Aaptiv 

My thanks to Aaptiv for once again sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Aaptiv is a gorgeous audio fitness app. It provides you with highly effective audio-based workouts by certified trainers paired with amazing music. You need two things in your ears when you work out — instructions and music. Aaptiv gives you both, in one app.

If your New Year’s resolutions include getting in better shape, you should check out Aaptiv. They’ve got a New Year’s sale right now, and you can start with a free trial.

BMW’s Apple CarPlay Annual Fee Is Next-Level Gouging 

Tim Stevens, writing for CNet:

Instead of a one-time, $300 fee, starting on 2019 models BMW will charge $80 annually for the privilege of accessing Apple’s otherwise totally free CarPlay service. You do get the first year free, much like your friendly neighborhood dealer of another sort, but after that it’s pay up or have your Lightning cable metaphorically snipped.

On the surface this is pretty offensive, and it seemed like something must be driving this. The official word from BMW is that this is a change that will save many (perhaps most) BMW owners money. Indeed, the vehicle segments where BMW plays are notorious for short-term leases, and those owning the car for only a few years will save money over that one-time $300. But still, the notion of paying annually for something that’s free rubbed me the wrong way. And, based on the feedback we saw from the article, it rubbed a lot of you the wrong way, too.

It’s patently offensive. If BMW goes through with this, you can never truly own one of their cars. $80/year isn’t much compared to the price of the car, but on general principle this is way out there in Fuck You territory.

We bought an Acura back in 2006, paid it off within a few years, and haven’t sent a single penny to the Honda Motor Company since. Not one penny. And the car is still running great — with every single function working just as well as it did the day we drove it off the lot. The fact that everything still works well speaks to Honda’s reliability. The fact that we haven’t had to send them any money is because, you know, we own the goddamn thing.

Stevens:

In speaking with multiple sources at various manufacturers who offer cars with Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto, I was quickly able to confirm that such fees, at least right now, do not exist. CarPlay and Android Auto, which are free for we consumers to use, are also provided for free for manufacturers to embed into their cars.

CarPlay isn’t entirely free, however. As Markdown inventor and Apple guru John Gruber pointed out on Twitter, car manufacturers who wish to officially support Apple products must pay a licensing fee to enter Apple’s Made for iPhone (MFi) program, just like any other licensed accessory maker. As Gruber was able to confirm, however (and I was able to verify), this is a one-time fee. And, while I could not get anyone to disclose the exact fees entailed, it’s quite clear that there’s no additional fee for CarPlay on top of the base MFi license.

My understanding is that Apple’s fee is nominal — and unequivocally nominal in the context of the price of any new car, let alone a new BMW. There’s a hardware component — CarPlay-enabled cars need an Apple authentication chip — but the gist of it is that Apple’s goal is to get more cars on the road that are CarPlay-enabled, not to make money from CarPlay-enabled cars.

The Apple Cash FAQ 

Horace Dediu:

As individuals we think that having lots of cash makes us rich. For companies it’s the opposite. Cash is a liability. If you come across a company that is cash rich and has nothing else, its enterprise value will be zero. Companies are valued on their future cash flows, meaning their ability to generate cash, not how much they managed to keep. In other words, cash is a measure of past success and investors are interested only in future value. That future value comes from the intelligent allocation of resources toward a valuable goal. A company rich in cash but poor in vision is likely to be taken private or broken up and shut down. Cash is an IOU to shareholders with a thank-you note for the support through the years.

Such a fabulously clear and concise overview of Apple’s financials.

The Ressence Type 2 E-Crown Concept 

Stephen Pulvirent, writing for Hodinkee:

Working with Tony Fadell (who you might know as the designer of the iPod, the founder of Nest, and a noted Talking Watches guest), Ressence has gone a few steps further than anyone else thinking in this direction. The idea is that you initially set the Type 2 e-Crown Concept using the mechanical mechanism on the watch’s rear, and then you never need to touch that again (unless you want to, of course — this is a mechanical watch and that system will always work). After that, you can use a paired down iPhone app to adjust to one of two timezones and you can have the watch automatically reset to the correct time after its power reserve winds down. The details have all been thought through as well, with the intermediary mechanism powering itself both kinetically and through 10 tiny photovoltaic cells hidden behind the dial. If you don’t wear the watch and the battery runs below 50%, 10 little shutters open up to reveal the cells and gather light for energy (you can also open these manually via the app). The watch even automatically adjusts for Daylight Savings time, so no worries there either.

It’s a mechanical watch with a super-low-power electronic system to keep the watch time in sync and communicate with a phone app. I’m generally reluctant to link to “concept designs”, but I suspect this one will ship, and Fadell’s involvement certainly increases my interest.

Here’s Ressence’s own description of their e-Crown system. Ressence, if you’re not a watch nerd, is a fascinating company making truly innovative watches. But they’re rather pricy — the gorgeous Type 3 carries a suggested retail price of CHF 33,500 (about $35,000 USD).

Bad Design in Action: The False Hawaiian Ballistic Missile Alert 

Jason Kottke:

Hopefully this, uh, “redesign” is temporary and a full overhaul is in the works. That menu is a really dangerous bit of interface design and adding an “oopsie, we didn’t mean it button” doesn’t help. The employee made a mistake but it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t be fired for it. The interface is the problem and whoever caused that to happen — the designer, the software vendor, the heads of the agency, the lawmakers who haven’t made sufficient funds available for a proper design process to occur — should face the consequences. More importantly, the necessary changes should be made to fix the problem in a way that’s holistic, resilient, long-lasting, and helps operators make good decisions rather than encouraging mistakes.

Die With Me: $1 Chat App That Only Works When You Have Less Than 5 Percent Battery Remaining 

What a stupid, silly idea. I love it.

Tim Carmody on the Demise of The Awl and Hairpin 

Tim Carmody, writing at Kottke.org:

The Awl should have been the model for a new generation of sites that all outlived it. It wasn’t. We would mourn it less if there were more new blogs, staffed by hands young and old, rising to succeed it, jockeying to become required reading. Right now, there aren’t.

But who knows? There is still plenty of time.

Open Letters: Dean Allen on His Mother’s Wedding 

Open Letters was a site that ran in the latter half of 2000. Contributions were from anyone. There were small, collaborative projects like Open Letters all over the web back then. It was good.

Dean Allen’s letter was great:

Dear Dad,

So Mom got married yesterday. It was in a park, amid some lurid autumn trees. The ceremony was performed with the river and the mountains in the background, and the whole affair was small, and nice, and stress-free. Unforced.

For the week leading up to it I was in a lousy mood. I was having trouble being any good at anything, and it all seemed glum. I couldn’t be bothered to prepare for the wedding (usually, if an event is coming up, with family or people I haven’t seen in a while, I try to gather up some material beforehand: bits of biography for the what’ve-you-been-up-tos, jokes, etc., but at Mom’s wedding I might as well have walked in, in a rented tuxedo, by mistake). Waking up yesterday I did something that happens now and again when things just aren’t going well: I opened my eyes and said, “Not this again.”

We just don’t have things like this anymore.

Jason Kottke on Dean Allen 

Lovely remembrance from Jason Kottke:

Weirdly, or maybe not, my two biggest memories of Dean involve food. One of my favorite little pieces of writing by him (or anyone else for that matter), is How to Cook Soup.

One of my favorites from Dean as well.


Dean Allen

Om Malik:

Dean Cameron Allen, a 50-ish writer, designer, web-guy, and an all-around rascal, died this weekend in London, U.K. He leaves behind his parents, a former girlfriend and a lot of friends. If the universe feels a little hollow this week, now you know why.

Jason Hoffman, founder of Joyent and a close friend, called out of the blue. He has just moved back from Stockholm, back to the Bay Area after a stint at Ericsson. “Dean is no more,” Jason said. He was fighting to hold back his tears, his voice shaking. I think I heard Jason say that Dean took his own life, giving up on the struggle.

Dean was a magnificent bastard. His death is a real gut punch. I heard about it two days ago, and still can’t believe it. Om’s obituary is simply splendid, capturing the man I knew.

Textism was such an achingly-good thing — an utterly personal website of exquisite writing and beautiful design. Unlike most who came from the print world — and Dean was a mightily talented print designer — Dean loved and truly got the web. He knew it wasn’t an ersatz throwaway stand-in for people too cheap to pay for the print edition of a magazine or newspaper. He knew the web was a wonderful new medium of its own, a glorious playground ripe for anything. Textism was well-paced.

Dean strove for perfection and often achieved it.

Textism started in 2001, a little over a year before I started Daring Fireball. To say that Textism was an influence on Daring Fireball is an understatement for the ages. Fairer to say Textism was the influence on Daring Fireball. I don’t know what DF would’ve wound up looking and reading like if not for Dean Allen, but it wouldn’t look or read like it did and does. For godsake just read his old About page. It’s so good, and so Dean.

On the indie web of the early 2000s, Dean Allen was the man. There’s just no other way to put it. He did it better than anyone, week after week, post after post. And then he just walked away from it. For a while, the long-dormant home page of Textism.com was replaced by a single word: “Retooling.” The thought that Textism might someday spring back to life made me downright giddy.

The closest I ever came to telling Dean what an influence Textism was on Daring Fireball was the following, in an email in 2002, after I wrote to him to thank him for a post on Textism — announcing the release of Textile — that described yours truly as “witheringly talented”:

Textism has been an inordinate influence on me; there is nothing else quite like it, but I wish there were.

Daring Fireball was only months old when I wrote that. We were frequent email correspondents in those days. He was, as you would expect considering his sublime entry titles at Textism, a master of the clever Subject: line. I helped him with the quote-educating algorithms in Textile. He helped me form the basis of Markdown. (I was badgering Dean with a series of “Why don’t you change the syntax of Textile to be more like this and this?” requests. Dean’s response was, more or less, “These are great ideas, but why don’t you just put them in your own thing?”)

A year later, Dean wrote me this:

Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 19:38:16 +0100
From: Dean Allen
Subject: Empty Coffee Pot

  1. I really really liked the OSX screen reading essay.

  2. Good job on the Waffle interview: you’re really establishing a Voice. Something most writers can only dream of.

  3. I plan to start corresponding with people again once I get over the guilt of not having corresponded with people while I went through the Samsa-like transformation from someone who got away with pretending the rest of the internet didn’t exist into someone who did not.

Yr lad,

- dca

(The “OSX screen reading essay” was this 2,900-word exegesis on the improvements to text rendering in Mac OS X 10.3. The “Waffle interview” was this.)

Dean Allen telling me I was “establishing a Voice” is the only compliment about my work that I’ve ever remembered. That’s when I knew that maybe I was actually hitting the notes I was trying to hit.

We lost contact in the years of his self-imposed internet exile. Our last email exchange was over seven years ago. Every few months, though, it would occur to me that I dearly missed Textism, and I’d think to write Dean and tell him so — and to tell him that his offhand compliment in 2003 was still something I thought about all the time. Thinking maybe he’d be pleased to hear that, and perhaps he needed to hear it. I never did.

I wish I had. 


Apple Shuttle Buses Rerouted Following Attacks 

Jack Morse, reporting for Mashable:

The tech giant runs shuttle buses full of employees from San Francisco to its headquarters in Cupertino every day, and, according to a source inside the company, someone is attacking those buses — and breaking windows.

On an internal Apple email thread viewed by Mashable, one Apple employee speculated that the culprit may be firing “rubber rounds” at the buses. At least one of the buses only had the outer pane of its double-paned windows broken.

In response, late Tuesday night, Apple emailed employees to alert them that an untold number of shuttles would be rerouted, adding 30 to 45 minutes to riders’ commute. Mashable obtained the email and has verified its authenticity.

Christ, what an asshole the guy doing this is. Looks like he’s hit Google buses, too.

Apple to Create New Campus, Hire 20,000 New Employees 

Apple:

Apple expects to invest over $30 billion in capital expenditures in the US over the next five years and create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one. Apple already employs 84,000 people in all 50 states.

The company plans to establish an Apple campus in a new location, which will initially house technical support for customers. The location of this new facility will be announced later in the year.

Intriguing. This also seems to serve as Apple’s announcement that they plan to repatriate — and pay US taxes on — their overseas cash.

Gorgeous 50-Megapixel Panoramas Shot on an iPhone at 20,000 Feet 

These shots are amazing — but I have to ask: why an iPhone 7?

Farhad Manjoo: ‘It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone’ 

It’s time for Farhad Manjoo to write a less eye-roll-inducing column:

Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week. It could also needle you: “Farhad, you spent half your week scrolling through Twitter. Do you really feel proud of that?” It could offer to help: “If I notice you spending too much time on Snapchat next week, would you like me to remind you?”

This sounds annoying as hell. Being aware of how much time you’re spending in which apps is an interesting idea, but you can already get a good sense of that in the Settings → Battery panel.

Another idea is to let you impose more fine-grained controls over notifications. Today, when you let an app send you mobile alerts, it’s usually an all-or-nothing proposition — you say yes to letting it buzz you, and suddenly it’s buzzing you all the time.

Mr. Harris suggested that Apple could require apps to assign a kind of priority level to their notifications. “Let’s say you had three notification levels — heavy users, regular users and lite, or Zen,” Mr. Harris said.

Apple could set rules for what kind of notifications were allowed in each bucket — for instance, the medium bucket might allow notifications generated by other people (like a direct message in Instagram) but not those from the app itself (Instagram just sending you an alert to remind you that your high school friend’s mom’s brother posted a new picture recently).

I’m all in favor of controls to reduce notifications. But excessive notifications don’t make me feel addicted to my phone — they make me annoyed.

This whole narrative that our phones are “too addictive” is nonsense. When I was a teenager my friends and I spent hours each week on the phone. Regular dumb old landline phones. There was no problem with landline phones being “addictive”. We simply craved social interaction and an alleviation of boredom. We use our “phones” today for the same reasons. They are more of a solution — again, to our collective desire for social interaction and alleviation of boredom — than a problem.

Study: 42 Percent of Republicans Believe Accurate — but Negative — Stories Qualify as ‘fake News’ 

Erik Wemple:

All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

17 percent for Democrats is a depressing enough figure. 42 is absurd.

Alex Roy Reviews the Tesla Model 3 After a Cross-Country Speed Run 

Alex Roy, writing for The Drive:

The Model 3 is a triumph of industrial design. Forget the naysayers. Ask anyone who isn’t a car person, or especially women — a group too often excluded from the conversation, despite its size and disproportionate purchasing power, by an industry yet to have its Weinstein moment — for real perspective. Starting with a clean sheet, Tesla has out-Volvo’ed Volvo, delivering the purest interpretation of Scandinavian design in automotive history. I felt liberated from the tyranny of traditional car dashboards full of knobs and buttons.

I’m not saying I’m opposed to analog controls and traditional dashboards. Quite the opposite. What I am opposed to is overly complicated design in either direction. The best iteration is always the simplest, and traditional car manufacturers have largely blown it in their respective efforts to integrate digital with analog.

He does have one major UI design gripe: the entire interface — visual, audio, and interaction — of the Autopilot system. But this is a glowing review overall.

Longtime readers may remember Roy’s previous mention on Daring Fireball, regarding his attempt to set the record for the Cannonball Run 10 years ago.

(Thanks to Nick Heer.)

Hawaii Missile Alert: How One Employee ‘Pushed the Wrong Button’ and Caused a Wave of Panic 

Amy Wang, reporting for The Washington Post:

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert. […]

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

This is just terrible, terrible user interface design.

Jamf Now 

My thanks to Jamf for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Jamf Now is a simple device management solution designed to help anyone set up, manage, and protect Apple devices at work. Easily configure email and Wi-Fi networks, distribute apps to your team, and protect sensitive data without locking down devices.

Their latest feature: OS updates. Keep your Apple devices running the latest versions of iOS and MacOS by initiating OS Updates with Jamf Now.

Daring Fireball readers can create an account and manage three devices for free. Forever. Each additional device is just $2 per month. Create your free account today.

Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark 

At this point Uber should best be described not as a business or startup, but as a racket, a criminal enterprise.

The iOS Economy, Updated 

Horace Dediu, on the latest figures from Apple on App Store revenue:

A few observations:

  • Developer payment rate is now above $25 billion/yr. I’ve been notified via Twitter that this is higher than the revenue of McDonald’s Corporation in 2016.

  • During this year iOS users will be spending about $100 million per day for Apps. This was Google’s AdWords revenue rate in 2012.

  • The spending on App Store has been rising steadily, adding about $5 billion/yr since mid 2011.

  • Apps are the biggest component of Apple services and helped that segment gross over $57 billion in 2017, passing Fortune 100 level (net of developer payments).

See also: Apple’s cash illustrated — an informative graph.

Peter Valdes-Dapena Reviews the Tesla Model 3 

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a review for CNN, the video seems like the “real” review, and the written article seems like an afterthought extracted from the video review. He makes three main points:

  1. The car drives and performs well, about how you’d expect given Tesla’s reputation.

  2. It’s expensive for what you get compared to other cars in this price range — but this point seems hard to quantify, because none of those other cars have Tesla’s excellent electric drive train.

  3. Having almost all of the controls, including things like controlling the air vents, go through the touchscreen is not a good design. He writes:

    To do almost anything, from adjusting the mirrors to tweaking the car’s speed while driving in Autopilot, I had to use the screen. There are two unmarked knobs on the steering that are involved in various functions but, before you can use the knobs, you have to poke around on the big screen first. It’s annoying and most people will hate it. More importantly, it’s terribly distracting.

I feel like #3 is by far the most interesting point, but Valdes-Dapena seems ill-equipped to make it. He just says it’s very annoying, rather than explaining or illustrating why it’s annoying. Perhaps because he’s used to writing about cars, not about user interfaces?

I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that car reviews seldom devote attention or expertise to the design of the controls of the car. They matter a lot to me (shocker, I know), but I think they matter a lot to everyone, whether they think about control design consciously or not. The Model 3’s touchscreen centric design is so radical, it deserves a thorough review of its own.

Facebook Purportedly Changes News Feed to Make It ‘Good for People’ 

Laura Hazard Owen, writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Facebook is making big, immediate changes to News Feed. The company will now prioritize content from friends, family, and groups over “public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post Thursday night. News publishers that have relied on Facebook for traffic will suffer: “Some news helps start conversations on important issues,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.”

Who knows what they’re actually changing, but I’ll take this opportunity to reiterate what I’ve believed all along: news publishers that have relied on Facebook for traffic are fools. The only audience you can count on is an audience you’ve built yourself and have a direct relationship with.

Casey Newton put it well:

So many publishers think they have audiences, when what they really have is traffic.

I think we’re about to find out who has an audience.

Ben Bajarin: ‘Apple’s Indirect Presence Fades From CES’ 

Ben Bajarin, writing from CES 2018:

We would go to CES and remark at how Apple’s dominance loomed over the show. Vendors of all shapes and sizes were rushing to be a part of the Apple ecosystem. Apple’s ecosystem was front and center with everything from iOS apps, to accessories galore for iPhone and iPad, and even companies looking to copy Apple in many ways. The last year or so, things have dramatically changed, and that change is further evident at this year’s CES.

Gone are the days of Apple’s presence, or observably “winning” of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and now Google’s assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.

While many Apple defenders want to dismiss the momentum we are observing with the Amazon ecosystem on display here at CES, while Amazon is similarly not present just like Apple, I believe it is a mistake to do so.

It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.

It may or may not mean anything for Apple, but I do think this is an interesting and undeniable observation.

Confide Popular With Republican Politicians 

I thought that Confide rang a bell. I hadn’t tried it personally until yesterday, but now I remember where I’d heard of it: in the early days of the Trump White House, there were reports like this one from Axios that leaking staff members were using it to communicate privately.


ScreenShield — a Third-Party SDK That Somehow Allows iOS Apps to Prevent Screenshots

From the announcement of a new version of Confide, a “confidential messenger” app:

ScreenShield is a patent-pending technology that allows you to view an app’s content on your screen but prevents you from taking a screenshot of it. If you try to take a screenshot on Confide, you will now simply capture a blank screen¹. ScreenShield also protects against other forms of screen capture, including iOS 11 screen recording, AirPlay screen mirroring, QuickTime screen recording as well as taking screenshots from the app switcher or by using Xcode.

We initially developed ScreenShield for Confide, but quickly realized that it could be used in a large number of apps — far more than we could build ourselves. That’s why we created ScreenShieldKit — to offer the ScreenShield technology to 3rd-party developers for use in a variety of different apps and categories.

While there’s a lot of technology under the hood that makes ScreenShield possible, the great news is that there are no strange gimmicks for users (e.g., it doesn’t require them to hold their finger on the screen) — it just works as expected. And ScreenShieldKit is simple for developers to integrate into their iOS apps, providing easy to use replacements for UITextView and UIImageView.

It’s an interesting puzzle trying to figure out how they’re doing this. Detecting that a screenshot has been taken is easy — iOS has an API that apps can use to get notified when the screen is recorded in any way. But ScreenShield is detecting it before the screenshot gets taken, so they can blank out the content in their text and image views.

I wasn’t familiar with Confide, so I downloaded it and kicked the tires, and the screenshot prevention works as advertised. Confide also sends a notification to whomever you’re messaging with to warn them that you tried to take a screenshot, a la Snapchat, and they immediately delete the message you tried to capture (I presume so that you can’t try to capture it another way, like, say, by taking a photo of the screen — see below).

My best guess as to how they’re doing this is that they’re using AVPlayer and somehow using FairPlay Streaming to block screenshots and recording. (Where by “my” best guess I mean the best guess of a smart friend who poked around the Confide app bundle.) Have you ever noticed how you can’t take screenshots of streaming video content in apps like Netflix and HBO Go/Now? That’s a feature in iOS (and MacOS — try taking a screenshot of Netflix video playing in Safari) for skittish video providers who don’t want us to capture even a still frame of their precious content. I think ScreenShieldKit is somehow using this to prevent screenshots or video captures of text or images.

If anyone out there has a better or more informed guess, please let me know.

If I’m reading their application correctly, Confide has also filed for a patent for a way to identify when you’re using another device to take a photo of your screen


Wired: ‘How Outlier, the Underground Fashion Label for Nerds, Got Cool’ 

Adam Rogers, writing for Wired on indie menswear maker Outlier (a former DF sponsor):

Pants tough enough to deal with anything became Outlier’s signature play — trousers “for the end of the world,” as the folks at GQ put it. “We were trying to solve a specific cycling problem,” Burmeister says. “How to not look like a cyclist but still perform.”

They started going to textile conferences — Outdoor Retailer, then in Utah, was a big one. They wanted to find out where big companies, which they assumed used all the best stuff, got their supplies. But it turned out that the big companies of the world actually used the best cheapest materials.

As for the actual best, well, “we found that there was all this stuff nobody was touching. We were stunned. Like, nobody is using this? Nobody is using this?” Burmeister says. Military fabrics, equestrian fabrics, industrial fabrics — they were all for sale, or had been. They found, for example, a doubleweave with Cordura-grade nylon on one side and a softer nylon/polyester blend on the other. It seemed like it would make really great pair of jeans.

Outlier’s clothes aren’t cheap, but once you wear them, you realize how cheaply made most other clothes are. (Via Greg Koenig.)

Android Central: ‘Essential Phone Review, Four Months Later: The Sun Is Setting on This Experiment’ 

Andrew Martonik, writing for Android Central two weeks ago:

It all starts with just general app instability. Apps crash — a lot. More than I’ve experienced on any other phone. They freeze, stutter, lock up and force close. Sometimes you tap an app to open it, and nothing happens for multiple seconds. When an app calls up another one through a share action, it takes the same egregious delay. Sometimes apps open and switch just fine, but then randomly slow down to a crawl with inordinately long splash screens or loading animations. And it isn’t tied to just one app, it’s all apps.

The app issues seem to come as a result of general system instability that I haven’t seen in a high-end phone in years. Touch response is very slow, making everything simply feel sluggish as you tap and scroll around every day. The phone will often struggle to open or close the camera and can fail to save photos if you close the camera too quickly. I’ve had the entire phone go unresponsive for several minutes and require a force reboot (hold the power button for ~15 seconds) multiple times. […]

The camera app is slow and unstable and lacks basic features like viewfinder grid lines or any sort of customization or “pro” mode. HDR mode doesn’t really seem to do anything but take photos slower, and toggling it on still inexplicably turns the flash to “auto” mode. The slow performance directly contributes to missing shots, and the fundamentals of a small sensor with no OIS mean you get grainy and blurry low-light shots regularly. The Essential Phone’s camera is still so far from the competition.

In short, the Essential phone is a disaster.

(Yet oddly it has the same score from The Verge — 8/10 — as the iPhone 8.)

‘The Good War’ 

Thought-provoking graphic essay by Mike Dawson and Chris Hayes.

MacOS 10.13 High Sierra’s App Store System Prefs Panel Can Be Unlocked With Any Password 

This one is relatively low stakes:

  • These settings are unlocked by default for admin users.
  • Entering a bogus password only works if you’re logged in as an admin user.
  • The settings in this panel aren’t particularly sensitive.
  • It’s apparently already fixed in the current High Sierra developer betas.

But, still, this is embarrassing given what we just went through with the very serious root-access-with-no-password bug. As a wise man once said, “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again.”

Pop-Up Mobile Ads Surge as Sites Scramble to Stop Them 

Lily Hay Newman, reporting for Wired:

These redirects can show up seemingly out of the blue when you’re in a mobile browser like Chrome, or even when you’re using a service like Facebook or Twitter and navigating to a page through one of their in-app browsers. Suddenly you go from loading a news article to wriggling away from an intrusive ad. What enables these ad redirects to haunt virtually any browser or app at any time, rather than just the sketchy backwaters in which they used to roam? Third-party ad servers that either don’t vet ad submissions properly for the JavaScript components that could cause redirects, or get duped by innocent-looking ads that hide their sketchy code. […]

An ad hijacking your browser like that isn’t technically a hack, in the sense that it doesn’t exploit a software vulnerability. Instead, it relies on the attacker’s ability to submit and run ads that contain redirecting JavaScript. But though they aren’t a critical threat to web users yet, redirecting mobile ads could create a jumping off point for attackers. And since you encounter the redirects while browsing on even prominent, legitimate sites, there’s nowhere to hide. Sometimes the ads are even designed to block your “Back” button, or keep redirecting when you try to close them, making it difficult to escape without having to restart the browser.

“I do think it’s new that the ads are so pervasive and are on first-tier publishers,” says Anil Dash, CEO of the software engineering firm Fog Creek. “These things used to be relegated to garbage sites, now it’s happening on the New York Times.”

The fact that ad networks are delivering unvetted JavaScript in their payloads is unsurprising but horrifying. They’re confined to your browser’s sandbox, but JavaScript-based ads are effectively malware at this point: they violate your privacy; consume excessive CPU time, bandwidth, and battery life; and now literally hijack your browsing experience.

(And now with Meltdown and Spectre, we have the added worry that JavaScript might be malware that breaks through browsers’ sandbox protections.)

Google Announces Plan to Improve URLs for AMP Pages, But Even If It Happens, Which Remains Uncertain, AMP Will Still Suck 

Malte Ubl, tech lead for the AMP Project at Google

Based on this web standard AMP navigations from Google Search can take advantage of privacy-preserving preloading and the performance of Google’s servers, while URLs remain as the publisher intended and the primary security context of the web, the origin, remains intact. We have built a prototype based on the Chrome Browser and an experimental version of Google Search to make sure it actually does deliver on both the desired UX and performance in real use cases. This step gives us confidence that we have a promising solution to this hard problem and that it will soon become the way that users will encounter AMP content on the web.

The next steps are moving towards fully implementing the new web standard in web browsers and in the Google AMP Cache. Our goal is that Web Packaging becomes available in as many browsers as possible (after all Web Packaging has exciting use cases beyond just AMP such as offline pages, ES6 module loading, and resource bundling). In particular, we intend to extend existing work on WebKit to include the implementation of Web Packaging and the Google Chrome team’s implementation is getting started.

We’re super excited about getting this work under way and we expect the changes to first reach users in the second half of 2018. Thanks for all of your feedback on the matter and we will keep you all updated on the progress right here in this blog!

A bunch of readers have forwarded this story to me, based on my previous criticism of AMP. This announcement isn’t bad news, and might be good news, but at this point it’s all conjecture, particularly for browsers other than Chrome. Even if it all works out, it only solves one problem: URLs. It doesn’t solve the deeper problem of content being hosted on Google’s servers, rather than publishers’ own servers. In addition to ceding independence, think about what this means for search engines other than Google. One of AMP’s foundational tenets is that Google Search is the one and only search engine.

And at a technical level AMP still sucks:

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

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

Seven months later and still none of these things work properly for AMP pages displayed on Mobile Safari. And I forgot to mention back in May that Mobile Safari doesn’t automatically show/hide its browser chrome as you scroll, like it does for any normal web page. AMP pages are also incompatible with Safari Reader mode, making them harder to read for some people, and impossible to read for others.

Sharing canonical URLs rather than google.com/amp URLs is just one of many problems with AMP, and the “fix” proposed here requires updated versions of every web browser in the world to work.

North Carolina Congressional Map Ruled Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered 

Alan Blinder, reporting for The New York Times:

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, declaring it unconstitutionally gerrymandered and demanding that the Republican-controlled General Assembly redraw district lines before this year’s midterm elections.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because the judges believed it to be a partisan gerrymander, and it deepened the political chaos that has enveloped North Carolina in recent years.

More good news on the voting front.

New Bill Aims to Eliminate Paperless Voting Machines 

Timothy B. Lee, writing for Ars Technica:

“With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again,” said co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

So a group of senators led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) wants to shore up the security of American voting systems ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. And the senators have focused on two major changes that have broad support from voting security experts.

The first objective is to get rid of paperless electronic voting machines. Computer scientists have been warning for more than a decade that these machines are vulnerable to hacking and can’t be meaningfully audited. States have begun moving away from paperless systems, but budget constraints have forced some to continue relying on insecure paperless equipment. The Secure Elections Act would give states grants specifically earmarked for replacing these systems with more secure systems that use voter-verified paper ballots.

I don’t know of a single voting or computer security expert who is in favor of paperless voting machines. The sooner we get rid of them, the better.

Update: Electronic voting machines in the U.S. are far less regulated and easier to rig than slot machines in Las Vegas.

Regarding This Open Letter From Two Investor Groups to Apple Regarding Kids’ Use of Devices 

David Gelles, reporting for The New York Times:

Now, two of the biggest investors on Wall Street have asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier for parents to limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads. […]

Jana, an activist hedge fund, wrote its letter with Calstrs, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which manages the pensions of California’s public-school teachers. When such investors pressure companies to change their behavior, it is typically with the goal of lifting a sagging stock price. In this case, Jana and Calstrs said they were trying to raise awareness about an issue they cared deeply about, adding that if Apple was proactive about making changes, it could help the business.

This open letter is getting a lot of attention, but to me, the way to limit your kids’ access to devices is simply, well, to limit their access to devices. I’m sure iOS’s parental controls could be improved (and in a statement, Apple claims they have plans to do so), but more granular parental controls in iOS are no substitute for being a good, involved parent.

See also: the open letter from Jana and Calstrs.

AT&T Drops Huawei’s New Smartphone Amid Security Worries 

Paul Mozur, reporting for The New York Times:

AT&T walked away from a deal to sell the Huawei smartphone, the Mate 10, to customers in the United States just before the partnership was set to be unveiled, said two people on Tuesday familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were not public. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that AT&T had changed plans.

The reasons that led to AT&T’s shift were not entirely clear. But last month, a group of lawmakers wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing misgivings about a potential deal between Huawei and an unnamed American telecommunications company to sell its consumer products in the United States. It cited longstanding concerns among some lawmakers about what they said are Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government.

The letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said Congress has “long been concerned about Chinese espionage in general, and Huawei’s role in that espionage in particular.”

This sounds bad, but without any specific accusations regarding what Huawei might actually be doing to collaborate with the Chinese government — let alone actual evidence — I’m not sure what to make of this.

Ad Tracking Companies Complain About Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention 

Alex Hern, in a decidedly-pro-ad-industry report for The Guardian:

Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web.

Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced.

With annual revenue in 2016 topping $730m, the overall cost of the privacy feature on just one company is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

If this is accurate, it goes to show the outsize influence Safari has. Criteo is claiming that a new feature in Safari, a browser with only 15 percent of global share, resulted in more than a 20 percent drop in their revenue. This, despite the fact that Intelligent Tracking Prevention — the feature in question — doesn’t block ads per se. It only prevents certain methods of privacy-invasive tracking. I fail to see how this is a bad thing.

What Spectre and Meltdown Mean for WebKit 

Great explanation from Filip Pizlo on the Spectre and Meltdown-related changes that have shipped (and will ship) in WebKit. Includes a pretty good overview of how the Spectre exploit works.

How Meltdown and Spectre Were Independently Discovered by Four Research Teams at Once 

Great piece by Andy Greenberg for Wired:

Yet when Intel responded to the trio’s warning — after a long week of silence — the company gave them a surprising response. Though Intel was indeed working on a fix, the Graz team wasn’t the first to tell the chip giant about the vulnerability. In fact, two other research teams had beaten them to it. Counting another, related technique that would come to be known as Spectre, Intel told the researchers they were actually the fourth to report the new class of attack, all within a period of just months.

“As far as I can tell it’s a crazy coincidence,” says Paul Kocher, a well-known security researcher and one of the two people who independently reported the distinct but related Spectre attack to chipmakers. “The two threads have no commonality,” he adds. “There’s no reason someone couldn’t have found this years ago instead of today.”

90Fun’s Puppy 1 Auto-Following Suitcase Won’t Stop Falling Over 

Natt Garun, reporting for The Verge from CES:

Last week, 90Fun announced an autonomous suitcase that uses Segway’s self-balancing technology and a remote control to follow you around, leaving your hands free. We took 90Fun’s Puppy 1 suitcase for a spin at CES, and it’s clear that the vision of hassle-free travel is still some ways away.

We were only able to play with a prototype of the Puppy 1, which means that the design is not yet final.

You’ve got to watch the video. It’s mind-boggling that this was deemed ready to demonstrate publicly. This is like a parody of bad CES demos.

Pharmaceutical Ads in the U.S. 

From Harper’s Index for January:

Amount the US pharmaceutical industry spent in 2016 on ads for prescription drugs: $6,400,000,000

Number of countries in which direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads are legal: 2

Electronic Toymaker VTech Settles for $650,000 With FTC Over Children’s Privacy Suit 

Shannon Liao, reporting for The Verge:

The Federal Trade Commission said today that the electronic toymaker VTech Electronics has agreed to settle for a fine of $650,000, to be paid within the next seven days, after charges that it violated children’s privacy. The Hong Kong-based VTech is also the parent company of LeapFrog, a popular brand for educational entertainment for children.

The FTC alleges that VTech collected “personal information of hundreds of thousands of children” through its KidiConnect mobile app “without providing direct notice and obtaining their parent’s consent.” The personal information included children’s first and last names, email addresses, date of birth, and genders. VTech also allegedly stated in its privacy policy that such data would be encrypted, but did not actually encrypt any of it. […]

The settlement dates back to the 2015 data breach that VTech suffered. By November 2015, about 2.25 million parents had registered and created accounts on VTech’s platform for almost 3 million children. At the same time, VTech was informed by media that a hacker had accessed its computer network and children’s personal information.

$650K is a slap on the wrist for a company with billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Goodbye Android Pay, Hello Google Pay 

Pali Bhat, writing on the official Google blog:

Today, we’re excited to announce we’ll be bringing together all the different ways to pay with Google, including Android Pay and Google Wallet, into a single brand: Google Pay.

This makes sense. Or better said, I don’t think Android Pay ever made sense as a brand from Google’s perspective. “Google Pay” works as a brand anywhere, on any device.

It seems to me that Google is stepping away from promoting Android as a brand, period. Take a look at the web page for the Pixel 2 phones and search for “Android”. I see one match, and it’s a small print footnote.


Pressing the Side Button to Confirm Payments on iPhone X

Occasionally I notice a burst of traffic to Daring Fireball from Hacker News. It’s always short-lived, because for reasons I’ve never seen explained, Daring Fireball articles always get blacklisted from Hacker News once they hit their front page. It’s apparent that a lot of HN readers do not like my work on the basis that they see me as a shameless Apple shill, but it’s a shame the articles get deleted because I like reading the comments. I feel like it keeps me on my toes to read the comments from people who don’t like Daring Fireball.

Even after being blacklisted from the Hacker News homepage, though, the comment threads still exist. I went through the Hacker News comments on my iPhone X review today, and a few comments about how Apple Pay works on the iPhone X caught my attention:

arielm:

Apple made some interactions so unintuitive that even I was confused. One example is purchasing an app. Pre-X, you’d tap the “get” button and place your finger on the home button or enter your password. With the X you have to tap the button, look at your device, and then follow the most unintuitive animation to actually press the physical side button.

nkristoffersen:

I’ve had the X for a few days now. The animation to press the physical button totally had me stumped the first few times! Overall I’m a fan (such as great camera and great screen) but some of the new interactions are taking some getting used to.

breatheoften:

Yeah the explanation for the side button tap should be considered a straight up bug — I had to google what to do.

These remarks caught my attention because a technically-savvy family member was confused by the same thing the first time they tried to buy an app on their new iPhone X. They showed me the phone with the “Double Click to Pay” animation1 and asked me, “What am I supposed to double click here? It doesn’t work.” What they had tried was double tapping on the “Double Click to Pay” label on screen. When I explained that the animation was pointing to the physical side button, the proverbial light bulb turned on.

This is an interesting design dilemma. The reason why Apple requires you to press the physical side button to confirm a purchase with Apple Pay or in the App Store is because pressing the side button can’t be faked by an app. If it was an on-screen button, a nefarious app could present a fake Apple Pay button. With any normal app, clicking the side button once will always lock the screen, and double-clicking will put you in Apple Pay mode. Only Apple’s own software can override the side button like this. Double clicking the side button to confirm a purchase effectively guarantees that it was a legitimate payment experience.

But: people naturally expect everything they do on an iPhone to be done on screen. The screen is the phone — and that’s even more true with the iPhone X. Even with an animation pointing to the side button on screen, it doesn’t occur to people that they need to do something off-screen to authorize the transaction. They think the affordance on the side of the screen is the button they’re supposed to double tap (and they don’t notice the verbal distinction between “click” and “tap”).

I’m not sure what the solution here is, but I think Apple needs to come up with a better indication — perhaps something more explicit, the first time you encounter it — that you need to click the hardware button, not tap something on screen.

Update: This problem is not new to Face ID. Touch ID has a similar problem. Here’s a note I got today from a friend:

FWIW, Touch ID has been out for four years, and I still see people try to press the fingerprint icon that shows up in the middle of the screen. Can’t count the number of times just in the past six months. I don’t think the X’s initial double-click confusion is a new problem.

Alex fehners:

@jtregear @daringfireball Father in law repeatedly said his Touch ID wasn’t working. He was putting his thumb to the finger print icon on screen rather than the home button.

Iván Cavero Belaunde:

@daringfireball Not entirely a new problem. First time my mom was asked for her fingerprint for iTunes purchases with TouchID, the thought she had to put her finger on the fingerprint on-screen image, not on the home button.

Update 2: Some more commentary.

Joanna Stern:

Yes! On-screen language just needs to be rewritten with an arrow pointing right. I suggest: “Press the damn side button twice. It’s on the damn right edge of the phone.” twitter.com/daringfireball…

John R. Kirk:

Mock me if you will, but I went weeks without understanding how to confirm payments on the iPhone X. I kept double-tapping the screen. I had to google and read an article before I was able to figure it out.

Apple got this UI wrong. Very wrong.
twitter.com/daringfireball…

Craig Mod:

This was my main crit of @gruber’s otherwise great review — the side-button double-press is really, really, really bad. Unintuitive but more damningly — it’s not fun!

This is in large part because the power-button-across-from-volume-rockers has always felt like a fundamentally wrong design decision. Double-press aside, I take 5-10 unintentional screenshots a day. At least they’re in their own folder now.

The best part of the iPhone X experience really is just how fun it feels — how it’s so totally tactile and responsive and fluid in a way iPhones have never been. 


  1. The thing to keep in mind if you watch this animation is that the “Double Click to Pay” animation is aligned perfectly with the hardware side button. ↩︎