Jony Ive Describes the 20th Anniversary Macintosh in 1997 ★
This was so early in Ive’s career that he still had hair, and went by “Jon Ive”. The 20th Anniversary Mac was a weird beast, starting with the fact it commemorated the 20th anniversary of the company, not the Mac (which was 11 years old at the time). The main thing is it was never meant to sell at scale — it started at $7,500 and according to Wikipedia Apple only ever made 12,000 of them. It was a shipping prototype, effectively.
But the design clearly presaged what we now know as the modern iMac, which effectively is the modern desktop: all-in-one design, LCD display (this was truly radical in 1997), good built-in speakers, and an attempt to minimize the tangle of cables most PCs and Macs had in the back. All the hallmarks of Ive’s design sense are there.
Mark One: Apollo Edition ★
I’m a big fan of Studio Neat, the two-man design studio of Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost. Their Glif is an amazing iPhone tripod mount (works with any size iPhone, or any other phone for that matter), and their Canopy turns Apple’s Magic Keyboard into my favorite portable iPad keyboard.
One of their most recent products is a pen: the Mark One. I’m using one as my daily carry right now (with a custom 3D-printed converter that lets me use my beloved Zebra Sarasa 0.5mm ink cartridges*). It’s a very nice pen and a beautiful, functional object. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, they’ve created a limited edition version, on sale in an 8-day Kickstarter campaign that coincides with the dates of the Apollo 11 mission. The project is already funded three times over — most likely, I suppose, from fans of the standard Mark One — and this is the only opportunity to buy this edition. I’m in.
See also: Gerhardt and Provost talk about the Apollo Edition on the latest edition of their podcast, Thoroughly Considered.
* For years, I swore by 0.4mm Sarasas. But now that I’m older and my eyesight is deteriorating, I can’t print as small as I used to, so I switched to 0.5mm a while back and now I can’t believe I ever used the 0.4mm pens for so long. A tenth of a millimeter sounds like a negligible difference, but in practice, it’s the difference between “very fine” and “fine”.
Ken Rosenthal on Jayson Stark ★
Ken Rosenthal, writing for The Athletic:
Sometimes, I wish I could think like Jayson — and sometimes, with
all the stuff ping-ponging around his brain, I’m grateful I
cannot. But always, I wish I could write like him. Jayson’s
writing is conversational, entertaining and often laugh-out-loud
funny. He doesn’t take himself seriously. But he takes his
audience extremely seriously, and considers no detail too small in
his service of the reader.
Among his many attributes, Jayson has a knack for engaging
relatively obscure veterans who are keen observers of the game,
and then elevating them to oracles in his columns. After a long
night of October baseball, 99 percent of us will gather in the
clubhouse around the star of the game. Jayson will be off in the
corner, talking to whoever he has identified as this year’s Corky
Miller or Casey Candaele or Skip Schumaker or Mark DeRosa — and
naturally, getting the best stuff.
Stark was a longtime baseball columnist for The Inquirer here in Philly. Back in the ’90s, he got an entire two-page spread in the Sunday Inquirer all to himself. My roommates and I used to fight over who got to read it first. I like The Athletic a lot, but I’d subscribe just to read Jayson Stark.
Tuesday, 16 July 2019
Nicole Nguyen, reporting for BuzzFeed News:
The fallout from Zoom’s massive webcam vulnerability
continues. In a report published today, security researcher
Karan Lyons shows that the same flaw — which gave attackers easy
access to laptop cameras and microphones — affects RingCentral,
which is used by over 350,000 businesses, as well as Zhumu,
essentially the Chinese version of Zoom.
On July 16, Apple confirmed that it had released another silent
update to Macs patching the vulnerability affecting Zoom’s partner
apps. The update, which went out this morning, requires no user
action, but may take some time to roll out to all impacted Macs.
Lyons tweeted that Apple’s latest update takes action on 11
different apps, all vulnerable to the Zoom webcam flaw.
So here’s an interesting question. I’ve been using the phrase “nonconsensual technology” to describe Zoom’s invisible web server that remained installed and running even after you deleted the Zoom app. But when Apple first issued a silent, emergency system update to remove Zoom’s software, a few DF readers emailed or tweeted to ask: Isn’t this “nonconsensual technology” too?
Clearly, the answer sounds like yes at first. Users get no indication of the update, and “requires no user action” makes it sound like it’s mandatory. But there is a setting to control this, allowing Mac users to disable the automatic installation of such updates. On MacOS 10.14 Mojave, it’s in System Prefs → Software Update → Advanced (screenshot); on 10.13 High Sierra, it’s in System Prefs → App Store (screenshot). In both versions, the checkbox is labeled “Install system data files and security updates”, and resides at the bottom of the section that controls what gets installed automatically.
This option is enabled by default — even if you choose to install regular system updates manually — which is why the vast majority of Mac users are getting these “silent” updates automatically. But if you disable this option, even these silent updates won’t be installed automatically. I confirmed this with an Apple spokesperson, who emphasized that Apple only issues such updates “extremely judiciously”. Any pending security updates will be installed the next time you manually update software.
I think Apple has struck a nearly perfect balance here, between doing what’s right for most users (installing these rare emergency updates automatically) and doing what’s right for power users who really do want to control when updates — even essential ones — are installed. I also think Apple is doing the right thing by going to the press and explaining when they issue such updates. If I could tweak anything, it would be to have these updates show up in the regular list of pending software updates if you have “Install system data files and security updates” turned off. ★
Monday, 15 July 2019
Speaking of Microsoft and mobile, this story caught my eye a few weeks ago:
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been reflecting on his time at
the company when crucial decisions were made over its mobile
operating system. During a recent interview at Village Global, a
venture capital firm, Gates revealed his “greatest mistake ever”
was Microsoft missing the Android opportunity:
“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are
winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever
mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what
Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone
platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really
is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90
percent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s
room for exactly one non-Apple operating system and what’s that
worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to
A lot of the response to this has focused — correctly — on the antitrust implications of Gates’s “winner takes all” acknowledgement. Nilay Patel had a strong take: “Bill Gates Accidentally Makes the Case to Regulate the Hell Out of Platform Companies”.1
But I’m fascinated by the way he phrased the opportunity that Google seized with Android: to be “the standard non-Apple phone platform”. It’s just assumed in his thinking that the iPhone would have been the iPhone no matter what. Historically, that sounds bananas coming out of Bill Gates’s mouth.
You can make a strong case, too, that Apple might not have survived its 1996-97 nadir without Microsoft’s support. I’ve always felt the $150 million investment in Apple that Microsoft made in 1997 was overrated. It just wasn’t that much money, even for Apple at that time.2 It was symbolic theater — and it worked. The value for Apple wasn’t the money itself but the public show of confidence from Microsoft — the message that Microsoft was supporting Apple, not trying to crush them.
But the real benefit for Apple — the factor that I think truly helped save the company — was securing a promise that Microsoft would continue to work on Office for Mac for at least another five years. And it wasn’t just token “support” — Office 98 for Mac was a major update and truly improved the Mac-like-ness of the apps. Here we are 22 years later and the Office for Mac apps are chart-toppers in the App Store.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to argue that the Mac probably wouldn’t have survived without Office, and possibly without a good version of Office. And in 1997 Apple wouldn’t have survived if the Mac platform hadn’t made a resurgence. Apple’s own iWork suite — Pages, Numbers, Keynote — didn’t ship until 2005. Microsoft Office singlehandedly kept the Mac a credible platform for classic productivity apps for 8 years.
There were other third-party developers that Apple was dependent upon back then. Adobe certainly comes to mind — Apple needed the graphic design and illustration market, and that required (and still does require) Adobe’s pro apps. But it was never in Adobe’s interest not to continue supporting the Mac. If anything, it was in Adobe’s own interest to see the Mac thrive so that Adobe wouldn’t be dependent solely upon Microsoft and Windows.
Microsoft, of course, had some serious antitrust problems in the ’90s. If not for U.S. v. Microsoft, though, I wonder whether Gates would’ve chosen to drop Office for Mac and let Apple wither. I’m not saying anyone could have or should have predicted the iPhone and Apple’s dominance of mobile profits all the way back in 1997. Nobody really predicted what the iPhone would be in 2007, even. But if Microsoft had an inkling of what the iPhone would become, and where Android would come in and take over as, in Gates’s own words, “the standard non-Apple phone platform” by fast-following the iPhone’s basic all-display, all-multitouch design, maybe they’d have thought differently about helping Apple recover in 1997. With no Office 98, there might not have been an Apple to even make the iPhone in 2007. And with no iPhone in 2007 it’s impossible to say what the mobile phone state of the art would look like today. Without the iPhone, I think there’s a chance the mobile market would have continued on the same course it was on before the iPhone: dominated by crap software and BlackBerry-style hardware, with the carriers calling the shots. In that world, Microsoft might’ve had a chance.
If losing the mobile market to Android was Gates’s biggest mistake, you can argue it started when he agreed to support Apple and the Mac in 1997. ★
Katie Notopoulos Tried Emailing Like a CEO ★
Katie Notopoulos, writing at BuzzFeed:
What trips me up most is my habit of scanning my inbox, often on
my phone, opening an email, reading it, and thinking, “I’ll reply
to that later when I’m at my computer and/or not in the middle of
this other project and can give a full reply.” Then I leave it
marked as “read” and forget about it. I check my inbox constantly,
but I only actually deal with my emails in a deliberate way during
a few dedicated chunks of my day.
That is me.
The other key part of boss-style email is doing a lot of email on
the phone. This meant goodbye to my old crutch of “I’ll reply when
I get to a computer.” I would fire off emails from my phone on the
subway, walking around at lunch, on the toilet at the office. For
the first time, I actually started using the suggested Gmail
replies, which are actually pretty useful in the sense of purely
That first Monday, as I fired off a bunch of not-super-important
emails, something strange happened. I felt… extremely good. I was
high on the fumes of efficiency. No longer did a little cloud hang
over me, the nagging feeling you get when you know you’re supposed
to do something and can’t remember what.
I’ve been thinking about this lately — that I should treat email more like I treat texting. A few words — or maybe just an emoji — and that’s it.
Walt Mossberg’s Review of the Original iPhone ★
As we look back at Jony Ive’s career at Apple, surely the high water mark was the original iPhone in 2007. Walt Mossberg’s review holds up perfectly — he absolutely nailed it:
The iPhone’s most controversial feature, the omission of a
physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen,
turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial
skepticism. After five days of use, Walt — who did most of the
testing for this review — was able to type on it as quickly and
accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years.
This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing
errors on the fly. […]
In addition, even when you have great AT&T coverage, the iPhone
can’t run on AT&T’s fastest cellular data network. Instead, it
uses a pokey network called EDGE, which is far slower than the
fastest networks from Verizon or Sprint that power many other
smart phones. And the initial iPhone model cannot be upgraded to
use the faster networks.
The iPhone compensates by being one of the few smart phones that
can also use Wi-Fi wireless networks. When you have access to
Wi-Fi, the iPhone flies on the Web. Not only that, but the iPhone
automatically switches from EDGE to known Wi-Fi networks when it
finds them, and pops up a list of new Wi-Fi networks it encounters
as you move.
Hard to believe, in hindsight, that Wi-Fi was a novel feature. My favorite part of the review is the chart comparing the iPhone to its top rivals circa 2007 — the Samsung BlackJack, BlackBerry 8800, and Treo 700p. They look like relics. One thing I’ve noticed recently is that I still see people — some of them surprisingly young — using basic flip phones. But I never see anyone using a BlackBerry-style phone with a QWERTY keyboard.
(The other funny thing, looking back, is how Samsung was still Samsung back then, copying not only BlackBerry’s form factor but even its goddamn name.)
On the Bugginess of This Year’s OS Betas From Apple ★
During the last couple of weeks, quite a few people contacted us
about crashes, hangs and other problems with Ulysses on devices
running the beta versions of iOS 13, iPadOS and macOS Catalina.
We’ve been asked a couple of times if we couldn’t offer a beta
version of Ulysses that works fine on the new OSes.
Unfortunately, for the time being, we can’t.
From our experience with previous OS updates, we feel safe to say
that these betas are extraordinarily unstable and buggy. After
all, beta versions of operating systems are still just beta
versions — they are buggy, they are crash-prone, and they do
lose data. Whereas in recent years, it was pretty safe to install
preview versions early on, this year that’s definitely not the
case (see for example this report on Cult of
Most impactful for us, however, is that the (great, great)
updates done to iCloud are also leading to severe problems with
the service. As iCloud is Apple’s sync service, it’s beyond our
power to solve them, of course. Some public beta users reported
synchronization outages and data loss that propagated to
devices that did not even run the beta but were just
connected via iCloud.
I’ve heard this from a bunch of developers. Right now iCloud is dangerous on the beta OSes. That’s not a complaint in and of itself; if there weren’t bugs they wouldn’t be betas. But I think it was a bad idea for Apple to release public betas at this stage. One trick I learned long ago is to install MacOS betas on an external hard drive and keep my regular startup drive unmounted while running the beta OS. But iCloud is a data store too, and you can’t unmount it.
iOS 12 to 13 Comparison Screenshots ★
Nice visual guide to what’s new — so far — in iOS 13 from Ryan Burnett. Twitter is pretty good for something like this.
Study Claims Huawei Staff and Chinese Military Have Deep Links ★
A new analysis of CVs of Huawei staff appeared to reveal deeper links between the technology giant and China’s military and intelligence bodies than had been previously acknowledged by the firm.
The paper, which looks at employment records of Huawei employees, concluded that “key mid-level technical personnel employed by Huawei have strong backgrounds in work closely associated with intelligence gathering and military activities.” Some employees can be linked “to specific instances of hacking or industrial espionage conducted against Western firms,” it claimed.
Get me to the fainting couch. What a shocker.
Matthew Panzarino: ‘Apple Sans Ive’ ★
The narratives, to summarize, are essentially that:
- Jony had checked out, become incompetent or just plain lazy
- Apple is doomed because he is leaving
If those narratives look contradictory, then you have eyes.
If you take the sum of the breathless (dare I say thirsty) stories tying together a bunch of anecdotes about Jony’s last couple of years, they are trying to paint a picture of a legendary design figure that has abandoned the team and company he helped build, leading to a stagnation of forward progress — while at the same time trying to argue that the company is doomed without him.
Perhaps my favorite piece on Ive’s departure. I agree with the whole thing, top to bottom, particularly his dismissal of the, as he says, “thirsty” takes on Ive’s last few years.
Apple Revamps MacBook Lineup ★
Apple today updated MacBook Air, adding True Tone to its Retina display for a more natural viewing experience, and lowering the price to $1,099, with an even lower price of $999 for college students. In addition, the entry-level $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro has been updated with the latest 8th-generation quad-core processors, making it two times more powerful than before. It also now features Touch Bar and Touch ID, a True Tone Retina display and the Apple T2 Security Chip, and is available for $1,199 for college students.
In addition to bumping the specs on these two models and lowering their prices, Apple also got rid of the non-retina Air (except for education institutional buyers, and at retailers like Best Buy) and completely dropped the 12-inch MacBook. We all knew the non-retina Air would eventually — finally — go away. Unless I’m overlooking something,
Apple no longer sells (to consumers) any devices with non-retina displays. Update: I did overlook something: the entry level 21-inch iMac is still non-retina.
I’m a little surprised to see the MacBook dropped completely, but the Air, though bigger, is a much more capable machine. Overall, it is a tremendous simplification of the entire MacBook lineup, and that’s a good thing. Retina Air and two sizes of MacBook Pro — hard to see how it could get any simpler. Other than the increase in size of the “smallest” MacBook, the only knock against today’s revamp is that the starting price (for those other than college students) has jumped from $1000 to $1100.
Update: A few other observations:
- Apple isn’t making a point of it, but these new MacBooks both have the new third-generation butterfly keyboards.
- According to Student Monitor, MacBooks have 60 percent market share among college students. That’s impressive period, but downright bananas for those of us who remember where Macs were market-share-wise 20 years ago.
- Apple’s back-to-school promotion saves you up to $200 and includes a pair of Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones, which retail for $300. That’s a great deal.
Trump Can’t Block Critics From His Twitter Account, Appeals Court Rules ★
Charlie Savage, reporting for The New York Times:
President Trump has been violating the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account because they criticized or mocked him, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. The ruling could have broader implications for how the First Amendment applies to the social-media era.
Because Mr. Trump uses Twitter to conduct government business, he cannot exclude some Americans from reading his posts — and engaging in conversations in the replies to them — because he does not like their views, a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled unanimously.
This is the least important Trump controversy I can think of, but I do find it an interesting case. With the absurd number of replies he gets with each tweet — thousands, if not tens of thousands — I can’t see why he even bothers blocking people. But I like to think he’s actually sitting there, wasting time each day poking buttons in the Twitter app, angrily blocking people.
Wednesday, 3 July 2019
I did a brief chat with Rene Ritchie for Vector, his YouTube show, over the weekend. I thought it was a great little interview — far more condensed than my own podcast, and with a full transcript to boot.
One key point that I missed in my first take on Ive’s departure is that having design chiefs Evans Hankey (Industrial Design) and Alan Dye (Human Interface Design) report directly to COO Jeff Williams does make sense organizationally. What I had missed is that coincident with the announcement of Ive’s departure, Apple promoted Sabih Khan to senior vice president of operations. Apple hasn’t had an SVP of operations since Jeff Williams held the title, back when Tim Cook was COO under Steve Jobs. Back then Williams ran operations while Cook ran the company and Jobs devoted his remaining time to new products.
Williams still holds the title COO, but titles don’t mean much at Apple. Rank matters, of course, and SVP is an elite level at Apple — there are only 13 executives at that level, and one of them is still Jony Ive. But the literal titles don’t necessarily describe what executives do. Eddy Cue’s title — senior vice president of internet software and services — comes to mind. I don’t know where one would begin crafting a succinct title that accurately describes Cue’s domain, but that’s not it. That just doesn’t matter at Apple.
This means Sabih Khan is running operations now. Jeff Williams’s title hasn’t changed, but he’s effectively now running product development. He’s led the Apple Watch product team from its inception; now I think he’s overseeing product for everything. Cook and Williams did run operations while holding the COO title, but what “COO” really means at Apple is “second in command”. Tim Cook didn’t move design under operations; he promoted Williams to a new position, effectively “chief product officer”, and as such it makes sense that Hankey and Dye would report to him.
Only time will tell if that’s a better structure than replacing Jony Ive with a new chief design officer. But I feel a lot better about it than I did last week when the news broke. ★