U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Double to 6.6 Million 

CNBC:

The torrent of Americans filing for unemployment insurance skyrocketed last week as more than 6.6 million new claims were filed, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That brings to 10 million the total Americans who filed over the past two weeks.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected 3.1 million for last week, one week after 3.3 million filings in the first wave of what has been a record-shattering swelling of the jobless ranks.

This only week two.

Ragmask: ‘Ultra-Simple, Fast-to-Make, Great-Fitting Masks’ 

From our old friend Loren Brichter: detailed instructions for do-it-yourself masks made from whatever materials you have available.

‘Unmasking Twitter’ 

Ben Thompson, Stratechery:

This is where masks come in. Much of the discussion of their efficacy has been focused on whether they keep you safe from the virus, and the evidence suggests that the answer is probably. SlateStarCodex has a comprehensive overview of the evidence here.

Everyone agrees, though, that those who are sick should wear masks; as the Taiwan CDC puts it, “Masks are mainly used for preventing the spread of disease and protecting people around you.” This, though, highlights the shortcomings of the “Don’t wear masks if you’re not sick” recommendations:

  • First, people are terrible in general at estimating if they are sick, particularly if their symptoms are mild.

  • Second, as Zeynep Tufekci argued in the New York Times, saying that only sick people should wear them stigmatizes the sick and makes them less likely to wear them.

  • Third, and most importantly, asymptomatic transmission means you don’t even know if you are sick in the first place.

Best estimates at this point suggest that up to 1 in 4 people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic — a staggering number.

Trust me, I was fully on board with the WHO/CDC recommendation not to wear a mask unless you’re feeling sick. I’m sure most of you reading this in the U.S. are still on board with that. It’s time to admit the WHO and CDC led us grossly astray on this.

Given what we now know about transmission — that it primarily spreads through large droplets — even homemade masks are more effective than no mask at all. I firmly believe we should all wear masks to help keep ourselves from contracting the virus. But even if after reading all of this you still think masks should only be worn by those who are sick, the fact that up to 25 percent of those infected are asymptomatic (but still contagious) means that without widespread testing we should all wear masks.

Japan to Give Cloth Face Masks to 50 Million Households to Fight Coronavirus 

Kyodo News:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday the government will distribute cloth face masks to roughly 50 million households in Japan as stocks of disposable masks have run out at drugstores and other shops amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The distribution, which will start later this month, is part of the economic package that the government will compile next week. Each household with a registered postal address will receive two washable cloth masks, Abe told a meeting of a government task force.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s mask story is… crickets chirping.

The Verge: ‘The Best Alternatives to Zoom for Videoconferencing’ 

Barbara Krasnoff, writing for The Verge:

We recently ran a roundup of some of the free videoconferencing apps available, including Zoom. Since so many questions have come up about Zoom’s security, we’ve decided to run the roundup again, this time excluding Zoom and adding other apps that you can use instead.

As before, it’s worth noting that while all of these have free versions, some are offering temporary access to additional features for those who are currently working from home or who want to check up on friends and relatives online.

There are a number of apps we have not included, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and FaceTime, that allow you to do video chats; they either require that all participants be members (Facebook, WhatsApp) or that you use a specific type of device (FaceTime, which is Apple-only). The following list includes more generalized applications that allow you to participate without having to actually register for the app (unless you’re the host).

Great resource for anyone looking for Zoom alternatives, which at this point should be everyone who’s using Zoom.

Makes you wonder about the alternate universe where Apple had followed through on Steve Jobs’s impetuous claim that Apple would make FaceTime an open standard.

The Talk Show: ‘A Kryptonian Baby’ 

Rene Ritchie returns to the show to talk about going independent after 11 years at iMore. Topics include the new MacBook Air and iPad Pros, and we answer questions sent by listeners.

Sponsored by:

  • Hover: Find a domain name for your passion. Get 10% off your first purchase.
  • Linode: Instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode Cloud. Get a server running in seconds with your choice of Linux distro, resources, and choice of 10 node locations.
Quarantine Book Club 

Great idea from my pals at Mule Design: group video chats, every weekday, with a wide variety of talented writers. The next two: Cory Doctorow (later today) and Om Malik (tomorrow).

My iPad Stand: Anker’s $15 Multi-Angle Stand 

After I published a photo of my iPad writing setup in my iPad Pro review last week, a few people asked what stand I use to prop up the iPad. I use an Anker “Multi-Angle Stand” I bought back in 2018. I love it: it’s lightweight, small, sturdy, supports multiple angles, and folds flat when not in use. I haven’t even looked for another stand since getting this one. Order through this link and I’ll get an affiliate bounty from Amazon.

Anker still lists this item on their own website, and from that page links to the same product page at Amazon, and the product page at Amazon still says it’s “By Anker” — but, oddly, the photos are now branded “XINKSD”. Not sure what the deal is with that, but this looks exactly like the stand I own.

Files Installed by Zoom on MacOS 

A bunch of DF readers have asked about how to uninstall Zoom on MacOS. Alastair Houghton examined Zoom’s shoddy installer script and it appears that on modern systems (running 10.10 or later) Zoom only installs two items:

  • /Applications/zoom.us.app
  • ~/Library/Internet Plug-Ins/ZoomUsPlugIn.plugin

Trash these two items and you should be done with Zoom. If there’s anything else Zoom installs, let me know.

‘The “S” in Zoom Stands for Security’ 

Security researcher Patrick Wardle uncovered two security flaws in the Mac version of Zoom today:

Though the new issues we’ll discuss today remain unpatched, they both are local security issues.

As such, to be successfully exploited they required that malware or an attacker already have a foothold on a macOS system.

In other words, these vulnerabilities aren’t catastrophic — they can’t be exploited remotely to give an attacker a foothold on your Mac. But software that’s already running on your Mac can exploit these vulnerabilities to gain root access (via Zoom’s egregiously sloppy installer) or to gain access to your webcam and microphone without prompting a permission alert from the system (presuming, quite reasonably, that the user has already granted camera and microphone access to Zoom itself).

(Zoom’s installer is so sloppy that when it prompts for administrator authentication, the dialog is written in broken English, and claims — falsely — to be the “System”: “System need your privilege to change.” That’s exactly what their installer’s authentication prompt says.

Even their helper tool’s name is misspelled: “zoomAutenticationTool”. Zoom has all the hallmarks of malware and scamware.)

We Should All Be Wearing Masks 

This story ran a few days ago in The New York Times under the headline “More Americans Should Probably Wear Masks for Protection”, but when you read halfway down the article, there’s no probably about it:

When researchers conducted systematic review of a variety of interventions used during the SARS outbreak in 2003, they found that washing hands more than 10 times daily was 55 percent effective in stopping virus transmission, while wearing a mask was actually more effective — at about 68 percent.

The masks in that study were N95 medical-grade masks, but the evidence seems clear that wearing a mask of any sort helps prevent transmission.

There is a lot of blame to go around regarding this entire pandemic — both globally and here in the U.S. — but the way that both the WHO and CDC have drummed into our heads the notion that we should not wear masks unless we’re sick is outrageously negligent. It’s not just wrong, it’s a lie. It’s nonsense to argue about the fact that wearing a mask — even a homemade one — is less than 100 percent effective. Nothing is 100 percent effective, and all evidence suggests that masks are, at the very least, quite effective.

We in the U.S. and Europe need to follow the longstanding norm in Asian countries and get past our stigmatizing of mask-wearing in public.

Bill Gates: ‘Here’s How to Make Up for Lost Time on COVID-19’ 

Bill Gates, in an op-ed for The Washington Post:

There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus. But the window for making important decisions hasn’t closed. The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one because of Covid-19.

Through my work with the Gates Foundation, I’ve spoken with experts and leaders in Washington and across the country. It’s become clear to me that we must take three steps.

Cogent, clear, and actionable advice.

‘I Basically Want to Address the Idiots Out There — You Know Who You Are, You’re Going Out’ 

Larry David:

“The problem is you’re passing up a fantastic opportunity — a once in a lifetime opportunity — to stay in the house, sit on the couch, and watch TV! I don’t know how you’re passing that up.”

Hobby Lobby Reopened Stores in States With Coronavirus Lockdowns 

Bethany Biron, reporting for Business Insider:

On Monday, the company resumed business in several states where it had been forced to temporarily close. A March 28 memo obtained by Business Insider equipped managers with talking points for “how to respond and communicate if visited by a local authority that asks why we are open.”

In a separate leaked note sent last week, executives wrote that the company “is going to make every effort to continue working the employees.”

The reopenings include stores in Ohio and Wisconsin — which both enacted strict shelter-in-place orders on March 24 — where nearly all Hobby Lobby locations have been reopened after shuttering for only one week. During calls Business Insider made to each location, employees confirmed that all 19 Hobby Lobby locations in Ohio were open as of Monday afternoon, as were 17 out of 20 stores in Wisconsin that were still listed as “temporarily closed” on Google.

Of the three stores closed in Wisconsin, at least one was forcibly shuttered by police officers after briefly opening on Monday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. An employee at that store told Business Insider on Monday it was closed but that employees were there “working on projects.” A similar incident was reported in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where local authorities forced a store to close after it was open for one hour on Monday morning, the CBS-affiliated news outlet WLKY reported.

“Working the employees”. What a phrase. This defiance of state orders is outrageous, but unsurprising from a company owned by rightwing nutbags. The police should shutter every one of these stores.

Mossberg on Chrome on Mac 

Walt Mossberg, on Twitter:

If you use a Mac, and you insist on using Chrome, stop complaining about speed, fan noise, or battery life. It’s well known that Chrome is a resource and battery hog, especially on Macs. Safari is fully capable, quite fast and very privacy & security focused. Just use Safari.

If you’re a Firefox fan, that’s good too. My point is just that Chrome, which years ago worked great on Macs, is now a big problem, and that Chrome users with degraded Mac performance or weaker battery life should look to their browser choice, and not blame the hardware.

There’s no question that this is a tradeoff — Chrome is, in terms of web technologies, more featureful than Safari. There are web apps that work in Chrome that don’t work in Safari, or work better in Chrome than they do in Safari. But the tradeoff in resource consumption is significant.

It’s funny reading the replies to Mossberg’s tweet. A bunch of people suggest using Brave or Edge or Opera — all of which use Chrome’s Chromium HTML/JavaScript engine. In terms of resource consumption, none of these browsers are any better than Chrome. The difference is in the browser interface — an important difference, but irrelevant to what Mossberg is addressing.

It’s also funny how angry some Chrome fans are about this, particularly web developers. They argue that the problem is that Safari is slow to adopt Chrome-first web technologies without acknowledging that the reason Safari has better performance and stronger privacy goes hand-in-hand with the fact that these technologies Safari hasn’t adopted are resource-heavy and potentially privacy-invasive.

Personally, I use Chrome solely for logging into Google services. Otherwise I avoid it for privacy reasons. (No reason to worry about Google and privacy while I’m logged in, using a Google service.) For anything non-Google that doesn’t work in Safari, I flit between Firefox, Brave, and Edge.

Wimbledon Canceled for First Time Since WWII 

Simon Cambers, ESPN:

The Wimbledon Championships have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the All England Club confirmed in a statement Wednesday. It is the first time Wimbledon has been canceled since World War II in 1945. It is also the first time since the tournament began in 1877 that the event will not be played during peacetime.

July.

Layoffs at The Omni Group 

Brent Simmons:

Yesterday, along with about ten people (I’m not sure exactly), I was laid off from my job at the Omni Group, and now I’m looking for new work. […]

Omni’s been around for almost 30 years, and I hope it’s around for another 30. It’s one of the great Mac and iOS shops — they will sing songs about Omni, at maximum volume, in the great halls.

But businesses go up and down, and Omni’s had a bit of a down period. Normally that would be fine, but the current economic circumstances turn “a bit of a down period” into something more serious — and, in order to get things going the right way again, the company had to lay off some people. Including me.

This is, notably, the first time Omni has ever had to lay off people. And I bet that the company wouldn’t have had to this time, either — but, well, (gestures at everything) there’s all this.

This feels like another kick in the nuts, in an ongoing series of kicks in the nuts. Oof. All of this — as Brent says, gestures at everything — aside, it is hard to shake the feeling that the market for independent professional software is coming apart at the seams, fraying irreparably.

Paying for good software is in our own best interest.

For anyone who is able to hire right now, the upside of this bad news is that some extraordinary talent is on the market for new work. Brent is one of my closest and oldest personal friends, so feel free to consider me hopelessly biased regarding him. (But I’ve worked with him, too, and he’s an amazing colleague.) But one of the things that makes Omni special is they’ve always been — and remain — a magnet for good, talented people.

Trump: ‘I Haven’t Heard About Testing Being a Problem’ 

From that conference call with governors in the preceding item, here is what President Trump actually said — yesterday — when told by the governor of Montana that they’re desperately short of test kits for COVID-19:

“I haven’t heard about testing in weeks. We’re testing more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests. And we’ve come out with another one tomorrow that’s, you know, almost instantaneous testing. But I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”

Follow this link to the clip from Rachel Maddow’s show last night and listen to the president say these words. Everyone knows the United States is desperately lacking in tests. And masks. And personal protective equipment for medical professionals. Just the fundamental basics.

And the president of the United States says he hasn’t heard about it being a problem. The story regarding this conference call is not that there’s a political debate between governors and the president. The story is that the president of the United States is either utterly delusional or is lying about a catastrophic testing shortage we can all see with our own eyes. The utter dearth of testing capabilities here in the U.S. isn’t some little side story. It is one of the single biggest problems we face in this crisis. It’s huge.

It’s worse than “Trump Says Earth Is Flat; Scientists Disagree”. It’s more easily disproven that the U.S. is critically lacking in test kits, masks, and PPEs — and more importantly, no one would be dying if Trump were out there saying the Earth is flat.

The New York Times Is Committing ‘Journalistic Malpractice’ on Trump’s Catastrophic COVID-19 Failures 

Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor in epidemiology of microbial diseases at Yale, on Twitter, responding to a Times story preposterously headlined “Trump Suggests Lack of Testing Is No Longer a Problem. Governors Disagree.”:

This is journalistic malpractice. If we don’t have scale-up of testing, we will be in lock-down for months & months. There is no debate on this, why frame it like there is one? Next: Trump says earth flat, scientists say otherwise.

Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin responded (lowercase and punctuation sic):

you’re picking the wrong fight, move along

Gonsalves’s thread responding to Martin ought to be reported as a murder:

This is an emergency, act like it. It matters that you’re failing, and it’s not about a lowly reader trying to score points, but the fact that @NYTimes eliding, equivocating on the federal response has consequences for millions of people.

So, get better. Tell us, why 4 months into this we STILL have insufficient number of tests — what happened politically that led us to this point, keeps us still incapable of rising to the task. There are political stories abounding in this world-historical crisis and you surrender to the he-said-she-said variety of reporting, every time. […]

I buried dozens of my friends during the height of the AIDS epidemic and we’re all preparing for burials now of friends and family in this new pandemic. Don’t you dare tell me to move on.

Do your job. We are facing one of the greatest challenges in American history, largely due to political failures of the current Administration. Dig. Find out what is happening, the roots of the failures. Name names. You have the resources of one of biggest papers in the US.

Stop the transcription of press conferences, calls as the news in and of itself. Go deeper. Explain how current American politics led to this epidemiological and economic calamity, and how our leaders are or are not rising to the challenge. You may lose your access to certain prized sources inside the White House, the invitations to the best parties in DC, but you’ll gain the respect of your readers and rescue your reputations from the disdain of history.

Apple Acquires Dark Sky 

Adam Grossman on the Dark Sky blog:

Today we have some important and exciting news to share: Dark Sky has joined Apple.

Part of me wonders what took so long. Dark Sky is simply an outstanding app and service — I’ve been a devoted fan from the get-go in 2012 and have written about Dark Sky many times.

For now, the iOS app remains available (and is still sold for $4). The Android app and website will stop working on July 1. As for their API service:

Our API service for existing customers is not changing today, but we will no longer accept new signups. The API will continue to function through the end of 2021.

That’s a generous grace period. But to my knowledge there is no other service like Dark Sky’s, and it powers a lot of apps, including the excellent Carrot Weather and Weather Line (my personal favorite) apps. Dark Sky is also the weather provider for DuckDuckGo and Yelp.

I’m hoping that Apple has acquired Dark Sky not merely to beef up the built-in iPhone Weather app (Apple has no first-party Weather app for iPad or Mac, curiously), but to add hyperlocal weather forecasting APIs to its OSes. This would add a competitive advantage for iOS and MacOS both in terms of weather and privacy. Third-party weather apps are notorious for abusing location privileges.

Zoom Is Leaking Users’ Email Addresses and Photos to Strangers 

Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard:

The issue lies in Zoom’s “Company Directory” setting, which automatically adds other people to a user’s lists of contacts if they signed up with an email address that shares the same domain. This can make it easier to find a specific colleague to call when the domain belongs to an individual company. But multiple Zoom users say they signed up with personal email addresses, and Zoom pooled them together with thousands of other people as if they all worked for the same company, exposing their personal information to one another. […]

On its website, Zoom says, “By default, your Zoom contacts directory contains internal users in the same organization, who are either on the same account or who’s email address uses the same domain as yours (except for publicly used domains including gmail.com, yahoo.com, hotmail.com, etc) in the Company Directory section.”

Zoom’s system does not exempt all domains that are used for personal email, however. Gehrels said he encountered the issue with the domains xs4all.nl, dds.nl, and quicknet.nl. These are all Dutch internet service providers (ISPs) which offer email services.

Far from the worst thing we’ve learned about Zoom (this week!), but evidence yet again that privacy and security are low on their list of priorities.

Zoom Falsely Claims Its Group Video Can Be End-to-End Encrypted 

Micah Lee and Yael Grauer, reporting for The Intercept:

Zoom, the video conferencing service whose use has spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic, claims to implement end-to-end encryption, widely understood as the most private form of internet communication, protecting conversations from all outside parties. In fact, Zoom is using its own definition of the term, one that lets Zoom itself access unencrypted video and audio from meetings.

“Using its own definition of the term” is generously euphemistic on the part of The Intercept. This is simply a bald-faced lie intended to mislead.

“When we use the phrase ‘End to End’ in our other literature, it is in reference to the connection being encrypted from Zoom end point to Zoom end point,” the Zoom spokesperson wrote, apparently referring to Zoom servers as “end points” even though they sit between Zoom clients. “The content is not decrypted as it transfers across the Zoom cloud” through the networking between these machines.

If video chat is only encrypted in transit between clients and Zoom’s servers, say so. That’s less than ideal, but it is what it is, and as The Intercept quotes an expert, E2E encryption is particularly hard with high-quality group video and audio. But lying about it is unconscionable. And again, like Zoom’s other issues, this can’t be explained as an honest mistake. It’s deliberate. “End-to-end” is not open to interpretation.

Scenes From New York 

New York as a ghost town.


Regarding Zoom

Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard last week:

As people work and socialize from home, video conferencing software Zoom has exploded in popularity. What the company and its privacy policy don’t make clear is that the iOS version of the Zoom app is sending some analytics data to Facebook, even if Zoom users don’t have a Facebook account, according to a Motherboard analysis of the app. […]

“That’s shocking. There is nothing in the privacy policy that addresses that,” Pat Walshe, an activist from Privacy Matters who has analyzed Zoom’s privacy policy, said in a Twitter direct message.

Zoom subsequently removed the Facebook integration code and fast-tracked an update to the App Store. But still. This is a company with a history of playing fast and loose with privacy and security. You may recall last summer, when it came to light that the Mac version of Zoom secretly installed a web server, which remained installed and running even if you deleted the Zoom app from your machine. Shockingly, this enabled a security exploit that allowed hackers to take control of your Mac’s camera — the sort of privacy nightmare scenario that leads folks to tape over their cameras. Zoom called this hidden unremovable-through-normal-means web server a feature, not a bug. The bug was so insidious that Apple had to push a silent MacOS update to remove Zoom’s hidden web servers.

I wrote at the time:

I’m not prone to histrionics but this is genuinely outrageous — not even to mention the fact that Leitschuh reported this to Zoom months ago and Zoom effectively shrugged its corporate shoulders.

If you ever installed Zoom, I’d go through the steps to eradicate it and never install it again.

This Facebook data issue is nowhere near as bad as the web server issue. But it betrays Zoom’s institutionally cavalier attitude to privacy. Their privacy policy more or less grants them carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want.

Mistakes happen. Bugs happen. I not only forgive mistakes, I enjoy forgiving mistakes. But Zoom’s callous disregard for privacy does not seem to be a mistake. As Zoom itself said about the hidden web server they secretly installed on Macs, it’s a feature not a bug.

Alas, Zoom’s video conferencing technology is best of breed, and because Zoom is easy to use and the quality is so high, it is exploding in popularity now that the whole world is working and socializing remotely. All of the following can be — and I believe are — true: Zoom is popular, useful, and by their own admission not trustworthy.

If you must use Zoom or simply want to use it, I highly recommend using it on your iPad and iPhone only.1 The iOS version is sandboxed and reviewed by the App Store. The Mac version of Zoom is not available through the App Store, which makes me trust it not a bit. Much of the Mac software I rely on every day is not from the App Store — but all of it comes from developers I trust, who have proven reputations.

Zoom is not on that list.

Update: On the Mac, Zoom requires the use of an installer, and Zoom’s installer experience is… not confidence inspiring. The entire installation takes place during the preflight stage of the installation. Again, that’s clearly not an oversight or honest mistake. Everyone knows what “preflight” means. It’s a complete disregard for doing things properly and honestly on Zoom’s part. There’s no way to check what files will be installed and where before their installer has gone ahead and installed them. (Hacker News thread with details.)

Update 2: Zoom also has a web version, with fewer features than the desktop app. If you need to use Zoom from your Mac, try that — using a private browser window — before you download and install their app.

In closing, I’ll turn the virtual mic over to Doc Searls, who wrote this in the closing paragraphs of the first of a series of posts on Zoom and privacy:

Here’s the thing: Zoom doesn’t need to be in the advertising business, least of all in the part of it that lives like a vampire off the blood of human data. If Zoom needs more money, it should charge more for its services, or give less away for free. Zoom has an extremely valuable service, which it performs very well — better than anybody else, apparently. It also has a platform with lots of apps with just as absolute an interest in privacy. They should be concerned as well. (Unless, of course, they also want to be in the privacy-violating end of the advertising business.)

What Zoom’s current privacy policy says is worse than “You don’t have any privacy here.” It says, “We expose your virtual necks to data vampires who can do what they will with it.” 


  1. It’s worth noting that iPhones and iPads have much better front-facing cameras than any MacBook — you’ll look better on Zoom using one. ↩︎


Krugman on the Zombie Response to COVID-19 

Paul Krugman, writing for The New York Times:

But I suspect that the disastrous response to Covid-19 has been shaped less by direct self-interest than by two indirect ways in which pandemic policy gets linked to the general prevalence of zombie ideas in right-wing thought.

First, when you have a political movement almost entirely built around assertions that any expert can tell you are false, you have to cultivate an attitude of disdain toward expertise, one that spills over into everything. Once you dismiss people who look at evidence on the effects of tax cuts and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, you’re already primed to dismiss people who look at evidence on disease transmission. This also helps explain the centrality of science-hating religious conservatives to modern conservatism, which has played an important role in Trump’s failure to respond.

Second, conservatives do hold one true belief: namely, that there is a kind of halo effect around successful government policies. If public intervention can be effective in one area, they fear — probably rightly — that voters might look more favorably on government intervention in other areas. In principle, public health measures to limit the spread of coronavirus needn’t have much implication for the future of social programs like Medicaid. In practice, the first tends to increase support for the second.

How to Open the Emoji Keyboard While Using a Hardware Keyboard on iPadOS 

This 2016 tip from Dan Moren is more relevant than ever. Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover for iPad has a dedicated Globe key you can press to get the emoji keyboard, but (a) most hardware keyboards don’t (including Apple’s own standalone Bluetooth Magic Keyboard); and (b) iPadOS 13.4 now lets you remap the Globe key to, for example, Escape.

So how do you type emoji? Easy: Control-Space opens the keyboard picker.

Bonus tip: This shortcut is similar to the Command-Control-Space shortcut on MacOS that opens the Emoji & Symbol picker.

Bonus complaint: One thing I love about the Mac emoji picker that is bafflingly still absent on iOS: search.

‘The Woman in Michigan’ 

James Fallows, writing for The Atlantic:

It’s nearly three-and-a-half years later. Everything we saw about Trump on the campaign trail we have seen from him in the White House, including the limitless fantasy-lying.

I submit that these three-and-a-half years later, much of the press has still not rebuilt itself, to cope with a time or a person like this. Or with a political party like the subservient Trump-era GOP.

To choose only a small subset of examples, from only the past three days’ worth of history, here are some illustrations. These are words and deeds that, each on its own, would likely have been major black-mark news events in other eras. Now they are just part of the daily onrush.

As Fallows repeatedly points out, the news media has normalized much of Trump’s aberrant behavior — not just including, but perhaps especially so, during this pandemic crisis — as “Trump being Trump”. It is in fact Trump being Trump, but Trump being Trump is anything but normal.

‘This’ 

Big announcement from my good friend Rene Ritchie — he’s leaving iMore and going solo, starting with a new YouTube channel. Finally.

He’s hopping on The Talk Show this afternoon for an episode that should come out tomorrow. We’ll talk MacBook Air and iPad Pro, but let’s also do a Q&A from readers and listeners. Send your questions — Apple stuff, indie media, working from home, handwashing tips, or otherwise —  to the @thetalkshow Twitter account. Public mentions preferred, but DMs are open too.

‘Lego Thunderball’ 

Jon Opstad:

Been isolating at home with my wife & kids for a week now. For my contribution to home schooling my kids (aged 6 & 4). I chose the most obvious thing — creating a shot-by-shot recreation of the jet pack sequence from “Thunderball” out of LEGO.

Astonishingly well-done. Pure joy.

Friday’s New York Times Front Page Visualization of U.S. Unemployment Claims (PDF) 

Brilliant data visualization of a sobering disaster. Like most of you, I’m sure, I seldom read a paper edition of a newspaper anymore. But this design is a good reminder of how expansive the space is on a broadsheet front page. This graphic both makes great use of that space and plays against the reader’s decades-old assumptions about how the front page of The Times is laid out. It’s an unprecedented, shocking design to present unprecedented, shocking data.

(I tweeted this yesterday and a few people asked how they could obtain hard copies — e.g. for teaching data visualization. The Times sells reprints of each day’s front page.)

NextDraft 

My thanks to Dave Pell for sponsoring this week at DF to promote NextDraft, his “quick, entertaining look at the day’s biggest and best stories, from the top of the news to the very bottom”. Pell is a news junkie’s news junkie, and a kindred spirit of mine. NextDraft is his Daring Fireball.

In normal times, NextDraft is a once-per-weekday newsletter, delivered either by email or a very nice iOS app. These are not normal times, and as the coronavirus crisis continues, NextDraft has gone to a 7-days-a-week schedule.

The once-a-day pace keeps you up to date on the news, but keeps you from being pestered by frequent emails or notifications. NextDraft is not about breaking news — it’s just a carefully curated and cleverly written daily update. You like email? Sign up for the newsletter. Hate email? Get the app.

Here’s the kicker: NextDraft is free of charge. There is no catch. I read NextDraft every day; you should too.


Curse Words

Cursor is an overloaded term. There are two discrete elements of modern computing that we loosely refer to as “cursors”:

  • The icon that moves around on the screen that you control with your mouse or trackpad.
  • The vertical bar that blinks in a text editing field to indicate where typed characters will appear.

For clarity, it’s best not to refer to either of these things as cursors. Instead:

  • Mouse/trackpad pointer.
  • Insertion point.

This terminology has been slightly confusing over the last week, since Apple’s surprise announcement of pointer support in iPadOS 13.4. In their marketing materials, Apple is calling pointers “cursors”. E.g, on the webpage for the refreshed iPad Pros:

The click-anywhere trackpad opens up a whole new way to work in iPadOS. It allows control of the new cursor in iPadOS, which is perfect for tasks like editing a spreadsheet, selecting text, or simply doing everything right from the trackpad.

From the Apple Newsroom announcement:

iPadOS 13.4 brings trackpad support to iPad for the first time for a more natural typing experience and added precision for tasks such as writing and selecting text, working with spreadsheets and pro workflows. Designed specifically for the touch-first experience on iPad, the cursor appears as a circle that highlights user interface elements, text fields and apps on the Home screen and Dock, giving a clear indication of what users can click on.

In neither of these cases is cursor ambiguous — in context, it’s completely clear they’re referring to the trackpad pointer. But as a general rule, it’s better to err on the side of precision, and pointer and insertion point always avoid ambiguity.

In its technical documentation, Apple is clear. In the updated Human Interface Guidelines:

Pointers (iPadOS)

iPadOS 13.4 introduces dynamic pointer effects and behaviors that enhance the experience of using a pointing device with iPad. As people use a pointing device, iPadOS automatically adapts the pointer to the current context, providing rich visual feedback and just the right level of precision needed to enhance productivity and simplify common tasks.

The iPadOS pointing system gives people an additional way to interact with apps and content — it doesn’t replace touch. Some people may continue to use touch only, while others may prefer to use the pointer or a combination of both. Let people choose how to interact with your app, and avoid condensing your interface or making changes that require them to use the pointer.

From Apple’s excellent Apple Style Guide (available free of charge in the Apple Books store):

cursor
Don’t use in describing the macOS or iOS interface; use insertion point or pointer, depending on the context. The term cursor is appropriate when you describe the VoiceOver interface and may be appropriate when you describe other interfaces and in developer materials.

“Other interfaces” would include the terminal/command-line, where the (perhaps) blinking insertion point is properly called the cursor.

When it comes to pointers, it’s worth noting the Apple Style Guide recommends getting specific:

pointer
OK in general references, but be specific whenever appropriate: arrow, crosshair, I-beam.

And, of course, the Apple Style Guide prescribes OK, never okay


Nikkei Asian Review: ‘Apple Weighs Delaying 5G iPhone Launch by Months, Sources Say’ 

Yifan Yu, Lauly Li, and Cheng Ting-Fang, reporting for Nikkei:

The Cupertino, California-based tech giant has held internal discussions on the possibility of delaying the launch by months, three people familiar with the matter said, while supply chain sources say practical hurdles could push back the release, originally scheduled for September.

“Supply chain constraint aside, Apple is concerned that the current situation would significantly lower consumer appetite to upgrade their phones, which could lead to a tame reception of the first 5G iPhone,” said a source with direct knowledge of the discussion. “They need the first 5G iPhone to be a hit.” […]

The engineering development of the 5G iPhone has also been affected by travel curbs introduced in the U.S., China and elsewhere to combat the coronavirus, two people with knowledge of Apple’s schedule said. The company was supposed to work with suppliers to develop a more concrete prototype for the new phones from early March, but it had to delay such close collaboration, which requires hands-on testing, until the end of the month, before postponing it again due to the worsening pandemic in the U.S., they said.

Of course Apple is discussing this. Nikkei’s report from Asian suppliers is, of course, focused on hardware, but on the software side keep in mind that iOS 14 might be delayed or severely scaled back as well. Apple might have to delay the launch of new iPhones this year, and they might want to delay them. “Always in motion is the future” a wise little fellow once said. Never truer than in the midst of this crisis.

Dumb and Dumber 

ABC 7 NYC reporter CeFaan Kim, on Twitter:

Multiple sources tell @ABC Pres. Trump turned to former Yankee Alex Rodriguez for advice this week. A source close to Rodriguez described the call as “pleasant” adding that Trump was seeking thoughts from A-Rod about the coronavirus response.

A-Rod: great player, fun announcer, but not exactly the sharpest knife in the box. So, yeah, he’s probably our next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

‘Slop Machines’ 

Fascinating profile by John Semley for Eater back in 2017:

Since it opened in April 1963, R.C. Farms has had a very particular relationship with the overflowing decadence of nearby Las Vegas. At the time, the Combs family operated a modest hog farm in Chula Vista, near San Diego. They established relationships with a local army base, collecting food scraps to be reused as pig feed. Every year the base would contract out the privilege of collecting their wasted food to the highest bidder, with a few local farmers vying for the deal. But in Vegas, tens of thousands of pounds of food were going to waste. “My dad came here to Vegas for his 70th birthday, to have little gambling vacation,” Combs said as we sat at the round kitchen table of his modest bungalow farmhouse. On that auspicious trip, Combs’s father wandered through a backdoor of the now-long-gone Navajo-themed Thunderbird Hotel, and he came upon a huge container full of food being thrown away — the same sort of stuff he was bidding on back in La Mesa.

Combs told me the story with a well-practiced, raconteur’s confidence. It’s a tale he’s likely told a hundred times before, slowly metastasizing with each telling into a bona fide legend: Imagine Jed Clampett happening across oil in his fetid swamp, except that the treasure is something that was being chucked away. Where the casinos saw only untouched shrimp cocktails and half-nibbled slabs of heat-lamp-warmed prime rib, the older Combs saw profit. He leased 150 acres north of the Strip, at the dead end of a dirt road, and installed his son to run the place. The young Bob (affectionately known as “Goof” to his family) arranged deals with several of the old-school casinos — the Desert Inn, the Stardust, the Sands, the Flamingo, the Sahara, the Tropicana, Caesars, the Riviera, and other locals-only joints. The business model was simple: collect buffet food scraps, reprocess them as feed, fatten hogs, send them off to slaughter.

From the Department of Unexpected COVID-19 Consequences 

Tiana Bohner, reporting for Fox 5 Las Vegas:

A Las Vegas farm relied on strip casinos as its main food source for 4,000 pigs. Now it’s getting creative to keep them full. “Pigs are a lot like us so they love sweets, candies, ice cream,” Las Vegas Livestock co-owner Hank Combs said. “They like meat and potatoes. They’re not a big fan of salads and produce, but they will eat it.

On a normal day, the farm would get 20 tons of food from casinos and restaurants across the valley. Once the strip shut down and casinos closed, their food source was cut off.

“You know we’re just one of the many stories out there in the world and I’m just trying to survive, keep the pigs fed, keep the employees employed,” Combs said.

It is fascinating the way this crisis is revealing how interconnected our world is. The repercussions are seemingly infinite. It makes sense, now that I read it, that Vegas area pig farms would purchase the surplus food from the casino buffets (20 tons a day!), but until this moment, it never occurred to me that pig farming could be massively disrupted by the closing of casinos.

Something to think about as I eat bacon for lunch.

How to Turn Trump’s Daily Virus Misinformation Show Into a Vector for the Truth 

Speaking of good journalism battling against misinformation, this is an important idea from Dan Froomkin at Press Watch:

These are not political rallies, or spin sessions, or even normal press briefings. These are urgent, emergency communications.

And if — rather than sharing credible updates, thoughtful guidance, expressions of empathy and reasoned optimism — Trump lies, spreads misinformation and toots his own horn during these emergency communications, that is the news. Each and every time he does it.

So rather than hide what’s happening, news organizations should respond by doing journalism – in this case, some journalistic jujitsu. When Trump spreads misinformation, the networks need to show viewers, in real time, the correct information. When he lies and contradicts himself, they need to provide the necessary context as he speaks. When he puffs himself up, they need to remind viewers of his massive failures.

Snopes Is Hiring 

Snopes:

Snopes.com is an independent publication owned and operated by Snopes Media Group. We are slightly more than a baker’s dozen of reporters, editors, developers, and professionals who are passionate about journalism, media literacy, and, of course, fighting misinformation. We work remotely — there is no official Snopes office — but we maintain a collaborative and supportive team dynamic.

Snopes managing editor Doreen Marchionni is a good friend and a great journalist. For the reporting jobs, they’re looking for folks with capital-J journalism experience. But they’re also hiring developers and communications specialists. I know there’s a lot of overlap with all of these jobs with DF readers, and good employers (with a fully remote work culture) who are hiring right now are few and far between.

It goes without saying that Snopes’s mission — countering misinformation with verifiable journalism — has never been more essential. Never. Even if you’re not looking for a job, you can support Snopes with a membership, and they’ll thank you for it.

Apple Releases New COVID-19 App and Website Based on CDC Guidance 

Apple Newsroom:

The COVID-19 app and website allow users to answer a series of questions around risk factors, recent exposure and symptoms for themselves or a loved one. In turn, they will receive CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to closely monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended at this time, and when to contact a medical provider. This new screening tool is designed to be a resource for individuals and does not replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities.

Nicely designed, too.

The Apple A12Z Bionic SoC Is Just a Renamed A12X With an Enabled GPU Core 

Vaidyanathan Subramaniam, writing for NotebookCheck:

Essentially what this means is that, the A12X and A12Z are the same physical chip (pending the results of the A12Z floorplan analysis) with the same physical number of CPU and GPU cores. Anandtech feels that the A12Z could, in fact, be a re-binned variant of the A12X. Recent comparative benchmarks have also shown that the A12Z offers minimal performance improvements compared to the A12X.

The A12X has 8 GPU cores, but only 7 are enabled. The A12Z uses all 8 — that pretty much explains the “CPU performance is the same but GPU is slightly better” benchmarking differences completely.

Update: To be clear, this ought not be controversial in the least. See this thread on Twitter from Quinn Nelson.

Every Default MacOS Wallpaper in 5K 

Stephen Hackett:

Every major version of Mac OS X macOS has come with a new default wallpaper. As you can see, I have collected them all here. While great in their day, the early wallpapers are now quite small in the world of 5K displays.

Major props to the world-class designer who does all the art of Relay FM, the mysterious @forgottentowel, for upscaling some of these for modern screens.

Fun trip down memory lane.

The Talk Show: ‘The Subtle Difference Between Hand Sanitizer and Vodka’ 

Matthew Panzarino returns to the show. Topics include the brand new MacBook Air and iPad Pros, and, you know, global pandemics in the internet age.

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The 2020 iPad Pros

The new 2020 iPad Pros are, in most ways, minor spec bump updates to the 2018 iPad Pros. The camera system is better, there’s a new lidar sensor that greatly improves AR, and the built-in microphone system is noticeably improved. That’s about it.

That’s not a complaint. The 2018 iPad Pros were amazing devices, way ahead of their time in terms of performance. If it’s going to take two or more years between truly major updates to the iPad Pro, I want Apple to release a spec bump update mid-cycle. That’s what these iPad Pros are.

Performance

Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m using the phrase “spec bump” rather than “speed bump” to describe these new iPad Pros because they don’t really seem to be much faster than the 2018 models. Some numbers from Geekbench 5:

Single Multi Compute
2018 12.9″ iPad Pro 1,124 4,675 9,183
2018 11″ iPad Pro 1,118 4,543 9,059
2020 12.9″ iPad Pro 1,123 4,691 10,046
2020 Core i5 MacBook Air 1,127 2,854 4,950
2019 Core i9 16″ MacBook Pro 1,263 7,277 25,351
2019 iPhone 11 Pro 1,338 3,467 6,310

The thing worth noting is that the new iPad Pros sport a system-on-a-chip that Apple is calling the A12Z. The 2018 models use the A12X. Both are 8-core designs, with 4 high-performance cores and 4 high-efficiency cores. The way that works, basically, is that when your iPad is not breaking a sweat computationally, it uses the 4 high-efficiency cores; when it is breaking a sweat, it switches to the high-performance cores. The 8-core MacBook Pro scores better on the multi-core benchmark because its 8 cores are all, effectively, high-performance cores.

Worth noting too are the numbers from the A13-powered iPhone 11. The A13 is faster in single-core performance than even the Core i9 16-inch MacBook Pro, but the A12X and Z hold their own, and still come out ahead in multi-core.

Real-world performance may differ more significantly, but from what I can tell, A12Z CPU performance is unchanged from the A12X and GPU performance is only slightly improved. But iPad Pro performance was already great. Look at those numbers — the iPad Pro outperforms the new mid-range MacBook Air. The 16-inch MacBook Pro I’ve compared it to here starts at $2,800 and it weighs 4.3 pounds (2.0 kg).

One more spec tweak: the 2018 iPad Pro models came with 4 GB of RAM, except for the ones with 1 TB of storage — those came with 6 GB of RAM. Apple never talks about RAM with iOS devices, but it’s easy to tell how much RAM is in a device using third-party utilities. With the 2020 lineup, all models seemingly come with 6 GB of RAM. In practical terms, this means the new iPad Pros should be able to keep more apps running at the same time without reloading them from scratch. In my personal day-to-day use, I don’t notice the difference.

Lidar and Dual-Lens Camera

As promised, lidar vastly improves the AR experience. No more warmup period where AR apps want you to pan the device around to allow the system to orient itself and get a sense of your environment — you just launch the app and it’s ready. I mostly tested this with Apple’s Measure app. Measuring the sizes of furniture and countertops is much faster, easier, and more accurate. I just measured a 3-foot shelf here in my office and the Measure app pegged it at precisely 36 inches, on the button.

The lidar sensor also greatly helps with identifying walls and ceilings. It’s just as easy to use Measure to tell how far away something — again, say, a piece of furniture — is from the wall as it is to measure how big the thing itself is. On all other iOS devices — which is to say, all non-lidar-equipped iOS devices — Measure is not good at this.

In short, if you’re an AR junkie, you should jump all over the new iPad Pro. If you’re not an AR junkie — which is to say the overwhelming majority of you — well, it’s not that big a deal. I don’t mean to be dismissive of AR and ARKit. I think an AR revolution is coming, and the whole “use your iPhone and iPad as ARKit devices” effort on Apple’s part — and it’s a massive effort — is laying the groundwork for an AR-first device to hit the ground running with developer support from day one. But are there really people for whom ARKit-powered apps are so important right now that they’ll upgrade to a new iPad just for lidar support? I suppose the answer is yes — for example, developers working on ARKit apps and games. But for most people the answer is clearly no.

The new wide/ultra-wide dual-lens camera system on the new iPad Pros looks, on paper, a lot like the wide/ultra-wide dual-lens system on the non-Pro iPhone 11. And the results for regular still photography and video seem very comparable. But there’s at least one significant difference: the iPad Pro does not support Portrait mode with the main camera; the iPhone 11 does. (The iPad Pro does support Portrait mode with the front-facing self-portrait camera.) One reason for this, I suspect, is that the iPhone 11 has the A13 chip, while the iPad Pros have the previous-generation A12Z. The iPad Pro wide/ultra-wide cameras may in fact be the exact same cameras as the iPhone 11 — I don’t know, and Apple doesn’t make statements like that — but the iPad Pro can’t use the same software path for Portrait mode that the iPhone 11 does because Portrait mode makes heavy use of machine learning and that means the Neural Engine — but the A13 Neural Engine is far more powerful than that of the A12Z. This could be the sort of thing that just didn’t make it for a mid-cycle iPadOS 13.4 software release; it wouldn’t surprise me if the new iPad Pros gain Portrait mode in iPadOS 14.0.

In the meantime, I think supporting Portrait mode on the new iPad Pro would have required engineering effort that Apple instead chose to expend on supporting the lidar sensor for AR.

In theory, a lidar sensor could be used to help with still photography and video. One can imagine how it could help with Portrait mode in particular — using lidar for the depth map to blur objects and scenery in the background based on how far away they are. Lidar could also help with identifying eyeglasses, hats, hair, etc. It’s not that simple though. The lidar sensor in the new iPad Pro has tremendous accuracy on the Z axis (depth), but not so much on the X and Y axes. It just doesn’t project that many dots. But the iPad Pro makes up for the lack of X/Y accuracy when you pan the iPad Pro around, by continuously scanning the dots in real time as you pan. When shooting still photos or video, however, you can’t assume that the user is going to pan. The iPad might even be locked down on a tripod. I do expect Apple to eventually use lidar, or something like lidar, as a focusing and depth-map aid for photography, but they’re not there yet. This lidar system is clearly designed for 3D mesh generation, not 2D depth mapping.

The New Microphone Array

One other notable hardware change in the 2020 iPad Pro: Apple claims it now uses the same five-microphone “studio quality” array that they introduced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro in November. Indeed, it does sound better, and background noise is reduced. Here are recordings I made side-by-side with a 2018 iPad Pro and the new 2020 iPad Pro. I can easily hear the improvement — richer sound, higher quality, and less noise.

2018 iPad Pro:

2020 iPad Pro:

This Is All Just a Prelude to the Thing We Really Want to Review

I’ve been testing a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with 1 TB of storage since Thursday (five days ago). Apple included the updated Smart Keyboard cover. There are two differences from the Smart Keyboard cover for the 2018 iPad Pros — (1) the camera cutout has been embiggened to accommodate the larger camera/lidar system; and (2) the back of the cover now has an debossed Apple logo, oriented for landscape, natch.

Apple did not include the product I really want to test, and which all of you really want to read about: the new Magic Keyboard cover. It’s no surprise that Apple has not yet made them available for review: they’re not shipping until “May”, and with the exception of the original AirPods, I can’t recall Apple providing reviewers with hardware more than a week or so in advance of shipping.

The truth is I just don’t like the Smart Keyboard cover. I don’t like typing on it, and I want a trackpad.

What I do when I write on my iPad is use a Bluetooth or USB keyboard. Apple’s Bluetooth Magic Keyboard is a great option — I particularly like it in Studio Neat’s Canopy cover/stand. I also enjoy writing on my iPad using a standalone external mechanical keyboard. One reason I prefer a standalone keyboard over the Smart Keyboard cover is simply that the keyboards feel better. But another is that if you’re setting it up on a desk or countertop, there’s no need to magnetically snap the iPad into a case, cover, or stand. You can just prop it up, which makes it utterly seamless to pick it up with one hand and walk away from the keyboard setup when you just want to go somewhere else with the iPad. It also allows you to do something with the iPad that no dedicated laptop can do: orient the screen vertically rather than horizontally, which makes a lot of sense for long-form writing. Here, for example, is my setup as I write this very review.1

That said, I am deeply intrigued by the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. In the meantime, we wait.

The Bottom Line

If you already have a 2018 iPad Pro, the only reason to even consider upgrading is if you’re somehow professionally involved with AR, or if you make serious use of your iPad camera. These are not new iPad Pros so much as tweaked iPad Pros. And the best part of holding onto a 2018 iPad Pro is that the upcoming Magic Keyboards are fully compatible with those models. Keep your 2018 iPad Pro and wait for the keyboard.

If you don’t have a 2018 iPad Pro, I can recommend these new iPad Pros with no reservations. Everything I wrote about the 2018 iPad Pros still stands. Rumors abound that Apple might release a more significant iPad Pro update at the end of the year, perhaps only in the 12.9-inch size. If you want to wait, wait, but waiting for rumored future products is a good way to tie yourself in knots and wind up waiting forever. If you need a new iPad now, these are the best iPads Apple has ever made, and arguably the best portable computers Apple has ever made, period. 


  1. That keyboard is a Keychron K2 with Gateron brown switches. I like it, but the Gateron switches are nowhere near as nice as the ones from Cherry. They feel a little cheap. ↩︎


The 2020 MacBook Air

We waited a long time for a retina MacBook Air. When we finally got it back in November 2018, it was worth waiting for. Smaller, lighter, faster, better speakers, and — finally — a retina display. The MacBook Air has been and remains Apple’s most popular Mac — perhaps by far. When most people think of a “Mac”, what they think of specifically is a 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s the workhorse Mac — the best Mac for most people.

But that first crack at a retina MacBook Air wasn’t perfect.

Well, nothing’s perfect. But the retina MacBook Air had a few significant shortcomings:

  • The keyboard. Because the retina MacBook Air was so late to the modern MacBook era, it debuted with the third-generation butterfly-switch keyboard. That third-generation design really was much improved over the first two, especially, it seems, in terms of reliability. But it’s hard to find people who claim those butterfly keyboards are their favorite keyboards. And it’s really easy to find people who — reliability issues aside — just don’t like the way they feel.

  • Price. The MacBook Air is supposed to start at $999. It just is. But the retina MacBook Air started at $1199. And so Apple kept the by-that-time ancient non-retina MacBook Air around for a while just to occupy that $999 price point in the lineup. The way things should be, you ought not just be able to buy a MacBook Air for $999, you ought to be able to buy a good MacBook Air for $999.

  • Performance. Yes, the retina MacBook Air was faster than the non-retina MacBook Air models it replaced. But that’s because the non-retina MacBook Air models were really old. They were embarrassingly old.

With the new 2020 MacBook Air, Apple has pulled a Michael Corleone and settled all family business. I’ve spent the last day testing Apple’s $1,300 mid-range MacBook Air, with the quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 512 GB storage, and 8 GB of RAM. My thoughts and observations:

Performance

I’ve only had this machine for a day, so I don’t have any extensive testing results to report. But it’s solid. One significant difference between this MacBook Air and the previous generation is that it offers CPU options at all. With the previous retina MacBook Air, there was one and only one CPU option. From my 2018 first-look review:

There’s only one CPU option for the new MacBook Air: “1.6GHz dual‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz”. There are no build-to-order CPU options. I could be wrong, but off the top of my head, I think this is a first for a Mac notebook in the Intel era. MacBook Pros have a slew of different CPU options. The 12-inch MacBook, surprisingly, has three CPU options. Even the base model non-retina MacBook Air has two CPU options.

Why? I hate picking a CPU. Putting cost aside, I never know what the right balance is between performance and battery life. These are the sort of decisions I want Apple to make. That’s what they do with iPhones and iPads.

When you order a new MacBook Air, the only choices you make (other than color) are how much storage you want and how much RAM (8 or 16 GB). That’s it, and that’s how it should be.

Well, now we’re back to CPU options. I can’t say I love that, but the lineup doesn’t seem that confusing to me. The difference between the dual-core Core i3 and quad-core Core i5 seems pretty obvious: $300 will get you much better multithreaded performance. Unclear to me is whether the Core i7 is worth an additional $150. (And if you want quad-core multithreaded performance but are OK with just 256 GB of storage, you can upgrade the base model to the quad-core i5 for just $100 as a build-to-order configuration.)

With all the usual caveats that artificial benchmarks aren’t accurate indicators of real-world performance, here are some interesting numbers from Geekbench 5 (average of two runs, single-core / multi-core):

Single Multi
MacBook Air 2020 (4-core Core i5) 1,127 2,854
MacBook Air 2018 (2-core Core i5) 639 1,379
16″ MacBook Pro 2019 (8-core Core i9) 1,263 7,277
13″ MacBook Pro 2014 (2-core Core i7) 733 1,791
11″ iPad Pro 2018 (8-core A12X) 1,118 4,477
iPhone 11 Pro (6-core A13) 1,321 3,387

I’d wager heavily that in terms of performance-per-watt, Intel remains hopelessly behind ARM, but in terms of sheer CPU performance — especially single-core, which is what matters most for a lot of day-to-day stuff like using the web — this 10th-generation Core i5 is more than holding its own. Previously the MacBook Air was hit by a double whammy: it was slower and less power efficient. Now it’s just less efficient. Not bad for Intel.

What’s important, I think, is that it’s a good/faster/fastest lineup — not meh/good/faster.

Price

The new MacBook Air starts at $999, and that base model is a terrific computer for a lot of people. For a long time, it was hard to recommend Apple’s base model MacBook Air. No longer — especially because it now ships with 256 GB of SSD storage (up from 128).

As I pointed out in my initial thoughts on this week’s new products, until this week, if you wanted a MacBook Air with 256 GB of storage, it cost $1,300. Now, you can get that for $1,000 (and education customers only pay $900). That’s a big price drop — and you get a faster computer and a better keyboard to boot.

Keyboard

Surprising exactly no one, the keyboard in the new MacBook Air uses the same new scissor switches introduced back in November’s 16-inch MacBook Pro. (The new Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, coming in May, does too.)

I love it.

If anything, it feels a little better than the 16-inch MacBook Pro keyboard. It has the same 1 mm key travel, very similar clickiness, but it maybe feels a little softer, in a good way. Or maybe it just sounds softer. This might not be the keyboard itself but rather a result of the very different case sizes. Compared to the third-generation butterfly switch keyboard in the previous MacBook Air, it feels downright luxurious. To my taste, this conclusively proves that less than 1 mm travel is too little travel.

The bottom line: Apple is once again making excellent, world-class, no-caveat MacBook keyboards, so something, however insignificant in the grand scheme of life, is right in the world.

Also, I remain a huge fan of the Force Touch trackpad. The 13-inch MacBook Air is (duh) a smaller device than the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and it has a correspondingly smaller trackpad. But even after months of using a 16-inch MacBook Pro day-in and day-out, this trackpad doesn’t feel too small at all. Again, if anything, it feels better to me.

Delightfully Close to Perfection

The things that haven’t changed with the MacBook Air — size, weight, display — didn’t need to change. They were already great. The things that have changed — price, performance, and for me personally, especially the keyboard — have all changed significantly for the better. These new MacBook Airs are a lot cheaper, performance is appreciably improved for both CPU and graphics, and the keyboard has gone from “well, it’s OK” to “damn, this keyboard feels so good it makes me want to write something”.

I mean, really, what would you change? Serious question.

I do wish there were at least one USB-C port on the right, just to make it more convenient when the nearest power outlet is on that side. But, come on, it’s not that big a deal to snake the cable around the back of a notebook this small.

An option to get a Touch Bar? I’ve lost count of the number of MacBook Pro owners I know, or whose opinions I’ve simply read, who wish they could buy a new MacBook Pro with good old-fashioned function keys instead of a Touch Bar — not because they want to save a few hundred dollars or because they particularly like function keys, but because they outright dislike the Touch Bar. Conversely, I’ve never met anyone who wishes that the MacBook Air had the Touch Bar. Me, personally, I’m ambivalent — I don’t dislike the Touch Bar, and in fact I like it in several ways, but I can’t say I miss it at all after a full day using this keyboard without one. Not one bit.

The speakers on this MacBook Air are great compared to Airs of old, but they pale in comparison to the rather amazing sound that comes out of a 16-inch MacBook Pro. But I’m not even sure that sound like that is possible out of a notebook as small as the Air. Compared to any other 13-inch notebook I’ve heard, these speakers are good.

The camera stinks, especially in low light. There’s no other way to put it. But it’s the same crummy “720p FaceTime Camera” as in all the other MacBooks. You can buy a $3,000 16-inch MacBook Pro and you’ll get the exact same camera. I think this is largely a factor of just how thin the lids are on MacBooks. Is there room for a camera with better optics and a bigger sensor?

So what’s left? For what it is meant to be, it’s really hard to complain about anything at all regarding this machine. Now that Apple has extricated itself from its butterfly keyboard thicket, it’s clear that Apple was onto something with this design language, which debuted with the no-adjective 12-inch MacBook in 2015.

Don’t overthink it. The new MacBook Air is what it looks like: nearly perfect.