Monday, 18 March 2019
The best way to think of today’s new iPads is not as an updated iPad Air and updated iPad Mini. The new iPad Air isn’t based on the old iPad Air — it’s an update to the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. (It even works with the same cover and keyboard peripherals.) And the new Mini is really just a smaller version of the new iPad Air — they could have just called them both “iPad Air” and had one be mini-sized and one regular-sized, similar to how the two sizes of iPad Pro have the same product name. As far as I can see, there is no difference between the new iPad Air and iPad Mini other than size.
When it debuted in 2012, the iPad Mini was both the small iPad and the low-cost iPad. Today, the low-cost iPad is the $329 9.7-inch just-plain no-adjective iPad. The new iPad Mini is a full-fledged peer to the new iPad Air technically. It’s all about the size. (And there are no old iPad Minis hanging around in the product lineup at lower prices.)
Looking at tweets and reader emails today, it seems like the most confusing thing about these iPads is why they use the original Apple Pencil instead of the new Apple Pencil 2. It’s obviously not ideal, but I suspect the explanation is multi-factor:
- The Pencil 2 requires an iPad with flat sides for the magnetic charging and pairing.
- The flat sides of the newest iPad Pros go hand-in-hand, design-wise, with the edge-to-edge (or “edge-to-edge” if you prefer) round-corned displays, and Face ID instead of Touch ID. Those things all add to the price of iPad Pros.
- In theory Apple could have given these new iPads flat sides just to support the new Pencil, sticking with the square-cornered display, larger chin and forehead, and Touch ID — but that’s not how Apple rolls. Such design elements are integrated with the whole.
- Update, 19 March: And, I am reliably informed, the inductive charging data port for connecting Pencil 2 on the latest iPad Pros is expensive enough to be prohibitive for the new Air and Mini.
If Apple had wanted the new Pencil 2 to work on all new iPads, they would’ve had to put a Lightning plug on the new Pencil in addition to supporting conductive charging and pairing. But that’s really not how Apple rolls — that would have ruined one of the things that makes the new Pencil so much nicer than the old Pencil. Better to have a messy product lineup where some new iPads only support the new Pencil and others only support the old Pencil than to have a messy new Pencil. ★
Friday, 15 March 2019
From Spotify’s 5-point “Time to Play Fair” complaint against Apple:
Apple requires that certain apps pay a 30% fee for use of their
in-app purchase system (IAP) — as is their prerogative. However,
the reality is that the rules are not applied evenly across the
board. Does Uber pay it? No. Deliveroo? No. Does Apple Music pay
it? No. So Apple gives the advantage to its own services.
I think Spotify (along with any other company selling digital content or subscriptions) has a case. But they’re being disingenuous comparing themselves to Uber and Deliveroo. If it’s a physical product or service, there’s never been a requirement to use Apple’s IAP. Amazon’s app sells physical goods without paying a penny to Apple, but they don’t sell e-books or music or movies because those purchases would be subject to Apple’s “use our IAP and pay us 30 percent” rule.
Apple hasn’t singled out Spotify. They’ve singled out the categories of digital content and subscriptions. They’re in the same boat as Netflix.
If users want to upgrade from our Free service to Premium, great,
we’d love to have them! But Apple bars us from offering that
option in our app, instead, forcing users to take multiple steps
of going to a browser or desktop. Some of our users don’t even
have a desktop. And to top it off, we can’t even tell them that or
point them in the right direction. You have to figure it out all
on your own.
The “we can’t even tell them that or point them in the right direction” is a sticking point for me — as I wrote when Netflix removed in-app subscriptions a few months ago. And this is something that was allowed in the early days of the App Store — the Kindle app used to kick you over to Safari to buy books, for example.
What Apple should do is allow apps that opt out of IAP to explain that users need to subscribe or make purchases using a web browser, and allow them to link to their website from within the app (even if they’d be required to open that link in Safari, as opposed to an in-app web view).
Everything else in Spotify’s list of complaints seems like noise to me, and distracts from the central issues — which happen to be the issues where Spotify should be on the strongest legal footing.
Apple published a detailed response to Spotify’s complaints today. It’s a cogent read and their points are all well-made — but Apple conspicuously avoids addressing the fact that apps like Spotify aren’t even allowed to tell users how to subscribe using a web browser. Apple executives should take a hard look at why they chose not to defend that policy. ★
‘The World Pulls the Andon Cord on the 737 Max’ ★
Jon Ostrower, writing at The Air Current (Ostrower has been reporting on — and cultivating sources in — the aviation industry for decades):
Every airplane development is a series of compromises, but to
deliver the 737 Max with its promised fuel efficiency, Boeing had
to fit 12 gallons into a 10 gallon jug. Its bigger engines made
for creative solutions as it found a way to mount the larger CFM
International turbines under the notoriously low-slung jetliner.
It lengthened the nose landing gear by eight inches, cleaned up
the aerodynamics of the tail cone, added new winglets, fly-by-wire
spoilers and big displays for the next generation of pilots. It
pushed technology, as it had done time and time again with
ever-increasing costs, to deliver a product that made its jets
more-efficient and less-costly to fly.
In the case of the 737 Max, with its nose pointed high in the air,
the larger engines — generating their own lift — nudged it even
higher. The risk Boeing found through analysis and later flight
testing was that under certain high-speed conditions both in
wind-up turns and wings-level flight, that upward nudge created a
greater risk of stalling. Its solution was MCAS, the
Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System control law that
would allow for both generations of 737 to behave the same way.
MCAS would automatically trim the horizontal stabilizer to bring
the nose down, activated with Angle of Attack data. It’s now at
the center of the Lion Air investigation and stalking the
periphery of the Ethiopian crash.
A riveting read.
Several Boeing 737 Max 8 Pilots in U.S. Complained About Suspected Safety Flaw ★
Cary Aspinwall, Ariana Giorgi, and Dom DiFurio, reporting for The Dallas Morning News:
Pilots repeatedly voiced safety concerns about the Boeing 737 Max
8 to federal authorities, with one captain calling the flight
manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient” several
months before Sunday’s Ethiopian Air crash that killed 157 people,
an investigation by The Dallas Morning News found.
The News found five complaints about the Boeing model in a federal
database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation
incidents without fear of repercussions. […]
The disclosures found by The News reference problems with an
autopilot system, and they all occurred during the ascent after
takeoff. Many mentioned the plane suddenly nosing down. While
records show these flights occurred in October and November, the
airlines the pilots were flying for is redacted from the database.
This, more than anything else I’ve read, makes me think it is the right decision to ground these planes pending an investigation. Here the key part of one of the pilot’s reports:
This description is not currently in the 737 Flight Manual Part 2,
nor the Boeing FCOM, though it will be added to them soon. This
communication highlights that an entire system is not described in
our Flight Manual. This system is now the subject of an AD.
I think it is unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA, and the
airlines would have pilots flying an airplane without adequately
training, or even providing available resources and sufficient
documentation to understand the highly complex systems that
differentiate this aircraft from prior models. The fact that this
airplane requires such jury rigging to fly is a red flag. Now we
know the systems employed are error prone — even if the pilots
aren’t sure what those systems are, what redundancies are in
place, and failure modes.
I am left to wonder: what else don’t I know? The Flight Manual is
inadequate and almost criminally insufficient. All airlines that
operate the MAX must insist that Boeing incorporate ALL systems in
(Airworthiness Directives (ADs) are “legally enforceable regulations issued by the FAA in accordance with 14 CFR part 39 to correct an unsafe condition in a product. Part 39 defines a product as an aircraft, engine, propeller, or appliance.”)
Boeing 737 Max Flights Banned by U.S. After Other Countries Ground Planes ★
Ian Austen and Selam Gebrekidan, reporting for The New York Times:
President Trump announced on Wednesday that the United States was
grounding Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft, reversing an earlier decision
by American regulators to keep the jets flying after a second
deadly crash in Ethiopia.
The order came hours after Canada’s transport minister said that
newly available satellite-tracking data suggested similarities
between the crash in Ethiopia and another accident last October.
In a statement released after Mr. Trump’s announcement, the F.A.A.
also cited “newly refined satellite data” as supporting the
decision to ground the jets. […]
The accidents have put Boeing on the defensive. The 737 Max is
Boeing’s best-selling jet ever and expected to be a major driver
of profit with around 5,000 of the planes on order. Its shares
have fallen about 13 percent this week.
I’m not sure how to bet on how this is going to turn out. My gut feeling until today has been that these two crashes were flukes, and that the similarities between them were just a very unfortunate coincidence. Trump rage-tweeting about the complexity of newer aircraft seemingly put the FAA into a position where they had to ground them, though. And I can definitely see the argument that an overabundance of caution is called for.
Update: After reading about multiple similar complaints filed by pilots about the 737 Max — specifically about problems with the planes going nose down shortly after takeoff — I’m now convinced grounding them pending investigation is the right move, and now I’m wondering why it took the FAA so long to do so.
I also wonder what this means for non-“Max” Boeing 737s — how many air travelers will be spooked just because they sport the 737 name?
Teen Who Defied Anti-Vax Mom Says She Got False Information From One Source: Facebook ★
Michael Brice-Saddler, reporting for The Washington Post:
An 18-year-old from Ohio who famously inoculated himself against
his mother’s wishes in December says he attributes his mother’s
anti-vaccine ideology to a single source: Facebook.
Nice work, Zuckerberg.
The New York Post on Apple’s Hollywood Efforts ★
Alexandra Steigrad and Nicolas Vega, writing for The New York Post:
Shortly after Apple announced its Hollywood ambitions in 2017,
Tinseltown’s wheeler-dealers were lining up to work with the
iPhone maker. But as the company’s streaming project gets ready
for launch, agents and producers can’t stop griping about how
“difficult” Apple is to deal with — citing a “lack of
transparency,” “lack of clarity” and “intrusive” executives,
including CEO Cook.
One of the biggest complaints involves the many “notes” from Apple
executives seeking family-friendly shows, sources said.
“Tim Cook is giving notes and getting involved,” said a producer
who has worked with Apple. One of the CEO’s most repeated notes is
“don’t be so mean!” the source said.
Sounds bad, but I wouldn’t read too much into this. It’s The New York Post, for one thing, and all the quotes are so anonymous they don’t even say which shows they’re talking about. We’d see catty pieces like this about Apple’s original content efforts no matter how things were going. And of course Apple is difficult to work with.
Trump Vows ‘A-Plus Treatment’ for Alabama ★
One more item on the state of Trump’s kakistocracy. Reis Thebault, writing for The Washington Post:
“FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to
the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been
so devastated by the Tornadoes,” Trump wrote Monday, referring to
the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief efforts. […]
Trump’s enthusiastic assurance that Alabama would get top-flight
help contrasts sharply with his barbed rhetoric following horrific
wildfires in California and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, when
he repeatedly threatened to cut off federal aid and picked fights
with local politicians, in one instance calling the mayor of San
Juan “totally incompetent.”
The difference between Alabama and Puerto Rico and California, the
president’s critics say, is obvious.
“The president really treats differently those people who have
supported him in the past and those people who haven’t,” Brian
Ott, a rhetoric professor at Texas Tech University, told The
Washington Post. “Not all lives are equal in the eyes of the
president. … The lives of red states matter, and the lives of blue
It’s one outrage after another with this administration, I know. A non-stop barrage on our collective sense of normalcy and decency. But it’s worth taking a moment here to ponder just how morally bankrupt Trump is to see emergency disaster relief as a reward to be doled out based on his perceived political support among those affected.
The Making of the Fox News White House ★
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer went deep on the relationship between Fox News and Trump’s White House, and makes a compelling case that the line between the two organizations is almost comically blurred:
Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years
many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox
alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed
before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor
of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller
Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of
the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox,
“It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.” […]
The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard
to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is
following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims
made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has
largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some
thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.”
Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.”
I still think Trump needs Fox News more than Fox News needs Trump, but ultimately Fox News is at the mercy of its audience. And its audience is crazy.
T-Mobile Spending at Trump’s Washington Hotel Increased Sharply After Announcement of Merger With Sprint ★
David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell, reporting for The Washington Post:
T-Mobile’s patronage of President Trump’s Washington hotel
increased sharply after the announcement in April of its merger
with Sprint, with executives spending about $195,000 at the
property since then, the company told congressional Democrats in a
letter last month.
Before news of the megadeal between rival companies broke on April
29, the company said, only two top officials from T-Mobile had
ever stayed at Trump’s hotel, with one overnight stay each in
But the day after the merger’s announcement, nine of T-Mobile’s
top executives were scheduled to check in, The Washington Post
reported in January. The Post, relying on internal Trump hotel
documents, found that T-Mobile executives had reserved at least 52
nights at the hotel since the announcement.
Two stays at Trump’s hotel, ever, until T-Mobile needed this acquisition approved, and then they drop almost $200,000 in a year. Shame on Trump and his administration for running the federal government as a patronage racket — but shame on T-Mobile, too, for participating in it.
See also: My rant on this back when the story broke in January.
Steven Troughton-Smith’s ‘Marzipanify’ ★
At WWDC 2018 Apple gave us a ‘sneak peek’ at perhaps one of the
most impactful developments on macOS since the transition to Mac
OS X: UIKit apps running on the desktop. Today, I’m going to
detail a special tool I built, called Marzipanify, to get started
with UIKit on the Mac early, and start the initial bringup of your
iOS app on macOS. […]
Marzipanify is a tool I created to statically convert an iOS
app built for the iOS Simulator to macOS. It means you can
continue working on and building your existing iOS app from its
existing project, using the existing iOS SDK, and just run the
tool against the Simulator build to create a functioning Mac app.
As a bonus, Marzipanify will yell at you when you’re linking
against a framework or library that doesn’t currently exist in the
iOSMac runtime. It trivializes the process so you can focus on
adapting your app rather than managing a build environment.
What a crazy project. It’s not meant for production obviously — much is surely going to change in whatever Apple winds up announcing at WWDC. But it’s an incredibly interesting examination of how Marzipan works today on MacOS 10.14. And it works — James Thompson used it to get the iOS version of PCalc running on the Mac.
Absher: Saudi App That Tracks Women ★
Bill Bostock, writing for Business Insider:
Google has declined to remove from its app store a Saudi
government app which lets men track women and control where they
travel, on the grounds that it meets all their terms and
Google reviewed the app — called Absher — and concluded that it
does not violate any agreements, and can therefore remain on the
Google Play store. […]
Insider last month reported how Absher — an all-purpose app
which Saudis use to interact with the state — offers features
which allow Saudi men to grant and rescind travel permission for
women, and to set up SMS alerts for when women use their
Apple told Speier’s office on Thursday they are still reviewing
Absher, following calls from Senator Ron Wyden for them to “stop
stalling” and make a decision.
Would be good to see a little of Apple’s famous courage here.
Turnaround Time on Facebook’s Spying: 12 Hours ★
Katherine Bindley, writing for The Wall Street Journal:
If we take advantage of all these privacy controls, it shouldn’t
still feel as if Facebook is spying on us, right? We shouldn’t see
so many ads that seem so closely tied to our activity on our
phones, on the internet or in real life.
The reality? I took those steps months ago, from turning off
location services to opting out of ads on Facebook and its sibling
Instagram tied to off-site behavior. I told my iPhone to “limit ad
tracking.” Yet I continue to see eerily relevant ads.
I tested my suspicion by downloading the What to Expect pregnancy
app. I didn’t so much as share an email address, yet in less than
12 hours, I got a maternity-wear ad in my Instagram feed. I’m not
pregnant, nor otherwise in a target market for maternity-wear.
When I tried to retrace the pathway, discussing the issue with the
app’s publisher, its data partners, the advertiser and Facebook
itself — dozens of emails and phone calls — not one would draw a
connection between the two events. Often, they suggested I ask one
of the other parties.
Bindley’s piece ran under the headline “Why Facebook Still Seems to Spy on You”. I get that the Journal wants to be cautious, but there’s no “seems to” about it. They spy on us.
The Talk Show: ‘40 Hours a Day of Murder’ ★
Special guest Rene Ritchie returns to the show. Topics include, but are not limited to, privacy concerns with apps from the App Store, Google’s payments to Apple to keep Google Search the default in Safari, Apple’s Shot on iPhone contest winners, and speculation about Apple’s purported March 25 media event.
Brought to you by these fine sponsors:
- Marine Layer: Clothes that make it easy to get dressed in the morning. Use code TTS for 15% off your first order.
- Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
- Fracture: Photos printed in vivid color directly on glass. Get 10% off your first order.
Brian X. Chen’s Samsung Galaxy S10 Review ★
Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times:
After I set up Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 Plus phone last week, I
showed it to my partner and said with atypical enthusiasm, “Check
it out — this phone has the fingerprint sensor built directly
into the screen.”
I pressed my thumb down on the screen, where the fingerprint
sensor was embedded. “No match,” a message on the phone read. I
pressed down again and got the same message. After five failed
attempts, it asked for a passcode.
“Great demo,” my partner said as she turned back to browsing
Instagram on her phone.
There are a bunch of other reviews that don’t mention problems with the fingerprint sensor, but Seifert and Chen had real problems.
Dan Seifert’s Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus Review ★
Dan Seifert, writing at The Verge:
What Samsung has gained over the past 10 years is an identity. The
Galaxy S10 is distinctly Samsung — it’s not a copy of the iPhone
or any other device you can buy. In fact, it almost feels like the
opposite of the iPhone: if you’ve been frustrated with Apple’s
recent devices for lacking headphone jacks, adding notches, or
removing fingerprint scanners, Samsung is here for you with a
headphone jack, a fingerprint scanner, and a notchless screen
design (that has some other compromises). It feels a bit like the
S10 is the anti-iPhone.
On the in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor:
Even then, I often had to try more than once before the S10 would
unlock. I’d just rather have a Face ID system that requires less
work to use, or at the very least, an old-school fingerprint
scanner on the back of the phone. The S10 does have a face unlock
feature, but it’s just using the camera to look for your face and
compare it to a previous image — there’s no 3D mapping or
anything. I was actually able to unlock the S10 with a video of my
face played on another phone. […]
But here’s my feedback to Samsung: go copy Apple’s Face ID system.
It’s far easier and more reliable to use than the S10’s
nifty-looking but ultimately disappointing in-screen fingerprint
Michael Tsai on Upgrading From an iPhone SE to an XR ★
Interesting perspective from Michael Tsai:
Overall, I like Face ID a little better than Touch ID. Face ID
works on the first try most of the time, but even without Require
Attention it fails to recognize me more often than Touch ID does.
And, perhaps due to an iOS change, even when it seems like it did
recognize me, I need to type my passcode multiple times per day.
When the phone is in my pocket, Face ID feels slower than even the
iPhone SE’s Touch ID. Even with first-generation Touch ID, I could
put my finger on the sensor and have the phone unlock while I was
raising it to my face. With Face ID, even with Raise to Wake, I
still have to wait until the phone is in front of me and then
swipe up. Face ID also fails in some circumstances where Touch ID
worked, such as lying sideways on a pillow in bed or wearing ski
googles. However, Face ID also has advantages. It works with
gloves on, with wet fingers, and with dry/cracked skin. It’s more
convenient when the phone is in a dock or car mount where it would
be hard to get my hand under it to put my thumb on the sensor.
That’s a great one-paragraph summary of the pros and cons of Face ID vs Touch ID. For me it’s a clear win for Face ID even though I run into the same cons as Tsai.
The display is amazing. I actually think it looks better than the
OLED screen on the iPhone XS. Text on OLED screens looks a bit
funny to me, especially when scrolling. There’s a weird color
effect that kind of reminds me of Microsoft’s ClearType.
I’ve been saying the same thing, including on a recent episode of my podcast talking to Joanna Stern, who just bought herself a XR for her own use. For using the iOS interface — Safari, Twitter, Mail, Messages — I really do think I prefer a great LCD to an OLED display. Where OLED’s advantages show most are when watching video — that’s when the deep blacks matter.
Friday, 1 March 2019
Casey Newton, in a fantastic piece for The Verge, “The Secret Lives of Facebook Moderators in America”:
The video depicts a man being murdered. Someone is stabbing him,
dozens of times, while he screams and begs for his life. Chloe’s
job is to tell the room whether this post should be removed. She
knows that section 13 of the Facebook community standards
prohibits videos that depict the murder of one or more people.
When Chloe explains this to the class, she hears her voice
Returning to her seat, Chloe feels an overpowering urge to sob.
Another trainee has gone up to review the next post, but Chloe
cannot concentrate. She leaves the room, and begins to cry so hard
that she has trouble breathing.
No one tries to comfort her. This is the job she was hired to do.
And for the 1,000 people like Chloe moderating content for
Facebook at the Phoenix site, and for 15,000 content reviewers
around the world, today is just another day at the office.
Just a stunning piece of writing and reporting. Kudos to Newton and The Verge for this piece.
I particularly enjoyed this tidbit, where Facebook’s own moderators are bitten by an algorithmic (as opposed to chronological) feed:
The fourth source is perhaps the most problematic: Facebook’s own
internal tools for distributing information. While official policy
changes typically arrive every other Wednesday, incremental
guidance about developing issues is distributed on a near-daily
basis. Often, this guidance is posted to Workplace, the enterprise
version of Facebook that the company introduced in 2016. Like
Facebook itself, Workplace has an algorithmic News Feed that
displays posts based on engagement. During a breaking news event,
such as a mass shooting, managers will often post conflicting
information about how to moderate individual pieces of content,
which then appear out of chronological order on Workplace. Six
current and former employees told me that they had made moderation
mistakes based on seeing an outdated post at the top of their
feed. At times, it feels as if Facebook’s own product is working
against them. The irony is not lost on the moderators.
The bottom line: If this is what it takes to moderate Facebook, it’s an indictment of the basic concept of Facebook itself. In theory it sounds like a noble idea to let everyone in the world post whatever they want and have it be connected and amplified to like-minded individuals.
In practice, it’s a disaster.
The problem isn’t the “everyone can post whatever they want” — that’s the nature of the internet, and I truly believe it has democratized communication in a good way. The disastrous part is the “be connected and amplified to like-minded individuals”. That’s the difference between Facebook (and to some degree, YouTube and Twitter) and things like plain old web forums. Facebook is full of shit about most of what they actually do, but one part of their self description that is true is that they really do connect people. The problem is that some people shouldn’t be connected, and some messages should not be amplified.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a platform that — while operating exactly as designed — requires thousands of employees to crush their own souls. ★