Microsoft’s Azure Services in China Are Contracted to a Chinese Company, Too 

Microsoft:

Microsoft Azure operated by 21Vianet (Azure China 21Vianet) is a physically separated instance of cloud services located in mainland China, independently operated and transacted by Shanghai Blue Cloud Technology Co., Ltd. (“21Vianet”), a wholly owned subsidiary of Beijing 21Vianet Broadband Data Center Co., Ltd.

The services are based on the same Azure, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Power BI technologies that make up the Microsoft global cloud service with comparable service levels. Agreements and contracts for Microsoft Azure in China, where applicable, are signed between customers and 21Vianet.

Nikkei Asian Review’s Irresistible Verb 

Philip Elmer‑DeWitt:

But I know a dog whistle when I hear it, and in the Nikkei stories below the verb “to slash” — to cut with a violent sweeping motion — is code for Apple is doomed.

  • Jan. 29: Apple will slash its production target for the iPhone X
  • Feb. 16: OLED panel glut looms as Apple slashes iPhone X production
  • Feb. 20: Samsung to slash OLED panel output as iPhone X slumps

Here’s the thing about a verb like that: It’s almost irresistible. Here are a few reporters who couldn’t resist.

As Elmer-DeWitt points out, kudos to Jack Purcher at Patently Apple for pushing back on this.

Apple’s Upcoming Handover of Chinese iCloud Data to a State-Owned Company 

Lo Shih-hung, writing for The Hong Kong Free Press:

The US-based global tech giant Apple Inc. is set to hand over the operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) by February 28, 2018. When this transition happens, the local company will become responsible for handling the legal and financial relationship between Apple and China’s iCloud users. After the transition takes place, the role of Apple will restricted to an investment of US one billion dollars, for the construction of a data center in Guiyang, and for providing technical support to the center, in the interest of preserving data security. […]

Apple Inc. has not explained the real issue, which is that a state-owned big data company controlled by the Chinese government will have access to all the data of its iCloud service users in China. This will allow the capricious state apparatus to jump into the cloud and look into the data of Apple’s Chinese users.

I wish that Apple would provide a definitive list of all types of data that goes through iCloud, showing what is end-to-end encrypted (iMessage and FaceTime?) and what is not. This whole situation reeks to high hell, but I don’t know what Apple could do other than pull out of the Chinese market entirely.

Update: This Apple support document comes pretty close to what I’m asking for.

Meh.com: ‘Selling Shit You Don’t Want for So Cheap That You Buy It Anyway’ 

My thanks to Meh for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Here’s what they had to say in their promoted RSS feed entry earlier this week:

People ask what kinds of things we sell, and it’s hard to categorize — headphones, knives, pearl necklaces, pliers (just from the last few weeks) — but you know what it’s got in common? It’s dirt cheap. Cheaper than anywhere else, cheaper than it’s ever been, possibly cheaper than it’ll ever be. We hate hype and we hate marketing pitches, but that’s just literally the easiest way to explain what we sell.

I can’t say it any better than that.

The Talk Show: ‘The “Press Real Hard” Era’ 

Special guest Marco Arment returns to the show for a brief discussion. Topics include Apple’s OS development strategy, HomePod and Siri, the sad state of Apple TV apps, where to get a good cheesesteak, and more.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

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Twitter Abolishes Native Mac Client 

Twitter:

We’re focusing our efforts on a great Twitter experience that’s consistent across platforms. So, starting today the Twitter for Mac app will no longer be available for download, and in 30 days will no longer be supported.

For the full Twitter experience on Mac, visit Twitter on web.

It’s hard to overstate just how great a native Mac experience Twitter owned when they acqui-hired Tweetie and Loren Brichter. It was pure Twitter and pure forward-thinking Mac UI. Now, Mac users get the same first-party experience that everyone gets on any other platform.

Twitter dumped Tweetie’s codebase years ago, of course, and their Mac app has been garbage ever since they did. It’s all fine, really, so long as they continue to allow third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific to exist. But this “Mac users should just use the website” attitude is exactly what I was talking about here as an existential threat to the future of the Mac.

People choose the Mac because they want the best experience — not the same experience they can get on a $200 Chromebook.

DFW: ‘Roger Federer as Religious Experience’ 

Worth a re-link. David Foster Wallace in 2006 on then-25-year-old Roger Federer:

The Moments are more intense if you’ve played enough tennis to understand the impossibility of what you just saw him do. We’ve all got our examples. Here is one. It’s the finals of the 2005 U.S. Open, Federer serving to Andre Agassi early in the fourth set. There’s a medium-long exchange of groundstrokes, one with the distinctive butterfly shape of today’s power-baseline game, Federer and Agassi yanking each other from side to side, each trying to set up the baseline winner…until suddenly Agassi hits a hard heavy cross-court backhand that pulls Federer way out wide to his ad (=left) side, and Federer gets to it but slices the stretch backhand short, a couple feet past the service line, which of course is the sort of thing Agassi dines out on, and as Federer’s scrambling to reverse and get back to center, Agassi’s moving in to take the short ball on the rise, and he smacks it hard right back into the same ad corner, trying to wrong-foot Federer, which in fact he does — Federer’s still near the corner but running toward the centerline, and the ball’s heading to a point behind him now, where he just was, and there’s no time to turn his body around, and Agassi’s following the shot in to the net at an angle from the backhand side…and what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner, all his weight moving backward, and the forehand is a topspin screamer down the line past Agassi at net, who lunges for it but the ball’s past him, and it flies straight down the sideline and lands exactly in the deuce corner of Agassi’s side, a winner — Federer’s still dancing backward as it lands. And there’s that familiar little second of shocked silence from the New York crowd before it erupts, and John McEnroe with his color man’s headset on TV says (mostly to himself, it sounds like), “How do you hit a winner from that position?” And he’s right: given Agassi’s position and world-class quickness, Federer had to send that ball down a two-inch pipe of space in order to pass him, which he did, moving backwards, with no setup time and none of his weight behind the shot. It was impossible. It was like something out of “The Matrix.” I don’t know what-all sounds were involved, but my spouse says she hurried in and there was popcorn all over the couch and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs.

Anyway, that’s one example of a Federer Moment, and that was merely on TV — and the truth is that TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love.

Oh how I wish Wallace were still alive to see Federer reclaim the world’s number one ranking at the heretofore unheard of age of 36.

Lauren Goode vs. Lauren Goode: iPhone X vs. Pixel 2 

Such a gimmicky gimmick, yes, but Lauren Goode does this so fucking well. I just love it. Technically it’s pretty darn good, but substantially it’s downright amazing: she makes wonderfully accurate cases for both phones.

How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment 

Michael Waldman, writing for Politico in 2014:

From 1888, when law review articles first were indexed, through 1959, every single one on the Second Amendment concluded it did not guarantee an individual right to a gun. The first to argue otherwise, written by a William and Mary law student named Stuart R. Hays, appeared in 1960. He began by citing an article in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine and argued that the amendment enforced a “right of revolution,” of which the Southern states availed themselves during what the author called “The War Between the States.”

At first, only a few articles echoed that view. Then, starting in the late 1970s, a squad of attorneys and professors began to churn out law review submissions, dozens of them, at a prodigious rate. Funds — much of them from the NRA — flowed freely. An essay contest, grants to write book reviews, the creation of “Academics for the Second Amendment,” all followed. In 2003, the NRA Foundation provided $1 million to endow the Patrick Henry professorship in constitutional law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University Law School.

This fusillade of scholarship and pseudo-scholarship insisted that the traditional view — shared by courts and historians — was wrong. There had been a colossal constitutional mistake. Two centuries of legal consensus, they argued, must be overturned.

We don’t need to repeal the 2nd Amendment — although I think we should, insofar as it is inexplicably ambiguously written and punctuated — we just need to flip the Supreme Court to interpret it as it had been from 1789 through 2008.

‘Paul Ryan: No “Knee Jerk” Reactions on Guns. Ever.’ 

These mass shootings in the U.S. are like a perverse version of Groundhog Day. Republicans say the exact same things in response, every time, as though it’s the first time.

Democrats need to stop playing nice and start pounding home over and over that the Republicans are a party that is committed to accepting regular school shootings in the name of gun rights.

Every Member of Congress Who Took Money From the NRA and Tweeted ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ to Parkland 

103 Republicans, 1 Democrat.

It’s not “Congress” as a whole that refuses to take action.

(Also, it’s not a complete list. My own Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) has taken boatloads of money from pro-gun groups and tweeted this in response to yesterday’s massacre, which I think clearly counts as a “thoughts and prayers” tweet.)

Et Tu, Sonos? 

Mike Prospero, writing for Tom’s Guide:

When I got home, I saw a large white ring, a telltale indication that the HomePod’s silicone base had messed up the finish. But, as I was inspecting the damage, I noticed a series of smaller white marks near where the HomePod was sitting.

A closer inspection revealed that the Sonos One speaker, which also has small silicone feet, had made these marks on my cabinet. Looking around the top of the cabinet, I noticed a bunch of little white marks, all left from the Sonos Ones as I moved them around. So, they will damage your wood furniture, too.

Strategy Analytics Claims Apple Took Over Half of Worldwide Phone Revenue Last Quarter 

Evan Niu, The Motley Fool:

Strategy Analytics executive director Neil Mawston points out that “Apple now accounts for more revenue than the rest of the entire global smartphone industry combined.” iPhone ASP is flirting with $800, while the broader industry’s ASP is approximately $300. This latter metric was up 18% year over year, as both Apple and Samsung saw success with their respective premium flagships. Samsung’s Note 8 and Galaxy S8 remain popular, but Samsung is also a large player in terms of unit volumes at the lower ends of the market. However, the South Korean conglomerate has seen its position in low-cost smartphones slip in large markets like China, leading to its ASP jumping 21% to $254.

Their numbers put iPhone revenue at 51 percent of the market, Samsung’s at 16, and Huawei’s at 7. You don’t hear much these days from the folks who thought the higher price of the iPhone X was a bad idea.

We’ve Reached the Point Where People Are Giving Up on Schools 

Actual headline in an op-ed from the Miami Herald today: “In the Wake of the Douglas High Massacre, Is Home Schooling a Better Option?” That’s how ridiculous our situation has become. People are starting to question whether the problem is with sending kids to school, not with pervasive access to military weapons.

‘No Way to Prevent This’, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens 

The Onion posts the same headline after every mass shooting in the U.S., and every time they do it, it’s more apt than ever.

That’s the shot. Here’s the chaser: “Gorilla Sales Skyrocket After Latest Gorilla Attack”.

‘The Gun Is Our Moloch’ 

Garry Wills, writing for The New York Review five years ago, after the Sandy Hook grade school massacre:

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.

Our gun laws are insane. We, collectively, have agreed that regular mass shootings, often at schools — schools! — are a reasonable price to pay as a nation for unfettered access to military-grade killing machines for anyone and everyone who wants one.

It’s sick. Everyone outside the U.S. knows this. A majority of Americans knows this and supports stricter gun control.

There are new gun laws being drafted. But you know what most of them are for? For making guns even easier to purchase legally, without background checks.

Facebook Now Spamming Users With Texts if They’ve Enabled Two-Factor Security 

Kate Conger, writing for Gizmodo:

I’ve been getting these text-spam messages since last summer, when I set up a new Facebook account and turned on two-factor authentication. I created the new profile with somewhat vague intentions of using it for professional purposes — I didn’t like the idea of messaging sources from my primary Facebook account, where they could flip through pictures of my high school prom or my young nephews. But I didn’t end up using the profile often, and I let it sit mostly abandoned for months at a time.

At first, I only got one or two texts from Facebook per month. But as my profile stagnated, I got more and more messages. In January, Facebook texted me six times — mostly with updates about what my ex was posting. This month, I’ve already gotten four texts from Facebook. One is about a post from a former intern; I don’t recognize the name of one of the other “friends” Facebook messaged me about.

This is nuts — how scummy does Facebook have to be to punish people who do the right thing by setting up two-factor security?


Sponsoring Daring Fireball, Early 2018 Edition

There’s a part of me that loathes posting self-promotional stuff here on Daring Fireball. There’s another part of me that wants to sell ads and keep this thing afloat, and knows that I sell more ads when I periodically mention that there are ads for sale.

Right now there are three ways to sponsor my work:

  1. Weekly sponsorships. I just updated the public-facing schedule, and there are a few openings in the coming weeks. And, this very week remains open (long story short: last-minute cancellation). Given that it’s already Wednesday, the remainder of this week could be yours for a substantial discount. Get in touch.

    These weekly sponsorships have been the number one source of revenue for Daring Fireball ever since I started selling them back in 2007. They’ve succeeded, I think, because they make everyone happy. They generate good money. There’s only one sponsor per week and the sponsors are always relevant to at least some sizable portion of the DF audience, so you, the reader, are never annoyed and hopefully often intrigued by them. And, from the sponsors’ perspective, they work. My favorite thing about them is how many sponsors return for subsequent weeks after seeing the results.

  2. Display ads. These are new — my little homegrown replacement for The Deck (R.I.P.). I’ve been selling these since last summer, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned them enough here. Right now I’m selling spots for March for $3,500. I don’t have a landing page to promote them, but if you’re interested, get in touch. (You can also buy both a weekly sponsorship and a display ad and get a discount.)

  3. Sponsoring The Talk Show. This is something I seldom mention here on Daring Fireball, but I think sponsoring The Talk Show would be a great opportunity for a lot of the same services and products that sponsor the website. I love the regular sponsors of the show — and the fact that so many of them return repeatedly speaks well to the results they see. But I would love to get some more variety into the list of sponsors for the show. I don’t sell these myself, but if you have a product or service you think would be of interest to The Talk Show’s audience, get in touch with Jessie Char at Neat.fm. We still have a few openings for the remainder of Q1, and first-time sponsors are eligible for a rate below the listed price of $4,000 per spot. 


Nick Heer: ‘Reports of Google’s Newfound Design Prowess Have Been Greatly Exaggerated’ 

Nick Heer on the new YouTube app for Apple TV:

None of these elements behaves as you might expect, primarily because the YouTube app doesn’t interpret swipes and scrolls like any other app. There’s no audible blip whenever you select something, and swiping around manages to be both sluggish and jerky.

The frustratingly slow scrolling is especially pronounced on the aforementioned horizontal navigation element because swiping just a little too far to the left will open the modal main menu panel that covers a third of the screen.

The slow scrolling is also apparent in the main menu panel. The scrolling “friction”, for lack of a better term, is such that swiping down just a little is unlikely to have any effect, and swiping down just a little bit more will move the selector down two menu items. It can be very difficult to get it to move one menu item at a time.

It’s a terrible, terrible Apple TV app. Much like Amazon’s new Prime Video app, it looks and feels like it was designed and implemented by people who’ve never even used an Apple TV.

Facebook Is Pushing Its Data-Tracking Onavo VPN Within Its Main Mobile App 

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

Onavo Protect, the VPN client from the data-security app maker acquired by Facebook back in 2013, has now popped up in the Facebook iOS app itself, under the banner “Protect” in the navigation menu. Clicking through on “Protect” will redirect Facebook users to the “Onavo Protect — VPN Security” app’s listing on the App Store.

This is spyware. If you use Onavo, Facebook can and will track you everywhere you go on the Internet.

Kottke on the State of Blogging 

Jason Kottke, in a fascinating interview with Laura Hazard Owen for the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Melancholy, I think, is the exact right word. Personally, I think I felt a lot worse about it maybe three, four years ago. I was like, crap, what am I going to do here? I can see where this is going, I can see that more and more people are going to go to Facebook, and to mobile, and to all of these social apps and stuff like that, and there’s going to be less and less of a space in there for blogs like mine. I can’t churn out 60 things a day and play that social game where you use the shotgun approach to spit stuff out there and see what sticks. I’ve got to do four, five, six things that are good, really good. Since then, though, I’ve sort of come to terms with that. I’m like: Okay, if I can just keep going it, just keep doing it, it will work itself out somehow. I don’t know why I think that, but I kind of do.

The membership thing was actually really helpful in that regard, because within a pretty short amount of time, there was a lot of signal that people really appreciate what it is I do, enough that they’re willing to pay for it. It was kind of like, holy shit, we’re all in this together. I knew before that there were people who really into the site and who really like it, and that’s always been great to know and to get that feedback in the inbox and via Twitter and stuff like that. But to actually have those people pony up some dough changed my whole mindset about how I feel about the site.

I have many thoughts on the rise and decline of blogging — many of them stirred up recently, with Dean Allen’s death. Dean’s passing felt like the punctuation mark ending an era. There are a lot of great blogs still going, but as old ones drop off, there aren’t many new ones taking their places. It ain’t like it used to be.

David Pogue Conducts Blind Test of HomePod Against Competitors 

David Pogue:

Of course, I knew what the results would be. I’d heard them myself in the Apple demo; I’d read the other reviews; and I’d done the dress rehearsal the night before. Every time, the HomePod won the match easily.

At the end of my own listening test, then, I handed out signs that said “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D,” and asked the panelists to hold up their winners’ signs on the count of three. I knew what they would say: “B,” “B,” “B,” “B,” and “B” (that was the HomePod’s letter).

That’s not what happened.

Interesting results. I wonder about Pogue’s claim that the curtain he hid the speakers behind didn’t affect the sound, though.

HomePod Can Damage Wood Furniture 

Jon Chase, in Wirecutter’s review of HomePod:

An unhappy discovery after we placed a HomePod on an oiled butcher-block countertop and later on a wooden side table was that it left a defined white ring in the surface. Other reviewers and owners (such as Pocket-lint, and folks on Twitter) have reported the same issue, which an Apple representative has confirmed. Apple says “the marks can improve over several days after the speaker is removed from the wood surface,” and if they don’t fade on their own, you can basically just go refinish the furniture — the exact advice Apple gave in an email to Wirecutter was to “try cleaning the surface with the manufacturer’s suggested oiling method.” This really undermines the design aspect of the HomePod — especially if you were thinking of displaying it on some prized piece of furniture — and it will surely be a sore point for many potential buyers. In other testing, we have seen no visible damage when using it on glass, granite countertop, nice MDF, polyurethane-sealed wood, and cheap IKEA bookcases. We also tested the HomePod in the same place a Sonos One regularly lives — and the Sonos hasn’t caused damage in months of use.

I haven’t seen anything like this, but I haven’t placed a HomePod on stained wood, either. Anyone who runs into this should be outraged. I honestly don’t see how this could happen. Apple has been making products that go on shelves and tables for years — AirPort base stations, Apple TV, various docks — and I’ve never seen a report of damage to a surface. I guess the difference with HomePod is that the base factors into the acoustics, but still, this seems like an issue that should have been caught during the period where HomePod was being widely tested at home by many Apple employees.

Update: Federico Viticci:

Like many recent Apple PR debacles, this HomePod ring problem could have been easily avoided by simply… telling people beforehand.

Explain how things work. Even the obvious ones. Be proactive. Don’t wait until people discover issues to spin the narrative back in your control.

There Are No Competitive Smartwatch Chips From Qualcomm 

Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica:

Ars Technica would like to wish a very special second birthday to the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC. While most flagship SoCs have a life cycle of about one year on the top of the market, over the weekend the Wear 2100 will celebrate two years as the least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device. It’s positively ancient at this point.

Seriously though, Qualcomm has seemingly abandoned the smartwatch market. The Wear 2100 SoC was announced in February 2016, Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade for February 2017, and it doesn’t seem like we’re getting a new smartwatch chip any time soon.

At this point, Apple and Samsung are the only two names in the game. And you don’t hear any stories about Samsung watches selling well, so I’m not sure how much in the game they are, either.

Claim Chowder on Yours Truly Regarding a June Claim Chowder Regarding Whether the HomePod Has a ‘Touchscreen’ 

Yours truly in June, after first seeing HomePod:

HomePod has a touchscreen on top.

Clearly, we now know that’s wrong. Paul Kafasis called me out on this during the most recent episode of The Talk Show, and it’s clear that I was wrong. It certainly is a touch panel, and it does light up and animate, but whatever you want call the part that lights up and animates, it’s not a screen in the sense of being a display that can render arbitrary pixels. The “+” and “-” buttons are hardware touch buttons, and the Siri animation is the only thing that can be shown in the middle.

Steven Sinofsky on Apple’s Software Problem 

Terrific Twitter thread by Steven Sinofsky:

What is lost in all of this recent discussion is the nuance between features, schedule, and quality. It is like having a discussion with a financial advisor over income, risk, and growth. You don’t just show up and say you want all three and get a “sure”.

And:

What happens to a growing project over time is that processes and approaches need to re-thought. It just means that how things once scaled — tools like deciding features, priorities, est. schedules, integration test, etc — are no longer scaling as well. That happens. […]

What I think it happening at Apple now is not more dramatic than that. What they had been doing got to a point where it needs an adjustment. Reality is that for many at Apple it feels dramatic b/c it might be first time they have gone through a substantial “systems” change.

Inside Apple’s HomePod Audio Lab 

Jim Dalrymple:

The noise and vibration lab was set up years ago to work on unwanted noise from Macs. At the time, this lab was very focused on fan and hard drive noise, but over the years it has expanded into electronic noise as well.

“Reducing fan and hard drive noise” is such a fun origin story for a lab that is more relevant to the company (and seemingly better-funded — see below for the insane specs for their newer anechoic chambers, which Apple claims were designed and built just for HomePod) today than ever. This is the same lab that tests and helps design the ever-improving speakers in iPhones and iPads — neither of which product has ever had a fan or hard drive.

The last chamber I saw was designed to listen specifically for electronic noise. For example, you don’t want HomePod to make any kind of noise when it’s plugged in, but not in use. If it was sitting on your night table, you wouldn’t want a hum or buzz coming from it.

Geaves said that the extent you have to isolate this chamber is even more important because you are listening for really small sounds.

The chamber itself sits on 28 tons of concrete. The panels are one foot thick which is another 27 tons of material, and there are 80 isolating mounts between the actual chamber and the concrete slab it sits on.

The chamber is designed to be -2 dBA, which is lower than the threshold of human hearing. This basically provides complete silence.

I was on the same tour of this lab that Dalrymple was, and at this moment Geaves had us remain silent for 10 seconds or so, just to appreciate what true silence sounds like. It was… unnerving.

Designing Farrago 

Neale Van Fleet on designing Rogue Amoeba’s new soundboard app Farrago:

Despite a key element of the app being up in the air, work was progressing in many other areas. Eventually, I knew we needed to figure out a way to solve the problem of how tiles would look. To break out of my rut, I decided to bring in outside viewpoints.

I reached out to my social network here in Montreal, and sought out the sort of people who might use a soundboard app — podcasters, radio folks, theatre techs, and more. I bribed several of them with free lunches, during which I showed them mockups and got their responses.

The feedback I got was immediate and consistent: Prospective users didn’t want to rely on a mouse or trackpad to play clips at all! They wanted to use their Mac’s physical keyboard to play sounds. Though I’d been focused on providing access to many controls right on the tile face, it turned out that mouse-based controls should be secondary.

I love looking at an app progress from a pencil sketch all the way through to the end result.

An Audiophile’s Review of HomePod 

Reddit user “WinterCharm”:

TL;DR: I am speechless. The HomePod actually sounds better than the KEF X300A. If you’re new to the Audiophile world, KEF is a very well respected and much loved speaker company. I actually deleted my very first measurements and re-checked everything because they were so good, I thought I’d made an error. Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation. The HomePod is 100% an audiophile grade speaker.


The Threat to the Mac: The Growing Popularity of Non-Native Apps

Peter Ammon, former AppKit engineer at Apple, in a comment in a Hacker News thread regarding a report positing that the ability of Mac apps — even sandboxed ones — to capture screenshots of the entire screen is a security problem:

IMO the app sandbox was a grievous strategic mistake for the Mac. Cocoa-based Mac apps are rapidly being eaten by web apps and Electron pseudo-desktop apps. For Mac apps to survive, they must capitalize on their strengths: superior performance, better system integration, better dev experience, more features, and higher general quality.

But the app sandbox strikes at all of those. In return it offers security inferior to a web app, as this post illustrates. The price is far too high and the benefits too little.

IMO Apple should drop the Mac app sandbox altogether (though continue to sandbox system services, which is totally sensible, and maybe retain something geared towards browsers.) The code signing requirements and dev cert revocation, which has been successfully used to remotely disable malware, will be sufficient security: the Mac community is good at sussing out bad actors. But force Mac devs to castrate their apps even more, and there won’t be anything left to protect.

In a follow-up comment, Ammon enumerates why truly native Cocoa apps are both worth creating and better to use.

I’m with Ammon: I think the Mac’s (relatively) recent move to cryptographically signed applications — with certificates that can be revoked by Apple — has been a win all around for security. But I don’t think the Mac sandbox has. The sandboxed nature of all iOS apps works because that’s how iOS was designed from the ground up. That’s why iOS is a better platform than the Mac for non-expert users in most ways. But the Mac was not designed with sandboxing in mind, and in many ways sandboxing works against what keeps the Mac relevant alongside iOS. As I wrote seven years ago: “It’s the heaviness of the Mac that allows iOS to remain light.”

The whole point of the Mac is to be a great platform for native Mac apps. Sandboxing doesn’t help Mac apps do more. If the Mac devolves into a platform where people just use web browsers and cross-platform Electron apps, it might as well not exist, because the only remaining thing that would distinguish it from other desktop OSes is iCloud integration.

Mac apps have been able to “see” the entire display ever since the Mac debuted. The Mac needs the power to allow the user to shoot themselves in the foot. Or perhaps better said, the Mac needs the power for apps to shoot the user in the foot. On the Mac, you need to trust any software you install, particularly from outside the App Store. A Mac where all apps are guaranteed “safe” is no longer a Mac. Further restricting sandboxed Mac apps would be solving a problem the platform doesn’t have. The real problems facing the Mac are the number of developers creating non-native “Mac” apps and the number of users who don’t have a problem with them. 


IDC: Apple Watch Outsold the Entire Swiss Watch Industry in Holiday Quarter 

Kif Leswing, writing for Business Insider:

The company best known for making iPhones outsold Rolex, Omega, and even Swatch last quarter — combined.

That’s according to Apple Watch sales estimates from industry researcher Canalys and IDC, and publicly released shipment statistics from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Canalys estimates that Apple sold 8 million Apple Watches in the last quarter of 2017.

This doesn’t really prove anything other than that Apple Watch is selling pretty well, but you can see that with your own eyes just by looking for them on people’s wrists out in the world. I see Apple Watches every day, worn by people from all walks of life. These stats from 2016 claim the average price of a Swiss watch was $739. Last fall Horace Dediu pegged the average selling price of an Apple Watch at $330, which sounds about right to my ears — most people buy the base aluminum models, and if they “upgrade”, it’s by buying an extra band or two.

Leswing:

Apple doesn’t reveal official sales figures for the Apple Watch, making comparisons like this one difficult.

Instead, it bundles Apple Watch sales into an “other products” category — which led some people, including yours truly, to brand the device a “flop,” as it seemed like Apple was glossing over lackluster sales.

And for awhile, especially in 2016, it did look like sales growth stalled. But based on data points provided by Apple officials on earnings call earlier this month, it’s possible for analysts to calculate a strong estimate of units and revenue.

I can get being bearish on Apple Watch sales back in 2015, when you just didn’t see many of them in the wild, and when Apple’s “Other” category didn’t seem to have a large bump. But the fact that Apple has reported Apple Watch sales in the “Other” category is something Tim Cook announced in September 2014, more than six months before the product went on sale, and he was very clear that the reason was the competitive value of the information. Apple could have sold 10 times more watches than expected and they still would have reported them under “Other”.

Mark Gurman on Apple’s OS Development Strategy 

Mark Gurman, in a solo-bylined piece for Bloomberg:

These features were delayed after Apple Inc. concluded it needed its own major upgrade in the way the company develops and introduces new products. Instead of keeping engineers on a relentless annual schedule and cramming features into a single update, Apple will start focusing on the next two years of updates for its iPhone and iPad operating system, according to people familiar with the change. The company will continue to update its software annually, but internally engineers will have more discretion to push back features that aren’t as polished to the following year.

This is the best story from Gurman in a while (see below), but I’m not so sure the above is a new strategy so much as a tacit admission of what’s actually been going on the last few years. Take iMessage in the Cloud — it was supposed to ship with iOS 11 (and I think MacOS 10.13) in the fall, but still hasn’t shipped. It’s in the iOS 11.3 beta, but even if 11.3 ships this month, it’ll be nearly 6 months late. It sounds to me like Apple is just being realistic, acknowledging that some projects can’t be finished in a year. I don’t expect any fewer new features than usual in the iOS 12 demo at WWDC — but perhaps more of them will actually ship in the fall, rather than being delayed until point updates (like iMessages in the Cloud, Apple Pay Cash, and AirPlay 2 last year — two of which still haven’t shipped).

[Update: What I mean by the above is that Apple always has more features in a new version of iOS or MacOS than they have time to demo on stage. They always have those slides with all the new stuff they didn’t have time to mention. I think they’ll still have 8-10 tentpole new features for iOS and MacOS to announce and demo at WWDC this year. From the outside, I don’t think it’ll seem like anything has changed from the last few years. But some of the features that in previous years might have been squeezed in with an aggressive schedule for inclusion this year are being postponed until next year.]

The other takeaway from Gurman’s report is that it sounds like Apple senior management is aware that they’ve taken a hit on public perception of Apple software quality in recent years.

But the feature-packed upgrades place huge demands on Apple’s beleaguered engineers.

It’s good to see beleaguered back in the Apple news story vernacular.

Some actual scoops about what is forthcoming:

Also in the works for this year: a redesigned version of Apple’s stock-tracking app and updated version of Do Not Disturb that will give users more options to automatically reject phone calls or silence notifications. Apple is also working to more deeply integrate Siri into the iPhone’s search view, redesign the interface used to import photos into an iPad on the go and make it possible for several people at once to play augmented reality games.

Oxford Comma Dispute Is Settled as Maine Drivers Get $5 Million 

Let this be a lesson to everyone who omits the serial comma.

Why Paper Jams Persist 

This feature by Joshua Rothman for The New Yorker is custom-made for the Daring Fireball audience:

Unsurprisingly, the engineers who specialize in paper jams see them differently. Engineers tend to work in narrow subspecialties, but solving a jam requires knowledge of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, computer programming, and interface design. “It’s the ultimate challenge,” Ruiz said.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as annoying,” Vicki Warner, who leads a team of printer engineers at Xerox, said of discovering a new kind of paper jam. “I would characterize it as almost exciting.” When she graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology, in 2006, her friends took jobs in trendy fields, such as automotive design. During her interview at Xerox, however, another engineer showed her the inside of a printing press. All Xerox printers look basically the same: a million-dollar printing press is like an office copier, but twenty-four feet long and eight feet high. Warner watched as the heavy, pale-gray double doors swung open to reveal a steampunk wonderland of gears, wheels, conveyor belts, and circuit boards. As in an office copier, green plastic handles offer access to the “paper path” — the winding route, from “feeder” to “stacker,” along which sheets of paper are shocked and soaked, curled and decurled, vacuumed and superheated. “Printers are essentially paper torture chambers,” Warner said, smiling behind her glasses. “I thought, This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

The Talk Show: ‘Only Wireless. Less Smart Than an Echo. Lame.’ 

Special guest Paul Kafasis returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s new HomePod, Farrago (Rogue Amoeba’s new soundboard app for the Mac), the Philadelphia Eagles’ triumph over the “New England” Patriots in Super Bowl 52, and we stir up a controversy regarding a 10-year-old cocktail devised by the boys at You Look Nice Today.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
  • Casper: Save up to $200 through February 20 during Casper’s Presidents’ Day sale.
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Apple Support: ‘How “Hey Siri” Works With Multiple Devices’ 

Apple Support:

When you say “Hey Siri” near multiple devices that support “Hey Siri,” the devices quickly communicate to each other using Bluetooth to determine which one should respond to the request. The device that heard you best or was recently raised will respond.

HomePod responds to most Siri requests, even if there are other devices that support “Hey Siri” nearby. If you want to use Siri on a specific device, raise to wake that device or press the button to use Siri, then make your request.

Works pretty well (and very quickly) in my experience.

NFL Team Logos, Drawn From Memory 

Branded in Memory:

Considering how important the NFL and its teams are to millions of people, we asked over 150 people to draw 12 of the most popular team logos from memory. With nothing to go off of but their own recollection, we wanted to know just how well these sports icons stand out in the mind of NFL fans and non-fans alike. Here’s what they showed us.

I love stuff like this. Via Paul Kafasis at One Foot Tsunami, who astutely points out a well-rendered, clearly knowledgeable, but totally wrong logo for the Dallas Cowboys.

Jason Kelce’s Speech From Today’s Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Victory Parade 

I’ve never seen a speech quite like it. (That’s a Mummers costume he’s wearing.)


HomePod

I’ve been testing Apple’s new HomePod for the last week or so, and this is the first product review I’ve written that could be accurately summarized in the length of a tweet, and an old-school 140-character tweet at that: HomePod does exactly what Apple says it does, doesn’t do anything more than what Apple says it does, and costs $349. There.

To wit, Apple says HomePod:

  • Has great audio quality.
  • Is easy to set up.
  • Makes it easy to play audio content from Apple (Apple Music, iTunes Store, iCloud Music Library, podcasts from iTunes’s directory).
  • Has primary interaction via Siri. You just talk to HomePod.
  • Allows secondary interaction using HomePod as an AirPlay speaker.

All of this is true.

Apple’s product names are sometimes inscrutable, but other times are perfectly sensible. AirPods and HomePod are such a case. The two products are very much siblings: they play audio wirelessly and are controlled via Siri and a few simple touch controls. What AirPods are for your own ears, HomePod is for your home. Even the setup process for each device is similar. In the same way that you begin the pairing process for AirPods by opening their case a few inches from your iPhone, you set up HomePod just by plugging it in and then bringing your iPhone (running iOS 11.2.5 or later) near the HomePod.

If you have a room in your home or workspace where you would like to listen to music from Apple and/or podcasts, and you care about audio quality, you should absolutely consider HomePod. If you’re looking for something else, you probably shouldn’t.

What’s missing:

  • Siri-driven content from non-Apple sources. Spotify is the service most people seem to be talking about, but for now at least, nothing works through “Hey Siri” with HomePod other than content from Apple. HomePod works fine as an AirPlay speaker, but in loose terms, I would say playing audio via AirPlay is to native “Hey Siri, play …” support on HomePod as web apps are to native apps on iOS or Mac: better than nothing but clunky compared to the real deal. (I should add here: when playing content on HomePod via AirPlay, you can, as you’d expect, say things like “Hey Siri, pause” or “Hey Siri, set the volume to 65”.)

    It is unclear at this point whether third-party “Hey Siri” playback support is the way Apple wants HomePod to be, simply something they haven’t gotten around to yet, or still up in the air internally (like native apps on iPhone back in 2007). I’d sure like to see some sort of native SDK (PodKit?) for HomePod. Some people seem convinced that HomePod doesn’t support external services through “Hey Siri” out of competitive spite toward Spotify. I would say that’s certainly possible, but I’m not convinced. Not supporting Spotify might sell some number of new $10/month Apple Music subscriptions, but supporting Spotify properly would sell some number of $349 HomePods that wouldn’t otherwise be purchased. Apple makes money from both hardware and services, and my gut says they’ll make the most money by making HomePod more useful, even if that means opening up an SDK that allows for competitors to Apple Music. (Plus, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that Apple Music is set to overtake Spotify in U.S. subscribers, it doesn’t seem like Apple Music needs any help.)

  • Any sort of hardware input, such as line-in audio. This means you can’t connect HomePod to anything to use it as a “normal” speaker. This seems to greatly bother some people, but it should surprise no one in the aftermath of Apple’s removal of headphone jacks from iPhones in 2016. HomePod is very much a “skating to where the puck is going to be” product, and Apple has believed for years that when it comes to personal audio, the puck is heading toward a wireless world.

  • Support for promised features like multi-room audio and pairing two HomePods in the same room to act as a stereo pair. These features both require AirPlay 2, which is obviously late, but “Coming later this year”. If either of these features is important to you, you might as well wait for them.

  • Support for multiple iCloud accounts and identifying users by their voice. As HomePod stands today, you set it up with one iCloud account, and if you enable the feature where you can create things like notes and reminders by Hey Siri-ing HomePod, that’s the account where those notes and reminders will show up. This is a bummer. Clearly, in an ideal world you should be able to set up multiple iCloud accounts with HomePod and match each account to the respective user’s voice. That’s a hard technical problem to solve, but so too is having a phone verify your identity by your face or fingerprint. And in the case of HomePod, I don’t think this would have to be as secure as Face ID or Touch ID are. In the scenario I’m imagining, you could say something like “Hey Siri, remind me to stop at the bank on my way to work tomorrow” and if Siri wasn’t confident about which household member you are, she could ask.

    Another downside: Apple brags about Siri being smart enough to learn your musical tastes. But tied to a lone iCloud account, Siri is only learning the tastes of that user. If you’re worried about your teenager (or perhaps worse, young child) polluting your personal Apple Music profile with songs you don’t like (a very likely — if not near-certain — scenario for many families), you can turn this feature off. But then nobody in the house gets “smart music”. Apple, as usual, wouldn’t comment on future plans, but I can’t help but think they are hard at work on this. A family device ought to work well for everyone in the family.

    And, notably: Google Home can identify users by voice and supports multiple accounts already, and Alexa can identify users by voice (albeit with lesser support for multiple accounts).

Audio Quality

Audio quality is what Apple is hanging HomePod’s hat on, and to my ears, they’ve nailed it. In a side-by-side comparison in a fairly representative residential room during a product briefing with Apple last week, HomePod sounded better than a Google Home Max ($399) or an Alexa-powered Sonos One ($199), and so much better than a second-generation Amazon Echo ($89) that it proved only that HomePod and Echo are at opposite ends of the product category.

Apple claims two primary reasons for HomePod’s audio quality. First, an old-fashioned cause: high-quality hardware. Seven good tweeters arranged in a circle around the base, and one good woofer at the top. The second reason is decidedly, well, new-fashioned: dynamic features that adjust playback by analyzing both the music and the acoustics of the room.

During a small media tour of Apple’s audio lab in Cupertino last week, Kate Bergeron, a vice president of hardware engineering at Apple, told us that the HomePod project started “about six years ago” with the basic question: How much better could a small loudspeaker sound if an advanced A-series chip was put to use to dynamically analyze both the audio and the acoustics of the room?

I believe this origin story. First, “What if we turned ____ into a small advanced computer?” is arguably Apple’s mantra for entering new product categories. AirPods, for example, are tiny iOS-derived computers. So is Apple Watch. And when the iPhone debuted, the notion that Apple got OS X running on a device as small as a cell phone was literally unbelievable. Second, the acoustic performance of HomePod really does seem remarkable. I am not an audiophile, but it clearly sounds “worth $350” to my ears. At home we’ve mostly used it in our kitchen, an acoustically challenging room with mostly hard, echoey surfaces (countertops, cabinets, tile backsplashes, windows) and a high ceiling. Previously, we’ve used a first-generation Amazon Echo in there. HomePod sounds far richer than the Echo, no surprise. It should, for the price.

But what has impressed me most about HomePod’s performance in our kitchen is — somewhat amusingly given the name of the product it’s replacing — the lack of echo. I can say with certainty that HomePod’s hardware speakers are excellent for a $349 product. I can’t prove that its dynamic “adjust to the acoustics of the room” features are making a significant difference, but I believe it. The lack of echo exceeds my expectations. The sound also seems more three-dimensional than seemingly should be possible for one small speaker. (HomePod is both smaller and heavier than I expected.) It does not magically sound like true stereo speakers in multiple locations in the room, but music definitely sounds thicker than what my gut says should be coming out of one speaker.1 I sort of wish there were a diagnostic mode I could put HomePod in to disable the dynamic features and see what it sounds like without them for A/B comparison purposes.

Where to Use It

Or perhaps better put: Where shouldn’t you use HomePod? The one glaring answer is in your home theater setup. HomePod is not intended to serve as the audio output for your home theater or TV. As mentioned above, there’s no line-in input. The only input is AirPlay. Apple TV does support AirPlay speakers, and HomePod does work that way. From the main Apple TV home screen, just hold down the Play button on the remote and you can choose from available AirPlay speakers. Choose your HomePod and yes, it’ll work. But that’s only useful if Apple TV is the only input source you use on your TV. I suspect there are very few people for whom that’s true. And even if you do use Apple TV exclusively, AirPlay 1 necessitates a second or two of latency. (More on that below.) HomePod is a standalone device, not a home theater component.

I can see why Apple did this. There’s a wonderful simplicity to HomePod. There is no wonderful simplicity in the world of home theater audio. But that means if you want HomePod in the same room with your TV (and want better audio than what you get out of your TV’s built-in speakers), you still need a separate speaker system for your TV. That seems inefficient.

Otherwise, HomePod seems like a great product for any room in which you might want to listen to music or podcasts from a loudspeaker.

Siri Control

HomePod’s understanding of voice commands is fast and accurate. The most interesting feature is that HomePod can hear your commands while loud music is playing even if you speak at a normal talking volume. This sounds (sorry) too good to be true, but in my testing it works uncannily well. I would go so far as to say that HomePod can understand commands spoken at normal volume while music is playing better than human ears do. It works so well that I’m not sure most people will even think to try it. Intuitively, one thinks one must speak over the music to be heard. And, with Amazon Echo, that’s true. But not so with HomePod. You can’t just whisper to it, and HomePod can’t read lips like HAL can, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that you do not have to yell. Some impressive engineering went into this.

The Competition and Smart Home Stuff

I wrote about this before I even had a HomePod in my hands (or heard it again in person, after a brief hands-off demo at WWDC), but HomePod and Amazon’s Alexa products clearly were designed with very different priorities. HomePod’s highest priority is audio quality. Amazon’s Alexa products are designed to be affordable voice assistants. It’s telling that after the original Echo, the next product in Amazon’s lineup wasn’t a higher-end product with better sound quality, but instead the even smaller Echo Dot.

We have a few smart home products in our home: lights and window shades. Neither are set up for use through HomeKit yet, so I wasn’t able to test either of them with HomePod (again: yet). We do have them set up for control through Alexa, but no one in the house (me, my wife, or my son) is particularly enamored with using Alexa to interact with these things. Part of it is that at least through the products we own, the verbal interaction with Alexa is stilted. We have to say “Alexa, turn on «name of predefined scene»”. For example, “Alexa, turn on kitchen shades down” or “Alexa, turn on living room shades up”, where “kitchen shades down”, “kitchen shades up”, “living room shades up”, and “living room shades down” are all predefined scenes created in an iPhone app from Lutron, the maker of our shades and light controls. But we can’t just say “Alexa, open the kitchen shades” or whatever else one might say naturally. It’s very much like a verbal command line, linguistically stilted, and generally less convenient and certainly more error-prone than using the hardware remote controls for the shades and good old-fashioned wall switches for the lights.

I’ve seen a lot of commentary along the lines of “Well, of course Apple is promoting HomePod’s audio quality, because Siri sucks compared to Alexa and Google Home as a voice assistant.” I would argue that’s not true across the board, but it’s inarguably true that Alexa and Google Home are far better than Siri at certain things, and if those things are important to you, you probably aren’t even reading this review, because you know HomePod isn’t for you.

Another way to look at differing priorities is this. I think Amazon (certainly) and Google (probably) created their voice assistant hardware as a way to get their voice assistants into your home. Something along the lines of, “We have this great voice assistant technology, we should build a dedicated device for the home that uses it.” With Android, Google has millions of phones out there that can make use of their voice assistant technology. But with Amazon, without dedicated Alexa hardware, who would even be using Alexa?

With Apple, what came first was the product: a great-sounding loudspeaker with dynamically adjusted acoustics. The decision to use Siri as the primary interface came after the decision to make a loudspeaker. It’s the difference between “Let’s make a speaker to get Alexa into the home” and “Let’s use Siri because voice would be the best interface for a home speaker”.

So I don’t really think it’s a hard decision between HomePod and Echo. The harder decisions are choosing between HomePod, the Alexa-equipped Sonos One, and Google’s Home Max. Based on my side-by-side listening experience — admittedly, in a demo set up and conducted by Apple, but in a residential room that I would describe as very typical in terms of its size and acoustics — HomePod does sound better. But I think the decision should come down to ecosystems. If you’re personally invested in the Google or Amazon ecosystem, either for music content or smart home control, and you want “good” audio quality, you’d probably be happier with the Sonos One or Home Max, because the advantages of using the voice assistant native to the ecosystem in which you’re invested outweigh the HomePod’s superior audio quality. (Same thing goes if you’re a happy Spotify user — buy the best sounding device that natively supports Spotify.)

If, on the other hand, you’re heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem, and subscribe to either Apple Music or iTunes Match or have a large library of purchased music from iTunes, HomePod is a compelling standalone product today, and should be a compelling multi-room product when AirPlay 2 ships.

Miscellaneous

  • AirPlay 1. HomePod works fine as an AirPlay speaker. But I say “fine” rather than “great” because of the limitations of AirPlay 1, specifically latency. One of the main features Apple is touting about AirPlay 2 is reduced latency and lag, and that’s the worst part about using HomePod via AirPlay today. I’ve listened to a bunch of podcasts on HomePod this week, but after testing the native “Hey Siri, play the latest episode of «insert podcast name»” support just to see how it worked (pretty well), I mostly used Overcast to play podcasts via AirPlay from my phone.2 As I mentioned above, when using HomePod to play content via AirPlay, you can still say things like “Hey Siri, pause” and “Hey Siri, turn up the volume”. But, because of the limitations of AirPlay 1, there’s some noticeable lag. With native (that is to say, non-AirPlay) audio on HomePod, “Hey Siri, pause” pauses nearly instantly. With AirPlay, there’s a wee bit of extra lag — just enough to make you question whether HomePod heard your command properly and take a breath to repeat the command. AirPlay 2 will hopefully improve this — providing a better experience even for HomePod users with just one unit.

  • Don’t pause after “Hey Siri”. People seem to naturally think they need to pause between saying “Hey Siri” and issuing the command or query, but in my experience you don’t need to. In this review, I’ve been punctuating directives with a comma after “Hey Siri”, but verbally you can speak without any pause: “Hey Siri what’s the temperature?” This is true not just for HomePod but any other device you own with “Hey Siri” enabled.

  • “Hey Siri” doesn’t get confused. I don’t know what kind of wizardry Apple engineered to make this happen, but when you say “Hey Siri” to talk to your HomePod, other devices within earshot with “Hey Siri” enabled don’t try to take the command. The home screen on a countertop iPhone does often light up for a moment, but it seems as though HomePod quickly negotiates with the other devices, effectively telling them, “Let me handle this.” This has generally been true for all “Hey Siri” devices in the past year or so, but it’s quite noticeable with HomePod.

  • Volume. Maximum volume on HomePod is pretty damn loud given its size, but it still sounds good to my ears. When you ask HomePod to turn the volume to 85 or higher (out of 100), Siri will even warn you: “That’s very loud, are you sure?”

  • Hardware quality. My review unit is space gray, but I saw the white models last week too, and they all look and feel very nice. The power cord is perhaps the nicest power cord I’ve ever seen for any product. The cable is covered with a nice fabric, and it’s very supple. It coils nicely if you’re placing HomePod close to an outlet. There’s no ugly AC adapter or power supply where the plug goes into the wall — unlike the Echo’s, it’s just a normal power plug. My only complaint is that the glossy touchpad atop the HomePod is a fingerprint magnet. I wish it had a matte finish or an oleophobic coating.

  • Settings in Home app. It took me a few days to realize this, but there are settings for HomePod in the Home app on your iPhone — where by “you” I mean the person whose iCloud account was used to set up the device. In Home, if you just tap the icon for your HomePod device, it acts as a play/pause button. But if you press harder for 3D Touch, or long-press on the icon, it will open a screen where you can see (and manage) alarms that have been set (but not timers,3 oddly) and a button named “Details” that ought to be named “Settings”, because that’s what it shows when you press it. This is where you can do things like change which iCloud account to use, toggle Listening History (so that the music played by your family members isn’t used to build a model of what you personally enjoy), and more. Perhaps it’s simply because I’m unfamiliar with the Home app, but making these settings available only after a 3D touch or long-press makes them feel hidden.

  • Privacy. Here’s a message I got from a friend the other day:

    I think anyone who voluntarily puts these things in their home is completely nuts. Alexa because Amazon will choose to do increasingly-horrible things until they get caught, Google and Apple because they will eventually be exploited into doing horrible things.

    I don’t disagree with that, but my take is slightly different. I’d say you are not crazy if you don’t want one of these things in your house. But the future is coming, and it will be listening to us. (And watching us.) I trust Apple more than I trust Google or Amazon. But even so, I’ve had an Alexa in my kitchen for a year. My eyes are wide open to the privacy risks, but the convenience makes it worth it. My favorite thing about HomePod over Echo is that it sounds so much better, but another advantage is that I’m just more comfortable. 


  1. During a product briefing with Apple last week before I received my review unit, I did get to hear two paired HomePods playing in stereo in a very open living space. These HomePods were, obviously, running beta software with AirPlay 2. They sounded terrific — easily twice as good as a lone HomePod playing in the same room. I’m guessing that AirPlay 2 will ship sooner rather than later this year, but it must kill the HomePod team at Apple that this feature didn’t ship at launch, because it sounds crazy good for $700 worth of hardware.  ↩︎

  2. Because I listen to most podcasts from Overcast using headphones, I want to keep my subscriptions and synced playback status in Overcast’s system. I also like using Overcast’s playback speed controls to gently speed up podcasts. HomePod’s native podcast support is convenient, but works best if you use Apple’s Podcasts app for listening on your phone. ↩︎︎

  3. One of the most common uses for these voice assistant devices is setting timers, particularly in the kitchen. It’s really convenient to set timers — and check on them — verbally. Alexa, however, lets you set multiple timers. HomePod doesn’t. If you try to set a second timer, HomePod tells you that you already have one (and updates you on how much time is left) and asks if you want to replace it. HomePod needs to support multiple timers, and ought to match Alexa by being smart enough to let you name them, so you can ask something like “Hey Siri, how much time is left on the potatoes?” ↩︎︎


‘Philly Special’ 

Peter King, writing for Sports Illustrated:

The Eagles are NFL champions for the first time in the Super Bowl era, for the first time since three weeks before the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. And it never would have happened without the head coach whom USA Today ranked seventh of seven new NFL coaching hires in January 2016.

“He’s got a big set of stones,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said, trying to find the words just before the clock struck 12 Sunday night.

The inside story of the play that defined last night’s game.

Instabug 

My thanks to Instabug for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their comprehensive bug reporting SDK for mobile apps. Instabug allows mobile developers and product managers to receive detailed bug reports and feedback from their testers and users.

With each report, Instabug attaches screenshots, screen recordings, device details and repro-steps in one organized dashboard. Also, Instabug integrates with tools like Slack, Jira, and GitHub to help your team focus on developing not debugging.

They have a cool sample app in the App Store that you can try for free, to experience their reporting interface first hand. Then, you can log into their demo dashboard and see what the reports look like from the developers’ end. I tried it out and it looks and works great, on both sides.

Tens of thousands of companies like Lyft, eBay, and T-Mobile rely on Instabug to iterate faster and enhance their app quality.

Try Instabug now for free. Even better, they’re offering a special 25 percent discount on all paid plans to Daring Fireball readers with promo code “DARING18”.

Google Releases YouTube TV App for Apple TV (and Roku) 

A lot of people are looking at HomePod’s exclusive first-class support for Apple Music and see selfish intent. Apple isn’t working with Spotify or other services because they want everyone to use Apple’s media ecosystem for everything, is the thinking. Maybe! But maybe HomePod only works with Apple Music for now. I don’t know, and Apple isn’t going to tell anyone.

But look at Apple TV. There’s still no “skinny bundle” from Apple itself but now you use Apple TV to watch YouTube’s TV package, Playstation’s, and I’m sure others. There’s certainly no lock-in to the Apple media ecosystem on Apple TV. I think a lot of this is just a big complicated mess behind the scenes.

(To be clear, because I see a lot of misinformation on this front: You can play Spotify or anything else on HomePod, but only over AirPlay, not just by talking to the device like you can with Apple Music and iTunes Store music.)

Why Alexa Won’t Light Up During Amazon’s Super Bowl Ad 

Brad Stone, writing for Bloomberg:

The patent broadly describes two techniques. The first calls for transmitting a snippet of a commercial to Echo devices before it airs. Then the Echo can compare live commands to the acoustic fingerprint of the snippet to determine whether the commands are authentic. The second tactic describes how a commercial itself could transmit an inaudible acoustic signal to tell Alexa to ignore its wake word.

About a year ago, a Reddit user calling himself Asphyhackr did a little more legwork and concluded that Amazon was creatively employing this second technique.

Will be amusing — insofar as silly patent fights are ever truly amusing — if Amazon tries to keep Apple and Google from doing the same thing in commercials.