The Talk Show: ‘Subscribed to a Hamburger’ 

Special guest “Underscore” David Smith joins the show to talk about iOS 14 widgets, WatchOS complications, sleep tracking, and his App Store chart-topping hit Widgetsmith.

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Relay FM for St. Jude 

Today is the last day of September, and thus the last day of Relay FM’s annual fundraising drive for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude is simply an amazing institution: they both provide world-class treatment for kids with cancer free of charge and perform research to make those treatments better and more effective. They’ve blown past their campaign goal for 2020, but every dollar donated to St. Jude is a dollar donated to a truly great cause. Let’s give them the old DF boost and push their campaign way over the top.


We’ve only gotten to mid-afternoon and here are today’s stories:

  • “It’s the kind of language you might expect from a dictator”: Trump’s remarks on election integrity and poll-watching alarm experts.

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Wednesday that it would make changes to the format of this year’s remaining match-ups in the wake of Tuesday night’s melee in Cleveland, where frequent interruptions from President Trump led to a chaotic and often incoherent event, though it did not elaborate on what those changes would entail.

  • Trump wouldn’t categorically denounce white supremacists. Members of the far-right Proud Boys are celebrating.

  • The debate suggests the most direct threat to the electoral process now comes from the president of the United States himself.

That’s just today, mid-afternoon. If you don’t see this man as the threat to U.S. democracy itself that he obviously and proudly proclaims himself to be, you’re an idiot. If you see it and don’t care, you’re garbage.

Everyone else: don’t despair. Organize, donate, spread the word, and vote.

Epic Games Is an Unreliable Narrator 

Epic Games, in a support document published back on September 9:

Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Epic Games accounts using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020. If you have previously used “Sign In with Apple”, please update your Epic Games account email address and password immediately so that you can still login after September 11, 2020.

And on Twitter, from their Fortnight Status account:

Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Fortnite using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020. If you used “Sign In with Apple”, please make sure your email and password are up to date. https://fn.gg/SIwA

(And a nearly identical tweet from the Unreal Engine account.)

This smelled funny to me from the start, as it made no sense from Apple’s perspective. Shutting Epic off from Sign In With Apple wouldn’t penalize or punish Epic — it would only punish players who used (and trusted) Sign In With Apple (SIWA herewith) to create their accounts. It would punish only Fortnite players, and cause reputational harm among developers to the dependability of SIWA. (“Piss Apple off and they might spitefully shut off your SIWA users.”)

Worth noting: Apple publicly stated that it was not doing anything to stop SIWA from working for Epic. Epic wound up changing their help document to the following:

Apple previously stated they would terminate “Sign In With Apple” support for Epic Games accounts after September 11, 2020, but today provided an indefinite extension.

I haven’t written about this until now, but I was reminded of it by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’s disparagement of Epic Games’s honesty during yesterday’s hearing. I spent a few hours back on September 9 digging into this SIWA story, and multiple sources at Apple told me Epic’s claims were simply false. There was never a September 11 deadline for their SIWA support to stop working, and in fact, Apple’s SIWA team performed work to make sure SIWA continued working for Fortnite users despite the fact that Epic Games’s developer account had been revoked. There was no “extension” because Apple was never going to revoke Epic’s SIWA access.

At this point, Epic has passed the “Fool me once, shame on you …” point of the proverb.

Judge Excoriates Epic’s Dishonesty in Hearing Regarding Lawsuit Against Apple 

Brian Fung, reporting for CNN on yesterday’s three-hour hearing over Zoom:

Judge Gonzalez Rogers looked skeptically at many of Epic’s claims, explicitly telling the company several times in the hearing she was not persuaded by its arguments or its strategy. Epic knew that it was breaching its contract with Apple when it published the update, but did it anyway, she said, accusing the company of dishonesty.

Apple has justified its app store policies partly as a way to protect consumers from security risks and malicious software. Epic has countered that it is a credible business that has been on the iOS App Store for years and poses no security threat. But Gonzalez Rogers said that is not the issue.

“You did something, you lied about it by omission, by not being forthcoming. That’s the security issue. That’s the security issue!” Gonzalez Rogers told Epic. “There are a lot of people in the public who consider you guys heroes for what you guys did, but it’s still not honest.”

This was a long hearing — I enjoyed Fung’s notes on Twitter, as well as Financial Times reporter Patrick McAgee’s. Some highlights from McAgee’s Twitter thread:

Judge YGR says it’s complicated, “we are in a new world — they don’t call this The Wild West for nothing.” Says: walled gardens have existed for 4 decades. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all had/have them. “What Apple is doing is not much different … they created a platform.”

[Epic lawyer] Bornstein says the economics of consoles are different: “Consoles are sold at a loss, so their 30% is very different from (Apple’s) 30%.”

Judge YGR: “Well plaintiffs always want me to define relevant markets as narrowly as possible. It helps their case. And defendants always want me to define markets as broad as possible, because it helps their case.” […]

YGR: “The 30% of what you complain seems to be the industry rate, right? Steam charges 30%. Microsoft: 30% … If you go to consoles: PlayStation, Xbox Nintendo all charged 30%. Physical stores: GameStop, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart all charge 30%. Apple and Google charged 30%. It’s all 30%, and you just want to gloss over it. You don’t want to address it,” Judge YGR says. […]

Epic’s Bornstein says alternatives to the smartphone have their own constraints. “For example you can’t play an Xbox when you are, you know, on a bus.”

YGR: “You can’t play, but you can play on a Switch.”

Basically, Epic’s lawyers seem to think Judge Gonzalez Rogers is a dummy, but she most certainly is not a dummy. She seems to take the angle I’ve taken all along: Apple runs iOS as an app console, and it doesn’t hold water for Epic to argue that the Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch game platforms are fine, but Apple’s app platform is not.

China Is Again Banning Feed Reader Apps 

iOS feed readers Fiery Feeds and Reeder today tweeted that Apple notified them they were being removed from the Chinese App Store to comply with Chinese law. Both link to a 2017 tweet from Inoreader saying the same. (An earlier version of this post didn’t make clear that Inoreader’s tweet was three years old.)

It’s completely unclear what explains the three year gap here, and the entire policy makes no sense. Why ban feed readers but not web browsers? At a technical level, feed readers are just web browsers for RSS feeds. China’s Great Firewall should block feeds (and centralized feed aggregating sources) just as easily as it blocks websites. I suppose there’s not much point looking for sense in this decision — China is going to China.

Amazon One: New Hand-Scanning Payment System Set to Debut in Amazon’s Own Stores 

Jason Del Rey, reporting for Recode:

Amazon on Tuesday is unveiling a new biometric technology called Amazon One that allows shoppers to pay at stores by placing their palm over a scanning device when they walk in the door or when they check out. The first time they register to use this tech, a customer will scan their palm and insert their payment card at a terminal; after that, they can simply pay with their hand. The hand-scanning tech isn’t just for Amazon’s own stores — the company hopes to sell it to other retailers, including competitors, too.

I’m happy to hear more details, but on the surface this sounds insane. Why in the world would anyone voluntarily send their palm print to any company to store in the cloud? With something like Face ID and Touch ID, your biometric info is not only stored solely on your own device, it’s stored on the secure enclave on your own device. Even the apps running on your own device can’t access it.

And with Apple Pay, if you ever need or simply want to create a new card number, you can do so. (Settings → Wallet & Apple Pay → Name of Card → Card Information → Request New Card Number.) You can’t request a new palm print.

This is a terrible idea and the only reason I can think of why Amazon created it is that they wanted their own payment system and felt they had to use some kind of biometrics for identification, privacy implications be damned, because they don’t have any sort of mobile device platform they could use instead. Why they don’t just stick to offering a scannable code from their app is beyond me.

Coalition for App Fairness 

Spearheaded by Epic Games, Spotify, and Tinder parent Match Group, the Coalition for App Fairness is an advocacy group pushing for legal and regulatory changes to “app stores” — but quite specifically Apple’s in particular. Some of their aims are unobjectionable, but the main ones would effectively do away with the App Store as we know it:

1. No developer should be required to use an app store exclusively, or to use ancillary services of the app store owner, including payment systems, or to accept other supplementary obligations in order to have access to the app store.

9. No app store owner should prohibit third parties from offering competing app stores on the app store owner’s platform, or discourage developers or consumers from using them.

Basically they’re demanding that platforms like iOS and Android be run like PC platforms like MacOS and Windows. But as I’ve been emphasizing all summer long, such a view would require game consoles to surrender the same control. iOS is an app console — a platform where the platform maker controls all software for the platform.

3. Every developer should have timely access to the same interoperability interfaces and technical information as the app store owner makes available to its own developers.

Good luck with that one.

4. Every developer should always have access to app stores as long as its app meets fair, objective and nondiscriminatory standards for security, privacy, quality, content, and digital safety.

Who gets to make these determinations if not the platform owner? To name just one high profile developer and just one of those categories, Facebook has very different standards for privacy than Apple. What the Coalition for App Fairness is arguing is that Apple shouldn’t get to decide the standards for privacy (or security, quality, content, and whatever “digital safety” is) for its own platform — some other unnamed arbiter (perhaps the Coalition for App Fairness itself) would make such determinations.

Apple Marina Bay Sands 

Apple Newsroom, three weeks ago:

Apple today previewed Apple Marina Bay Sands, the first Apple Store to sit directly on the water. Appearing as a sphere floating on the iridescent Marina Bay, the store introduces a new and captivating retail experience at one of the most iconic locations in Singapore.

Entirely surrounded by water, Apple Marina Bay Sands offers uninterrupted 360-degree panoramic views of the city and its spectacular skyline. The sphere is a first-of-its-kind, all-glass dome structure that is fully self-supported, comprised of 114 pieces of glass with only 10 narrow vertical mullions for structural connection. As Apple’s third retail location in Singapore, the new store creates an unforgettable space for customers.

Whenever complaints about Apple pop up — like, say, this weekend’s story about a ripoff app topping the charts in the App Store — some number of people will respond along the lines of, “Well, what do you expect from a company run by a penny-pinching beancounter like Tim Cook?” I.e. that Apple, under Cook’s leadership, has gotten cheap, and the reason for Problem X is that Apple refuses to spend money to fix it.

This is nonsense. Apple is not cheap. A miserly penny-wise/pound-foolish company does not design and build architectural marvels like this new store in Singapore. Apple spends lavishly on what they care about and consider important.

Google ‘Clarifies’ Play Store Policies, Ending Spotify, Netflix, and Apple Music’s Use of Their Own In-App Billing Systems 

Sameer Samat, vice president of product management at Google, on Google’s Android Developer Blog:

We want to be sure our policies are clear and up to date so they can be applied consistently and fairly to all developers, and so we have clarified the language in our Payments Policy to be more explicit that all developers selling digital goods in their apps are required to use Google Play’s billing system.

Again, this isn’t new. This has always been the intention of this long standing policy and this clarification will not affect the vast majority of developers with apps on Google Play. Less than 3% of developers with apps on Play sold digital goods over the last 12 months, and of this 3%, the vast majority (nearly 97%) already use Google Play’s billing. But for those who already have an app on Google Play that requires technical work to integrate our billing system, we do not want to unduly disrupt their roadmaps and are giving a year (until September 30, 2021) to complete any needed updates. And of course we will require Google’s apps that do not already use Google Play’s billing system to make the necessary updates as well.

This whole blog post is rather opaque. Basically they’re saying two things. First, big whales like Spotify and Netflix that have been using their own credit card processing in their Android apps need to switch to Google’s system for the apps they distribute via the Play Store by next year. Most reports are mentioning Spotify and Netflix here, but unless I’m missing something this policy change (or as Google claim, “clarification”) will also apply to Apple Music — the Android version of which charges users who sign up in the app directly, not via Google Play. The fact that Apple forces all subscription streaming services to use Apple’s in-app payments on iOS but doesn’t use Google’s on Android for Apple Music has been a source of much heckling.

Second, in a masterful jujitsu move turning Epic’s own language about “fairness” to its own advantage, Google is making a vague promise about making it easier to use third-party app stores on Android:

In response to that feedback, we will be making changes in Android 12 (next year’s Android release) to make it even easier for people to use other app stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures Android has in place. We are designing all this now and look forward to sharing more in the future!

There are no additional details, just that. But they’re presenting it as the main thrust of today’s announcement, not the move to require Spotify/Netflix/et al to use Google’s payment system for apps in the Play Store.


My thanks to Kandji for sponsoring last week at DF. Kandji is an Apple device management (MDM) solution built exclusively for IT teams at businesses that run on Apple platforms.

It provides granular control over your Apple fleet, keeping your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and even Apple TV devices secure and efficient. Kandji announced iOS 14 support on release day last week, and they look forward to supporting new MDM features for MacOS 11 Big Sur as well. Features include:

  • 150+ pre-built automations powered by Kandji’s MacOS agent that automatically remediate, even if your devices are offline.
  • Zero-touch deployment.
  • Automated app patching.
  • One-click compliance templates.

See a product tour or request access to see a demo and get access to an optional 14-day trial.

The New York Times Has 20 Years of Trump’s Tax Returns 

Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig, and Mike McIntire, reporting for The New York Times:

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

We got him this time for sure.

The Talk Show: ‘Cameras Every Single Where’ 

Special guest Michael Simmons joins the show. Topics include the release of iOS 14, widgets and home screen customization, pricing models for indie apps in the App Store era, and, of course, flying robot cameras.

The show notes offer a cornucopia of retro Mac custom UI theming utilities.

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‎Widgetsmith and The Case of the Missing App Store Bunco Squad

Widgets and custom app icons via Shortcuts are the breakout hit features of iOS 14. This should be not surprising: people love to customize their stuff, and until now you couldn’t really customize much more than your wallpaper and icon arrangement on the iOS home screen. Now you can, and people are digging it. For youngsters who’ve grown up only knowing iOS, this is their first taste of this sort of thing.

“Underscore” David Smith’s new app Widgetsmith is, thus, having a bit of a moment. Widgetsmith is like a widget construction kit:

It starts with a wide collection of highly customizable widgets, which range in function from date, to weather, to astronomy. Each can be adjusted precisely to best fit your desired function and appearance.

This set of widgets can then be dynamically scheduled to appear on your home screen following rules you define. For example, a particular widget could show the weather first thing in the morning, then your calendar during your work day, then switch to your Activity ring progress as you wrap up your day. This lets you take full advantage of each slot on your home screen.

It’s rocketed to the #1 spot on the App Store’s Productivity list. My teenage son, out of the blue, asked me if I’d heard about it — not iOS 14 widgets in general, but Widgetsmith specifically.1 A well-deserved hit product. If you’re having fun playing around with widgets, you should definitely check out Widgetsmith if your neighborhood teenager hasn’t already turned you onto it.

And but so of course the ripoff scammers are already doing their thing, and the App Store is welcoming them. Search for “Widgetsmith” — the exact name of Smith’s app — and the first app in the results is not Widgetsmith but a name-alike ripoff called, I swear, “Widgetsmith - Color Widgets”. This utterly shameless ripoff, replete with a ham-fisted knockoff of the icon to boot, is listed above the actual Widgetsmith, despite the fact that the actual Widgetsmith is currently the #1 app in Productivity and has over 53,000 overwhelmingly positive reviews. The ripoff app has 25 5-star ratings, one 1-star rating, and one written review, which reads, verbatim, “Thank developer for making such great app especially for iOS 14!” The entire description of the ripoff app is written in similar broken English.

[Update 6PM: Two hours later, and the rip-off Widgetsmith is gone.]

Three points.

First, how in the world did this app get approved with this name and with this icon? And how is it still there? The ripoff version is now popular enough to be ranked #7 on the Entertainment list. Where’s the App Store bunco squad? This wouldn’t even be a hard case to crack. It wouldn’t be more obvious that this app is a ripoff if its name were “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version”. Apple keeps telling us how great the App Store is, but ripoffs like this remain commonplace. Apple right now has a promotion touting the benefits of the App Store on the front page of apple.com (gee, I wonder what prompted that?), which states:

The apps you love.
From a place you can trust.

For over a decade, the App Store has proved to be a safe and trusted place to discover and download apps. But the App Store is more than just a storefront — it’s an innovative destination focused on bringing you amazing experiences. And a big part of those experiences is ensuring that the apps we offer are held to the highest standards for privacy, security, and content. Because we offer nearly two million apps — and we want you to feel good about using every single one of them.

I doubt anyone feels good about “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version”, including the hucksters who made it. And if only the App Store were run just as a storefront, this wouldn’t happen. I’m pretty sure that if you go to Apple’s online store and search for “Solo Loop”, or walk into one of their retail stores and ask for one, you’re not going to be presented with a fly-by-night piece-of-crap knockoff named “Solo Loop - Color Bands”, with Apple’s actual Solo Loops hidden behind them.

The App Store is not trustworthy if that includes trusting that the apps in its trending lists and search results are legitimate. If Apple ran a food court like they run the App Store they’d let a McDowell’s open up two stores down from McDonald’s.

Second, even accepting that this app was allowed into the store with this name and this icon, how in the world does it rank ahead of the actual Widgetsmith in search results? How can App Store search be this wrong? It’d be bad enough if “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version” were listed after the actual Widgetsmith, but listed ahead of it? (And to be clear, the placement of “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version” atop the results is not from paid search placement — those are a problem too, but they are marked as ads. This is not an ad.)

Third, go check out the actual Widgetsmith, trust me. 

  1. I’m like, “Yes, actually. In fact, I know the guy who made it! He’s …” and before I could finish, my son’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he wandered away. ↩︎

Luna, Amazon’s Upcoming Cloud Gaming Service, Will Run on iOS Via the Web 

Michael McWhertor, writing for Polygon:

Amazon is throwing its hat into the cloud gaming ring with Luna, a new game streaming technology that’s coming to PCs, mobile devices, and Amazon’s own Fire TV hardware. Starting today, customers in the U.S. can request an invitation for early access to Luna, Amazon announced at its devices event on Thursday.

Luna will be playable on Fire TV, Mac, and Windows PC, and on Android and iOS mobile devices. Amazon specifies that iOS platforms will access Luna “through web apps,” seemingly the company’s solution to Apple’s prohibitive rules for cloud-based game streaming via the App Store.

It’ll be interesting to see how well that works. Maybe that’s Microsoft’s plan for Xbox Game Pass, too? If it works well it really solves a bunch of problems for everyone. But it sort of sounds too good to be true?

The Verge Lists the 13 Biggest Announcements From Amazon’s Fall Hardware Event 

Great rundown of a lot of new products.

New Ring Security Camera Drone, Announced for Next Year, Will Fly Around Inside Your Home 

Dan Seifert, writing for The Verge:

Ring’s latest home security camera is taking flight — literally. The new Always Home Cam is an autonomous drone that can fly around inside your home to give you a perspective of any room you want when you’re not home. Once it’s done flying, the Always Home Cam returns to its dock to charge its battery. It is expected to cost $249.99 when it starts shipping next year. […]

The charging dock blocks the camera’s view, and the camera only records when it is in flight. Ring says the drone makes an audible noise when flying so it is obvious when footage is being recorded.

I can’t remember the last time when a product announcement filled me with such simultaneous “I need that” glee (flying robots for $250!) and “no way is that going in my home” dread. It’s fascinating to me that it was designed in such a way that the camera is physically covered when docked, and that’s promoted as a feature. I’m not surprised — I see that as a feature too.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions about this still unanswered. It’s a big-time pre-announcement.

Apple Now Allowing Band-Only Returns for Ill-Fitting Solo Loops 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

Following customer complaints and the attention the issue received, MacRumors can confirm that Apple has changed its policy and is now allowing bands to be swapped out online without the need to return the entire watch.

Apple clearly just got caught flatfooted on this. Good on them for changing the policy quickly. (From what I hear, the Solo Loop bands are incredibly popular too — which is making it more difficult to keep replacement bands in stock.)

California Moves to End Sales of New Gas-Powered Vehicles by 2035 

Adam Beam, reporting for the AP:

California will outlaw sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday, a move he says will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% in the nation’s most populous state.

His plan would not ban people from owning gas-powered cars or selling them on the used car market. But it would end the sales of all new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks in the state of nearly 40 million people.

“Pull away from the gas pumps,” Newsom said in announcing his executive order to state regulators to draw up guidelines. “Let us no longer be victims of geopolitical dictators that manipulate global supply chains and global markets.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Newsom’s order will hurt the economy and is “yet another example of how extreme the left has become. They want the government to dictate every aspect of every American’s life.”

One of the above takes is really, really dumb.

WatchOS 7 Lets You Change Your Exercise and Stand Hour Goals 

Kirk McElhearn:

Since the earliest Apple Watch, you have been able to change your move goal (the red ring), but there was no way to change the exercise goal (the green ring) or the stand goal (the blue ring). Now, in watchOS 7, this is possible. […]

It’s about time that Apple allows people to make these changes. There are many people who simply can’t do 30 minutes of exercise a day, and others who are frustrated that the watch only counts 30 minutes. So set your own goals, and close your rings more easily.

I wonder if part of Apple’s motivation for adding this customization this year is sleep tracking — if you wear your Apple Watch to sleep, you’ve got to find a good two hours or so per day to charge it while you’re awake. For me, that charging time is typically right after I get up, when I’m drinking coffee and catching up on news and messages. It doesn’t affect my ability to hit my move and exercise goals, but I get robbed of at least one stand hour every single day, and sometimes two or three.

And there are some jobs — say professional drivers — where you can’t take hourly breaks to stand. It never seemed right to assume that 12 stand hours was reasonable for everyone, even though it’s a very fair default.

Untitled Geese Game 

Speaking of Panic, they publish the indie sensation Untitled Goose Game, which got a nifty update this week:

Hello, I’m Nico Disseldorp. I’m part of House House, the videogame company who made that Untitled Goose Game. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a game where you play as a horrible goose who causes a big commotion in a small village.

Tomorrow, the game is getting a free update so that two players can play through the game together as a pair of horrible geese.

When it came to adding a new goose to the game, there were a few big things we had to do, and lots and lots of small things.

This post is on Sony’s PlayStation blog, but the new two-player mode for Untitled Goose Game is available everywhere — Mac + PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox. The post is a great bit of insight into the thinking and work behind turning a solo game into a two-player game.

I don’t play a lot of video games but man, I just love Untitled Goose Game. It’s weird and fun and a very clever game. In a way I can’t really explain, it makes me think of Ted Lasso. Something about being fun and unexpected and original in a way that isn’t cynical or ironic.


Speaking of powerful professional Mac-assed Mac apps, Panic’s Nova text editor shipped, and it is glorious:

If we’re being honest, Mac apps are a bit of a lost art. There are great reasons to make cross-platform apps — to start, they’re cross-platform — but it’s just not who we are. Founded as a Mac software company in 1997, our joy at Panic comes from building things that feel truly, well, Mac-like.

Long ago, we created Coda, an all-in-one Mac web editor that broke new ground. But when we started work on Nova, we looked at where the web was today, and where we needed to be. It was time for a fresh start.

Customizable both visually and functionally, fast, gorgeous, and fun. Nova exemplifies everything great about making Mac apps. And like any great professional tool, Panic put as much work into the documentation as they did the software itself. They even made this delightful intro video.

Fascinating and very clever pricing model too. Nova costs $99 (or $79 to upgrade from Coda, Nova’s predecessor). If you want, that can be a one-time purchase that includes up to a year of updates, and after that, the version of Nova you have is yours to keep. Or, you can subscribe for $49/year after your initial post-purchase year is up, and you’ll keep getting updates in perpetuity. If you elect not to pay the annual fee, you can get back on the upgrade train subsequently just by paying the $49 fee when you’re ready. It’s very similar in spirit to Sketch’s pricing. The big difference between Nova and Sketch’s ongoing renewal pricing and pure subscriptions is that if you choose to stop paying, the version of the app you already have will keep working until it becomes technically obsolete. (Also noteworthy: this user-friendly, developer-sustaining pricing is not possible on the Mac App Store, and thus neither Nova nor Sketch are on the Mac App Store.)

Pixelmator Pro Gets AppleScript Support 

From the Pixelmator blog:

AppleScript is the Apple-created scripting language that lets you directly control apps using instructions written in intuitive, English-like terms. And almost every part of Pixelmator Pro is now scriptable, so for pretty much anything you can do with the app, you can now script those same tasks. Say you have tens or even hundreds of images. You might need to export and optimize them, or change the color of certain objects in them, or maybe even add annotations, taking the text from a Numbers spreadsheet and automatically placing it in Pixelmator Pro. Thanks to AppleScript support, you can now do all that, plus a whole lot more.

In our quest to make AppleScript support as great and full-featured as possible, we collaborated with Sal Soghoian, the legendary user automation guru, who served at Apple for 20 years as the Product Manager of Automation Technologies, including AppleScript, Services, the Terminal, Apple Configurator and Automator, among others.

Fabulous news for Mac power users. When’s the last time a major pro app added serious AppleScript support? Pixelmator even commissioned Soghoian to create a great tutorial that serves as both an introduction to AppleScript generally and scripting Pixelmator Pro specifically.

You can say “But AppleScript is so old and it’s such a weird frustrating language” — and you’d be right. AppleScript is really old. It’s palpably the product of a bygone era. It’s one of the last classic Mac OS era technologies that’s still kicking and relevant. But it’s what we’ve got. Clearly, Apple doesn’t care enough about professional tool automation to create an altogether new scripting system, but they care enough to keep AppleScript going. AppleScript’s continuing survival is quite unusual when you think about it.

Chatology Bites the Dust With Big Sur 

Speaking of Flexibits, some sad news:

After more than 7 years, Chatology is being discontinued due to major changes with Messages in the upcoming release of macOS Big Sur.

Chatology is no longer available for purchase but should continue to work on macOS Catalina and earlier.

The “major changes” are the rewrite of Apple’s Messages app in Catalyst. From the Mac’s perspective, it really is an all-new version of Messages. Messages has been through a lot of changes over the years — longtime Mac users will recall that it started life as iChat all the way back in August 2002* — a most excellent client for AIM and other instant messaging platforms. One thing iChat was never good at, though, was search, and that’s the gap Chatology filled — and in fact continues to fill for anyone not yet using Big Sur.

Search still isn’t great in Messages, but it’s a lot better than it used to be, and for me at least works pretty reliably with Messages in the Cloud. My big problem with search in Messages isn’t about finding a needle in the haystack that is one’s Messages history, it’s about the UI of the search results when it finds a lot of needles and I’m looking for one in particular. As a dedicated search tool, Chatology excelled at that sort of winnowing of results — of search within search, if you will. Messages’s built-in search doesn’t even try to be good at it.

* A good month for debuts.

Fantastical’s iOS 14 Widgets 

Speaking of MacStories, here’s Ryan Christoffel on the latest update to Fantastical:

As you can see, there’s an option here for everyone. Additionally, all widgets can be configured to show the exact data you want, in many cases taking advantage of Fantastical 3’s calendar set feature, by which the app lets you group together sets of calendars and/or task management accounts. Widgets containing events or tasks can be tied to your preferred calendar set, and you can optionally have them show or hide events, tasks, and the weather. Widgets containing a month view can have a heat map activated to show at a glance which days on the calendar are busier or more free; this heat map is additionally tied to a specific calendar set. Finally, even the simple Icon and Date widgets can be configured to show or hide the month and today’s weather.

It’s a lot of style, size, and content options, but when you go configure them, it’s all very sensible. Fantastical’s debut widget support feels like a nice set of calendaring-oriented Lego bricks. At their best, iOS 14 widgets are at the intersection of usefulness and tinkering fun. The widgets for Apple’s own built-in apps are like pre-built toys, but the good third-party widgets let you customize your own out of sensible pre-built pieces, and Fantastical’s exemplify that mindset.

See also: Flexibits’s own deep dive blog post.

Latest AirPods Pro Firmware Includes Support for Spatial Audio 

John Voorhees, writing last week for MacStories:

AirPods Pro firmware version 3A283 is currently rolling out to users with two new features: spatial audio and automatic device switching. […]

I tested the feature with my iPhone 11 Pro Max and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and it worked with both, even though Apple only mentions iPhone models on its iOS 14 preview page. In my tests, I played the latest episode of Ted Lasso, a TV+ show that supports multi-channel audio. I also tried HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s going to require more testing, but the feature seems to support any multi-channel audio source, regardless of the video streaming provider.

As Ted Lasso played, I turned in my chair and got up, and walked around my office. With spatial audio turned on, which you can do by long-pressing the volume slider in Control Center in the iOS or iPadOS 14 betas, the source of the sound seemed to come directly from my iPad that was sitting on my desk. Next, I switched to watching on my iPhone and moved it as I walked around my office. The entire time the sound seemed to be coming directly from the iPhone.

Very cool, very fun, and in my testing — also against an episode of Ted Lasso, which, if you haven’t watched it yet, is one of the best new TV shows in years — it feels very natural, not gimmicky or distracting. The spatiality just feels right.

Also, is it just the placebo effect, or did Apple greatly improve Transparency mode in this latest firmware? I typically wear my AirPods Pro while I’m out walking around town, and I prefer Transparency mode to Noise Cancellation while I’m perambulating so I can hear what’s going on around me. It could be my imagination, but it seems to me that with this latest firmware Transparency mode is magically better — a lot less white noise from wind. There used to be a baseline background whooshiness that is now just gone. When I pause my podcast or music, it’s like I don’t even have earbuds in at all. I just … hear.

If anyone knows whether this is actually new and improved, let me know.

Rogue Ads From Google Prompt You to Download a Spurious Text File 

Ben Lovejoy, writing for 9to5Mac:

An increasing number of people are finding a wide range of websites — including ours — are asking permission to allow downloads to your Mac from googlesyndication.com …

The problem is a rogue ad that has made it through to the Google ad network, which is used by a great many websites. If you do allow the download, it’s just a harmless text file, but it’s annoying to have to keep hitting Cancel to block it.

This should not just never happen, it should not be possible to happen. If your ad network can foist a “harmless text file” download, it can foist any sort of file download.

More Adventures in Solo Loop Sizing

Impeccable timing on my part last night:

This makes me suspect that many are using Apple’s measuring tool inaccurately, or printing it out at the wrong scale, or both, and perhaps Apple should clarify the printed instructions. The current instructions simply read:

Cut and wrap the tool around your wrist, snug but not too tight.

What those instructions don’t make clear, but perhaps should, is that I think you’re supposed to use the tool to precisely measure the circumference of your wrist, not to simulate the circumference of what you think would be a comfortable watch band. Think about how a tailor measures your chest or waist — you’re not cinching a tourniquet, but you don’t want any slack at all.

Apple today updated its Solo Loop PDF sizing tool. The sizes remain exactly the same, but the instructions have been clarified, much as I suggested, and are now accompanied by a helpful illustration. They now read:

Cut the tool. Then wrap it tightly around your wrist where you typically wear your watch. You can use tape to hold the wider part in place. Make sure the tool feels snug and doesn’t slide up or down.

No more ambiguous “snug but not too tight”. Now they’ve made clear that it should wrap tight enough not to slide around. Apple also clarified what to do if your wrist seems to fall between sizes:

Note the number the arrows point to — that’s your band size. If the arrows point to a line, choose the smaller of the two numbers closest to the line.

A few people have wondered why Apple doesn’t just map fluoroelastomer Sport Band sizes to Solo Loop sizes. I can see why Apple doesn’t do that — they can’t assume everyone already has access to an Apple Watch with a Sport Band, and even for people who do have access to one, Apple can’t assume it’s the right size watch (38/40mm vs. 42/44mm). And to further complicate matters, each Sport Band comes with two sizes for the side with the holes: “S/M” and “M/L”. So that’s four separate mappings from Sport Band holes to the new Solo Loop sizes. That’s complicated. But it’s no longer a safe assumption that everyone has access to a printer, either, so let’s figure out the mappings here.

It turns out Sport Band holes do map exactly to the new Solo Loop sizes. That makes sense, when you think about it, but it hadn’t occurred to me until today to just lay Sport Bands next to the measuring tool. The distance between the holes in every Apple Sport Band is exactly the same as the distance between the 12 sizes of Solo Loops on Apple’s measuring tool.

[Update: My measurements for the smaller 38/40mm Sport Bands had an off-by-one bug1 when I originally published the photo and table below. Sorry about that. I believe they are correct now.]

[Update 2: Don’t overthink these photos. The top of the bands aren’t supposed to line up. My methodology was simple. I tried all four Sport Band combinations on my own wrist: 40 and 44mm watches, with both the S/M and M/L bands. Then I lined up the Sport Band hole that fit my wrist best with the Solo Loop size that I know fits me best (size 7). That’s it. You line up the Sport Band hole that fits you best with the Solo Loop size that fits you best and the other hole-to-Solo-Loop-size mappings just fall into place. The fact that the tops of the bands don’t line up when you do this is irrelevant.]

Here are two photographs to illustrate the mappings. First, these black Sport Bands are for smaller Apple Watches (38/40mm):

Two black 40mm Apple Watch Sport Bands, one S/M and one M/L, laid next to a printout of Apple’s PDF sizing tool for Solo Loop bands.

These gray Sport Bands are for larger Apple Watches (42/44mm):

Two gray 44mm Apple Watch Sport Bands, one S/M and one M/L, laid next to a printout of Apple’s PDF sizing tool for Solo Loop bands.

No matter which width and length, all Sport Bands have 7 holes. The following table shows how those holes correspond to Apple’s new Solo Loop sizes:

38/40mm 42/44mm
S/M 1–7 3–9
M/L 4–10 6–12

To me, the photographs above make the mappings much more obvious than the table. It practically demands an illustration, lest you get lost between counting Sport Band holes and counting Solo Loop sizes.

The range of wrist sizes for the Sport Bands corresponds exactly to the new Solo Loops — the first hole on the 38/40mm S/M Sport Band is a size 1, and the last hole on the 42/44mm M/L Sport Band is a size 12. 

  1. Here’s my mistake. It was really dumb, like any good off-by-one bug. I have a slew of old Sport Bands from various Apple Watches over the years, but not as many actual spare watches. And the spare watches I do have are mine, and thus are 42/44mm models. When I tried the smaller 38/40mm Sport Bands on my wrist, I snapped those bands onto my 44mm Apple Watch, rather than bother my wife or son to borrow one of their smaller 40mm watches, thinking it wouldn’t matter, because I happen to know the watch connectors will properly snap into place for all straps on all watches. It doesn’t look right, width-wise, but functionally you can securely connect a small Apple Watch band to a large Apple Watch, and vice versa.

    The obvious problem: trying small Apple Watch bands on a large Apple Watch body didn’t account for the fact that the larger watch body spreads the watch connectors a few extra millimeters apart. Hence the off-by-one bug. Duh. ↩︎

PRC State Newspaper China Daily: ‘Proposed TikTok Deal Is a Dirty and Underhanded Trick’ 

China Daily, an English-language arm of Chinese state media:

What the United States has done to TikTok is almost the same as a gangster forcing an unreasonable and unfair business deal on a legitimate company. […]

China has no reason to give the green light to such a deal, which is dirty and unfair and based on bullying and extortion. If the US gets its way, it will continue to do the same with other foreign companies. Giving in to the unreasonable demands of the US would mean the doom of the Chinese company ByteDance.

Effectively, it sounds like they’re telling Trump to go pound sand.

How ‘Naked Ballots’ Could Become Pennsylvania’s ‘Hanging Chads’ 

Jonathan Lai, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania, a critical battleground state that’s seen as increasingly likely to determine who wins the White House, last week ordered officials to throw out “naked ballots” — mail ballots that arrive without inner “secrecy envelopes.” Pennsylvania uses a two-envelope mail ballot system: A completed ballot goes into a “secrecy envelope” that has no identifying information, and then into a larger mailing envelope that the voter signs.

It’s unclear how many naked ballots there will be, because this is the first year any Pennsylvania voter can vote by mail, and most counties counted them in the June primary without tracking how many there were.

“Naked ballots” sound like fun in general, but in this case, they sound like a hold-your-breath potential nightmare in the making. This is seen as a potential problem for Democrats because, thanks to you-know-whose drumbeat of anti-mail-voting nonsense, there’s a huge partisan split in Pennsylvania regarding who plans to vote by mail. I voted by mail in the primary in June, and the instructions are pretty clear about putting your ballot in the unmarked secret envelope, which in turn goes into the outer envelope that you sign and return. But it would be a lot simpler and inherently more error proof if there were just one envelope — or if ballots were counted regardless of whether they were placed in the “secrecy envelope”. It’s really a privacy envelope for the voter, so the fact that they voted can be verified by someone who doesn’t get to see who they voted for, not a measure of election integrity.

Anyway, spread the word about these “secrecy envelopes” to anyone you know in Pennsylvania. Mail voting is new here, so it’s best to make people widely aware of this rule. The other election-related rulings from our state supreme court were good news for the franchise, though:

The decision ordering them thrown out was part of a trio of rulings Thursday that, among other things, extended the deadline for voters to send mail ballots back, permitted the use of drop boxes for voters to return them, and removed the Green Party’s presidential ticket from the ballot.

Adventures in Solo Loop Sizing

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors, “New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop”:

Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person gets a snug fit. To get the right sizing, Apple offers a printable tool [PDF] and also measurement comparisons so you can estimate size, but as it turns out, that sizing isn’t always accurate and Apple’s returns for ill-fitting bands ordered with one of the new Apple Watches are a hassle.

Customers who chose a Solo Loop or a Braided Solo Loop along with an Apple Watch Series 6 or SE and have a poor fit can’t just return the band for a new size — the entire Apple Watch has to be returned since it’s considered a set.

Unfortunately, there are limited supplies of the new Apple Watch Series 6 models and the new bands, so customers forced to make a return are now having to wait from late October to late November for a new Apple Watch, depending on the model chosen.

This sucks, but you can see how it happened. I think this is the first situation where Apple has been not just hindered, but outright bitten by COVID-era restrictions. First, it’s obvious these bands are better sized in person than using a paper ruler. But second, exchanges are better facilitated in person too.

Starting a few years ago, when you buy a new Apple Watch, the watch + band bundle is treated as a single SKU, but the watch and band are in separate boxes inside an outer cardboard wrapper. The band in its own box seems like something you ought to be able to exchange independently of the watch, but it isn’t sold that way. This has worked fine to date, because none of Apple’s bands prior to the Solo Loops are sized precisely. All their other bands are adjustable, and to cover a wide range of wrist sizes, some come in two sizes. Apple’s Sport Band, for example, comes in “S/M” and “M/L” sizes, but Apple just includes both sizes when you buy one.

There’s a reason why no watch bands from any watch brand I’m aware of are sized as precisely as Apple’s new Solo Loops. It’s a huge logistical problem compared to adjustable watch bands, and the whole thing is premised on people knowing their correct size — which is a function both of their actual wrist size and their preference for how loose or tight they prefer bands to feel.

Based on what I see on Twitter and in various public forums, it seems like most people with ill-fitting Solo Loops are winding up with ones that are too loose, not too tight. Justine Ezarik measured her wrist as a 5, but Apple sent her size 3’s and 2’s as review units, and the 2’s fit her perfectly. (Again, Apple PR’s size guessers are freakishly good.) This makes me suspect that many are using Apple’s measuring tool inaccurately, or printing it out at the wrong scale, or both, and perhaps Apple should clarify the printed instructions. The current instructions simply read:

Cut and wrap the tool around your wrist, snug but not too tight.

What those instructions don’t make clear, but perhaps should, is that I think you’re supposed to use the tool to precisely measure the circumference of your wrist, not to simulate the circumference of what you think would be a comfortable watch band. Think about how a tailor measures your chest or waist — you’re not cinching a tourniquet, but you don’t want any slack at all. Here’s me measuring my wrist.

But I’ve seen reports from folks who used Apple’s tool and wound up with Solo Loops that are too tight, and I’ve also seen reports from people who prefer the rubber Solo Loop in one size but the Braided Solo Loop in a different — usually smaller — size. So again, like buying shoes, there’s no substitute for trying them on in person. Which, alas, is not an option for a lot of us at the moment. 

Xbox X Series One X Secret X Edition 

Jay Peters, writing for The Verge:

Today, Microsoft launched pre-orders for its upcoming next generation console, the Xbox One X. Sorry, I meant the Xbox Series X. Can you blame me? There’s only one word of difference between the two names, and it’s the one in the middle. There are also three X’s.

I might not be the only one who gets them confused, though. (Microsoft itself has, but I digress.) Despite today being pre-order day for the Series X (reminder: the new one), the One X (the old one) had a banner day on Amazon as well, at one point up 747 percent on Amazon’s “Movers & Shakers” sales charts.

Xlear as mux.

RBG on Learning From Nabokov 

From a 2011 interview by Bryan A. Garner for The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing:

Scribes: How did you originally cultivate your skills as a writer?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I attribute my caring about writing to two teachers I had, not in law school but as an undergraduate at Cornell. One was a teacher of European literature. His name was Vladimir Nabokov. He was a man in love with the sound of words. He taught me the importance of choosing the right word and presenting it in the right word order. He changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence. And I had a kind and caring professor, Robert E. Cushman, for constitutional law. I worked for him as a research assistant. In his gentle way, he suggested that my writing was a bit elaborate. I learned to cut out unnecessary adjectives and to make my compositions as spare as I could. To this day, I can hear some of the things Nabokov said. Bleak House was one of the books we read in his course. He read aloud the opening pages at our first lecture on the book — describing the location of the chancery court surrounded by pervasive fog. Those pages paint a picture in words.

Scribes: Did Nabokov live to see you become a judge?

RBG: No.

Scribes: Did you stay in touch with him after you left Cornell?

RBG: Not after he wrote Lolita, a huge success, and went off to Switzerland to catch butterflies.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in 2016:

Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Better Know a Ballot: How to Vote in Election 2020 

Speaking of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, they’ve put together a how-to-vote website with information and links for all 50 states, and an ongoing series of state-specific videos hosted by Colbert. Funny and useful — and thus perfect for sharing.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Hosts a Focus Group With Real Trump Supporters 

Speaking of hidden camera pranks on dumbasses:

A Late Show sent Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to do a focus group with actual Trump supporters to find out what they think about some fake Trump campaign ads.

Four years ago I wrote “I will say it flatly: Trump voters are ignoramuses, bigots, and/or fools.” These folks hit the trifecta.

Quibi Is Looking to Sell Itself, the Least Surprising News of the Day 

Peter Kafka, writing for Recode:

Quibi was supposed to be revolutionary: A video service that was supposed to fill the gap between YouTube and HBO by bringing short, “premium” clips starring celebrities like Liam Hemsworth and Chrissy Teigen to your phone, for a price.

But that was in the spring. Now, Quibi might be headed to a fire sale: Just six months after launching — and after raising $1.8 billion — Quibi has started looking for a buyer. It’s a stunning admission that the high-profile service hasn’t found enough traction to continue on its own.

Quibi was a bad idea poorly executed. Launching phone-only was idiotic. “It’s sort of like Netflix or HBO, but you can only watch it on your phone.” What the hell kind of pitch was that? The Quibi concept sounds less like a real pitch and more like a hidden camera prank for dumbass would-be investors.

Quibi could fix the stupidity of its phone-only launch premise, and I think they already have. But the execution problem is that the same clueless taste that led them to launch with a phone-only app spearheaded all of their content decisions. Quibi’s shows and movies stink. All of them. Has anyone told you “Hey you gotta watch this show on Quibi”? No — because there’s nothing good on Quibi.

Bad shows on a poorly-conceived platform with a stupid name. $2 billion right down the toilet.

Microsoft Remains ‘Committed’ to Bringing Xbox Game Pass to iOS  

Mike Peterson, writing for AppleInsider:

“We’re committed to bringing Game Pass to all mobile phones out there, including Apple phones,” Spencer said. “We’ll continue the conversations and I’m sure we’ll be able to get to some resolution.”

When asked about why Microsoft has spoken out against Apple’s policies, Spencer said that it wasn’t a financial issue related to Apple’s 30% of in-app purchases. Instead, the Xbox chief said it was because Game Pass — and cloud gaming services as a whole — aren’t allowed on Apple’s mobile devices in their current form.

I said from the start that this wasn’t about the money. Most observers assumed it was about the money, and I think Microsoft itself assumed it would be about the money, which is why they seemed surprised Apple wouldn’t approve Game Pass in its platform-on-a-platform form. But it was really about control — Apple doesn’t want to allow meta platforms on iOS.

Apple’s updated App Store Guidelines show the way forward: break each game into a standalone iOS app, and submit them to the App Store. It sounds like Microsoft is going to try to play ball with those new rules.

Microsoft to Acquire ZeniMax Media and Its Game Publisher Bethesda Softworks, Makers of Fallout, Doom, Quake, and More 

The biggest under-the-radar political coup of the year is the fact that Microsoft somehow escaped being called to testify at the big House antitrust hearing two months ago. I’m not saying this acquisition is legally problematic, I’m just saying it’s exactly the sort of thing the committee claimed — rightfully — to be looking at.

ExtremeTech: ‘Apple Books TSMC’s Entire 5 nm Production Capability’ 

Joel Hruska, reporting for ExtremeTech:

TSMC won’t have to worry about finding additional customers for its 5nm line any time soon. If reports are true, Apple bought the entire production capacity for the iPhone, iPad, and other refreshed devices it has recently launched or will launch in the coming weeks. Apple hasn’t refreshed the iPhone yet this year, but it’s expected to do so in October, and the company has had a lock on TSMC’s 5nm production for months.

TSMC will build 5nm chips for the iPhone 12, iPad Air, 5G iPad Pro, and any future MacBook or iMac systems Apple launches with its own custom ARM silicon.

Not just MacBooks and iMacs. All Macs. They’re going to be busy.


My thanks to Hey for sponsoring last week at DF. You’ve probably heard about Hey, but here’s how they describe it (and capitalize it):

Email. It feels like a chore. It’s overwhelming, it’s messy, it’s relentless. It’s necessary, but hopelessly broken.

That’s why we fixed it.

Introducing HEY. HEY’s fresh approach transforms email into something you want to use, not something you’re forced to deal with.

HEY puts you back in control. You decide who can — and can’t — email you. HEY is packed with workflows, not workarounds, that help you cut back on the emails you get, and focus on the ones you want.

There’s nothing else out there like it. Give it a shot — it’ll change your relationship with email for the better.

I have a lot to say about Hey, and I plan to write a lot more about it soon. Briefly though, I’ll just say this: when I hear that someone “reinvented” something like email, I roll my eyes and take it with a very large grain of salt. But Hey truly is like nothing else I’ve ever seen for email. It feels a lot more like email was back in the ’90s, when it felt fun. I switched my public address for DF reader email to Hey when it debuted back in June, and I haven’t looked back. It makes me want to check for new mail rather than dread it — a feeling I haven’t had about my public email since the very early days of DF. Hey is that transformative.

‘Dissents Speak to a Future Age’ 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view.

Ginsburg’s dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, a 5-4 decision in 2012 in which the Court’s conservative majority invalidated key portions of the Voting Rights Act, is one for the ages. This line is perfect:

Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.

‘While You’re at It, Make It Sing’ 

David Post, who twice served as a law clerk for Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Most of what I know about writing I learned from her. The rules are actually pretty simple: Every word matters. Don’t make the simple complicated, make the complicated as simple as it can be (but not simpler!). You’re not finished when you can’t think of anything more to add to your document; you’re finished when you can’t think of anything more that you can remove from it. She enforced these principles with a combination of a ferocious — almost a terrifying — editorial pen, and enough judicious praise sprinkled about to let you know that she was appreciating your efforts, if not always your end-product. And one more rule: While you’re at it, make it sing. At least a little; legal prose is not epic poetry or the stuff of operatic librettos, but a well-crafted paragraph can help carry the reader along, and is always a thing of real beauty.

She had the kind of fierce integrity that I think we all would want to see in a judge; she was always determined to get it right, to do right by the litigants and to do right by the law. She had her biases and her blind spots; we all do. But I have often said that if my life were on the line, I’d be happy if she were on the bench, because she would be as fair-minded when weighing the evidence as one could ever ask for.

Apple Watch Series 6: Graphite Is the New Black

One of the numerous lamentable aspects of product introductions in the coronavirus era is the lack of any sort of post-keynote hands-on access to the products. Apple’s product photography is nonpareil, but there are some things you need to see in person. Color is one. And for how things feel, well, you obviously need to have whatever it is in hand — or in this case, on wrist.

With this week’s new products, the ones I was most interested in seeing, feeling, and trying in person were: the Graphite stainless steel Series 6 Apple Watch (how dark is it? how polished?), the new Solo Loop and Braided Solo Loop bands (how stretchy are they? how comfortable? better than the regular Sport Bands or just different?), and the new Leather Link strap (how’s it compare to the Leather Loop?).

Apple sent me the following products for review, which arrived early Wednesday morning — without having asked me if I had any specific requests:

  • Graphite stainless steel Series 6 (44mm)
  • Graphite Milanese Loop
  • Solo Loop (black)
  • Braided Solo Loop (black)

The advantage, perhaps, of having boring but very consistent taste is that I’m very easy to predict. While what Apple sent wasn’t an exact match for my personal “what I’m most interested in” list, it was remarkably close, and sending the Milanese Loop instead of the Leather Loop is better for the single biggest question on my mind — evaluating the Graphite stainless steel finish.

But that’s not all. Part of the thing with the Solo Loops is that they’re rather precisely sized — they stretch to take on and off, but they’re meant to fit your wrist in their unstretched state. Going by Apple’s print-and-cut-out DIY sizing PDF, the difference between each size is less than 6.6 mm. According to Apple’s paper tool, I should take a size 7, but I’m closer to an 8 than a 6.

They sent me each of the Solo Loops in two sizes: 7 and 8.

And, indeed, the size 7 fits me perfectly. The size 8 straps fit OK, but they’re loose — not little-kid-wearing-their-dad’s-watch loose, more like someone-who-prefers-a-slightly-wiggly-fit loose.

Whoever on the Apple’s Watch team decided which sizes to send me absolutely nailed it. It’s uncanny. I checked with a few of my fellow hacks and Apple sent them the exact right sizes too. Nobody was asked to measure their wrists, nobody was asked which hole they use in the regular Sport Bands. I can’t get over this. I feel like I just lost $5 to a carnival barker who correctly guessed my age to the exact year, and I want to get back in line to bet another $5 to see if he can guess my weight.

Graphite Stainless Steel

In addition to the wrist-size guessers, I would like to nominate the color-naming team at Apple for a nice bonus this year. They do good work.1

Graphite is an excellent name for this stainless steel finish. It is darker, but it is not nearly black. Describing where Graphite lies on the spectrum compared to the other dark metallic finishes in Apple’s product line really does require words, not photographs. I mean, compare Apple’s product photography for the Space Black Series 6 in stainless steel (only available in Hermès models this year) with Graphite Series 6 in stainless steel. Apple’s photos make them look indistinguishable. For posterity, I’ve saved copies of Apple’s product shots of the Series 6 in Graphite, Space Black Hermès, and Space Black Titanium (which I very much like, but which really ought to be called Space Gray, because it’s definitely not black).

In real life, the difference is very clear. Apple’s photography captures Graphite very accurately, but makes Space Black look much lighter than it actually is, to accentuate its polished surface in comparison to Space Gray aluminum and Space Black titanium. (I don’t have access to a new Series 6 in Space Black, but I do own Space Black Series 3 and Series 0 watches, and Apple’s Space Black is the same across Apple Watches old and new.) Apple’s Space Black DLC finish for stainless steel is truly jet black — it’s the polished glossy black of Darth Vader’s helmet. Graphite is more like a darker shade of silver — it is definitely darker than regular “silver” stainless steel, but just as definitely not black.

Another good comparison is to last year’s Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro, which is also stainless steel, dark gray, and highly polished. My Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro is definitely darker than the new Graphite Apple Watch. To my eyes, Apple’s Space Gray steel (as seen on iPhones) plays as black or near-black, unless you put it against something truly black. Graphite never looks black.

Apple’s dark gray stainless steel finishes, on a spectrum:

  • Space Black Apple Watch (darkest)
  • Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro
  • Graphite Apple Watch (lightest)

Outdoors in daylight, my Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro looks closer to Graphite than to Space Black; indoors at night, it looks closer to Space Black than to Graphite.

I think this is a good change for Apple’s “dark” stainless steel watches. Space Black made more sense with the original Series 0–3 form factor, where the displays were sharp-cornered rectangles and had larger bezels. The Space Black finish effectively blurred the seam between the display sapphire and the steel case, and helped disguise the fact that the displays had awkwardly large bezels. The watch as a whole looked like a shiny black monolithic capsule. With the Series 4 redesign that carries through to this year’s Series 6, that sort of disguise isn’t necessary, because the displays are larger and have round corners. Also, Graphite looks more obviously like polished steel than Space Black — they might well be equally polished and glossy, but because Graphite is lighter-colored it has a mirror-like effect that Space Black doesn’t. It’s more glanceably premium-looking. It’s shiny.

That shininess carries through to the Graphite Milanese Loop, which definitely looks darker than the regular Silver stainless steel Milanese Loop, but just as definitely is not black. Again, Apple’s product photography for Graphite is very true to life to my eyes.

My Space Black Link Bracelet — from my original Apple Watch back in 2015, still in pristine condition thanks to the near-imperviousness of the DLC finish — looks fine with the Graphite Series 6 watch. It’s definitely not an exact color match, but on the wrist, it plays. The mirror-like finish of Graphite stainless steel helps it pick up the color of whatever band you pair it with. (Apple still sells the Link Bracelets, in Silver and Space Black stainless steel, and the Space Black one still costs $100 extra — $450 vs. $350.)

Why do the dark Hermès models still use Space Black instead of Graphite? I think that’s to precisely color-match the existing Space Black hardware of Hermès watch bands. But who knows? It really does seem a bit curious that Apple’s dark stainless steel Series 6 models are only available in Graphite, and Hermès’s dark ones are only available in Space Black. [Update: Here’s the Series 6 in Space Black at Hermès’s website. These are slightly different photos, and maybe make the Space Black look more black than the photos on Apple’s site? The hardware elements of the strap certainly do.]

Solo Loops

I know not every Apple Watch owner has a Sport Band, but I assume a general familiarity with it as the canonical, iconic Apple Watch band. Visually, the new Solo Loop looks like the Sport Band on the wrist. But it feels quite different.

For one thing, the Solo Loops are half the weight of the Sport Bands. My regular Sport Bands (42/44mm width, S/M length) all weigh about 25 grams according to my kitchen scale.2 The new rubber Solo Loop weighs only 13 grams and the Braided Solo Loop just 11 grams. (Apple’s velcro Sport Loop bands remain the lightweight kings, at just 9 grams. Personally I’m just not a velcro guy, but I see tons of people wearing these straps.)

In addition to the weight difference, they also feel quite different because they’re more supple. If you hold a Sport Band by the connector and stick it out horizontally, it only droops a little, like a diving board in need of repair. If you hold one of the new Solo Loops by the connector, it droops straight down. It seems axiomatic that stretchiness and suppleness go hand-in-hand, but on the wrist you can really feel it, especially comparing the rubber Solo Loop to a regular fluoroelastomer Sport Band. It’s like baby’s-butt-cheek soft and supple.

In terms of getting them on and off the wrist, I’d say they’re both clearly in “just right” range on the Goldilocks scale. If they were stretchier, they might be a bit easier to get on and off, but I think they’d then be too loosey-goosey on the wrist. Once on your wrist, the Solo Loop bands are very secure. And though Apple has a footnote on its Solo Loop web page stating “Band may increase in length over time”, I suspect they’re a little less stretchy than they could be to make them more durable.

Here’s how Apple describes the Braided Solo Loop fabric:

Made from 100 percent recycled materials, the 16,000 polyester yarn filaments in each band are interwoven with thin silicone threads using advanced braiding machinery then laser cut to an exact length. The 300D construction offers a soft, textured feel and is both sweat-resistant and water-resistant.

(“300D” is the type of polyester — thinner and lighter than 600D.) I can’t do better than Apple’s own description: it does feel soft and textured, and it does seem water-resistant for a fabric band. I soaked mine under a faucet, and it’s not magic — it does get wet. But if you’ve ever worn a NATO-style watch strap, or one of Apple’s old Nylon Woven Bands, or one of my personal favorites for mechanical watches, an Erika’s Original MN strap, you know that these sort of nylon/polyester straps dry fairly quickly even after swimming.

I really like both of these straps, and will probably wind up wearing one or the other with my Apple Watch for the foreseeable future. I hope both prove popular enough to become perennial mainstays in Apple’s band lineup. 

  1. Have you seen how many named colors there are when you customize watch faces in WatchOS nowadays? It’s arguably too many choices from a user interface perspective, but the names for these colors are just chef’s kiss spot-on. ↩︎

  2. Intriguingly, that includes the Nike Sport Bands — you might think that all those holes would make them at least a few grams lighter than their non-perforated brethren, but you’d be wrong. ↩︎︎