V for Wikipedia 

My thanks to Raureif for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote V for Wikipedia. V for Wikipedia is an opinionated iOS app with nit-picky typography hailed by no less than Erik Spiekermann as the “best on the small screen yet.” It is a gorgeous app, and it’s amazing to me personally how much better Wikipedia reads when it actually looks good.

V for Wikipedia’s design is more than just typography, though. The map visualization lets you explore nearby places — interesting both for your own neighborhood and anywhere you might travel. You can even find articles on your Apple Watch (which sounds crazy, but works great).

Download V for Wikipedia on the App Store. It’s a great app, well worth a couple of bucks.

‘American Carnage’ 

The Economist:

But there was nothing for those hoping to see a more pragmatic, moderate President Trump take office, or to hear him admit that the world is complex and less pliable than he pretended on the campaign trail. All populists are at heart conspiracy theorists, who pretend that easy solutions exist to society’s woes and have only not been tried to date because elites are wicked and deaf to the sturdy common-sense of decent, ordinary folk.

That was the Trump approach.

That’s Trumpism in a nut.

On the Inauguration of Donald Trump: Preserve, Protect, and Defend 

David Remnick, writing for The New Yorker:

The reason so many people are having fever dreams and waking up with a knot in the gut is not that they are political crybabies, not that a Republican defeated a Democrat. It’s not that an undifferentiated mass of “coastal élites” is incapable of recognizing that globalization, automation, and deindustrialization have left millions of people in reduced and uncertain circumstances. It is not that they “don’t get it.” It’s that they do.

Since Election Day, Trump has managed to squander good faith and guarded hope with flagrant displays of self-indulgent tweeting, chaotic administration, willful ignorance, and ethical sludge. Setting the tone for his Presidency, he refused, or was unable, to transcend the willful ugliness of his campaign. He goes on continuing to conceal his taxes, the summary of his professional life; he refuses to isolate himself from his businesses in a way that satisfies any known ethical standard; he rants on social media about every seeming offense that catches his eye; he sets off gratuitous diplomatic brushfires everywhere from Beijing to Berlin. (Everywhere, that is, except Moscow.)

Whatever he did to become popular enough to win the election, he’s squandered that too — even Fox News’s poll shows him to be staggeringly unpopular. The stands were nearly empty for today’s parade. Look at this. No one showed up. Crickets chirping.

It’s going to be a long four years, but take comfort in this: Trump is already deeply unpopular.

Paul Ryan: The Magazine 

Remember The Neu Jorker — Andrew Lipstein and James Folta’s cover-to-cover parody issue of The New Yorker? They’re back, with a Kickstarter to raise money for a new project: “Paul Ryan: The Unofficial Magazine of Paul Ryan”.

I’m in.

John McTiernan’s First Film in 14 Years: ‘The Red Dot’, a Short Promoting ‘Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands’ 

Watch the short first. It’s terrific. (Warning: violence.) Then follow the link and read Drew Taylor’s piece for Vulture:

McTiernan’s involvement in The Red Dot hasn’t been widely publicized (or even particularly acknowledged), which is a shame, especially considering it’s his first filmed project in a whopping 14 years. (His last movie was the rainy Rashomon-on-a-military base thriller Basic.) McTiernan’s inauspicious reemergence leads to a couple of bigger questions: Where, exactly, has he been? And what makes this ad so special?

To answer the first question, you have to go back to 2006, when Anthony Pellicano, a private eye with ties to some of the most powerful people in Hollywood, was arraigned on federal wiretapping charges. It was the conclusion of both a three-year investigation and Pellicano’s 30-day stint in prison for illegally keeping explosives in his West Hollywood office. The resulting trial would eventually embroil some of Hollywood’s biggest executives (Michael Ovitz and Brad Grey) and shiniest stars (Tom Cruise and Chris Rock). At the time, Vanity Fair described the scandal as Hollywood’s Watergate.

But only one member of the Hollywood elite would actually get sent to prison for to his relationship with the notoriously scuzzy Pellicano: John McTiernan.

This is an amazing story, and despite being a huge fan of McTiernan’s work, I had no idea about any of it until today.

Good to have McTiernan back.

Walt Mossberg: ‘Lousy Ads Are Ruining the Online Experience’ 

Walt Mossberg:

Last Saturday, as the New England Patriots were sloppily beating the Houston Texans 34–16 in a playoff game, I wanted to look at the highlight video of a play using the NFL app on my iPad. To watch that 14-second clip, I had to suffer through a 30-second ad for something so irrelevant to me that I can’t even recall what it was.

A preroll ad twice as along as the actual video clip is absurd.

Here’s Mossberg, on his experience after launching Recode:

About a week after our launch, I was seated at a dinner next to a major advertising executive. He complimented me on our new site’s quality and on that of a predecessor site we had created and run, AllThingsD.com. I asked him if that meant he’d be placing ads on our fledgling site. He said yes, he’d do that for a little while. And then, after the cookies he placed on Recode helped him to track our desirable audience around the web, his agency would begin removing the ads and placing them on cheaper sites our readers also happened to visit. In other words, our quality journalism was, to him, nothing more than a lead generator for target-rich readers, and would ultimately benefit sites that might care less about quality.

So backwards, so shortsighted. User tracking is a plague that benefits no one.

Apple Sues Qualcomm for $1 Billion 

Anita Balakrishnan, reporting for CNBC:

Apple is suing Qualcomm for roughly $1 billion, saying Qualcomm has been “charging royalties for technologies they have nothing to do with.” The suit follows the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit against Qualcomm earlier this week over unfair patent licensing practices.

Shares of Qualcomm, which had been up 1 percent earlier in the day, were were down nearly 2.5 percent by the closing bell.

Apple says that Qualcomm has taken “radical steps,” including “withholding nearly $1 billion in payments from Apple as retaliation for responding truthfully to law enforcement agencies investigating them.”

Apple added, “Despite being just one of over a dozen companies who contributed to basic cellular standards, Qualcomm insists on charging Apple at least five times more in payments than all the other cellular patent licensors we have agreements with combined.”

That answers my question the other day about who initiated the complaint against Qualcomm with the FTC.


Apple’s Continuing Need for Worthy Rivals

Chris Matyszczyk, writing for CNet:

Research consultancy Brand Keys has just released its 2017 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. This seeks to find the “category drivers that engage customers, engender loyalty and drive real profits.” It’s based on the views and emotions of 49,168 consumers aged between 16 and 65.

And when he looks at the results, I fear we may see Tim Cook dancing on the tables at some local Cupertino hostelry.

When it comes to the smartphone category, the top driver is Apple. In tablets, it’s Apple. In laptop computers, it’s Apple. Yes, this despite the launch of the somewhat deflating MacBook Pro.

What about online music? Goodness me, it isn’t Spotify. It’s Apple Music.

Even in the headphones product category, Apple-owned Beats ties with LG as the category driver.

Take these results with a grain of salt, considering that Brand Keys is the same outfit that published a piece titled “Apple iPhone 7 Sucks (When It Comes Building Loyalty)” on September 19.

But with the possible exception of music, isn’t it inarguable that Apple leads in all these categories? Who else even could be named the customer loyalty or brand leader in tablets or laptops? No one. You can make the case for Samsung in phones, but I think most observers would agree that they’ve always been Pepsi to the iPhone’s Coke, and their position is shakier than ever in the wake of the Note 7 fiasco.

I think one reason there’s so much consternation today about the state of Apple is simply the fear that their clear leadership in these categories could or already has led to complacency. I wrote nine years ago that it would be better for Apple if they had more competition from design- and innovation-focused competitors, and I think that remains true today. That’s why I consider Tesla one of Apple’s handful of serious rivals, even though they don’t yet (and perhaps never will) compete with Apple directly, other than through the recruiting of talent


Chris Lattner on ATP 

Now out of Apple and soon to be leading Tesla’s autopilot team, Chris Lattner was the guest on ATP this week. Outstanding interview.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Obituary for Richard Nixon 

Feels appropriate today:

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

The Team That Runs Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Page 

Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg on the team of writers and photographers that runs Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Facebook page:

Zuckerberg has help, lots of it. Typically, a handful of Facebook employees manage communications just for him, helping write his posts and speeches, while an additional dozen or so delete harassing comments and spam on his page, say two people familiar with the matter. Facebook also has professional photographers snap Zuckerberg, say, taking a run in Beijing or reading to his daughter. Among them is Charles Ommanney, known most recently for his work covering the refugee crisis for the Washington Post. Company spokeswoman Vanessa Chan says Facebook is an easy way for executives to connect with various audiences.

While plenty of chief executive officers have image managers, the scale of this team is something different. So is its conflation of Zuckerberg’s personal image with that of his company, the diaper-changing photos next to the user growth stats.

Matt Yglesias:

Key point here is that Mark Zuckerberg is much too smart to actually spend time on Facebook.

The Information: ‘Google to Expand Mid-Range “Android One” Program Into U.S.’ 

Amir Efrati, reporting for The Information (behind a paywall, alas — here’s The Verge’s regurgitated version if you don’t have a subscription)

For instance, Google recently expressed its displeasure with Huawei after the China-based smartphone giant said earlier this month it would offer Amazon’s Alexa “virtual assistant” on upcoming U.S. phones, according to a person briefed about the matter. (Google developed a rival virtual assistant that will be built into Android phones besides the Pixel later this year.) It’s likely that Huawei made the decision in order to be in Amazon’s good graces, given that Amazon is an important seller of Huawei phones to U.S. customers.

I think it’s more likely that Huawei went with Alexa instead of Google Assistant because Alexa is, you know, actually available to them, right now. Maybe Google shouldn’t be surprised that Android handset makers are looking to Amazon when Google keeps the best new features exclusive to its own Pixel phones. But what do I know?

Google already has lined up at least one phone maker to be a U.S. launch partner for Android One, said one of the people briefed on the program. The identity couldn’t be learned.

You have to love the passive voice. It’s not that Efrati couldn’t learn the identity — the identity couldn’t be learned. It’s unknowable!

Developing an App Facing an Inevitable Sherlocking 

David Smith:

This week I’ve been working on a big update to my Apple Watch sleep tracker, Sleep++. While I love the app, it is a bit funny to work on. I am pretty confident that somewhere deep within the Cupertino mothership, Apple is working on their own sleep tracking app for the Apple Watch. […]

In a weird way I’ve just come to peace with this reality and grown to understand that this isn’t something that I should really fear. While the indefinite nature of its arrival certainly gives me a bit of unease, once I accepted that it was inevitable things got much simpler.

Good attitude for a third-party developer.

I think sleep tracking is an inevitable feature for Apple Watch. I’ve been wearing a Series 2 to sleep lately, and I wake up with between 55-65 percent battery remaining. I can usually get to a full charge — or close enough, like say 98 percent — just by charging it while I shower and get dressed. In my use, Series 2 does not need to charge overnight. So it might as well track my sleeping. (My problem with wearing it overnight is that it gives me stand credit for most hours — I must toss and turn a lot while sleeping.)

Update: Numerous readers have written in to say that they’ve been wearing their Apple Watches to sleep for a while, and the problem where they’re getting credit for stand hours while sleeping has only started with WatchOS 3.1.1. So it seems likely it’s just a bug.

If Apple Gets Into AR or VR, It Should and Probably Will Be a New Platform 

Zach LeBar:

Here’s a crazy theory: what if Apple’s big AR play, is macOS-focused?

We know that Tim Cook has repeatedly talked about how AR is an interest of Apple’s. On analyst calls they often deflect attention from questions about VR towards AR. Up ‘til now, most have assumed this is because Apple is more interested in iOS-based applications of these technologies, and that they’re looking to differentiate themselves from their Android-based competitors who are already offering VR options. There have even been rumors from as recently as CES 2017 that talk about Carl Zeiss partnering with Apple on a set of AR glasses. The pundits are assuming it’s iPhone-related. But Scoble’s report doesn’t say one way or the other.

What if we’re all looking in the wrong direction? What if we’re blinded by iOS and missing what a tremendous play AR for macOS could be?

This isn’t how Apple typically approaches new human-computer interaction technologies. They don’t just retrofit their existing platform for the new technology. That’s what Microsoft does with Windows. The iPhone didn’t run the Mac OS. The underlying core OS, yes, but everything user-facing was done from scratch, specific to the nature of a touch screen. Apple creates new platforms for new interaction technologies.

I strongly suspect that’s what Apple would do for AR or VR. It could piggyback on the iPhone for network connectivity, as the Watch does, but it’d be its own software platform.

I suppose it’s possible that Apple could use AR just to impose a big virtual display in front of the user. That wouldn’t work at all with iOS’s touch-based paradigm. It could work with the Mac’s mouse pointer and keyboard paradigm. But it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. I don’t think it would be better than a non-virtual big display on your desktop, and I don’t think toting around a bulky pair of goggles would be better than the built-in displays on MacBooks. It just seems incredibly short-sighted to treat AR or VR as an output for traditional desktop computing.

The Problem With AMP 

Kyle Schreiber:

The largest complaint by far is that the URLs for AMP links differ from the canonical URLs for the same content, making sharing difficult. The current URLs are a mess. They all begin with some form of https://wwww.google.com/amp/ before showing a URL to the AMP version of the site. There is currently no way to find the canonical link to the page without guessing what the original URL is. This usually involves removing either a .amp or ?amp=1 from the URL to get to the actual page.

Make no mistake. AMP is about lock-in for Google. AMP is meant to keep publishers tied to Google. Clicking on an AMP link feels like you never even leave the search page, and links to AMP content are displayed prominently in Google’s news carousel. This is their response to similar formats from both Facebook and Apple, both of which are designed to keep users within their respective ecosystems. However, Google’s implementation of AMP is more broad and far reaching than the Apple and Facebook equivalents. Google’s implementation of AMP is on the open web and isn’t limited to just an app like Facebook or Apple.

Back in October I asked why websites are publishing AMP pages. The lock-in aspect makes no sense to me. Why would I want to cede control over my pages to Google? AMP pages do load fast, but if publishers want their web pages to load fast, they can just engineer them to load fast. Best answers I got were that it wasn’t really strategic — publishers are going with AMP just because their SEO people are telling them to, because Google features AMP pages in search results. I suppose that is a strategy, but ceding control over your content to Google isn’t a good one in the long term.

As Schreiber points out, with things like Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News, the canonical URL for each story remains on the publisher’s own website. With AMP, from the perspective of typical users, the canonical URL is on google.com.

Google Infrastructure Security Design Overview 

Google:

This document gives an overview of how security is designed into Google’s technical infrastructure. This global scale infrastructure is designed to provide security through the entire information processing lifecycle at Google. This infrastructure provides secure deployment of services, secure storage of data with end user privacy safeguards, secure communications between services, secure and private communication with customers over the internet, and safe operation by administrators.

Quite a few interesting bits in this document, including this:

A Google data center consists of thousands of server machines connected to a local network. Both the server boards and the networking equipment are custom-designed by Google. We vet component vendors we work with and choose components with care, while working with vendors to audit and validate the security properties provided by the components. We also design custom chips, including a hardware security chip that is currently being deployed on both servers and peripherals. These chips allow us to securely identify and authenticate legitimate Google devices at the hardware level.

FTC Charges Qualcomm With Monopolizing Key Semiconductor Device Used in Cell Phones 

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission:

Extracted exclusivity from Apple in exchange for reduced patent royalties. Qualcomm precluded Apple from sourcing baseband processors from Qualcomm’s competitors from 2011 to 2016. Qualcomm recognized that any competitor that won Apple’s business would become stronger, and used exclusivity to prevent Apple from working with and improving the effectiveness of Qualcomm’s competitors.

I wonder who brought this complaint to the FTC — Apple, Qualcomm’s competitors, or both?

The Commission vote to file the complaint was 2-1. Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen dissented and issued a statement. Both a public and sealed version of the complaint were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on January 17, 2017.

Ohlhausen’s dissent is quite brief, and worth a read.

The Pipe Dream of Ara 

How far out in the weeds was Google’s modular “Project Ara” phone concept before they finally pulled the plug on it? This far out, according to Harrison Weber’s report for VentureBeat:

Imagine the modules developers might dream up. There were the obvious ideas, like specialized cameras and high-end speakers. But modules could get stranger, wilder, too. One module idea, in particular, frequently derailed meetings inside ATAP’s walls, as studio leaders strained to picture a module gold rush akin to Apple’s App Store.

“One of the modules that we were working on was basically like a tiny aquarium for your phone,” said the source. “It was a little tiny biome that would go inside of a module and it would have a microscope on the bottom part, and it would have live tardigrades and algae — some people call them water bears. They are the tiniest living organism. We had this idea to build a tardigrade module and we’d build a microscope with it. So you’d have this app on your phone and you could essentially look at the tardigrades up close and watch them floating around.” Brooklyn-based art, design, and technology agency Midnight Commercial conceived the idea, and was commissioned by Google to build it, demonstrating the depth of what developers could create.

Crowdsourcing Is No Way to Design a Phone (Or Anything Else for That Matter) 

Ashley Carman, writing for The Verge:

ZTE’s crowdsourced phone has already had quite a journey. After the phone’s concept — an eye-tracking, self-adhesive device — was voted on by ZTE users, the phone was put on Kickstarter. Now ZTE is giving us a clearer idea of what to expect specs-wise. […]

Although it has the hardware specs down, ZTE told me at CES that they haven’t totally figured out the phone’s software, like how to get it to eye track. The company also didn’t divulge any details around the self-adhesive case, so we have no idea how the phone will stick to different surfaces. Still, Hawkeye costs $199 on Kickstarter if you feel like preordering and waiting for more details to trickle out. ZTE could use the help too; it has only raised $32,000 out of its $500,000 goal.

Good luck with that.

Samsung Heir Faces Arrest on Charges of Bribing South Korea’s President 

Choe Sang-Hun, reporting for the NYT:

The sprawling investigation into President Park Geun-hye of South Korea took a dramatic turn on Monday with word that prosecutors were seeking the arrest of the de facto head of Samsung, one of the world’s largest conglomerates, on charges that he bribed the president and her secretive confidante. […]

Mr. Lee is accused of instructing Samsung subsidiaries to make payments totaling 43 billion won ($36 million) to the family of Ms. Park’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and to two foundations that Ms. Choi controlled, in exchange for help from Ms. Park in facilitating a father-to-son transfer of ownership control of Samsung.

Shocking that something like this would happen to a company as morally scrupulous as Samsung. Shocking.

Apple Insider: ‘Safari Not Able to Play New 4K Videos From YouTube Homepage, Likely Due to VP9 Shift’ 

Mike Wuerthele, reporting for Apple Insider:

What appears to be Google’s shift to the VP9 codec for delivering 4K video on the YouTube homepage is preventing Safari users from watching videos uploaded to the service since early December in full 4K resolution, but not from viewing webpage-embedded videos in the same resolution.

The shift appears to have taken place on Dec. 6, according to a Reddit thread delving into the issue. Google has been pushing the open and royalty-free VP9 codec as an alternative to the paid H.265 spec since 2014, but has never said that it would stop offering 4K video on the YouTube site in other formats, like the Apple-preferred H.264.

I’m curious what Google’s thinking is here. My guess: a subtle nudge to get more Mac users to switch from Safari to Chrome. 4K playback is going to require H.264 support if they want it to work on iOS, though.

Android’s Emoji Problem 

One practical side-effect of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Android phones are running old versions of the OS: they don’t have the latest emoji.

The Unsung iPhone Sine Qua Non 

Jean-Louis Gassée:

In retrospect, the ascendency of Smartphone 2.0 and the way it has shaped our culture seems obvious and natural. But the celebration and contemplation overlooks a crucial Sine Qua Non, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition: Unlocking the carriers’ grip on handset specifications, marketing, and content distribution.

More specifically, we owe Steve Jobs an enormous debt of gratitude for breaking the carriers’ backs (to avoid a more colorful phrase).

It wasn’t enough that it was revolutionary in both hardware and software. Apple needed something no major handset maker had ever gotten before, or has gotten since: total control.

A Russian Journalist on What to Expect Under Trump 

Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev, in the wake of Trump’s farcical press conference last week:

Given that Putin is probably a role model for Trump, it’s no surprise that he’s apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook. I have some observations to share with my American colleagues. You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other.

Josh Marshall responds:

Trump wants to bully the press and profit off the presidency. He’s told us this clearly in his own words. We need to accept the reality of both. The press should cover him on that basis, as a coward and a crook. The big corporate media organizations may not be able to use those words, I understand, but they should employ that prism. The truth is that his threats against the press to date are ones it is best to laugh at. If Trump should take some un- or extra-constitutional actions, we will deal with that when it happens. I doubt he will or can. But I won’t obsess about it in advance. Journalists should be unbowed and aggressive and with a sense of humor until something happens to prevent them from doing so. Trump is a punk and a bully. People who don’t surrender up their dignity to him unhinge him.

Apple in 2016: The Six Colors Report Card 

Jason Snell:

As we close the door on 2016, I thought it would be useful to look back at the year gone by and ask a panel of my peers who pay attention to Apple and related markets to take a moment and reflect on Apple’s performance in the past year.

This survey is such a valuable service. The consensus scores feel like a very accurate assessment of Apple’s year.

Q1 DF RSS Feed Sponsorships 

The Q1 sponsorship schedule is pretty open, including a last-minute opening for this coming week. If you’ve got a product or service to promote to DF’s discerning audience, get in touch.

Bloomberg on Andy Rubin’s New Company, Essential 

Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen, reporting for Bloomberg:

Rubin, creator of the Android operating system, is planning to marry his background in software with artificial intelligence in a risky business: consumer hardware. Armed with about a 40-person team, filled with recruits from Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Rubin is preparing to announce a new company called Essential and serve as its Chief Executive Officer, according to people familiar with the matter. […]

While still in the prototyping stage, Rubin’s phone is aimed at the top of the market where Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Alphabet Inc.’s new Pixel reside. It’s expected to include high-end materials and the ability to gain new hardware features over time, the people said. Representatives for Rubin and Sprint declined to comment.

The problem with any sort of modular design where the goal is to “gain new hardware features over time” is that the most important hardware components in a phone are the display, camera, CPU, and GPU, and Apple updates the iPhone with industry-leading displays, cameras, CPUs, and GPUs every year.

At least one prototype of Rubin’s phone boasts a screen larger than the iPhone 7 Plus’s (5.5-inches) but has a smaller overall footprint because of the lack of bezels, one of the people said. The startup is experimenting with enabling the phone’s screen to sense different levels of pressure, similar to an iPhone, the person said. Rubin’s team is testing an industrial design with metal edges and a back made of ceramic, which is more difficult to manufacture than typical smartphone materials, two of the people said. […]

Rubin is aiming to put the phone on sale around the middle of this year for a price close to that of an iPhone 7 ($649), a person familiar with the matter said, adding that all of the plans are still in flux.

If it’s in the prototyping stage right now, in January, and they don’t know what materials they’re going to use or what size the display will be, what chance do they possibly have of putting a phone on sale in the “middle of this year”?

Also, no word on what OS they’re using. I’m guessing Android with customizations, but it’s curious the story doesn’t say.

Speedtest Desktop Apps for Mac and Windows 

My thanks to Ookla for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new native apps for Mac and Windows. I’ve been using their speedtest.net web service since forever to diagnose network problems and measure performance. They’ve had a native app for iOS for years, and it’s great too.

Now they have native desktop apps. Very simple, very obvious, and beautifully designed. Try them out today by downloading the Speedtest app from the Windows or Mac App Stores — free of charge. That’s it — excellent new native apps for network speed testing, totally free.

U.S. Appeals Court Allows Group to Sue Apple Over App Store ‘Monopoly’ 

Stephen Nellis and Dan Levine, reporting for Reuters:

iPhone app purchasers may sue Apple Inc over allegations that the company monopolized the market for iPhone apps by not allowing users to purchase them outside the App Store, leading to higher prices, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday.

That sound you hear is thousands of indie iOS developers laughing at the notion of the App Store leading to “higher prices”.

Apple had argued that users did not have standing to sue it because they purchased apps from developers, with Apple simply renting out space to those developers. Developers pay a cut of their revenues to Apple in exchange for the right to sell in the App Store.

A lower court sided with Apple, but Judge William A. Fletcher ruled that iPhone users purchase apps directly from Apple, which gives iPhone users the right to bring a legal challenge against Apple. […]

The courts have yet to address the substance of the iPhone users’ allegations; up this point, the wrangling has been over whether they have the right to sue Apple in the first place.

I think it’s fair to say that users buy apps from Apple, not from the developers, so the fact that they can sue Apple strikes me as the correct ruling. But I don’t see how Apple can be ruled to have a “monopoly” — everyone knows Android phones comprise a majority of the market. It’s fair to object to Apple’s tight control over iOS, but you can’t fairly call it a “monopoly”.

PodSearch 

David Smith:

I have a knack for remembering audio. I’m awful at remembering names and faces, but if I hear something I can often recall it later. This has manifested itself as a bit of a party trick for the podcasts I listen to, where I can quickly find the section of a show where a topic was discussed even years after I heard it. Fun, but not particularly useful.

This situation gave me the idea for a little side project, PodSearch, empowering the same quick podcast recall for anyone. The concept was simple. Take a few of my favorite podcasts and run them through automated speech-to-text and make the result searchable.

This is really amazing. I really ought to pay to get true transcripts for The Talk Show (including the back catalog of episodes), but this is a pretty good way to search my show for keywords.

Chris Lattner on Ted Kremenek 

Chris Lattner on Ted Kremenek, his replacement as project lead on Apple’s Swift team:

One thing that I don’t think is fully appreciated by the community: Ted has been one of the quiet but incredible masterminds behind Swift (and Clang, and the Clang Static Analyzer) for many years. His approach and modesty has led many to misunderstand the fact that he has actually been running the Swift team for quite some time (misattributing it to me). While I’m super happy to continue to participate in the ongoing evolution and design of Swift, I’m clearly outmatched by the members of the Apple Swift team, and by Ted’s leadership of the team. This is the time for me to graciously hand things over to folks who are far more qualified than me. Swift has an incredible future ahead of it, and I’m really thrilled to be small part of the force that helps guide its direction going forward.

Consumer Reports Now Recommends MacBook Pros 

Consumer Reports:

New Apple software fixes a battery issue found in CR tests. The software, now in beta, will be part of a broad update soon.

This makes it sound like CR found a problem with the batteries. They didn’t. They found a bug in a Safari developer mode. It’s a real bug, but it’s clear now that it didn’t justify the initial sensational “Wow, first ever Apple laptop not recommended by Consumer Reports!” report. There’s no way they would’ve published that rushed initial report for a laptop from any brand other than Apple. Clickbait, pure and simple.

‘This Is Why You Don’t Kiss the Ring’ 

Good piece by Hamilton Nolan, writing for The Concourse, on Trump’s press conference yesterday, which had the tone and substance of a professional wrestling promotion:

These things are not normal. These things are not okay. These are actions that flout well-established ethical and civil norms. Admittedly, there is something thrilling about watching him do this. What will he do next? It always keeps us tuning in, in the same way that a violent alcoholic father will always keep his children on his toes. But we should not fool ourselves about what is happening in front of our eyes. We are all coming to realize that our civil society institutions may not be strong enough to protect the flawed but fundamentally solid democracy that we thought we had. We are witnessing the rise to power of a leader who does not care about norms. Since these norms were created to prevent political, social, economic, and cultural disasters, we do not need to wonder how this will end. It will end poorly.

Matthew Yglesias: ‘Beyond Wild Allegations, What’s Clearly True About Trump and Russia Is Disturbing’ 

Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox:

Allegations now floating around range from the salacious (Russia has Trump sex tapes made at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow) to the serious (using intermediaries, Trump and Russia agreed to an explicit quid pro quo in which Russia would give him electoral help and in exchange he would shift US foreign policy). None of this is proven, and much of it is unprovable (if the FSB has a secret sex tape, how are we going to find it?) but the truth is that these kind of allegations, though difficult to resist, simply shouldn’t matter much compared to what’s in the public record.

Maureen Dowd Interviews Peter Thiel 

Maureen Dowd:

He recalls a story from his and Mr. Musk’s PayPal days, when Mr. Musk joined the engineering team’s poker game and bet everything on every hand, admitting only afterward that it was his first time playing poker. Then there was the time they were driving in Mr. Musk’s McLaren F1 car, “the fastest car in the world.” It hit an embankment, achieved liftoff, made a 360-degree horizontal turn, crashed and was destroyed.

“It was a miracle neither of us were hurt,” Mr. Thiel says. “I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which is not advisable. Elon’s first comment was, ‘Wow, Peter, that was really intense.’ And then it was: ‘You know, I had read all these stories about people who made money and bought sports cars and crashed them. But I knew it would never happen to me, so I didn’t get any insurance.’ And then we hitchhiked the rest of the way to the meeting.”

Peter Thiel may well be smart, but he’s also dangerously foolish and solipsistic. You have to be a reckless fool to be that smart and get into any car without wearing a seatbelt, let alone a McLaren being driven by a daredevil like Musk.

On whether Thiel is concerned about Trump’s upcoming nominee (singular, I hope) for the Supreme Court:

“I don’t think these things will particularly change. It’s like, even if you appointed a whole series of conservative Supreme Court justices, I’m not sure that Roe v. Wade would get overturned, ever. I don’t know if people even care about the Supreme Court.”

Like I said: Peter Thiel may well be smart, but he’s also dangerously foolish and solipsistic.

The Math Behind a Theoretical 10.5-inch iPad 

Dan Provost:

The math works out perfectly. This new 10.5” iPad would have the exact same resolution as the 12.9” iPad Pro (2732 × 2048), but the same pixel density of the iPad mini (326 ppi instead of 264 ppi). Crunch the numbers, do a little Pythagorean Theorem, and you end up with a screen 10.5” diagonal (10.47” to be precise, but none of Apple’s stated screen sizes are exact). In terms of physcial dimensions, the width of this 10.5” screen would be exactly the same as the height of the iPad mini screen.

Can’t believe I didn’t think to do this again regarding this rumor. The math works out.

WSJ: ‘Apple Sets Its Sights on Hollywood With Plans for Original Content’ 

Ben Fritz, Tripp Mickle, and Hannah Karp, reporting for the WSJ:

Apple Inc. is planning to build a significant new business in original television shows and movies, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that could make it a bigger player in Hollywood and offset slowing sales of iPhones and iPads.

These people said the programming would be available to subscribers of Apple’s $10-a-month streaming-music service, which has struggled to catch up to the larger Spotify AB. Apple Music already includes a limited number of documentary-style segments on musicians, but nothing like the premium programming it is now seeking.

Interesting, but I don’t get why they’re framing this in the context of “offset[ting] slowing sales of iPhones and iPads”. I think Apple would be pursuing the exact same original content course regardless of whether iPhone and iPad sales were booming, stagnant, or falling. It’s just the obvious thing to do.

App Extensions Are Not a Replacement for User Automation 

Sal Soghoian, writing for MacStories (there’s a byline I never expected to write — it’s going to take a while to get used to Sal as a civilian):

Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that Apple decided to combine their engineering resources to form app teams that delivered both iOS and macOS versions of applications.

In such a scenario it may seem logical to retain application features common to both platforms and to remove those that were perceived to require extra resources. Certainly Automation would be something examined in that regard, and the idea might be posited that: “App Extensions are equivalent to, or could be a replacement for, User Automation in macOS.” And by User Automation, I’m referring to Apple Event scripting, Automator, Services, the UNIX command line utilities, etc.

Let’s examine the validity of that conjecture, beginning with overviews of App Extensions and User Automation.

It’s a great article, and I think Sal’s case is very strong. App extensions are great, but they’re no replacement for automation. His conclusion:

But let’s take a step back, and think about this topic differently. Why not have both?

Perhaps it is time for Apple and all of us to think of User Automation and App Extensions in terms of “AND” instead of “OR.” To embrace the development of a new cross-platform automation architecture, maybe called “AutomationKit,” that would incorporate the “everyman openness” of User Automation with the focused abilities of developer-created plugins. App Extensions could become the new macOS System Services, and Automator could save workflows as Extensions with access to the Share Menu and new “non-selection” extension points. And AutomationKit could even include an Apple Event bridge so that it would work with the existing macOS automation tools.

Must-read piece for anyone who cares about the Mac as a power user platform. I’m OK with the current situation, where the Mac has these automation capabilities and iOS does not. I’d prefer to see iOS gain serious automation capabilities — even if it’s an altogether new technology. But I’m dreadfully afraid of a future where MacOS is devolved to iOS’s state, with no supported automation technologies.


The Right Way to Pop Your AirPods Out of the Case

Hey, I made a YouTube video:

 


Chris Lattner Lands at Tesla 

Tesla:

We would like to welcome Chris Lattner, who will join Tesla as our Vice President of Autopilot Software. Chris’ reputation for engineering excellence is well known. He comes to Tesla after 11 years at Apple where he was primarily responsible for creating Swift, the programming language for building apps on Apple platforms and one of the fastest growing languages for doing so on Linux.

This is a “holy shit!” hiring by Tesla. A year or two ago it felt like Apple was gunning for Tesla’s lead in electric cars. Now, it feels like Apple is out of the car game, and Tesla is gunning for Apple’s lead in computing. You can’t overstate what a star Chris Lattner is.

Update: Lattner’s only public comment to date is retweeting this observation by Daniel Jalkut:

I hope folks will not overlook that amid all the drama of @clattner_llvm leaving Apple, @tkremenek remains a huge asset for them.

Apple Statement on Consumer Reports’ MacBook Pro Battery Testing 

From a statement Apple sent to TechCrunch:

We appreciate the opportunity to work with Consumer Reports over the holidays to understand their battery test results. We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab. After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life. We have also fixed the bug uncovered in this test.

So there’s a bug in Safari when you disable the cache (Develop: Disable Caches — and the entire Develop menu is off by default). Disabling the cache should decrease battery life in a test like CR’s. And if there’s a bug, I can see why it might dramatically decrease battery life. But that still doesn’t explain how Consumer Reports’s testing showed results ranging from 3.75 hours (poor) to 19.5 hours (seemingly too good to be true).

I still think something was/is wrong with Consumer Reports’s testing (19.5 hours?) but I don’t think it’s fair to say that disabling the caches is unfair or a flawed method. And while the preference setting is obscure, I wouldn’t call it “hidden”. To me, hidden preferences are the ones you can only enable from calls to defaults in Terminal. You can turn the Develop menu on by clicking a visible checkbox in the “Advanced” tab of Safari’s preferences.

Chris Lattner Is Leaving Apple 

Chris Lattner, in an email on the Swift Evolution mailing list:

I’m happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as “Project Lead” for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I’ve made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. This decision wasn’t made lightly, and I want you all to know that I’m still completely committed to Swift. I plan to remain an active member of the Swift Core Team, as well as a contributor to the swift-evolution mailing list.

Sounds like an orderly, no-drama (and perhaps long-planned?) transition. Sure am curious what his “opportunity in another space” is, though.

Lattner is a really smart, very well-liked, and deeply respected guy. His leaving is a loss for Apple.

Swift really is Lattner’s baby — he developed the earliest versions of it by himself starting in 2010, before work expanded to a larger group in Apple’s Developer Tools group. (Swift wasn’t announced publicly until June 2014.) The Apple developer community is still in the middle of the transition to Swift. I’m a little surprised he’d leave in the midst of the upheaval. It’s a thriving language, but it is far from a completed project — neither the language itself nor the OS frameworks.


On Chuq Von Rospach’s ‘Apple’s 2016 in Review’, and the AirPort and Mac Pro Lineups in Particular

Chuq Von Rospach has a thoughtful look at the state of Apple. The whole piece is worth reading, but his comments on two particular products stood out to me. First, the AirPort lineup:

Apple has products it has let languish without any significant update for long periods of time. If you look at how Apple’s treated their AirPort line, you’d think Wi-Fi was a mature technology where nothing was really changing. In fact, a lot is happening including a big shift to mesh networks, and Apple has seemingly ignored all of that. It used to be you bought Airports because they were some of the best Wi-FI devices out there. Today, the only reason to buy them is you want easy, and because it has the Apple brand. They’re woefully out of date (and in fact, I just replaced mine with a set of Eero devices, which are Apple easy to use, and blow Apple’s products away in terms of performance). Rumors have come out that Apple has cancelled future development of these, but they’re still for sale. Why?

Something is clearly wrong with the AirPort line. Either it should have been updated long ago to remain state-of-the-art, or it should have been discontinued. Whether or not Apple should still be in the Wi-Fi router game is a reasonable argument. I think they should, but I can see the other side of the argument (that other companies do it well, and Apple should focus on areas where they stand alone). But there’s no reasonable argument for the current AirPort state of affairs.

And on the Mac Pro:

To put the Mac pro in context: This was the “Can’t Innovate my Ass” product that Apple produced to counter criticism that it wasn’t innovative any more and that it was letting the Mac product line languish (hey, this isn’t a new complaint…). They came out with something that was visually distinctive and they build a really interesting set of guts inside the trash can.

But here’s the problem: in retrospect, what they built was a device based around their own ego needs of proving their critics wrong, not a device that served the purposes of their power users. It’s not configurable, it’s not upgradeable, it’s not expandable: It’s pretty, and full of (for 2013) innovative hardware design, but is that really what Apple’s power users needed?

“What the hell happened with the Mac Pro?” is the most interesting question about Apple today. Because something clearly went way wrong with this product. I’m not convinced the basic idea for the design is unsound — the idea is that expansion would come in the form of external peripherals, rather than things you install inside the box. I still think that’s probably the future of “expandable” computing.

If Apple had updated the Mac Pro on a roughly annual basis, we wouldn’t be calling this a disaster. I’m sure there would still be people who would wish that Apple had stuck with the traditional tower form factor, but we wouldn’t all be saying “What the fuck?”

If Apple were going to update this Mac Pro, we should have seen it two years ago. If Apple were going to scrap this design and replace it with something else (like they did with the short-lived “sunflower” iMac G4 design in 2002), we should have seen the replacement a year ago. And if they were planning to abolish the Mac Pro, that should have happened this past year — or at least we should have seen prices drop significantly on these three-year-old workstations.1

Updates to the same basic design would make sense. An all-new design would make sense. Getting out of the Mac Pro game would make sense. Selling 1000-day-old pro workstations at the same prices as in 2013 makes no sense. Whatever the explanation is, this situation is an unmitigated disaster. 


  1. Other computer makers raise and lower prices as component prices change. Apple comes out with a price and sticks with it. One reason for that is branding. Stable prices at “round” numbers — $1499 instead of $1427 or whatever — are a sign of a premium quality brand. And they don’t lower prices on older products unless they keep them in the product lineup after their replacements have been introduced. What they almost never do is lower the price of a product just because it’s old, without a replacement. Thus, if Apple were to announce price drops on the Mac Pro lineup, without releasing updated models, I would take that as a very strong sign that they’re getting out of the standalone pro desktop market. But they haven’t done that — they’re still selling these Mac Pros at the same prices as when they were announced over three years ago. I take that as a sign that they plan to replace them, or at least hope to replace them, but have failed for whatever reason(s). ↩︎


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