Nine Minutes of Doubt 

At 8:55am, Donald Trump tweeted the following:

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......

Six trailing periods, sic.

Nine minutes later, he finished the sentence:

....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....

There are all sorts of reasons to be furious about these tweets. But one that’s been largely overlooked is that 9-minute gap.

BuzzFeed reports:

At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is on vacation this week, and defense officials said Mattis knew that Trump was considering the policy change. It is unclear if he approved it.

Suspecting that Trump was using Twitter to announce military action against North Korea was a perfectly reasonable conclusion by the Pentagon. It also would have been a perfectly reasonable conclusion by North Korea. The policy decision is terrible, the lack of any consultation with the Pentagon is terrible, but the way that it was made, starting with a belligerent tweet without follow-up for nearly 10 minutes, is jaw-droppingly dangerous.

ARKit’s A-Ha Moment 

Really impressive stuff.

Makes me think about this passage from today’s WSJ profile of Jony Ive:

In other technologies, from digital assistants to driverless vehicles to augmented and virtual reality, Apple seems to lag other tech giants, including Google, Amazon and Tesla.

Who exactly is Apple lagging in AR?


Unordered Lists in Markdown

In Markdown, you can create unordered lists using any of three characters as the “bullets”: asterisk (*), hyphen (-), or plus (+). Why all three? More or less: why not? Better to let people choose the character that feels most natural to them. I know a lot of Markdown users choose different characters for different levels of hierarchical lists, and that went into the original thinking as well.

I’ve always been curious which list markers people actually use, so I did a poll on Twitter. The results:

  • 42% Asterisk (*)
  • 54% Hyphen (-)
  • 04% Plus (+)

You can only respond to Twitter polls using Twitter’s official clients, and because a lot of my followers have the good taste to use third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific, I wound up getting a lot of “responses” by way of replies to my tweet. They don’t show up in the results above, but eyeballing them, they’re right in line: lots of fans of asterisks and hyphens, crickets chirping for plus.

I’m most surprised by how unpopular plus is. I use it a lot myself. The funny thing is, I’m not even sure how I’d answer the poll personally — I use all three, depending on my mood. Part of the reason Markdown supports all three characters is that I couldn’t decide on just one back in 2003, and I still can’t.

The glaring omission in supported characters, of course, is an actual bullet (). If Markdown had only been something I’d meant to use myself, or among friends, I would have made use of punctuation characters outside the 7-bit ASCII range, and literal bullets would have been first on the list. But at the time, character-encoding mismatches were still a daily problem. Today, UTF-8 is sufficiently universal that using such characters in an update to Markdown would probably work out fine. 


Jason Snell on Apple Park’s Open Work Spaces 

The same passage that caught my eye in the WSJ’s profile on Apple Park — on employees being upset at having to move from private offices to open work spaces — caught Jason Snell’s as well:

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Some of the initial resistance will be the natural human response to any change, of course. But beyond that, there will almost certainly be real issues with moving productive Apple employees out of their offices and into big white open-plan workspaces. It’s going to be a period of adaptation for everyone who works at Apple.

We moved to an aggressively open plan, with almost no offices, when I was at IDG. I think it worked for some people, but it definitely didn’t work for others. Sometimes I think people who work in fields where an open collaborative environment makes sense don’t understand that people in other fields (writers, editors, programmers) might not share the same priorities when it comes to workspaces.

Batch Processing in Apple Photos 

Kirk McElhearn:

Apple’s Photos app does not allow you to perform batch processing. However, there is a way that you can quickly apply the same changes to multiple photos.

Copy and pasting adjustments is better than nothing, and this is a very good tip. But man, Photos for Mac really needs to up its game when it comes to batch processing and triaging new photos.

WSJ Profile on Jony Ive and Apple Park 

Christina Passariello, in a gorgeously photographed profile for WSJ Magazine:

Ive’s friend Bono, writing in an email, says he’s “restless and relentless in pursuit of perfection,” while Norman Foster, whose architecture firm was hired by Apple to build the headquarters at a reported cost of $5 billion, calls him “a poet.” Other designers are “amazing essayists, but the difference between an essay and a poem is that you really have to work harder at the poem. It’s much more distilled, it’s much more the essence,” Foster says. “He works tirelessly at the detail, evolving, improving, refining. For me, that makes him a poet.”

That rings true to me.

The thousands of employees at Apple Park will need to bend slightly to Ive’s vision of the workplace. Many will be seated in open space, not the small offices they’re used to. Coders and programmers are concerned that their work surroundings will be too noisy and distracting. Whiteboards — synonymous with Silicon Valley brainstorming — are built into floor-to-ceiling sliding doors in the central area of each pod, but “some of the engineers are freaking out” that it isn’t enough, says Whisenhunt.

This would drive me nuts, I suspect.

Trump Says Tim Cook Has Promised to Build Three Manufacturing Plants in U.S. 

Tripp Mickle and Peter Nicholas, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Trump, in a 45-minute interview with The Wall Street Journal, said Mr. Cook promised him Apple would build “three big plants, beautiful plants.” Mr. Trump didn’t elaborate on where those plants would be located or when they would be built.

“I spoke to [Mr. Cook], he’s promised me three big plants — big, big, big,” Mr. Trump said as part of a discussion about business-tax reform and business investment. “I said you know, Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I won’t consider my administration an economic success. He called me, and he said they are going forward.”

Apple declined to comment.

This is odd in so many ways. If it’s true, this is a massive strategic shift for Apple, and it makes me wonder why Cook would share this news with Trump prior to Apple announcing it on their own terms. And if it’s not true, boy did Trump just send Cook a huge shit sandwich.

Apple’s most recent foray into U.S. assembly is a facility in Texas for the Mac Pro. There was quite a bit of publicity about that, but until now it doesn’t seem to have led to anything else. And Apple doesn’t even own that plant — they partnered with a company named Flex. According to Vindu Goel, Apple only owns one factory in the world — in Ireland.

Adobe Announces End-of-Life for Flash 

Adobe:

Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once provided by plugins directly into browsers and deprecating plugins.

Given this progress, and in collaboration with several of our technology partners — including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla — Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats.

Apple’s key decision was never supporting Flash on iOS, and sticking with that decision even when they were under significant marketing pressure to do so. Steve Jobs’s famous “Thoughts on Flash” was not the cause of Flash’s demise — it was an explanation for why Flash was doomed.

iOS never supporting Flash, combined with the size and appealing demographics of iOS users, hastened the demise of Flash by several years. Web publishers switched to HTML5 technologies for video and interactive content sooner than they would have otherwise. But I think Flash was doomed regardless. The world was going mobile whether Apple led the way or not, and Flash was never a good fit for mobile computing.

This official “end of life” statement is an important step, but Adobe saw the writing on the wall six years ago when they officially stopped developing Flash Player for Android. Strategically, that was the death of Flash.

David Remnick Interviews Maggie Haberman 

The New Yorker’s David Remnick has a terrific interview with New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. Much of what we know of the inner workings of the Trump White House, we know from Haberman.

D.R.: What do you make out to be the ideology of Donald Trump? Or is it purely situational? We saw him running as a new kind of populist. At moments, he seems very right-wing; at other times he undermines that kind of conservative ideology.

M.H.: I think he has no clear ideology. I think he has a couple of base impulses he’s held onto since the nineteen-eighties, when he was taking out those newspaper ads about how Japan is “ripping us off.” A lot of the language that he used then is the same as what he uses now, but it’s more of a feeling than an ideology. It’s a sense that the United States is being taken advantage of. Can he name by whom, accurately? Not necessarily. He ran as a Republican, and he really appealed to this hard-right base that believes in less government. But, in reality, this is a man who grew up in Ed Koch’s New York City, and I think he has a very specific view of the role that government is supposed to play in people’s lives.

The Verge: Bragi Dash Pro Wireless Earbuds 

Sean O’Kane, writing for The Verge:

Bragi hasn’t completely solved this problem with the Dash Pro, and I still think its other, cheaper, wireless earbuds are a better buy. But the company’s gotten much closer this time around. You can put your phone in basically any pocket, or in a bag, and the connection only hiccups about 10 percent of the time, maybe even less depending on your height.

I’m not saying my AirPods never suffer Bluetooth hiccups, but it happens very rarely. Apple is so far ahead of its competition on this front.

Neuropathologist Examined the Brains of 111 NFL Players; 110 of Them Showed Signs of C.T.E. 

The New York Times:

Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist, has examined the brains of 202 deceased football players. A broad survey of her findings was published on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Of the 202 players, 111 of them played in the N.F.L. — and 110 of those were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. […]

The set of players posthumously tested by Dr. McKee is far from a random sample of N.F.L. retirees. “There’s a tremendous selection bias,” she has cautioned, noting that many families have donated brains specifically because the former player showed symptoms of C.T.E.

But 110 positives remain significant scientific evidence of an N.F.L. player’s risk of developing C.T.E., which can be diagnosed only after death. About 1,300 former players have died since the B.U. group began examining brains. So even if every one of the other 1,200 players had tested negative — which even the heartiest skeptics would agree could not possibly be the case — the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly higher than in the general population.

I keep thinking change will come inevitably from the ground up — fewer and fewer parents are allowing their kids to play football each year. But at the high school level, participation only dropped by 2.5 percent from 2008 through 2015.

The Talk Show: ‘Actually, You Can Buy a Better Coke’ 

Rene Ritchie returns to the show to talk about the rumors and speculation regarding this year’s upcoming new iPhones.

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In Urban China, Cash Is Rapidly Becoming Obsolete 

Paul Mozur, writing for The New York Times:

Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything. At restaurants, a waiter will ask if you want to use WeChat or Alipay — the two smartphone payment options — before bringing up cash as a third, remote possibility.

Just as startling is how quickly the transition has happened. Only three years ago there would be no question at all, because everyone was still using cash.

The iPhone Paradox 

The Macalope:

Maybe it’s just the horny one, but if you have information that shows the iPhone 8 is going to be a logical paradox — like a real life M.C. Escher painting — that is somehow simultaneously too expensive for anyone to want to buy and so wildly popular they can’t make them fast enough, you should probably lead with that. That would be big news, quantum mechanically speaking.

It’s like the Yogi-ism: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

Called It 

Yours truly on Google Glass back in 2013:

And the idea that people will wear things like this everywhere (as opposed to special specific scenarios, such as workers in an environment where their hands are otherwise occupied, like, say, surgeons) strikes me as creepy as hell.

Samsung Describes Its Male and Female Bixby Assistants With Sexist Descriptions 

Alejandro Alba, writing for Gizmodo:

After months of delays, Samsung’s much ballyhooed voice assistant Bixby is here — and users on social media are already noticing the company’s loaded, sexist characterizations of its female and male voices.

Inside Bixby’s “language and speaking style” menu, Samsung describes its female voice as “chipper” and “cheerful,” while the male voice is described as “confident” and “assertive.”

Not a new problem for Samsung.


Public Service Announcement: You Should Not Force Quit Apps on iOS

The single biggest misconception about iOS is that it’s good digital hygiene to force quit apps that you aren’t using. The idea is that apps in the background are locking up unnecessary RAM and consuming unnecessary CPU cycles, thus hurting performance and wasting battery life.

That’s not how iOS works. The iOS system is designed so that none of the above justifications for force quitting are true. Apps in the background are effectively “frozen”, severely limiting what they can do in the background and freeing up the RAM they were using. iOS is really, really good at this. It is so good at this that unfreezing a frozen app takes up way less CPU (and energy) than relaunching an app that had been force quit. Not only does force quitting your apps not help, it actually hurts. Your battery life will be worse and it will take much longer to switch apps if you force quit apps in the background.

Here’s a short and sweet answer from Craig Federighi, in response to an email from a customer asking if he force quits apps and whether doing so preserves battery life: “No and no.”

Here, from the official support document on forcing applications to close, is Apple’s own advice on when to use this feature:

When you double-click the Home button, your recently used apps appear. The apps aren’t open, but they’re in standby mode to help you navigate and multitask. You should force an app to close only when it’s unresponsive.

Update: MacDailyNews quotes a 2010 email from Steve Jobs:

Just use [iOS multitasking] as designed, and you’ll be happy. No need to ever quit apps.

Just in case you don’t believe Apple’s senior vice president for software, Apple’s own official support documentation, or Steve Jobs, here are some other articles pointing out how this habit is actually detrimental to iPhone battery life:

This thing about force quitting apps in the background is such a pernicious myth that I’ve heard numerous stories from DF readers about Apple Store Genius Bar staff recommending it to customers. Those “geniuses” are anything but geniuses.

It occurs to me that some of the best examples proving that this notion is wrong (at least in terms of performance) are YouTube “speed test” benchmarks. There’s an entire genre of YouTube videos devoted to benchmarking new phones by running them through a series of apps and CPU-intensive tasks repeatedly, going through the loop twice. Once from a cold boot and the second time immediately after the first loop. Here’s a perfect example, pitting a Samsung Galaxy S8 against an iPhone 7 Plus. Note that no apps are manually force quit on either device. The iPhone easily wins on the first loop, but where the iPhone really shines is on the second loop. The S8 has to relaunch all (or at least almost all) of the apps, because Android has forced them to quit while in the background to reclaim the RAM they were using. On the iPhone, all (or nearly all) of the apps re-animate almost instantly.

In fact, apps frozen in the background on iOS unfreeze so quickly that I think it actually helps perpetuate the myth that you should force quit them: if you’re worried that background apps are draining your battery and you see how quickly they load from the background, it’s a reasonable assumption to believe that they never stopped running. But they did. They really do get frozen, the RAM they were using really does get reclaimed by the system, and they really do unfreeze and come back to life that quickly.1

An awful lot of very hard work went into making iOS work like this. It’s a huge technical advantage that iOS holds over Android. And every iPhone user in the world who habitually force quits background apps manually is wasting all of the effort that went into this while simultaneously wasting their own device’s battery life and making everything slower for themselves.

This pernicious myth is longstanding and seemingly will not die. I wrote about it at length back in 2012:

Like with any voodoo, there are die-hard believers. I’m quite certain that I am going to receive email from people who will swear up-and-down that emptying this list of used applications every hour or so keeps their iPhone running better than it would otherwise. Nonsense.

As Fraser mentions, yes, there are exceptional situations where an app with background privileges can get stuck, and you need to kill that app. The argument here is not that you should never have to kill any app using the multitasking switcher — the argument is that you don’t need to do it on a regular basis, and you’re not making anything “better” by clearing the list. Shame on the “geniuses” who are peddling this advice.

And don’t even get me started on people who completely power down their iPhones while putting them back into their pockets or purses. 


  1. The other contributing factor to believing that force quitting is good for your iPhone are the handful of apps that have been found to be repeated abusers of loopholes in iOS, such that they really do continue running in the background, wasting battery life. Most infamously, Facebook was caught playing silent audio tracks in the background to take advantage of APIs that allow audio-playing apps to play audio from the background. They called it a “bug”. In those cases force-quitting the apps really did help, and I see no reason to trust Facebook. So if you want to keep force quitting Facebook, go right ahead. But don’t let one bad app spoil the whole barrel. The Battery section in the iOS Settings app can show you which apps are actually consuming energy in the background — tap the clock icon under “Battery Usage” and don’t force quit any app that isn’t a genuine culprit. ↩︎


Apple Machine Learning Journal 

New publication from Apple, where Apple engineers can publish their work and research on machine learning. The writing is more accessible than a peer-reviewed technical journal, but alas (but unsurprisingly for Apple), the articles are un-bylined. The approachability without avoiding nitty-gritty technical details reminds me of Dr. Dobb’s Journal back in the day.

My assumption here is that this doesn’t replace publishing in established peer-reviewed journals, but rather acts as a public-facing, more accessible filter for research that Apple engineers publish in peer-reviewed journals — perhaps along with original content at some point.

(Also: no RSS feed. Update: There is an RSS feedthe URL just isn’t published anywhere in the HTML. Update 2: The site now has a <link> tag with the URL for the feed so you can just point any feed reader at its home page to discover the feed. Nice.)

Acorn 6 

Gus Mueller, Flying Meat Software:

What’s new and awesome?

For a number of years, text on a path has been our number one feature request and we finally got to deliver it with version 6. Acorn has always had great text support; it handles unicode effortlessly, and you can have multiple font faces and weights in a single text block. You can even have emoji as part of your text block. All of these same features work perfectly with text on a path. Inline editing, selection, etc- it just works. And it was a ton of fun to code on as well. Buy me a beer someday and I’ll spill the details on how I coded it.

We also implemented our number two feature request, clone tool improvements. You can now select any layer as a clone source (bitmap layers, a group of layers, even shape layers) and then clone to any other layer, or even another image. We also added stamping to the clone tool, which works by holding down the shift key when you click on your image.

Another excellent update to another one of my favorite and most-depended-upon apps. Compared to the old days of “Photoshop or bust”, we Mac users today have a veritable cornucopia of excellent image editing apps to choose from. Acorn just best fits my needs and my way of thinking about how a Mac image editor should look and work. On sale for just $15 — that’s 50 percent off — for a limited time.

Transmit 5 

Cabel Sasser:

Seven years after the first release of Transmit 4, our well-loved and widely-used macOS file transfer app, we sat down with an incredibly exhaustive list of ideas, and — this’ll sound like I’m exaggerating but I’m mostly sure I’m not — we did it all.

With one massive update we’ve brought everyone’s favorite file-transferring truck into the future with more speed, more servers, more features, more fixes, a better UI, and even Panic Sync. Everything from the core file transfer engine to the “Get Info” experience was rethought, overhauled, and improved.

A tremendous update to one of my very favorite and most-depended-upon apps. Worth checking out just to see the 3D rotating truck icon on their website. On sale for one week only for just $35.


iPhone Prelude

Rene Ritchie, “iPhones of Future Past: Understanding iPhone 8”:

iPhone 8 will simply let Apple impress in a different way — by including technologies that don’t yet reach iPhone scale. In other words, by bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today.

In terms of the business, it’s really no different than getting an iPhone onto Verizon, onto China Mobile, with bigger and bigger displays, or with smaller displays again — it’s about annexing adjacent markets and maximizing the revenue potential for iPhone.

As it becomes harder to sell more iPhones — the population of earth is now a limiting factor — selling more of an iPhone becomes beneficial. It’s the same benefit Apple gets from selling services revenue on top of iPhone, but in atoms, not bits.

Ritchie is using the name “iPhone 8” to refer to what I’ve called the “iPhone Pro” — the high-end OLED-display model that I think might start at over $1000. Name aside, I think he’s got exactly the right idea on how Apple can position this: a future iPhone today.

Honda used to sell a car in the U.S. called the Prelude. Edmunds’s description:

Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord — both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices. Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.

The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on the 1990 Acura NSX). The Prelude was also a test bed for some technologies that went nowhere, like four-wheel steering.

In a broad sense, that’s my idea for the iPhone Pro — a premium-priced product that offers us early access to technologies and components that will be (or even just might be) in all iPhones in another year or two. 


The Return of Google Glass 

Laura Stevens, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is relaunching Glass, its head-worn computer, targeting corporate customers after its initial version flopped because of privacy concerns.

Dubbed Glass Enterprise Edition, the product has been in testing at about 50 companies, including Boeing Co., General Electric Co. and Volkswagen AG, Alphabet said Tuesday.

The new device, which is designed to snap on eyeglass frames and display information, videos and images in the line of a person’s sight, allow workers to see instructional content. They can also use the device to broadcast what they are viewing back to others for real-time instruction.

Still looks goofy (in fact, it pretty much looks the same), but I can see how it could prove popular in work environments so long as it’s useful. People ranging from mechanics to surgeons have long worn industrial-looking eyewear on the job.

Jonathan Chait: ‘Trumpcare Collapsed Because Republicans Cannot Govern’ 

Jonathan Chait:

In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.

The Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House, and cannot pass health insurance legislation. One can argue about why this is so, but I think Chait nails it: they can’t square their anti-government dogma with the need for the government to play a role in any humane health care system.

Garry Kasparov on Trump and Putin 

Garry Kasparov, in a column for The New York Daily News:

For autocrats, angry denial is the first phase of responding to accurate charges against them. “No! Never! A complete fabrication!”

As evidence accumulates, this shifts to feigning ignorance and claiming misunderstanding, along with attempts to distract by slandering the accusers, blaming others for similar sins and discrediting the concept of knowable truth. “I didn’t know it was wrong! The media is out to get me! Others have done worse! Who knows what really happened?”

When even this proves insufficient, it’s time for the final step, confession. Not the kind that is said to be good for the soul, but the aggressive, defiant boasting of someone who is sure that they won’t be punished in this life or the next for the crime they denied for so long. “I did it, but so what? There’s nothing wrong with it! What are you going to do about it?”

After many months of denials, lies and distractions in an effort to dismiss the mounting evidence that the Trump campaign knowingly worked with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election, the Trump train is approaching the final station.

It’s not like Kasparov knows anything about strategic thinking or Vladimir Putin.

Only 45 Percent of Trump Voters Believe Don Jr. Met With the Russians, After Junior Admitted It 

John Aravosis:

Public Policy Polling has a new poll out that’s depressing as hell, and a sign of just how fact-deprived Trump voters truly are.

Among other findings, only 45% of Trump voters think Donald Trump Jr. met with Russians last year to discuss their offer to help his father win the election. And 32% say it didn’t happen at all.

This is after Donald Trump Jr. already admitted publicly that he met with the Russians, and Donald Trump Sr. tweeted the fact that his son met with the Russians. After all that, only 45% believe it.

He not only admitted it, he publicly released the emails documenting it.

Dov Charney’s 2.0: Los Angeles Apparel 

Matthew Townsend, reporting for Bloomberg:

But American Apparel’s 2015 bankruptcy wiped out most of his net worth, so where would he get the money? Didn’t his tawdry past of sexual harassment allegations make him radioactive? And shouldn’t American Apparel’s collapse prove that making clothes in the U.S. is a fool’s errand?

Yet here he is, at 48, overseeing a startup with seamstresses and fabric cutters and boxes of T-shirts waiting to be shipped across the country. He’s on, he’s riffing, he’s explaining the benefits of immigration, he’s envisioning a company that will someday hit $1 billion in revenue. (American Apparel topped out at $634 million in 2013.) “We’re building, grooving, growing,” Charney says.

His new company, Los Angeles Apparel, was launched late last year as a wholesale business — just like American Apparel’s origins in 1989 — selling blank basics such as T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Very similar brand aesthetic to American Apparel, too, but with Microgramma subbed in for Helvetica Neue as the company typeface.

Apple’s Risky Balancing Act With the Next iPhone 

Jason Snell, in a terrific column for Macworld:

This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast.

Contrast that to Apple’s competition. On the smaller end, former Android chief Andy Rubin announced the Essential phone, but even Rubin admitted that he’d only be able to sell in thousands, not millions. Same for the RED Hydrogen One — groundbreaking phone, hardly likely to sell in any volume. The Google Pixel looks like it’s in the one million range. Apple’s biggest competitor, Samsung, has to deal with a scale more similar to Apple’s — but it’s still only expected to sell 50 or 60 million units of the flagship Galaxy S8.

As one DF reader (thanks, SH) put it in an email a few weeks ago:

People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new devices in a year? I’m not even sure it would be physically possible to manufacture 300 million OLED screens in a single year, for instance. Much less any more dramatic change, like new materials or manufacturing processes.

It’s not just this year that Apple has to pull off a risky balancing act regarding the features and components of the new flagship iPhone. It’s every year. I don’t think that balance is attainable without a change in strategy to add a new higher-priced lower-volume tier.

Jeet Heer: ‘We Are Living in the Coen Brothers’ Darkest Comedy’ 

Jeet Heer, writing for The New Republic:

Imagine a group of dunderheaded Americans who think they would benefit from a covert alliance with the Russian government. They make overtures to that country’s ambassador, blithely ignorant that they’ll be monitored by U.S. intelligence. A series of cascading mistakes ultimately brings disaster crashing down on their heads.

That might sound like a summary of the latest news about the White House, but it is also the plot of Burn After Reading, the 2008 film that stands as singularly prophetic of the Trump era. The Coen Brothers’ black comedy echoes this unique period in history not only because of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russian operatives, but the wider culture of deceit that made Donald Trump’s rise possible. More than just a satire on espionage, the movie is a scathing critique of modern America as a superficial, post-political society where cheating of all sorts comes all too easily.

Benedict Evans: ‘Creation and Consumption’ 

Benedict Evans:

It seems to me that when people talk about what you ‘can’t’ do on a device, there are actually two different meanings of ‘can’t’ in computing. There is ‘can’t’ as meaning the feature doesn’t exist, and there is ‘can’t’ as meaning you don’t know how to do it. If you don’t know how to do it, the feature might as well not be there. So, there is what an expert can’t do on a smartphone or tablet that they could do on a PC. But then there are all of the things that a normal person (the other 90% or 95%) can’t do on a PC but can do on a smartphone, because the step change in user interface abstraction and simplicity means that they know how to do it on a phone and didn’t know how to do it on a PC. That is, the step change in user interface models that comes with the shift from Windows and Mac to iOS and Android is really a shift in the accessibility of capability. A small proportion of people might temporarily go from can to can’t, but vastly more go from can’t to can.

Chaim Gartenberg: ‘The Future of the Smartwatch Should Be Smart Watch Bands’ 

Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge:

Despite the best efforts from Apple (with the Apple Watch), Google (with Android Wear), Samsung (with the Galaxy Gear), Pebble (with the, uh, Pebble), and dozens of other companies, the dream of the smartwatch hasn’t really taken off. Turns out that turning a smartphone into a wrist device isn’t really that appealing. Even if you can somehow get the right balance of battery life, device size, and developer support, people just aren’t really interested in getting anything more than notifications and fitness tracking from the devices they wear on their wrists.

I disagree completely. I’m on my way home from a family vacation at Disney World. I saw Apple Watches everywhere. (I would estimate that over 95 percent of them were the aluminum models.) Apple Watch is a hit product.

I think notifications and fitness tracking simply are what people want from their smart watches.

I think smart bands for non-smart watches are a non-starter — and I say that as someone who packed two mechanical watches and no Apple Watch for this trip. The analog nature of mechanical watches is central to their appeal.

Apple Previews New Emoji 

Apple:

In celebration of World Emoji Day, Apple is sharing some of the new emoji coming to iOS, macOS and watchOS later this year.

It’s crazy to me that there hasn’t been a sandwich emoji until now.

Thom Holwerda: ‘Android Is a Dead End’ 

Thom Holwerda, writing for OSNews:

Android in its current form suffers from several key architectural problems - it’s not nearly as resource-efficient as, say, iOS, has consistent update problems, and despite hefty hardware, still suffers from the occasional performance problems, among other things - that Google clearly hasn’t been able to solve. It feels like Android is in limbo, waiting for something, as if Google is working on something else that will eventually succeed Android.

Is that something Fuchsia? Is Project Treble part of the plan, to make it easier for Google to eventually replace Android’s Linux base with something else? If Android as it exists today was salvageable, why are some of the world’s greatest operating systems engineers employed by Google not working on Android, but on Fuchsia? If Fuchsia is just a research operating system, why did its developers recently add actual wallpapers to the repository? Why does every design choice for Fuchsia seem specifically designed for and targeted at solving Android’s core problems?

Android Killed Windows Phone 

Dieter Bohn, The Verge:

So while Microsoft didn’t do itself any favors, I’d argue strongly that all these machinations and flailings weren’t a response (or weren’t only a response) to the iPhone. The real enemy was the company that had set its sights on Microsoft’s phone ambitions since before the iPhone was released.

That company was Google, of course, and it only tangentially wanted to take on the iPhone. Google’s real target was always Microsoft, and it hit the bullseye.

This is so obvious to me I’m surprised Bohn even thought to write it, but judging by the response, it seems a lot of people haven’t really thought about this. Conceptually, the iPhone changed the industry by raising the bar for just how a modern phone should work. Android and Windows Phone were designed in the iPhone’s wake.

But business-wise, the iPhone is exactly like the Mac. It’s not something Apple licenses to other companies. So all other companies that want to make phones but can’t create their own OS need something to license. On the PC, that OS is Windows. For mobile, it’s Android. It’s hard to imagine how different the world would be today if Microsoft had created the Android of mobile.

Squarespace 

My thanks to Squarespace for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed.

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The Mac Mini Turns 1,000 Days Old Today 

The Mac Mini remains a product in our lineup.”

Font Choice Leads to Scandal Threatening the Pakistani PM 

Sune Engel Rasmussen and Pádraig Collins, reporting for The Guardian:

The daughter of Pakistan’s prime minister has become subject of ridicule in her home country after forensic experts cast doubts on documents central to her defence against corruption allegations. […]

Documents claiming that Mariam Nawaz Sharif was only a trustee of the companies that bought the London flats, are dated February 2006, and appear to be typed in Microsoft Calibri.

But the font was only made commercially available in 2007, leading to suspicions that the documents are forged.

The website Dawn reached out to Calibri designer Lucas de Groot for comment:

In a separate email, de Groot, the font designer himself, said that while in theory it would have been possible to create a document using Calibri in 2006, the font would have to be obtained from a beta operating system, “from the hands of computer nerds”.

“Why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document in 2006?” he went on to question.

The Internet Is Fucked (Again) 

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

Most of these things are still true, even after the Obama-era FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler reclassified internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and imposed strict net neutrality rules on wired and wireless internet providers. And most of these things will get even worse when Pai pushes through his plan to rescind Title II and those rules, despite widespread public outcry.

The lack of competition in the broadband access market is so acute that it doesn’t matter if Comcast is still the most-hated company in America, or that Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) has the worst customer service: you don’t have a choice, so you just have to pay them anyway. Consumers and tech publications can review and argue and debate the merits of products from Apple, Google, and Microsoft, but you just have to take what you get from your ISP.

Michael Tsai on Fantastical 2.4 for Mac 

Michael Tsai on the latest update to Fantastical for Mac:

It’s like they read my mind and implemented my four most-wanted features. Great update.

It really is a great update. I’m not even sure what to ask for at this point. No app is ever “done”, but at this point Fantastical feels feature complete.

Kottke’s Buyer’s Guide for Next Month’s Solar Eclipse 

Jason Kottke:

On August 21, 2017 across the entire United States, the Moon will move in front of the Sun, partially blocking it from our view. For those on the path of totality, the Moon will entirely block out the Sun for more than 2 minutes. I’ve been looking forward to seeing a total solar eclipse since I was a little kid, so I’ve been doing a lot of research on what to buy to enjoy the eclipse safely. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Google Pays Academics for Publishing Favorable Articles About Google 

Madison Malone Kircher, writing for New York Magazine:

Over the last ten years, Google (er, um, Alphabet) has paid thousands of dollars to people in the academic community working on research that directly involves the company’s business, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday. Dollar amounts ranged from $5,000 to $400,000, and Google’s financial contributions to the research were often not disclosed in the finished products, the Journal also reported. A former Google employee said the company had assembled a list of research papers, complete with “working titles, abstracts and budgets,” Google wanted to see produced and then used that list to find academics willing to work with them on those projects. Around 100 such papers have been funded by Google since 2009.

I love this bit from the Journal story:

University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald pitched an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google, and he received $18,830 to fund the work. The paper, published in 2012, didn’t mention his sponsor. “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad,” he said in an interview. “That’s purely oversight.”

“Oh, wow”. He’s shocked — shocked — that he himself didn’t disclose this. The Journal even got him to pose for a photograph — he’s got exactly the deer-in-the-headlights “Why did I agree to this interview?” look on his face that you’d expect.

Don’t be ethical.

Android Police: ‘This Is the 2017 Google Pixel “XL”’ 

Looks great. If this is legit, they’ll sell thousands more of them than last year.

Apple Extends Free Repairs of First-Generation Apple Watches With Detached Back Covers 

It’s good that Apple is doing this, but the fact that these things are just glued together shows how different Apple Watches are from traditional mechanical watches. You can buy a $60 watch from Seiko with better assembly quality than an Apple Watch Edition.

Max Boot: ‘Trump Has Picked America’s Enemies in Russia Over Its Friends in Europe’ 

Max Boot, writing for Foreign Policy:

His nutty behavior is bad enough at home; it’s even worse abroad when he is supposed to be representing not just his rabid base of “deplorables” but, rather, the whole country. That is something Trump simply does not know how to do.

Thus, in the course of this trip, he trashed his predecessor, the U.S. intelligence community, and the “fake news” media. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan in 1981 going abroad and attacking Jimmy Carter for not doing more to stand up to Soviet aggression? Or attacking the press for being hostile to him in the 1980 campaign (as they were) and the intelligence community for not predicting the Iranian revolution (as they did not)? It’s unimaginable, yet Trump somehow thinks that it’s appropriate.