Epic Files Lawsuit Against Google, Too 

Similar opening statement to their suit against Apple, substituting “Don’t be evil” for “1984”:

In 1998, Google was founded as an exciting young company with a unique motto: “Don’t Be Evil”. Google’s Code of Conduct explained that this admonishment was about “how we serve our users” and “much more than that … it’s also about doing the right thing more generally”. Twenty-two years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought, and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize. This case is about doing the right thing in one important area, the Android mobile ecosystem, where Google unlawfully maintains monopolies in multiple related markets, denying consumers the freedom to enjoy their mobile devices — freedom that Google always promised Android users would have.

Google Boots Fortnite From Play Store 

Google’s statement:

The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.

You can still sideload Fortnite via direct download from Epic, or install it from Samsung’s Galaxy Store (which only works with Samsung devices).

Dieter Bohn:

Given Epic’s outsized response to Apple’s ban — the lawsuit and the 1984 ad — it’s a sure bet that the company will have a response to Google as well. We’ll obviously let you know what that is when it happens.

Yeah, can’t wait for the slick Google ad parody that I’m sure Epic has already made and has been waiting all day to fire off. Holding my breath here.

Epic Goes to War With Apple Over the App Store

You’ll forgive the pun, but Epic Games revealed an epic update to Fortnite for iOS today:

Today, we’re also introducing a new way to pay on iOS and Android: Epic direct payment. When you choose to use Epic direct payments, you save up to 20% as Epic passes along payment processing savings to you.

What costs $10 through an App Store payment costs only $8 direct from Epic. (That’s not really passing the entirety of the savings to the user — Epic nets $7 from a $10 App Store in-app purchase, but minus credit card fees nets about $7.75 from an $8 direct payment. But, from a user’s perspective, it’s a 20 percent discount.)

Epic shipped this feature via an update that was delivered entirely through the Fortnite app itself, not through a new version of the app submitted through the App Store. And yes, this entire gambit is every bit as against the rules of the App Store as you think it is. Epic did this without any permission from Apple and without giving Apple any notice.

The only question was what Apple would do. If Apple decided to play on Easy mode, their move might have been to keep Fortnite in the App Store but stop accepting updates to the app. (But again, Fortnite shipped this particular feature without submitting a new version of the app itself.) Playing on Medium difficulty, which is what Apple chose, meant removing Fortnite — an immensely popular game — from the App Store.1

Here’s Apple’s statement, in its entirety, which they sent to multiple publications (including Daring Fireball) hours after Epic’s opening gambit:

Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users. As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.

Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade, and have benefited from the App Store ecosystem — including it’s [sic] tools, testing, and distribution that Apple provides to all developers. Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely and we’re glad they’ve built such a successful business on the App Store. The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users. We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store.

It was very clear this morning that Epic knew exactly what it was doing, and how Apple was likely to respond. In very short order after Apple pulled Fortnite from the App Store, Epic filed a lawsuit, which opens guns-a-blazing:

In 1984, the fledgling Apple computer company released the Macintosh — the first mass-market, consumer-friendly home computer. The product launch was announced with a breathtaking advertisement evoking George Orwell’s 1984 that cast Apple as a beneficial, revolutionary force breaking IBM’s monopoly over the computing technology market. Apple’s founder Steve Jobs introduced the first showing of the 1984 advertisement by explaining, “it appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money…. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”

Fast forward to 2020, and Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.

Epic’s filing wastes little time. By page 5 it reaches the point where they accuse Apple of “illegal restraints” that keep Epic from providing its own competing iOS app store:

Epic — and Fortnite’s users — are directly harmed by Apple’s anti-competitive conduct. But for Apple’s illegal restraints, Epic would provide a competing app store on iOS devices, which would allow iOS users to download apps in an innovative, curated store and would provide users the choice to use Epic’s or another third-party’s in-app payment processing tool.

It’s unclear, of course, what Epic actually hopes to get from Apple, either voluntarily or forced by the courts, but they’re asking for the whole shebang: they’re claiming it is illegal for iOS not to be as open to native third-party software as the Mac.

Epic also had a new commercial queued up that makes their argument much more artfully — it’s a strident parody of Apple’s iconic “1984” spot, with the obvious but still clever title Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite. You really have to see it — Fortnite has a fun strong brand and they poured that into this. It closes with this title card:

Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming “1984”.

There’s a preaching-to-the-choir aspect to Epic’s entire campaign, though. Both the ad and the legal filing seem directed toward an audience that enjoys decals of Calvin pissing on the Apple logo. The ad is in some ways a deft parody, and it is very saucy, but one thing it is not is funny.

Epic, in a very savvy way, is waging this war as much or more in the court of public opinion as they are in any court of law. And, ultimately, Apple stands to lose more in brand equity than in dollars, no matter how this turns out. 

  1. Playing on Hard mode would be Apple revoking the developer certificate for Fortnite, disabling already-installed copies of Fortnite on iOS devices. I don’t think that was on the table as Apple’s opening move, and even now that Epic has revealed itself to be playing hardball, it would be heavy-handed, to say the least. What makes this a fair fight is that Fortnite is already installed on so many millions of iOS devices. Popularity is power. Removing Fortnite from the App Store (which, again, also blocks existing users from getting app updates) is a big move, but most iOS users who are in Fortnite’s target audience already have it installed. That’s not tenable in the long run, but it gives Epic and Apple time to spar without disrupting existing iOS Fortnite users from continuing to play. ↩︎

Periodic Reminder That the Dow Jones Industrial Average Is Moronic 

Lu Wang and Vildana Hajric, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc.’s planned stock split will diminish its influence on the Dow Jones Industrial Average after the iPhone maker’s 100% surge since March lows nearly dragged the price-weighted measure back to an all-time high.

At its current price of $452 a share, Apple has the biggest weighting in the index at 11%. A 4-to-1 split now would drop its price tag to about $113 and send its ranking in the Dow Average down to 16th. Apple has rallied almost 55% in 2020, adding more than 1,100 points to a stock measure that’s fallen about 2% during that time. The split is scheduled to take effect Aug. 31. […]

The split, however, won’t affect Apple’s No. 1 position in the S&P 500, an index that’s weighted by market capitalization, rather than stock prices.

Bloomberg reports this as though the difference in how the DJIA and S&P 500 are weighted is equivalent. The S&P 500 makes sense: it values companies by what the companies are worth. The Dow makes no goddamn sense at all: it values companies by their share price.

A high-profile stock split like Apple’s should make the entire finance world snap out of its delusion and just abolish the Dow. A 4-for-1 stock split is exactly the same in principle as exchanging a dollar bill for 4 quarters. You still have one dollar. But according to the Dow, you go from 100 (the dollar bill) to 25 (the value of a single one of the post-split quarters).

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is that stupid.

Update: See this classic 2013 episode of NPR’s Planet Money for more:

It’s no secret that we here at Planet Money think the Dow is a terrible economic indicator. We don’t like that it only looks at thirty companies. We don’t like the way it does its math. We think it does a bad job reflecting the overall economy. Honestly, we’re not sure why everyone is still talking about it.

CNBC: ‘Uber CEO Says Its Service Will Probably Shut Down Temporarily in California if It’s Forced to Classify Drivers as Employees’ 

Lauren Feiner, reporting for CNBC:

Uber would likely shut down temporarily for several months if a court does not overturn a recent ruling requiring it to classify its drivers as full-time employees, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview with Stephanie Ruhle Wednesday on MSNBC.

“If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly,” Khosrowshahi said.

Justin Wolfers:

Basically, an admission that Uber’s key innovation was to skirt labor law.

Noah Smith:

Whatever you think of the employee/contractor issue, it seems clear that if Uber can’t survive except by classifying drivers as contractors, it was never as valuable of a business as people thought.

These two things can both be true:

  1. Uber saw how terrible traditional U.S. taxi services were, and created a much better alternative that people love to use, entirely based on the key insight that ubiquitous smartphones could and should change the game. Hailing, mapping, location tracking, payment, driver/passenger rating — all of it enabled via phones.

  2. The idea that this business model was worth tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars was based almost entirely on exploiting a gray area in labor law, and thus the company’s workers.

  3. The founder was an enormous jackass.

OK, that’s three, but they’re still all true.

‘2020: An Isolation Odyssey’ 

At first glance I thought this was just an exquisitely well-done gag, a recreation of some still frames. But it’s more than that. This short film by Lydia Cambron actually works. It’s magnificent.

If you want my advice, watch the movie before you even look at her website for it. And do not skip the credits, they’re truly essential.

Rene Ritchie on Apple’s Decision Not to Allow Xbox Game Streaming on iOS 

There are like a dozen different points Ritchie makes in this video where I was like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say.” The whole “What is a computer?” bit around the 5-minute mark is particularly well-done.

Tripp Mickle Profiles Tim Cook, Without Any Access, for the WSJ 

Tripp Mickle wrote a long feature for The Wall Street Journal, “How Tim Cook Made Apple His Own” (News+ link):

After Steve Jobs’s death, Silicon Valley anticipated Apple Inc.’s business would falter. Wall Street fretted about the road ahead. And loyal customers agonized about the future of a beloved product innovator.

Today, Apple shares are at record highs. The company’s market valuation is $1.9 trillion — bigger than the GDP of Canada, Russia or Spain. And Apple, now the world’s largest company, continues to dominate the smartphone market.

That’s a good and mostly fair lede. But I don’t think it’s fair at all to say that “loyal customers agonized about the future”. Where’s the evidence of that? I’d say the group that’s missing after Silicon Valley (which believes strongly, justifiably in most cases, in the importance of founders) and Wall Street is business reporters. It wasn’t so much investors as the business media who predicted “can’t innovate without Steve Jobs” doom for Apple.

The feature is largely fair though, and it does read like Mickle tried very hard to get people who know Cook to talk about him. But, well, very few of them did, and those who did don’t seem to know him all that well:

Mr. Cook is described by colleagues and acquaintances as a humble workaholic with a singular commitment to Apple. Longtime colleagues seldom socialized with him, and assistants said he kept his calendar clear of personal events.

Around Thanksgiving two years ago, guests saw him dining by himself at the secluded Amangiri Hotel near Zion National Park. When a guest later bumped into him, he said he came to the hotel to recharge after a hectic fall punctuated by the rollout of Apple’s latest iPhone. “They have the best masseuses in the world here,” he said, the guest recalls.

Here Mickle’s source is a random guest who recognized Cook at a hotel.

It’s sort of inside baseball, but this paragraph is my favorite from the whole piece:

Apple declined to make Mr. Cook or any of its executives available. Instead, the company helped arrange calls with four people it said could speak to areas of importance to Mr. Cook such as environmentalism, education and health. None of the four said they knew him well. One had never met him, another met him only in passing, a third spent half an hour with him and a fourth spent a few hours with him.

I mean just savor the passive-aggressive fuck you/fuck you too back-and-forth of Apple making available four useless sources to Mickle, and Mickle pointing out in the article just how useless the four sources Apple made available were.

But this one weird paragraph actually says a lot about the difference between Steve Jobs’s Apple and Cook’s. Jobs wouldn’t have participated in a profile like this, either, but I think Apple’s response would have been nothing more than the two-letter word “no”. With Cook, Apple still didn’t make him available, still didn’t make anyone who works at Apple available, and still didn’t make anyone who actually knows Cook available. But they offered Mickle and the Journal something rather than just telling him to go pound sand.

Though current and former employees say Mr. Cook has created a more relaxed workplace than Mr. Jobs, he has been similarly demanding and detail oriented. He once got irritated that the company mistakenly shipped 25 computers to South Korea instead of Japan, said a former colleague, adding that it seemed like a minor misstep for a company shipping nearly 200 million iPhones annually. “We’re losing our commitment to excellence,” Mr. Cook said, this person recalls.

25 computers mistakenly shipped to Korea would not make my list of signs that Apple is losing its commitment to excellence, but this anecdote actually buoys me.

Apple Signs Martin Scorsese to First-Look Film and TV Deal 

Justin Kroll and Mike Fleming Jr., reporting for Deadline:

Two and one-half months after it stepped up to become the producers of Killers of the Flower Moon, Apple has inked a first-look deal with its director, Martin Scorsese. The master filmmaker will base his Sikelia Productions banner at Apple in a multi-year deal for film and television projects Scorsese will produce and direct for Apple TV +.

The relationship kicks off with Killers of the Flower Moon, the Eric Roth-scripted adaptation of the David Grann non-fiction book which will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro will star in. Apple won an auction with the $180 million+ film originally optioned by Paramount came back on the market. Deadline revealed on May 27 that Apple won a deal that has Paramount releasing the film theatrically.

The way to apply Apple’s “the best, not the most” mantra to Hollywood would be signing more deals like this. Apple TV+ will never have the most exclusive movies and TV shows, but it can have a large share of the best ones.

Mozilla Lays Off 250 Employees, About One-Third of Its Workforce 

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for ZDNet Zero Day:

Furthermore, Mozilla’s contract with Google to include Google as the default search provider inside Firefox is set to expire later this year, and the contract has not been renewed. The Google deal has historically accounted for around 90% of all of Mozilla’s revenue, and without it experts see a dim future for Mozilla past 2021.

I think that’s basically the whole story right there. Firefox was very popular, and Google paid Mozilla a small fortune to make Google search the default in Firefox because it was so popular. But then came Chrome. Why should Google fund Mozilla when Chrome is about 10 times more popular than Firefox, other than out of the goodness of its corporate heart?

It is a very good thing for the world and the web that a truly independent browser exists from a privacy-minded company, but there’s not much of a business model for it unless it’s popular enough to get the dominant search engine to pay for placement.

“We must learn and expand different ways to support ourselves and build a business that isn’t what we see today.”

This most likely includes a bigger focus on Mozilla’s VPN offering, which Mozilla formally launched last month. Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps are one of today’s biggest money-makers in tech, and Mozilla, despite arriving late to the party, is set to become one of the biggest players on the market, primarily due to its reputation as a privacy-first organization and civil and privacy rights advocate.

I have no idea if a VPN offering can even come close to making up for the money Mozilla was earning from Google for default search placement, but it’s a great idea. If you’re going to use a VPN, you want to use one from a company you can trust, and Mozilla has a fortune of well-earned trust in the bank.

Dithering Preview

Speaking of podcasts, another month, another new album cover for Dithering, the new thrice-weekly podcast with me and Ben Thompson.

August 2020 cover art for Dithering, depicting a bunch of kids, in two groups, battling each other in a water balloon game of some sort.

One reason Ben and I make for a good team, I think, is that even when we agree on something, we often see the issue from very different perspectives. But we don’t always agree, and to date, never less so than regarding this controversy over Apple’s ban on Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass streaming service from the App Store. We’ve had some crackerjack episodes these last few days — but our arguments are constructive, not destructive. What makes for an invigorating disagreement is the shared belief that you can only have confidence that your opinion is correct if you’re willing to honestly contemplate that you might be wrong. We’ve got that.

More good news, too, for the Dithering curious. The obvious downside to a paid subscription podcast ($5/month — cheap!) is that some prospective listeners naturally want to know what the show is like before paying. We’ve been thinking about this since we initially conceived of the show, and last week launched our solution: Dithering Preview, a free podcast with the best clips from each month’s episodes.

You should be able to find it just by searching for “Dithering Preview” in your favorite podcast player, or use one of the handy shortcuts below:

If you’ve been on the fence, give an episode or two of Dithering Preview a listen, and you’ll get an honest taste of what the show is like. For those of you who’ve already subscribed, I thank you kindly for listening, and for helping to spread the word about the show. 

Yours Truly on Antony Johnston’s ‘Writing and Breathing’ Podcast 

Antony Johnston — best known as the creator of the excellent and right-up-my-alley Atomic Blonde — hosts a podcast devoted to writing, and he was kind enough to invite me on. I could talk about writing — what I do, how I do it — forever, even though, as I hope I made clear to Johnston, I don’t really fully understand how exactly I do what I do. The only thing I really understand about writing is that I need to do it.

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about this. If that sounds interesting to you, I bet you’ll dig listening.

Sycophancy Sweepstakes Winner: South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem 

Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, reporting for The New York Times:

Since the first days after she was elected governor of South Dakota in 2018, Kristi Noem had been working to ensure that President Trump would come to Mount Rushmore for a fireworks-filled July 4 extravaganza.

After all, the president had told her in the Oval Office that he aspired to have his image etched on the monument. And last year, a White House aide reached out to the governor’s office with a question, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation: What’s the process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore? […]

In private, the efforts to charm Mr. Trump were more pointed, according to a person familiar with the episode: Ms. Noem greeted him with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included a fifth presidential likeness: his.

In a couple of months, this particular anecdote is going to evoke tears. What kind of tears, we shall see.

SoundSource 5 

So let’s just get this out of the way: Rogue Amoeba was last week’s sponsor here at DF but the sponsorship was for Loopback, for which I just posted my end-of-the-week thank-you. But this week they also released a major update to another of their excellent Mac audio utilities, SoundSource, and it’s well worth your attention.

SoundSource is on my short list of Mac utilities that I don’t know what I’d do without. It’s the system-wide audio menu item that ought to be built into MacOS. It gives you instant volume control to every output and input device connected to your Mac, and per-application controls for controlling audio input and output. When I wrote about SoundSource 4 last year, I noted the interface:

SoundSource is also a great example of a distinctive, branded UI that still looks and feels in every way like a standard Mac app.

SoundSource 5 is a solid upgrade on functional grounds alone — just the audio features that are its reason for being. But the UI changes and tweaks in version 5 are delightful, and too long to list here. (E.g. the pin icon animation, and the gear menu animation.) The UI is so good that I encourage anyone who appreciates great UI design to download the demo and explore, examine, and think about the interface details of this app even if you have no interest in its features.

It’s both great UI design in the abstract, and a hall-of-fame caliber example of a Mac-assed Mac app in particular.


My thanks to Rogue Amoeba for sponsoring DF last week to promote Loopback, their amazing Mac audio utility that makes it easy to move audio between applications. Stuck on Zoom calls? Pipe in music and sound effects, or enhance your microphone. Podcasters, merge your mic with other audio sources, then pass it all on to remote guests. Loopback makes seemingly impossible audio routing a breeze.

With virtual audio devices that are usable anywhere on MacOS, Loopback can route audio between software applications and hardware devices alike. The intuitive wire-based interface gives you the power of a high-end studio mixing board, all with no cables required. For studio techs, live streamers, and so many others, Loopback is essential.

Download the free trial, then use coupon code LOOPFIRE to save $20 when you purchase by August 15. $20 discount, just for DF readers.

Gurman Story on Apple’s App Store Ban on Game Streaming Services From Back in March 

Mark Gurman tweeted a reminder of this story he reported back in March:

Cloud gaming services, where users stream games live over the internet, are growing in popularity, especially as faster fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks proliferate. The new offerings from Microsoft, Nvidia and Google are cloud streaming-based, while Apple Arcade is not. Those other services are found on the Android operating system, which powers 2.5 billion devices worldwide. Among the popular games found there, and missing from iOS, are Red Dead Redemption 2, Gears of War 5 and Destiny 2.

Asked about the challenge of reaching iPhone and iPad users with the chipmaker’s GeForce Now service, an Nvidia spokesperson said: “Ask Apple.”

Bloomberg got the same boilerplate statement from Apple then that Business Insider got last week about Xbox Game Pass.

Apple Is Fighting Trademark for Prepear’s Pear-Shaped Logo 

Apple, in its legal filing:

Consumers encountering Applicant’s Mark are likely to associate the mark with Apple. Applicant’s Mark consists of a minimalistic fruit design with a right-angled leaf, which readily calls to mind Apple’s famous Apple Logo and creates a similar commercial impression, as shown in the following side-by-side comparison.

Here’s the comparison. I could actually see this being a reasonable objection if Prepear were selling computers or phones or watches. But they’re a recipe app. Their logo clearly looks like a pear, not an apple, and their pear does not even look like an Apple-logo-like pear.

Back in the old days Apple didn’t even pursue legal action against the Banana Junior series of personal computers, and their logo was a six-color banana.

Decoding Apple’s Statement to Business Insider Regarding Xbox Game Pass

Ben Gilbert, reporting yesterday for Business Insider (italic emphasis added):

This September, Microsoft plans to launch a major coup in the video game business: The world’s first game streaming service with a built-in library, Netflix-style. For $15 a month, you’ll be able to stream over 100 games to smartphones and tablets — but it won’t be available on Apple’s ubiquitous iPhone and iPad.

The reason, an Apple spokesperson said on Thursday, is because Apple isn’t able to review each game that’s available through Game Pass.

Following hot on the heels of the controversy over Basecamp’s Hey app, and Tim Cook being called to testify at an antitrust Congressional hearing regarding App Store policies, and given the high profile of Xbox Game Pass, it’s no surprise that this has gotten a lot of attention, almost all of it focused on taking the italicized paragraph from Business Insider at its word. But that’s Ben Gilbert’s interpretation, not a quote from Apple. Gilbert’s interpretation is not an unfair or sensationalized take on Apple’s statement, but it’s adding a “because” that Apple did not state. That entire sentence is not a paraphrase of something Apple said.

Here is Apple’s statement to Business Insider, apparently in its entirety. Apple seemingly sent this statement only to Business Insider, which itself is a bit unusual:

The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

Running this statement through my Applespeak-to-English decoder ring, what I hear is not that they won’t allow Xbox Game Pass because they can’t review each game separately. What I hear is that game streaming services are not allowed in the iOS App Store. Period, full stop. I don’t even think this has anything to do with whether Microsoft offers in-app subscriptions, or whether those subscriptions get a discount from the standard 70/30 split for the first year. I think Apple’s stance is that game streaming services like Microsoft’s xCloud project are simply verboten.1

App Store guideline 4.2.7, “Remote Desktop Clients”, seemingly makes this clear, too — it’s a written rule, not an unwritten one. This rule is why Steam Link is in the App Store and Xbox Game Pass and Google Stadia are not:

(a) The app must only connect to a user-owned host device that is a personal computer or dedicated game console owned by the user, and both the host device and client must be connected on a local and LAN-based network.

It’s like this: Business Insider asked Apple why they won’t allow Xbox Game Pass. Apple didn’t say why they won’t allow Xbox Game Pass, and instead gave a non-answer answer by describing what they do allow:

… gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search.

Submitting games individually and appearing in charts and search — presumably App Store charts and search — is just an obfuscated way of saying that native iOS game apps are allowed in the iOS App Store. Well, duh. Everyone is distracted by the interpretation that Apple won’t allow Xbox Game Pass because they can’t review each game. It is a nonsensical justification, no doubt about that. But the comparison to Netflix or Spotify is beside the point. Of course Apple doesn’t and can’t review every movie on Netflix or every song on Spotify. But if you think about it, they could review every game on Xbox Game Pass. Even if it’s 100 games, they could look at them all. I’m sure they could find quite a few volunteers among the App Store reviewer corps to spend the time to play these games thoroughly.

The point is that streaming video and music services are allowed in the App Store; streaming software (games or otherwise) is not, unless it works over the web. Apple just doesn’t want to say that. Here, in my opinion, is how this conversation is best decoded:

Business Insider: Why are game streaming services like Xbox Game Pass not allowed in the App Store?

Apple: Native iPhone games are allowed in the App Store. Native iPhone games are good because we review them individually, and they appear in App Store charts and search results.

It’s a perfect example of the difference between bullshit and a lie. Every word in Apple’s statement is true, but not a word of it answers why they won’t allow Xbox Game Pass or any other cloud game streaming service.

Apple would have been much better off saying nothing at all than offering this bullshit non-answer answer, that in fact was so easily and reasonably misconstrued. And, purely as a guess on my part, I think Apple realized this, which is why they didn’t send this statement to any other outlet and haven’t added a word of clarification since. 

  1. Maybe it is just about the money, or even partially about the money2 — which certainly wouldn’t be shocking — but we don’t know, because Apple didn’t say, and neither did Microsoft in its own testily worded statement, which, unlike Apple’s statement, was distributed to numerous news outlets. ↩︎

  2. I really hope it’s not about the money. I mean let’s face it, no matter what the story is here, it’s sad in some way. Microsoft has made something technically impressive and cool and fun, and millions of Xbox-playing iOS users would love to play these games on their iPhones and iPads and but they can’t because of some sort of business or strategic shit that’s between Apple and Microsoft. But if it’s really just a dispute about goddamn money — between, of all companies, two of the richest in the history of the world — man, that’s just tawdry. It’s just two corporations fighting over one more stream of money neither even knows what to do with atop the Scrooge McDuckian mountains of cash they each already have flooding into their coffers each day. That’s business, but that’s a stale saltine of a story.

    But what if it’s not Apple being a dick about money? What if it’s Apple being a dick about control?

    That’s not cold and dry — that’s a goddamn sizzling hot juicy steak of a story. That’s personal. For one thing it would explain the pissy, petulant tone of Microsoft’s statement. Maybe Microsoft went into this whole endeavor gearing up for a knockdown drag-out knife-fight negotiation about how exactly to split the money, and Apple just went stone cold Michael Corleone on them: “You can have our answer now, if you like. Our offer is this: nothing. Not even the 30 percent fee for the gaming subscription, which we would appreciate if you put up your ass.” The idea being, in this scenario, that Apple has something Microsoft needs, Microsoft has nothing to offer in return that Apple wants, and so Microsoft just has to sit there grooving on it, stuck with a premium paid subscription service that’s only available on the low-rent mobile platform where people don’t pay for things.

    Apple is clearly being a dick to Microsoft about something here, and if it’s platform control not money, well by god at least there’s some delicious poetic justice at play. That’d be a veritable vintage bottle of wine being uncorked. Not having any control over the world’s most lucrative computing platform and wanting something from the company that does — and which has a real taste for exerting its dictatorial control over said platform in mercurial fashion — would fucking suck, wouldn’t it? ↩︎︎

‘Judges Holding Hearings Over Zoom Need to Get a Clue’ 

Brian Krebs:

Predictably, the Zoom hearing for the 17-year-old alleged Twitter hacker in Fla. was bombed multiple times, with the final bombing of a pornhub clip ending the zoom portion of the proceedings.

Your honor, I’d like to submit a Motion to Deez.

The Etymology of ‘Cherry-Pick’ 

I wound up looking into the etymology of “cherry-pick” while writing this post earlier today, and I’m simply astounded by this note from Merriam-Webster:

The first known use of cherry-pick was in 1965.

I’m shocked that cherry-pick is so recent. I figured it was not just old but maybe really old, centuries old. Is this right?

Update 1: The Online Etymology Dictionary pegs cherry-pick’s origin as 1959 — a little earlier, but not much.

Update 2: Anu Garg, founder and writer of the excellent Wordsmith and its A.Word.A.Day newsletter, pegged cherry-pick’s earliest documented use as 1966.

Update 3: The other OED has an instance of “cherry-picker” as a railroad industry term for a switchman from 1940, which usage explains why the idiom is about cherries — the switch lights were red.

Pour One Out for Toshiba 

Simon Sharwood, writing for The Register:

Toshiba has finally and formally exited the laptop business.

Toshiba has made laptops since 1985 and claims to have been the first to make a mass-market computer in the now-familiar clamshell form factor. By the 1990s the company was producing solid workhorses in the Satellite range and started to make meaningful stretches of mobile work possible with the small, thin and light Portégé range.

Those products saw Toshiba lead the world for laptop market share through the late 1990s and retain that position for much of the 2000s. Even as the PC market consolidated in that decade, Toshiba was often ranked among the top five of all PC vendors despite only ever dabbling in desktops.

If you go back far enough, Toshiba’s early-era laptops were truly groundbreaking.

Facebook Fired an Employee Who Collected Evidence of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment 

Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Individuals that spoke out about the apparent special treatment of right-wing pages have also faced consequences. In one case, a senior Facebook engineer collected multiple instances of conservative figures receiving unique help from Facebook employees, including those on the policy team, to remove fact-checks on their content. His July post was removed because it violated the company’s “respectful communication policy.” After the engineer’s post was removed, the related internal “tasks” he’d cited as examples of the alleged special treatment were made private and inaccessible to employees, according to a Workplace post from another employee. […]

The engineer joined the company in 2016 and most recently worked on Instagram. He left the company on Wednesday. One employee on an internal thread seen by BuzzFeed News said that they received permission from the engineer to say that the dismissal “was not voluntary.” […]

News of his firing caused some Facebook employees to say that they now fear speaking critically about the company in internal discussions. One person said they were deleting old posts and comments, while another said this was “hardly the first time the respectful workplace guidelines have been used to snipe a prominent critic of company policies/ethics.”

“[He] was a conscience of this company, and a tireless voice for us doing the right thing,” said another employee.

Having a conscience does seem like a mismatch for working at Facebook.

This is really an astonishing story, and it’s effectively buried a few hundred words into what’s really a separate but also alarming story about Facebook employees asking Zuckerberg what Facebook is going to do if Trump uses the platform to dispute the election results.

Purported Bug in Instagram’s Hashtags Has Been Favoring Donald Trump 

Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Earlier this week, a search on Instagram for #JoeBiden would have surfaced nearly 390,000 posts tagged with the former vice president’s name along with related hashtags selected by the platform’s algorithm. Users searching Instagram for #JoeBiden might also see results for #joebiden2020, as well as pro-Trump hashtags like #trump2020landslide and #democratsdestroyamerica.

A similar search for #DonaldTrump on the platform, however, provided a totally different experience. Besides showing 7 million posts tagged with the president’s name, Instagram did not present any related hashtags that would have pushed users toward different content or promoted alternative viewpoints.

Maybe it was an honest bug, maybe not. But Facebook’s institutional credibility is so low it’s hard to take them at their word. And then there’s this response from Instagram’s official comms team, on Twitter:

This isn’t about politics. Tens of thousands of hashtags were affected, and your story cherry-picked a handful of those thousands to fit a sensational narrative. The bug was also not partisan, as you note #democrats was impacted.

Via Parker Molloy, who notes that this combative tone — expressly impugning Mac’s integrity — is not how Facebook/Instagram has ever responded to accusations of bias against Republicans.

Whatever you think about the purported bug — and as skeptical as I am about Facebook, I actually think there’s a good chance it really was just a bug — this response from their comms teams is the real eye-opener.

Update: Also note that Instagram accuses Mac of “cherry-picking” for singling out the Biden/Trump differences. They know those are the only two candidates. How can it be “cherry picking” to compare how Instagram is treating the only two major presidential candidates? What the hell kind of bushel only has two cherries to choose from? And you can’t argue that it was about cherry-picking hashtags, not candidates, when the core hashtags in question were “#JoeBiden” and “#DonaldTrump”.

Google Has Already Discontinued the Pixel 4 

Sam Byford, The Verge:

“Google Store has sold through its inventory and completed sales of Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL,” a Google spokesperson confirms to The Verge. “For people who are still interested in buying Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL, the product is available from some partners while supplies last. Just like all Pixel devices, Pixel 4 will continue to get software and security updates for at least three years from when the device first became available on the Google Store in the US.”

It’s unusual for Google to discontinue a Pixel phone so quickly. The Pixels 2 and 3 were on sale for around 18 months each, with Google stopping sales roughly six months after the introduction of their successors. The move means Google technically no longer has a flagship phone for sale.

But I’m crazy for thinking Google has lost interest in Android.

BuzzFeed News Talks to Students and Staff at a Georgia High School Reopening Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak 

Molly Hensley-Clancy and Caroline O’Donovan, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Behind a viral photo of a crowded hallway at a high school in Georgia, a potentially dire situation is brewing. Students, teachers, and parents fear the Paulding County school’s rushed reopening plans may be spiraling out of control just two days after students — who said they were told they could face expulsion for remaining home — returned to class despite reports of positive coronavirus cases among students and staff. […]

Despite recommendations from CDC health officials, the district has called mask-wearing a “personal choice” and said that social distancing “will not be possible to enforce” in “most cases.” While the school provided teachers with face shields and masks and encouraged staff and students to wear them, they are not required and not all teachers have chosen to use them. One North Paulding teacher resigned last month over concerns about virus safety.

School or death cult, you make the call.

On Wednesday, the school addressed the controversy that had swirled around the viral photograph via an intercom announcement from North Paulding High School principal Gabe Carmona. In it, according to two people familiar with the situation, he stated that any student found criticizing the school on social media could face disciplinary consequences.

Well, that will certainly keep everyone healthy, and will teach the kids an important lesson on their First Amendment rights at the same time.

Facebook Removes a Coronavirus Disinformation Post From Trump for the First Time; Twitter Temporarily Bans ‘Team Trump’ Account for Same 

Heather Kelly, reporting for The Washington Post:

Team Trump’s tweet of a video clip from a Fox News interview — in which President Trump said that children are “almost immune” from COVID-19 — violates the site’s rules against misinformation, the company said. Twitter hid the post and said the account will not be able to tweet again until he deletes it, although it can appeal the decision.

Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley said the tweet “is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation. The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.”

Facebook on Wednesday said it removed President Trump’s post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said that children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, marking the company’s increasingly tough stance on political speech amid heightened pressure.

Worth emphasizing that this was the “Team Trump” campaign account, not Trump’s personal account, but still. It is bad enough that we’re caught in a nationwide quagmire over whether Facebook and Twitter should allow the president of the United States to shitpost lies, period. But lies that are resulting in schools opening to comply with Trump’s fantasy that schools should open in areas where COVID-19 transmission is out of control are so far over the line, you can’t even see the line from there.

Does Google Remember Wear OS? 

Jules Wang, writing for Android Police, “Wear OS Will Lose Google Play Music Months Before a YouTube Music App Exists”:

Google Play Music is being phased out in favor of YouTube Music starting next month. That change already exacerbates the need for the latter to achieve a desirable feature parity with its predecessor, but it also now presents a challenging chasm for Wear OS users who will lose access to Play Music without a robust YouTube Music experience.

A new Wear OS help page tells users that they won’t be able to download or even use Google Play Music “in the next couple of weeks.” And until a proper YouTube Music experience appears “in the coming months,” that means they’ll have to resort to other apps in order to download and play local files.

Remember my theory that Google has grown bored with Android and doesn’t really care about it? That’s me talking about phones, which, in general, Google does care about insofar as they know that billions of people spend hours per day every day using them. With wearables Google never even cared in the first place, except for making goofy demo concepts like Google Glass. The customers who bought Wear OS devices care about them; the company that designed them clearly does not. If they cared, how could it be that you can’t listen to Google’s music platform on Google’s wearable platform?

Is Apple Watch a new and exciting product in 2020? No. It’s now mature and established. But Apple is as invested in it as ever, working as hard as ever on the software and — I’ll bet we’ll see in a month or two — the hardware.

I thought things were bad in the PC era when the choice was between just two major platforms, only one of which (the Mac) was designed with any taste. But at least Windows was (and remains) made by a company that, however lacking in taste, cares deeply about the platform and is invested in its success. Android is like Windows except Google isn’t even all that invested in it, and when it comes to Android running on anything other than a phone, they clearly don’t even care.

This sucks as someone who cares about the Apple ecosystem, because there’s no competitive pressure on Apple at all for anything other than phones. When is the last time anyone credibly pointed to a Wear OS watch and said “Boy, there’s a product that actually gives Apple Watch a run for its money”?

Beirut Explosion: ‘I Was Bloodied and Dazed. Beirut Strangers Treated Me Like a Friend.’ 

New York Times correspondent Vivian Yee, from Beirut:

I was just about to look at a video a friend had sent me on Tuesday afternoon — “the port seems to be burning,” she said — when my whole building shook. Uneasily, naïvely, I ran to the window, then back to my desk to check for news.

Then came a much bigger boom, and the sound itself seemed to splinter. There was shattered glass flying everywhere. Not thinking but moving, I ducked under my desk.

When the world stopped cracking open, I couldn’t see at first because of the blood running down my face.

A remarkable tale of kindness and humanity amidst chaos, confusion, and suffering — all the more incredible that Yee wrote it within hours.

More photos from the Times here, and Apple News has a good roundup of reports, photos, and firsthand videos from the explosion.

Daring Fireball Weekly Sponsorships 

August is sold out on the DF weekly sponsorship schedule, but September is mostly open. (October too, if you’re planning ahead.)

One sponsor per week, with a sponsor-written entry in the RSS feed to start the week, a thank-you post right on the homepage from me at the end, and the one and only graphic ad on every page of the site all week long. No tracking or other privacy-invasive bullshit. Just plain honest ads. My best argument that they work: the number of repeat companies in the sponsor archive list.

So if you’ve got a product or service you’d like to promote to DF’s discerning audience, I’d love to have you as a sponsor.

OWC Memory Upgrades for 27-Inch iMacs 

I noted this morning regarding the updated 27-inch iMac that the high end RAM configurations are pricey — $1,000 for 64 GB and $2,600 for 128 GB. You can get the same DDR4 memory upgrades from OWC for $300 and $600, respectively, and the new 27-inch iMac still has user-accessible RAM, so it doesn’t take particularly expert skill to install.

Craig Mod’s ‘Kissa by Kissa’ 

Craig Mod:

Kissa by Kissa: How to Walk Japan (Book One) is a book about walking 1,000+km of the countryside of Japan along the ancient Nakasendō highway, the culture of toast (toast!), and mid-twentieth century Japanese cafés called kissaten.

Looks gorgeous — wonderful typography and photography, expertly printed and bound. A genuine artifact.

Also, that bastard Mod went so far as to build and release as open source what he’s calling Craigstarter, a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding tool for Shopify. Just bought my copy and the whole process was smooth.

The Demo to End All Demos 

“One small step for a man, and one giant leap for wireless networking.”

Fantastic backstory on this stunt on ATP last March (28:00).

Phil Schiller Takes Title of ‘Apple Fellow’ 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced that Phil Schiller will become an Apple Fellow, continuing a storied career that began at Apple in 1987. In this role, which reports to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Schiller will continue to lead the App Store and Apple Events. Greg (Joz) Joswiak, a longtime leader within the Product Marketing organization, will join the executive team as senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. […]

“It has been a dream come true for me to work at Apple, on so many products I love, with all of these great friends — Steve, Tim, and so many more,” said Schiller. “I first started at Apple when I was 27, this year I turned 60 and it is time for some planned changes in my life. I’ll keep working here as long as they will have me, I bleed six colors, but I also want to make some time in the years ahead for my family, friends, and a few personal projects I care deeply about.”

Schiller hasn’t just been at Apple a long time — he’s held the position atop product marketing for, well, as long as I can remember. Product development, advertising, packaging, messaging, comms, keynotes — you name it, if it was public-facing, Schiller has been in the middle of it.

Best way I can put it is that Schiller is the most Apple-y of all Apple executives.

Jason Snell’s ‘20 Macs for 2020’ Project 

Speaking of Jason Snell:

With this year marking the turn of decades (in some particularly disastrous ways, as it turns out), I decided to construct a list of the 20 most notable Macs in history. Over the next 20 weeks, I’ll post essays, podcasts, and videos about each of them, counting down to number one.

Now, note my choice of words there: notable. I’m not saying these are my favorite Macs — a bunch of them I only knew in passing and never used myself. I’m not saying these are the best Macs ever — a difficult thing to measure, since (with a few obvious exceptions) the best Macs made are the most recent ones, otherwise we’d all still be using G3 iMacs.

My ranking system is, to be blunt, arbitrary. I tried to make a list of notable Macs that I felt reflected Mac history over the last 36 years. I wanted to choose Macs that were popular, revolutionary, weird, or had an interesting story to tell. If I have learned anything from Joe Posnanski’s brilliant Baseball 100 project, one of the most popular things about this series will be arguments about my terrible rankings and my unforgivable omissions.

I was not just happy but downright delighted to speak with Jason about a few of these Macs. And, yes, I’m outraged over at least one omission.

Is Today the Last Hurrah for Intel-Based iMacs? 

Jason Snell on today’s 27-inch iMac update:

As for the future, is this the last Intel Mac we’ll see? There’s no way to tell, though reading between the lines, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were some more Intel-based Mac releases as Apple progresses through its two-year-long processor transition. But I’d wager good money that the next time we see an iMac update, there won’t be an Intel processor at its heart. And perhaps it will look appreciably different, too.

Seems like a good bet to me that today’s update is the last round of Intel-based iMacs. What else might get an Intel speed bump before Apple Silicon-based Macs start debuting at the end of the year? Maybe the Mac Mini? Speed bumps for the Mac Pro and iMac Pro?

NYT: ‘When COVID Subsided, Israel Reopened Its Schools. It Didn’t Go Well.’ 

Isabel Kershner and Pam Belluck, reporting for The New York Times:

Confident it had beaten the coronavirus and desperate to reboot a devastated economy, the Israeli government invited the entire student body back in late May.

Within days, infections were reported at a Jerusalem high school, which quickly mushroomed into the largest outbreak in a single school in Israel, possibly the world. The virus rippled out to the students’ homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives. Other outbreaks forced hundreds of schools to close. Across the country, tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined.

Israel’s advice for other countries?

“They definitely should not do what we have done,” said Eli Waxman, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic. “It was a major failure.”

That’s Israel’s experience reopening schools after getting infections under control. Here in the U.S. COVID new infections remain out of control already, with nearly all schools closed for summer.

Apple Updates 27-Inch iMac 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced a major update to its 27-inch iMac. By far the most powerful and capable iMac ever, it features faster Intel processors up to 10 cores, double the memory capacity, next-generation AMD graphics, superfast SSDs across the line with four times the storage capacity, a new nano-texture glass option for an even more stunning Retina 5K display, a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, higher fidelity speakers, and studio-quality mics.

A summary of what’s new:

  • New Intel CPUs and AMD graphic cards
  • SSDs across the line, including options for 4 TB and 8 TB
  • TrueTone
  • Nano-texture display finish, like the Pro Display XDR ($500)
  • RAM options up to 128 GB (base configuration is still 8 GB; the high-end 64 and 128 GB options cost $1,000 and $2,600 more, respectively)
  • 1080p FaceTime camera with better low-light performance, and a “studio quality” microphone array like the current MacBook Pros

The 21-inch iMac has not been updated, although the base model configurations now have SSDs instead of Fusion Drives. There remains a 1 TB Fusion Drive build-to-order configuration for the 21-inch iMac, which I believe is now the last spinning hard disk Apple sells.

The iMac Pro has not been updated either, although the $5,000 base model is now the 10-core Xeon W configuration, and the old 8-core base model is gone.

I Call Bullshit on Apple Being Interested in Acquiring TikTok 

Dan Primack, on Twitter:

As we report in Axios Pro Rata today, Apple has expressed serious interest in buying TikTok.

That’s not what Primack reported! Primack reported that sources outside Apple claim Apple expressed interest in TikTok, not that Apple actually has expressed interest. The claim that Apple actually has expressed interest exists only in this tweet. The difference is significant if the sources in question were full of shit, which I think they were.

From Axios’s Pro Rata newsletter, which has already been walked back with a pretty clear statement from Apple:

That’s because Microsoft isn’t the only party kicking TikTok’s tires, as Trump also said yesterday.

Multiple sources tell me that Apple has expressed interest, albeit no sources inside of Apple, and that at least one other strategic has expressed interest. Yes, it would be an unusual deal for Apple, given that TikTok is a cross-platform app, and a bigger political headache than Tim Cook may want (both here and in China). But if anyone has the cash on hand…

[Update: An Apple spokesperson tells Axios that there are no discussions about buying TikTok and the company isn’t interested].

Here’s an Axios article published an hour ago with the same content as the newsletter, but with Apple’s blanket denial simply standing next to Primack’s unnamed sources (multiple!) claiming that they are. Either Primack’s sources lied to him and he ran it, or Apple is lying. There’s no middle ground.

“Albeit” is doing a lot of work in the phrase “albeit no sources inside of Apple”. Who would know outside of Apple? TikTok, presumably, and … the Trump administration? Primack couldn’t possibly have taken the word of anyone in the Trump administration at face value, right? So my best guess is that TikTok sources are making this up to drive the asking price higher.

It is extremely conspicuous that Apple flatly denied any interest. They will no-comment almost anything.

Nathan J. Robinson: ‘The Truth Is Paywalled but the Lies Are Free’ 

Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson:

Paywalls are justified, even though they are annoying. It costs money to produce good writing, to run a website, to license photographs. A lot of money, if you want quality. Asking people for a fee to access content is therefore very reasonable. You don’t expect to get a print subscription to the newspaper gratis, why would a website be different? I try not to grumble about having to pay for online content, because I run a magazine and I know how difficult it is to pay writers what they deserve.

But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! You want “Portland Protesters Burn Bibles, American Flags In The Streets,” “The Moral Case Against Mask Mandates And Other COVID Restrictions,” or an article suggesting the National Institutes of Health has admitted 5G phones cause coronavirus — they’re yours. You want the detailed Times reports on neo-Nazis infiltrating German institutions, the reasons contact tracing is failing in U.S. states, or the Trump administration’s undercutting of the USPS’s effectiveness — well, if you’ve clicked around the website a bit you’ll run straight into the paywall. This doesn’t mean the paywall shouldn’t be there. But it does mean that it costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.

Via Kottke.

Major American Companies With a Consumer Internet Presence in China 

Liza Lin, Jing Yang, and Eva Xiao, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

President Trump’s remark over the weekend that he was weighing an outright ban of TikTok in the U.S. sparked nationalist sentiments in China, where the Global Times, a Communist Party tabloid, derided the situation as “the hunting and looting of TikTok by the U.S. government in conjunction with U.S. high-tech companies.”

On Chinese social media, users likewise expressed outrage. Many on the Twitter -like Weibo platform accused the Trump administration of pandering to voters by stemming the rise of TikTok — and by extension, China.

On Douyin, Bytedance’s domestic analogue to TikTok, where videos commenting on a possible U.S. ban circulated widely, one popular comment suggested Huawei be allowed to buy Apple Inc.’s China operations.

“Be allowed to buy” is some euphemism for a forced sale. But if China decides to retaliate — and why wouldn’t they? — what company might they target other than Apple? Facebook and Google are already banned in China. Amazon has AWS, which has a fair-sized presence there, but AWS is sort of the anti-TikTok in terms of being consumer-facing. Microsoft would be the obvious tit-for-tat target. But does Microsoft have a neatly bundled consumer presence in China?

If I were the dictator of China, and I was angry about the Trump administration forcing a proud Chinese company like ByteDance to divest itself of TikTok, and I was looking for a way to show that China cannot be pushed around by the U.S., I’d look at iCloud and the App Store, and humiliating the biggest company in the world.

But AAPL shares are trading at an all-time high so I’m sure all is good and Apple has nothing to worry about with a rapidly escalating trade war with China and a cornered-rat deranged narcissist steering the U.S.

‘Why Microsoft?’ 

Om Malik:

  • Why not someone like Disney which has dreams of being part of the digital revolution? Disney has the audience. It has sprawling global operations. It has the ability to walk the middle of the road where it can appease the autocratic governments and make the democratic countries satisfied. It also has a brand that has many sub-brands that cross many demographic categories. Disney wanted to buy Twitter. TikTok makes more of a strategic fit.

  • Why not Comcast?

  • Why not Apple? It has money. It has the desire to blunt Facebook and Google, even if it hasn’t said or done so explicitly! Or is it because they are a bunch of hard asses when it comes to privacy and may not play ball with the US government when it needs to access data of some TikTok-er?

Hence my question, why Microsoft?

I’d be shocked if Apple got involved. Just isn’t their bag. But why is there no bidding war for TikTok? In addition to the baldfaced crookedness of Trump demanding and Microsoft offering a “key money” kickback to the U.S. Treasury, the other crooked angle in this claptrap saga is the fact that an acquisition of TikTok, partial or otherwise, is presented as an offer to Microsoft, not a company up for bid.

I ask these questions but can’t help myself and not think about the event of last week?

Why was Microsoft not part of the showdown between BigTech and Washington DC? What makes them better than the other four? Why do they get to be excused from on-air humiliation while others get spanked for their monopolies?

Microsoft’s absence from last week’s hearing was conspicuously odd then; now it’s glaring. Especially when “buying upstart competitors” was one of the main thrusts of the whole thing.

TikTok and Microsoft’s Shameless Ass-Kissing 

MG Siegler, on Microsoft’s — strange, to say the least — blog post announcing its interest in TikTok:

Just read the thing. It’s almost like a letter of fealty. It reads like something a Chinese company might write under the Chinese government. To that end, it reads as if it was written at the behest of the government. Maybe that’s too strong. Maybe? How about: “Hey Satya, great conversation today. It sure would be nice if you could outline what we discussed publicly.” That kind of thing.

Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.

This is an actual paragraph in the post. The second paragraph, no less. What on Earth?! Is Treasury getting a finder’s fee here?

I thought Tim Cook’s participation in Ivanka Trump’s “just find something new” Zoom panel was a bad look. This is something else.

Trump: Microsoft Should Pay ‘Key Money’ to Treasury for TikTok Deal 


A transaction of the type the president envisions could also prove more expensive than the one Microsoft described on Sunday. Trump said Monday that part of the amount paid to buy TikTok would have to come to the U.S. Treasury Department because it would be making the deal possible.

“It’s a little bit like the landlord/tenant; without a lease the tenant has nothing, so they pay what’s called ‘key money,’ or they pay something,” Trump said. “But the United States should be reimbursed or should be paid a substantial amount of money, because without the United States they don’t have anything, at least having to do with the 30%.”

You’ve never heard of “key money”? Me neither, before today. But Trump would know it because it’s a term from crooked New York real estate deals. Here’s a 2015 story on “key money” by Virginia K. Smith for the New York real estate site Brick Underground:

“Key money is when you pay a landlord money (usually under the table) to secure an apartment,” says renters rights attorney Sam Himmelstein, who notes that sometimes, it was supers, building managers, or even the tenants themselves who demanded the cash. The practice, unsurprisingly, is illegal — only licensed real estate brokers are allowed to collect commission for an apartment — and has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years. “I haven’t seen it in years,” says Himmelstein, “and most people don’t report it unless they get into a scrape with their landlords.”

But why even agree to this kind of bribe in the first place? Essentially, key money served as a payoff for a lease that held particular value, like that of a rent-stabilized apartment.

That’s how crooked this piece of shit Trump is — he just uses lingo that’s synonymous with illegal kickbacks with no shame.