Apple Sends Invitations for Wednesday, 9 September Special Event ★
Apple on Thursday sent out invitations for a special event to be held on September 9, 2015. The event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco at 10:00 am.
That’s a big venue. Kudos to Andrew Dudley at Hoodline for deducing the venue earlier this week.
Swift as a First Language ★
Aaron Block wants to (eventually — perhaps soon) use Swift to teach introductory computer science:
For those who haven’t used Java or Python before, those two languages are at one end of the “memory management continuum.” In these languages, you never explicitly delete a memory reference. Java and Python run “garbage collection” routines that remove memory when they are no longer necessary. On the other end, C and C++ require developers to explicitly destroy memory allocations. Swift uses a technique called Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) that lives in the middle. Under ARC, developers do not explicitly destroy objects but instead must correctly organize their memory references and classify them as “strong”, “weak”, or “unowned” so that they can be automatically destroyed without needing to run an additional memory management process. While ARC doesn’t require developers to directly manage memory, it helps students learn how to organize memory and think about how objects are stored in memory without harassing them about the details. (Students should still learn explicit memory management, just not in their first year.)
My beef with Java as a learning language is that it’s so verbose and ungainly. Python is a much better choice. Why not use a language that can be fun and elegant?
(I’m glad I went through college before Java became entrenched as a teaching language. Drexel’s introductory computer science courses in the early ’90s taught Pascal — a language that, now that it’s fallen out of favor, no longer gets the credit it deserves.)
Harvard Business Review vs. Charmin ★
The headline of this Harvard Business Review article sure caught my eye: “How Samsung Became a Design Powerhouse”. You can save a lot of time and angst by just scrolling to the bottom and reading the bios of the piece’s authors:
Youngjin Yoo is the Harry A. Cochran Professor in Management Information Systems and the founding director of the Center for Design+Innovation at Temple University. He is also an overseas advisory fellow of the Samsung Economic Research Institute and consults for Samsung Electronics.
Kyungmook Kim is a principal designer at Samsung Electronics’ Corporate Design Center.
In next month’s issue: “How Comcast Became a Paragon of Friendly, Responsive Customer Service and Fair Competitive Practices”, by Comcast chief lobbyist David Cohen.
Prepaying for Gogo In-Flight Wi-Fi ★
Brian X. Chen has a piece on Gogo, too:
Another way to get a cheaper rate for Gogo is ordering the service before boarding the plane. People can buy an all-day pass to use Wi-Fi on any Gogo-equipped flight for $16, while frequent travelers can purchase a monthly subscription for $50.
These solutions are small comfort to Ms. Lu. “How am I going to remember for a 6 a.m. flight, of all the things I have to do, to log on at 4 a.m. and prepay for my Wi-Fi?” she said. “Are you kidding me?”
That makes for a compelling conclusion to his column, but it’s terrible advice and a gross disservice to his readers. I have a lot of problems with Gogo’s pricing and service quality, but this isn’t one. You don’t have to prepay for a $16 day pass on the same day as your flight. You can do it today, and redeem it a month from now. It’s like a voucher in your Gogo account.
IDC Estimates Apple Shipped 3.6 Million Watches Last Quarter ★
James Vincent, writing for The Verge (my apologies to those of you on mobile devices):
With only a single product to its name, Apple has already taken the number two spot in the global wearables market, according to market analysts IDC. The agency’s quarterly wearable report claims that Apple shipped a total of 3.6 million units in the second quarter of 2015, putting it just behind market leader Fitbit, shipping 4.4 million devices. These figures are only estimates of course, but if they’re close to the truth then it’s a sizable achievement for Apple. Not only is the Apple Watch the company’s debut product in the market, but it’s also so much more expensive than the competition.
Imagine how much better Apple Watch would be doing if it weren’t flopping.
Alongside Apple and Fitbit, the other big players in the market are Xiaomi (which launched its aggressively priced $13 fitness tracker last July), Garmin (which has focused on sophisticated fitness-trackers), and Samsung (which is set to unveil its redesigned Gear S2 soon). IDC’s analysts, though, say that the industry’s focus is mainly on Apple to see where the company will go next.
According to IDC, Samsung’s unit sale numbers dropped from the same quarter in 2014, from 800,000 to 600,000.
Businessweek: ‘Why Gogo’s Infuriatingly Expensive, Slow Internet Still Owns the Skies’ ★
Sam Grobart, writing for Businessweek:
Gogo differs from Uber in another way. While the taxi app’s surge prices tamp down demand, thus preventing the service from becoming overloaded, they also encourage idle drivers to hit the streets and increase capacity. When Gogo charges more, capacity doesn’t improve. “They’re participating in something we like to call ‘incremental value capture’ without also offering a better service,” says Frances Frei, a professor at Harvard Business School. “If I’m going to raise your rates, I also have to give you a better value proposition.”
I was on an American flight recently (SFO-PHL, flying home from WWDC) where the only Gogo option for a flight pass was to sign up for a $50 monthly subscription. The only other option was an exorbitant hourly rate. The solution, I learned, is to purchase a day pass from Gogo before you’re on the plane.
Swatch CEO: ‘Apple Watch Is an Interesting Toy’ ★
Samuel Gibbs, reporting for The Guardian:
Nick Hayek Jr. said that later this year Swatch will sell smartwatches that last nine months per battery. The company launched its first smartwatch in 2003 in partnership with Microsoft, and have sold connected watches since 1996.
In an interview with Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Hayek Jr. said: “The Apple watch is an interesting toy, but not a revolution.”
How Many Women Actually Used Ashley Madison? ★
Interesting analysis of the Ashley Madison data dump by Annalee Newitz, writing for Gizmodo:
What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a
far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t
a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It
isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract
those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a
science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead,
and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with
Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with
women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply
disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins,
or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined
those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that
none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the
site at all after creating a profile. Actually, scratch that. As
I’ll explain below, there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the
profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were
active users of Ashley Madison.
Sounds about right.
Acorn 5.0 ★
We’re blessed these days with a plethora of outstanding image editing Mac apps from indie developers. The one I depend on most, and have for years, is Flying Meat’s Acorn. (Flying Meat is a two-person company: Gus and Kirstin Mueller.) Version 5 is a great upgrade with all sorts of new features, but my favorite thing from the release notes is this:
We fixed hundreds of minor bugs and annoyances. Little things
that built up over the years that very few people ever
encountered, like “the shortcut key for zooming in doesn’t work
when the keyboard layout is set to Dvorak - Qwerty ⌘”. So we
fixed pretty much all of those. It took months and months of
work, it was super boring and mind numbing and it was really hard
to justify, and it made Acorn 5 super late. But we did it anyway,
because something in us felt that software quality has been going
downhill in general, and we sure as heck weren’t going to let
that happen to Acorn. So we took a long break from adding
features and just fixed stuff.
That sense of craftsmanship truly shows in the app. For a limited time, Acorn 5 is available for just $25, an absolute steal. Just buy it.
AT&T Says Injecting Ads Into Airport Wi-Fi Was a Now-Ended Test ★
Ina Fried, reporting for Recode:
AT&T said on Wednesday it has ended an experiment that had the
company serving ads to those using its free Wi-Fi at two
Washington, D.C.-area airports.
“We trialed an advertising program for a limited time in two
airports (Dulles and Reagan National) and the trial has ended,”
AT&T told Re/code in a statement. “The trial was part of an
ongoing effort to explore alternate ways to deliver a free Wi-Fi
service that is safe, secure and fast.”
AT&T came under fire this week after computer scientist
Jonathan Mayer blogged about his experience encountering the
ads while browsing the Web at Dulles International Airport in
Google Identifies Hiring Prospects Via Search Queries ★
I was in the midst of a career transition. I had spent three years
working as a management consultant and then at a startup, but I
wanted to become a computer engineer. I was earning a Master’s in
computer science through Georgia Tech’s online program. I knew
that I was slowly developing the skills that I would need in an
engineering role, but I still lacked the confidence to apply for a
full-time software role.
One morning, while working on a project, I Googled “python lambda
function list comprehension.” The familiar blue links appeared,
and I started to look for the most relevant one.
But then something unusual happened.
The search results split and folded back to reveal a box that said
“You’re speaking our language. Up for a challenge?”
Like much of what Google does, this is both incredibly clever and incredibly creepy.
It makes me wonder how much Google knows and tracks about queries from programmers at competing companies. Do companies like Apple have policies or recommended practices regarding what employees do with Google services?
AT&T Hotspots: Now With Advertising Injection ★
Jonathan Mayer, investigating how AT&T’s “free” Wi-Fi at Dulles International Airport injects ads into all non-HTTPS web pages:
AT&T has an (understandable) incentive to seek consumer-side
income from its free wifi service, but this model of advertising
injection is particularly unsavory. Among other drawbacks: It
exposes much of the user’s browsing activity to an undisclosed and
untrusted business. It clutters the user’s web browsing
experience. It tarnishes carefully crafted online brands and
content, especially because the ads are not clearly marked as part
of the hotspot service. And it introduces security and breakage
risks, since website developers generally don’t plan for extra
scripts and layout elements.
It’s dishonest and dangerous.
Felix Salmon on How Well UberX Pays ★
Spoiler: nowhere near as well as Uber would have you believe.
In Conversation With Quentin Tarantino ★
Great Lane Brown interview with Quentin Tarantino for New York Magazine:
Q: Who do you see as your competition right now? Are you
competitive with someone like Paul Thomas Anderson?
A: No. It’s a friendly thing. This might come across as
egotistical, but I don’t really feel in competition with
anybody anymore. I’m in competition with myself. David O.
Russell can have the biggest hit of the year, and that doesn’t
take anything away from me. I couldn’t have been happier that
Rick Linklater was at the Oscars this year.
The last time that I felt competitive was when I was doing Kill
Bill and my competition was The Matrix Reloaded. That was the
sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. I saw Matrix Reloaded at
the Chinese Theatre the day it opened, and I walked out of the
cinema singing that Jay Z song: “S-dot-Carter / Y’all must try
harder / Competition is nada.” I was like, Bring it the fuck on. I
was worried about that? Ho-ly shit.
‘All Websites Look the Same’ ★
Have you noticed a certain sameness to website design in recent years? Dave Ellis captures it brilliantly.
How Lobbying Works ★
Dylan Matthews, writing for Vox on a Senate bill passed at the behest of H&R Block lobbyists, that significantly increases the complexity of the tax forms for lower income Americans:
Think about what tax breaks are being targeted here. These are all
refundable credits, which, with the exception of the college
credit, overwhelmingly help low-income and working-class people.
H&R Block is not pushing to make the mortgage interest deduction
more complicated, or to make the charitable deduction more
confusing. Tax breaks that mostly help rich people go untouched.
H&R Block knows that rich people already use TurboTax or hire
accountants; because it wants new business, it has decided to prey
upon the poor.
In a better world, companies like H&R Block wouldn’t exist,
because the IRS would fill out returns itself. But if H&R Block
must exist, the least it can do is not try to actively harm poor
people. Sadly, even that appears to be asking too much.
Virginia TV Reporter and Photographer Shot to Death by Madman During Seemingly Innocuous Live Broadcast ★
Another fine day for America’s “well regulated militia”.
On Comparing Samsung’s S-Pen Design Flaw to the iPhone 4 Antenna ★
Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge on the growing controversy over the new Galaxy Note S-Pen slot:
It’s a big problem that can result from a very small mistake.
Samsung has now issued a response, and well, the answer is that
you should read and adhere to the manual.
“We highly recommend our Galaxy Note 5 users follow the
instructions in the user guide to ensure they do not experience
such an unexpected scenario caused by reinserting the S pen in the
other way around.”
With the iPhone 4, the joke was “You’re holding it wrong.” With
the Note 5, it’s apparently “You’re sliding it in wrong.” Either
way, it’s not very funny.
I’ve seen a lot of people make this comparison, but it’s specious. If you held your GSM iPhone 4 “wrong”, it didn’t break your phone. If you put the stylus in the Note 5 wrong, it breaks the phone.
Saturday, 22 August 2015
Jon Evans, in a piece for AOL/TechCrunch headlined “Don’t Be Apple”:
There is so much to admire about Apple. They make superb,
beautiful products. Their amazing comeback story is unparalleled
in corporate history. […] So why do I think they represent so
much of what’s wrong with the tech world? It’s because they have,
I think, an almost Shakespearean tragic flaw: their obsession with
centralized corporate control of the devices they sell. […]
What could go wrong? Well, let’s get dystopically speculative for
a moment. Can you remember some of the most hyperbolic
overreactions to the fall of the World Trade Center, and how they
were welcomed by large swathes of the American public? Can you
imagine a future in which, following a similar tragedy, Apple
rolls over and becomes a de facto arm of surveillance states? I
sure can — and Apple’s centralized-command-and-control ecosystem
would make it worryingly easy to turn every iOS device into an eye
and ear of the panopticon, more or less overnight.
At which point we’d be forced to continue using these spyware Apple products because… ? And engineers at Apple would continue working for the company rather than resigning en masse because… ? And Apple would suffer no bad publicity for its cowardice because… ? Because: Tim Cook could surely flip a switch that would enable this surveillance without anyone noticing.
This advice is madness. Evans is recommending against using a platform that is secure and private today, from a company with a consistent decades-long track record in this regard, because in the future they might turn coat and become an accomplice of government mass surveillance, even though, if that came to pass, we could and would all just abandon the use of Apple products.
You can aim similar criticisms at Android, too, but they would
miss the mark. Love it or hate it, Android is not near [sic] as
centralized as iOS, and Google is not nearly as controlling as
Apple. It’s open-source, and major organizations can — and do — fork
it to create their own independent versions.
Parts of Android are indeed open source — “except for all the good parts”.
Apple fights an ongoing war with iOS jailbreakers, claiming that
their work is “potentially catastrophic”; Google makes it
especially easy to root Nexus devices. […]
Glenn Fleishman, writing for Macworld last month, “Hacking Team Hack Reveals Why You Shouldn’t Jailbreak Your iPhone”:
A massive breach in the private data of a firm that sells software
to governments to spy on communications shows that jailbroken
iPhones are vulnerable. […]
Two security outfits — the commercial Kaspersky Lab in Russia and
academic Citizen Lab in Canada — first revealed in June 2014 that
they had discovered and decoded Hacking Team’s smartphone-cracking
software. The reports at that time indicated that only jailbroken
iOS devices could be hijacked, but that malware could be installed
on an iOS device when connected to a computer that was confirmed
as trusted, and which had been compromised.
That external analysis has now been complemented by the Hacking
Team’s internal documents. One price list shows a €50,000
($56,000) price tag on an iOS snooping module with the note,
“Prerequisite: the iOS device must be jailbroken.”
Apple works to close jailbreaking exploits because they are potentially catastrophic.
Back to Evans:
It may seem silly to criticize a fantastic company that makes
superb products and delights its users on the basis of an abstract
Even the most jacktastic article usually has one true sentence.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that over the next year this
dispute will grow more and more concrete. Maybe, as this contrast
heightens, Apple will see the light; maybe instead of fighting
jailbreakers, they will offer jailbreaking and sideloading as an
option for power users out of the box, just as Android does. That
alone would be a huge seismic shift.
But I’m not holding my breath. And until and unless that happens,
I find it hard to recommend the iOS ecosystem in good conscience,
despite its power and beauty, because Apple refuses to return any
of the trust it demands from its users.
So let’s get this straight: Jon Evans is deeply concerned about a hypothetical dystopic fantasy scenario where Apple turns a 180, abandons all of the privacy principles the company has adhered to for decades and has prominently promoted as a competitive advantage, and begins cooperating with the U.S. government to surveil iOS users. To alleviate his concerns, Evans wants Apple to stop its efforts to close jailbreaking exploits, and in the meantime, he can’t “recommend the iOS ecosystem in good conscience”. This, despite the fact that in the actual world, today, we know for a fact from the Hacking Team data breach that various governments around the world — including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey — have been sold software that allows them to snoop on iOS devices, but only if the devices have been jailbroken.
I’m sure iOS users want Apple to get right on this. ★
Thursday, 6 August 2015
On Twitter, Benedict Evans points to fascinating polling data indicating that the answers to this question1 are changing dramatically. In 2013, just two years ago, the results were:
- Laptop 46%
- Desktop 28%
- Smartphone 15%
- Tablet 8%
In 2015, the results were:
- Smartphone 33%
- Laptop 30%
- Tablet 19%
- Desktop 14%
Assuming the polling is valid, this suggests we’ve already passed the inflection point where most people consider their mobile devices (phone and tablet) central to their use of the internet.
I don’t think the chart in Evans’s tweet indicates these trends well. (The chart wasn’t his creation.) I would prefer something like (spends 15 minutes dicking around in Numbers…) this:
Also interesting is to compare “mobile” (phone and tablet) versus “PC” (laptop and desktop):
My “mobile” and “PC” groupings aren’t entirely rigorous, because I’m conflating physical form factors with operating systems. For Apple products, that distinction is clear — their phones and tablets run iOS; their laptops and desktops run Mac OS X. And Android, as a consumer platform, runs almost solely on phones and tablets. But Microsoft’s Surface devices are tablets that run Windows, and Chromebooks are laptops that run what I would consider a mobile OS.2 But the overwhelming popularity of iOS and Android compared to Surface and Chromebooks is such that I think it’s a useful and fair comparison.
The bottom line: the post-PC world is here. ★
Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Dean Murphy wrote an iOS 9 Safari Content Blocker, and tested it against iMore:
With no content blocked, there are 38 third party scripts
(scripts not hosted on the host domain) running when the homepage
is opened, which takes a total of 11 seconds. Some of these
scripts are hosted by companies I know, Google, Amazon, Twitter
and lots from companies I don’t know. Most of which I assume are
used to display adverts or track my activity, as the network
activity was still active after a minute of leaving the page
dormant. I decided to turn them all off all third party scripts
and see what would happen.
After turning off all third party scripts, the homepage took 2
seconds to load, down from 11 seconds. Also, the network activity
stopped as soon as the page loaded so it should be less strain on
I love iMore. I think they’re the best staff covering Apple today, and their content is great. But count me in with Nick Heer — their website is shit-ass. Rene Ritchie’s response acknowledges the problem, but a web page like that — Rene’s 537-word all-text response — should not weigh 14 MB.1