Microsoft Is Testing Ads in the Windows 11 Start Menu 

More Windows news from Tom Warren at The Verge:

Microsoft says it’s starting to test ads inside the Start menu on Windows 11. The software maker will use the Recommended section of the Start menu, which usually shows file recommendations, to suggest apps from the Microsoft Store.

“This will appear only for Windows Insiders in the Beta Channel in the US and will not apply to commercial devices (devices managed by organizations),” says Microsoft in a blog post.

The app promotions can be disabled in the Settings section of Windows 11, but it appears that Microsoft will enable these by default. Microsoft is seeking feedback on the changes, so it’s possible the company could decide to ditch these ads in development builds of Windows 11 if there’s enough feedback that suggests they’re not going to be a popular addition.

This feels more like a late (and unfunny) April Fools gag than a serious idea.

Joanna Stern’s Humane AI Pin (Mini) Review 

Not even worth a full column, just a 90-second social media video. Or “vid”, if you will.

She points out that Humane only offers a website — no apps — for accessing your captured photos, videos, and notes. I totally get why Humane designed the AI Pin as a standalone device, not a phone peripheral (like Apple Watch or AirPods are) — Apple can make such peripherals do whatever they want because Apple can make the iPhone do whatever they want. (Which, yes, is the wrongheaded foundation of much of the DOJ’s antitrust complaint against Apple.) “If you want things done right, do it yourself” is always true advice.

But not making iPhone or Android apps for interacting with Humane’s back-end is just pure stubbornness. Humane cofounder Bethany Bongiorno is swearing up and down, now, that “ai pin is not about replacing your smartphone”, but their Change Everything teaser film from July 2022 — about which I had some thoughts — positioned it as the successor to the phone. The no-screen thing is just stubborn, and the website-but-no-apps thing is stubborn too. If they had an app it could put photos and videos shot with the AI Pin right in your library, for one thing. Imagine if Nest thermostats — also created by ex-Apple folks — didn’t have apps. Who would buy one?

(My closer on that teaser video from July 2022: “Sometimes a dead canary is just a dead canary, and sometimes a dud ad is just a dud ad, but I’d check the Humane mine for methane just in case.”)

Cherlynn Low’s Humane AI Pin Review for Engadget 

Cherlynn Low:

When you can read what’s on the screen, interacting with it might make you want to rip your eyes out. Like I said, you’ll have to move your palm closer and further to your chest to select the right cards to enter your passcode. It’s a bit like dialing a rotary phone, with cards for individual digits from 0 to 9. Go further away to get to the higher numbers and the backspace button, and come back for the smaller ones.

This gesture is smart in theory but it’s very sensitive. There’s a very small range of usable space since there is only so far your hand can go, so the distance between each digit is fairly small. One wrong move and you’ll accidentally select something you didn’t want and have to go all the way out to delete it. To top it all off, moving my arm around while doing that causes the Pin to flop about, meaning the screen shakes on my palm, too. On average, unlocking my Pin, which involves entering a four-digit passcode, took me about five seconds.

On its own, this doesn’t sound so bad, but bear in mind that you’ll have to re-enter this each time you disconnect the Pin from the booster, latch or clip. It’s currently springtime in New York, which means I’m putting on and taking off my jacket over and over again. Every time I go inside or out, I move the Pin to a different layer and have to look like a confused long-sighted tourist reading my palm at various distances. It’s not fun.

One thing all the reviewers seem to agree upon is that the AI Pin feels like an impressive piece of kit: small, lightweight, sturdy, well-made. And it packs a lot into a small factor: camera, laser projector, speaker/microphone. But it’s also seemingly bursting at the seams, battery-life and heat-dissipation-wise. So I get it, me suggesting they should have added something else to the hardware — anything else — would pose a design and engineering challenge.

But with that throat-clearing out of the way: it seems obvious that the AI Pin should have a fingerprint scanner for authentication. You have to touch it for all interactions anyway — it doesn’t listen for a trigger word — so why not add the equivalent of Touch ID? Every single review notes the same thing Low complains about above: authenticating with your passcode takes too long, is error-prone, and you need to do it periodically throughout the day.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang 

From its About page:

Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the largest historical dictionary of English slang. Written by Jonathon Green over 17 years from 1993, it reached the printed page in 2010 in a three-volume set containing nearly 100,000 entries supported by over 400,000 citations from c. ad 1000 to the present day. The main focus of the dictionary is the coverage of over 500 years of slang from c. 1500 onwards.

The printed version of the dictionary received the Dartmouth Medal for outstanding works of reference from the American Library Association in 2012; fellow recipients include the Dictionary of American Regional English, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. It has been hailed by the American New York Times as ‘the pièce de résistance of English slang studies’ and by the British Sunday Times as ‘a stupendous achievement, in range, meticulous scholarship, and not least entertainment value’.

On this website the dictionary is now available in updated online form for the first time, complete with advanced search tools enabling search by definition and history, and an expanded bibliography of slang sources from the early modern period to the present day. Since the print edition, nearly 60,000 quotations have been added, supporting 5,000 new senses in 2,500 new entries and sub-entries, of which around half are new slang terms from the last five years.

I forget when I first came across Green’s Dictionary of Slang, but it’s so astonishingly good, in every possible way that it could be good, that I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a household name like Merriam-Webster. The web edition is beautiful, fast, and free of charge. It doesn’t even have ads. It’s amazing.

And now I can’t believe I haven’t recommended it here sooner. Bookmark it, trust me.

Microsoft’s Hard-Sell Pitch to Windows 10 Users With PCs Ineligible for Windows 11 

Tom Warren, writing at The Verge:

Microsoft is trying to entice Windows 10 users to upgrade to Windows 11 with fullscreen prompts 18 months before the end of support cutoff. Reddit user Woopinah9 spotted a notification “while in the middle of working,” where Microsoft thanks Windows 10 “customers” for their loyalty with a full-screen message and then explains the end of support date. You might be expecting a free upgrade as part of this interruption, but unfortunately for this Reddit user, their PC can’t upgrade to Windows 11, so it’s more “hey check out this cool thing we have! oh but you cant have it,” as one Redditor puts it.

Upon reading this lede, I was more or less thinking “Eh, so what?” Interruptions in the middle of working are annoying, so notifications like this should only appear after a restart or login, at the beginning of work session. That’s a legit gripe. But the basic gist — that Windows 10 is approaching end-of-life for updates, including security fixes, in 18 months, and your PC doesn’t meet the requirements for upgrading to Windows 11 — is something users should be notified about. And it’s not like Microsoft is pulling the plug on Windows 10 early — it shipped in July 2015.

But then I read on:

Surprisingly, Microsoft’s full-screen prompt doesn’t directly mention that consumers will be able to continue securely using the operating system beyond October 14th, 2025, if they’re willing to pay. Microsoft revealed last week that it will cost businesses $61 per device for the first year of Extended Security Updates (ESU) for Windows 10. This then doubles to $122 for the second year and then doubles again in year three to $244.

Microsoft hasn’t detailed ESU pricing for consumers yet, but the company did previously reveal it will offer these extended updates to consumers for the first time ever. Schools will be offered a big discount, with Microsoft offering a $1 license for year one, which then doubles to $2 for year two and doubles again to $4 for the third year. Hopefully, non-business users of Windows 10 will get similar discounts, but Microsoft says it will share details “at a later date.”

What a racket. If Microsoft has engineers working on Windows 10 updates, everyone should get them. It’s wild to think there are teams in Redmond concocting ways to squeeze customers out of money for updates to decade-old PCs.

The Verge’s Review Scale 

Re: my postscript wondering how in the world David Pierce’s scathing review of the Humane AI Pin resulted in a 4/10 score — I didn’t realize that The Verge has a page describing their review scale:

We assume the 10-point scale is relatively straightforward, but below is a short guide as to how we view the numbers. All review scores are whole points. We no longer use half points or decimals when scoring a product.

  1. Utter garbage and an embarrassment.
  2. A product that should be avoided at all costs.
  3. Bad — not something we’d recommend.
  4. Mediocre — has multiple outstanding issues.
  5. Just okay. This product works well in some areas but likely has significant issues in others.
  6. Good. There are issues but also redeeming qualities.
  7. Very good. A solid product with some flaws.
  8. Excellent. A superb product with minor or very few flaws.
  9. Nearly perfect.
  10. The best of the best.

Those are great descriptions and that’s a useful 10-point scale! But by these guidelines, the AI Pin should have gotten a 2. Maybe a 3, tops, but I’d say “should be avoided at all costs” fits. Definitely far short of 4’s “mediocre”.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve found The Verge’s review scoring incoherent.

David Pierce Reviews Humane’s AI Pin: ‘Nope. Nuh-Uh. No Way.’ 

David Pierce, mincing no words at The Verge:

That raises the second question: should you buy this thing? That one’s easy. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way. The AI Pin is an interesting idea that is so thoroughly unfinished and so totally broken in so many unacceptable ways that I can’t think of anyone to whom I’d recommend spending the $699 for the device and the $24 monthly subscription. [...]

As the overall state of AI improves, the AI Pin will probably get better, and I’m bullish on AI’s long-term ability to do a lot of fiddly things on our behalf. But there are too many basic things it can’t do, too many things it doesn’t do well enough, and too many things it does well but only sometimes that I’m hard-pressed to name a single thing it’s genuinely good at. None of this — not the hardware, not the software, not even GPT-4 — is ready yet.

Ever since Humane de-stealthed and revealed the AI Pin last July, the big question (for me at least) has been whether it’d actually be useful to own a gadget that does what the AI Pin is supposed to do. It’s seemed to me all along that almost everything the AI Pin does would be just as well, if not better, done by a phone with an LLM-powered voice assistant. But Humane has far bigger problems, because the AI Pin clearly doesn’t even do what it’s supposed to. Pierce:

I’d estimate that half the time I tried to call someone, it simply didn’t call. Half the time someone called me, the AI Pin would kick it straight to voicemail without even ringing. After many days of testing, the one and only thing I can truly rely on the AI Pin to do is tell me the time.

The more I tested the AI Pin, the more it felt like the device was trying to do an awful lot and the hardware simply couldn’t keep up. For one, it’s pretty much constantly warm. In my testing, it never got truly painfully hot, but after even a few minutes of using it, I could feel the battery like a hand warmer against my skin. Bongiorno says the warmth can come from overuse or when you have a bad signal and that the device is aggressive about shutting down when it gets too hot. I’ve noticed: I use the AI Pin for more than a couple of minutes, and I get notified that it has overheated and needs to cool down. This happened a lot in my testing (including on a spring weekend in DC and in 40-degree New York City, where it was the only warm thing in sight).

The battery life is similarly rough.

Pierce’s review is so brutal it’s uncomfortable at times. I don’t know where Humane goes from here but this might be impossible to recover from reputationally. It seems borderline criminal that they shipped it in this state. Here’s one more tidbit:

Me: “Play ‘Texas Hold ’Em’ by Beyoncé.”

The AI Pin: “Songs not found for request: Play Texas Hold ’Em by Beyonc\u00e9. Try again using your actions find a relevant track, album, artist, or playlist; Create a new PlayMusic action with at least one of the slots filled in. If you find a relevant track or album play it, avoid asking for clarification or what they want to hear.”

That’s a real exchange I had, multiple times, over multiple days with the AI Pin.

I thought perhaps the “\u00e9” thing was a CMS glitch, but no — watch Pierce’s corresponding video review and you’ll hear the AI Pin pronounce “Beyoncé” as “beeyonk-backslash-you-zero-zero-ee-nine”.

(Yet, somehow, the AI Pin garnered a 4/10 on The Verge’s review scale. How bad, how broken, would a product experience have to be to get a lower score? Would the reviewer need to be electrocuted by the device to rate it lower? “3/10, sent me to the ER with a nasty burn”? “1/10, it killed my spouse when she tried it”?)

Eclipses Should Be Celebrations of Science, Not Pseudoscience 

Narayana Montúfar, covering the astrological “impact” of Monday’s solar eclipse for Women’s Health:

So, what makes the Great American Eclipse of April 8, 2024 so special? Ancient astronomers — who, by the way, were also astrologers — believed that the geographical area where any eclipse was visible would energetically feel its effects the most.

Astrology fans like to say it’s all just harmless fun, but they also love to wave their hands and pretend their pseudoscience is even vaguely related to the hard science of astronomy. It’s a genuine travesty that the two words in English are so similar. I stumbled across this story earlier in the week and it’s been irritating me like a piece of popcorn stuck in my teeth ever since. Astrologers horning in on the excitement about the eclipse is scientific sacrilege.

Actual science is the great accomplishment of mankind. The antidote to ignorance, superstition, religious zealotry, and nonsensical beliefs in general. An eclipse exemplifies, to even the lay-est of laypeople, just how advanced modern science is. We were informed by astronomers, years in advance, exactly when and exactly where the eclipse would occur — down to the second, down to the meter — and everyone in the path of totality could literally see how exactly right those predictive calculations were. We should be celebrating and emphasizing this to laypeople, because these same scientists are the same people who’ve been telling us for decades that we’re destroying our climate with carbon emissions.

So here’s my “by the way” retort to Montúfar’s aside: how many astronomers today — not in “ancient” times — are also astrologers? Spoiler: the answer is fucking zero.

Mattel Makes New Version of Scrabble for Dum-Dums 

Jack Guy, CNN:

Now, an updated game named Scrabble Together adds “a second side to the board that is collaborative and faster-paced to make gameplay more accessible for anyone who finds word games intimidating,” according to a statement from Mattel published Tuesday.

Instead of competing, players collaborate to complete goal cards, and there are helper cards if assistance is required.

Mattel said it conducted research among British board-gamers that shows that competitiveness is perceived as declining in younger generations.

Being forced to play this version of the game sounds like the penalty one should suffer if they get caught cheating in the real version. Competition is one of the most fun things in the world.

Automattic Acquires Beeper, Will Merge With Texts 

Eric Migicovsky:

If you haven’t heard of Beeper before, welcome! We make a universal chat app — one app to send and receive messages on 14 different chat networks. You might have also heard about Beeper Mini, our briefly available iMessage-on-Android app.

While the Beeper Mini/iMessage thing is where Beeper garnered, by far, the most publicity, it was always a sideshow from their primary goal of building a universal messaging app for multiple (14!) platforms. Think of it like a modern-day Adium.

In many ways, our journey has only just begun. Beeper has just over 115,000 users and was, until today, in beta. Given the state of the messaging landscape today, we believe there is a huge opportunity for us to push boundaries and create new experiences in chat. The majority of other chat apps have stagnated, entrenched in their positions, with no significant new players emerging since Discord’s launch in 2015. Given the state of the messaging world, we’ve long felt the need for a strong ally with the resources to support us on our quest. Automattic has a long history of putting user control and privacy first with open source, and great bilateral relationships with Meta, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Matrix and others that we hope can usher in a new era of collaboration. [...]

This is a big bet. Automattic is doubling down on chat after their acquisition last year of Texts.com, a messaging app with a similar mission. Our teams and products will merge, and I will take on the role leading the team as Head of Messaging. It will take a bit of time for us to integrate and combine forces under the Beeper brand. We’ve got big plans!

I’d describe Texts.com as having not just a similar mission as Beeper, but the exact same mission. I’ve been using Texts on my Mac as my primary interface to Twitter/X DMs for over a year (since Twitter shut down third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific). I don’t get a ton of Twitter DMs, and I get fewer now than ever before, but Texts offers a better interface to them than Twitter/X itself does. I also have my Instagram, WhatsApp, and Signal accounts connected to Texts. If I used any of those platforms heavily, I’d rely on their dedicated apps. But I don’t, so a universal messaging inbox is better. I’m more interested in having one central place to check than anything else for those platforms.

Now that I’ve tried Beeper for Mac (connecting Twitter/X, WhatsApp, Signal, Instagram, and Slack accounts) — it’s remarkable how similar it is to Texts. They’re both Electron/React apps, and both suffer from a lot of Electron-isms. (What in the world is going on with the keyboard shortcuts in the contextual menu for the text editing field?) Both are just big bloated Electron web apps pretending, by appearance, to be Mac apps. I feel like they should be merged, not that we’re losing a competition that offered

As for iMessage, here’s Matt Mullenweg:

A lot of people are asking about iMessage on Android… I have zero interest in fighting with Apple, I think instead it’s best to focus on messaging networks that want more engagement from power-user clients. This is an area I’m excited to work on when I return from my sabbatical next month.

Smart.

OJ Simpson Dies From Cancer at 76 

Man, I hope this doesn’t throw a kink into the Liam Neeson-starring The Naked Gun reboot that’s shooting this year.

TSMC Will Build Third Arizona Fab After Winning $6.6B in CHIPS Funding 

Ashley Belanger, reporting for Ars Technica:

The US Department of Commerce has proposed another round of CHIPS Act funding up to $6.6 billion for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which President Joe Biden hopes will “support the construction of leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing facilities right here in the United States.”

With this award — which includes additional funding up to $5 billion in low-cost government loans — TSMC has agreed to increase funding in Arizona fabrication plants to $65 billion. That’s the largest foreign direct investment in a new project in US history, the Commerce Department said, and it will fuel construction of TSMC’s third Arizona fab. [...]

But analysts told the Financial Times that the US is still moving too slowly to become a global chip leader. One engineer told FT that by 2028, “Nvidia and other AI chip vendors are likely to have migrated to 2nm” process technology, ahead of the TSMC Arizona fabs reaching that goal. In January, TSMC Chairman Mark Liu told investors that Taiwan-based fabs “will start 2nm mass production next year” and that the company has “plans to build ‘multiple’ more fabs operating on that technology” in Taiwan, FT reported.

The goal should be to jump ahead of Taiwan, not merely catch up. I suspect that’s just not remotely feasible, though. Still though, any domestic chip fabrication is better than no domestic chip fabrication.

From the Annals of Underpromising and Overdelivering: Apple’s Timing for the Mac’s Transition to Apple Silicon 

In the previous item I mentioned Microsoft’s “the boy who cried wolf” problem regarding its upcoming Surface devices powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips. To wit: Microsoft has been trying to promote ARM-based Surface laptops and tablets — and ARM-based Windows PCs in general — for 12 years. Each time they do, they promise that the performance will be great. And each time so far, that’s turned out to be wrong. So their problem now isn’t just whether the performance — including x86 emulation — really will be good with these new Snapdragon X Elite chips. It’s whether anyone will believe them even if performance is great. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” goes the saying.1 Microsoft is way past “twice” at this point.

Compare and contrast with Apple’s transition of the Mac to Apple silicon. They could have made the transition years earlier than they did, but chose to wait until the advantages were overwhelming — in performance, efficiency, and price. Here’s the section on performance from my review of the first-generation iPad Pros in 2015, five years before the M1 Macs debuted:

The iPad Pro is without question faster than the new one-port MacBook or the latest MacBook Airs. I’ve looked at several of my favorite benchmarks — Geekbench 3, Mozilla’s Kraken, and Google’s Octane 2 — and the iPad Pro is a race car. It’s only a hair slower than my year-old 13-inch MacBook Pro in single-core measurements. Graphics-wise, testing with GFXBench, it blows my MacBook Pro away. A one-year-old maxed-out MacBook Pro, rivaled by an iPad in performance benchmarks. Just think about that. According to Geekbench’s online results, the iPad Pro is faster in single-core testing than Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 4 with a Core-i5 processor. The Core-i7 version of the Surface Pro 4 isn’t shipping until December — that model will almost certainly test faster than the iPad Pro. But that’s a $1,599 machine with an Intel x86 CPU. The iPad Pro starts at $799 and runs an ARM CPU — Apple’s A9X. There is no more trade-off. You don’t have to choose between the performance of x86 and the battery life of ARM.

We’ve now reached an inflection point. The new MacBook is slower, gets worse battery life, and even its cheapest configuration costs $200 more than the top-of-the-line iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is more powerful, cheaper, has a better display, and gets better battery life. It’s not a clear cut-and-dry win — MacBooks still have more RAM (the iPad Pro, in all configurations, has 4 GB of RAM, although Apple still isn’t publishing this information — MacBook Pros have either 8 or 16 GB), are expandable, and offer far more storage. But at a fundamental level — CPU speed, GPU speed, quality of the display, quality of the sound output, and overall responsiveness of interface — the iPad Pro is a better computer than a MacBook or MacBook Air, and a worthy rival to the far more expensive MacBook Pros.

The entire x86 computer architecture is living on borrowed time. It’s a dead platform walking. The future belongs to ARM, and Apple’s A-series SoC’s are leading the way.

So at a time when Microsoft was already three years into pushing under-powered ARM-based Windows laptops, Apple had ARM chips that really were competitive with Intel’s x86 offerings, but waited five years to build an overwhelming, undeniable advantage before making the switch on the Mac.

By 2018 it was incredibly obvious that Apple would make the switch on the Mac, but it was still two years away. When you ask people to switch from something tried and true to something new, “good enough” isn’t good enough. The new thing needs to be like an entire order of magnitude better in at least one way, if not multiple ways.


  1. Or, if you prefer, George W. Bush’s poetic rendering of the adage: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” God bless old W — we all know how hard it is to put food on your family↩︎

Microsoft Preparing New Push for ARM-Powered Windows Laptops 

Tom Warren, reporting for The Verge:

Microsoft is getting ready to fully unveil its vision for “AI PCs” next month at an event in Seattle. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that Microsoft is confident that a round of new Arm-powered Windows laptops will beat Apple’s M3-powered MacBook Air both in CPU performance and AI-accelerated tasks.

Keep in mind when this event takes place that raw CPU performance isn’t what makes Apple silicon great. It’s performance-per-watt, along with the efficiencies of the entire OSes being optimized for the architecture.

After years of failed promises from Qualcomm, Microsoft believes the upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors will finally offer the performance it has been looking for to push Windows on Arm much more aggressively. Microsoft is now betting big on Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors, which will ship in a variety of Windows laptops this year and Microsoft’s latest consumer-focused Surface hardware.

And the next version of Bluetooth might offer rock-solid reliability.

Microsoft is so confident in these new Qualcomm chips that it’s planning a number of demos that will show how these processors will be faster than an M3 MacBook Air for CPU tasks, AI acceleration, and even app emulation. Microsoft claims, in internal documents seen by The Verge, that these new Windows AI PCs will have “faster app emulation than Rosetta 2” — the application compatibility layer that Apple uses on its Apple Silicon Macs to translate apps compiled for 64-bit Intel processors to Apple’s own processors.

Faster x86 emulation than Rosetta 2 would be quite the achievement, but is it really a bragging point? Three-and-a-half years into the Mac’s Apple silicon era, we’re so far into the transition that almost every app is now native. Are there any remaining pro Mac apps, where performance matters, that still only run under Rosetta?

Whereas on Windows, there’s relatively little ARM-native software, despite the fact that Microsoft started pushing ARM-based Surface devices back in 2012 — 12 years ago. Rosetta emulation is already a non-issue for Mac users in 2024, but x86 emulation might remain forever a problem for Windows. Windows laptop users would surely agree that they’d like longer battery life and quiet fans (if not fanless laptops, like the MacBook Air), but they seemingly have no desire to buy ARM-based machines.

So I guess the favorable comparisons to Rosetta 2 aren’t about being competitive versus the Mac, but instead are an attempt to reassure skeptical Windows users that, this time, ARM-based Surface laptops really will perform just fine even running x86 software. That’s condemning both of all existing ARM-based PCs and the state of x86 chips from Intel and AMD. The implicit message might be that the best way to run x86 Windows software is with an ARM-based chip. That’s certainly the case for Apple silicon Macs — they’re so fast and so efficient that right out of the gate they ran Intel-compiled apps as fast — or faster — than Intel-based MacBooks could. But Microsoft has a real “boy who cried wolf” problem on this front — they’ve made this promise before and it hasn’t panned out.

Google Expands in-House Chip Efforts for AI Data Centers 

Miles Kruppa and Asa Fitch, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

Google is making more of its own semiconductors, preparing a new chip that can handle everything from YouTube advertising to big data analysis as the company tries to combat rising artificial-intelligence costs.

The new chip, called Axion, is a type of chip commonly used in big data centers. It adds to Google’s efforts stretching back more than a decade to develop new computing resources, beginning with specialized chips used for AI work. Google has leaned into that strategy since the late 2022 release of ChatGPT kicked off an arms race that has threatened its dominant position as a gateway to the internet.

The chip efforts promise to reduce Google’s reliance on outside vendors and bring it into competition with longtime partners such as Intel and Nvidia, analysts said. Google officials said they didn’t view it as a competition. “I see this as a basis for growing the size of the pie,” said Amin Vahdat, the Google vice president overseeing the company’s in-house chip operations.

Alan Kay’s adage remains evergreen: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”


From the Department of Spending Tim Cook’s Money: Online Photo Storage Is Surely Expensive to Offer, but Apple Should Offer More

Some follow-up comparison points regarding my gripe today about Apple’s new commercial telling iPhone users they needn’t worry about photo storage:

  • The free tier for Google One offers 15 GB of storage. That’s still not much, and only a fraction of the on-device storage for any recent phone, but it’s 3× more than iCloud. 10 extra GB doesn’t sound like much, but 3× is a large factor.

  • I shot 2.07 GB of footage (96 photos, 5 videos) on Easter Sunday alone. Those are the keepers, after culling all the blurry and meh shots. (iPhone 15 Pro for videos and a few photos; Ricoh GR IIIx for most of the photos.1)

  • Google used to offer “unlimited storage for photos and videos” to owners of Pixel phones, but they dropped this offer starting with the Pixel 6 in late 2021. That was such an appealing offer — especially considering that much of the appeal of Pixel phones comes from their renowned camera systems. I can only surmise that this proved more expensive to Google than they deemed worthwhile.

  • You don’t need to pay for iCloud to back up a large amount of iPhone storage — you can still back up to a Mac or PC manually. I don’t know any non-expert users who do this, though, and there are zillions of iPhone owners who don’t even own a Mac or PC. For the masses, iCloud backup is the only backup.

Here’s a comparison of the current U.S. pricing for cloud storage, including photos, from Apple and Google:

Price/month iCloud Google
Free 5 GB 15 GB
$1 50 GB
$2 100 GB
$3 200 GB 200 GB
$10 2 TB 2 TB

Google’s only clear win is at the free tier, and once you start paying $3/month, they’re tied. Both companies offer additional storage beyond 2 TB at the same price: $5/month per extra TB. Google only shows those more-than-2-TB storage tiers if you’re signed in and already pay for storage. $5/month per extra TB is also exactly what Dropbox charges.

So on the one hand, it’s not like Apple’s iCloud storage pricing is out of line with its competitors. But on the other hand, the free tier of iCloud has been stuck at 5 GB since the day iCloud was announced, which was so long ago that Steve Jobs announced it at his final WWDC keynote in 2011. iCloud’s $1/month 50 GB and $3/month 200 GB tiers have been unchanged since 2015. Like the stingy U.S. minimum wage — which was last increased, to $7.25/hour, in 2009 — these tiers ought to be adjusted for “inflation” periodically, but aren’t.

In the case of the minimum wage, “inflation” is, well, actual inflation. In the case of cloud storage, “inflation” should account for factors like increased device storage (2011’s iPhone 4S was offered with 16, 32, or 64 GB) and increased image size (the iPhone 4S only shot video up to 1080p 30 fps, which consumes about 65 MB per minute; today’s iPhone 15 shoots up to 4K 60 fps, which consumes about 440 MB per minute).2 [Update: Mike Gore reminded me that the iPhone 4S only shot H.264 video, not the more efficient HEVC format that debuted with iOS 11 in 2017. 1080p 30 fps video recording in H.264 is about 130 MB per minute.]

It’s very easy for me and you to just declare that Apple ought to just foot the bill to offer more storage for over a billion users worldwide, but we’re not the ones making new TV commercials telling iPhone 15 users they needn’t worry about photo storage. If Apple really wants iPhone users not to worry about photo storage, they should offer more with iCloud, cost-to-Apple be damned. 


  1. Much like with Fuji’s deservedly-heralded X100 line, the fixed-lens Ricoh GR IIIx is seemingly backordered everywhere — perhaps because Ricoh recently announced a minor upgrade. I bought a Fuji X100S in 2014 and loved it; but bought the GR IIIx a little over a year ago because it’s small enough to fit in a pocket and the X100 cameras aren’t. I just find myself carrying the smaller Ricoh more often than I did the X100S. They’re both absolutely terrific cameras. ↩︎

  2. Idle thought that just occurred to me: is the paucity of available iCloud storage in the typical user’s account — free or $1/month — the reason why iPhones still default to shooting 1080p video rather than 4K? Default settings really matter. There are surely tens of millions (hundreds of millions?) of iPhone owners who shoot 1080p instead of 4K only because that’s the default. That’s a big difference in resolution for permanent memories. But I suspect almost everyone with 128 GB or more of storage has plenty of available space on device to store 4K video. It’s iCloud where they’re running short on space. ↩︎︎


Apple’s New iPhone Ad: ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ 

I saw this new iPhone 15 commercial a few times over the weekend, watching basketball. (Congrats to the South Carolina women and UConn men, both of whom won championships convincingly.) The gist of the commercial is that you shouldn’t worry about deleting photos to free up storage, because modern iPhones have plenty of space. The commercial-ending tagline as our protagonist stops deleting photos and resumes shooting new ones of his adorable dog: “Lots of storage for lots of photos / Relax it’s iPhone 15”.

It’s true that the iPhones 15, 14, and 13 all start with 128 GB of storage, which I think is the perfect baseline storage capacity. Only the so-old-it-still-has-a-home-button 3rd-gen iPhone SE starts at 64 GB. Especially when you’re talking about photos — which is what this commercial is about — 128 GB is a lot of on-device storage.

But this commercial made me want to yell at my TV each time it came on: “The problem is iCloud storage, not on-device storage!” The free tier of iCloud remains just 5 GB, and the $1/month paid tier offers just 50 GB, which may not be enough to back up even a 64 GB iPhone SE. I’m an outlier — 660 GB in iCloud Photos alone — but my wife, a casual/occasional photographer, has 55 GB in iCloud Photos. Even people who don’t shoot many photos in a year can wind up with large photo libraries because they’ve been using iPhones for 10–15 years.

I’d much rather have constrained storage on-device, with ample storage online, than the other way around. iOS does a great job in this situation with the (on by default) “Optimize iPhone Storage” option in Settings → Photos. But the other way around is surely the situation for many, if not most, iPhone users: more space on device than storage in iCloud. And no amount of cleverness in iOS can protect a user with un-backed-up photos and videos if they lose or break their iPhone.

Am I missing something? It feels like this new commercial is just whistling past the single biggest shortcoming in the Apple ecosystem.

Google Launches Upgraded Find My Device Network for Android 

Erik Kay, writing on Google’s company blog:

Today, the all-new Find My Device is rolling out to Android devices around the world, starting in the U.S. and Canada. With a new, crowdsourced network of over a billion Android devices, Find My Device can help you find your misplaced Android devices and everyday items quickly and securely. Here are five ways you can try it out. [...]

Starting in May, you’ll be able to locate everyday items like your keys, wallet or luggage with Bluetooth tracker tags from Chipolo and Pebblebee in the Find My Device app. These tags, built specifically for the Find My Device network, will be compatible with unknown tracker alerts across Android and iOS to help protect you from unwanted tracking. Keep an eye out later this year for additional Bluetooth tags from eufy, Jio, Motorola and more.

Sounds like Google isn’t planning to make its own tracker tags.

A separate post by Dave Kleidermacher on the Google Security Blog gives a high-level overview of the platform’s privacy and security features.

Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring DF last week. Kolide’s Shadow IT report found that 47% of companies let unmanaged devices access their resources, and authenticate via credentials alone.

Even with phishing-resistant MFA, it’s frighteningly easy for bad actors to impersonate end users — in the case of the MGM hack, all it took was a call to the help desk. What could have prevented that attack (and so many others) was an un-spoofable form of authentication for the device itself.

That’s what you get with Kolide’s device trust solution: a chance to verify that a device is both known and secure before it authenticates. Kolide’s agent looks at hundreds of device properties; their competitors look at only a handful. What’s more, Kolide’s user-first, privacy-respecting approach means you can put it on machines outside MDM: contractor devices, mobile phones, and even Linux machines.

Without a device trust solution, all the security in the world is just security theater. But Kolide can help close the gaps.

The ‘xz’ Back Door 

Dan Goodin, writing for Ars Technica:

The compression utility, known as xz Utils, introduced the malicious code in versions ​​5.6.0 and 5.6.1, according to Andres Freund, the developer who discovered it. There are no known reports of those versions being incorporated into any production releases for major Linux distributions, but both Red Hat and Debian reported that recently published beta releases used at least one of the backdoored versions — specifically, in Fedora Rawhide and Debian testing, unstable and experimental distributions. A stable release of Arch Linux is also affected. That distribution, however, isn’t used in production systems. [...]

Several people, including two Ars readers, reported that the multiple apps included in the HomeBrew package manager for macOS rely on the backdoored 5.6.1 version of xz Utils. HomeBrew has now rolled back the utility to version 5.4.6. Maintainers have more details available here.

There are several notable things about this hack. One is that it was years in the making — “Jia Tan”, the developer who added the back door, had been contributing legit patches to the xz project for years. Another is that it was very subtle: the ultimate goal was a back door in OpenSSH but the attacker(s) put their code in a compression library that was sometimes a dependency for another library that was itself only sometimes a dependency of OpenSSH. Yet another is that it seems nearly miraculous that it was discovered — Andres Freund, the Microsoft engineer who uncovered it, only became suspicious when he noticed that his SSH connections initiated from the command line went from taking about 0.2 seconds to 0.7 seconds. It pays to be picky sometimes!

Question 1: How do we keep this from happening again?

Question 2: How do we know similar back doors haven’t been successfully put in place already?

More from Goodin here, including a good overview diagram.

Evan Boehs: “Everything I Know About the XZ Backdoor”.

Amazon Ditches ‘Just Walk Out’ Checkouts at Its Grocery Stores 

Maxwell Zell, writing for Gizmodo:

Amazon is phasing out its checkout-less grocery stores with “Just Walk Out” technology, first reported by The Information Tuesday. The company’s senior vice president of grocery stores says they’re moving away from Just Walk Out, which relied on cameras and sensors to track what people were leaving the store with.

Just over half of Amazon Fresh stores are equipped with Just Walk Out. The technology allows customers to skip checkout altogether by scanning a QR code when they enter the store. Though it seemed completely automated, Just Walk Out relied on more than 1,000 people in India watching and labeling videos to ensure accurate checkouts. The cashiers were simply moved off-site, and they watched you as you shopped.

It was The Information, too, that broke the story about how labor-intensive “Just Walk Out” was, reporting last May:

For its part, Amazon still relies on a significant amount of human staffing to power Just Walk Out behind the scenes, according to a person who has worked on the technology. Amazon had more than 1,000 people in India working on Just Walk Out as of mid-2022 whose jobs included manually reviewing transactions and labeling images from videos to train Just Walk Out’s machine learning model, the person said. The reliance on backup humans explains in part why it can take hours for customers to receive receipts after walking out of a store, the person said.

Molly White, back in January, regarding the purported AI-generated George Carlin comedy special:

Need to start keeping a list of all the times some big supposed display of bleeding edge technology turns out to just be A Guy.

Google to Delete Search Data From Tens of Millions of Users Who Used ‘Incognito’ Mode in Chrome 

Bobby Allyn, reporting for NPR:

Google will destroy the private browsing history of millions of people who used “incognito” mode in its Chrome browser as a part of a settlement filed to federal court on Monday in a case over the company’s secret tracking of web activity. For years, Google simply informed users of Chrome’s internet browser that “you’ve gone Incognito” and “now you can browse privately,” when the supposedly untraceable browsing option was turned on — without saying what bits of data the company has been harvesting.

Yet, according to a 2020 class-action lawsuit, the tech giant continued to scrape searches by hoovering up data about users who browsed the internet in incognito mode through advertising tools used by websites, grabbing “potentially embarrassing” searches of millions of people. Google then used this data to measure web traffic and sell ads. [...]

As the suit was pending, Google changed the splash screen of incognito mode to state that websites, employers and schools and internet service providers can view browsing activity in incognito mode. But under the deal, Google will have to state that the company itself can also track browsing during incognito mode.

That was quite the omission. I’m not sure there was ever a product in history more purposefully misleadingly named than Chrome’s “Incognito” mode.

Yahoo Is Acquiring Artifact, Folding It Into Yahoo News 

Also from David Pierce at The Verge:

The two sides declined to share the cost of the acquisition, but both made clear Yahoo is acquiring Artifact’s tech rather than its team. Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, Artifact’s co-founders, will be “special advisors” for Yahoo but won’t be joining the company. Artifact’s remaining five employees have either gotten other jobs or are planning to take some time off.

The acquisition comes a bit more than a year after Artifact’s launch and about three months after Systrom and Krieger announced its death. “We have built something that a core group of users love,” the co-founders wrote in January, “but we have concluded that the market opportunity isn’t big enough to warrant continued investment in this way.” They said that the biggest reason to shut down was in order to focus on “newer, bigger and better things that have the ability to reach many millions of people.” The bet behind Artifact was always that AI had the potential to be a huge, internet-changing technology; maybe there were just more interesting things to work on than a news app without a big news audience. [...]

Artifact, the app, will go away once the acquisition is complete. But Artifact’s underlying tech for categorizing, curating, and personalizing content will soon start to show up on Yahoo News — and eventually on other Yahoo platforms, too. “You’ll see that stuff flowing into our products in the coming months,” says Downs Mulder. It sounds like there’s also a good chance that Yahoo’s apps might get a bit of Artifact’s speed and polish over time, too.

Yahoo, where scrappy startup acquisitions go to thrive”, said no one, ever.

Google Podcasts Moves to the Google Dump 

David Pierce, writing for The Verge:

Google Podcasts is dead. It has been dying for months, since Google announced last fall that it was killing its dedicated podcast app in order to focus all its podcasting efforts on YouTube Music. This is a bad idea and a big downgrade, and I’d be more mad if only I were more surprised.

The Podcasts app is just the latest product to go through a process I’ve come to call The Google Cycle. It always goes the same way: the company launches a new service with grandiose language about how this fits its mission of organizing and making accessible the world’s information, quickly updates it with a couple of neat features, immediately seems to forget it exists, eventually launches a competitor out of some other part of the company, obviously begins to deprecate it and shift focus to the new competitor, and then, years later, finally shuts it down for real. The Google Graveyard is full of apps like Reader, Duo, Inbox, Allo, Wallet, and countless others that have been through The Google Cycle, and it feels just as bad every time.

The saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” With people who come to rely on new apps from Google, it’s more like “Well, you’ve fooled me a dozen times so far, please don’t do it again with this new thing you made that I like.”

I haven’t been bitten by Google killing an app or service since Google Reader, because I never again trusted them. I suppose this might be a lot more difficult for Android users, but I honestly don’t even remember the last time I added a new Google app or service to the set of tools I rely upon. The only Google services I use are YouTube (and even there, I have complaints), Google Search (and even there, it hasn’t been my default web search for nearly a decade), and Gmail (and even there, I access it via IMAP from Apple Mail and Mimestream). The only Google apps on my iPhone are YT Studio (which, given how infrequently I publish videos to my channel, I probably don’t need), Chrome, and Google Keep. And the only reason I have Chrome and Keep installed is for syncing browser tabs and notes between my iPhone and my burner-device-to-see-how-things-are-on-Android Pixel phone. I wouldn’t be surprised if they shut down Google Keep and start an all new Google-branded notes app soon.

Oh, and the Nest app. I have that because we have (and love) Nest thermostats, but I don’t really think of that as a Google app.

I don’t eschew Google products as any sort of statement. I just don’t like most of what they make, and what I do like, I don’t trust them to keep around. It’s rather glorious living a nearly Google-free digital life.

Trump Media Plunges as Truth Social’s $58 Million Loss Reported 

Drew Harwell, reporting for The Washington Post:

Former president Donald Trump’s social media company said Monday it lost more than $58 million last year, sending its stock plunging more than 21 percent only days after a highflying public debut set the company’s value at more than $8 billion.

Trump Media and Technology Group, which owns Truth Social, said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the company generated just over $4 million in revenue last year, including less than $1 million in the last quarter.

The nosediving share price of the company — which uses the stock ticker DJT, for Trump’s initials — fell to its lowest level since Trump Media went public last week and shaved more than a fifth of its market value in a single day. It also slashed the value of Trump’s 57 percent ownership in the company by roughly $1 billion, to $3.8 billion.

The company’s 8-K filing is just bananas. They not only aren’t turning a profit, they don’t foresee ever making one. They don’t track any sort of metrics typical for a social media company — signups, monthly active users, average revenue per user — none of it. And they don’t plan to, either. To call it a scam gives scams a bad name.

I want to laugh, but: If Trump is elected again in November — which, based on the close results of 2016 and 2020, and the current polling data, is definitely possible — shaking down lobbyists and foreign governments with exorbitant rates for ads on Truth Social seems like a much better grift than running a hotel across the street from the White House. A corrupt president owning a social media site would be a grift that scales. If there’s any rational reason for Trump Media to have any value at all, it’s that. It’s worthless today, but could be a veritable goldmine in a second Trump administration.

Donald Trump’s Easter Madness 

Taegan Goddard, writing at Political Wire:

While you were spending time with family over the weekend, enjoying the start of the baseball season or watching college basketball, Donald Trump was glued to Truth Social. After 71 mostly all caps posts, Trump finally had this Easter message.

It’s 168 words, the first 165 of which are (ostensibly) a single sentence. You really need to see it for yourself. Here’s a screenshot; here’s a link to the post on Truth Social.

Goddard:

There are only so many ways we can say Trump’s behavior is not normal. If someone close to you behaved this way, you would desperately try to get them psychiatric help.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor Chris Quinn: ‘You Saw It’ 

Chris Quinn, in his Letter From the Editor column at The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The north star here is truth. We tell the truth, even when it offends some of the people who pay us for information.

The truth is that Donald Trump undermined faith in our elections in his false bid to retain the presidency. He sparked an insurrection intended to overthrow our government and keep himself in power. No president in our history has done worse.

This is not subjective. We all saw it. Plenty of leaders today try to convince the masses we did not see what we saw, but our eyes don’t deceive. (If leaders began a yearslong campaign today to convince us that the Baltimore bridge did not collapse Tuesday morning, would you ever believe them?) Trust your eyes. Trump on Jan. 6 launched the most serious threat to our system of government since the Civil War. You know that. You saw it.

The facts involving Trump are crystal clear, and as news people, we cannot pretend otherwise, as unpopular as that might be with a segment of our readers. There aren’t two sides to facts. People who say the earth is flat don’t get space on our platforms. If that offends them, so be it.

There’s no need for any straight news publication to tie itself in knots over Trump and Trumpism. There are all sorts of reasons left-leaning Americans were opposed to right-leaning policies when Trump was president. Likewise, there are all sorts of reasons right-leaning Americans are opposed to left-leaning policies of the Biden administration. That’s called politics. And it makes sense that straight news publications try to stay above the fray on those divides.

What Trump did after losing the 2020 election isn’t on that spectrum. As Quinn put it so well, you know that. You saw it. We all saw it. It’s that simple.

Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring DF this week. Kolide has seen cyber insurance premiums go up by 40 percent in just the last two years, and got curious about:

  • What’s driving the increases?
  • Who really needs cybersecurity insurance?
  • How can the average company reduce their premiums?

What Kolide found was that insurance companies themselves can help get us out of this crisis, by mandating some (pretty basic) security requirements for their customers — things like MFA, endpoint security, and retiring end-of-life software. Read their full report to learn more about their findings.

The Talk Show: ‘You’ve Never Seen Email Like This Before’ 

The one and only John Moltz returns to the show to talk about the relative dearth of original content for Vision Pro, WWDC rumors and guesses, and, yes, a wee bit about Apple’s regulatory/antitrust tribulations.

Sponsored by:

  • Nuts.com: The world’s best snacks, delivered fast and fresh.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.

More on the EU’s Market Might

A couple of follow-up items regarding my column the other day, in which I idly speculated about whether the DMA might lead Apple (and/or perhaps Meta and Google) to pull back from the EU market.

First, a correction/clarification. Based on Six Colors’s transcript of Apple’s Q1 2024 analyst call back in January, I quoted Apple CFO Luca Maestri as saying, in response to a question asking whether investors should be concerned that DMA compliance will hinder services revenue, “Just to keep it in context, the changes apply to the EU market, which represents roughly 7% of our global absolute revenue.”

The word absolute was a transcription error, however.1 Listen to the published recording of the call, and it’s clear that what Maestri actually said was specifically in answer to the question: “Just to keep it in context, the changes apply to the EU market, which represents roughly 7% of our global App Store revenue.” (My thanks to Oliver Reichenstein for the timestamped pointer to the recording.)

That’s an important correction that, as ever, I’m happy to make, but it doesn’t really change my speculation. I wrote:

It’s unclear whether Maestri was saying that the EU accounts for 7 percent of Apple’s worldwide App Store revenue, or 7 percent of all revenue, but I suspect it doesn’t matter, and that both are around 7 percent. App Store revenue ought to be a good proxy for overall revenue — there’s no reason to think EU Apple users spend any less or any more in the App Store than users around the world.

It’s certainly possible that EU citizens account for significantly more (or even less) than 7 percent of Apple’s overall global revenue, but it strikes me as very unlikely that the EU’s share of Apple’s overall revenue is significantly different from its share of App Store revenue. I struggle to come up with any explanation for why the EU might account for only 7 percent of App Store revenue but significantly more (or less) of Apple’s overall revenue. Why would overall revenue from any region differ significantly from the App Store revenue from the same region, on a percentage basis? But it is an open question. (I hope an analyst asks Cook and Maestri about it directly on the next quarterly call in May.)


Second, I missed that the European Commission, alongside its announcement that it had opened non-compliance investigations against Google, Apple, and Meta under the Digital Markets Act, also separately published remarks from its two leaders, executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager and commissioner Thierry Breton.

From Vestager’s remarks, which were delivered in English:

The third one relates to the objective of the DMA to open closed ecosystems to enable competition at all levels. Under Article 6(3) of the DMA, gatekeepers have an obligation to enable easy uninstallation of apps and easy change of default settings. They must also display a choice screen. Apple’s compliance model does not seem to meet the objectives of this obligation. In particular, we are concerned that the current design of the web browser choice screen deprives end-users of the ability to make a fully informed decision. Example: they do not enhance user engagement with all available options. Apple also failed to make several apps un-installable (one of them would be Photos) and prevents end-users from changing their default status (for example Cloud), as required by the DMA.

I don’t know what she means by “depriv[ing] end-users of the ability to make a fully informed decision” or “they do not enhance user engagement with all available options”. I can only guess that she’s complaining that Apple’s current browser choice screen doesn’t actively encourage users to pick a browser other than Safari? But it doesn’t encourage users to choose Safari, either, and the choices are listed in randomized order each time. The iOS 17.4 choice screen just says what a default web browser is, and then offers a list of the most popular browsers in the user’s country.

As I wrote this week, there aren’t many un-installable apps on iOS. I might be missing some, but the list I came up with: Settings, Camera, Photos, App Store, Phone, Messages, and Safari. Vestager makes clear in her remarks what wasn’t clear in the EC’s announcement of the investigation: they have a problem with Photos. If they follow through with a demand that Photos be completely un-installable (not just hidable from the Home Screen, as it is now), this would constitute another way that the EC is standing in as the designer of how operating systems should work. Photos is not just an app on iOS; it’s the system-level interface to the camera roll. This is integrated throughout the entire iOS system, with per-app permission prompts to grant differing levels of access to your photos. Vestager is saying that to be compliant with the DMA, Apple needs to allow third-party apps to serve as the system-level image library and camera roll. That is a monumental demand, and I honestly don’t even know how such a demand could be squared with system-wide permissions for photo access. This is product design, not mere regulation. Why stop there? Why not mandate that Springboard — the Home Screen — be a replaceable component? Or the entire OS itself? Why are iPhone users required to use iOS? Why are iOS users required to buy iPhones?

Then we get to Breton’s remarks, the first half of which were delivered in his native French. Here are two translations of his French remarks, from the iOS Translate app and from Google Translate. To my reading, there are no significant semantic differences between the two translations. Here’s the bulk of it, amalgamating the best from both translations:

And I will tell you a simple but important thing: in 18 days, the DMA has moved the lines of the digital giants more than in the last 10 years.

It’s not me who says it, but developers and users who finally see concrete changes and openness to give everyone the opportunity to gain market share, for example for browsers.

In 18 days, therefore, already very concrete results. Why?

Because it is an internal market regulation. This is where the revolution operates.

You know how much I fought for the DMA to be a so-called “domestic market” regulation, ex ante therefore. Because it is the best way to promote our continent, Europe, which is an open continent, but according to our conditions.

And a market of 450 million customers is simply unthinkable for anyone not to be there.

Where the digital giants could pay fines of several billion dollars without batting an eye — by the way, when they had to pay them, after long years of procedures, which was not systematic, far from it... — today none of them can afford not to be in our market.

This is the reality of the balance of power of the world in which we operate.

So does everyone play the game perfectly the first time? We are entitled to doubt it of course and we are here to doubt by definition in a way I would say.

At the very least, to check.

And that’s what we’re doing today.

Breton’s remarks in French were, in some ways, far zestier than his subsequent remarks in English. Breton lays bare the EC’s belief that they hold all the cards — that it is “unthinkable” for any of the designated gatekeepers not to conduct business in the EU, and that “none of them can afford not to be in our market.”

Perhaps he’s right, and I’m all wet for even speculating that one or more of the gatekeepers will pull one or more of their products from the EU market as a result of the DMA’s onerous demands and the threat of huge fees. But I, for one, consider it very thinkable. (Especially for Meta, as you’ll see next.)

From Breton’s remarks delivered in English:

First, today we are opening a case against Meta. We suspect that Meta is breaching the DMA rules on data combination [Article 5(2) DMA].

You all heard about Meta’s “Subscription for No Ads” model. With this new model, users have to pay if they want to use Facebook and Instagram without targeted advertising. And this has forced millions of users across Europe into a binary choice: “pay or consent”. And if you consent, Meta can use your data, generated for example on Messenger, to target ads on Instagram.

But the DMA is very clear: gatekeepers must obtain users’ consent to use their personal data across different services. And this consent must be free! We have serious doubts that this consent is really free when you are confronted with a binary choice. With the DMA, users who do not consent should be provided with a less personalised alternative of the service, for example financed thanks to contextual advertising. But they do not have to pay.

The EC’s problem here is that when faced with the clear choice between using Meta’s platforms free of charge with targeted advertising, or paying a monthly fee, the overwhelming majority of people choose to use the service free of charge with targeted ads. Just because typical people overwhelmingly prefer free services with targeted ads doesn’t mean that a paid subscription isn’t a fair alternative. Here’s Margrethe Vestager herself, back in 2018, in an interview with Jorge Valero of Euractiv:

My concern is more about whether we get the right choices. I would like to have a Facebook in which I pay a fee each month, but I would have no tracking and advertising and the full benefits of privacy. It is a provoking thought after all the Facebook scandal. This market is not being explored.

A provoking thought indeed, but apparently this was only worth exploring until they found out that EU citizens would overwhelmingly consent to free services with targeted ads. Privacy fundamentalists can’t seem to accept that most people don’t share their fervor that consensual targeted advertising is inherently wrong. Most people see it as a good deal.

The obvious solution would be for the European Commission to pass a law banning targeted advertising. But I suspect they haven’t done that, and won’t, because so many publishers in the EU use targeted advertising (along with “pay or OK” subscription offerings). They don’t want to eliminate all targeted advertising, just Meta’s (and Google’s), but that’s hard to put into written law while claiming not to be targeting specific American companies.

It’s certainly possible that Meta can devise ways to serve non-personalized contextual ads that generate sufficient revenue per user.2 But if they can’t, the rubber hits the road on Breton’s belief that none of the designated gatekeepers “can afford not to be in our market”. Why exactly would Meta choose to remain in the EU if they’re forced to offer their services for pennies on the dollar (or in this case, cents on the euro)? Out of the goodness of Mark Zuckerberg’s heart?

Consider too that if Meta goes along with this interpretation by the EC of the DMA’s requirements, and offers a vastly-less-lucrative free-of-charge option to use Instagram and Facebook without targeted ads in the European Union, there’s nothing to stop regulators and legislators around the world from demanding the same. Conceding to this might mean not just generating only a fraction of Meta’s current revenue in the EU, but generating only a fraction of its current revenue worldwide.

Breton — after casting a stink eye at Google for presenting its own hotel, flight, and shopping recommendations in web search results, and at Amazon for promoting its own Amazon-branded products (a shocking practice for a retailer — good luck ever finding Kirkland products at Costco, Up & Up at Target, or, say, Ol’ Roy dog food at Walmart, right?) — concludes with a threat:

Should we have indications of ineffective compliance or possible circumvention of the DMA, we will not hesitate to make use of the DMA’s full enforcement toolbox, including innovative tools that did not exist in antitrust enforcement such as the retention orders. And if our investigations conclude that there is lack of full compliance with the DMA, gatekeepers will face heavy fines.

We have a duty: ensuring full compliance with the DMA. And we will do all we can to create an online space that is fair and competitive to the benefit of all consumers and businesses operating in our Single Market.

Turns out, though, that actual users don’t agree that removing longstanding features from Google search results is somehow for their benefit. I’m guessing they’d see even less benefit if entire popular services and products were removed from the EU market. 


  1. Jason Snell uses OpenAI’s amazing Whisper to generate the first draft of these transcripts, but he does proofread them. But neither he nor I thought “absolute” sounded weird in that context. Snell, of course, has now corrected the transcript. ↩︎

  2. One obvious solution would be to show more ads — a lot more ads — to make up for the difference in revenue. So if contextual ads generate, say, one-tenth the revenue of targeted ads, Meta could show 10 times as many ads to users who opt out of targeting. I don’t think 10× is an outlandish multiplier there — given how remarkably profitable Meta’s advertising business is, it might even need to be higher than that. But showing that many ads would be such a bad experience that I suspect it would land Meta right back where they are today with the paid subscription option, with the EC declaring it non-compliant because users don’t want it. ↩︎︎


Meta Used Its Onavo VPN to Snoop on Users’ Encrypted Snapchat Traffic 

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, reporting for TechCrunch:

“Whenever someone asks a question about Snapchat, the answer is usually that because their traffic is encrypted we have no analytics about them,” Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an email dated June 9, 2016, which was published as part of the lawsuit. “Given how quickly they’re growing, it seems important to figure out a new way to get reliable analytics about them. Perhaps we need to do panels or write custom software. You should figure out how to do this.”

Facebook’s engineers solution was to use Onavo, a VPN-like service that Facebook acquired in 2013. In 2019, Facebook shut down Onavo after a TechCrunch investigation revealed that Facebook had been secretly paying teenagers to use Onavo so the company could access all of their web activity.

After Zuckerberg’s email, the Onavo team took on the project and a month later proposed a solution: so-called kits that can be installed on iOS and Android that intercept traffic for specific subdomains, “allowing us to read what would otherwise be encrypted traffic so we can measure in-app usage,” read an email from July 2016. “This is a ‘man-in-the-middle’ approach.” [...]

Later, according to the court documents, Facebook expanded the program to Amazon and YouTube. Inside Facebook, there wasn’t a consensus on whether Project Ghostbusters was a good idea. Some employees, including Jay Parikh, Facebook’s then-head of infrastructure engineering, and Pedro Canahuati, the then-head of security engineering, expressed their concern. “I can’t think of a good argument for why this is okay. No security person is ever comfortable with this, no matter what consent we get from the general public. The general public just doesn’t know how this stuff works,” Canahuati wrote in an email, included in the court documents.

There’s the Facebook we know and love.

In 2018 Apple removed Onavo from the App Store, but the fact that Facebook was using Onavo in this way was known a year earlier.

WhatsApp: The World’s Default Communication App 

Pranav Dixit, writing for Engadget:

“WhatsApp is kind of like a media platform and kind of like a messaging platform, but it’s also not quite those things,” Surya Mattu, a researcher at Princeton who runs the university’s Digital Witness Lab, which studies how information flows through WhatsApp, told Engadget. “It has the scale of a social media platform, but it doesn’t have the traditional problems of one because there are no recommendations and no social graph.”

Indeed, WhatsApp’s scale dwarfs nearly every social network and messaging app out there. In 2020, WhatsApp announced it had more than two billion users around the world. It’s bigger than iMessage (1.3 billion users), TikTok (1 billion), Telegram (800 million), Snap (400 million) and Signal (40 million.) It stands head and shoulders above fellow Meta platform Instagram, which captures around 1.4 billion users. The only thing bigger than WhatsApp is Facebook itself, with more than three billion users .

WhatsApp has become the world’s default communications platform. Ten years after it was acquired, its growth shows no sign of stopping. Even in the US, it is finally beginning to break through the green and blue bubble battles and is reportedly one of Meta’s fastest-growing services. As Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the New York Times last year, WhatsApp is the “next chapter” for the company.

Anecdotally, I’m seeing more American usage of WhatsApp too. Putting aside the (deeply misguided, IMO) antitrust arguments about iMessage, Apple’s decade ago decision to eschew an iMessage client for Android might be proven to have been a mistake the old-fashioned way: through market forces.

Evan Gershkovich’s Stolen Year in a Russian Jail 

Eliot Brown, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

Evan Gershkovich was supposed to be with his friends in Berlin the first week of April 2023.

The Wall Street Journal Russia correspondent was set to stay in an Airbnb in the edgy Neukölln neighborhood, a base to explore the city’s cobble-lined streets with his tightknit crew of journalist pals exiled there from Moscow. He was going to drink coffee in hipster cafes and chat into the night over glasses of beer.

It was the start of his stolen year.

Russian authorities detained Evan in Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, and threw him into a jail cell in Moscow. He was a fully accredited journalist on a reporting trip and was detained on an allegation of espionage, which he, his employer and the U.S. government vociferously deny.

Kudos to the Journal for putting together a huge package to raise awareness of Gershkovich’s unjust incarceration. Tons of coverage online, but man, sometimes print design can do things that otherwise can’t be expressed. What a statement today’s front page makes.

‘MLB for VisionOS Strikes Out on Opening Day’ 

More sports-on-Vision-Pro news from Jason Snell:

That might still happen, but just before Opening Day the app was updated to support real, live baseball games, and all the exciting stuff is gone. Today I took it for a spin and was deeply disappointed — it’s essentially just a front end for watching games via MLB TV, and a buggy one at that.

I couldn’t find support for Gameday when I first used the app, though later when playing back an archived stream, I did find Gameday available — from within the video playback, so you can’t use it for a game you’re not watching on the app. And it’s immersive, so you can’t put it up and then do something else, which is also probably a mistake.

The app also only plays back a single video at a time, even if multiple games are going on at once — despite the fact that watching multiple video streams at once is basically what VR was made for.

I watched the end of the Yankees opener against the Houston Asterisks wearing Vision Pro, and share all of Snell’s gripes about the app. It’s downright bizarre that the app has a “main” window that, if closed, quits the entire app — but that’s not the window where you watch video!

And so many little paper cuts, like the fact that the app doesn’t integrate with the system Keychain APIs, so you don’t get autofill for passwords. I’m so used to password autofill across all my devices that it felt like I was using some sort of retro device, entering my MLB.com password manually.

Glad to see MLB have a native app on Opening Day, but man, they have a long way to go before it’s actually good.

Andrew Aude, in Happier Times, Before Anyone Could Argue Apple Pay Was a Monopoly 

A DF reader with a better memory than mine thought Andrew Aude’s name rang a bell, and lo, I mentioned him once before, while he was still a student at Stanford in 2014. Aude cleverly figured out how the ultimately-doomed, but then-nascent CurrentC payments app worked while it was still in invitation-only testing.

iOS 17’s Creepy-Sounding ‘Discoverable by Others’ Journaling Setting Isn’t Actually Creepy 

Speaking of The Wall Street Journal and Apple’s new Journal app, Joanna Stern has a great column about a creepy-sounding Journal setting:

You can turn on Journaling Suggestions. This recommends topics to write about based on things your phone (but not Apple) knows about you — music you’ve listened to, people you’ve called or messaged, photos you’ve recently taken, places you’ve visited, etc. You decide if you want to turn this on. When you first launch the Journal app, it will prompt you to do that. Those suggestions aren’t ever shared with Apple.

Here’s where it gets weird. When you go into Settings → Privacy & Security → Journaling Suggestions, you’ll see that Discoverable by Others is enabled by default — even if you never turned on suggestions. Under the setting it says, “Allow others to detect you are nearby to help prioritize their suggestions.” [...]

A company spokeswoman said claims on social media that Apple is sharing your name and location with others are inaccurate. The phone can use Bluetooth to detect the number of devices nearby that are in your contacts. It doesn’t store which of these specific contacts were around but instead may use this as context to improve and prioritize journaling suggestions, the spokeswoman said.

Here’s an example provided by Apple: Say, you hosted a dinner party at your house, with friends who are in your contacts. The system might prioritize that in the suggestions, as it knows from the head count that there was something different about that event. It wasn’t just your average night at home with your family.

This is a fine feature, and I think it’s fine that it’s on by default. But the description of the feature in Settings is just atrocious. It sounds creepy as hell. I suspect this is one of those cases where everyone at Apple involved with the feature knew that everything related to the new Journal app and associated new journaling-prompt APIs is, in fact, extraordinarily private. Just like with Health data, everything is stored on-device, including the keys, and iCloud sync is E2EE. Even if faced with a law enforcement warrant, Apple has nothing to turn over related to Journal.

But most people don’t know this. And many people — quite reasonably! — are deeply suspicious that all big tech companies are spying on them and play loosey-goosey with anything related to privacy. To someone at Apple — especially those who work on Health and Journal stuff — it’s absurd to think that Apple would even consider adding a setting to iOS that makes you personally “discoverable” by anyone, friends and strangers alike, if you’re simply within Bluetooth range of their iPhone. Let alone make that setting on by default!

But that’s exactly what the description of this feature in Settings → Privacy & Security → Journaling Suggestions sounds like. When describing features like this, Apple needs to presume that the user is assuming the worst.

Apple Sues Former Employee for Leaking to Reporters From The Wall Street Journal and The Information 

Joe Rossignol, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple this month sued its former employee Andrew Aude in California state court, alleging that he breached the company’s confidentiality agreement and violated labor laws by leaking sensitive information to the media and employees at other tech companies. Apple has demanded a jury trial, and it is seeking damages in excess of $25,000. [...]

In April 2023, for example, Apple alleges that Aude leaked a list of finalized features for the iPhone’s Journal app to a journalist at The Wall Street Journal on a phone call. That same month, The Wall Street Journal’s Aaron Tilley published a report titled “Apple Plans iPhone Journaling App in Expansion of Health Initiatives.”

Using the encrypted messaging app Signal, Aude is said to have sent “over 1,400” messages to the same journalist, who Aude referred to as “Homeboy.” He is also accused of sending “over 10,000 text messages” to another journalist at the website The Information, and he allegedly traveled “across the continent” to meet with her.

10,000 text messages seems like ... a lot? Makes me wonder if there was a personal aspect to that relationship, beyond leaking. MacRumors has posted a copy of Apple’s lawsuit, which includes this gem:

Apple learned of Mr. Aude’s misconduct in the fall of 2023. When Apple met with him to discuss his improper disclosures, Mr. Aude promptly confirmed his guilt through his actions, if not his words. At the start of his November 7, 2023 interview, Mr. Aude repeatedly denied that he had leaked any information to anyone. He also claimed that he did not have his Apple-issued work iPhone with him. Feigning the need to visit the bathroom mid-interview, Mr. Aude then extracted his iPhone from his pocket during the break and permanently deleted significant amounts of evidence from his device. This included the Signal app, which memorialized his history of leaking information to “Homeboy” (and likely others) via encrypted communications.

Part of the evidence Aude left behind were screenshots he kept of otherwise secure messages:

In connection with one leak, Mr. Aude admitted that he violated his obligations to Apple so he could “kill” products and features with which he took issue. As his frequent Google searches, article shares, and screenshots saved to his Apple-issued work iPhone reveal, vanity and personal enjoyment of the media’s attention also played a significant role in his malfeasance. In Mr. Aude’s screenshot below memorializing his exchange with the WSJ journalist, Mr. Aude exclaimed that he could not “wait for chaos to break out” in reaction to a forthcoming article reflecting his leaked information.

Worth noting that Aaron “Homeboy” Tilley was a reporter for The Information until September 2019, when he left to join the WSJ. Anyway, I’m sure the WSJ will help Aude out with his legal bills.

‘2023 MLS Cup Highlights’: 5-Minute Apple Immersive Video for Vision Pro Debuts Tonight 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Apple announced today that the first Apple Immersive Video documentary for Vision Pro, featuring highlights from last year’s MLS playoffs, will debut tonight (March 28) at 6 p.m. Pacific. [...]

I’m excited to see the finished product — all of Apple’s immersive videos have been pretty amazing — but I have to point out that this five-minute highlight packages is being released 110 days after last year’s MLS Cup Final. That’s not great turnaround time. If immersive video for sports is going to be a thing, turnaround is going to need to be a lot faster.

In addition to the four-month turnaround time, there’s also the fact that five minutes is pretty short. Perhaps the single most surprising aspect of Apple’s launch plan for Vision Pro is the relative dearth of original immersive content. It’s the most compelling experience with the product but there’s hardly any of it. I would have thought Apple would drop new immersive content at least a few times per month, if not weekly, but this MLS Cup highlight film is the first new one since launch.

Kara Swisher Interviews Margrethe Vestager 

Terrific interview; Kara Swisher is so damn good at this. I learned a lot. Vestager comes across as very likable and very sharp. I disagree with her on quite a bit, but I like her. The segment on Apple’s Core Technology Fee was particularly interesting. (I remain of the opinion that the CTF will stand, with only minor tweaks.)

(Vox Media’s CMS (seemingly?) makes it maddeningly difficult to link to a single podcast episode, so here are direct links for Apple Podcasts and Overcast.)

The Talk Show: ‘Less Space Than a Nomad? Lame’ 

Jason Snell returns to the show to talk about the DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit against Apple. And sports gambling.

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Canva Acquires Affinity 

Affinity — makers of a terrific suite of design apps — back in September 2022, when the now-aborted acquisition of Figma by Adobe was announced:

Ain’t nobody acquiring us 😎

Affinity CEO Ashley Hewson today:

I am thrilled to announce that Affinity is joining the Canva family.


The EU’s Share of Apple’s Global Revenue

A few readers have asked about my speculation that Apple, along with the other DMA-designated gatekeepers (none of which are European companies of course), might reasonably pull out of the relatively small EU market rather than risk facing disproportionately large fines from the European Commission. The DMA allows the EC to fine gatekeepers up to 10 percent of global revenue (which would hit a hardware-based company like Apple particularly hard) for a first offense, and up to 20 percent for subsequent fines. But the EU represents only 7 percent of Apple’s revenue. That figure comes from CFO Luca Maestri on Apple’s Q1 2024 analyst call:

Amit Daryanani, Evercore: Fair enough, and then as a follow up, you folks have implemented a fair bit of changes around the apps for in Europe post the DMA implementation there. Can you just touch on what are some of the key updates and then Luca, does NetApp at all, do you see it having any significant impact financially to your services or the broader Apple P&L statement.

[Remarks from Tim Cook omitted.]

Luca Maestri: Yes, and Amit, as Tim said, these are changes that we’re going to be implementing in March. A lot will depend on the choices that will be made. Just to keep it in context, the changes apply to the EU market, which represents roughly 7% of our global absolute App Store revenue.

[Update 29 March: See transcription correction here. Maestri said “App Store revenue”, not “absolute revenue”.]

It’s unclear whether Maestri was saying that the EU accounts for 7 percent of Apple’s worldwide App Store revenue, or 7 percent of all revenue, but I suspect it doesn’t matter, and that both are around 7 percent. App Store revenue ought to be a good proxy for overall revenue — there’s no reason to think EU Apple users spend any less or any more in the App Store than users around the world.

There’s some “7 percent sounds way too low” confusion that stems from the fact that Apple, in its quarterly consolidated financial statements, breaks results into five geographic regions: Americas, Europe, Greater China, Japan, and “Rest of Asia Pacific”. “Europe” accounts for somewhere around 25 percent of Apple’s global revenue. That’s the number most people think about. But there are a significant number of high-GDP countries in Europe that aren’t in the EU — the UK (most famously), Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, Norway, and Ukraine. More importantly, Apple’s “Europe” includes the entire Middle East.

So EU member states account for only 25–30 percent of Apple’s revenue from “Europe”, and just 7 percent globally. 7 percent is significant, to be sure, and in addition to users, there are of course many iOS and Mac developers in EU countries. I really don’t know what Apple pulling out of the EU would even look like, but it would be ugly. Could they merely stop selling the iPhone there but continue selling other products? Would that create a massive gray market for iPhones imported from outside the EU? How would Apple deal with the hundreds of millions of existing iPhone owners in the EU? I have no idea. It would be a mess, to be sure, but the DMA has already made doing business in the EU a mess for Apple and the other designated gatekeepers. But one can make the case — as Eric Seufert has — that American companies have to at least consider the fact that doing business in the EU isn’t worth the risk of fines so vastly disproportionate to the revenue they generate in the EU.

And it’s not like the risk is merely a first-offense fine of up to 10 percent of annual global revenue and a single second fine of up to 20 percent — there’s no limit to how many times the EC can fine a gatekeeper for non-compliance with the DMA’s arbitrary and vague rules.

The EC just fined Apple $2 billion for violating article 102(a) of their rules on competition, for hindering Spotify (a European company — surely a coincidence) in the music streaming market. The entirety of article 102(a):

Any abuse by one or more undertakings of a dominant position within the internal market or in a substantial part of it shall be prohibited as incompatible with the internal market in so far as it may affect trade between Member States.

Such abuse may, in particular, consist in:

(a) directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions;

Where “unfair” is never defined. That’s as specific as the law gets. Note too that the base penalty for this infraction, per the EC’s 2006 guidelines, was €40 million, but the EC raised the fine by a factor of 45× to €1.8 billion because the guidelines aren’t binding:

In addition, the Commission decided to add to the basic amount of the fine an additional lump sum of €1.8 billion to ensure that the overall fine imposed on Apple is sufficiently deterrent. Such lump sum fine was necessary in this case because a significant part of the harm caused by the infringement consists of non-monetary harm, which cannot be properly accounted for under the revenue-based methodology as set out in the Commission’s 2006 Guidelines on Fines. In addition, the fine must be sufficient to deter Apple from repeating the present or a similar infringement; and to deter other companies of a similar size and with similar resources from committing the same or a similar infringement.

Judging from the EC’s actions and statements, there’s no reason to believe that the EC will not pursue maximum fines under the DMA.1 


  1. In addition to weighing revenue generated in the EU vs. the risk of fines of 10–20 percent of global revenue, the designated “gatekeepers” are already paying significant penalties in terms of engineering resources. Every software engineer working on features related to DMA compliance is an engineer not working on new features or improving existing features for the non-EU world. I suspect Apple is currently spending more than a commensurate-with-revenue 7 percent of engineering resources on DMA compliance features and APIs. ↩︎


WWDC 2024: June 10–14 

No changes to the format: online conference with in-person attendance for the Monday keynote:

WWDC24 will include an in-person experience on June 10 that will provide developers the opportunity to watch the keynote at Apple Park, meet with Apple team members, and take part in special activities. Space will be limited, and details on how to apply to attend can be found on the Apple Developer site and app.

Announced pretty much right on schedule too. 2020 was an unusual year, to say the least, but starting in 2021 the WWDC dates were announced March 30, April 5, March 29, and now March 26.

Update: Greg Joswiak on Twitter/X:

Mark your calendars for #WWDC24, June 10-14. It’s going to be Absolutely Incredible!

“Absolutely Incredible” with capital letters. No idea what that could mean. A true puzzle for the ages.