By John Gruber
Kolide ensures only secure devices can access your cloud apps.
It’s Zero Trust for Okta.
My thanks to WorkOS for sponsoring last week at DF. WorkOS is like “Stripe for enterprise features.” They make it easy for developers to build features needed by enterprise customers, such as Single Sign-On and SCIM.
Shipping these feature is important because they enable selling upmarket for bigger deals. Without these features, the IT department will reject your app. But these enterprise features are complex and time-consuming to build yourself, usually taking months.
With WorkOS you can integrate and ship enterprise features in minutes. Beautiful API docs guide you through every step of the way, and transparent pricing scales based on usage. It’s a product built by developers, for developers.
Tim Urban, on Twitter:
We can illustrate this by comparing how people react to an upcoming talk by a speaker they disagree with. High-rung thinkers find a lot of value in having their beliefs challenged. Low-rung thinkers, not so much. But only the idea supremacist tries to cancel the event.
Low-rung thinkers may not be great at learning, but as long as they don’t prevent others from learning, it’s fine. Even the social bully is fine — they only hurt people who choose to be their friend.
But idea supremacy is a direct affront to the workings of a liberal society.
A short thread, but a good one. If you refuse to listen to people you disagree with, let alone try to prevent them from even speaking, how do you even know you disagree with them? Perhaps because I was young at the time, I often think back to Bob Dole’s “nightmares of depravity” broadside against popular movies and music in 1995, when he began his campaign for president:
Natural Born Killers, the story of a couple on a killing spree as they cross the country, was one example of films and recordings cited by Mr. Dole as “nightmares of depravity” for their depictions of gratuitous sex and violence. He also attacked the film True Romance and the rap groups Cannibal Corpse, Geto Boys and 2 Live Crew. Aides to Mr. Dole said he had not seen the movies he cited but had read about them and had also read offending rap lyrics.
The thing that got me then and still gets me now is that Dole had not seen the movies. Railing against a movie you haven’t seen is more offensive to me than the actual contents of any movie could be.
Anyway, Urban’s Twitter thread is promoting his new book, What’s Our Problem: A Self-Help Book for Societies, which is at the top of my reading pile.
Speaking of TV commercials for camera phones, Apple’s new 30-second spot for the iPhone 14’s new yellow color features a protagonist who does nothing with his iPhone other than use it as a camera.
Jon Porter, The Verge:
Samsung has published an English-language blog post explaining the techniques used by its phones to photograph the Moon. The post’s content isn’t exactly new — it appears to be a lightly edited translation of an article posted in Korean last year — and doesn’t offer much new detail on the process. But, because it’s an official translation, we can more closely scrutinize its explanation of what Samsung’s image processing technology is doing.
There’ve been a couple of follow-ups on this since I wrote about it a few weeks ago. Marques Brownlee posted a short video, leaning into the existential question of the computation photography era: “What is a photo?” Input’s Ray Wong took umbrage at my having said he’d been “taken” by Samsung’s moon photography hype in this Twitter thread.
Here’s a clarifying way of thinking about it. What Samsung is doing with photographs of the moon is fine as a photo editing feature. It is not, however, a camera feature. With computational photography there is no clear delineation between what’s part of the camera imaging pipeline and what’s a post-capture editing feature. There’s a gray zone, to be sure. But this moon shot feature is not in that gray zone. It’s post-capture photo editing, even if it happens automatically — closer to Photoshop than to photography.
Where I draw the line is whether the software is clarifying reality as captured by the camera or not. Is the software improving/upscaling the input, or substituting the input with imagery that doesn’t originate from the camera? Here’s a snippet of a debate on Twitter, from Sebastiaan de With (at the helm of the Halide camera app account):
One can argue “Well, it’s the moon, it’s always the same” — and perhaps that’s true, but the issue is with photographic accuracy. In-fill should be informed by underlying input data and shape the output image; you can argue output shouldn’t reshape the input this significantly.
And that’s my point. What if the moon weren’t the same? What if it gets hit by a large meteor, creating a massive new visible-from-earth crater? Or what if our humble friend Phony Stark blows tens of billions of dollars erecting a giant billboard on the surface of the moon, visible from earth, that reads “@elonmusk”? A photo of the moon taken with one of these Samsung phones wouldn’t show either of those things, yet would appear to capture a detailed image of the moon’s surface. A camera should capture the moon as it is now, and computational photography should help improve the detail of that image of the moon as it appears now. Samsung’s phones are rendering the moon as it was, at some point in the past when this ML model was trained.
And that’s where Samsung steps over the line into fraud. Samsung, in its advertisements, is clearly billing these moon shots as an amazing feature enabled by its 10× optical / 100× digital zoom telephoto camera lens. They literally present it as optically superior to a telescope. That’s bullshit. A telescope shows you the moon as it is. Samsung’s cameras do not.
Ken White, writing at The Popehat Report:
Associate Dean Steinbach and her ilk are campaigning to undermine free speech legal and social norms, striving to make someone’s subjective reaction to speech an unquestionable justification for suppressing it. Academic freedom is under state assault and she’s busily undermining it and telling students they have a right to shut people up.
Stanford, and schools like it, are shitting the bed over controversial speakers. Decide that students can shut down speeches they don’t like, if you want to take that path. If not, protect speakers from disruption and have the students escorted out if they shut down a speech. Don’t half-ass it and then apologize afterwards.
And students. Students think that they should be able to dictate which speakers their peers invite, who can speak, what they can say, and who can listen. They’re not satisfied with the most free-speech-exceptionalist system in the world that lets them respond to speech by assembling, protesting, and reviling people of authority like Judge Duncan. They demand the right not just to speak, but to control the speech of others. That’s straight-up thuggish, an aspiration born of a fascist soul. These are law students. They are training to express themselves for a living. If their view is “we can’t respond to awful speech, we can only stop it from happening,” then they’re going to be terrible lawyers.
I wish this historical gallery of hardware from Sony were 10 times larger. I just love their older stuff. Gun to my head, I think I’d choose Sony’s ’60s/’70s aesthetic over Braun’s. And how have I never before heard of Sony’s HB-101 “HITBIT MEZZO” personal computer? Gorgeous.
Monica Chin, continuing to do yeoman’s work reviewing crummy laptops for The Verge:
The only time I heard fan noise was when I was trying to stream a Spotify playlist overtop the aforementioned load while running an external display. The keyboard was often warm, and the keys in the center occasionally toed the “uncomfortable” line, but nothing caught fire.
But the biggest problem I had was with battery life. Two and a half hours. That’s how long this device lasted me to a charge on average, running the workload I described above at medium brightness. I certainly got longer than this in some trials, especially those that were lighter on the Android apps, but I am fairly confident that, if this were my personal device, I would need to charge it two, maybe three times per day.
Runs hot and gets just 2.5 hours of battery life for $999. Who is buying these things?
Jared Spataro, “corporate vice president, modern work & business applications”,* on the Microsoft blog:
Copilot is integrated into Microsoft 365 in two ways. It works alongside you, embedded in the Microsoft 365 apps you use every day — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams and more — to unleash creativity, unlock productivity and uplevel skills. Today we’re also announcing an entirely new experience: Business Chat. Business Chat works across the LLM, the Microsoft 365 apps, and your data — your calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts — to do things you’ve never been able to do before. You can give it natural language prompts like “Tell my team how we updated the product strategy,” and it will generate a status update based on the morning’s meetings, emails and chat threads.
With Copilot, you’re always in control. You decide what to keep, modify or discard. Now, you can be more creative in Word, more analytical in Excel, more expressive in PowerPoint, more productive in Outlook and more collaborative in Teams.
Hard to predict how these AI-powered features are going to play out, but it feels like they’re soon going to be table stakes. An accurate, concise, automatically generated summary of a meeting you missed — that feels undeniably useful.
* What a mouthful of a job title. Why not just “vice president, business applications”? “Corporate” seems unnecessary, and “modern” even more so. Is there a VP for out-of-date business applications too? Someone who’s still in charge of updating the DOS versions of Word and Excel?
John D. McKinnon, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):
The Biden administration is demanding that TikTok’s Chinese owners sell their stakes in the video-sharing app or face a possible U.S. ban of the app, according to people familiar with the matter.
The move represents a major shift in policy on the part of the administration, which has been under fire from some Republicans who say it hasn’t taken a tough enough stance to address the perceived security threat from TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or Cfius — a multiagency federal task force that oversees national security risks in cross-border investments — made the sale demand recently, the people said.
Trump was against TikTok too, but didn’t get this done. (And he tried, corruptly, to work a deal to hand TikTok over to Larry Ellison.) Banning TikTok or forcing the CCP to sell it makes sense both on national security grounds and as tit-for-tat trade policy. China effectively imposes an infinite tariff on U.S. social networks — none of them are available there. The U.S., to date, has imposed a 0 percent tariff on TikTok.
Upcoming new book by Laine Nooney:
Skip the iPhone, the iPod, and the Macintosh. If you want to understand how Apple Inc. became an industry behemoth, look no further than the 1977 Apple II. Designed by the brilliant engineer Steve Wozniak and hustled into the marketplace by his Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, the Apple II became one of the most prominent personal computers of this dawning industry.
The Apple II was a versatile piece of hardware, but its most compelling story isn’t found in the feat of its engineering, the personalities of Apple’s founders, or the way it set the stage for the company’s multi-billion-dollar future. Instead, as historian Laine Nooney shows, what made the Apple II iconic was its software. In software, we discover the material reasons people bought computers. Not to hack, but to play. Not to code, but to calculate. Not to program, but to print. The story of personal computing in the United States is not about the evolution of hackers — it’s about the rise of everyday users.
Did I preorder a copy immediately? Come on, you know the answer.
Michelle Boorstein and Heather Kelly, reporting for The Washington Post:
A group of conservative Colorado Catholics has spent millions of dollars to buy mobile app tracking data that identified priests who used gay dating and hookup apps and then shared it with bishops around the country. [...]
One report prepared for bishops says the group’s sources are data brokers who got the information from ad exchanges, which are sites where ads are bought and sold in real time, like a stock market. The group cross-referenced location data from the apps and other details with locations of church residences, workplaces and seminaries to find clergy who were allegedly active on the apps, according to one of the reports and also the audiotape of the group’s president.
Sherman said police departments have bought data about citizens instead of seeking a warrant, domestic abusers have accessed data about their victims, and antiabortion activists have used data to target people who visit clinics.
But Bennett Cyphers, a special adviser to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization, said the Burrill story was the first time he had heard of a private group buying commercial data and using it against a specific individual.
Makes me wonder how often this technique is being used to blackmail people. This group was targeting gay priests to out them; they could have just as easily blackmailed them.
A tangential detail regarding this 3-minute video: despite including people from Microsoft talking about their partnership with OpenAI, of the dozens of laptops shown, all of them are MacBooks.
Mark Zuckerberg, in a company-wide memo:
Here’s the timeline you should expect: over the next couple of months, org leaders will announce restructuring plans focused on flattening our orgs, canceling lower priority projects, and reducing our hiring rates. With less hiring, I’ve made the difficult decision to further reduce the size of our recruiting team. We will let recruiting team members know tomorrow whether they’re impacted. We expect to announce restructurings and layoffs in our tech groups in late April, and then our business groups in late May. In a small number of cases, it may take through the end of the year to complete these changes. Our timelines for international teams will also look different, and local leaders will follow up with more details. Overall, we expect to reduce our team size by around 10,000 people and to close around 5,000 additional open roles that we haven’t yet hired.
Keep in mind that Facebook’s headcount increased 2.4× (from 36K to 87K) between 2018 and 2022.
Leaner is better
Since we reduced our workforce last year, one surprising result is that many things have gone faster. In retrospect, I underestimated the indirect costs of lower priority projects.
It seems like someone should have bought Zuckerberg a copy of Fred Brooks’s The Mythical Man Month a few years ago.
Not a documentary, but a fictionalized telling of the rise and fall of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion. Sort of like Titanic, we know how it ends, but sometimes knowing the ending makes for a more compelling story. (Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie is unrecognizable.)
The Federal Trade Commission:
The Federal Trade Commission has finalized an order requiring Epic Games, the maker of the Fortnite video game, to pay $245 million to consumers to settle charges that the company used dark patterns to trick players into making unwanted purchases and let children rack up unauthorized charges without any parental involvement.
In a complaint announced in December as part of a settlement package with Epic, the FTC said that Epic deployed a variety of design tricks known as dark patterns aimed at getting consumers of all ages to make unintended in-game purchases. Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button. The company also made it easy for children to make purchases while playing Fortnite without requiring any parental consent. According to the FTC’s complaint, Epic also locked the accounts of customers who disputed unauthorized charges with their credit card companies.
Sure would be great if Apple were forced to allow these guys to run an entire app store for iOS.
Briefly known as “WatchGPT” but now renamed to Petey (because the App Store is cracking down on apps with “GPT” in their names, as it’s a registered trademark of OpenAI), this is a simple, super easy-to-use ChatGPT app for Apple Watch by Hidde van der Ploeg. I’ve been using it for a week or so and it’s occasionally been genuinely handy, especially if you keep it on an easily-accessed watch face complication. With other devices, you can just search the web for answers to questions. Oftentimes, when you ask a question to Siri, you get redirected to a web search. But if all you have handy at the moment is your watch, a web search is useless. Petey gives good answers to a lot of questions. I dig the simple aesthetic too — using SF Mono for the type gives the app an appropriately robotic feel.
Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts, and Jeffrey Watumull, in an essay for The New York Times:
It is at once comic and tragic, as Borges might have noted, that so much money and attention should be concentrated on so little a thing — something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind, which by dint of language, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, can make “infinite use of finite means,” creating ideas and theories with universal reach.
The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question. On the contrary, the human mind is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information; it seeks not to infer brute correlations among data points but to create explanations.
My love for the web has ebbed and flowed in the years since, but mainly it’s persisted — so much so that as of today, I’ve been writing kottke.org for 25 years. A little context for just how long that is: kottke.org is older than Google. 25 years is more than half of my life , spanning four decades (the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s) and around 40,000 posts — almost cartoonishly long for a medium optimized for impermanence. What follows is my (relatively brief) attempt to explain where kottke.org came from and why it’s still going.
A thought that occurred to me when Jason was on my podcast this month (you should listen! — it’s one of my favorite episodes ever): at 25, Kottke.org is over one-quarter as old as The New Yorker magazine, which was founded in 1925. I’ve grown up thinking The New Yorker had been around “forever”. That makes Kottke.org ... one-quarter of “forever” old? My mind boggles.
Congratulations, my friend. Here’s to 25 more.
Monica Chin, reviewing a $2,000 configuration of the Dell Latitude 7330:
For one, I only averaged three hours and 35 minutes of battery life, which would be a big problem even if everything else about this device was incredible. But even while on power, I could feel the thing chugging toward the higher end of my workload. For example, while I was operating a second screen over Thunderbolt, loading some files from external drives, running a few downloads, and trying to work over that in 20-ish Chrome tabs, the Latitude had visible slowdown. I don’t see this as an unrealistic office workload, so that’s concerning.
A $2,000 laptop that gets under 4 hours of battery life and slows down under nominal use. Jiminy.
In a Twitter thread, Meta (formerly Facebook) Head of Commerce and Fintech Stephane Kasriel announced that they would be “down digital collectibles (NFTs) for now to focus on other ways to support creators, people, and businesses”. Meta had only launched its support for NFTs in Facebook and Instagram partway through last year — a bit late to the NFT craze, which had largely cooled by that point.
Mark Zuckerberg had once talked about eventually using NFTs for Meta’s metaverse projects, suggesting that eventually “the clothing that your avatar is wearing in the metaverse, you know, [could] be basically minted as an NFT and you can take it between your different places”. It sounds like that plan may no longer be on the table now.
Patrick McGee and Tim Bradshaw, reporting for The Financial Times, under the headline “Tim Cook Bets on Apple’s Mixed-Reality Headset to Secure His Legacy” (archive link, just in case your FT login credentials aren’t working):
The stakes are high for Cook. The headset will be Apple’s first new computing platform to have been developed entirely under his leadership. The iPhone, iPad and even Watch were all originally conceived under Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011.
It’s unfair, I say, to put Apple Watch in the “developed under Steve Jobs” column. Apple certainly might have been talking about a watch while Jobs was still alive, but it wasn’t announced until three years after he died. Apple Watch is a Tim Cook product. (In the early years of Apple Watch, when conventional wisdom was bizarrely of the mind that it was a flop, I recall numerous wags claiming that Apple Watch was proof that Apple couldn’t create great all-new products without Steve Jobs. Now that Apple Watch is undeniably a massive hit, it’s a retcon to give Jobs credit for it.)
Apple’s growth during Cook’s tenure has been spectacular, growing its market capitalisation from around $350bn in 2011 to around $2.4tn today. But despite the twin hit launches of Apple Watch in 2015 and AirPods a year later, which have helped turn its accessories division into a $41bn business, the company has been accused of iterating on past ideas rather than breaking new ground.
Apple hasn’t produced any great new products other than the great new products they’ve produced.
The timing of the launch has been a source of tension since the project began in early 2016, according to multiple people familiar with Apple’s internal discussions. Apple’s operations team wanted to ship a “version one” product, a ski goggle-like headset that will allow users to watch immersive 3D video, perform interactive workouts or chat with realistic avatars through a revamped FaceTime.
But Apple’s famed industrial design team had cautioned patience, wanting to delay until a more lightweight version of AR glasses became technically feasible. Most in the tech industry expect that to take several more years.
In deciding to press ahead with a debut this year, Cook has sided with operations chief Jeff Williams, according to two people familiar with Apple’s decision-making, and overruled the early objections from Apple’s designers to wait for the tech to catch up with their vision.
Just a few years ago, going against the wishes of Apple’s all-powerful design team would have been unthinkable. But since the departure of its longtime leader Jony Ive in 2019, Apple’s structure has been reshuffled, with design now reporting to Williams.
The design team was never all-powerful. Jony Ive, personally, was perhaps nearly so. But even Ive reported to, and by several accounts occasionally clashed with, Tim Cook.
The FT’s reporting here is certainly interesting, but I wouldn’t read too much into it because it’s obviously incomplete. It’s also seemingly being misinterpreted to some degree. MacRumors’s recap is under the headline “Report: Apple CEO Tim Cook Ordered Headset Launch Despite Designers Warning It Wasn’t Ready”. That’s not what the FT is reporting. The FT isn’t reporting that Apple’s design team thinks the mixed-reality goggles aren’t ready yet — they’re reporting that the design team didn’t want to ship mixed-reality goggles at all. They’re not saying the design team advised waiting until the goggles got a little better — they’re saying the design team advised waiting until AR glasses — an entirely different product — were feasible.
But more importantly, the FT’s reporting makes it sound as though this decision was solely between the industrial design team and Jeff Williams’s operations team. That’s not how Apple works. Left out of the FT’s reporting are both Mike Rockwell’s AR/VR team within Apple (more of a division than a mere team — at least 1,000 or more software and hardware engineers, designers, and AR/VR content creators), and Greg Joswiak’s product marketing division. Rockwell has been leading Apple’s entire foray into both AR and VR for 8 years. (He was my guest at the live-on-stage WWDC episode of The Talk Show 5 years ago.) Out of everyone in the entire company, his opinion on what AR/VR hardware Apple ought to ship and when is the one I’d consider most salient. And as I’ve long said about Apple’s “product marketing”, the operative word is more product than marketing. The role Phil Schiller carved out, and which Joswiak now holds, doesn’t start when a product is finished and needs to be packaged and advertised. Apple product marketing is deeply involved in all phases of product development from conception onward. (It was Schiller, to name just one example, who came up with the idea for the iPod’s click wheel.) Does Joz think this imminent headset is a product Apple ought to ship? The FT is silent.
This is akin to talking about the decision to greenlight a movie and including only the opinions of the studio executives (in this case, Cook and Williams) and, say, the special effects/cinematography team (in this case, industrial design) — with no mention of the screenwriter (product marketing), the actors (engineering), or the director (Rockwell?). Or maybe the design team is the actors and the engineers are the special effects/cinematography team — it doesn’t matter. What matters is that, like moviemaking, product-making and platform-building are profoundly multidisciplinary endeavors, and Apple’s internal culture is deeply collaborative across those disciplines. Apple’s industrial design team is deservedly renowned and undeniably highly influential, both within and outside the company, but they’re relatively tiny headcount-wise. There are at least 1,000 people who’ve been working full-time for years on Apple’s upcoming mixed reality platform.
I’m not faulting the Financial Times here — you take the sources you can get, and seemingly they have sources from within Apple’s tight-knit design team. (Or perhaps, more likely, from former members of the team.) It is fascinating, if true, that Apple’s design team didn’t want to ship a mixed-reality headset at all, and wanted Apple to wait for full AR glasses — technology which, at a minimum, is years away. (High quality all-day AR glasses may well be a decade or longer away.) And the whole thing plays right into my intense curiosity regarding just what the intended use cases are for this product.
What I don’t buy, though, is the angle that Tim Cook is fast-tracking the product because he sees it in anyway as essential to bolstering his “legacy”. First, Cook could announce his resignation tomorrow and his legacy is gold: he guided the company past Steve Jobs’s tragic, far-too-young death; the company’s market cap has increased nearly ten-fold under his leadership; he oversaw the construction and opening of Apple Park; he turned Apple into a services juggernaut in addition to maintaining its position as the most profitable hardware company in the world; and product-wise, under his leadership Apple has launched Apple Watch (the most popular and profitable watch and fitness tracker in the world), AirPods (the most popular and profitable augmented reality devices in the world), and overtaken Intel as the premiere silicon design company in the world. Nor does it seem like he’s going anywhere soon. Furthermore, even without the above litany of accomplishments over the last decade, Tim Cook just does not seem ego driven in the least. If he thinks Apple should launch a mixed-reality headset this year, it’s because he thinks doing so is in the best interest of the company, not his legacy. And by the “who should get credit for what” accounting in this same article, Cook should get credit for Apple’s XR platform even if the first devices don’t launch until three years after he retires.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that Cook is preoccupied with thoughts of his legacy. If that’s true, he’d likely be overly cautious about launching this new platform, not rushing it out the door against staunch internal opposition. I say “John Sculley”, you hear “Newton”. Launching a high-profile expensive dud would cause more harm to Cook’s legacy than launching a successful headset would do it good. He can stand pat with his accomplishments to date and surely be remembered for decades as one of the best CEOs not just in technology history, but business history. In a certain sense, Apple under Cook is undefeated. Launch a Newton-like bust on his way out the door, however, and that might prove an indelible stain on a heretofore impeccable record.
On another front, the FT reports:
Apple is only expecting to sell around a million units of its headset in its first 12 months, according to two people familiar with its planning, fewer than the first generations of the iPhone or Apple Watch did in the year following their launch.
The complex device, which will contain an array of cameras and high-resolution screens, is expected to cost around $3,000, triple the price of Meta’s Quest Pro, potentially limiting its appeal. Generating even $3bn in annual sales would be a tiny fraction of Apple’s revenues of around $400bn last year.
The modest target might give the impression that Apple is expecting a dud. But Apple also has a long history of starting slowly when it enters new product categories, then taking the market by storm within a few years. People close to Apple say that despite the modest sales target, the company is preparing a marketing blitz for the new product.
To their credit, the FT illustrates with a nice chart how with the iPhone, Apple Watch, and especially iPod, unit sales didn’t hit their stride until the third or fourth generation products. But it’s also worth comparing to the market as a whole. When he introduced the original iPhone in January 2007, Steve Jobs said that Apple’s goal was 1 percent of the world market for cell phones by the end of 2008. There were 1.2 billion phones sold in 2008, and with just under 20 million iPhones sold that year, Apple exceeded that goal.
What would 1 million Apple headsets be as a percentage of the global market? IDC, in a report just a few days ago, estimates a total 8.8 million AR/VR headsets were sold globally in 2022. The NDP Group put the number at 9.6 million. So one million headsets in the first year would give Apple roughly 10 percent of the global market, right out of the gate. That same NPD report pegged U.S. (not worldwide) revenue from headset sales in 2022 at $1.1 billion. If this thing really is going to sell for $3,000 (I remain deeply skeptical of that price, but The Financial Times reiterates it), Apple would need only sell about 400,000 units in the U.S. to take a majority share of U.S. headset sales by revenue. One million total units and $3 billion in revenue would likely give Apple a majority share of worldwide revenue. Modest indeed. ★
Sharon Knolle and Scott Mendelson, reporting for TheWrap:
Warner Bros. Discovery is pushing forward with a plan to drop “HBO” from the name of its flagship streaming service HBO Max. That decision for the long-planned rebranding of the combined HBO Max and Discovery+ services was partially informed by the company’s belief that “the HBO name turns off many potential subscribers,” Bloomberg reported on Thursday and TheWrap independently confirmed.
The name change is meant to signal that the service will not just be HBO Max with Discovery content, nor will HBO Max be ported over to Discovery+. “Max” is the leading contender, though Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said on a recent earnings call that the new name would be officially unveiled April 12. [...]
When HBO became an award-winning juggernaut in the ’90s with “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos,” the catchphrase used in its marketing was, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” A new motto could well be: “It’s not HBO. It’s Max.”
Changing the name of the streaming service to just “Max” has been rumored for months, and it sounds just as stupid now as it did then.
David Dayen, writing for The American Prospect:
The first words out of the mouth of Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) when I talked to her on Sunday were: “Can you believe we have to talk about this shit again?” She was referring to a conversation we had in 2018, when she was still just a financial expert and a candidate for Congress, about S.2155, which I call the Crapo bill, a reference to its co-author (Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo) and its underlying contents. [...]
The most important part of the Crapo bill was Section 401, which increased by fivefold the threshold for enhanced regulatory standards, from $50 billion in assets to $250 billion. Silicon Valley Bank’s CEO, Greg Becker, lobbied explicitly for this change. It meant that banks under $250 billion would not be subject to additional stress tests and heightened capital and liquidity requirements. SVB topped out around $200 billion, after growing rapidly in the past few years. [...]
So you have depositors that either didn’t know the first thing about risk management, or were bribed by the bank into neglecting it. And you have a bank that didn’t have a chief risk officer for close to a year, that put their entire risk management on autopilot and got blindsided by interest rate–fueled losses. “Interest rates do two things, they go up and down. SVB did not foresee and manage properly that inevitable thing,” Porter said.
The Department of the Treasury:
The following statement was released by Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen, Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell, and FDIC Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg:
Today we are taking decisive actions to protect the U.S. economy by strengthening public confidence in our banking system. This step will ensure that the U.S. banking system continues to perform its vital roles of protecting deposits and providing access to credit to households and businesses in a manner that promotes strong and sustainable economic growth.
After receiving a recommendation from the boards of the FDIC and the Federal Reserve, and consulting with the President, Secretary Yellen approved actions enabling the FDIC to complete its resolution of Silicon Valley Bank, Santa Clara, California, in a manner that fully protects all depositors. Depositors will have access to all of their money starting Monday, March 13. No losses associated with the resolution of Silicon Valley Bank will be borne by the taxpayer.
Taxpayers aren’t on the hook because SVB has assets greater than its deposits — they simply don’t have liquid assets to cover them. Sanity prevails. They say there are no atheists in a foxhole, but there are more of them than there are libertarians in a bank run. Thank jeebus we have a sane president.
My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring last week at DF. Right now, “Zero Trust” is in serious danger of becoming an empty buzzword. The problem isn’t just that marketers have slapped the Zero Trust label on everything short of breakfast cereal — it’s that for all the hype, we don’t seem to be getting any safer.
At the heart of Zero Trust is a good idea, but the way most companies execute that idea is incomplete. Specifically, most security practitioners forget that device compliance is a crucial element of Zero Trust. Kolide solves the device compliance element of Zero Trust for companies that use Okta. Kolide’s premise is simple: if an employee’s device is out of compliance, they can’t log in to their cloud apps until they’ve fixed the problem. And instead of creating more work for IT, Kolide provides instructions so users can get unblocked on their own.
Kolide works across your Mac, Windows, and even Linux devices, with mobile support coming soon. To learn more and see their product in action, simply visit their website.
Jason Kottke returns to the show to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Kottke.org.
Proudly brought to you by these excellent sponsors:
Alex Sherman, reporting for CNBC:
WWE is in talks with state gambling regulators to legalize betting on high-profile matches, according to people familiar with the matter.
WWE is working with the accounting firm EY to secure scripted match results in hopes it will convince regulators there’s no chance of results leaking to the public, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Accounting firms PwC and EY, also known as Ernst & Young, have historically worked with award shows, including the Academy Awards and the Emmys, to keep results a secret.
Betting on the Academy Awards is already legal and available through some sports betting applications, including market leaders FanDuel and DraftKings, although most states don’t allow it. WWE executives have cited Oscars betting as a template to convince regulators gambling on scripted matches is safe, the people said.
The idea that any state might legalize betting on pro wrestling reminds me of this great bit from Vegas Vacation. Clark Griswold, down on his luck and down to his last few dollars, starts playing sketchy games in a sketchy casino — “Coin Toss”, “Rock Paper Scissors”, etc. He loses the last of his money at “Pick a Number” — you guess a number between 1 and 10, then the “dealer” tells you whether it’s the same number they were thinking of. I don’t see how betting on pro wrestling would be any different.
(Via Matt Levine, who quipped, “Oh man, I am so excited to write about this insider trading case in like a year.”)
The best explanation of what happened to Silicon Valley Bank is this piece by Marc Rubinstein at Net Interest:
“When you’re not working, what do you do to de-stress?”
That was the last question Greg Becker, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank, fielded at an investor conference on Tuesday this week.
“Cycling is my advice,” he replied. “Living in Northern California and being on the peninsula. That’s just — I think it’s the best bike-riding cycling in the world, period.”
Three days later, Becker’s bank is in receivership.
Now that’s a lede.
Rubinstein links to this piece at another Substack site, Nongaap Investing, which points to a boy-that-sure-looks-bad-in-hindsight oddity in SVB’s corporate governance: the bank did not have a Chief Risk Officer for most of 2022:
In particular, the most interesting disclosure is the company didn’t have a Chief Risk Officer for much of 2022, and (from what I can gather) doesn’t explicitly communicate this to shareholders until the 2023 Preliminary Proxy is filed on March 8, 2023.
This non-disclosure immediately makes me wonder what caused former Chief Risk Officer Laura Izurieta to leave the role and create such a glaring hole in risk oversight during such a critical time. [...]
Given that Ms. Izurieta sold $4 million worth of shares in December 2021 just before the company would approach her to begin discussions regarding her transition out of the Chief Risk Officer role, I can’t help but wonder if she realized the bank’s balance sheet was a ticking time bomb when she sold the stock.
The optics look pretty bad.
Pretty bad indeed.
Matt Levine, unsurprisingly, wrote a great column on Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse. He predicts the FDIC will succeed in finding a bigger buyer to buy SVB and make all depositors whole — both because SVB should still be worth enough to buy at such a price, and because otherwise, the results could be catastrophic industry-wide:
I would also guess — not investing or banking advice! — that the answer will also turn out to be higher than $188 billion, which is the total amount of deposits plus FHLB advances. I say this not because I have done a detailed analysis of SVB’s assets but because it seems bad for the FDIC to wind up a big high-profile bank in a way that causes significant losses for depositors, including uninsured depositors. There was a run on SVB in part because there hasn’t been a big bank run in a while, and people — venture capitalists, startups — were naturally worried that they might lose their deposits if their bank failed. Then the bank failed.
If it turns out to be true that they lose their deposits, there could be more bank runs: Lots of businesses keep uninsured deposits at lots of banks, and if the moral of SVB is “your uninsured transaction-banking deposits can vanish overnight” then those businesses will do a lot more credit analysis, move their money out of weaker banks, and put it at, like, JPMorgan. This could be self-fulfillingly bad for a lot of weaker banks. My assumption is that the FDIC, the Federal Reserve, and the banks who are looking at buying SVB all really don’t want that. If you are a bank looking at buying SVB, and you do a detailed analysis of its assets and conclude that they are worth $180 billion, and you come to the FDIC and say “I will take over this bank and pay the uninsured depositors 95 cents on the dollar,” the FDIC is going to look at you and say “don’t you mean 100 cents on the dollar,” and you are going to say “oh right yes of course, silly me, 100 cents on the dollar.”
Maybe I’m wrong about that, but if I am it’ll be bad!
The Financial Times had Silicon Valley Bank’s problem nailed, two weeks ago (non-paywalled mirror of the story at Financial Post):
Silicon Valley Bank, the Californian institution central to financing U.S. startups, is facing scrutiny over an investment decision made at the peak of the tech boom that is squeezing its profitability just as the industry faces its worst downturn in decades. [...]
But some analysts, shareholders and short sellers point to another problem of its making: a move to put US$91 billion of its assets into a poorly performing bond portfolio that has since amassed an unrealized US$15 billion loss. [...]
While interest rates were low, several big banks parked more deposits into government debt accepting the lower rate of return during a time of economic uncertainty However, SVB’s relative exposure far exceeds its peers. It had US$120 billion of investment securities — which include its US$91 billion mortgage-backed securities portfolio — at the end of 2022, far exceeding its US$74 billion total loans.
By comparison, Bank of America had US$863 billion of debt securities, including US$633 billion of held-to-maturity assets, less than its approximate US$1 trillion of loans and leases. San Francisco-based First Republic, SVB’s closest rival in Silicon Valley, had US$55 billion in investment securities including US$28 billion of held-to-maturity debt securities, compared to US$167 billion in total loans.
Remarkably prescient reporting.
“ibreakphotos”, on Reddit:
Many of us have witnessed the breathtaking moon photos taken with the latest zoom lenses, starting with the S20 Ultra. Nevertheless, I’ve always had doubts about their authenticity, as they appear almost too perfect. While these images are not necessarily outright fabrications, neither are they entirely genuine. Let me explain.
There have been many threads on this, and many people believe that the moon photos are real (Input) — even MKBHD has claimed in this popular YouTube short that the moon is not an overlay, like Huawei has been accused of in the past. But he’s not correct. So, while many have tried to prove that Samsung fakes the moon shots, I think nobody succeeded — until now.
Here’s how he proved Samsung’s moon photos are a scam: he started with a high-res photo of the moon, downsized it to just 170⁠ ⁠×⁠ ⁠170 pixels, and applied a gaussian blur. He then displayed that image, upscaled, on his computer monitor and used a Galaxy S-series phone (he doesn’t say which model) to take a picture of that blurry circle on his display. The phone turned that image into this.
Have to say I’m surprised both Raymond Wong and Marques Brownlee were taken in by this. These “amazing” moon photos seem impossible optically, and, more tellingly, no one is able to get these Samsung phones to capture similarly “amazing” 100× zoom images of random objects that aren’t the moon.
Anything Samsung ever claims that seems too good to be true should be assumed to be a blatant lie. They’re a corrupt company with a corrupt culture.
Ross A. Lincoln, reporting for The Wrap:
In financial documents filed Friday, Roku disclosed that it had approximately $487 million held by Silicon Valley Bank, the Northern California financial powerhouse that failed this week, sending shockwaves throughout the region’s economy.
That number, Roku says, represents approximately 26% of its cash and cash equivalents, and the company will be able meet its pending financial obligations for at least “the next 12 months and beyond.”
From Roku’s filing, linked above:
The Company’s deposits with SVB are largely uninsured. At this time, the Company does not know to what extent the Company will be able to recover its cash on deposit at SVB.
Perhaps the new yellow iPhone 14 will someday take the crown, but I doubt it. The Banana Jr. 6000 was just too good.
Financial regulators have closed Silicon Valley Bank and taken control of its deposits, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced Friday, in what is the largest U.S. bank failure since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
The collapse of SVB, a key player in the tech and venture capital community, leaves companies and wealthy individuals largely unsure of what will happen to their money. [...]
The FDIC’s standard insurance covers up to $250,000 per depositor, per bank, for each account ownership category. The FDIC said uninsured depositors will get receivership certificates for their balances. The regulator said it will pay uninsured depositors an advanced dividend within the next week, with potential additional dividend payments as the regulator sells SVB’s assets.
Whether depositors with more than $250,000 ultimately get all their money back will be determined by the amount of money the regulator gets as it sells Silicon Valley assets or if another bank takes ownership of the remaining assets. There were concerns in the tech community that until that process unfolds, some companies may have issues making payroll.
To say this is shocking is an understatement. This just shouldn’t happen to a bank. To make a long story short (and to be honest I’m cribbing this from a summary my pal Ben Thompson wrote in a private group chat), SVB took in a ton of cash during the COVID bubble, and because they couldn’t make money loaning that money at the time, they bought a bunch of corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities. The problem is they bought those securities when interest rates were still at historical lows. Today, with higher interest rates, those securities are underwater — they’d lose a fortune selling them now before maturity. SVB would’ve been fine if they’d been able to let those securities mature for their full 10 years (or whatever the terms were). But withdrawals are up because startups are having trouble raising money, so SVB did an equity raise to fill the gap, but screwed up — to say the least — by announcing the equity raise before it was officially completed. At this point their stock tanked, the equity partner pulled out, and their customers started a run on the bank — and a bank run was the one thing SVB couldn’t withstand. Within 24 hours they went from “having a bad quarter” to “failed bank”.
Some of SVB’s customers might be in trouble, at least momentarily: even a 100-employee company needs millions in the bank to make payroll, pay rent and utilities, etc. Larger companies, much more. $250K in deposit insurance is a drop in the bucket for most of SVB’s business customers. Everyone is assuming that some big bank will buy SVB and make all depositors whole, but until that happens, it’s an open question. If there is no buyer and SVB is liquidated, there’s no way uninsured deposits will be made whole.
See Also: Good thread from economist Justin Wolfers.
Deepsekhar Choudhury and Vikas Sn, reporting for Moneycontrol:
Meta, the parent firm of Facebook and Instagram, is hashing out a plan to build a standalone text-based content app that will support ActivityPub, the decentralised social networking protocol powering Twitter rival Mastodon and other federated apps, people familiar with the matter told Moneycontrol.
The app will be Instagram-branded and will allow users to register/login to the app through their Instagram credentials, they said. Moneycontrol has seen a copy of an internal product brief that elaborates on the functioning and various product features of the app.
To be sure, it’s not clear whether this app, codenamed P92, is still at an idea-stage or the development has begun on the app. A source close to the development said that it is still a work-in-progress.
Hours after Moneycontrol broke the story, Meta has confirmed the development in a statement: “We’re exploring a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates. We believe there’s an opportunity for a separate space where creators and public figures can share timely updates about their interests” a Meta spokesperson said.
Details about the project are scant. The product is still in its earliest stages, sources said, and there is no time frame for it being released. But legal and regulatory teams have already started to investigate potential privacy concerns around the app so they can be addressed before launch, we’re told.
Adam Mosseri, who runs Instagram, is taking the lead on the project, sources said.
No sarcasm intended: I love this idea. Federate with Mastodon via ActivityPub and let people do it using their existing Instagram IDs. Keep it clean and simple and destroy what’s left of Twitter.
The other day on the chair lift, my kids and I were talking about our top skiing speeds (me: low 40s, them: 50+) and one of us mentioned that it would be cool if your current speed was shown on a heads-up display in your goggles. So this morning I went looking for AR ski goggles and of course they exist. Here are a pair of demo videos from Sirius (made by Oostloong) and Rekkie.
These goggles include features like real-time speed, clock, temperature, friend finding/tracking, wayfinding (directions, compass, elevation), HD recording, and phone notifications. Skiing is a natural use for AR — you’re wearing the bulky goggles for safety anyway, so you can hide all the necessary tech in there without lookingridiculous, and taking your mittens on and off to check the time or send/read texts is annoying.
The demo video for the Sirius goggles is particularly impressive. And the use case is simply incredible: skiers are already wearing bulky goggles.
Shiona McCallum and Chris Vallance, reporting for the BBC News:
WhatsApp says it would rather be blocked in the UK than undermine its encrypted-messaging system, if required to do so under the Online Safety Bill. [...]
The government said it is possible to have both privacy and child safety.
Cryptographers and privacy experts agree that end-to-end encryption is the only way to guarantee privacy. Dum-dum elected officials around the globe have a persistent “it must be possible” fantasy that it’s possible to create an encryption system with backdoor keys that would only be available to “the good guys”.
Undermining the privacy of WhatsApp messages in the UK would do so for all users, Mr Cathcart said.
“Our users all around the world want security - 98% of our users are outside the UK, they do not want us to lower the security of the product,” he said. And the app would rather accept being blocked in the UK.
“We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. We’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that,” he added.
It’s not even a matter of willingness. It’s not technically possible for WhatsApp or Signal or iMessage or any platform that’s end-to-end encrypted to use some weaker backdoor-able encryption on a country-by-country basis. The platform is either truly end-to-end encrypted or it’s not. They can’t just flip and switch and let U.K. WhatsApp users use an entirely different non-E2E protocol. The principled stand in the name of cryptographically guaranteed privacy isn’t happening now, in response to this deeply misguided legislation — it happened at the outset of these platforms, when they were designed from the ground up with E2E.
Speaking of Google One features, here’s Juli Clover at MacRumors:
Google today announced that its Google VPN feature is expanding to all Google One subscribers, instead of being limited to those who subscribe to the Premium 2TB Google One plan.
VPN by Google One is designed to mask a user’s IP address, preventing sites and apps from collecting that information for location tracking and monitoring activity across the web. It also offers protection from hackers and network operators, similar to any other VPN.
With this change, storage space is the primary differentiating factor between Google One plans. The basic plan offers 100GB of storage, while the Premium plan offers 2TB. There’s also a free tier with 15GB of storage, but it does not include VPN access.
Using a VPN does prevent sites and apps from tracking or monitoring you. But your VPN provider can see every site you visit, and every app you use (other than apps that never do anything on the internet). VPN usage data is so lucrative to a surveillance advertising company that just a few years ago, Facebook was paying users aged 13 to 35 up to $20 per month to use their “Facebook Research” VPN app. A VPN app from Google is a hard pass for me.
Philip Michaels, writing for Tom’s Guide:
If you’re not familiar with Magic Eraser, it made its debut with the the Pixel 6 in 2021, allowing you to easily remove unwanted people and objects from images. Select Magic Eraser, and the tool’s computational smarts will identify things for removal. If you agree with those suggestions, all you have to do is tap them. If you had something else in mind, just draw a circle around it with your finger, and Magic Eraser will make the offending object disappear.
While the Magic Eraser tool is now part of the Google Photos app for iPhone, it’s still tied to Google One. To put it another way, if you want to keep any changes that Magic Eraser makes to your photos, you’ll need to sign up for a Google One membership, with subscriptions starting at $1.99/month for 100GB of storage.
A few months ago I noticed a new TV commercial campaign from Google for its Pixel phones. They start with a narrator saying “Did you know Google makes a phone?”* The next line, in most of the spots: “Sure it’s beautiful, but it does things other phones can’t do.” And then the primary feature they show is ... Magic Eraser. Here’s a 15-second spot that only shows Magic Eraser.
Then Google ran a 90-second Super Bowl spot for the Pixel — starring Amy Schumer, Doja Cat, and some guy from the Milwaukee Bucks — and the whole thing was about Magic Eraser. It’s enough to make you think that the Pixel marketing team had no idea Google was going to make Magic Eraser available to “other phones”.
“It does things other phones can’t do” is a good slogan. “It does things other phones won’t be able to do until the end of this month”, not so much.
* This is a good hook for a Pixel ad campaign because I think it’s true that most Americans don’t know that Google makes phones. But it’s rather embarrassing that most Americans don’t know that Google makes phones given that the original Pixel debuted in 2016, and Google’s Nexus line of phones debuted in 2010. You’ve got a serious marketing problem when you’re 13 years in and see the need for a “Did you know we do this?” campaign.
I hope you’re well-stocked with popcorn, because you’re going to need a lot of it. Dominion Voting Systems, opening its reply brief in support of its motion for a summary judgment against Fox “News” (PDF):
Finally. Fox has conceded what it knew all along. The charges Fox broadcast against Dominion are false. Fox does not spend a word of its brief arguing the truth of any accused statement. Fox has produced no evidence — none, zero — supporting those lies. This concession should come as no surprise. Discovery into Fox has proven that from the top of the organization to the bottom, Fox always knew the absurdity of the Dominion “stolen election” story. Now, having failed to put in any evidence to the contrary (because no such evidence exists), Fox has conceded the falsity of the Dominion allegations it broadcast.
That concession is no small thing. Thirty percent or more of Americans still believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. The heart of that lie remains the false conspiracy theory that Fox legitimized and mainstreamed starting on November 8 — that Dominion stole the election, using secret algorithms in its software originally designed for a Venezuelan dictator. Because of these lies, Dominion now may be “one of the most demonized brands in the United States or the world.” Dominion employees still endure threats and harassment. So it matters that Fox in private ridiculed — and never believed — the lie. And it matters that Fox has now in this litigation conceded these allegations were false.
Fox seeks a First Amendment license to knowingly spread lies. Fox would have this Court create an absolute legal immunity for knowingly spreading false allegations — lies — for profit, regardless of how absurd the lies are, regardless how many people in the chain of command know the lies are false, and regardless how many people are hurt — so long as the false claims are “newsworthy.” Fox proffers a completely made-up “rule,” contrary to decades of jurisprudence since New York Times v. Sullivan. As Judge Nichols ruled in rejecting MyPillow’s analogous argument that the First Amendment provides “blanket protection” from defamation for statements about a “‘public debate in a public forum,’” “there is no such immunity. Instead, the First Amendment safeguards our ‘profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,’ by limiting viable defamation claims to provably false statements made with actual malice.”
Speaking of Playdate, Panic has news:
Arriving with the latest Playdate OS and also available at play.date/games, Catalog is our curated store for neat Playdate software.
It’s launching with new games, and some previously released favorites.
Christa Mrgan hosted a fun video with a tour of the new games (and other news — see below). My favorite so far is Shaun Inman’s Word Trip, a deviously simple fast-paced word game, and Carve Jr. and Skew both look graphically ambitious and fun.
Panic is (finally!) nearing the finish line fulfilling pre-orders, but supply chain costs and inflation have led them to raise the price of a Playdate from $179 to $199 — but the new price isn’t going into effect until next month. I adore my Playdate (and have lost untold hours in particular to Zipper, an extraordinary game by Bennett Foddy in Playdate’s Season One collection). If you’ve been on the fence about buying one, you might as well get it now, at the original price. Then blow the $20 you saved on games in the Catalog.
James Clayton, reporting for BBC News:
In a tweet to the firm’s chief executive, Halli Thorleifsson said: “Your head of HR is not able to confirm if I am employed or not”.
Mr Musk responded by asking: “What work have you been doing?”
Mr Thorleifsson told the BBC that nine days after being frozen out of Twitter’s accounts he did not know whether he had been fired or not. After a series of follow up questions and answers with Mr Musk, that read like a live interview for his job, Mr Thorleifsson said he received an email confirming that he had been sacked.
If you’ve been staying away from Twitter, you’re smarter than me, but you might have missed this saga, and it is, I promise you, worth your attention. It started last night with Thorleifsson mentioning Musk in a tweet to ask whether he was still employed, and Musk then engaged in the most dismissive way possible. It was like reality TV on Twitter. As absurd and offensive as you might think their back-and-forth exchange was, I guarantee you’re low-balling it. At one point, after having been asked by Musk what he’s accomplished recently, Thorleifsson said he “led the effort to save about $500k on one SaaS contract”. Musk asked which SaaS contract. Thorleifsson replied “Figma”. Musk then replied “🤣🤣”. Best guess as to why Musk responded thus is that Musk doesn’t know what Figma is and thought Thorleifsson was making a “ligma” joke.
That’s the thread that prompted Clayton to file the above story with the BBC. But it gets worse/more absurd — but ultimately, better. Early this morning Musk tweeted:
The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm.
Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.
Thorleifsson graciously (good god where does his patience and serenity come from?) responded to Musk, explaining that he has muscular dystrophy, lost the use of his legs 20 years ago, and while he can and does type, his arms tire and his hands cramp after an hour or two:
And now finally to my fingers, which I know you have great concern for. Thank you for that btw. I’ll tell you what I told them. I’m not able to do manual work (which in this case means typing or using a mouse) for extended periods of time without my hands starting to cramp.
This wasn’t a problem in Twitter 1.0 since I was a senior director and my job was mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical guidance. But as I told HR (I’m assuming that’s the confidential health information you are sharing) I can’t work as a hands on designer for the reasons outlined above.
I’m typing this on my phone btw. It’s easier for me because I only need to use one finger.
The notion that a design leader can only “work” while their hands are on a keyboard and trackpad/mouse is, of course, patently offensive. (Also: illegal?) Thorleifsson is an award-winning designer and his design agency, Ueno, which Twitter acquired, was highly regarded and accomplished. His personal website is a delightful, pitch-perfect homage to Hergé’s Tintin.
He’s so renowned that in January Thorleifsson was named Iceland’s Person of the Year:
Halli, a 45 year-old designer, gained nation-wide recognition this year when, after the sale of his tech company Ueno to Twitter, he chose to be paid the sale price as wages. Normally in such large sales, the payment comes in the form of stock or other financial instruments, which categorize the sale as capital gains, meaning it is taxed at a much lower rate. Halli, however, gladly paid the higher tax rate, having spoken publicly on many occasions about the benefits he has received from the Icelandic social system.
Halli was born with muscular dystrophy and came from a working class background. In statements about his decision to pay back into the Icelandic social system, he cited both healthcare and education in Iceland as keys to his success. Notably, he was one of the highest tax payers in the nation after the sale of Ueno. [...]
One of his best-known projects is Ramp Up Iceland, which is building ramps throughout the nation to increase accessibility for people in wheelchairs. He has also personally donated to the legal funds of victims of sexual abuse, and has garnered praise for charitable donations to families in need this holiday season.
Thorleifsson, to put it mildly, is a rather extraordinary and inspiring person.
He also seems to be remarkably clever. Thorleifsson wasn’t a regular at-will employee at Twitter; he had a contract as the founder of an acquired company, and the entire thread is best read as his having baited Musk, successfully, into breaching that contract in public. (According to Zoë Schiffer and Casey Newton at Platformer, Thorleifsson was on a “do not fire” list inside Twitter, because breaking his contract would be so expensive for the company.)
Lastly, Thorleifsson has a sharp sense of humor, having concluded his thread this morning thus:
Oh! I forgot to mention that I read you can’t go to the toilet on your own either @elonmusk.
I’m sorry to hear about that. I know the feeling.
The only difference is I can’t do it because of a physical disability and you’re afraid someone you hurt will attack you while you poop.
As Musk himself might say, “🤣🤣”. Drop the mic, Halli, your work is done.
Epilogue: Musk apologizes. ★
Long story short: If you’re a subscriber to either Tweetbot or Twitterrific, you can help them out with three simple steps:
Long story long:
You surely recall that last month, in a fit of pique, Elon Musk spitefully pulled the plug on third-party Twitter clients with no notice whatsoever, in the most chickenshit way imaginable. Twitter didn’t even make it official that third-party clients had been banned until a week of confusion and dread had passed.
The obvious problem for developers of such clients, of course, is that Twitter clients are useless without the ability to connect to Twitter. A less obvious but no less serious problem is that the leading clients, Tapbots’s Tweetbot and The Iconfactory’s Twitterrific, were monetized through annual subscriptions. That left each company with thousands and thousands of customers with months left on those subscriptions, but no functionality.
Financially, this isn’t a “Huh, yeah, that must kinda suck” situation. It’s more of an “Oh shit, we’re fucked” situation. Twitterrific and Tweetbot weren’t side projects — they were flagship products from small companies. As I mentioned last month, The Iconfactory has a bunch of other great commercial apps (and games). Tapbots does too — Calcbot (a calculator and unit converter for both iOS and Mac) and Pastebot (my personal favorite clipboard history utility for Mac — I’ve been using it for years now). But you don’t need access to Tapbots’s sales figures to surmise that Tweetbot was the company’s sole tentpole.
Twitter’s kneecapping of third-party clients didn’t just mean that their future revenue was gone — it meant revenue they’d already collected from App Store subscriptions would need to go back to customers in the form of prorated refunds for the remaining months on each and every user’s annual subscriptions. Consider the gut punch of losing your job — you stop earning income. It’s brutal. Now imagine that the way it worked when you get fired or laid off is that you’re also suddenly on the hook to pay back the last, say, 6 months of your income. That’s where Tapbots and The Iconfactory are.
I can’t recall a situation like this, with an ecosystem of third-party clients collecting subscriptions and then having the first-party service yank the carpet out from under them — and their customers — with zero warning or sunset period. A proper sunset period would have allowed such third-party partners — and developers like Tapbots and The Iconfactory were indeed partners of Twitter1 — to stop accepting new subscriptions and renewals, and allow existing subscribers to run out the clock with service for the period they already paid for.
When a landlord decides to sell or repurpose a rental property, they give tenants notice that their leases won’t be renewed, months in advance. That’s always unpleasant and difficult. But they don’t just show up in the middle of the night, mid-lease, and change the locks or bulldoze the building.
This week, both Tapbots and The Iconfactory released updates in the iOS App Store to Tweetbot and Twitterrific — not to restore any functionality, but to deal with the grim meathook reality of these paid-for subscriptions rendered useless by Phony Stark’s imperious shitheadedness. Both apps, upon launch, now simply display a single screen describing what has happened, and offer options to users with existing subscriptions. Screenshots:
Their messaging and offers are similar and obviously coordinated.2 Also, unsurprisingly, both of their designs are utterly beautiful and perfectly on point for their distinctive respective brands. Magnificent work for a dreary task, presented in good cheer.
Tweetbot offers users three choices. The first is an option to transfer your existing Tweetbot subscription to Ivory, Tapbots’s magnificent (and magnificently Tweetbot-like) new Mastodon client. Any Tweetbot subscriber who has moved to Mastodon should tap this button immediately. This is, as the kids say, a no-brainer. (Any Tweetbot subscriber who has not yet moved to Mastodon should do it — it’s like the early fun Twitter of yore over there, perhaps even better, and Ivory feels like home to a Tweetbot junkie, trust me.)
Second, Tweetbot offers an “I am happy with what I got out of Tweetbot and do not need a refund” option, with a button labelled “I Don’t Need a Refund” and this text:
If you’ve been happy with the service we’ve provided over the years and don’t need us to send you a prorated refund back, you can choose this option. ❤️
Third is the option for a prorated refund:
If you want a refund for the remaining subscription time, simply do nothing. We will automatically refund you through Apple.
Twitterrific offers two choices: the same do-nothing-and-get-a-prorated-refund-from-us option, and a clear “I Don’t Need a Refund” button with this heartfelt description:
If you were happy with the service we provided over the years, and don’t want a pro-rated refund, please choose this option. We thank you!
These automatic refunds for every subscriber who does not choose to decline them (or transfer them to Ivory) will be issued in a month, on March 28. Worth noting with emphasis: Even if you already cancelled your subscription through Apple, you can still do this, because your cancelled subscription remains valid until its original expiration date. Just re-install the app and you should still see the “I Don’t Need a Refund” button.
As both companies’ entreaties make clear, the lion’s share of these prorated refunds will be paid by Tapbots and The Iconfactory, unwound the same way they were paid out, by the 70/30 or 85/15 splits of the original transactions. Apple will pay the 30/15 shares, Tapbots and The Iconfactory the 70/85 shares. I suspect, strongly, that given how longstanding both apps are, the overwhelming majority of their subscribers were in the 85/15 split that kicks in after the first year of a subscription. That 85/15 split is obviously better for developers in normal circumstances, but not when they’re on the hook to refund it.
These offers are more than fair. Any paid subscriber who doesn’t know what’s happening will simply get their prorated refund automatically. The money will just appear in their App Store account balance. But close to 85 percent of that money will come from the pockets of Tapbots and The Iconfactory. That is perfectly fair, but I do not think it is at all clear to people that that’s how it works. I suspect most users assume that money will all come from Apple, a company with somewhat larger resources than either Tapbots or The Iconfactory. And many of their customers who do not wish for a refund surely assume that the money they’ve spent will remain in the accounts of Tapbots and The Iconfactory by default. That is not the case.
Worse still, at this point, weeks after Twitter pulling the plug on them, there’s little reason to think most Tweetbot or Twitterrific users are still opening those apps. Untold users of Tweetbot and Twitterrific who have no desire to get their money back won’t even see their option to decline these refunds. In a few weeks they’ll receive refunds, largely paid by Tapbots and The Iconfactory, that they didn’t even seek.
There is something noble about two longtime rivals — competitors, yes, but with nothing but deep respect and camaraderie for each other — facing this terrible cliff together, with dignity and grace, considering their users first, as ever.
But all is not lost.
If you are a subscriber to either Tweetbot or Twitterrific, I beseech you to decline these prorated refunds. It’s a couple of bucks for you, but in the aggregate, this amounts to an existential sum of already booked revenue for these two companies, both exemplars of the indie iOS and Mac community.
Reinstall the app if you’ve already deleted it. Tap that “I Don’t Need a Refund” button and feel good about it. We have a month. Spread the word. ★
Among other things, The Iconfactory coined the word “tweet” to describe Twitter posts, and was the first to use a bird icon to represent the service. Twitter’s own brand was derived from Twitterrific’s, not the other way around. ↩︎
Notably, both start with sincere apologies. Twitterrific: “We apologize that we are no longer able to offer you access.” Tweetbot: “We are very sorry that we are no longer able to offer you access to Twitter.” They’re apologizing for something that was out of their control, against their wishes, and potentially ruinous for their own companies. That’s how much they respect their users. Twitter, on the other hand, has of course apologized for nothing and to no one. The only thing Musk has successfully done with Twitter is twist it into a company in his own mold, utterly devoid of the most essential of human qualities: honesty, grace, and empathy. ↩︎︎