Flurry Analytics: 96 Percent of iOS 14.5 Users in U.S. Have Opted Out of App Tracking 

I don’t know, seems low to me.

Google Circumvents Roku Ban by Adding YouTube TV to the Main YouTube App 

Google’s official YouTube blog:

Today, we’re introducing a new feature that gives you access to YouTube TV from within the YouTube app, making it easier to enjoy all the content you love. Existing members can easily access YouTube TV by clicking on “Go to YouTube TV” in the main YouTube app. This update will be available to all YouTube TV members on Roku over the next few days, and we will expand to as many devices as we can over time.

Translation: Fuck you, Roku. We dare you to ban the YouTube app.

Separately, we are also in ongoing, long-term conversations with Roku to certify that new devices meet our technical requirements. This certification process exists to ensure a consistent and high-quality YouTube experience across different devices, including Google’s own — so you know how to navigate the app and what to expect. We’ll continue our conversations with Roku on certification, in good faith, with the goal of advocating for our mutual customers.

Translation: You’ll add hardware support for the AV1 codec whether you want to or not, because we say so.

Roku’s response, via The Verge:

Google’s actions are the clear conduct of an unchecked monopolist bent on crushing fair competition and harming consumer choice. The bundling announcement by YouTube highlights the kind of predatory business practices used by Google that Congress, Attorney Generals and regulatory bodies around the world are investigating. Roku has not asked for one additional dollar in financial value from YouTubeTV. We have simply asked Google to stop their anticompetitive behavior of manipulating user search results to their unique financial benefit and to stop demanding access to sensitive data that no other partner on our platform receives today. In response, Google has continued its practice of blatantly leveraging its YouTube monopoly to force an independent company into an agreement that is both bad for consumers and bad for fair competition.

Translation: Fuck us? No, fuck you, Google.

(Anyway, I was on Roku’s side in this dispute until they pluralized “attorney general” that way. Come on, Roku.)

Apple Hires Stella Low, Formerly of Cisco, as New Communications Boss 

John Paczkowski, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Apple has hired a new vice president of worldwide corporate communications. Stella Low, former communications chief at networking giant Cisco, will take on the role, which has been unfilled since late 2019.

A tech industry veteran, Low has done stints at Unisys and Dell, where she served as senior vice president of communications. She’ll report directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook. […]

Low will succeed Steve Dowling, who served as Apple’s head of corporate public relations for 10 years before departing in September 2019. And her tenure will give a welcome break to Apple Fellow Phil Schiller, who has been overseeing the company’s public relations operation since Dowling left.

I’m sort of surprised they went outside, because it’s Apple. But also sort of not surprised because there didn’t seem to be any internal candidates contending for this gig. If they were going to fill this spot from within it wouldn’t have taken so long.

Jim Dalrymple:

The big question for someone at this level at Apple is not qualifications, but whether or not they fit the Apple culture. That will be her biggest hurdle — it starts and stops there.

Culture is always the issue at Apple for outsiders. Remember John Browett, who lasted only six months as chief of Apple Retail? His explanation: “I just didn’t fit within the way they ran the business. For me, it was one of those shopping things where you’re ejected for fit rather than competency.” Angela Ahrendts lasted five years in that role, but I never got the feeling that she ever quite jibed with Apple’s culture. Deirdre O’Brien — who’s been at Apple for decades and replaced Ahrendts as head of retail — feels like a natural.

Steve Dowling came to Apple after running CNBC’s Silicon Valley news bureau, but he was at Apple for 11 years (including 10 running corporate comms) before his five-year stint as PR chief. Dowling got Apple.

‘Tesla Privately Admits Elon Musk Has Been Exaggerating About “Full Self-Driving”’ 

Exaggerating or straight-up lying, you make the call.

Script Debugger 8 

New version of Late Night Software’s amazing Script Debugger:

You want your computer systems to be simple, reliable and automatic. Script Debugger is the integrated development environment that makes that happen by making your AppleScript coding easier, faster, and more transparent. And now Script Debugger runs natively on M1 Macs, with full support for universal applets, Dark Mode, and themes.

For anyone who uses AppleScript seriously, Script Debugger is a veritable bargain at $99 (with generous upgrade pricing for registered users of versions 7 and 6). And even if you’re just an AppleScript tinkerer, Script Debugger 8 now has a free-to-use Lite mode that is so much better than Apple’s own Script Editor.

A good rule of thumb: it’s fair to gripe about the various idiosyncrasies and anachronisms in AppleScript, but try using Script Debugger before you complain.


70/30 Is Fine for Me, but Not for Thee

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge last week:

Microsoft is shaking up the world of PC gaming today with a big cut to the amount of revenue it takes from games on Windows. The software giant is reducing its cut from 30 percent to just 12 percent from August 1st, in a clear bid to compete with Steam and entice developers and studios to bring more PC games to its Microsoft Store. […]

These changes will only affect PC games and not Xbox console games in Microsoft’s store. While Microsoft hasn’t explained why it’s not reducing the 30 percent it takes on Xbox game sales, it’s likely because the console business model is entirely different to PC. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo subsidize hardware to make consoles more affordable, and offer marketing deals in return for a 30 percent cut on software sales.

This thing about the console gaming platforms being inherently different from other computing platforms is exactly what Epic has been arguing to justify their objection to the 70/30 split on iOS and Android but not the exact same 70/30 split on PlayStation, Xbox, or Switch — despite the fact that Fortnite generates far more revenue on those platforms.

I cry bullshit.

The reason Microsoft cut its commission on games in the Windows Store but not on Xbox isn’t because Xbox has a different business model. It’s because Xbox has been a completely closed system ever since it debuted 20 years ago, and Windows is effectively completely open — and on that open Windows platform, Valve’s Steam is the leading store for games. Competition from Steam (which still takes 30 percent from game sales) drove Microsoft to lower its commission in the Windows Store. There is no Steam for Xbox, nor any other alternatives. Xbox has competition, but only against other platforms, not within the Xbox platform itself. Microsoft would be a lot more likely to lower its commission on Xbox games in its own Xbox store if they also allowed alternative app stores or subscription game-streaming services on Xbox, but I don’t think they’d budge on the 70/30 Xbox split even if they were selling Xbox hardware for a healthy profit.

The Switch retails for $250–300. PlayStation 5 retails for $400–500. Xbox Series X is $500, and lower-specced Series S is $300. Apple’s iPod Touch starts at $200, and iPads start at $329. The iPhone SE, which debuted last year with the then-top-of-the-line A13 chip, starts at just $400.

Yes, we know Apple makes high profit margins on iPhones. And, among numerous juicy nuggets spewing from the Epic v. Apple trial, we now have a Microsoft executive — VP of business development for gaming and entertainment Lori Wright — testifying under oath that they’ve never “earn[ed] a profit on the sale of an Xbox console”. But legally speaking: So what? Is Microsoft saying that if they were able to turn a profit selling Xbox hardware they’d reduce their commission on game sales? Or open Xbox to competing app stores and game-streaming services? (Spoiler: no, they’re not saying that.)

How exactly is the $300-ish Nintendo Switch a different thing altogether than a $300-ish iPad or iPod Touch? Just because most companies make no money selling razors but reap profits by selling blades at high margins doesn’t mean a company that does sell its razors for a profit is legally or even ethically obligated to sell its blades for lower margins.

You can argue that the 70/30 split is too high, but it holds no water to argue that it’s too high only for iOS and Android, but not for Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch. 


Facebook Remains a Right-Wing Amplification Tool 

Worth remembering, amidst all the Republican claims that Facebook’s continuing exile of Donald Trump from its platforms is proof that the company is biased against Republicans, that its algorithms are clearly biased in favor of them because Facebook optimizes for engagement above all else, and angry right-wing partisan misinformation is addictive content for wingnuts.

New York Times columnist Kevin Roose tracks the top-performing link posts on Facebook every day, and every day, they are dominated by one thing. Not sports. Not celebrity gossip. Not straight news. What dominates is right-wing punditry. Today’s list:

  1. Franklin Graham
  2. Ben Shapiro
  3. Ben Shapiro
  4. Dan Bongino
  5. Ben Shapiro
  6. Ben Shapiro
  7. Dan Bongino
  8. The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond
  9. Thin Blue Line
  10. Ben Shapiro

Yesterday’s:

  1. Franklin Graham
  2. Ben Shapiro
  3. Ben Shapiro
  4. Dan Bongino
  5. Dan Bongino
  6. NPR
  7. Ben Shapiro
  8. Ben Shapiro
  9. Ben Shapiro
  10. Ted Cruz

Facebook’s continuing ban of Trump isn’t because they’re biased against Trump supporters — it’s despite the fact that they cater their algorithms to attract Trump supporters.

Kara Swisher on Trump’s Continuing Exile From Facebook 

Kara Swisher, writing at The New York Times:

In general, I have considered the case of Mr. Trump to be much less complex than people seem to think. And it has been made to appear highly complicated by big tech companies like Facebook because they want to exhaust us all in a noisy and intractable debate.

Mr. Trump should be seen as an outlier — a lone, longtime rule breaker who was coddled and protected on social media platforms until he wandered into seditious territory. He’s an unrepentant gamer of Facebook’s badly enforced rules who will never change. He got away with it for years and spread myriad self-serving lies far and wide. […]

In moving the key decision over Mr. Trump out of its own hands (where it belonged), the company has passed along the hottest of potatoes and said good riddance to responsibility. Facebook is pretending that its hands are tied, even though Facebook executives were the ones who tied them.

I, for one, would never have bet that Jack Dorsey would be the one who finally dealt with Trump’s abuse decisively, and that Mark Zuckerberg would be the one who looks utterly feckless. I think Zuckerberg was hoping that Trump would just fade from relevancy once he was out of office. That clearly hasn’t happened, and it’s not going to happen over the next six months, either. Zuckerberg needs to make a decision now.

Yours Truly on Peter Kafka’s ‘Recode Media’ Podcast, Talking Epic vs. Apple 

Peter Kafka was kind enough to invite me on his podcast this week to talk — a little! — about the Epic-Apple lawsuit that started in court this week. I think I articulated pretty well my takes on what Apple should be allowed to do with the App Store and iOS, and what Apple should do with the App Store and iOS. I’m linking here to Kafka’s story for Recode about our discussion, but here are direct listening links for the episode. I say listen before you read, if you have time:

The Art in the Oval Office Through the Decades 

Great visualizations from The New York Times. I like Biden’s choices.

More on Night Shift and Sleep Benefits 

Michael Tsai, regarding that BYU study suggesting that Night Shift doesn’t really offer any sleep benefits:

Sleep benefits or not, I do find it more comfortable. Perhaps BYU’s results differ from previous studies because Night Shift shifts the colors much less than f.lux or blue light glasses.

I’ve long heard from friends and readers who enjoy Night Shift (and f.lux) simply because they feel it reduces eye strain. Comfort is comfort — if you think Night Shift feels easier on your eyes, go ahead and use it. (That’s why so many people use the feature that swaps from light mode to dark mode by time-of-day.) What I object to is the “may help you get a better night’s sleep” claim. Apple should keep the feature but change the language describing it to remove any suggestion that it’s a sleep aid, unless subsequent studies suggest otherwise. Describe it as something that “may reduce eye strain” or something.

For every person who genuinely enjoys Night Shift, I wonder how many people are using it despite thinking that it’s ugly because they believe this description from Apple that it might improve their sleep?

Berkshire Hathaway’s Stock Price vs. 32-Bit Integers 

Alexander Osipovich, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is trading at more than $421,000 per Class A share, and the market is optimistic. That’s a problem. […] On Tuesday, Nasdaq Inc. temporarily suspended broadcasting prices for Class A shares of Berkshire over several popular data feeds. Such feeds provide real-time price updates for a number of online brokerages and finance websites.

Nasdaq’s computers can only count so high because of the compact digital format they use for communicating prices. The biggest number they can handle is $429,496.7295. Nasdaq is rushing to finish an upgrade later this month that would fix the problem.

That number will look familiar to the programmers among you: it’s the limit of an unsigned 32-bit integer. Using 32-bit integers for share prices, with four digits reserved for decimals, isn’t that crazy, though, given that no other stock in the U.S. has a share price that’s even close to the limit:

The U.S. stock with the second-highest share price, home builder NVR Inc., is trading just above $5,100 a share. Using compact formats that take up less memory can make software more efficient, a high priority in the world of electronic stock trading.

At the root of the problem is Mr. Buffett’s decadeslong refusal to execute a stock split of Berkshire’s Class A shares. The 90-year-old billionaire has signed birthday cards to friends with the message, “May you live until Berkshire splits,” according to Fortune magazine.

Update: Worth noting that they’re not using integers to store fractional values — what they’re doing is using 10,000ths of a dollar as their integral unit. The decimal gets shifted left by four digits simply to display prices as dollar values, but the math is all done in 10,000ths of a dollar units.

Not sure what their fix is going to be, but going to 64-bit integers would let them handle per-share prices up to $1,844,674,407,370,955.1615 — over $1.8 quadrillion — which should buy them some time, even if Berkshire continues to grow yet refuses to split.

Nuzzel Is Shutting Down After Acquisition by Twitter 

Tony Haile, writing yesterday at the Nuzzel blog:

Simply cloning a service conceived in 2012 doesn’t make a ton of sense. Instead we’re going to spend a little time working out how the best of Nuzzel should be expressed in 2021. There may be elements of Nuzzel that also belong in the Twitter app or that can take advantage of new internal APIs.

In the meantime, Nuzzel’s app, site and email service will go dark. To those of you who love Nuzzel and are disappointed that we can’t maintain Nuzzel as-is in the interim, I’m as disappointed as you. We explored any number of Hail Marys to make that happen and just couldn’t get there. Looking to the future, Nuzzel’s functionality has always felt like it should be a part of Twitter and I’m excited to help make it so. If you want to help, let us know.

Nuzzel is probably the best Twitter service that most of you have never heard of. The basic idea behind Nuzzel is (was?) that you signed in with your Twitter account, and rather than show you tweets from the people you follow, like a Twitter client would, it showed you links that were posted by the people you follow, sorted by how many people had shared the same article. It’s a remarkably effective way to find good articles. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve posted thousands of linked list items here on Daring Fireball that I discovered via Nuzzel over the years. There’s nothing else quite like it, so here’s hoping Twitter can surface something very similar post-acquisition. (I’m not holding my breath.)

Glenn Fleishman:

Nuzzel has been since it launched nearly the only app I’ve ever let put notifications on my lock screen, and something I consult 20 to 50 times a day. I don’t blame Twitter, though: the model didn’t pan out (though I would have paid $25–$50 a year as a service!).

Andy Baio:

Add me to the list of people bummed that Nuzzel is shutting down on Thursday after Twitter acquired Scroll, its parent company. It was really good at surfacing popular links and articles from your network.

Mike Masnick:

I, of course, found out about this story via Nuzzel, an app I use multiple times a day. This is going to upset my entire news finding process.

Twitter Will Start Prompting Users to Reconsider Tweets Flagged as Angry or Offensive 

Anita Butler and Alberto Parrella, writing on Twitter’s product blog:

People come to Twitter to talk about what’s happening, and sometimes conversations about things we care about can get intense and people say things in the moment they might regret later. That’s why in 2020, we tested prompts that encouraged people to pause and reconsider a potentially harmful or offensive reply before they hit send.

Based on feedback and learnings from those tests, we’ve made improvements to the systems that decide when and how these reminders are sent. Starting today, we’re rolling these improved prompts out across iOS and Android, starting with accounts that have enabled English-language settings.

Somewhere in this, there’s a parody of Mean Streets called Mean Tweets waiting to happen.

Rolling Stone: The 100 Best TV Sitcoms of All Time 

No one is going to agree completely with any such list, but man, this one comes really close to being hard to argue with. I think they got the top 3 exactly right, and the top 10 is pretty close. (I’ll quibble most with The Larry Sanders Show at #10 — I’d have rated it in the top 5, no question — but my profoundly deep affection for that show probably biases me.)

‘These Little Packets of Condiments Become Like Caviar’ 

Fantastic piece from The Ringer: an oral history of “Pine Barrens”, arguably the best episode of The Sopranos.

Trump Suspension From Facebook Upheld by Oversight Board 

Mike Isaac, reporting for The New York Times:

Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court to deliberate the company’s content decisions, said the social network was right to bar Mr. Trump after he used the site to foment an insurrection in Washington in January. The panel said the ongoing risk of violence “justified” the suspension. But the board also said that Facebook’s penalty of an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate,” and that the company should apply a “defined penalty.” The board gave Facebook six months to make its final decision on Mr. Trump’s account status. […]

But while Mr. Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended for now, it does not mean that he will not be able to return to the social network at all once the company reviews its action. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump had unveiled a new site, “From the desk of Donald J. Trump,” to communicate with his supporters. It looked much like a Twitter feed, complete with posts written by Mr. Trump that could be shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The word is blog. He doesn’t have a “new communications platform” — he has a blog. Which is good! He should have had a blog like this all along. This is exactly why being kicked off Twitter and suspended from Facebook doesn’t silence or censor Trump, in the same way that being banned from a restaurant doesn’t starve someone.

BYU Study Suggests Night Shift Doesn’t Help People Sleep 

Cami Buckley, writing for BYU News:

Until recently, claims of better sleep due to Night Shift have been theoretical. However, a new study from BYU published in Sleep Health challenges the premise made by phone manufacturers and found that the Night Shift functionality does not actually improve sleep.

To test the theory, BYU psychology professor Chad Jensen and researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center compared the sleep outcomes of individuals in three categories: those who used their phone at night with the Night Shift function turned on, those who used their phone at night without Night Shift and those who did not use a smartphone before bed at all.

“In the whole sample, there were no differences across the three groups,” Jensen said. “Night Shift is not superior to using your phone without Night Shift or even using no phone at all.”

My theory all along has been that Night Shift just makes your screen look hideously mis-colored.

Facebook and Instagram Apps Ask iOS 14 Users to Permit Surveillance Tracking to ‘Help Keep Facebook Free of Charge’ 

That’d be just adorable if Facebook and Instagram started charging users because of mean old Apple. I’m sure that’s really on the table and this isn’t utterly shameless.

Never Perfect, Indeed 

Alfred Ng and Corin Faife, reporting for The Markup:

Facebook says it will remove ads from several companies that violated its anti-discrimination policy after The Markup discovered companies targeting financial services to specific age groups on the platform. Facebook policy prohibits advertisers from discriminating by age when running ads for things like credit cards and loans.

The Markup’s report was published on April 29. Facebook didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment but reached out to The Markup a day after publication to say that it has since taken action.

“We’re reviewing and removing ads from these businesses that ran in violation of this policy,” Tom Channick, a Facebook communications manager, said in an email sent on Friday afternoon to another Markup reporter, who hadn’t worked on the article. “Our enforcement is never perfect since machines and human reviewers make mistakes, but we’re always working to improve.”

Exactly the sort of thing Mark Hurst was referring to regarding Facebook’s quick takedown of ads from Signal that simply revealed how much they know about you. Discriminatory financial services ads? Give Facebook a week to look into it. Ads that reveal just how creepy surveillance tracking is? They closed Signal’s advertising account.

Signal Ran Instagram Ads That Reveal What They Know About You and Facebook Quickly Banned Them 

Jun Harada, writing on the Signal blog:

We created a multi-variant targeted ad designed to show you the personal data that Facebook collects about you and sells access to. The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea.

Facebook is more than willing to sell visibility into people’s lives, unless it’s to tell people about how their data is being used. Being transparent about how ads use people’s data is apparently enough to get banned; in Facebook’s world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you’re doing from your audience.

So, here are some examples of the targeted ads that you’ll never see on Instagram. Yours would have been so you.

Good point from Mark Hurst:

Facebook breaks the law and says “our enforcement is never perfect.” Sure, because it’s impossible to control their vast platforms.

But @Signal posted FB ads showing surveillance in action, and Facebook disabled them immediately.

Update: It occurred to me after sleeping on this that I’d like to know more about how Signal pulled this off. I’m not saying I need to see source code, but at least some sort of explanation of how the stunt worked. The implication is that while Signal’s ads were running, people were seeing ads individually tailored to their interests. I’d love to know more about how that worked. Were they dynamically generated? I don’t see how that would be fast enough. Were the ads all generated in advance? If so, how many did they make? Did they make, say, 100 oddly-specific ads and then use Instagram’s targeting features to serve each of those ads to the best fit for those oddly specific demographics? Signal has earned our collective trust, but there’s a whiff of “too good to be true” about this stunt — it’s heavy on the schadenfreude but light on details.

Verizon Sells AOL and Yahoo to Private Equity Group for $5 Billion 

Edmund Lee and Lauren Hirsch, reporting for The New York Times:

Yahoo and AOL, kings of the early internet, saw their fortunes decline as Silicon Valley raced ahead to create new digital platforms. Google replaced Yahoo. AOL was supplanted by cable giants. Now they will become the property of private equity. Verizon, their current owner, agreed to sell them to Apollo Global Management in a deal worth $5 billion, the companies announced Monday.

In 2002, Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 billion; they hesitated and walked away when the price went to $3 billion. (Same story says they nearly bought Facebook for $1 billion in 2006 and could’ve had it for $1.1 billion.)

In January 2000, AOL acquired Time-Warner for $182 billion to form a mega media company then valued at $350 billion.

Fortunes change.

Scorecard 

New iOS app from the keen minds at Lickability: a deceptively simple utility for keeping score of tabletop games. Lots to love: AirPlay support (so you can show the score on a TV), $5 pay-once-and-you’re-done pricing, a “no data collected” privacy nutrition label, and the app weighs only 5.5 MB.


Apple and the Built-In Advantage

Marques Brownlee has a great video this week on Apple’s ability to disrupt product categories with better integration. Take a break and watch it if you haven’t already — like everything from MKBHD, it goes down easy.

The basic idea is evergreen, and is in no way specific to Apple. Smaller companies make products that build upon, or fill gaps within, platforms from larger companies. The best of those ideas — ideas that truly would be better “built in”, eventually do get built in. The small innovators need to adapt or die (or get acquired, and become the built-in version).

Brownlee cites Watson, which Apple famously “Sherlocked”. But as Brownlee notes, the version of Sherlock that drew inspiration (to say the least) from Watson was Sherlock 3. Apple was already on the path of building a system-wide search feature into MacOS. And today, it’d be silly to consider MacOS or iOS without Spotlight. A feature like Spotlight is table stakes now, even though Watson was incredibly innovative 20 years ago. (Yeah, that’s right — 20 years!)

Yet today there are a number of Spotlight-like utilities for the Mac that continue to thrive, despite Spotlight being built into the system — LaunchBar, Alfred, and newcomer (and recent DF sponsor) Raycast, to name just three.1 The trick to remaining useful as a Spotlight-like utility after Apple built Spotlight into the OS is to do more. Spotlight is designed for everyone to use — it’s simple and only does simple things. LaunchBar/Alfred/Raycast keep the simple things simple but also make complex things possible (to borrow a line from Larry Wall and Alan Kay).

The problem for a company like Tile — to name one high-profile company that is not pleased by Apple’s entry into its market — is that location tags are inherently simple, and Apple’s Find My network is bigger and better than Tile’s device network. Everything about AirTags is better than Tile, if you’re an iOS user. So it goes. If the answer to the question “Would this add-on be better, and be useful to many users, if it were built into the system?” is yes, you should expect it to be built into the system sooner or later.

If you have a good idea for a third-party product on a big platform, you need to expect that the platform maker will eventually use your idea. If they don’t, maybe it wasn’t that good an idea in the first place. If they do, you should be ready to keep your product viable by going further than the platform maker is willing to go. Target the enthusiast/professional/power user market. If your idea doesn’t have room for an enthusiast/professional/power user tier — hello, Tile — again, maybe it wasn’t that great an idea in the first place, or it was simply a good idea whose time as a viable product has passed. You can say that’s a shame, but it’s hard for me to buy that Tile has been wronged.

Benedict Evans, two years ago:

In 1988, this application let you print spreadsheets… sideways. Today, it’s an option in the print dialogue box. Back then, it cost the equivalent of $150 in 2019 dollars.

Search-and-replace within a spreadsheet was a separate $200 standalone utility. Landscape printing and search-and-replace were innovations at one point. Everything is an innovation at some point. But things that should be built in eventually will be built in, and innovators need to design with that in mind. 


  1. Needless to say, there are no third-party Spotlight-like utilities for iOS or iPadOS, because third-party apps have no ability to run system-wide there. System-wide utilities are, to my mind, one of the defining differences between the Mac and iOS. ↩︎


What Are No-Vaxxers Thinking? 

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

What are they thinking, these vaccine-hesitant, vaccine-resistant, and COVID-apathetic? I wanted to know. So I posted an invitation on Twitter for anybody who wasn’t planning to get vaccinated to email me and explain why. In the past few days, I spoke or corresponded with more than a dozen such people. I told them that I was staunchly pro-vaccine, but this wouldn’t be a takedown piece. I wanted to produce an ethnography of a position I didn’t really understand. […]

This is the no-vaxxer deep story in a nutshell: I trust my own cells more than I trust pharmaceutical goop; I trust my own mind more than I trust liberal elites.

This reminds me a lot of Isaac Asimov’s “cult of ignorance”:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.

The problem is deeply exacerbated by right-wing news media, particularly Fox News, and particularly Tucker Carlson’s top-rated nightly show. Has Anthony Fauci been wrong about some things during the COVID crisis? Yes. Has he been far more right than wrong? Definitely yes. But the Fox News take on Fauci (and the CDC writ large, but it’s very much personal about Fauci) is that he’s an egghead careerist bureaucrat who has been wrong more than right about COVID. That’s just not the case.

MacOS Big Sur 11.3.1 Released, Fixes WebKit Vulnerabilities 

Apple’s release notes for the MacOS 11.3.1 update:

Impact: Processing maliciously crafted web content may lead to arbitrary code execution. Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.

Update: There are now updates for iOS (14.5.1 and 12.5.3) and WatchOS (7.4.1) that fix the same WebKit vulnerabilities.

Point Card 

My thanks to Point Card for sponsoring this week at DF. Everyone loves rewards and benefits on credit cards. But there’s one thing none of us like — interest rates that pile up into debt. Now you can have the best of both worlds with all the points and none of the risk. Point Card gives you unlimited cash back on every purchase and special access to bonus point offers on some of the best brands out there. The whole experience is elevated with Point App which offers concierge-level service in a clean, obsessively-designed, and easy-to-use interface. Everyday spending has never been better.

I mean just take a look at their ad over there in the sidebar: even the cards are obsessively designed.

Update: Point Card has a special offer running through May 9: 10× points on all purchases at Apple.

The Internal Combustion Engine 

Well-written and staggeringly well-illustrated and animated guide explaining how internal combustion engines work, by Bartosz Ciechanowski. Would love to know how he made these animated models.

Update: Ciechanowski: “I did the 3D models in [@Shapr3D] with small post processing in Blender, animations are just done by hand.”

Protocol Previews Next Week’s Epic Games v. Apple Court Case 

Protocol:

Epic v. Apple starts Monday and is estimated to last about three weeks. In total, each side will have 45 hours to present its case. Gonzalez Rogers has been overseeing the case since the beginning and will preside over the trial as well.

The trial will be held largely in person, but with only six people per side allowed in the courtroom at a time. (A few witnesses will testify over Zoom.) Masks have been a contentious issue, with the court ruling that attorneys will be required to wear masks, but witnesses will be given transparent masks for when they’re testifying.

Each witness will wait in a sort of green room before they’re called to the stand. Beyond that, each company also gets a “designated representative” who can be in the courtroom the entire time. That’ll be Tim Sweeney for Epic and Phil Schiller for Apple.

Just in case there was any doubt whether Schiller, in his new role as Apple Fellow, was truly still in charge of the App Store — he is.

Apple Outlines iMac Retail Availability 

As noted by Stephen Hackett, only the green, blue, pink, and silver iMacs will be stocked in Apple retail stores. Yellow, orange, and purple are online-order only. But I wonder if they’ll have display models of the yellow/orange/purples ones, so folks can see them in person before ordering?

Techdirt: ‘Disney Got Itself an “If You Own a Themepark…” Carveout From Florida’s Blatantly Unconstitutional Social Media Moderation Bill’ 

Mike Masnick, writing for Techdirt:

But, it gets worse. Seeing as this is Florida, which (obviously) is a place where Disney has some clout — and Disney has famously powerful lobbyists all over the damn place — it appears that Disney made sure the Florida legislature gave them a carveout. Florida Senator Ray Rodriques introduced an amendment to the bill, which got included in the final vote. The original bill said that this would apply to any website with 100 million monthly individual users globally. The Rodriques amendment includes this exemption:

The term does not include any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex as defined in 509.013, F.S.

In other words, Disney (which owns a ton of companies with large internet presences) will be entirely exempt. Ditto for Comcast (Universal studios) and a few others.

Reminds me of another story I recently read. Florida, along with other Republican-led states, recently passed a law that prohibits companies from banning guns in their parking lots. The Florida version of the law has a unique provision: an exception for companies that store “explosives”, including fireworks.

The Talk Show: ‘The Sour Grapes Commission’ 

Glenn Fleishman returns to the show to talk about last week’s “Spring Loaded” product announcements from Apple: subscription podcasts, AirTags, AppleTV, colorful Apple Silicon iMacs, and the M1 iPad Pros.

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Hello Weather 

Longtime readers know I have a thing for good iPhone weather apps. I find weather apps to be an evergreen playground for design ideas — and that’s more true than ever now with iOS 14 widgets. One of my very favorites in recent years is Hello Weather. It’s attractive, original, and highly useful. (Good iPad support too.) Free to download and use, but they’ve got a Pro tier that unlocks even more, like Apple Watch complications and additional data sources. No ads, and their privacy nutrition label simply states: “Data Not Collected”. Highly recommended.

Roku-YouTube Dispute Escalates 

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Protocol:

Roku is alleging that Google is using the YouTube TV negotiations to push it to enforce hardware requirements for future Roku products that could make Roku devices more expensive. This allegation bears some extra weight because of Google’s own Chromecast TV streaming device, which is currently selling for $20 more than the cheapest Roku streamer. […]

Roku also alleges that Google aims to dictate how the streaming device maker treats voice search results. According to those allegations, Google wants to force Roku to only show YouTube results when someone launches a voice search from within the YouTube app. If, for instance, someone browses YouTube and then decides to listen to music, a voice query like “Play ‘Uptown Funk’” would open the song on YouTube, even if the consumer had set Pandora as their default music app.

Roku has removed the YouTube TV app from their store, but it still works for users who already have it installed.

Google, in its response on the official YouTube blog, doesn’t deny the requirements for the new AV1 codec, but flatly denies the rest of Roku’s allegations:

Our agreements with partners have technical requirements to ensure a high quality experience on YouTube. Roku requested exceptions that would break the YouTube experience and limit our ability to update YouTube in order to fix issues or add new features. For example, by not supporting open-source video codecs, you wouldn’t be able to watch YouTube in 4K HDR or 8K even if you bought a Roku device that supports that resolution.

We can’t give Roku special treatment at the expense of users. To be clear, we have never, as they have alleged, made any requests to access user data or interfere with search results. This claim is baseless and false.

This is remarkably contentious. I don’t see any way to square this up without concluding that one of the companies is flat-out lying.

Flu Has Disappeared Worldwide During the COVID Pandemic 

Katie Peek, reporting for Scientific American:

Since the novel coronavirus began its global spread, influenza cases reported to the World Health Organization have dropped to minuscule levels. The reason, epidemiologists think, is that the public health measures taken to keep the coronavirus from spreading also stop the flu. Influenza viruses are transmitted in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, but they are less effective at jumping from host to host.

As Scientific American reported last fall, the drop-off in flu numbers was both swift and universal. Since then, cases have stayed remarkably low. “There’s just no flu circulating,” says Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for decades. The U.S. saw about 600 deaths from influenza during the 2020-2021 flu season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were roughly 22,000 deaths in the prior season and 34,000 two seasons ago.

These numbers are just ridiculous. It goes to show how much more contagious COVID is than influenza — COVID continued to wreak havoc in the face of precaution that practically eliminated spread of the flu. And it also shows how in the early days of the pandemic — like in New York City here in the U.S. — having no precautions in place allowed COVID to spread like wildfire.

Questions: Will masking during flu season remain a thing here in the U.S.? We know now that COVID spreads primarily through aerosols, but how much of this reduction in influenza is thanks to increased handwashing and sanitizing? I love the idea of making hand sanitizer dispensers at store entrances standard.

Eagerness to Receive Johnson & Johnson Vaccine 

The Washington Post:

There is no government data yet on whether health authorities’ 10-day halt in administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine soured people on the product, and the company declined to discuss the matter. But in spot checks across the country, people seeking vaccines and officials dispensing them appear eager to resume using the vaccine, which is also easier to store and transport.

On Tuesday, for example, 1,355 people at the racetrack chose Johnson & Johnson at the clinic run by Indiana University Health, while 407 took the Pfizer vaccine, according to spokesman Jonathon Hosea. At a homeless program in San Francisco, drugstores in Maine and universities across the country, the same sentiment is largely true.

Great news, if it’s more than just anecdotal — I would love to be proven wrong about this.

ElevationLab’s TagVault 

Sealed, waterproof, durable AirTag case from the fine folks at ElevationLab. $13, cheap!

SolarWinds Renames Itself ‘N-Able’ 

I take it “AirTran” was unavailable.

New 12.9-Inch iPad Pros Are, in Fact, Compatible With Existing Magic Keyboards 

Apple support document:

The first generation of the Magic Keyboard (A1998) is functionally compatible with the new iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation) with Liquid Retina XDR display. Due to the slightly thicker dimensions of this new iPad Pro, it’s possible that the Magic Keyboard may not precisely fit when closed, especially when screen protectors are applied.

I had been wondering about this all week — whether it might work but just not quite close perfectly. Turns out it does.

Apple Q2 2021 Quarterly Results 

Record-breaking all around, but I’ll point to one number: Mac sales went from $5.4B to a record $9.1B year-over-year. Not bad for a 37-year-old platform.

How Pfizer Makes Its COVID-19 Vaccine 

The New York Times:

It’s the start of a complex manufacturing and testing process that takes 60 days and involves Pfizer facilities in three states. The result will be millions of doses of the vaccine, frozen and ready to ship.

The scale of this operation is awe-inspiring.

Project Kiwi: Disney’s Free-Walking Robot Project 

Speaking of Panzarino, he had another killer feature last week — a behind-the-scenes look at a robotic baby Groot from Disney Imagineering:

And even though the expressive eyes are already impressive — the team is not done. Up next on the agenda is a sensory package that allows Kiwi to more fully understand the world around it and to identify people and their faces. This becomes important because eye contact is such an emotive and powerful tool to use in transporting a participant.

Even without the sensing software, I can tell you that the experience of this 2.5ft Groot locking eyes with me, smiling and waving was just incredibly transportive. Multiple times throughout my interaction I completely forgot that it was a robot at all.

Incredible stuff.


Thoughts and Observations on This Week’s ‘Spring Loaded’ Apple Event

Presented in the order in which they were announced:

Apple Card Family and Co-Ownership

An oddity of Apple Card, until now, is that all accounts were solely for individuals. Most credit cards can be shared between spouses, for example. (Maybe a lot more than most — Apple Card is the only card I’m aware of that couldn’t be shared between spouses.) My American Express card also lets my wife and me share it with our teenage son — a feature I know other cards offer too. Worse still, there was a deserved hubbub last year when it turned out that married couples applying for separate Apple Cards were getting very different credit limits, often with women being offered lower credit limits than their husbands. This happened to the Wozniaks, even. Woz!

So at a glance, it seems like Apple Card Family isn’t offering anything new at all — they’re just catching up in an area where they were lacking. But I think they actually are offering something new, with this concept of co-ownership:

“We designed Apple Card Family because we saw an opportunity to reinvent how spouses, partners, and the people you trust most share credit cards and build credit together. There’s been a lack of transparency and consumer understanding in the way credit scores are calculated when there are two users of the same credit card, since the primary account holder receives the benefit of building a strong credit history while the other does not,” said Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Apple Pay. “Apple Card Family lets people build their credit history together equally.”

The key innovation is that there’s no “primary cardholder”. How exactly that will play out credit-wise when couples divorce, I don’t know, but it seems like a clear improvement over the “primary cardholder” model.

Also, if two spouses already have separate Apple Cards, they can now merge them into one co-owned account and keep the higher credit limit and lower APR of the two accounts.

Apple Podcasts

Apple seems to be adding paid subscriptions to Podcasts the right way: it’s an entirely new thing that doesn’t disrupt any of Apple Podcasts’s established support for “regular” podcasts — by which I mean free and open podcasts published over the web using RSS. You can even add paid episodes to a free podcast for a freemium model, and while the paid episodes will only be available to listeners using Apple Podcasts (and paying via iTunes), the free episodes are just in the same RSS feed as before, accessible to any and all third-party podcast players.

Paid podcasts that don’t go through Apple — like my and Ben Thompson’s Dithering — will continue to work as before.

In short, these new subscriptions feel less like steering Apple Podcasts in the proprietary direction of Apple News, and more like adding built-in exclusive website subscriptions to Safari. I like it.

iPhone 12 and 12 Mini, Now in Purple

It’s a nice color.

AirTags

Finally, right? My big question going in was whether AirTags had purposes beyond just helping you find your keys or similar items. The answer is no — they’re just $29 location trackers. That’s not a complaint — their purpose is simple and clear, and I’m all in favor of products with simple, clear purposes.

(Spitball idea that will never happen but would be fun if it did: an AirTags commercial set to Tom Petty’s “Even the Losers”.)

New Apple TV 4K

The big news here is the new remote control. The new A12-based Apple TV 4K box doesn’t really have many new features beyond the A10-based “Apple TV 4K” box that it replaces. It’s more like a classic “speed bump” update. New features like using your iPhone to properly color balance Apple TV’s output for your TV set are built into tvOS 14.5, and will be available on previous-generation Apple TV hardware. The big new feature exclusive to the new hardware is the ability to play 60 FPS HDR content, including via AirPlay from footage shot on an iPhone 12 Pro.

The new remote looks like a winner. Made from aluminum with black buttons, it looks like the true successor to the previous aluminum Apple TV remote. It’s like the black trackpad “Siri Remote” never happened.

What a baffling design that black Siri Remote was. Among its obvious problems: a symmetric layout that made it very difficult to orient in your hand by feel, exacerbated by an edge-to-edge trackpad at the top that can get you into all sorts of trouble on screen if you happen to pick up the remote backwards. Who among us has not accidentally paused a movie when picking up the remote? It’s just a bad design, but to me, the inexplicable part isn’t that Apple shipped it in the first place, but that they stuck with it for over five years. That’s a long time to be shipping a remote control that was nearly universally despised and ridiculed.

The only bad thing I can say about the new remote — which, admittedly, I haven’t actually seen in the flesh yet, and likely won’t until next month — is that it does not include AirTag-like “Find My” support. (I’d call this “inexplicable” but I just used that word.) I misplace my Apple TV remote more often than anything else I own, with the possible exception of my Apple Pencil. Sometimes I’ll absentmindedly carry it out to the kitchen and leave it on the counter while fetching a snack or beverage. Other times it gets lost in the couch cushions — which is crazy because that’s exactly the scenario Apple used for finding lost keys in the AirTags segment of the event. They even had other remote controls down in the hellscape labyrinth of that guy’s sofa. Yet Apple’s own brand new remote, which debuted alongside AirTags, doesn’t support Find My. I can only chalk this up to Apple’s siloed culture — perhaps the team designing the new remote had no idea what the AirTag/Find My teams were up to, and no one thought to bring them together.

Remote control aside, it’s steady as she goes for Apple TV as a hardware platform. Prices are still high compared to competing streaming boxes and HDMI “sticks” — $179 for 32 GB and $199 for 64 GB. The 2015 Apple TV HD — with a now-ancient A8 chip — remains in the lineup for $149. The new remote control is available for $59, which, by itself, costs more than most entire streaming boxes from competitors like Roku and Amazon. (The new remote works with older Apple TV hardware.)

Given Apple’s steady push to get the Apple TV app installed on other companies’ streaming boxes and built into new “smart” TVs, it’s no surprise many of us have wondered if Apple’s interest in its own Apple TV hardware platform was waning. Others feel strongly that Apple needs Apple TV hardware — a stick, a box, whatever — that competes better on price. They should sell something for under $100 at least, right?

Apple’s position is clearly that they’re good with the Apple TV hardware platform as we know it: a premium price for a premium experience. And that “premium price” is only premium compared to other streaming boxes, which are generally ad-subsidized. $180 is pretty low for a computer system from Apple. It’s like the Mac of streaming boxes. You either see it as worth the premium, or you think everyone who buys one is the proverbial fool being parted from their money.

M1 iMac 24-inch

I love the return of vibrant, cheerful colors. I know Apple works on long timeframes for products like these new iMacs, and these colors were probably specified long before most of us ever heard the word “COVID”, but damn if these cheerful colors don’t feel like the perfect message for 2021. My guess is that non-Pro MacBooks will be available in the same or similar colors when they get a new industrial design.

These new iMacs are just 11.5mm thick. How thin is that? Apple Watch Series 6 is 10.7mm thick. These new iMacs are less than 1mm thicker than a goddamned Apple Watch. They’re so thin Apple had to put the Ethernet port on the power adapter — the iMac itself is too thin. I’ve seen a bunch of Debbie Downer-type reactions to this, asking “Who cares how thin a desktop is? Just make it thicker and put more ports on it and stuff.” That’s the same sort of perspective that, 20+ years ago, had critics asking “Who cares what color plastic your computer is?

Making these new iMacs super thin is cool. It’s a statement. From the side they look like big 24-inch iPads. If you don’t think that’s cool and that cool is something Apple should aspire to in its design and engineering, I have no idea why you’re reading anything I write.

Speaking of cool: the desktop wallpapers on the new iMacs are close-up crops of sections from the cursive “hello” (which itself, of course, is a throwback to Susan Kare’s iconic 1984 “hello”).

The new 24-inch iMacs are a great upgrade from the old Intel 21-inch iMacs. They’re not so clearly an upgrade from 27-inch iMacs — 3 diagonal inches is a lot of screen real estate. So my guess is that new iMacs with larger displays are coming. Let’s say 30-inch displays, and the same internals as the upcoming 16-inch and 14-inch truly-pro Apple Silicon MacBook Pros. I think branding-wise, Apple should go in the MacBook direction too: 24-inch display: just plain “iMac”, 30-inch display: “iMac Pro”. The Intel iMac Pro had a starting price of $5,000, but that machine was a one-off anomaly. My hypothetical Apple Silicon iMac Pro of the near future would have a starting price akin to the 16-inch MacBook Pros — somewhere between $2,000 and $2,500.

M1 iPad Pros

Color me a little surprised that the chip in the new iPad Pro models is the M1, not an A14X. That surprise is simply because I sort of filed the “M” in “M1” under “Mac” in my mind. But once you think about it, it makes sense to just use the M1 and the M1 brand. Right now Apple is achieving tremendous scale across its product line with just two new chips from 2020. The A14 powers all iPhone 12 models and the latest iPad Air, and the M1 powers the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, the new iMacs, and the new iPad Pros. Two chips!

The M1 might as well be the “A14X”, though. It’s just a name. But that name has people clamoring for the ability to boot these iPads running MacOS, or to otherwise “run Mac apps” on iPadOS. There’s nothing about putting the M1 in these iPads that makes this easier technically or more likely strategically. It’s just a name for a chip. But there seem to be a lot of people who want to like iPads but who don’t like iPadOS or iPad apps.

What exactly does the M1 do for serious iPad users that the 12X/Z didn’t? I don’t know. One difference is that for the first time ever with any iPad, Apple is advertising RAM. The models with under 1 TB of storage have 8 GB of RAM, the 1 and 2 TB storage models have 16 GB. That’s a lot of RAM for an iPad.

One neat feature exclusive (so far) to the new iPad Pros is Center Stage — a dynamic zoom-to-crop feature for front-facing video calls that expands, contracts, and pans the field of view based on how many people are in front of the camera and where they are. Apple’s demo during the event makes it look really smooth, like having a cameraperson smoothly zooming the field of view in and out, and it’s not just for FaceTime — third-party apps will be able to use it, too.

Unannounced: iOS 14.5

I expected Apple to talk about iOS 14.5 and its new controls for limiting surveillance advertising tracking, but, nope, not a word about it.