Tuesday, 22 August 2017
Daisuke Wakabayashi had a few scoops today regarding Apple’s Project Titan:
A notable symbol of that retrenchment is a self-driving shuttle
service that ferries employees from one Apple building to another.
The shuttle, which has never been reported before, will likely be
a commercial vehicle from an automaker and Apple will use it to
test the autonomous driving technology that it develops. […]
Apple’s testing vehicles will carry employees between its various
Silicon Valley offices. The new effort is called PAIL, short for
Palo Alto to Infinite Loop, the address of the company’s main
office in Cupertino, Calif., and a few miles down the road from
Palo Alto, Calif.
This is true. Although the name is already out of date, given that it doesn’t include Apple Park, which I believe will be part of the loop.
Even though Apple had not ironed out many of the basics, like how
the autonomous systems would work, a team had already started
working on an operating system software called CarOS. There was
fierce debate about whether it should be programmed using Swift,
Apple’s own programming language, or the industry standard, C++.
This paragraph is all a bit muddled. I don’t think anyone inside Apple refers to Project Titan’s OS as “CarOS”. As for programming languages, I would guess the Project Titan team is using good old-fashioned C,1 not Swift or C++. And I’m pretty good at guessing about stuff like this.
Last year, Apple started to rein in the project. The company
tapped Bob Mansfield, a longtime executive who over the years had
led hardware engineering for some of Apple’s most successful
products, to oversee Titan.
Mr. Mansfield shelved plans to build a car and focused the project
on the underlying self-driving technology. He also laid off some
hardware staff, though the exact number of employees dedicated to
working on car technology was unclear.
“Shelved” is an accurate word, but I think many people have interpreted it as meaning that Apple has given up on designing its own vehicles. My understanding is that it’s more like “Let’s get the autonomous shit down first, and worry about designing vehicles to put it in after that.” Eat the steak one bite at a time rather than all at once.
Over at 512 Pixels, Stephen Hackett writes:
However, I think it’s clear that Project Titan was a distraction
to the company. There’s not much in the way of hard evidence of
that, but as this has wound down, Apple’s actual products have
seemed to receive more attention. If this is indeed the case, I’m
glad to see a return to form when it comes to updating things like
I wouldn’t worry too much about this. From Wakabayashi’s NYT report:
From the beginning, the employees dedicated to Project Titan
looked at a wide range of details. That included motorized doors
that opened and closed silently. They also studied ways to
redesign a car interior without a steering wheel or gas pedals,
and they worked on adding virtual or augmented reality into
Think about the way that ARKit is focused on identifying flat surfaces like floors and table tops. Seems like exactly the sort of thing that might have first been focused on identifying, say, roads. There’s no car yet, and there may never be, but I would bet there’s good stuff coming out of Project Titan already. ★
Jackass of the Week: James Damore ★
If you’re still looking for a succinct, pin-point-accurate, easily grasped explanation for what was wrong about Google engineer James Damore’s essay arguing against Google’s efforts to address gender (and, I think implicitly, racial) diversity in its workforce, look no further than Damore himself, in this series of tweets:
Imagine your company spent $250 million on programs that assumed
Santa Claus is real.
Then you wrote a document detailing why Santa Claus is a myth,
which upset the brainwashed employees that believe in Santa Claus.
It’s your fault if you make a 3 year old cry by telling them
Santa Claus isn’t real. It’s society’s fault if that makes 30
year olds cry.
I found his original document extraordinarily tedious to read because it contained about two pages worth of ideas spread across 10 pages of a sort of academic-ese-like writing. He used that abstract, detached, wordy point-of-view to make his thesis come across as non-confrontational. I’m not against women in tech, I’m just pro facts, and here are some facts.
Now, unleashed from any pretense of evenhandedness or detachment, we get a succinct summary of his argument: the notion that women should, based on merit and talent, constitute a larger percentage of the tech industry is like believing in Santa Claus. A fantasy.
Fuck this guy.
Also, nobody cried after reading his “document”. They simply explained, often in point-by-point painstaking detail, why he was wrong and needed to be fired.
Giuseppe Stuto: US Teens Engage With iMessage More Than Any Other Social Platform ★
Giuseppe Stuto, co-founder and CEO of Fam:
The Piper Jaffrey data shows how commanding iPhones are in today’s
smartphone landscape for teens. This is in line with our various
surveying here at Fam, in which we have approximated over the past
year that 75% of US teens use iPhones. In terms of why this may be
the case, there are several factors to consider: design, iTunes,
network effects, and of course what we believe to be the most
important one, iMessage.
By no means am I commenting on what device is better, more
powerful, better looking, or any of that. Simply laying the
groundwork for this thesis at large.
iMessage IS a social platform for teens. It’s currently the center
of their immediate, social universe.
Absolutely true for my son and his friends. Apple said two years ago that iMessage was the single most-used app on iOS. And as I wrote last year, there is nothing inadvertent or lucky about iMessage’s success — and yet it is largely overlooked.
Here’s a Reddit thread chock full of anecdotes about how dominant iMessage and iPhones are among US teens.
Jack-Off Hysteria Subsided Quickly ★
Nilay Patel’s review of the iPhone 7 for The Verge last year contained 31 references to the word “headphone”. Dieter Bohn’s review this week of the headphone-jack-less Essential Phone contains three, all in one paragraph:
There is no standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which is basically a
trend now. But at least it ships with a USB-C dongle (though not
USB-C headphones). Trends be damned, I’m going to continue to be a
curmudgeon about it, if only because once this week I left both
the dongle and my Bluetooth headphones at the office, so I
couldn’t listen to music or podcasts the next day.
As I wrote last year, “Nilay’s review is going to age about as well as a 2007 review of the original iPhone that devoted the same amount of attention to the lack of a hardware keyboard.”
I think Bohn devoted exactly the right amount of attention to this — it’s certainly worth pointing out, and that’s about it. I did find it slightly curious that Bohn didn’t complain about the fact that the Essential Phone doesn’t even ship with a pair of USB-C headphones, though — you either have to use the included dongle or third-party Bluetooth headphones. Seems nickel-and-dimey for a $700 phone.
‘Tell Them That They Not Only Get to Yell at Nazis, but That Cake Will Be Served’ ★
Dan Savage devoted the first 9 minutes of his Savage Lovecast podcast this week to last week’s Charlottesville and Boston protests, and the controversy over Tina Fey’s brilliant sheet cake segment on SNL’s Weekend Update. Includes a nice reference to my piece on this.
AccuWeather Caught Sending User Location Data, Even When Location Sharing Is Off ★
Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet:
Popular weather app AccuWeather has been caught sending
geolocation data to a third-party data monetization firm, even
when the user has switched off location sharing. […]
Security researcher Will Strafach intercepted the traffic from an
iPhone running the latest version of AccuWeather and its servers
and found that even when the app didn’t have permission to access
the device’s precise location, the app would send the Wi-Fi router
name and its unique MAC address to the servers of data
monetization firm Reveal Mobile every few hours. That data can be
correlated with public data to reveal an approximate location of a
We independently verified the findings, and were able to geolocate
an AccuWeather-running iPhone in our New York office within just a
few meters, using nothing more than the Wi-Fi router’s MAC address
and public data.
In other words, if you deny AccuWeather permission to use the Location Services APIs on you iPhone, they’ll go around your back and send your Wi-Fi router name and the router’s MAC address to these shitbirds at Reveal Mobile, and they maintain a database that maps Wi-Fi routers to locations.
To me this is a one strike and you’re out situation. Apple should remove this version of the AccuWeather app from the App Store, and any of you reading this who have it installed should delete it from your devices and never re-install it. How can you trust them? There are plenty of excellent weather apps in the App Store that would never blatantly abuse your privacy like this. Off the top of my head: Dark Sky, Weather Line, and Carrot, to name just three. Also, the built-in Weather app that comes with iOS is really good and has gotten a lot better in the last few years.
Android 8.0 Oreo ★
I get it, Oreos are famous. But if you like Oreos you should try Newman-O’s, which are way way better. Newman-O’s are the cookies Oreos pretend to be.
The Verge’s Essential Phone Review ★
Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:
It won’t be long now before we take edge-to-edge screens like the
one on the Essential Phone for granted, but for the moment it’s
still something special. There’s a cutout at the top for the
selfie camera (and a couple of sensors) shaped like a little U,
splitting the status bar in half between notifications and your
radio status icons.
That cyclops eye seems like the sort of thing that would be
distracting, but in my experience it becomes invisible almost
immediately. Ninety-five percent of the time Android doesn’t put
anything of value in that particular part of the screen anyway,
and the phone is adept at keeping apps that go truly full screen
(like video) letterboxed in. Every now and then you will have
something like an image that will be full screen and cut off by
the camera, but it’s rare. […]
Even though we’ve seen the no-bezel trick on phones like the
Galaxy S8, it still feels remarkable to have such a large display
on such a small phone. The 5.7-inch screen on the Essential Phone
is bigger than what you’ll get on an iPhone 7 Plus or a Pixel XL,
yet the phone itself is much smaller. It’s much closer in size to
the smaller counterparts of those phones, the iPhone 7 and Pixel,
and their significantly smaller displays.
It does look like a beautiful device. And it deserves kudos for lacking a camera bump. But: the camera is, in The Verge’s terms, “somewhat disappointing”. There’s one and only one reason why recent iPhones have camera bumps: to improve the quality of the images and videos shot by the camera. I hate the bump, but I’d rather have the bump and better image quality than no bump and worse image quality. Wake me up when someone figures out how to make a best-of-breed phone camera with no bump.
Update: Google’s Pixel phones don’t have a bump, and are top-tier cameras. Neglecting to mention them is an inexplicable brain fart on my behalf, given that I own a Pixel and like it far more than any other Android phone I’ve ever seen. But it’s not like the Pixel achieve a no-bump design without a significant compromise: the entire form factor of the phone is wedge-shaped — the top (the camera end) is noticeably thicker than the bottom. In some ways that’s better, and in others it’s worse. But what I want is what the iPhone SE has: no bump, no wedge — just a perfect slab with a flush camera lens. I fear the bump is here to stay, though.
Ellen Pao: ‘This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley’ ★
Ellen Pao, in an excerpt at The Cut from her new book Reset:
In my own interview, when I mentioned that my colleagues had
talked about a porn star when we were on a plane together, the
investigator asked if it was Sasha Grey. I said no. He pressed the
point, saying that Sasha Grey was crossing over into legitimate
acting. At another point, the investigator asked, in a “gotcha”
tone, “Well, if they look down on women so much, if they block you
from opportunities, they don’t include you at their events, why do
they even keep you around in the first place?”
I hadn’t thought about it before. I replied slowly as the answer
crystallized in my mind: If you had the opportunity to have
workers who were overeducated, underpaid, and highly
experienced, whom you could dump all the menial tasks you didn’t
want to do on, whom you could get to clean up all the problems,
and whom you could create a second class out of, wouldn’t you
want them to stay?
It is remarkable and admirable what Pao chose to go through rather than accept a multi-million-dollar buyout and sign a non-disclosure agreement, simply so she could tell her story.
Update: One niggle: the headline on this piece ought to be “This Is How Sexism Works in the VC Industry”, not “in Silicon Valley”.
Apple’s New Instructional Videos for iPad Pro and iOS 11 ★
These are, as usual, very well done, but I’m a little curious about the timing, given that iOS 11 won’t ship to non-beta-testers until next month.
Om Malik Interviews Louis Rossetto ★
Terrific interview by Om Malik with Wired magazine co-founder Louis Rossetto. Rossetto:
Life is funny, because you’re supposed to — well, at least when I
was growing up — you were supposed to have this clear idea of the
trajectory of your life, a career that you could envision how it’s
going to turn out, and the steps that you would take along the way
to make that dream real. My life has been about serial obsessions,
which I compare to love affairs. You can’t will yourself to fall
in love, but suddenly you find yourself in love, and then it
becomes something amazing.
I think people do their best work when they’re obsessed by
something they have to work out. That’s been the story of my life.
It certainly hasn’t been linear. It’s been about following
passions along the way. Sometimes it’s been about being a
journalist, or an editor, or an entrepreneur, and other times it’s
been about being a father, or a chocolate company guy. Now it’s
about being a writer. Each of these have had their own moment;
they’ve each absorbed my full being in order to work out whatever
it was I had to deal with.
Rosetto has a new book, a novel titled Change Is Good, that is being designed and printed by Erik Spiekermann. The first edition is available exclusively through Kickstarter.
Those early years of Wired were just incredibly inspiring to me. I loved everything about the early Wired — what they wrote about, how they wrote about it, the typography and design of the magazine itself, and even the quality of the inks and papers they used. It was so good, and so perfectly captured a hard-to-capture revolution.
Friday, 18 August 2017
15 years ago this week, I started Daring Fireball with this piece on a then-new lineup of PowerMac G4’s. I groan at the use of “the Daring Fireball” in lieu of the first person, but otherwise it holds up pretty well stylistically.
A quick tally: to date I’ve written 1,173 full columns and 25,486 Linked List entries (including this one). Total word count, not including the entry titles:
- Full columns: 1,048,662 original words (1,190,759 total words, including blockquotes).
- Linked List entries: 952,854 original words (1,923,963 total words, including blockquotes).
- Combined: 2,001,516 original words (3,114,722 total words, including blockquotes).
Not bad. ★
Vice News Tonight: ‘Charlottesville: Race and Terror’ ★
Correspondent Elle Reeve goes behind the scenes with white
nationalist leaders, the Charlottesville Police, and Black Lives
Matter during the “Unite the Right” rally.
22 minutes, and worth every second. It really gives a sense of just how tense this weekend-long confrontation was, and how scary (and well-armed) these Nazi motherfuckers are. Reeve does a great job letting them speak for themselves.
Why Cloudflare Terminated Daily Stormer ★
Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare:
Earlier today, Cloudflare terminated the account of the Daily
Stormer. We’ve stopped proxying their traffic and stopped
answering DNS requests for their sites. We’ve taken measures
to ensure that they cannot sign up for Cloudflare’s services
Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users
of our network at our sole discretion. The tipping point for us
making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made
the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.
Our team has been thorough and have had thoughtful discussions for
years about what the right policy was on censoring. Like a lot of
people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time
but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a
network. We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret
support by Cloudflare.
Now, having made that decision, let me explain why it’s so
I’m a staunch First Amendment supporter. I believe these Nazi motherfuckers have a right to publish their garbage propaganda. But they don’t have a right to Cloudflare services. Prince’s thoughtful explanation makes clear that this was a last resort, and hopefully one-time exception, to their policy of not censoring sites over political content.
The internet really changes the way this works, though. In the print days, there was no equivalent of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. There are only a handful of very large companies that can defend against a DDoS attack, and Cloudflare is one of them. Now that Cloudflare has dropped them, their web site is unreachable.
Dilution of Whisky – The Molecular Perspective ★
Interesting new paper published in Scientific Report by Björn C. G. Karlsson and Ran Friedman:
Despite the growing knowledge of the nature of water-alcohol
mixtures on a molecular level, much less is known on the
interaction of water, alcohol and small solutes. In particular,
the nature of the interaction between the solvent and
taste-carrying molecules, such as guaiacol, is not known. To
address this gap, we used MD simulations to study the distribution
of guaiacol in water-alcohol mixtures of different concentrations.
Our simulations revealed that guaiacol is present at the
air-liquid interface at ethanol concentrations that correspond to
the alcohol content of bottled or diluted whiskies. Because the
drink is consumed at the interface first, our findings help to
understand why adding water to whisky helps to enhance its taste.
I loved this line:
Overall, there is a fine balance between diluting the whisky to
taste and diluting the whisky to waste.
I got this via The Verge, who ran it with the headline “Here’s the Scientific Reason It’s Better to Drink Whiskey on the Rocks”. That headline surely turned heads (and generated clicks) because neat versus on-the-rocks is a polarizing debate, but it’s not supported by this paper. Karlsson and Friedman report only on the effects of adding water, not changing the temperature. That said, in yours truly’s humble opinion, almost all whisky tastes better with a large ice cube.
A.M. Sacconaghi Jr. Estimates That Google Is Paying Apple $3 Billion to Remain the Default Safari Search Engine ★
Todd Haselton, writing for CNBC:
“Court documents indicate that Google paid Apple $1B in 2014, and
we estimate that total Google payments to Apple in FY 17 may
approach $3B,” Bernstein analyst A.M. Sacconaghi Jr. said. “Given
that Google payments are nearly all profit for Apple, Google alone
may account for 5% of Apple’s total operating profits this year,
and may account for 25% of total company OP growth over the last
I would love to be a fly on the wall for those negotiations.
Sacconaghi said that Google might decide to back away from paying
Apple any licensing fees if it feels confident enough that its
search engine is so popular Apple won’t include any other option
On the other hand, Sacconaghi said that Apple’s iOS devices
contribute about 50 percent to Google’s mobile search revenue,
which means Google might be too afraid to walk away from its
licensing deal with Apple. In this case, it’s a win-win for Apple
If Apple was willing to dump Google Maps, they’d be willing to dump Google Search too. The differences between results from Google versus Bing or DuckDuckGo are way smaller than the differences between Google Maps and Apple Maps back in 2012. Apple is in a strong position in this relationship.
Tim Cook’s Email to Employees About Charlottesville ★
We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our
country, and we must be unequivocal about it. This is not about
the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human
decency and morality. I disagree with the president and others who
believe that there is a moral equivalence between white
supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up
for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as
Regardless of your political views, we must all stand together on
this one point — that we are all equal. As a company, through our
actions, our products and our voice, we will always work to ensure
that everyone is treated equally and with respect.
This is where we’ve gotten to: Tim Cook felt the need to denounce Nazism — fucking Nazism — because the president of the United States won’t.
Josh Marshall: ‘The House Is on Fire’ ★
I confess I had a small degree of surprise that the events of the
weekend — as horrifying and tragic as they are — have had quite
the effect on people they seem to have had. This is not to
diminish them. It is only to say that I do not think they should
be so surprising. I don’t think they should amount to a revelation
that shifts our basic understanding of things. We have if not a
growing white supremacist movement in the US at least an
increasingly vocal and emboldened one. They both made Trump
possible and have in turn been energized and emboldened by his
success. He reacts this way because he is one of them. He is
driven by the same view of the world, the same animus and
grievances. What we’ve seen over the last five days is sickening
and awful. The house is on fire. But it was on fire a week ago.
It’s been on fire since November. The truth is indeed unimaginable
and terrifying. But we need to accept the full truth of it if we
are going to be able to save our country.
Trump Gives White Supremacists an Unequivocal Boost ★
Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, reporting for The New York Times (emphasis added):
No word in the Trump lexicon is as tread-worn as “unprecedented.”
But members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened,
said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of
opinions that the president had long expressed in private. The
National Economic Council chairman, Gary D. Cohn, and the Treasury
secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who are Jewish, stood by uncomfortably
as the president exacerbated a controversy that has once again
engulfed a White House in disarray.
The President of the United States is an angry, resentful white supremacist. That’s been clear to me ever since he started campaigning. If any good comes of this terrible week, it’s that more and more people are now seeing it, and are outraged by it.
The Email Larry Page Should Have Written to James Damore ★
The Economist, writing from the point of view of Larry Page:
Your interpretation is wrong. Your memo was a great example of
what’s called “motivated reasoning” — seeking out only the
information that supports what you already believe. It was
derogatory to women in our industry and elsewhere. Despite your
stated support for diversity and fairness, it demonstrated
profound prejudice. Your chain of reasoning had so many missing
links that it hardly mattered what your argument was based on. We
try to hire people who are willing to follow where the facts lead,
whatever their preconceptions. In your case we clearly made a
Really strong piece that crystallizes my thoughts on this matter.
WSJ: ‘Apple Readies $1 Billion War Chest for Hollywood Programming’ ★
Tripp Mickle, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (alternate link that should route around the Journal’s paywall):
Apple Inc. has set a budget of roughly $1 billion to procure and
produce original content over the next year, according to people
familiar with the matter, as the iPhone maker shows how serious it
is about making a splash in Hollywood.
Combined with the company’s marketing clout and global reach, the
step immediately makes Apple a considerable competitor in a
crowded market where both new and traditional media players are
vying to acquire original shows. Apple’s budget is about half what
Time Warner Inc.’s HBO spent on content last year and on par with
estimates of what Amazon.com Inc. spent in 2013, the year after it
announced its move into original programming.
A friend of mine sent me this link, along with this quip: “Original content Apple is my least favorite Apple, but I can see why they are doing this.” I can’t put it better than that.
So far, Apple’s efforts at original content have been swings and misses. They really need to start making shows that are good. But would Apple ever make a show like Game of Thrones? That show is the current gold standard for original content, but I’m not sure Apple would want to put their brand on a show with so much graphic violence and sex. Disney has a squeaky-clean brand too, so it’s not like “family-friendly” and “high quality” are mutually exclusive.
If you ever watch baseball, sometimes the ceremonial first pitch is thrown by a talented athlete from another sport, but they’ve never played baseball, and the results are comically bad. That’s what it feels like watching Apple try to produce TV shows.
Spitball: I wonder if Apple should have bought Pixar?
Ming-Chi Kuo: ‘Apple Watch 3 to Come in LTE and Non-LTE Models, No Obvious Form Factor Change’ ★
Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac:
Reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities has released a
new forecast on the next generation Apple Watch. According to
Kuo, the Apple Watch 3 will ship later this year with both LTE
and non-LTE models offered. Kuo also expects the next Apple Watch
will retain the same general design and not feature an obvious
new form factor.
Kuo specifies that the Apple Watch will continue to ship in two
size configurations: 38mm and 42mm cases.
KGI’s latest prediction comes 10 days after Bloomberg’s recent
report which first mentioned the new Apple Watch with Intel modems
for LTE connectivity. John Gruber at Daring Fireball later
hinted that the new model would feature a new form factor,
although he later backtracked on the timing of that claim.
I didn’t backtrack on the timing. I backtracked on the veracity of the source I heard this from. I wrote:
No mention in Businessweek’s report, though, of the all-new form
factor that I’ve heard is coming for this year’s new watches. That
tidbit came from an unconfirmed little birdie, though, so I
wouldn’t bet the house on it.
If Apple Watch 3 doesn’t look obviously new, I would say my source was wrong and probably lied to me. My source was talking about this year’s new watches, not next year’s. But it really was an unconfirmed little birdie.
It could also be that both my birdie and Kuo are correct: the phrase “will not feature an obvious new form factor” leaves a lot of wiggle room with the word “obvious”.
Chris Lattner Joins Google Brain ★
Darrell Etherington, reporting for TechCrunch:
Chris Lattner, one of the key creators behind the Apple programming language Swift, is on the move again. After a short six-month stay at Tesla, which he joined last year from Apple to act as VP of Autopilot Software, Lattner announced on Twitter today that his next stop is Google Brain. […]
Google Brain is the search giant’s team focused on deep learning and artificial intelligence. It focused on helping to use AI across a range of products, tackling both research and product integration, working together with teams across Alphabet, including at DeepMind. Its ultimate stated motivation is to advance the field with open source projects, academic collaboration and publication.
A team that emphasizes open source projects sounds like a good fit for Lattner.
Thursday, 10 August 2017
Back in May I wrote a piece titled “Safari vs. Chrome on the Mac”. From my conclusion:
In short, Safari closely reflects Apple’s institutional priorities
(privacy, energy efficiency, the niceness of the native UI,
support for MacOS and iCloud technologies) and Chrome closely
reflects Google’s priorities (speed, convenience, a web-centric
rather than native-app-centric concept of desktop computing,
integration with Google web properties). Safari is Apple’s browser
for Apple devices. Chrome is Google’s browser for all devices.
I personally prefer Safari, but I can totally see why others —
especially those who work on desktop machines or MacBooks that are
usually plugged into power — prefer Chrome. DF readers agree.
Looking at my web stats, over the last 30 days, 69 percent of Mac
users visiting DF used Safari, but a sizable 28 percent used
Chrome. (Firefox came in at 3 percent, and everything else was
under 1 percent.)
As someone who’s been a Mac user long enough to remember when
there were no good web browsers for the Mac, having both Safari
and Chrome feels downright bountiful, and the competition is
making both of them better.
But really, taken as a whole, the response to my piece was about one thing and one thing only: the fact that Safari does not show favicons on tabs and Chrome does. There are a huge number of Daring Fireball readers who use Chrome because it shows favicons on tabs and would switch to Safari if it did.
The reaction was so overwhelming I almost couldn’t believe it.
The gist of it is two-fold: (1) there are some people who strongly prefer to see favicons in tabs even when they don’t have a ton of tabs open, simply because they prefer identifying tabs graphically rather than by the text of the page title; and (2) for people who do have a ton of tabs open, favicons are the only way to identify tabs.
With many tabs open, there’s really nothing subjective about it: Chrome’s tabs are more usable because they show favicons. Here are two screenshot comparisons between Safari and Chrome from my 13-inch MacBook Pro. The first set shows 11 tabs: the TechMeme home page plus the first 10 stories linked today. The second set shows 17 tabs: the Daring Fireball homepage and the 16 items I’ve linked to so far this week.
This is not even close. Once Safari gets to a dozen or so tabs in a window, the left-most tabs are literally unidentifiable because they don’t even show a single character of the tab title. They’re just blank. I, as a decade-plus-long dedicated Safari user, am jealous of the usability and visual clarity of Chrome with a dozen or more tabs open. And I can see why dedicated Chrome users would consider Safari’s tab design a non-starter to switching.
I don’t know what the argument is against showing favicons in Safari’s tabs, but I can only presume that it’s because some contingent within Apple thinks it would spoil the monochromatic aesthetic of Safari’s toolbar area. I really can’t imagine what else it could be. I’m personally sympathetic to placing a high value on aesthetics even when it might come at a small cost to usability. But in this case, I think Safari’s tab design — even if you do think it’s aesthetically more appealing — comes at a large cost in usability and clarity. The balance between what looks best and what works best is way out of whack with Safari’s tabs.
And it’s highly debatable whether Safari’s existing no-favicon tabs actually do look better. The feedback I’ve heard from Chrome users who won’t even try Safari because it doesn’t show favicons isn’t just from developers — it’s from designers too. To me, the argument that Safari’s tab bar should remain text-only is like arguing that MacOS should change its Command-Tab switcher and Dock from showing icons to showing only the names of applications. The Mac has been famous ever since 1984 for placing more visual significance on icons than on names. The Mac attracts visual thinkers and its design encourages visual thinking. So I think Safari’s text-only tab bar isn’t just wrong in general, it’s particularly wrong on the Mac.1
I really can’t say this strongly enough: I think Safari’s lack of favicons in tabs, combined with its corresponding crumminess when displaying a dozen or more tabs in a window, is the single biggest reason why so many Mac users use Chrome.
You can even make an argument that adding favicons to Safari wouldn’t just make Safari better, but would make the entire MacOS system better, because Safari gets dramatically better battery life than Chrome. For MacBook users who spend much or most of their days in a web browser, it can mean the difference of 1-2 hours of battery life. This is actually a common refrain I heard from numerous readers back in May: that they wished they could switch from Chrome to Safari because they know Safari gets better battery life, but won’t because Safari — seemingly inexplicably — doesn’t show favicons in tabs.
Favicons wouldn’t even have to be displayed by default to solve the problem — Apple could just make it a preference setting, and power users would find it. The fact that it’s not even a preference, even though it may well be the single most-common feature request for Safari, seems downright spiteful. And not just mean-to-others spiteful, but cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face spiteful. It might sound silly if you’re not a heavy user of browser tabs, but I am convinced that the lack of favicons is holding back Safari’s market share. ★
Original Post From Consumer Reports Revoking Recommendations for Microsoft Surface Laptops and Tablets ★
Here’s the actual post from Consumer Reports regarding Surface hardware reliability:
A number of survey respondents said they experienced problems with
their devices during startup. A few commented that their machines
froze or shut down unexpectedly, and several others told CR that
the touch screens weren’t responsive enough.
The new studies of laptop and tablet reliability leverage data on
90,741 tablets and laptops that subscribers bought new between
2014 and the beginning of 2017. Predicted reliability is a
projection of how new models from each brand will fare, based on
data from models already in users’ hands.
Worth noting that I’m deeply skeptical of anything computer- or tech-related that comes out of Consumer Reports’s lab testing. I think they shamelessly sensationalized the iPhone 4 antennagate story (which they later backtracked from), and I think they embarrassed themselves with last year’s bizarre (and rushed) report claiming wildly erratic battery life on the new TouchBar-equipped MacBook Pros. (See footnote 2 here for my results trying to replicate CR’s test. Quite possibly my favorite footnote in DF history.)
I’m certainly not saying we should take it as gospel, but I don’t see anything fishy about this laptop reliability report. It does not smell like clickbait.
Inside Facebook’s Institutional Policy of Copying Competitors ★
Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman, writing for The Wall Street Journal:
Facebook uses an internal database to track rivals, including
young startups performing unusually well, people familiar with the
system say. The database stems from Facebook’s 2013 acquisition of
a Tel Aviv-based startup, Onavo, which had built an app that
secures users’ privacy by routing their traffic through private
servers. The app gives Facebook an unusually detailed look at what
users collectively do on their phones, these people say.
The tool shaped Facebook’s decision to buy WhatsApp and informed
its live-video strategy, they say. Facebook used Onavo to build
its early-bird tool that tips it off to promising services and
that helped Facebook home in on Houseparty.
So Facebook is using a VPN app that is supposed to protect users’ privacy to violate their privacy by analyzing which apps they use.
Also worth noting: in the iOS App Store, Onavo’s owner is still listed as “Onavo, Inc.”, not “Facebook”. I suspect a large number of Onavo users have no idea the app is owned by Facebook (I for one had never heard of it before this Journal story), and might think differently about entrusting their privacy to it if they knew.
Ulysses Is Switching to Subscription Pricing ★
Max Seelemann, development lead for Ulysses:
Before getting into details, though, you should know that this
switch was neither a quick decision, nor did we take it easily. We
have been talking about it for over 2 years now. We’ve had
uncountable discussions, and the topic came up at least once every
month — yet we always postponed a decision. The sheer complexity
and far reach of this change were too intimidating. I am not
exaggerating in saying that this was the hardest decision in our
whole time as professional software developers. After all, we have
a system which currently works — after 14 years we are still
around, Ulysses is still “a thing”, it’s even going better than
ever before, and there are no immediate signs which hint at a
change coming soon.
So why bother at all then? Well, we need a good way forward
before we run into trouble. We want to make sure the app will be
around for years and years to come. We want to heavily invest in
its development, and this requires the right setting for our team,
our families and our users. Writers want to rely on a
professional tool that is constantly evolving, and we want to keep
delivering just that.
This is a really thoughtful article, and I fully support their decision. I think subscription pricing is an excellent option for truly professional apps like Ulysses, particularly ones that are cross platform (Mac and iOS).
Consumer Reports: Microsoft Surface Is Dead Last for Reliability in Tablets and Laptops ★
According to a Consumer Reports survey of over 90,000 tablet and
laptop owners, an estimated 25 percent of those with Microsoft
Surface devices will experience “problems by the end of the second
year of ownership.” This failure rate is the worst in the industry
by far among mainstream PC makers, the publication says, and as a
result, it is pulling its “recommended” designation for all
Apple led the industry by a long shot. But that’s as it should be. Apple products tend to cost significantly more because they’re made better. Or put another way, Apple benefits greatly in a survey like this because they don’t make any low-end laptops. I’d love to see the results of a similar survey that only looked at laptops that cost $1000 or more. I think Apple would still come out on top, but I would also bet that the reliability of PCs in that price range is way higher than these results that include all machines sold.
But that’s why these results look particularly bad for Microsoft: the Surface lineup is priced and specced more like Apple’s lineup: $800 starting price for the tablet, $999 for Surface Laptop, and $1499 for Surface Book. My first thought when I looked at these reliability numbers is that it didn’t seem fair for Consumer Reports to single out Microsoft when they were just 1 point behind Toshiba and 3 behind Dell, but Toshiba and Dell sell millions of astoundingly low-priced craptops. Dell’s lineup starts at just $179.
Microsoft had benefited from a curiously skewed series of
positive editorial stories in mainstream publications because of
its perceived innovation with PCs compared to Apple. I dispute
that view, actually, and have wondered aloud how any PC maker
could be called an innovator when they just released their first
laptop in 2017.
The Verge, last week: “The Best Laptop You Can Buy Right Now (2017)”. Bonus points for the sub-head: “Get a laptop that’ll last.”
Unobstruct: The Anti-Dickbar Content Blocker for Safari on iOS ★
As had happened in the past, I became annoyed by the bar and
floating button at the bottom of the Medium page, which on such a
small screen used up a not-insignificant amount of the vertical
space. John Gruber had recently written about this in his post
Medium and the Scourge of Persistent Sharing Dickbars on
However, this time, something occurred to me: this was a Safari
view, so what if I had a Safari Content Blocker app that
removed these bars the same way ad-blocking apps remove ads
from web pages?
I went to my computer, started a new Xcode project, and a little
while later, I had a way to remove these from Medium’s pages on my
iPhone and iPad for good.
So good, so simple. This is the best dollar you’ll spend this month. Just $1 and poof, dozens and dozens of dickbars will just disappear from your reading experience.