think. If Apple updates the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro to include the third-generation butterfly keyboard and Touch ID sensor, and doesn’t reduce the prices of the MacBook Air at the same time, that would kind of leave the Air hanging in the lineup.

Nick Heer: ‘On Apple Portables in the Approximately $1,200 to $1,300 Price Range’ 

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

It comes down to the honesty and integrity of the product. Every so often, I think to myself could I imagine everyone on Apple’s executive team happily using this product? as a proxy for product integrity. For most of the current lineup, I have few reservations; I bet Phil Schiller would be very happy toting an iPhone XR and a base model iPad, for example. But — and perhaps this is projecting — I think they would get frustrated after a year of using any Mac with 128 GB of storage; but, especially, a MacBook Pro. It’s debatable, to me, whether that’s a fair base storage in the Air, but I don’t think it’s honest in the Pro. As far as I’m concerned, the MacBook Pro makes more sense starting at the $1,499 256 GB configuration — from both a pricing perspective, and for its integrity.

Samsung Tweets From iPhone, Again 

Marques Brownlee spots another case of a Samsung promotional tweet being posted from an iPhone. How this can still be happening, given how much attention these gaffes get, is beyond me. According to Luca Hammer, this Samsung account tweeted from iPhone over 300 times last year.

Couple of thoughts:

  • This wouldn’t happen, ever, if Samsung didn’t rely on outside marketing companies. But I’m not sure it would be possible for a worldwide marketing operation the size of Samsung’s to be run in-house. But to my knowledge we’ve never seen an Apple tweet sent from an Android phone.

  • Sometimes when these incidents occur I see people wondering why these tweets are being sent from any phone, rather than a desktop computer. These tweets are work. What these people don’t get, I think, is just how much work — serious professional work — gets done on phones.

iFixit 

My thanks to iFixit for sponsoring this week at Daring Fireball. You probably know them best for their detailed teardowns of new gadgets, but they also have an extensive library of over 40,000 free repair guides. And they sell precision tools and parts.

I’ve had a set of their tools for years, and they just sent me their latest flagship kit, the Pro Tech. It’s loaded with every rare bit and opening tool you could think of, packed in a clever small case, and backed by a lifetime guarantee. iFixit’s repair engineers design these tools in-house, and they’re the tools they themselves use.

Since last they sponsored DF they’ve developed a bunch of all-in-one repair kits for upgrading and repairing Apple devices. Their kits include a new part and all the tools you need for the job.

Their toolkits are great for any tinkerer on your holiday gift list. They’ve even got a special deal for DF readers — through the end of December, save $10 off your next $50 purchase with the code DARINGFIX.

George H.W. Bush, 41st President, Dies at 94 

Adam Nagourney, The New York Times:

Mr. Bush was president during a shift in the world order that had begun under Reagan. His measured response to upheaval in Eastern Europe drew complaints that he was not seizing the reins of history. But he chose a collaborative approach, working with the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to allow for the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The two leaders signed treaties mandating historic reductions in their countries’ nuclear and chemical weapons.

“George H. W. Bush was the best one-term president the country has ever had, and one of the most underrated presidents of all time,” James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s closest adviser for nearly 50 years, said in an interview in 2013. “I think history is going to treat him very well.”

By far and away — I mean it’s not even close — my favorite Republican president since Eisenhower. I respect him deeply: from his lifelong commitment to public service, to his genuine bipartisanship. The collapse of the Soviet Union could have gone very, very wrong under less steady U.S. leadership. And at a personal level, George and Barbara Bush were married for 73 years. 73 years!

There is a rule that will never be written but can clearly be felt that a president can only be eulogized by another president, and that job clearly falls to George W. That’s a hell of a thing, but he’s going to nail it.

‘‎I’m Ping Pong King’ 

I don’t recommend games often because I don’t often find games I enjoy, but here’s one I like a lot. Super minimalistic both in gameplay and visual style, but that’s what I tend to like on iOS. What graphics there are are animated joyfully. It works really well on iPad too. Free to play, a mere $2 to remove ads.

One gripe: there’s no syncing between devices. Seems to me the level you’re on ought to sync through iCloud. Another gripe: if you lose by a single point, the game gives you an option to replay the final point if you watch an ad for another game. This feels cheap, both commercially and sportsmanship-wise. When you lose you lose, I say.

One tip: keep your eyes on the table, not your avatar, because sometimes you need to hit Left when the ball is coming to your avatar’s right, or vice versa, and I find it easier to avoid getting mixed up by concentrating only on the table.

(Via this feature story in the App Store, which, I shit you not, you can only read from iOS device because there’s no fallback to a web page.)

Apple Releases New iPhone XS Case and Apple Watch Band Color Options 

Still no first-party cases for the iPhone XR though. That’s just baffling to me. I know most iPhone owners buy third-party cases, but it seems like Apple is leaving money on the table by not offering their own.

Also, this new “Pacific Green” is more blue than green, right? That’s what my eyes and my MacBook’s color picker say.

Marriott Hacking Exposes Data of Up to 500 Million Guests 

Amie Tsang and Adam Satariano, reporting for The New York Times:

The Marriott International hotel chain said on Friday that the database of its Starwood reservation system had been hacked and that the personal details of up to 500 million guests going as far back as 2014 had been compromised.

The hotel group, which runs more than 6,700 properties around the world, was informed in September about an attempt to access the database, and an investigation this month revealed that unauthorized access had been made on or before Sept. 10, Marriott said in a statement.

The hotel chain said that personal details including names, addresses, dates of birth, passport numbers, email addresses and phone numbers for hundreds of millions of guests may have been compromised. […]

Hackers also obtained encrypted credit-card information for some customers, but it was unclear if the hackers would be able to use those payment details.

Just awful, particularly the part about passport numbers, dates of birth, and the possibility of credit card numbers being exposed. I’m almost certainly included in this breach — I’m a longtime SPG rewards member, and definitely stayed at a few Starwoods hotels since 2014.

Mashable on Pixel Slate: ‘An Average and Very Buggy 2-in-1 Tablet’ 

Raymond Wong, writing at Mashable:

Where the Pixel Slate stumbles the most is software polish. It doesn’t seem finished and I experienced quite a few bugs and crashes that brought Chrome OS and Android apps to their knees.

My review unit’s kitted out with a very capable Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. But even so, little things like seeing jitters when scrolling on some of Mashable’s media-heavy reviews (like the iPhone XS and Pixel 3), or the slight lag when opening the recent apps window, or the inconsistencies of the colors of videos displayed in the Netflix Android app versus the Netflix website (colors looked way more faded in the app) were frustrating.

Getting colors right is just table stakes.

Google, Microsoft, and Apple are all trying to crack the same nut: to make a device that can work well both as a handheld tablet and as a notebook docked to a keyboard. It really comes down to the operating systems. iPad is a tablet first, and trying to evolve into an ever-better notebook. Chrome and Windows are designed for traditional notebooks, and are trying to evolve into ever-better systems for tablet. Where you start matters.