Neil Young’s PonoMusic Store Goes Offline as It Switches Content Providers 

If not for this article in Billboard, would anyone have even noticed?

The Talk Show: Special Bullying Venue 

New episode of my podcast, with special guest Glenn Fleishman. Topics include security vulnerabilities on MacOS and iOS, ransomware, counterfeit products and outright fraud on Amazon, and online harassment and “free speech”.

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The Last VCR Will Be Produced This Month 

Ananya Bhattacharya, writing for Quartz:

Japan’s Funai Electronics, which makes its own electronics, in addition to supplying companies like Sanyo, will produce the last batch of VCR units by July 30, Nikkei reported (link in Japanese). The company cites difficulty in obtaining the necessary parts as one of the reasons for halting production.

It can take a surprisingly long time for a technology to go from obsolete to truly dead.

Part Two of Elon Musk’s Master Plan for Tesla 

Elon Musk:

So, in short, Master Plan, Part Deux is:

  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it

Cogent read. Musk is a remarkably clear thinker. He’s often compared to Steve Jobs, and rightly so in many ways, but they sure aren’t alike in terms of revealing plans for the future.

Stephen Colbert’s Killer Week 

Some great stuff this week broadcasting live, after each night of the Republican National Convention. Jon Stewart’s desk piece last night was vintage Stewart, and Laura Benanti’s impression as Melania Trump was great. And we saw the return of Colbert’s conservative pundit alter ego.

NBA to Move All-Star Game to Protest North Carolina Bathroom Law 

Just in time for tonight’s finale of the Trumpster fire that is this year’s Republican National Convention.

The New Glif 

I’ve mentioned Studio Neat’s Glif camera mount for the iPhone many times before. It’s always been a great product. But now they’re launching an all-new version, and it looks really clever — it works with any size phone, in both portrait and landscape, and has additional mounts for things like microphones and hand grips. Their Kickstarter campaign is already funded, but I say pre-order yours now and put this project way over the top.

Nintendo’s Stock Has Doubled in Value Since Pokemon Go’s Release 

Yet another sign that the market, collectively, acts impetuously, but amazing nonetheless.

Birkenstock Quits Amazon After Counterfeit Surge 

Ari Levy, reporting for CNBC:

Plagued by counterfeits and unauthorized selling on the online shopping site, the sandals company will no longer supply products to Amazon in the U.S. starting Jan. 1. Additionally, Birkenstock won’t authorize third-party merchants to sell on the site, according to a letter the company sent to several thousand retail partners on July 5.

The memo, from Birkenstock USA CEO David Kahan, was obtained confidentially by CNBC.com.

“The Amazon marketplace, which operates as an ‘open market,’ creates an environment where we experience unacceptable business practices which we believe jeopardize our brand,” Kahan wrote from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Novato, California. “Policing this activity internally and in partnership with Amazon.com has proven impossible.”

Amazon has a real problem on its hands.

iOS Gets Thicker 

Luke Wroblewski posted an interesting side-by-side comparison of the Today view, Control Center, and standard sharing sheets in iOS 7 and the iOS 10 public beta. Much less transparency, more solid shapes in place of outlines, and more use of color. Wroblewski attributes this to Jony Ive’s “receding presence” at Apple. I do not agree. I think these changes were inevitable, no matter Ive’s day-to-day involvement with UI details. iOS 7 went to an extreme (remember the crazily thin weights of Helvetica Neue in the betas that summer?). A gradual thickening and increase in UI affordances (more buttons that look like buttons, card-like things that look more like cards; more discernible on and off states) seemed like the obvious course.

For what it’s worth, I really like the UI changes in iOS 10, on both the iPhone and iPad. This is the sort of thing that takes years of refinement to achieve. It wasn’t feasible for a 9-month project like the iOS 7 redesign to debut with this level of refinement.

Amazon’s Fraudulent Seller Problem 

Remember last week’s link about Chinese counterfeits polluting Amazon’s inventory? They have another problem: outright fraud. Emily Heller:

Tried to buy a doormat and here’s what arrived: a piece of foam with a photo of the thing I wanted printed on it.

Here’s an even more ridiculous example.

XKCD: Free Speech 

Good bookmark for those who persist in arguing that Twitter booting harassers from their service is an abridgment of “free speech”.

I will add: Expressing controversial or even unpopular opinions is one thing, and Twitter should remain open to that. Harassment is something else entirely, and Twitter should have zero tolerance for it. Empathetic human beings can tell the difference. Bullies, on the other hand, conflate the two. Milo Yiannopoulos getting kicked off Twitter had nothing to do with his conservative politics and everything to do with his leading a hate mob of racist misogynists.

I understand the concern that if Twitter starts suspending accounts for one thing (harassment), they might start suspending accounts for the other (expressing controversial opinions). That’s why Twitter’s solution needs to involve actual human beings. Rational people should have tolerance for ideas that offend them. No one should be asked to tolerate personal abuse.

‘The Internet Is Turning Us All Into Sociopaths’ 

Archived 2012 piece from the now-defunct The Kernel:

What’s disturbing about this new trend, in which commenters are posting what would previously have been left anonymously, is that these trolls seem not to mind that their real names, and sometimes even their occupations, appear clamped to their vile words. It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol. That’s as close to the definition of sociopath as one needs to get for an armchair diagnosis, though of course many other typical sociopathic traits are also being encouraged by social media.

Well-said. But the kicker is the byline.

(Via Charles Arthur.)

Dollar Shave Club: ‘Our Blades Are Fucking Great’ 

I’d seen this before and remember liking it, but Ben Thompson implored readers to re-watch it in his aforelinked piece on Dollar Shave Club’s $1 billion acquisition by Unilever, and I have to concur with his assessment: it’s one of the best product introduction videos of all time. 90 seconds long and not a word or moment is wasted.

Dollar Shave Club and the Disruption of Everything 

Ben Thompson:

Probably the most important fact when it comes to analyzing Unilever’s purchase of Dollar Shave Club is the $1 billion price: in the world of consumer packaged goods (CPG) it is shockingly low. After all, only eleven years ago Procter & Gamble (P&G) bought Gillette, the market leader in shaving,for a staggering $57 billion.

To be sure Gillette is still dominant — the brand controls 70 percent of the global blades and razors market — but there is little question that Dollar Shave Club is a much better deal, in every sense of the word. Understanding why Dollar Shave Club was cheap means understanding why its blades are cheap, and understanding that means understanding just how precarious the position of P&G specifically and incumbents generally is in the emerging Internet economy.

Fantastic piece — Thompson makes a strong case that the seemingly unrelated creation of Amazon Web Services and YouTube a decade ago created the opportunity for Dollar Shave Club to disrupt a titan like Gillette.

Exploring the App Store’s Top Grossing Chart 

Fascinating analysis and data visualizations by Graham Spencer, writing for MacStories:

One of the most striking things you’ll notice when browsing the Top 200 Grossing apps is that they are virtually all offered as free downloads. In my survey, just three apps were paid apps upfront; Minecraft (#33, $6.99), Grindr (#95, $0.99), and Facetune (#183, $3.99). The other 197 apps were free to download.

I knew intuitively that most top-grossing apps were free downloads with in-app purchases, but I wasn’t expecting the results to be so overwhelming.

(Also: What a remarkable game Minecraft is. Its staying power is amazing, and it is standing in lone opposition to the IAP-ification of mobile games.)

‘See if You Can’t Leave Me About a Good Inch From Where the Zipper Ends … Right on Back to My Bunghole’ 

Worth a re-link, for the sake of some politics we can all agree on: Lyndon Johnson ordering pants.

Twitter Permanently Suspends Milo Yiannopoulos 

Charlie Warzel, reporting for BuzzFeed:

Twitter has banned one of its most notoriously contentious voices. On Tuesday evening, the microblogging service permanently suspended the account of conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, a day after he incited his followers to bombard Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with racist and demeaning tweets.

“People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter,” a company spokesperson said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”

This is being framed by Yiannopoulos’s supporters as suppression of free speech. These people are very confused about free speech. It’s simple: Yiannopoulos has the right to say and write whatever he wants. But Twitter is not a public resource. In the same way that a coffee shop or restaurant should never allow someone (let alone a mob of people) to harass other patrons, Twitter should not allow it on their service.

So kudos to Twitter for standing up to this troll. But it shouldn’t take a celebrity to drive Twitter to action. Twitter needs to systematically boot harassers at every level.

Joanna Stern on Amazon’s $50 Blu R1 HD Phone 

Joanna Stern, writing for the WSJ:

In life, you get what you pay for.*

*Exceptions: Costco wine, $1 New York City pizza and the Blu R1 HD smartphone, now sold by Amazon for $50. In those cases, the quality of the product far exceeds your low expectations.

Yes, you read that right, there’s an Android 6.0 smartphone that costs less than family dinner at the Olive Garden. It’s cheap, but it’s not, you know, cheap.

There’s a reason for that. Even though Amazon sells the R1 HD for as little as $50, on the open market it starts at $100. Why the discount? Ads. Sorry, “special offers.” Which are ads.

This is a much more Amazon-like phone than the Fire Phone was, and I suspect, more likely to be a success.

Drudge Report: Roger Ailes Leaves Fox News With $40M Parachute Amid Harassment Probe 

Katherine Krueger, writing for TPM:

The conservative link aggregator site Drudge Report reported Tuesday afternoon that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was leaving his post as an investigation into Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment of employees is underway.

While the site’s signature blaring siren landing page featured the breaking headline, no source was immediately provided.

It would be hard to overstate the influence Ailes held over modern political discourse here in the U.S. Fox News changed the country, and Ailes was Fox News.

As for Drudge’s source — it has to be Rupert Murdoch, or one of his sons.

Update: 21st Century Fox statement on Twitter:

21CF statement: Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. The only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.

But The New York Times reports that his tenure is all but over.

The Safe Haven of False Equivalence 

Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, writing for Vox:

In April 2012, we created a major stir in the political world with a long piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook section called, “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” It was adapted from our book published days later, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, and this was our money quote:

The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier in American politics — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

As scholars who had worked for more than four decades with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, we faced a ton of scorn from sitting Republican lawmakers and outside observers for making this argument — and denial from most of the mainstream media. For reporters, professional norms and concerns about accusations of partisan bias dictated that the parties be treated equally, whatever the underlying reality. The safe haven of false equivalence led the press to ignore one of the most consequential developments in contemporary American politics: the radicalization of the Republican Party.

Particularly apt after the opening night of the Republican convention, which saw multiple speakers calling for the opposing party’s candidate to be “locked up”, Russian-style, and an opening benediction — a prayer — that described the opposing party as “enemies”.

‘The Secret History of Mac Gaming’ 

Richard Moss is raising funds to publish what sounds like an amazing and beautiful book, on the history of Mac gaming. Just the list of interviews brings back a flood of memories. The book is at 61 percent of its funding goal as I type this — I’d love to see the DF audience push it over the top.

Update: Now fully-funded. Great news. Can’t wait to read this book.

Trump’s Ghostwriter Speaks 

Jane Mayer, writing for The New Yorker:

And so Schwartz had returned for more, this time to conduct an interview for Playboy. But to his frustration Trump kept making cryptic, monosyllabic statements. “He mysteriously wouldn’t answer my questions,” Schwartz said. After twenty minutes, he said, Trump explained that he didn’t want to reveal anything new about himself — he had just signed a lucrative book deal and needed to save his best material.

“What kind of book?” Schwartz said.

“My autobiography,” Trump replied.

“You’re only thirty-eight — you don’t have one yet!” Schwartz joked.

“Yeah, I know,” Trump said.

“If I were you,” Schwartz recalls telling him, “I’d write a book called ‘The Art of the Deal.’ That’s something people would be interested in.”

“You’re right,” Trump agreed. “Do you want to write it?”

U.S. Army Special Operations Switching From Android to iPhone 

Matthew Cox, reporting for DoD Buzz:

The iPhone 6S will become the end-user device for the iPhone Tactical Assault Kit — special-operations-forces version Army’s Nett Warrior battlefield situational awareness tool, according to an Army source, who is not authorized to speak to the media. The iTAC will replace the Android Tactical Assault Kit.

The iPhone is “faster; smoother. Android freezes up” and has to be restarted too often, the source said. The problem with the Android is particularly noticeable when viewing live feed from an unmanned aerial system such as Instant Eye, the source said.

When trying to run a split screen showing the route and UAS feed, the Android smart phone will freeze up and fail to refresh properly and often have to be restarted, a process that wastes valuable minutes, the source said.

“It’s seamless on the iPhone,” according to the source. “The graphics are clear, unbelievable.”

Apple couldn’t write a better story themselves.

GlaxoSmithKline to Use ResearchKit for Clinical Research 

Caroline Chen and Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

GlaxoSmithKline Plc has started a rheumatoid arthritis study using Apple Inc.’s ResearchKit, marking the first time a drugmaker has used the health system for the iPhone to conduct clinical research.

Glaxo wants to record the mobility of 300 participants over three months and will also ask the patients to input both physical and emotional symptoms, such as pain and mood. The app Glaxo created from ResearchKit comes with a guided wrist exercise that uses the phone’s sensors to record motion, giving the drugmaker a standardized measurement across all users. The company will use the results to help design better clinical trials.

I’m curious if they’ll supply participants with loaner iPhones. Or will they only choose participants who already have iPhones?

Update: A little birdie involved with this project says that for this survey, it’s a bring-your-own device situation, and they’re only recruiting participants who can run the app on their own iPhones.

SoftBank Group Nears Deal to Buy ARM Holdings 

Leslie Picker, reporting for the NYT:

SoftBank is nearing a deal to acquire ARM Holdings, the British semiconductor company, said two people briefed on the matter who asked not to be named discussing private information. […]

ARM, which designs chips and parts of chips, had a market capitalization of about $22 billion as of Friday’s close. ARM would be one of SoftBank’s largest acquisitions ever.

CNBC tweeted the price: “more than $32 billion”.

Apple Begins Rolling Out iTunes Match With Audio Fingerprint to Apple Music Subscribers 

Jim Dalrymple:

This is, in fact, the same version of iTunes Match that iTunes users could pay for as a separate subscription since Apple began offering it years ago. I am one of those users. However, all subscribers to Apple Music will get the new version of iTunes Match at no extra cost. This update also means that all Matched songs will download DRM-free.

If you are a current iTunes Match subscriber and subscribe to Apple Music, you can let your Match subscription lapse when it comes up for renewal and still receive the same benefits. If you don’t subscribe to Apple Music and still want the benefits of iTunes Match, hold on to your subscription.

I’m sure there are reasons for the way things are, but from the outside, combining iTunes Match and Apple Music should have been there from day one. It would have made transitioning so much easier and more compelling.

The Talk Show: ‘Mumbles and Grunts’ 

John Moltz returns to the show. Topics include parenting thoughts on controlling the amount of time our kids spend playing games and watching YouTube and Netflix, why Google’s apps for iOS are better than their apps for Android, Chromebooks in schools, Windows Phone’s bright future, Pokemon Go, and more. We also insult the driving abilities of people from Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Canada.

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Notebook From Zoho 

My thanks to Zoho for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote Notebook, their new app for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android. It’s a graceful, well-designed, beautiful alternative to Evernote. Notebook uses a few simple metaphors. At the top level are notebooks, which have a huge assortment of cover options. Inside notebooks are cards, with four types: text, pictures, audio recordings, and to-do lists. It’s all very obvious and well structured, and they make great use of gestures to do things like pinch cards together to put them into a stack within a notebook.

It’s a free download, and absolutely worth checking out. A lot of thought and care went into the design and implementation of this app.

Turkey’s President Gives an Interview via FaceTime in the Middle of a Coup 

Matt Novak, writing for Gizmodo:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan just gave an interview via FaceTime. The country is in chaos following a military coup that’s still ongoing. The military has declared martial law and is censoring the media networks but Erdogan was on CNN Turkey remotely with a broadcaster holding up her phone facing the cameras. Welcome to the 21st century.

Related: “Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube Blocked in Turkey During Reported Coup Attempt”.

Nick Heer on Apple’s Aging Mac Lineup and Slumping Sales 

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

MacRumors’ own buyers’ guide shows a “Don’t Buy” indicator below every Mac except the MacBook. Of the current lineup, fully half of all Macs — the Mac Pro, the Retina MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air — are the most stale that those products have ever been. […]

The Mac Pro hasn’t been substantially updated since the new cylindrical model launched in December of 2013. The pro Macintosh situation is so dire that some designers and developers, like Mike Rundle and Sebastiaan de With, have opted to deal with the moderate hassle of building a “hackintosh” in order to get the performance they need for their work. Critical products like the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro are well over a year old, too.

Something unusual is certainly going on. We have to get updated MacBook Pros and Mac Pros soon (September?), right?

I don’t think, though, that the MacBook Air will ever get another update. I think it only exists to occupy the sub-$1000 price range until Apple can sell a year-old MacBook for $899. I wouldn’t be shocked if they rolled out a minor speed-bump update to the MacBook Airs, but I don’t expect them to. The future is just MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

Eddy Cue on ‘Skinny Bundles’ of TV Channels, Translated 

Peter Kafka, writing at Recode:

Apple has spent years trying to assemble a “skinny bundle” of TV channels that it could sell directly to consumers. Last year it tried it again. So it was surprising to see Eddy Cue, Apple’s top media exec, tell the Hollywood Reporter today that this isn’t something he’s particularly interested in.

“As a matter of fact, I’m not a big fan of the skinny bundle,” he said, and then went on to argue that the real problem with TV isn’t that people are paying too much for channels and programs they don’t want, but that the tech they use to watch TV isn’t good enough.

Again, this doesn’t square with Apple’s longstanding efforts — led by Cue — to deliver a skinny bundle. I asked Apple to explain the cognitive dissonance, and they referred me back to the Hollywood Reporter piece. So now that we’re done with that exercise, I’m going to suggest that there are some things Cue would say differently if he were speaking to someone privately, instead of in an on-the-record interview.

Here’s my translation.

I think Kafka has this nailed.

Casting Call for Apple’s Upcoming Reality Show, ‘Planet of the Apps’ 

I thought this was weird when it was announced back in March, and I still think it’s weird. Weird too that the website for the show doesn’t mention that Apple itself is a co-producer of the show.

New Ransomware Takes Your Money, Deletes Files Anyway 

Charlie Osborne, writing for ZDNet’s Zero Day:

The malware claims to encrypt victim files, throws up a landing page and demands 0.2BTC before piling on the pressure by claiming that for each click made on the compromised system which is not related to payment, files are deleted.

This, however, is a complete lie.

“There is no longer honor amongst thieves,” Talos noted. “Ranscam simply delete victims’ files, and provides yet another example of why threat actors cannot always be trusted to recover a victim’s files, even if the victim complies with the ransomware author’s demands.”

I’ll bet this really pisses off the “honest” ransomware thieves.

An Open Letter From Technology Sector Leaders on Donald Trump’s Candidacy for President 

Huge list of signatories:

We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not. He campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people, and a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline. We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy  —  and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth.

Meanwhile, Facebook board member Peter Thiel will be speaking at the Republican National Convention, supporting Trump.

Gizmodo Reviews the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin 

Alex Kranz, writing for Gizmodo, wins the award for most presumptuous sentence of the week:

Apple take note, this is what people are actually looking for in a laptop under a thousand bucks.

It’s fascinating how many times MacBooks are mentioned in this review, and yet it doesn’t even mention that the industrial design is a complete rip of Apple’s. MacBooks are simply the standard all PC laptops are measured against.

My take on this Samsung laptop: it sounds like the thick heavy MacBook Pros from like five years ago. Any laptop thick enough for an Ethernet port is too thick.

Google’s Project Fi Now Offers High Speed Data Abroad 

This is a great plan: $10/GB, in the U.S. and abroad. No SIM-swapping nonsense — you just use your phone as usual.

The catch: it’s still only available for three phones.

CNBC: Amazon’s Chinese Counterfeit Problem Is Getting Worse 

I never buy anything labeled “fulfilled by Amazon” — I don’t trust it.

Pokemon Go Drives Nintendo Shares Up 

Pavel Alpeyev and Yuji Nakamura, reporting for Bloomberg:

The company has added more than $7 billion in market value since last week’s debut of a new smartphone app for its Pokemon fantasy monster character franchise. The game, which lets users track down virtual monsters in their vicinity, has topped the free-to-download app charts for Apple in the U.S. and Australia since its release on July 7, according to market researcher App Annie.

Nintendo’s shares responded with their biggest intraday jump since at least 1983, when the stock started trading in Tokyo, climbing as much as 25 percent on Monday. Investors are taking Pokemon’s early success as a sign of things to come for a company that has yet to commit the most popular characters from its Mario or Zelda franchises to mobile gaming apps.

Top-grossing app in the App Store, and the topic of the week (lighthearted topic, at least) on social media.

I’ve been advocating for Nintendo to fully commit to making games for mobile since 2013 (parts one and two). I just re-read both pieces and they both hold up really well. I hate to say it (OK, I love to say it), but it looks like I was right. A few highlights:

Another common refrain I’ve heard this week is that Nintendo’s games are utterly dependent on hardware controls. No argument here that some games are better with real D-pads and physical buttons. (I can’t recall ever once truly enjoying a D-pad style game on the iPhone.) But there are other types of games that are better without D-pads and buttons.

Pokemon Go is a perfect example of this. It’s nothing like a DS game. It’s perfectly native to the phone. Nintendo is the perfect company to take the features and limitations of phones and redefine what mobile games can be.

And:

A kid asking “What’s a Nintendo?” may sound preposterous to the ears of an adult weaned on Mario and Zelda, but trust me, put an iPad Mini and a 3DS on a table next to each other, and most kids today will reach, if not jump, for the iPad. If you don’t see that as an existential threat for Nintendo, there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind. A Nintendo that doesn’t make games for iOS is a Nintendo that doesn’t reach today’s kids; a Nintendo that doesn’t reach today’s kids is a Nintendo with no future.

Keep your eyes open for teenagers and pre-teens using a DS rather than a phone. You’ll have a hard time finding one.


Headphone Jacks Are the New Floppy Drives

Nilay Patel, “Taking the Headphone Jack Off Phones Is User-Hostile and Stupid”:

But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!

And let’s compare them to arguments against removing floppy drives from the iMac in 1998.

1. Digital audio means DRM audio

Restricting audio output to a purely digital connection means that music publishers and streaming companies can start to insist on digital copyright enforcement mechanisms. We moved our video systems to HDMI and got HDCP, remember? Copyright enforcement technology never stops piracy and always hurts the people who most rely on legal fair use, but you can bet the music industry is going to start cracking down on “unauthorized” playback and recording devices anyway.

I’m not familiar with how people are taking advantage of the “analog loophole” to do things with audio out of the iPhone headphone port that would be forbidden using the digital Lightning port, but now seems like a good time to raise the big question: Should the analog headphone jack remain on our devices forever? If you think so, you can stop reading. If not, when? Maybe now is the wrong time, and Apple is making a mistake. I don’t know. None of us outside the company seem to know, because all that has leaked is that the new iPhone won’t have the port, with no explanation why. But I say at some point it will go away, and now seems like it might be the right time. Also, historically, Apple has proven to be very good at timing the removal of established legacy ports.

Patel misses the bigger problem. It’s not enforcement of DRM on audio playback. It’s enforcement of the MFi Program for certifying hardware that uses the Lightning port. Right now any headphone maker in the world can make any headphones they want for the standard jack. Not so with the Lightning port.

We deal with DRM when it comes to video because we generally don’t rewatch and take TV shows and movies with us, but you will rue the day Apple decided to make the iPhone another 1mm thinner the instant you get a “playback device not supported” message. Winter is coming.

As an aside, whatever the merits of this decision, it’s not about device thinness. The iPhone 6 is the thinnest iPhone to date at 6.9mm. The iPod Touch has a headphone jack and is just 6.1mm thick. The iPod Nano: 5.4mm. The analog headphone jack is more costly in terms of depth than thickness.

2. Wireless headphones and speakers are fine, not great

Totally agree. But the rumor is that the new iPhone will ship with wired Lightning earbuds.

3. Dongles are stupid, especially when they require other dongles

External floppy drives sucked too.

4. Ditching a deeply established standard will disproportionately impact accessibility

The traditional headphone jack is a standard for a reason — it works. It works so well that an entire ecosystem of other kinds of devices has built up around it, and millions of people have access to compatible devices at every conceivable price point. The headphone jack might be less good on some metrics than Lightning or USB-C audio, but it is spectacularly better than anything else in the world at being accessible, enabling, open, and democratizing.

Apple is the company that brought us the 30-pin and Lightning ports, and whose iPhones, iPods, and iPads have never had USB ports. “Enabling, open, and democratizing” have never been high on Apple’s list of priorities for external ports. They’re on the list, to be sure. Just not high on the list.

5. Making Android and iPhone headphones incompatible is so incredibly arrogant and stupid there’s not even explanatory text under this one

Why would Apple care about headphone compatibility with Android? If Apple gave two shits about port compatibility with Android, iPhones would have Micro-USB ports. In 1998 people used floppy drives extensively for sneaker-netting files between Macs and PCs. That didn’t stop Apple from dropping it.

The incompatibility that matters is with Apple’s own devices, particularly MacBooks. Presumably Apple’s Lightning earbuds will work on iPads, too. But it’s going to suck having to use different headphones (or a dongle) for the Mac than you use with your iOS devices.1 But again, this is no different than the transition from 30-pin to Lightning. You have to start somewhere. (Unless you believe Apple should stick with the analog headphone jack as we know it forever — but I told you people to stop reading way back at the top.)

6. No one is asking for this

Raise your hand if the thing you wanted most from your next phone was either fewer ports or more dongles.

I didn’t think so. You wanted better battery life, didn’t you? Everyone just wants better battery life.

“No one” asked for the iMac to remove the floppy drive or switch from ADB ports to USB (at a time when PCs weren’t shipping with USB either, which meant few — I mean really few — existing USB peripherals on the market). There was a huge outcry when the iPhone 5 dumped the proprietary-but-ubiquitous 30-pin port for the proprietary-and-all-new Lightning port. MacBook Air fans are still complaining about the new MacBook’s solitary USB-C port.

This is how it goes. If it weren’t for Apple we’d probably still be using computers with VGA and serial ports. The essence of Apple is that they make design decisions “no one asked for”.

And as for battery life, surely removing the deep headphone socket can only leave more room for a larger battery.

Vote with your dollars.

We shall see. But I bet people will do just that. And in five years we’ll look at analog headphone jacks the way we look at all the other legacy ports we’ve abandoned. 


  1. Will MacBooks ship with a Lightning port in lieu of a headphone jack? If so, will they ship with headphones? (Probably not, I say. Cough up the extra $29 for a new pair of Apple EarPods.) Is this why we haven’t seen new MacBook Pros yet — because they’re waiting for the new iPhone, so that both can go Lightning-for-audio at the same time? Perhaps. ↩︎


Brief Thoughts and Observations Regarding Today’s WWDC 2016 Keynote

Venue

Moscone West isn’t big enough for 5,000 attendees to fit in a room, so a few thousand WWDC attendees always had to sit in an overflow room where they’d watch the keynote on video. That’s a major reason why attendees would line up at the crack of dawn, even though the keynotes start at 10 am. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium has no such limitation, and it was nice to see (and hear) all attendees. The sound system there was just great, and the huge screen behind the stage was good too. I give the new venue a thumbs-up.

WatchOS 3

I was hoping for a thorough reinvention of the WatchOS UI navigation structure, and it looks like we got it. Glances are gone — an updated app for WatchOS 3 is a glance. Just tap the side button once to see the new “Dock”, and the apps in the Dock are live views of the actual apps. A conceptual simplification, along with a deliberate effort to reduce many common tasks to just one or two taps, is just what the doctor ordered for Apple Watch.

As for the purported dramatic improvements to app launching times and background data refreshing, I’ll believe it when I see it, but it sounds like an amazing year-over-year improvement.

tvOS 10

I’d be happy if the only new feature were the system-wide single-sign on for authenticating with your cable provider to use apps that require proof that you subscribe to a traditional TV service.

It didn’t make the keynote, but another change to tvOS that games can now require a dedicated gaming controller. I can see why Apple didn’t allow that — they wanted to push developers to support the Siri Remote as a controller. But some games simply require a real controller. That requirement was holding back the platform. (“Common sense prevails” is arguably the theme of this year’s announcements.)

The Newly-Renamed MacOS 10.12

I love the name change, but as someone who remembers when the classic Mac operating system was called “Mac OS”, I’m finding it tough to type without the space. Back then, “MacOS” was considered a typo.

The new “Continuity” features between devices sound great. Auto-unlocking your Mac with your Apple Watch is a very cool feature, as is the new Universal Clipboard. (That’s not really a Mac feature — it works from one iOS device to another, too.)

iOS 10

I don’t have time to write about all the new features that were announced today (let alone all the ones that didn’t even make the keynote), but looking over my notes, it strikes me that these are all very practical improvements. Everyone encounters the lock screen; Apple has made it more useful. Siri is smarter and can now integrate with third-party apps. Computer vision analysis of your photos — if it works well — will be useful to anyone who takes a lot of photos.

But perhaps the biggest change wasn’t even mentioned on stage. Most built-in system apps can now be removed from your device.1 Third-party VoIP apps can now commandeer the lock screen when an incoming call arrives — something that until now was reserved for the Phone and FaceTime apps. Likewise, third-party messaging apps can be specified as the default for people on a per-contact basis. iOS 10 looks like the anti-lock-in release.

iMessage

I’ve been arguing for a while now that iMessage is vastly under-appreciated as one of the most popular and best messaging platforms in the world. I think because it’s only for Apple devices it somehow doesn’t count in some people’s minds, even though there are (according to Apple) a billion Apple devices in use.

Messages is the most-used app on iOS, so it makes sense for Apple to spend a lot of time and attention on it. With the bigger emoji, stickers, and “bubble effects”, it’s clear that a lot of Apple’s work went into making Messages just plain fun. But the new extension APIs that allow for “iMessage Apps” strike me as turning iMessage into a genuine platform. One way to think about it is as an effort to move away from sharing plain text (and often ugly, unreadable) URLs that open in Safari and instead exchange software “objects” that are usable right there in the message thread.

Swift Playgrounds

We don’t have Xcode for iPad yet, but this is a start. It looks like a lot of fun and a great way to learn Swift or even just how to program, period. This is the most approachable programming environment from Apple since HyperCard. I’m interested to see whether Playground files wind up like HyperCard stacks. 


  1. Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be a way to specify a third-party app as the default handler for things like “mailto:” links, even if you remove the system Mail app. I hope that’s just something Apple hasn’t gotten to yet. ↩︎


App Store Subscription Uncertainty

From Lauren Goode’s interview with Phil Schiller for The Verge, specifically regarding the new 85/15 revenue split after the first year of a subscription (italic emphasis mine):

But Schiller insisted that it wasn’t any kind of “Apple tax” backlash or companies encouraging users to go to their own websites that drove Apple’s new subscription model: “It wasn’t done from a negative like that,” he says. When I asked about this, he stresses that it was “absolutely done because we recognize that developers do a lot of work to retain a customer over time in a subscription model, and we wanted to reward them for that by helping them to keep more of the revenue.” Apple can help drive customers to the original download, Schiller argues, but only the developer can keep the customer over time and “we want to incent them to do that.”

Schiller imagines scenarios where many kinds of apps that were previously single-time purchases could move to the model. Games that have an ongoing subscription-like program, ones that have a massive online playing world that require upgrades of game worlds, might make sense. He suggests many enterprise apps could move to subscription, and that professional apps that require “a lot of maintenance of new features and versions” would be a good fit.

That’s pretty much exactly what Schiller told me yesterday too, which colored my take on the breadth of apps that could take advantage of subscription pricing. I wrote:

This dramatically changes the economics of the App Store. Until now, productivity apps could charge up front as paid downloads and that was it. Updates had to be free, or, to charge for major new versions, developers would have to play confusing games by making the new version an entirely new SKU in the app store. Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific, for example, did this, to justify years of ongoing development. Now, apps like this can instead charge an annual/monthly/etc. subscription fee.

But Apple’s own “What’s New in Subscriptions” web page makes this uncertain:

Starting this fall, apps in all categories on the App Store will be eligible to offer in-app purchases for auto-renewable subscriptions to services or content. Users enjoy the reliability that comes with subscribing to a service that they love, and the experience must provide ongoing value worth the recurring payment for an auto-renewable subscription to make sense. Although all categories of apps will be eligible, this business model is not appropriate for every app.

Like many freemium apps, successful auto-renewable subscription apps operate as services that are continuously supported, and often require sustained content development or feature enhancements to retain users. Whether updating content on a regular basis, providing on-demand use of a service, or giving access to a large collection of content, successful auto-renewable subscription apps are equipped to offer continued utility and enjoyment to their subscribers.

In a sidebar titled “Types of Auto-Renewable Subscriptions”, Apple lists only two, “Content” and “Services”:

Content
Provide paid access to content that is updated or delivered on a regular basis, such as newspapers, educational courses, or audio or video libraries.

Services
Provide paid access to an ongoing service within your app, such as cloud storage or massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs).

Professional apps that require “a lot of maintenance of new features and versions” don’t fit either of those categories. Would Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific qualify for subscription pricing? After talking to Schiller yesterday, I thought so. Now, I don’t know. Developers are definitely confused.

Brent Simmons:

I have a side project, a Mac app, that I could also do as an iOS app. I have no plans to do so — but the news about subscriptions and free trials makes me reconsider.

It might be sustainable with this new model.

But here’s the thing: the app is a stand-alone thing. I’m not running a backend web service for it. Would it be okay to use the subscription-based pricing? […] What does “not appropriate” mean? Does that mean rejection? Or is that just a warning that it’s maybe not the best fit, but it’s okay to try it anyway?


Schiller obviously knows what he’s talking about, but what he’s said seems to be outside the new written rules. So I think what Apple is trying to do here is discourage frivolous use of subscriptions. I think it’s obvious from Apple’s own description that while apps from any category are now allowed to offer subscription, that doesn’t mean every app will be allowed to. Like with many App Store rules, Apple doesn’t spell things out in detail in order to preserve control and flexibility. Like Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” definition of “obscenity”, I think Apple wants to define “good use of the subscription business model” as “we know it when we see it”.

The problem with that is that developers don’t know whether they’re going to be approved or not. As it stands, they would need to do all the engineering (and design) work to support subscriptions, submit the app, and wait to see if it’s approved and perhaps appeal if it isn’t. That’s bad enough for an existing app whose developer wants to switch to subscription pricing. But this uncertainty is downright untenable for a new app whose developer sees subscription pricing as the only sustainable business model to justify the app’s development in the first place.

The letter of the rules Apple has posted creates counterintuitive incentives for developers. An app with its own proprietary sync service can use the subscription model, but a competing app that provides the same features using CloudKit cannot. But Apple wants developers to use iCloud.

I think Apple should just allow any app to offer subscription pricing, period. Apple’s role should be as the trusted platform vendor, making sure users can easily cancel subscriptions, requiring opt-in to any pricing changes, and making sure no one is being tricked or confused in any way. Otherwise Apple should allow developers to define their use of subscriptions as they see fit. In the same way that developers with paid-up-front apps can pick their own price, and users determine whether it’s worth it or not, developers of subscription-based apps should be able to define their own “here’s what you get when you subscribe” features and let users decide whether they’re worth the price or not. I don’t think Apple ought to control this — the market will work itself out. People won’t sign up for a bad subscription offering for the same reasons they don’t sign up for bad subscription deals in the world outside the App Store.

Apple needs to clarify this to remove the uncertainty.


Another question: If an app is deemed qualified to use subscription pricing, must it be functional in some limited way without a subscription? Apps that use in-app purchases must be functional without the IAP. Is that true for subscription-based apps too?

My understanding is that if an app gets approved for subscription pricing, then it is up to the developer whether the app is useful without a subscription. A simple comparison: Spotify and Netflix. Spotify plays music for free (with ads) even if you don’t pay them a nickel. Netflix, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any content to non-subscribers. I’d like to see Apple clarify this too.


I should add that I don’t think subscription pricing — even if Apple clarified that subscriptions are open to any app, period — are a panacea. There is no perfect way to sell software. The old way — pay up front, then pay for major upgrades in the future — has problems, too, just a different set of problems. If I had my druthers Apple would enable paid upgrades in the App Store(s), but I get the feeling that’s not in the cards. That leaves us with subscriptions.

DF reader Sean Harding framed the problems with subscription pricing well, in a short series of tweets:

I think the new stuff is good, but I don’t think it really solves the upgrade pricing problem from a customer standpoint. A sub forces me to effectively always buy the upgrade or stop using even the old version. I don’t dislike subscriptions because I don’t want to pay. I just want freedom to decide if the new features are worth paying for.

Tapbots developer Paul Haddad:

I’d probably be fine with a subscription model, if they degraded nicely. Stop paying, app still works but no more upgrades. That seems fair.

That’s a nice notion, but I’m pretty sure the App Store doesn’t allow for that and never will. A nice side effect of paid downloads is that you, the user, can keep using an old version of an app until it technically no longer runs, because of an OS update or something like that (e.g. a PowerPC binary that no longer runs on Intel-based Macs — a scenario that could happen again if Apple starts putting ARM chips in Macs). With software-as-a-service, when you stop paying for the service, you don’t get to keep using the current version of the app — or if it’s a freemium model, you don’t get to keep using the non-free features that were previously enabled via the subscription.

I can see why some people don’t like this. I personally have a few not-the-latest-version apps that I’m glad still work for me. But this is the way the software economy is moving. Nobody expects a subscription web app/service to continue working if you stop paying for it. With Adobe and Microsoft leading the way, that’s the way the economics of app development are shifting too. 


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