Daring Fireball RSS Feed Sponsorship Fall Openings 

Next week is taken, but other than that the next week or so is wide open on the DF RSS feed sponsorship schedule. That includes this current week (which is showing higher than usual traffic, thanks to next week’s Apple event). If you’ve got a product or service you want to promote to DF’s savvy audience, get in touch.

Vesper Sync Shutdown Tonight, Open Source Plans 

Brent Simmons:

  • Data is stored on your device. The app will continue to work even without syncing. You can continue to use the app.

  • You can still export your data. As many times as you want. The Export feature works with the data on your device — it has nothing to do with syncing.

  • We plan to remove the app from the App Store Sept. 15, but you can continue to use the app even after that. The Export feature will continue to work after that.

And:

We will make Vesper for iOS, Vesper for Mac, and Vesper’s JavaScript sync service open source on my personal GitHub account. This code will also be provided as historical artifacts: they’re not intended as active projects. They’re also not intended as examples of how to write apps these days.

Bragi Hits the Panic Button 

Chance Miller, writing for 9to5Mac:

Earlier today, Apple officially sent invites to its iPhone 7 announcement event that will be held next week on September 7th. Shortly after Apple’s announcement, wireless headphone company Bragi announced that it has its own big news coming next week, lending some to believe that Apple might be in the picture…

Bragi today revealed that it has a “big announcement” coming next week on September 5th, just two days before the Apple event. What has really made people speculate, however, is the fact the announcement will occur out of Cupertino, which is also where Apple’s headquarters are located.

That’s stupid. If Bragi had a deal of any sort with Apple, they’d be keeping their mouths shut. And they certainly wouldn’t be announcing anything two days before Apple’s event. And why would Apple need anything from Bragi? Apple just bought a much bigger name in headphones. And why in the world would Bragi schedule an announcement of any sort on Labor Day, a major U.S. holiday?

Here’s what makes sense: Bragi has caught wind of Apple’s imminent wireless AirPods. They’re just like what Gurman reported eight months ago: no-cable ear plugs that come with a smart case for transport and charging. Bragi is trying to jump in front of Apple’s announcement, but the fact that they’re making the announcement in Cupertino on Labor Day makes them look panicked.

Gurman Says No Mac Announcements Next Week 

Mark Gurman and Jungah Lee, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple is holding an event on Sept. 7 in San Francisco. The keynote will focus on upgraded versions of the iPhone, a new Apple Watch with GPS tracking and new health features, and an iOS 10 software update for iPhones and iPads, according to people familiar with the matter. The new Macs are currently expected to be announced at a later date, the people said.

I’m hearing rumblings that review units will be very limited this year.

While the new iPad features aren’t expected until next year, Apple is planning to release some of the new Mac products as soon as October, according to the people. The updated line includes tweaked MacBook Air devices with multi-functional USB-C port technology and iMacs with an option for new graphics chips from Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

An update to the MacBook Air of any sort is a bit of a surprise to me. I really thought the Air was sunsetted.

Wired: ‘How to Digitally Erase All Your Stuff When You Quit Your Job’ 

The article is kind of blah — I’ll bet most DF readers know this stuff already. But the comments from stick-up-the-ass IT professionals are solid gold.

Apple Event: Wednesday September 7 

Jim Dalrymple:

Apple on Monday send out an invitation for a special event to be held on September 7 at 10:00 am. This year’s event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California.

I made a lucky guess.

The visual style of the invitation strongly suggests bokeh, giving credence to what I first heard two years ago: that Apple is shooting for SLR-quality imaging in the iPhone cameras (or at least, alas, the Plus model).

Dalrymple:

There has been speculation that new Macs will also be announced at this event, but I don’t think so. I’ve previously outlined my reasoning for thinking the company will not introduce Macs in September.

Only a fool bets against Dalrymple, so I won’t. It makes sense to me, however, that Apple would announce new Macs alongside the new iPhones. The iPhones are already sharing the stage with the new Apple Watch 2 models, and I got the feeling last year that Apple very much wanted to stick with just one fall event. If Dalrymple is right, though, I would guess the new Macs will be introduced in October — not with an event, but with small-scale private media briefings.

The Verge: ‘Facebook Removes Fake Article About Megyn Kelly From Trending Topics’ 

This headline is charitable at best — the real headline should be “Facebook fires human curators, false headline immediately goes viral”.

Update: Ars Technica nails it: “Facebook Fires Human Editors, Algorithm Immediately Posts Fake News”.

The Talk Show: ‘I Do Feel the Pea’ 

New episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, with special guest Guy English. Topics include Tim Cook’s five year anniversary as Apple CEO, Steven Levy’s behind-the-scenes look at Apple’s AI and machine learning efforts, Apple’s decision to change the pistol emoji from a realistic revolver to a toy squirt gun, and the demise of Vesper. Also: our favorite Looney Tunes characters.

Sponsored by:

  • Casper: An obsessively engineered mattress at a shockingly fair price. Use code thetalkshow for $50 toward your mattress.
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  • Fracture: Your pictures, printed directly on glass.
On Beta Testing 

Brent Simmons:

This style of beta testing isn’t something I just accidentally fell into. It came from the mid-’90s. UserLand had just released Frontier’s free “Aretha” version, and there was a mailing list for people using Aretha.

I’d never been a part of anything like that. There were all these people talking about everything about the app. It was collegial and interesting and fun — and Dave Winer, the developer, was so open about everything, and he listened. It seemed like a miracle to me that such a thing could exist. I loved it. I’d been waiting all my life for such a thing, for a community like this.

I threw myself into it, then ended up working with Dave informally on some small projects, and later took a job at UserLand (which was my dream job, for sure). […]

It might seem funny to think of beta lists as having children and grandchildren, but the NetNewsWire list was very much the child of the Frontier list, and the Glassboard and Vesper lists were the grandchildren.

The best beta group I’ve ever been a part of is BBEdit’s. I got invited in the late 90’s after having sent a series of bug reports and feature requests. I’ve been on it ever since. If Frontier’s beta testing mailing list is one of Vesper’s grandparents, BBEdit’s is another. Even better, it’s one that’s still thriving.

University of Chicago Strikes Back Against Campus Political Correctness 

Richard Pérez-Peña, Mitch Smith, and Stephanie Saul, reporting for the NYT:

The anodyne welcome letter to incoming freshmen is a college staple, but this week the University of Chicago took a different approach: It sent new students a blunt statement opposing some hallmarks of campus political correctness, drawing thousands of impassioned responses, for and against, as it caromed around cyberspace.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” John Ellison, dean of students, wrote to members of the class of 2020, who will arrive next month.

Good for them.

Unique ‘Celebration’ Apple I Sells for $815,000 

Apple hardware is overpriced.

Spotify Is Burying Musicians With Apple Music Exclusives 

Lucas Shaw and Adam Satariano, reporting for Bloomberg:

Spotify has been retaliating against musicians who introduce new material exclusively on rival Apple Music by making their songs harder to find, according to people familiar with the strategy. Artists who have given Apple exclusive access to new music have been told they won’t be able to get their tracks on featured playlists once the songs become available on Spotify, said the people, who declined to be identified discussing the steps. Those artists have also found their songs buried in the search rankings of Spotify, the world’s largest music-streaming service, the people said. Spotify said it doesn’t alter search rankings.

Hardball.

Update: Spotify is not diddling with search results. Promotion, yes. Search, no.

Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ Amplifies Discord in the Music Business 

Ben Sisario, reporting for the NYT:

Despite its idiosyncratic format, “Endless” — one long streaming film, whose songs (different from those on “Blonde”) were not available separately — fulfilled Mr. Ocean’s contractual obligations to Def Jam, enabling him to release “Blonde” through Apple without any involvement from the label, according to three people with knowledge of Mr. Ocean’s deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. The financial arrangement between Mr. Ocean and Apple is not known. Apple, Def Jam and a representative for Mr. Ocean’s managers all declined to comment.

Record labels, more and more, are unnecessary middlemen, especially for well-known acts.

Nikkei Asian Review: ‘Intel Aims to Challenge TSMC Over Apple Chip Orders by 2018’ 

Cheng Ting-Fang, reporting for Nikkei Asian Review:

Intel’s recent pledge to expand its business making chips for others highlights its ambition to snatch chip orders for Apple’s popular iPhones from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. as early as 2018, industry experts said.

Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker by revenue, announced earlier this month that it will license technology from British mobile chip designer ARM with the aim of securing more business from smartphone companies. LG Electronics will become the first smartphone company to adopt Intel chips following the ARM deal.

Would be a crazy story if Apple switched from Intel to AMD for x86 CPUs for the Mac, but switched to Intel for CPUs for iOS.

(Via MacRumors.)

Intriguing Rumor: ‘Apple Could Use Custom x86 SoC Made by AMD’ 

Gian Maria Forni, writing for Bits n Chips, back in October:

According to our sources, Apple is pondering about using custom x86 CPUs in its next iMacs and MacBooks, during 2017-2018. Nowadays it’s hard to avoid the use of x86 ISA in high end and professional personal computers, but at the same time Intel CPUs are too expensive if we compare these with ARM SoCs.

So, Apple’s target is to realize a complete x86 custom SoC family, like Sony and Microsoft did with their consoles. AMD is the perfect partner to do this.

Most of the speculation about Apple taking control of its Mac CPU is about switching the instruction set to ARM. That’s possible, of course, but problematic in many ways. (You wouldn’t be able to use Boot Camp to boot into Windows, for example.) This is just an idle rumor from a year ago, but it’s intriguing to think about Apple designing their own SoCs for Mac with the help of AMD.

Steven Levy, Behind the Scenes on Apple’s AI and Machine Learning 

Lengthy profile on Apple’s AI efforts by Steven Levy, for Backchannel:

Probably the biggest issue in Apple’s adoption of machine learning is how the company can succeed while sticking to its principles on user privacy. The company encrypts user information so that no one, not even Apple’s lawyers, can read it (nor can the FBI, even with a warrant). And it boasts about not collecting user information for advertising purposes.

While admirable from a user perspective, Apple’s rigor on this issue has not been helpful in luring top AI talent to the company. “Machine learning experts, all they want is data,” says a former Apple employee now working for an AI-centric company. “But by its privacy stance, Apple basically puts one hand behind your back. You can argue whether it’s the right thing to do or not, but it’s given Apple a reputation for not being real hardcore AI folks.”

This view is hotly contested by Apple’s executives, who say that it’s possible to get all the data you need for robust machine learning without keeping profiles of users in the cloud or even storing instances of their behavior to train neural nets. “There has been a false narrative, a false trade-off out there,” says Federighi. “It’s great that we would be known as uniquely respecting user’s privacy. But for the sake of users everywhere, we’d like to show the way for the rest of the industry to get on board here.”

This is the crux of the whole piece, to my mind. The AI community is largely focused on privacy-invasive data collection and doing the computation in the cloud. Apple’s approach protects privacy by keeping the data (and performing the computation) on the device.

The other interesting angle in the piece is about most researchers wanting to publish their work, whereas Apple is attracting those who are more interested in the products themselves. But Apple is allowing their researchers on differential privacy to publish their work.

Import Your Vesper Notes Into Ulysses 

Götz Fabian:

A few days ago, the creators of the notes app Vesper announced to end its development and eventually shut down the sync server. Being in this industry ourselves, we can understand that making this move isn’t easy, and we’re sorry for both the developers and the Vesper users who grew fond of the tool. If you’re a Vesper user and considering Ulysses as a future replacement, this post is for you. To ease migrating your notes from Vesper to Ulysses, we’ve created a small tool which lets you do exactly that.

Very cool. It even keeps your tags and photo attachments.

Jonathan Poritsky’s Elegy for Vesper 

Jonathan Poritsky:

But Vesper was innovative in two key ways: tags and photos. No note taking app before or since has treated photos as well. And I can find no replacement for the way it handled tags. […]

The brilliance of Vesper’s photo handling was that it didn’t treat photos as inline elements. They were almost like metadata, an aspect of your note. The photo itself could be the whole note.

When Apple added photos to Notes last year, many said it was the death knell for Vesper. But Notes treats photos differently. They are inline, part of the note. They are not the note itself. For me that’s not as attractive. It adds complexity where I’d rather have none.

He’s got a wonderful story at the end, about a particular note he wrote in Vesper. I don’t want to spoil it.

Blackbox 

Blackbox:

Blackbox is a new shipping company from the creators of Cards Against Humanity.

Our mission is to help you sell and ship stuff directly to your fans for a fraction of the cost and effort of doing it yourself. Blackbox works like a co-op: if we all go in together, we get the cheapest pricing, the fastest shipping, and the best service. The shipping is fast. We pay your sales tax. You can customize the packaging and the inserts. It’s pretty great.

We think the future will favor independent creators selling their own products, without publishers or bloodsucking middlemen taking most of the money. In fact, we’re betting the company on it.

It even has a cool domain name.

The Macaroni in ‘Yankee Doodle’ Is Not What You Think 

Michael Waters, writing for Atlas Obscura on a bit of British pop culture slang from the 1760s.

Yours Truly on Anil Dash’s ‘Pop Life’ Talkshow 

I was this week’s guest on Anil Dash’s Pop Life, on Talkshow. It’s like texting in public. It was fun, and there were some excellent questions from the audience. I tell the story about the first time I met Steve Jobs.

White Sox Change the Name of Their Ballpark to ‘Guaranteed Rate Field’ 

Also, 2017 will officially be the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.

Five Years of Tim Cook’s Apple in Charts 

Jan Dawson:

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Tim Cook’s appointment as permanent CEO at Apple — he was appointed CEO on August 24th, 2011. As a result, we’ll no doubt see quite a few retrospectives this week looking back over his time at Apple, and evaluating his tenure. As context for that analysis, I wanted to share some numbers about Apple in the quarter and year before he took over, and compare it with numbers for the quarter and year ending in June of this year. Not all the applicable data sets go back that far — Apple has changed its reporting segments in at least a couple of ways during this five year period, but we’ll mostly try to compare before and after as closely as possible.

Outstanding work. Both the factual comparisons and his analysis. Particularly eye-opening to me is Apple’s increase in R&D spending as a percent of revenue, and the correlating drop in margins. Dawson writes:

That reversed the trend under Steve Jobs, and the increased investment in R&D is roughly equivalent to the drop in margins during this time — Cook has made a massive bet on R&D and by implication on future products.


Vesper, Adieu

What Happened

In December 2012, I started a company with my friends Brent Simmons and Dave Wiskus. We named it Q Branch. In June 2013, we launched our first and only product: an iPhone notes app called Vesper.

Yesterday, we announced that development was ceasing, and we’ll soon be shutting down our sync server. I am terribly sad about this. I love Vesper. I use it every day. I mean that in the present tense. I still use it. When we pull the plug on the sync server, I’ll stop, but until then it’s my go-to notes app. In my career, the only things I’ve done that I’m prouder of are writing Daring Fireball and the creation of Markdown.

What went wrong was very simple. We never made enough money. Why we didn’t make enough money, what we should have done differently to make more money — those are complex questions (which I’ll tackle below). But what actually sunk Vesper was not complicated. Even as a relatively popular app at a relatively high price (for iOS), revenue was never high enough. Brent took a job at the excellent Omni Group in September 2014, and from that point onward the writing was on the wall. We could have, and probably should have, shut Vesper down a year ago. But we loved it too much. Or at least I did.

When we started at the end of 2012, Brent still had a few months to go working on Glassboard. Dave and I spent that time designing Vesper for iPhone. Our basic plan was:

  1. Build Vesper for iPhone. Sell it for around $5.
  2. Build a sync system, either on top of a service like iCloud or Dropbox, or by rolling our own system.
  3. Build Vesper for Mac. Sell it for around $20.
  4. Build Vesper for iPad.
  5. Maybe build a web version. (Would depend largely on how we implemented syncing in step 2.)

In hindsight, I am now convinced this plan was fundamentally flawed. The market for paid productivity apps for iOS is simply too difficult. There are exceptions, of course. Fantastical and Tweetbot are two examples from my own iPhone’s first home screen. But paid apps for iOS are the exception. The norm is clearly free apps, with in-app purchases. This is completely clear now, but it should have been clear to me three years ago.

If I could do it all over again, here is what I would do differently. I would start the exact same way, with Dave and me designing Vesper for iPhone. But then, before Brent wrote a single line of code, we would immediately design Vesper for Mac.1 And that’s the product we’d have built and shipped first. There is downward pressure on pricing for Mac apps, but the market is still there for quality apps that cost $20–100 (or more). The plan would have looked like this:

  1. Build Vesper for Mac. Sell it for around $20.
  2. Build a sync system.
  3. Build Vesper for iPhone.
  4. Build Vesper for iPad.
  5. Maybe build a web version.

The biggest advantage to this plan would have been that (I think) we’d have made far more money in step 1 than we actually made by doing Vesper for iPhone first. I can’t prove that, of course. I could be wrong. But I’m pretty sure I’m right. That would have made a big difference in terms of having revenue to continue working to turn Vesper into a multi-platform system.

We didn’t know it at the time (and couldn’t have), but this alternate schedule would have also saved us a lot of work. iOS 7 was introduced at WWDC 2013, just a few days after we shipped Vesper 1.0. In many ways, Vesper 1.0’s look and feel was ahead of the iOS 7 curve — Charles Perry wrote a very kind piece calling Vesper 1.0 “the first app for iOS 7”. But it wasn’t. iOS 7’s appearance was so different that even an app like Vesper that was designed with many of the same ideals needed a thorough redesign. So we spent the summer of 2013 not building a sync system, but rather building an iOS 7 version of Vesper. If we had built the Mac app first, we wouldn’t have had to build Vesper for iPhone twice.

iOS 7, in addition to looking all-new, introduced new architectural features like size classes. In the pre-iOS 7 era, building an iPad app was like building a second app. You could bundle it together with the iPhone version in a universal binary, but from a developer’s perspective it was nearly twice the work. If we had started with iOS 7, we might been able to natively support the iPad from day one on iOS, so the actual schedule might have looked like this:

  1. Build Vesper for Mac. Sell it for around $20.
  2. Build a sync system.
  3. Build Vesper for iOS 7, with native support for iPhone and iPad.
  4. Maybe build a web version.

I’m a firm believer that you always need some good luck to succeed. We would have been luckier, timing-wise, if we had done the Mac app first, because we would have been able to build the iOS version for iOS 7 right from the start.

We suffered an enormous chicken-and-the-egg problem with our decision to keep to a small team and self-fund our efforts through revenue from the app itself. A notes app is only of interest to many people if it’s available both on their desktop and mobile device. The number one reason, by a long shot, that people didn’t buy Vesper is because it wasn’t available for the Mac. I get that. It makes total sense. Hell, I even cheat, personally, and run Vesper on my Mac in the iOS Simulator. The bottom line is we needed revenue from the first version we built to fund development of the next version, and I think we would have made money from the Mac version.

Ultimately, what we should have done once we had versions of the app for both Mac and iOS is switch to a subscription model. Make the apps free downloads on all platforms, and charge somewhere around $15/year for sync accounts. That’s where the industry is going. It would have been more sustainable, and on iOS it would have solved the “free” barrier. What most people do when looking for, say, an iPhone notes app, is search the App Store for “notes”, and then start downloading free apps until they find one that seems good enough. There are so many free apps in a category like notes that paid ones — even if they’re just $1 — never get a look. Again, I’m not complaining. That’s just the way the App Store is.

It’s also entirely possible that a notes app was never going to work, financially. That it was a bad idea from the get-go, and no matter how nicely designed the app was, no matter how lovingly well-crafted, no matter what price point we had picked (higher or lower), it wasn’t going to work financially.2 But given how well Vesper did do, I firmly believe it was possible that we could have made it, if we’d done it differently. And I’m convinced the best chance would have been with free Mac and iOS apps and a paid sync service.3

Miscellaneous Other Points

  • We’ve been asked “Why now?” Why not just let Vesper and Vesper Sync keep going as they are? The biggest factor is that we have recurring costs: primarily, the sync server. We’re losing money every month.

  • The most common comment I’ve seen since our announcement yesterday is something to the effect of “This is why I wish you had used iCloud instead of rolling your own sync service.” Long story short, we thoroughly investigated iCloud as a sync solution. And in 2013, iCloud just didn’t offer what we needed. I’ve never seen anyone say good things about iCloud Core Data. I know developers who had simply nightmarish experiences with iCloud Core Data. CloudKit wasn’t announced until WWDC 2014, and didn’t ship until later that year. If we were starting today, I’ll bet we’d wind up using CloudKit.

    We also wanted to keep our options open for a web-based version of Vesper — or, less likely but still possible, Android or Windows versions. That’s possible in 2016 with CloudKit Web Services, but it wasn’t possible using iCloud in 2013. As delineated above, I have many regrets about Vesper, but creating our own sync system isn’t one. In 2013 it was the right thing to do. (And, I’ll add, Vesper Sync is the best sync system I’ve ever used. It was fast and reliable right from the moment we started testing it internally. I can brag about it because I had nothing to do with it — it was entirely Brent’s work.)

  • Vesper is now free in the App Store. If you were ever curious about it, but were reluctant to pay, you might as well check it out.

Q Branch

I quoted Brent Simmons yesterday:

I loved working on Vesper. It was one of the great software-making experiences of my life. We’d get on a roll and it was wonderful.

And now it hurts to turn it off, but it’s time.

So short, but so true. I really enjoyed working with Brent and Dave. When we were on a roll I could tell that we were doing good work, and it was fun. I’ve spent the better part of my career working solo. It was great to be on a team. I don’t remember who came up with the names “Q Branch” (I think that was Brent), or “Vesper” (I’m pretty sure that one was Dave), but in both cases, as soon as the name was proposed, the whole team said, Yes, that’s the name. That’s it.

With “Vesper” we were thinking things like beautiful, smart, clever, strong. In the end, the name was more apt than we knew, because it also carries heartbreak


  1. The reason I think we were correct to *design* Vesper for iPhone first, before designing the Mac version, is because mobile is more limited. There are technical constraints and screen real estate constraints. A Mac app can do anything an iOS app can do; the opposite is not true. By designing the iPhone app first, we’d be far more likely to avoid the mistake of adding features in the Mac version that were difficult or impossible to do on iOS. Any app you intend to bring to mobile should be designed for mobile first. ↩︎

  2. It certainly didn’t help Vesper’s chances that Apple put a lot of much-needed love into Apple Notes last year, especially the iOS version. I still have many complaints about Apple Notes, but overall it’s pretty good, both on Mac and iOS. ↩︎︎

  3. If we had gone this route, where people had paid for the first version of Vesper as a paid app and we subsequently switched to a subscription plan and made the apps free downloads, we would have given existing users a free year or two of subscription service. ↩︎︎


Mylan’s EpiPen Price Gouging 

Matt Novak, writing for Gizmodo:

EpiPen, the life-saving allergy product, is now a $1 billion a year business for Mylan, a drug company that’s currently enduring a wave of bad publicity over the extraordinary surge in EpiPen pricing. In 2007, an EpiPen cost about $57. Today that price has skyrocketed to over $600 — all for about $1 worth of injectable medicine.

EpiPen is an emergency medication that’s stabbed into a person experiencing anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can be triggered by anything from bee stings to food. I’ve never used an EpiPen, but as someone with a peanut allergy who once made his own trip to the ER after a particularly unfortunate restaurant experience (“these Chinese beans sure are crunchy…”) I can tell you that anaphylactic shock is really no fun.

Mylan is able to do this because they have no competitors in the U.S. Not one. If you need an EpiPen, you’re buying theirs. It’s despicable. Long-time DF readers may know that my son has a severe dairy allergy, so we’ve been buying EpiPens for years. Our insurance covers two per year, but after that we’re buying them out of pocket. We’ve never had to use one, knock on wood, but they expire every year, and we need a set for home and a set for school. We can afford it, but many parents can’t.

I don’t know how the executives at Mylan sleep at night.

Pinterest Acquires Instapaper 

Instapaper CEO Brian Donohue, on Hacker News:

Based on the comments I’ve read below the main concerns seem to be that Instapaper will either be shutdown or materially changed in a way that effects the end-user experience. I can tell you that neither of those are the plan for the short-term or long-term of the product, and I am personally looking forward to providing you with the same great service under a new owner.

We’ll see. Pinboard developer Maciej Ceglowski:

The “we sold to Pinterest but nothing is changing” email is Instapaper’s equivalent of reassuring grandma about her move to a nursing home.

Vesper Shutting Down 

Brent Simmons:

I loved working on Vesper. It was one of the great software-making experiences of my life. We’d get on a roll and it was wonderful.

And now it hurts to turn it off, but it’s time.

I’m working on a postmortem — or maybe more of a eulogy — but for now, I can’t express my feelings any better than those two short paragraphs from Brent.

XDA: ‘Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Still Delivers Embarrassing Real-World Performance’ 

Eric Hulse, writing for XDA:

The same lag carries onto scrolling performance in many applications, and infrequently in every application after heavy continuous usage. The phone does not get too hot, mind you, but we do notice that after continuous sessions, it progressively begins misbehaving. Scrolling behavior in particular is behind what you’d expect out of an $850 device, especially after this has been one of Samsung’s weak points for years.

When compared to the OnePlus 3, we find that the Note 7 often neglects using its four cores as opposed to the OnePlus 3, which efficiently mixes up its core utilization when handling the same task. GPU profiling on the Note 7 makes it extremely clear that the phone leaks frames on several actions, even minor animations throughout the UI such as a WiFi network spinning circle animation. In some instances, we found outright damning displays of the Note 7’s occasionally-pitiful fluidity accompanied by the walls of green bars denoting serious difficulties pushing the frames through.

But this is not just a matter of opening or returning to your application sooner than on other devices, Samsung’s software is noticeably slower than that of competing devices in almost every action.

The stock keyboard still sees issues with split-second lockups, and the sharing menu on the Note 7 often leaves you waiting for options to load. The notorious TouchWiz Launcher has earned itself a reputation for slow speed and stutters throughout the years, and while it is not as bad as it used to be, it can still miss clear frames while switching through homescreens, and despite years of integration, Flipboard still remains the most jerky leftmost homescreen panel ever introduced by an OEM.

Weird. The Note 7 scored 9/10 for performance at The Verge.

Galaxy Note 7 vs. iPhone 6S Speed Test 

Hard to say how much of this should be attributed to the A9 SoC (hardware) and how much to iOS (software), but it is impressive that a year-old iPhone blows away a brand-new top-of-the-line Samsung.

10K Apart: What Can You Do With 10 KB? 

My thanks to the Microsoft Edge team for sponsoring last week’s DF RSS feed to promote 10K Apart, a web design contest in which they’re awarding $10,000 in prizes to the most compelling web experiences that can be delivered in just 10 KB. With so much of an emphasis on front-end frameworks and JavaScript runtimes, it’s time to get back to basics — back to optimizing every byte and ensuring your site can work, no matter what. Check out the official rules and enter the contest today.

(Microsoft Edge is the all-new, modern browser for Windows. Check out dev.microsoftedge.com for tools to take the pain out of testing for Windows on your Mac, including free Windows 10 virtual machines, an open roadmap for their web platform, and a new public bug database.)


Bloomberg’s Report on Apple Watch 2

I have a few problems with Bloomberg’s report on the upcoming Apple Watch 2, credited to Mark Gurman, Alex Webb, and Scott Moritz. Starting with the headline: “Apple Hits Roadblocks in Cutting Watch Ties to iPhone”.

Apple Inc. has hit roadblocks in making major changes that would connect its Watch to cellular networks and make it less dependent on the iPhone, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company still plans to announce new watch models this fall boasting improvements to health tracking.

The updated versions will also be able to integrate GPS-based location tracking, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

The use of present tense in the headline (“hits roadblocks”) instead of past tense (“hit roadblocks”), and “has hit” in the lede makes it sound like these are recent issues. If Apple ever had any hopes of putting cellular networking in the second generation Apple Watch and shipping it this year, those hopes were dashed months ago, if not last year. Hardware has long, long lead times. The lead time for new iPhone hardware is over a year long. I doubt Apple Watch is much shorter. Once the design is set, it takes many months to get the supply chain set up to produce the actual devices in volume.

The only exception I’m aware of — the one time Apple made a last-minute change to a device — was the third-gen iPod Touch in 2009. Rumored to contain a camera, it shipped without one. But as proof that last-minute changes of this sort are highly unusual, teardowns of that iPod clearly revealed a socket where the camera would have gone.

I’d bet my bottom dollar that teardowns of the new Apple Watch will not reveal places where the cellular modem and antenna would have gone.

Ever since its inception, network carriers have been urging Apple to release a version of the watch that can connect to data networks independent of the iPhone, and the Cupertino, California-based company had been working to untether it from the handset, one of the people said. As it is now the watch must be synced with an iPhone to download most types of content and consistently track location.

Since when does Apple take advice from network carriers? And of course Apple is working to add cellular networking to Apple Watch. The question at hand is only whether they had actually hoped to add to this year’s new models. I highly doubt that.

During the discussions, Apple executives expressed concern that the cellular models may not be ready for release this year and that the feature may be pushed back to a later generation, according to the people. Apple warned that, even on an aggressive schedule, the earliest possible shipment time-frame for cellular models would have been this December, one of the people said.

This makes no sense to me. If the best case scenario was shipment in December — the best case — then there would have been no question about it. Cellular would have been postponed for a subsequent generation. The holiday quarter is essential to Apple across all product lines, but it is particularly important to obvious gift items like iPods, a decade ago, and Apple Watch, today. It is highly problematic to ship a holiday quarter item as late as December. Too many people do their gift buying in November and even October. And new Apple items often hit a weeks-long backlog. A three-week backorder for an item that only shipped in December is too late for Christmas. And that’s the best case scenario. Any small glitch would mean the new Apple Watch would miss the holiday quarter entirely. That’s a disaster.

If Apple wanted to ship the second generation Apple Watch this year, it was essential that they be able to begin shipments in October, perhaps as late as the first week of November at the very latest. Anything later than that is too late. Why does Bloomberg have no timeline on when any of these decisions were made? That, to me, would settle the matter on whether this is a disappointment or was the plan all along.

The tone of Bloomberg’s report is that it’s a disappointment, even within Apple, that the new Apple Watches won’t have cellular networking. Consumers may well be disappointed, but within Apple I don’t think there was ever any serious hope that cellular networking would arrive before the third or even fourth generation models.

The whole thing feels to me like Bloomberg wanted to have a story on the new Apple Watch, but the one and only fact they had is the addition of GPS, which has been widely rumored all year. That’s it. So since they couldn’t make a story out of what the new Apple Watch is going to have, they instead spun a story about a feature it almost certainly was never going to have. 


Apple Drops ‘Store’ From Apple Store Branding 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple appears to be making a slight branding change to its retail business, dropping the “Store” moniker when referring to its Apple Store locations. Apple has already made the change online, and all of its store pages now refer to stores by names like “Apple Union Square” or “Apple Valley Fair” or “Apple The Grove,” instead of “Apple Store, Valley Fair” or “Apple Store, The Grove.”

It’s a change that appears to have started rolling out with the launch of the newer Apple Stores, like the Union Square location in San Francisco. Apple has always referred to that store as just Apple Union Square, and over the course of the last few days, the company has updated all of its retail store webpages to remove the “Store” branding. What was once “Apple Store, Fifth Avenue,” for example, is now just “Apple Fifth Avenue.”

The “Store” branding only made sense when the concept was novel. Now that Apple’s stores are well established, it makes sense to drop the “Store”. Think about the brands that are Apple’s peers in retail. No one goes to the Tiffany Store or Gucci Store, they just go to Tiffany or Gucci. It’s not even just a premium thing — you say Target and Walmart, not Target Store and Walmart Store.


Is Donald Trump Actually Trying to Win?

Nate Silver, “Trump Is Doubling Down on a Losing Strategy”:

So it’s not surprising that Trump has undertaken a major shakeup of his campaign, hiring Bannon and promoting the pollster Kellyanne Conway. Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort has effectively been demoted. But rather than make a much-expected “pivot” toward general election voters — as Manafort had reportedly been pushing for — the new plan is to “let Trump be Trump,” doubling down on the strategies that Trump used to win the nomination, including an emphasis on nationalism, populism and “brutal fights with Clinton”. […]

If you trust the polls, this seems like a fundamental strategic error. Trump is running worse than Mitt Romney among almost all demographic groups; white men without a college degree are the most prominent exception. But there aren’t enough of those men to form a majority or really even to come all that close.

It’s a crazy strategy if his goal is to win the election. But what if Trump doesn’t want to win? Back in March, former Trump strategist Stephanie Cegielski wrote an eye-opening piece for XO Jane, claiming the goal was never to win:

Even Trump’s most trusted advisors didn’t expect him to fare this well.

Almost a year ago, recruited for my public relations and public policy expertise, I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it.

The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy.

Even if this is true, I disagree with describing him as a “protest candidate”. He is, fundamentally, a self-promotional candidate. He’s doing it to promote the Trump brand and increase his personal celebrity. His support comes from people who see him as a protest candidate, but Trump himself cares only about Trump, not immigration or Middle East foreign affairs or who’s nominated for the Supreme Court. The evidence is that his positions on those subjects have been all over the map.

I found Cegielski’s bold claim credible right from the start. That could be wishful thinking on my part, because I don’t want him to be president. It’s easy to believe what you want to be true. That’s the sort of thinking that led a lot of Mitt Romney supporters (including Romney himself) to believe that because of “skewing”, Romney was going to beat Obama in 2012 despite the fact that all the major polls showed him losing. The basic idea is that U.S.-based polls are “skewed” in favor of Democratic candidates, and that when “unskewed”, you could see that Romney was actually winning. But there was never any actual evidence that the polls were skewed — Republicans bought into it simply because they wanted it to be true.

But to my mind, Trump’s entire campaign strategy makes more sense in this scenario. I think Trump finds being a candidate for president to be a lot of fun. He loves the big crowds and the sound of his own voice. He loves being on the TV news non-stop, and on the front page of every newspaper, every day. I think he’d find actually being president to be terribly boring. By all accounts, it’s a lot of work, even for presidents like Reagan and George W. Bush, who delegated smaller decisions and seldom concerned themselves with the intricacies of policy details.

[Update: As proof that Trump knows the job itself would bore him, note that The New York Times reported the following:

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

Kasich himself confirmed the phone call in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. That’s an extraordinary offer, but admittedly, not the same thing as not wanting to win the election. It’s certainly on the spectrum, though. I suspect it hinges on cognitive dissonance — Trump doesn’t want to lose (and certainly not in an embarrassing landslide), but also doesn’t want to perform the job of president.]

Michael Moore, writing yesterday for The Huffington Post, claims to know for a fact that Trump doesn’t want to win. He’s only trying to get a better TV deal:

So, on June 16 of last year, he rode down his golden escalator and opened his mouth. With no campaign staff, no 50-state campaign infrastructure — neither of which he needed because, remember, this wasn’t going to be a real campaign — and with no prepared script, he went off the rails at his kick-off press conference, calling Mexicans “rapists” and “drug dealers” and pledging to build a wall to keep them all out. Jaws in the room were agape. His comments were so offensive, NBC, far from offering him a bigger paycheck, immediately fired him with this terse statement: “Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump.” NBC said it was also canceling the beauty pageants owned by Trump: Miss USA and Miss Universe. BOOM.

Trump was stunned. So much for the art of the deal. He never expected this, but he stuck to his plan anyway to increase his “value” in the eyes of the other networks by showing them how many millions of Americans wanted Him to be their Leader.

Moore does not reveal his source for this information, but hints that it comes from someone at NBC. Take it with a grain of salt. But it jibes perfectly with Cegielski’s claim that they only wanted to finish second and do a lot of showboating along the way.

Where I’ve struggled with this scenario is Trump’s intended end game. If it’s true Trump doesn’t want to be president, how does he get out of this while saving face? As Nate Silver wrote above, if he wanted to try to win, or least wanted to make the election as close as possible, he’d be campaigning hard to the center. Instead he’s running hard to the right.

What if Trump’s goal, now that he’s the Republican nominee, remains the same as it was a year ago when he announced his candidacy? Not to become president, but to be on TV and make a lot of money doing it. But now, instead of being the star of a show on someone else’s network, he could own a channel of his own. (Or in typical Trump fashion, own a minority stake but put his name all over it.)

Jeet Heer, writing for The New Republic, lays out the case, in the wake of Trump naming “media firebrand” Steve Bannon to run the remainder of his campaign:

But if the Trump campaign is an epic disaster, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what he’s doing. In fact, by cementing ties with Breitbart and seeking advice from disgraced former Fox News head Roger Ailes, Trump has sent his strongest signal yet that long-held suspicions about his media-mogul aspirations are true. He’s using the election to develop an intensely loyal audience that occupies a special niche: those who think Fox News is too mainstream. Who better to help him cash in on such an effort than Bannon and Ailes?

The idea that there is sufficient demand for a media outlet to the right of Fox News is extraordinary, but Trump’s sizable minority of supporters suggests that there might be. Fox News is the network of the Republican Party. (Or as Bush speechwriter David Frum remarked in 2010, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox.”) Trump voters support him not despite the fact that he’s touting ideas that are almost completely contrary to traditional Republican policies; they’re supporting him because his ideas are contrary to traditional Republican policies. It makes sense these same people would be dissatisfied with the traditional Republican news network. There aren’t enough of them to win the Electoral College, but there are more than enough of them to form the audience of a successful media outlet.

The New York Times reported yesterday:

In recent months, Mr. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have quietly explored becoming involved with a media holding, either by investing in one or by taking one over, according to a person close to Mr. Trump who was briefed on those discussions.

At a minimum, the campaign’s homestretch offers Mr. Trump, who has begun to limit his national media appearances to conservative outlets, an opportunity to build his audience and steer his followers toward the combative Breitbart site.

(Kushner is publisher of The New York Observer.)

In short, Trump isn’t trying to appeal to more people, which is how you win elections. He’s trying to appeal more to the people who already support him. That’s how you might build an audience for an “alt-right” media company.

The idea that the Republican nominee for president doesn’t actually want to be president is outlandish. But Donald Trump is outlandish. And what I find compelling about this scenario is that it does not imply that Trump is stupid. Here is a short list of adjectives I personally would use to describe Trump: reprehensible, bigoted, reckless, obnoxious, selfish, incurious, under-informed. But one word I wouldn’t use is stupid. Ignorant, yes, but not stupid.

If Trump is trying to win the election, what he’s doing the last few weeks doesn’t make any sense. But if his goal is not to win, then maybe he’s crazy like a fox. A fox with no regard whatsoever for civil discourse, the stability of our republic, or the future of the Republican Party — but a fox nonetheless. 


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