Yogi Berra (1925–2015)
Porsche Refuses Android Auto Privacy Terms 

Number 5 on Jonny Lieberman’s list of “13 Cool Facts About the 2017 Porsche 911” for Motortrend:

So much for “Do No Evil.” There’s no technological reason the 991/2 doesn’t have Android Auto playing through its massively upgraded PCM system. But there is an ethical one. As part of the agreement an automaker would have to enter with Google, certain pieces of data must be collected and mailed back to Mountain View, California. Stuff like vehicle speed, throttle position, coolant and oil temp, engine revs — basically Google wants a complete OBD2 dump whenever someone activates Android Auto. Not kosher, says Porsche. Obviously, this is “off the record,” but Porsche feels info like that is the secret sauce that makes its cars special. Moreover, giving such data to a multi-billion dollar corporation that’s actively building a car, well, that ain’t good, either. Apple, by way of stark contrast, only wants to know if the car is moving while Apple Play is in use. Makes you wonder about all the other OEMs who have agreed to Google’s requests/demands, no?

Yes, it does.

Update: Google responds. I would call it a non-denial denial, but you be the judge.

Sony and Verizon Cancel Launch of Xperia Z4V Phone 

Chris Welch, reporting for The Verge:

After failing to deliver it on time for a summer release target, Verizon and Sony today announced that they’ve decided to completely cancel plans to launch the Xperia Z4v in the United States. The move represents a significant blow to Sony’s already-weak presence in the US smartphone market. Neither side is giving an explanation for the cancellation, though Verizon unveiled the Z4v way back in June and has remained silent on the device ever since.


Swiss TV Station Replaces Cameras With iPhones 

Imagine how crazy this story would have sounded just five years ago.

Microsoft’s Surface Book: Detachable Professional Laptop 

Innovative, attractive design, great performance — I even like the name. Kudos to Microsoft.

Tim Cook Marks the Fourth Anniversary of Steve Jobs’s Death in Memo to Employees 

Tim Cook:

What is his legacy? I see it all around us: An incredible team that embodies his spirit of innovation and creativity. The greatest products on earth, beloved by customers and empowering hundreds of millions of people around the world. Soaring achievements in technology and architecture. Experiences of surprise and delight. A company that only he could have built. A company with an intense determination to change the world for the better.

And, of course, the joy he brought his loved ones.

WSJ: Laurene Powell Jobs ‘Tried to Kill’ Upcoming Hollywood Biopic 

Ben Fritz and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for the WSJ:

Mr. Jobs’s allies, led by his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, say the film “Steve Jobs,” and other recent depictions, play down his accomplishments and paint Mr. Jobs as cruel and inhumane. Ms. Jobs repeatedly tried to kill the film, according to people familiar with the conversations. She lobbied, among others, Sony Pictures Entertainment, which developed the script but passed on the movie for financial reasons, and Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, which is releasing the $33.5 million production on Friday. […]

People behind “Steve Jobs” say they offered to include Ms. Jobs in the film’s development, but she declined.

“She refused to discuss anything in Aaron’s script that bothered her despite my repeated entreaties,” producer Scott Rudin said in an emailed response to questions from The Wall Street Journal. He said Ms. Jobs “continued to say how much she disliked the book, and that any movie based on the book could not possibly be accurate.”

I’ll keep an open mind until I’ve seen the movie, but given my thoughts on Isaacson’s book, I tend to agree. What a terrible decision Jobs made when he picked Isaacson to be his authorized biographer.

Google’s Cute Cars and the Ugly End of Driving 

Mat Honan, writing for Buzzfeed after getting to ride in a Google self-driving car:

Cars are giant, inefficient, planet-and-people-killing death machines. Self-driving cars — especially if they are operated as fleets and you only use one when you need it, summoning it Uber-style — would mean we could have fewer vehicles per person, less traffic congestion, less pollution, far fewer vehicles produced per year (thus lowering the environmental impact of production), and, best of all, safer streets. The blind, people with epilepsy, quadriplegics, and all manner of others who today have difficulty ferrying themselves around as they go through the mundanities of an average day will be liberated. Eliminating the automobile’s need for a human pilot will be a positive thing for society.

Business Insider: ‘Evernote Is in Deep Trouble’ 

Eugene Kim, writing for Business Insider:

Evernote has laid off roughly 18% of its workforce in the past nine months, and said it will shut down three of its 10 global offices last week. Earlier this year, it replaced its long-time CEO Phil Libin with former Google exec Chris O’Neill.

“It’s going to be a tough road ahead,” one source familiar with the matter told us. “They want to go public, and, to do that, the focus on revenue now has to be a ruthless prioritization on things that make money.”

Depending on where you stand, Evernote is either a sinking ship or a maturing company going through a normal transition cycle. But most people we spoke to seem to agree that the company has failed to take advantage of its red-hot growth and make enough money from much of its huge user base — and is starting to show early signs of being an ailing unicorn.

Evernote has some very cool features — most impressive to me is that when you attach a photo to a note, they do OCR on any signage or text in the image so you can search for it. But the interface has always seemed so convoluted, I could never get into it. It looks like the result of a company that is focused on adding features, not focused on creating something well-designed.

CNet’s Amazon Fire Review: ‘Not Good, but Good for the Price if You’re a Prime Member’ 

Translation: “The food here is terrible, and the portions are so small.”

Charting Episode Lengths of The Talk Show 

Interesting (to me, at least) chart from friend of the show Todd Vaziri.

Many listeners definitely prefer longer episodes, but I know others feel the opposite. My take is that if you prefer shorter episodes, you can just listen to the long ones across multiple hour-long listening sessions. It’s also somewhat cyclical — at different times of the year, there is more to talk about.

American Apparel Files for Bankruptcy 

Hiroko Tabuchi, reporting for the NYT:

American Apparel, the one-time arbiter of edgy made-in-America cool, filed for bankruptcy protection early Monday, its business crippled by huge debts, a precipitous fall in sales, employee strife and a drawn-out legal battle with the retailer’s ousted founder, Dov Charney.

The Chapter 11 petition, approved by the board, was filed in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware. The filing followed a deal struck with most of American Apparel’s secured lenders to reduce the retailer’s debt through a process known as a debt-for-equity conversion, where bondholders swap their debt for shares in the company.

The deal, which also includes extra financing from the participating bondholders, would enable American Apparel to keep its manufacturing operations in Los Angeles and its 130 stores in the United States open, the company said.

I like their T-shirts (DF shirts have been printed on AA tees for many years), and I like that their products are proudly made in America, so I’m really hoping they recover from this. But I hope they recover with their brand intact.

Mapbox iOS SDK 

My thanks to Mapbox for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. The Mapbox iOS SDK is the new open source framework for making your app location-aware. It comes with beautiful vector maps for any scenario: detailed streets for navigating cities, terrain for adventuring, and satellite imagery for seeing the world up close. The maps are truly beautiful, and they zoom with the speed and smoothness of a video game. Check out their website for comparisons to Google and Apple Maps.

Start developing with the Mapbox iOS SDK for free today. Mapbox’s Cocoa API works just like Apple’s MapKit — just swap out MKMapView for MGLMapView. Their “First Steps With the Mapbox iOS SDK” guide shows just how easy it is to switch.

The Talk Show: ‘Peace, Porn, and Privacy’ 

New episode of my podcast, The Talk Show. This week’s very special guest: Marco Arment. We spend the entire episode arguing about “El Scorcho”.

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Patreon Hacked; Gigabytes of Source Code and User Data Dumped Online 

Dan Goodin, Ars Technica:

Hunt said the release appears to include the entire database taken in the hack, including a fair number of private messages sent and received by users. “Obviously all the campaigns, supporters and pledges are there too,” he wrote in one tweet. “You can determine how much those using Patreon are making.” In a separate tweet, he wrote: “The dollar figure for the Patreon campaigns isn’t the issue, it’s supporters identities, messages, etc. Everything private now public.”

Given that they stole the site’s source code, if you have a Patreon account, you should presume your password is compromised.

Apple Buys UK-Based Speech Technology Start-Up VocalIQ 

The Financial Times:

Apple has acquired a UK-based start-up whose artificial-intelligence software helps computers and people speak to each other in a more natural dialogue, according to people familiar with the deal.

VocalIQ uses machine learning to build virtual assistants that try to recreate the type of talking computers that appear in science-fiction films such as Samantha in Her or Jarvis in Iron Man. The deal marks Apple’s third acquisition of a UK company this year.

The VocalIQ company blog, back in March:

All major technology companies are pouring billions into building up of services like Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Alexa. Each was launched with a huge bang, promising great things but fell well short of consumer expectations. Some ended being used only as toys, like Siri. The rest, forgotten. Unsurprisingly.

Recode on Jack Dorsey 

Jason Del Ray and Kurt Wagner, writing for Recode:

He seems to be a completely different man than the one who returned to Twitter in March 2011 as executive chairman and product czar. Former colleagues recall a man looking for payback for his 2008 ouster; loyalty was key, and many who were loyal to Twitter’s other co-founder, Ev Williams, were booted from the company. Back then, Dorsey would routinely sit in on meetings without saying a word. When he did speak, his contributions were so abstract that few understood what he was talking about. In some cases, he’d simply write a single word or two up on the whiteboard.

He no longer sits silently in meetings — current colleagues say he provides the kind of direct, constructive feedback you’d expect from someone with Dorsey’s reputation as a product guru. There’s still some fear that Dorsey will send people packing, but the chip on his shoulder appears to be gone. Even Twitter co-founder and good friend Biz Stone said something has changed with his friend in the last few years at Square.

“I feel like he went into a time chamber and studied for 40 years and came out after one,” Stone said. “It’s like, what happened? Where did you get all this confidence and great answers and specificity? He seems to be much deeper now. It’s like talking to a much older person.”

The Normalization of Gun Massacres in America 

The Economist, back in June:

The regularity of mass killings breeds familiarity. The rhythms of grief and outrage that accompany them become — for those not directly affected by tragedy — ritualised and then blend into the background noise. That normalisation makes it ever less likely that America’s political system will groan into action to take steps to reduce their frequency or deadliness. Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard them the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing. This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.

As Toynbee Tiles Dwindle, Philadelphia Streets Department Surfaces as Unlikely Hope for Preservation 

Jim Saksa:

Streets employees may be the least likely city workers to be found spending Sunday at the Barnes or catching a gallery opening on First Friday. And yet it’s probably the only city department that’s baked an art-preservation clause into its standard, bid-out contracts.

The city’s paving agreements stipulate that paving contractors must halt resurfacing and notify a Streets engineer if they come across a Toynbee Tile, those strange mosaic messages embedded into the pavement across Philadelphia.

The tiles are at once part of our local lore and art known the world over, the purported product of a South Philly man with a tenuous grip on reality and a tremendous amount of creativity. The tiles have inspired imitators and thieves alike, not to mention numerous news pieces and one award-winning documentary. And with all signs suggesting the mysterious tiler has left the city for good, the tiles are becoming ever more rare and in danger of extinction in their native habitat, Philadelphia.

As a Philadelphian whose favorite film is 2001, I’ve always loved these tiles. They’re everywhere in Center City. It’s crazy that there are even a few on I-676, I-95, and the Schuylkill Expressway.

The Decline of ‘Big Soda’ 

Margot Sanger-Katz, writing for the NYT’s The Upshot:

Over the last 20 years, sales of full-calorie soda in the United States have plummeted by more than 25 percent. Soda consumption, which rocketed from the 1960s through 1990s, is now experiencing a serious and sustained decline.

Sales are stagnating as a growing number of Americans say they are actively trying to avoid the drinks that have been a mainstay of American culture. Sales of bottled water have shot up, and bottled water is now on track to overtake soda as the largest beverage category in two years, according to at least one industry projection.

The drop in soda consumption represents the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade and is responsible for a substantial reduction in the number of daily calories consumed by the average American child.

Millions of Facebook Users Have No Idea They’re Using the Internet 

Leo Mirani, writing for Quartz:

Indonesians surveyed by Galpaya told her that they didn’t use the internet. But in focus groups, they would talk enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook. Galpaya, a researcher (and now CEO) with LIRNEasia, a think tank, called Rohan Samarajiva, her boss at the time, to tell him what she had discovered. “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” he concluded.

You should not be surprised by this.

Vlad Savov: ‘Google’s Nexus Phones Are Just Ads’ 

Vlad Savov, writing at The Verge:

Unlike predecessors such as the Nexus One and Nexus 5, these phones don’t have a clear reason for being, and are not in themselves terribly unique. That’s led me (and others) to question Google’s overall aim with the Nexus line of pure Android smartphones, and I think I’ve finally arrived at an answer. The Nexus program is not so much about carrier independence or purity of Android design as it is about presenting Google in an overwhelmingly positive light. In other words, Google, the ultimate ad seller, sells Nexus phones as ads for itself. […]

It almost seems innocuous, except that it’s not. There isn’t a single Android device manufacturer that is happy with the Nexus program, and I’ve spoken with them all. Those who build Nexuses for Google often do so reluctantly — with the possible exception of Huawei this year, whose US reputation stands to improve dramatically from the halo effect of being associated with Google by manufacturing the Nexus 6P.

In other words, a vanity project.

Looks Like It’s Time for the U.S. Department of Justice to Investigate Apple Again 

Spencer Soper, reporting for Bloomberg, “Amazon to Ban Sale of Apple, Google Video-Streaming Devices”:

Amazon.com Inc. is flexing its e-commerce muscles to gain an edge on competitors in the video-streaming market by ending the sale of devices from Google Inc. and Apple Inc. that aren’t easily compatible with Amazon’s video service.

The Seattle-based Web retailer sent an e-mail to its marketplace sellers that it will stop selling Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast. No new listings for the products will be allowed and posting of existing inventory will be removed Oct. 29, Amazon said. Amazon’s streaming service, called Prime Video, doesn’t run easily on its rival’s hardware.

“Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime,” Amazon said. “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”

Given that they have Amazon Prime apps for iPhone and iPad, why not just make an Amazon Prime app for Apple TV? When they say “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion”, do they mean that they’ll only sell media players that include Amazon Prime by default?

The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites 

The New York Times:

Ad blockers, which Apple first allowed on the iPhone in September, promise to conserve data and make websites load faster. But how much of your mobile data comes from advertising? We measured the mix of advertising and editorial on the mobile home pages of the top 50 news websites — including ours — and found that more than half of all data came from ads and other content filtered by ad blockers. Not all of the news websites were equal.

What is wrong with the people running Boston.com? What they’re doing is shameful.

Upgrade Episode 56: The Migration Experience 

Great episode of one of my favorite podcasts: Jason Snell and Myke Hurley’s Upgrade. They cover, in depth, something I’ve been meaning to write about: the lousy, painstaking, and at times downright confusing experience of migrating to a new iOS device. If Apple wants people to upgrade to new iPhones annually, they really need to take a long hard look at reducing the friction.

(I enjoy that this episode of Upgrade was literally about upgrading.)

Google’s New ‘Customer Match’ for Ads 

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president for ads and commerce:

Customer Match is a new product designed to help you reach your highest-value customers on Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail — when it matters most. Customer Match allows you to upload a list of email addresses, which can be matched to signed-in users on Google in a secure and privacy-safe way. From there, you can build campaigns and ads specifically designed to reach your audience. Users can control the ads they see, including Customer Match ads, by opting out of personalized ads or by muting or blocking ads from individual advertisers through Google Ads Settings.

Here’s Peter Gothard’s take on what this means, writing for Computing:

Google is close to rolling out a tool named “Customer Match” which, it appears, will combine a logged-in Google account with any email address handed by a customer to a retailer to create lists of addresses to target specific users with marketing material.

The search giant can sit comfortably with this arrangement, as the lists of emails are anonymised through the service, meaning Google keeps hold of the specific details and the retailer doesn’t get them, but can use them to blind dump advertising into Google-based sessions in services such as YouTube, Gmail or basic search functions on the Google homepage.

The bottom line: ever-more-personally-targeted ads, and a growing divide between Google’s and Apple’s approach to privacy.

Recode: Jack Dorsey to Be Named Permanent Twitter CEO 

Kara Swisher and Kurt Wagner, reporting for Recode:

Jack is back — for good this time.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who has been serving as interim CEO for the past three months, is expected be named the company’s new permanent CEO as early as tomorrow, although that timeframe may change, according to sources. Dorsey will apparently continue to run Square, the payments company he founded where he’s also CEO.

I feel good about this — Dorsey values product design, and he understands what makes Twitter what it is.

How-To Geek: ‘Apple Maps vs. Google Maps’ 

Chris Stobing, writing for How-To-Geek:

Going into this article, I thought we were going to have a clear winner with Google Maps sitting comfortably out front. However, it was a pleasant surprise to find that with Apple Maps updated and all the kinks finally worked out, the debate between Google or Apple Maps eventually just comes down to your own personal preference.

I know that Apple Maps still has terrible data for certain parts of the world. But I’ve been saying for a while now that for a lot of us, it’s gotten pretty good. I do still have Google Maps installed on my phone, but I haven’t used it in months.

Apple Actually Wants You to Read and Understand Its Privacy Policies 

Matthew Panzarino on Apple’s new Privacy Policy:

This is the template for all other tech companies when it comes to informing users about their privacy. Not a page of dense jargon, and not a page of cutesy simplified language that doesn’t actually communicate the nuance of the thing. Instead, it’s a true product. A product whose aims are to inform and educate, just as Apple says its other products do.

An example:

Here’s a tidbit with regards to Apple Maps. When you query Maps for a trip, Apple generates a generic device identifier and pulls the info using that, rather than an Apple ID. Halfway through your trip, it generates another random ID and associates the second half with that. Then, for good measure, it truncates the trip data so the information about exact origin and destination are not kept. That data is retained for 2 years to improve Maps and then deleted.

Pretty sure Google Maps doesn’t work that way.


Kyle Wiens, iFixit:

You might have noticed that there’s no longer an iFixit app in the Apple’s App Store. We are sorry for anyone this has inconvenienced.

Not too long ago, we tore down the Apple TV and Siri Remote. The developer unit we disassembled was sent to us by Apple. Evidently, they didn’t intend for us to take it apart. But we’re a teardown and repair company; teardowns are in our DNA — and nothing makes us happier than figuring out what makes these gadgets tick. We weighed the risks, blithely tossed those risks over our shoulder, and tore down the Apple TV anyway.

A few days later, we got an email from Apple informing us that we violated their terms and conditions — and the offending developer account had been banned. Unfortunately, iFixit’s app was tied to that same account, so Apple pulled the app as well. Their justification was that we had taken “actions that may hinder the performance or intended use of the App Store, B2B Program, or the Program.”

“Evidently, they didn’t intend for us to take it apart” is the funniest thing I’ve read today. This isn’t some niggling technicality — they violated the spirit and plainly written letter of the developer kit agreement. Of course Apple was going to react. Whether a complete suspension of iFixit’s developer account is a just punishment is debatable, but it certainly shouldn’t be surprising.

There is, however, a certain purity to iFixit’s actions here, like the fable of the scorpion and the frog. It’s dishonest to blatantly violate an NDA, but it’s iFixit’s institutional nature to disassemble and publish every gadget they get their hands on.

The Success of iOS Ad Blockers Is Not ‘Ironic’ 

Jacob Davidson, writing for Time:

But Apple’s move to allow ad blockers has changed all that. In the days since iOS 9’s release, ad blockers quickly became the best selling software in the App Store. That means, ironically enough, that iPhone users want an ad-free mobile experience so badly they’re willing to pay directly for it.

That’s not irony. There is nothing ironic about people being willing to pay for something of value that removes something of negative value. What he’s trying to say here is that he had assumed that people are unwilling to pay for things and would put up with anything so long as it was free — and so he’s surprised to be proven wrong. But rather than face his wrong assumptions that led to his surprise, he’s chalking it up to iOS users doing something “ironic”.

What would be ironic would be if iOS users were buying ad blockers that were advertised via web banner ads that the blockers themselves block. Update: This isn’t quite irony, but it is chutzpah.

Philadelphia City Paper to Cease Print Publication 

Sam Wood, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

City Paper, Philadelphia’s feisty alternative newspaper, will cease its print publication as of Oct. 8. News of the prize-winning weekly’s demise came as a surprise this afternoon to the publication’s editors and staff writers. […]

City Paper’s website operations will be consolidated with philadelphiaweekly.com, which until today was City Paper’s primary competitor.

Unsurprising, given the current media climate, but City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly were arch-rivals. An ignominious end.

MarketWatch: ‘Google Unveils Everything Apple Launched, Only Cheaper’ 

I love this headline. Seriously, it’s perfect.

Donald Trump Is Not Going Anywhere 

Terrific behind-the-scenes profile of Trump on the campaign trail, by Mark Leibovich for the NYT Magazine:

“Don’t speak,” Trump instructed me as I sat down next to him in a Suburban. That was fine by me. None of the five staff members and security people in the vehicle said a word. We sat, per Trump’s dictate, in silence for the half-hour drive. It was almost comforting to me that he would take a break from being Donald, the Brand, and turn relatively “off” in my presence; that he could, as much as he ever does, retreat into himself. I wondered what he was thinking about.

There’s a you-are-there feel to Leibovich’s piece that I just love.

AnandTech: iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus Preliminary Results 

It’s not just CPU performance: reading and writing to SSD storage have improved tremendously since last year — and are way ahead of the rest of the industry.

Donate to St. Jude Memphis for Stephen Hackett 

Stephen Hackett (of 512 Pixels fame):

St. Jude is a special place: The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

Over the last six years, St. Jude has spent millions of dollars on our son, saving not only his life, but our family from financial ruin.

It’s a fantastic cause, and one that is near and dear to his family. He’s already hit his funding goal of $18,000, but it’d be great to see the total raised blow past that. Let’s make it happen.

‘The Point Is He Is Not So Much a Broken Clock as a Compass That Points South’ 

The Macalope takes on a piece from Rob Enderle that is obviously wrong even by Enderle’s own standards — wherein he argues that Apple needs to abandon its custom A-series chips for mobile and use the ones everyone else does from Qualcomm. You know, the ones that are around three years behind in performance.

The State of JavaScript on Android in 2015 Is Poor 

Jeff Atwood:

It seems the Android manufacturers are more interested in slapping n slow CPU cores on a die than they are in producing very fast CPU cores. And this is quite punishing when it comes to JavaScript.

This is becoming more and more of a systemic problem in the Android ecosystem, one that will not go away in the next few years, and it may affect the future of Discourse, since we bet heavily on near-desktop JavaScript performance on mobile devices. That is clearly happening on iOS but it is quite disastrously the opposite on Android.

Looking at a JavaScript benchmark, the fastest-known Android device today performed worse than an iPhone 5. That puts state-of-the-art Android performance three years behind iPhones.

It almost certainly is not because Chrome/Blink has worse JavaScript performance than Safari/WebKit — desktop benchmarks tend to show Chrome as being faster, if anything. I think the obvious answer is that the ARM chips used even in the highest-end Android phones are years behind Apple’s A-series chips in single-core performance. I don’t think it’s because Android manufacturers are cheaping out, as Atwood implies. I think it’s because Bob Mansfield’s team inside Apple is that far ahead of the rest of the industry.

What It Means to Be a Great Product 

Horace Dediu:

This quandary came to mind when looking at the performance of the latest iPhone, the 6S. Observing it closely, we lose sight of it. We see only minute changes between versions; marginal changes which can’t be weighed. And yet these changes have a more important attribute: they are absorbable. A change that is ignored is not only valueless, it may actually destroy perception of value. It creates clutter and confusion. A change that is absorbable is valuable. It is meaningful.

Looking at new features like 3D Touch, Live Photos, and better cameras, one can observe how easily acceptable and desirable they are to those who first see them. As were Siri, FaceTime, Touch ID and iCloud, making something meaningfully better is a sign of sustaining innovation which does not over-serve.

Paradoxically, the improvements are not usually things that users ask for. Surveys always show that consumers want “better battery life” or a “bigger screen” but delivering something else entirely which nevertheless leads to mass adoption shows an uncanny insight into what really matters. Indeed, those who deliver only what customers ask for end up marginalized and bereft of profit.

Wonderfully astute, as usual.

Philly Without Cars 

Gorgeous video by Cory J. Popp of the car-free streets of Philadelphia during last weekend’s shutdown for Pope Francis. (Thanks to Shawn Medero.)

Apple’s iPhone 6S Breaks Record as China Boosts Sales to 13M 

Sam Thielman, reporting for The Guardian:

Enthusiasm in China drove sales of Apple’s latest iPhone to a record 13m units last weekend, topping last year’s record of 10m, when the manufacturer’s popular phone was held up in China by regulators. Analysts put sales in China at between 3m and 4m units, leaving sales elsewhere essentially flat year-over-year.

I had forgotten about the delay in China last year — that clearly explains a lot of the opening weekend bump. Worth noting though, that the iPhone 5S (and 5C) were available in China for opening weekend two years ago, and the total was “only” a then-record 9 million.

The iPhones 6S

The pattern is pretty clear. In even-numbered years (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014) Apple releases all-new iPhone form factors: 3G, 4, 5, 6/6 Plus. In the subsequent years, they release “S” variants: iPhones that look nearly identical to their predecessors, but with improved components.

Why do they do this?

There are some ecosystem advantages to this tick-tock1 schedule. Most iPhone cases, for example, fit both the tick and tock iPhones. (The rare exceptions are certain hard cases with extremely tight tolerances. The iPhones 6S, for example, are both a few tenths of a millimeter bigger, wider, and thicker than their corresponding siblings from last year.) I think there are some branding advantages to this two-year cycle as well. iPhones are iconic devices. The devices themselves are recognizable. Keeping each new form factor around for two model years lets that iconic appearance seep deeper into the mass market collective consciousness.

Releasing a new generation of iPhones every year — year in, year out — is an aggressive pace given the scale and scope of the iPhone, and its importance to Apple financially. Sure, other handset makers put out dozens of different models every year. But Apple is playing an entirely different game. With one exception — the iPhone 5C two years ago (a phone which, as time goes by, seems more and more curious strategically) — Apple has never made a new iPhone other than a new top-of-the-line industry-leading flagship. In the same way that automobiles don’t change form factors every year, I don’t think it would be feasible for Apple to change the iPhone’s form factor every year. I think it takes more than a year for Apple’s design team to create a new iPhone design — at least to create a new design that is different because it is better, not merely different for the sake of being different.

The glaring downside to this tick-tock schedule is that we as a culture — and particularly the media, both on the tech/gadgetry side and the business side — are obsessed with “new”. And, well, the S-model iPhones don’t look new. This year there is a new rose gold aluminum finish, but at a glance, the iPhones 6S look like last year’s iPhones 6. Every year is an iterative improvement over the previous one, whether it’s an S year or not. But it’s hard not to see the S years as more iterative, less impressive, updates, simply because they look the same.

I think that’s a trap — a way to be fooled by your eyes. If you put aside what the phones look like, the S model years have brought some of the biggest changes to the platform. The display changes came in non-S years, of course — the iPhone 4 going retina; the iPhone 5 expanding from 3.5 to 4 inches diagonally and changing the aspect ratio; and of course last year’s 6/6 Plus expanding to 4.7 and 5.5 inches and higher display resolutions. But it was the 3GS that first improved on CPU performance and gave us the first improvements to the camera. The 4S ushered in Siri integration and a much faster camera. The 5S was Apple’s first 64-bit ARM device, years ahead of the competition, and was the first device with Touch ID. For a typical iPhone user on a two-year upgrade cycle, I think the S years are the better phones, historically.

Here’s a passage from my 5S/5C review two years ago:

Refinement, in the eyes of these naysayers, does not count as innovation. Only revolution counts. But the iPhone needs no revolution. It continues to sell better year-over-year, year after year, without lowering its prices. Every step of the way between 2007 and that lone original iPhone — running an OS with no third-party apps, no multitasking, not even copy-and-paste — and today’s world, where Apple is on the cusp of selling its 700 millionth iOS device and the lineup ranges from the iPod Touch to the iPhones to two sizes of iPad, has been about just that: refinement.

The iPhone 5S shows that there remains much room for refinement.

I don’t think it’s ever been more of a trap to approach an S-model iPhone as “just a slightly improved version of last year’s iPhone” than this year.

I used to think — and maybe it was even true — that one of the advantages to Apple of the tick-tock cycle is that during the S years, they’re already experts at manufacturing a bunch of the components. That they’ve already got a year of experience making that case, that display, those buttons. That manufacturing-wise, Apple could just swap in a few new components, like a new A-series CPU, and call it a day. But the iPhones 6S don’t use the same case as last year’s models. They’re now made out of an altogether new “7000 series” aluminum alloy. This isn’t just a new material that needs to be obtained in massive quantities, it also requires new CNC machining to carve and polish the frames. The displays are the same sizes as last year, but Apple is using a new glass that it calls “the strongest in the smartphone industry”.2 Even the Touch ID sensor is new. Everything you can touch on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus is new.

Internally, Apple has added force sensors to enable 3D Touch. They’ve replaced the chintzy old vibrating engine with a “Taptic” engine. Both LTE and Wi-Fi now support faster speeds (and LTE supports more bands, increasing compatibility with networks around the world). The camera now supports 4K video and shoots better (and bigger) still photos. On the iPhone 6S Plus, image stabilization now works with video in addition to stills. The CPU and GPU improvements in the A9 system-on-a-chip are more dramatic compared to the A8 than the A8 was to the A7.

Apple has even — dare I say finally — increased the amount of RAM, from 1 GB to 2.

The Only Thing That’s Changed Is Everything” is the slogan of Apple’s marketing campaign for the iPhones 6S. I can’t beat that. I’ve been testing both models for 12 days, and what Apple is saying about the new iPhones is true. They don’t look new, but almost everything about them is new.

I think it’s backwards to think that in an S year, Apple simply takes the previous model and makes a few tweaks. Instead, I think what’s obvious is that knowing the basic industrial design at least two years ahead of time gives the engineering teams inside Apple an opportunity to make significant changes to the components and the materials used to construct them. The timeline for iPhones, because of the massive scale at which they must be manufactured, is such that, right now, as I’m typing this, the design for next year’s iPhone 7 is either locked down or very close to it. The company will now spend the next year hustling to make it work and put it into production so it can start shipping a year from now. But that means there are also teams already at work on the iPhone 7S slated for 2017 — and they have a massive head start in terms of knowing the shape and dimensions of the device.


As usual, I’ll leave in-depth performance analysis to others, but I did run the Geekbench 3 general-purpose benchmark. All devices were running the release version of iOS 9.0. I ran the benchmark three times after restarting the device, and put all devices in airplane mode during the tests. I’ve rounded the scores to the nearest tens digit. For both the iPhone 6 and 6S, the scores for the 5.5-inch Plus models were effectively identical to the 4.7-inch models, so they aren’t broken out separately.

Test iPhone 5S iPhone 6 iPhone 6S 6S vs. 6 Factor
Single Core 1360 1610 2500 1.6×
Multi-Core 2430 2890 4340 1.5×
Memory (Single) 1420 1650 2540 1.5×
Memory (Multi) 1770 1840 2560 1.4×

Two observations here. First, there is a noticeably bigger performance increase across the board going from the 6 to the 6S than there was last year, going from the 5S to the 6. In broad strokes, the non-S iPhones are about physical style, the S models are about performance. (At the introduction of the 3GS in 2009, Phil Schiller claimed the “S” stood for “speed”. Since then, Apple hasn’t said what any of the S’s stand for, but “speed” still fits)

Second, take a look at Geekbench’s aggregate results for Android devices. (Here’s a screenshot as it stands today, for posterity.) In terms of single-core performance, there isn’t a single Android phone that beats the two-year-old iPhone 5S. Android devices fare better in multi-core benchmarks, because they have more cores (some have eight, many have four — the iPhones 6S still have only two cores), but single-core performance is a better measure for the sort of things you can feel while using a device. Apple is literally years ahead of the industry. Even if you don’t agree that single-core performance is the more meaningful benchmark, you can’t deny that iPhone benchmarks don’t look anything like the benchmarks for high-end Android devices. With the Mac, Apple uses the same Intel chips as its PC competition. On mobile, though, Apple’s in-house chip team has given the company a tremendous advantage over the rest of the industry.

Speaking of the Mac and performance, again looking at single-core performance, Geekbench results put the iPhone 6S at roughly the same score as a 2012 or 2013 MacBook Air. Even more intriguing is a comparison to the new single-port MacBook:

Test iPhone 6S MacBook
(1.3 GHz)
(1.2 GHz)
(1.1 GHz)
Single Core 2500 2631 2420 2295
Multi-Core 4340 5268 5018 4464

The new iPhone 6S beats the new MacBook in single-core performance on Geekbench, and is within spitting distance in multi-core. That’s astounding. I can’t wait to see the scores for the iPad Pro later this year.

3D Touch

3D Touch can be used in a few ways:

  1. Quick Actions: The pop-up menu you see from the home screen when you press on an app icon.

  2. Peek and Pop: Press a little to get a peek, press harder to pop whatever you’re peeking at open. This works mostly on list items. So in Mail, from your list of messages, you can peek to look at a message, then pop to open it all the way up. It works almost everywhere in Apple’s own apps: Messages, Camera, Maps, Weather, Safari (page previews on links), Notes, Calendar, and more. It pays to explore.

  3. Multitasking: As an alternative to double-pressing the home button, you can now press on the left edge of the display. Press-and-swipe all the way across and you switch back to the previous app you were using. Press-and-swipe just a little and you’re left in the “card view” where you can switch to any previous application. The former is like hitting Command-Tab just once. The latter is like hitting Tab repeatedly while holding down the Command key. This is quickly addictive, and a great accommodation now that the iPhones are bigger than they used to be — you can switch between apps without changing your grip to allow your thumb to reach the Home button.

  4. Trackpad Mode: Press on the keyboard and it turns into a trackpad. iPads running iOS 9 can trigger this trackpad mode, too, with a two-finger swipe on the keyboard. Doing it with a single finger on the iPhone, though, is a tremendous boon to text editing. This might be the single best new feature for text editing on the iPhone since the addition of selection and Copy/Paste in iOS 3 in 2009. In addition to moving the insertion point around, you can press again and switch to selection mode — like double-clicking the mouse button on a Mac. Trackpad mode is a once-you’ve-used-it-you-can’t-go-back addition to iOS.

There are other uses for 3D Touch as well. When drawing in the new Notes app or using Markup to annotate an image in Mail, you can press harder to draw thicker strokes. (The same also applies when drawing Chinese characters on Chinese handwriting keyboards.) If you press on one of the new “dynamic wallpapers” on the lock screen, it animates for a few seconds, like a Live Photo. (Or you can set your lock screen wallpaper to a Live Photo you’ve taken yourself. But Apple’s “dynamic wallpapers” have a higher frame rate than the live photos you can take yourself; they’re obviously like live photos, but they’re not the same thing as the ones you can take with the iPhone 6S camera.)

The wallpaper animation is gimmicky, but fun. Most of the other uses for 3D Touch, though, are legitimate productivity gains. I find myself using the shortcuts on the icons for Messages (to jump to one of your three most-active recent threads) and Camera (to choose which mode to start in: front-facing self-portrait, video, slo-mo, or still) frequently. It’s habit-forming.

Peek-and-pop for, say, reading email — I wasn’t too sure about that at first. But watching Tim Cook’s appearance on Stephen Colbert, I took note when Cook claimed it helps him get through his inbox faster. I tried it again, and noticed for the first time that while peeking, you can slide the message left or right to trash or archive it. It really is an efficient way to triage messages, especially ones that you can’t get the gist of from the two- or three-line preview in the message list itself. And, you can drag a message up to get an activity sheet with additional actions, like Reply, Forward, Notify Me, and more. The productivity gain with this workflow is that you don’t have to go “back” after finishing. Peek, swipe to the side to archive, and it’s gone. Anywhere you can peek, try sliding the peek around.

I have only two bad things to say about 3D Touch. First, Apple missed an opportunity to borrow a great feature from Apple Watch. On Apple Watch, you can force touch in the notification list and you get an option to Clear All. 3D Touch has no effect in iOS 9’s notification list, and there remains no way to clear all notifications at once.

Second, I find myself triggering the Quick Action menu inadvertently when I want to enter “jiggle mode” on the home screen, to either delete or move an app. Tap-and-wait long-pressing has always been a little frustrating to me. I don’t like to wait. I’m impatient. So when I go to move an app on the iPhone 6S, I press on it, and more often than not, I press hard enough to register as a 3D Touch. For apps that don’t have any Quick Actions (which is to say, as of this writing, all third-party apps), what happens next is that you get a wee bit of haptic feedback to let you know your press registered as a 3D Touch event, but that there are no Quick Actions for this app. It feels like two very quick gentle taps. This haptic feedback is very clever. There is no alert, and no sound. Just that little feedback that feels like the haptic equivalent of your phone telling you “Uh-uh”. But the experience is frustrating, because now it’s taking me even longer to enter jiggle mode: first, without thinking about what I’m doing, I accidentally trigger the “Uh-uh, no quick actions for this app” 3D Touch. Then I have to let go, purposefully tap-and-hold gently, and wait. I expect to get used to this over time, but at this point, 3D Touch and long-pressing feel like they’re at odds with each other.

Overall, it seems very clear to me that 3D Touch will spread across the entire iOS device line. Like Touch ID and retina displays, it’s simply debuting on the iPhone first.

Taptic Engine

Speaking of the new Taptic Engine, it’s excellent. It doesn’t just provide for 3D Touch feedback, but it also serves as the vibrator for notifications. It is stronger, more noticeable, and in my opinion more pleasing than any previous iPhone vibrator. Back in 2011, Apple switched to a superior oscillating vibrator in the iPhone 4S (and the Verizon/CDMA iPhone 4). All previous iPhones used a cheaper rotational vibrator. The oscillating vibrator in the iPhone 4S was noticeably nicer. For whatever reason, Apple went back to a rotational vibrator in the iPhone 5, and stuck with it through the iPhone 6. The new taptic engine in the 6S feels as good or better than the old iPhone 4S vibrator. It’s just stronger and more pleasing.

The 3D Touch feedback is well-designed. Peeks feel gentle, pops feel stronger — sort of like a half tap and a full tap. When you press something in the interface that has only one level of 3D Touch (like the Quick Action menu on a home screen icon), you get the full-strength tap feedback, which is a way of letting you know, by feel, that there’s no reason to press harder. If you feel a peek, you know you can press hard to pop; if you feel a pop, you know you’re done. Once you get used to it, peek/pop is as intuitive as the shutter button on a camera, where you can press halfway to engage autofocus and set the exposure, and press the rest of the way to take a picture.


Speaking of which, the iPhone 6S cameras are terrific. They’re fast, responsive, and accurate — accurate meaning that unedited, right off the camera roll, the color and light reproduction look like how the scene appeared to my eyes. More than any other aspect of the iPhone, the camera exemplifies the advantages of Apple’s integration of hardware and software.

I’m still not sure what to make of the Live Photos feature. Is it a gimmick? I don’t know. But I’m still shooting with the feature turned on. Technically, the way it seems to work is that the iPhone creates two files: a 12 MP JPEG (exactly the same as when you shoot a still image with Live Photo disabled), and a three-second-long MOV file. When looked at through Image Capture on a Mac running OS X 10.10.x, you see both files in the iPhone camera roll: “IMG_1234.JPG” and “IMG_1234.MOV”. Both files have same numeric index after the “IMG_” prefix, and both files have the same creation date. The MOV file is 1440 × 1080 pixels, at 12.77 frames-per-second.

Technically, of course, a MOV file is a video. But I think one of the reasons Apple is adamantly refusing to describe Live Photos as “video” is that these animated sidecars aren’t high-quality videos in and of themselves. That they are video files, under the hood, is just an implementation detail.

It’s also worth emphasizing that these Live Photos are not implemented by burst mode. You can still engage burst mode by holding down the shutter button, but you still only get about six or seven frames per second. When taking a burst of stills, Live Photo is disabled — you just get a regular series of still images, grouped together in the camera roll just like on the iPhone 6.

So the way Live Photo works, I think, is this: when you’re in still photo mode with Live Photo turned on, the iPhone is constantly capturing 1440 × 1080 video at 12.77 FPS, but keeping only the most recent 1.5 seconds. Then when you tap the shutter to capture a still, it takes a 12-megapixel still image in between capturing frames of the video. Then the camera continues capturing another 1.5 seconds of video. So you wind up with 1.5 seconds of video prior to hitting the shutter, one still image at the maximum resolution of the image sensor, and another 1.5 seconds of video from after the shutter press. Because there is only one 12-megapixel still image captured, you can’t change the “key frame” of a Live Photo.

In iOS 9.0, the timing of this video capture is hard-coded. You get 3 seconds of video — 1.5 seconds on each side of the still capture — every time. This means, however, if you snap your photo and then lower the camera, you wind up with a “droop” at the end of your live photo animation — usually a blurry view of the floor. Apple has already addressed this in the betas for iOS 9.1. In 9.1, the camera will use the accelerometer to detect when you lower the camera after snapping a shot, and truncate the animation at that point. So in 9.0, all live photos are 3 seconds long, but many will have an unfortunate droop at the end. Starting in 9.1, live photos will be up to 3 seconds long, with no droops.

You cannot edit Live Photos. Well, you can edit them, but doing so turns them into stills.

One other camera feature demands mention, and it breaks my heart. Last year, the iPhone 6 Plus, and only the Plus, included optical image stabilization. This year, OIS remains a Plus-only feature, and Apple has made it even better, because it now works with video. The advantages of OIS for video are even greater than for still images, in my opinion. You know how when you watch a video someone shot on their phone — any phone — and when they walk around, you can see the picture rock up and down with each step they take? It’s a signature of amateur video shot on consumer cameras, and it’s unpleasant to say the least.

OIS for video reduces this jerkiness. And in my testing on the iPhone 6S Plus, the effect is dramatic. It’s a poor man’s Steadicam, built right into the iPhone 6S Plus. I say that this breaks my heart because, personally, I have no interest in owning the 6S Plus — I much prefer the pocketability and feel-in-hand of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6S. I could tell myself last year that the 6 Plus’s camera was only a wee bit better than the regular 6’s, and only under certain conditions. This year, OIS for video means the iPhone 6S Plus is capable of something the regular 6S is not: shooting smooth full-size videos while you walk around or pan the camera.3

Lastly, I can’t write about the camera without complaining that the bump for the lens is still there. I understand the physics and optics involved, but it bothers me every single day that I can feel that nubbin. The best argument for forgiving the camera bump is that a vast majority of iPhone owners use a case of some sort, and with a case, the camera bump is a non-issue. But for those of us who don’t use cases, and who appreciate Apple’s general attention to every little detail, it’s a very minor but daily irritation. My number one hope for next year is that Apple can continue to improve image quality while somehow getting rid of the bump.


  • One thing that hasn’t changed from last year’s iPhone 6 models: storage tiers of 16, 64, and 128 GB. The units I received for testing (one 6S, one 6S Plus) were both 128 GB. I’m sure most people can get by easily with the 64 GB models. For anyone who is not completely certain that they don’t need much storage, I would recommend against the 16 GB models. It’s too easy to fill them up. I wish Apple had switched the baseline from 16 to 32 GB. 4K video is off by default (the default is 1080p at 30 FPS), but forget about shooting 4K with a 16 GB device. Apple says 4K video takes up 375 MB per minute.

    Here’s the thing that nags me whenever I complain about these 16 GB phones. My gut feeling is that they’re too small. Data from third-party app analytics suggests they’re too small for many of the people who buy them. But Apple has more data on iPhone usage than anyone, and the company is obsessed with customer satisfaction. They measure customer satisfaction through surveys as accurately and scientifically as they can. How often does Tim Cook speak in public without the words “customer sat” coming out of his mouth? If last year’s 16 GB baseline adversely affected customer satisfaction, you’d think Apple would have done something about it this year, right? The only other explanation that makes sense is that it does adversely affect customer satisfaction, but they’re willing to take the hit in the name of higher average selling prices, because of the people who wind up buying 64 GB models who would have bought a 32 GB model for $100 less if that had been an option. Again, to me, 16/64/128 is not good/better/best — it’s OK/better/best.

  • Also seemingly unchanged from last year: the effective battery life of the device. I didn’t perform any sort of battery life tests, but in heavy daily usage, the iPhone 6S felt like it got the same battery life as the iPhone 6 I’ve been using for a year. No better, no worse. Like last year, the iPhone 6S Plus clearly gets way better battery life than the regular 6S, simply because it has room for a far larger battery.

  • The 6S models are heavier than last year’s phones: the 6S is 14 grams heavier than the 6 (143/129g); the 6S Plus is 20 grams heavier than the 6 Plus (192/172g). Some of this might be due to the new Taptic Engine (which looks bigger in Apple’s see-the-components promotional video) and the sensors for 3D Touch, but I presume most of the difference is due to the switch to higher-grade 7000-series aluminum. Well worth it for the additional structural integrity — I don’t expect any complaints about bending this year. [Update: According to The Verge, most of the weight gain is from the touch sensors in the new display assembly, not the aluminum.]

    This is subjective, but it seems to me that the new iPhones feel different to the touch. It’s not dramatic, but I think they’re less slippery. I’ve gone case-less with every iPhone I’ve owned, and the only one I’ve ever dropped and had the screen crack was the iPhone 6. The larger size and rounded edges made the iPhone 6 less grip-able than my beloved old iPhone 5S. It could just be the extra weight, but in blind testing, I can feel the difference between my old iPhone 6 and the new 6S. It’s just a wee bit more tacky, and it’s either due to the material, or the wear and tear of a year’s usage on my iPhone 6.

  • Apple is billing the new Touch ID sensor as “up to 2× faster”. They’re underselling it. It’s so fast now that every single time I press it, it unlocks the phone, no matter how brief the contact is between my finger and the sensor. I can sit here and try to use the home button to get to the lock screen, and I can’t unless I purposefully only touch a small portion of the button or use an unregistered finger. It’s that fast. This actually takes some getting used it, if, like me, you sometimes use the home button just to get to the lock screen to check the date or time. With the new Touch ID sensor, the home button instantly unlocks the phone and I need to use the sleep/wake button to get to the lock screen.

  • You know those FCC-mandated regulatory logos etched on the back of your iPhone? They’re gone. Last year the FCC issued new guidelines that allow manufacturers to put all these labels in software, for display on screen, and Apple has done just that. (You can see them in Settings: General: Regulatory.) It’s such a little thing, but those little turds have always bothered me. Curiously, one previous iPhone also lacked these regulatory etchings: the Verizon iPhone 4. I have no idea why that one iPhone was able to omit them but subsequent ones were not.

    Replacing the regulatory turds is a simple “S” under the “iPhone” on the back of the phone. Previous S-model iPhones were not labeled as such.

  • I don’t plan to use one, but Apple’s new cases are very nice. Both the silicone and leather cases come in nicer colors than last year — and they complement/match Apple’s lineup of Sport and leather straps for Apple Watch nicely. They really seem to have upped their game with leatherwork. Just for kicks I spent a few days of my review period with the iPhone 6S in the saddle brown case, and I really liked the way it looked and felt. It seems like the sort of leather that will look better as it ages. The biggest thing keeping me from using this case for real, going forward, is that the raised edge along the side of the display gets in the way of performing edge-based gestures, primarily swiping to go back, and the new press-and-swipe to switch between apps with 3D Touch.

The Bottom Line

New-number iPhones (4, 5, 6) are about showing off Apple’s design prowess. The S models are about showing off Apple’s engineering prowess. Storage capacities and battery life are unchanged from last year’s iPhones. Everything else — the materials they’re made from, the performance of their custom CPU/GPU, the quality of the cameras, the smoothness of the user interface — is noticeably, tangibly improved. 

  1. There might be other examples, but in tech the most well-known example of this strategy is Intel’s CPU schedule: one generation is a new microarchitecture (big new change) and the next is a shrinking of the previous one. What isn’t obvious is that the “tocks” are the new microarchitectures, and the “ticks” are the die shrinkings. So for iPhones, the S models are the ticks, and the new form factors are the tocks. That seems counter-intuitive, of course, because we say “tick-tock” but the tocks come before the ticks. That’s kind of stupid if you ask me, so if you want to call the new form factor models the ticks and the S models the tocks, go right ahead. ↩︎

  2. What does “stronger” mean? More scratch-resistant? Less prone to cracking when dropped? Both? I don’t know, and when I asked, no one at Apple would say. ↩︎︎

  3. There are a few apps for the iPhone that implement image-stabilization for video in software. Two that I’m aware of are Hyperlapse (from Instagram) and Horizon. Both apps work well, but there’s no way to cheat true optical image stabilization. These apps smooth out the motion in video by cropping the frames. So you lose some resolution and wind up with a narrow field of view. The bigger downside is that you have remember to use these apps before you start shooting. When I see something I want to capture, I’m already in the system Camera app before I think about it. ↩︎︎

How to Turn iOS 9’s Keyboard Back to All Caps

iOS 9’s keyboard has a big change: the alphabetic key caps change case — they’re lowercase when typing lowercase, uppercase when Shift or Caps Lock is engaged. Android and Windows Phone keyboards have always done this.

I don’t like it, and I’m not alone.

The good news: You can turn this off and go back to the way the keyboard was meant to be, with all caps alphabetic keys all the time. The confusing part: For some reason, the setting for this is not in Settings: General: Keyboard. Instead, it’s in Settings: General: Accessibility: Keyboard.

Some people love this feature, so it’s great that it’s a setting. I dislike it because having the keys change automatically while I’m looking at the keyboard makes it look like it’s vibrating or flickering. I spent a week with the case-shifting enabled this summer (using the iOS 9 betas) and it drove me nuts. To me it’s distracting and looks a little cheap, and if it were up to me, it wouldn’t be the default.

The main argument I’ve seen in favor of this change holds no water: that this is the solution to iOS 7’s is-it-on-or-is-it-off? Schrödinger’s Shift Key. The proper solution to an ambiguous Shift key is to replace it with an unambiguous Shift key. The lack of case shifting on the keyboard was not a problem on iOS 1-6 because the Shift key on the old keyboard was unambiguous. Whether you prefer a case-shifting keyboard or not, the Shift key should be unambiguous. These are two different things.

The good news is, Apple did improve the Shift key on iOS 9. When not engaged, the arrow glyph on the key cap is now hollow. When Shift is engaged, the key turns white and the arrow is solid black. With Caps Lock on, the arrow gets an underscore.

One more iOS 9 change to the iPhone keyboard: there is now an option not to show the popup character preview as you type (Settings: General: Keyboard: Character Preview). The iPad keyboard has never shown these previews, presumably because the keys are big enough that you can see the keys themselves highlight as you tap them. Prior to iOS 9, however, the iPhone keyboard has always shown them.

While running beta versions of iOS 9 over the summer, I tried turning off character previews, but soon turned them back on. I’m just too accustomed to them after eight years of daily iPhone use. With previews off, it feels to me like the keyboard isn’t working.

[Update: At one point during the summer, the iOS 9 betas were defaulting to not show character previews, and I incorrectly assumed this was still the case when I first published this piece. In the release version of iOS 9.0, characters previews remain on by default, and I’ve rewritten the above accordingly. Sorry for any confusion.] 

De Facto Veto Power

Thom Holwerda posted a link on OSNews to my comments about Apple effectively having veto power over new web technologies. He didn’t add much commentary, other than:

What could possibly go wrong.

I’ll save you a link hover — “wrong” links to Wikipedia’s entry on IE 6.

The comments on Holwerda’s piece are interesting, insofar as they convey the frustration of those who resent Apple’s position.

It has nagged me ever since the “Safari Is the New IE” debate erupted a few months ago that there’s a simple, succinct, counterargument. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Reading Holwerda’s post yesterday, it popped into my head. The difference is that IE 6, at its peak, wasn’t just so popular that it allowed Microsoft to unduly influence the direction of the web — IE 6 was so popular that it allowed Microsoft to define the web. It was as though IE 6 was the web. When banking sites required ActiveX plugins, they were making websites that only worked in Internet Explorer, only on Windows. In the eyes of many web developers and publishers, it was the one and only browser that mattered.

The web today is nothing like that. No single browser (or rendering engine) has an overwhelmingly dominant position. Four browsers/rendering engines share the world: Microsoft’s IE/Trident (and now the modernized Windows 10 browser, Edge), Mozilla’s Gecko, Apple’s Safari/WebKit, and Google’s Chrome/Blink. In a world where one rendering engine does not rule the entire web, conflicts between the various popular engines are inevitable.

There are a lot of nerds — and I use that term affectionately, not pejoratively — for whom politics of any sort are just anathema. Government, office, standards body — any sort of politics. Politics are often illogical, and often unfair. Nerds crave logic and fairness. Because of this willful political blindness, my main point regarding Apple’s veto power over web browser technologies is missed by some. It isn’t whether it is right or wrong, fair or unfair, that they have this power. Nor is it whether Apple’s strategy is the correct one. It’s simply to point out that they have this veto power. And so do Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla — Apple isn’t any more powerful than the others. (Except Mozilla, which I’d argue is the least powerful of the big four rendering engine makers — see below.) What makes Apple and Safari stand out isn’t that they have more influence. It’s that Apple’s interests have diverged from those of a certain segment of the web development community — the segment interested in making mobile web apps more like native apps.

WebKit’s contrary priorities are not the result of disinterest in the web; they are the result of differing interest in the web.

As for how Apple can simply do what it wants, consider the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia. They each have veto power over any resolution. Critics complain that this veto power is undemocratic. Of course it is! These are the countries that won World War II and are officially recognized as nuclear-weapon states. Democratically, it isn’t fair that each member gets veto power. But a nuclear weapon arsenal gives each country geopolitical influence that cannot be denied or ignored. Might makes right. Whether that is how it ought to be doesn’t matter. That’s how it is.

There is no official “Web Standards Security Council”, but web browsing market share creates a de facto one. Apple (or Google, or Microsoft, or Mozilla) can’t single-handedly veto a new API from becoming an official W3C standard, but if any one of them decides not to implement it, it can’t be relied upon by web developers. The real web is not that which is defined by the W3C as a standard,1 but that which is implemented in a consistent manner across WebKit, Blink, Trident, and Gecko. The secret to the web’s wonderful success is that it’s a (nearly) universal meta-platform; that which is not implemented on a major platform, like, say, iOS, is by definition not universal.

The web community cannot compel any of these browser engine makers to implement a standard. Nothing the community does will make Apple, Microsoft, or Google act against their own self interests. Mozilla is a little different — they are of the web community. They control no popular device platform on which Mozilla is the factory-installed default browser. But in that same way, the other companies could not force Mozilla to accept the patent-encumbered H.264 standard for HTML 5 video. Mozilla stood its ground, on principle — effectively exercising its own de facto veto power. Years later they changed their mind in the face of overwhelming demand and the failure of WebM to catch on. (They should have seen supporting H.264 as inevitable as far back as 2010, but it was their prerogative to remain blinded by political high-mindedness in the name of “openness”.) The same will happen with any web technologies that Apple is slow to adopt. If such standards become popular in Chrome, IE, and Mozilla — popular in such a way that it becomes obvious that iOS users are missing on something everyone else is enjoying — Apple will be forced to relent, because it will be obvious that it’s in their own self-interest to do so. And if these web technologies don’t catch on, and pressure from real-world widespread usage doesn’t weigh upon Apple, there’s nothing the web developer community can do about it.

I’m not saying that’s good or bad. It just is how it is. 

  1. If that were the case, we’d all be generating XHTML 2.x markup, and HTML 5 — which is what we’re all actually generating — wouldn’t even exist. ↩︎

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