Locations of Media Files in MacOS 10.15 Catalina

Kirk McElhearn, back in June, right after Catalina was announced:

Music: By default, these files will be stored in ~/Music. (~ is a shortcut for your home folder, the one with the house icon and your user name.)

Apple TV: For TV shows and movies, the default location is ~/Movies. Music Videos, however, will stay in the Music app.

Podcasts: Podcasts are stored in a cache folder in ~/Library/Group Containers/243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts. This is not designed to be user accessible, and the podcast files do not display the original file names. You can, however, drag podcast files from the Podcasts app to the Desktop or to a folder.

I needed this because my Mac version of Podcasts had gotten screwy. I don’t really listen to podcasts using Podcasts, but I subscribe to my own show in it just to make sure it looks and works right. I usually do this checking on my iPhone, but I was taking a look at it on my Mac this week, and noticed that four episodes (#245–248) were missing from the listing of “all episodes”. My first thought was that something must be corrupt in my RSS feed for the show. My second thought, a split-second later, was, nah, it’s probably a bug in the Mac Podcasts app. My second thought was right. Those four episodes of my show were not missing in any other podcast client, including Apple Podcasts on my iPhone and iPad.

Nothing I did within the Podcasts app, like unsubscribing / resubscribing, fixed the problem. The same four episodes were always missing — but only on my Mac. This reeked of a caching problem — but how to delete the cache? The Catalina Music and Movies apps continue to store their media files in the traditional, obvious places. That’s because they’re traditional Mac apps derived from the old iTunes app. I really had no idea where to look for Podcasts data to delete to try to unscrew whatever was screwed up. Trashing the folder McElhearn cites above — ~/Library/Group Containers/243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts — and relaunching Podcasts did the trick. Problem solved.

When I saw McElhearn’s folder name, my first thought was that he had overlooked that the “243LU875E5” part must be generated per-user, and wouldn’t be the same for everyone. It certainly looks random, right? But it’s not — that’s the name of the Apple Podcasts cache folder for everyone on Catalina, so far as I can see. Why in the world all the folders in ~/Library/Group Containers/ are prefixed with these ugly seemingly-random identifiers, I have no idea, but it strikes me as one more step along the path of Apple now caring less and less about what the back of the cabinet looks like

Morning Brew 

My thanks once again to Morning Brew for sponsoring DF last week. There’s a reason over 1 million people start their day with Morning Brew — the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Business news doesn’t have to be dry and dense… make your mornings more enjoyable, for free.

I’ve been subscribed for over six months. It’s a great daily read — concise, fun, and a clean crisp design. You get one email each morning and that’s it. They even have a fun weekend edition. I recommend it.

How the CIA Used Crypto AG Encryption Devices to Spy on Countries for Decades 

Greg Miller, reporting earlier this month for The Washington Post:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software. The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

What a story. And in turn, makes you wonder what companies the CIA or NSA (or spy agencies from other governments) might own today.

A Pro-Foldable Look at the Galaxy Z Flip 

Michael Simon, writing for PC World:

As soon as I picked up the iPhone back in 2007, I knew that the future of the smartphone had arrived. I feel the same way about the Galaxy Z Flip.

When I flipped it open for the first time, the Galaxy Z Flip was as much of a revelation as the first time I slid my finger to unlock the original iPhone. The other folding phones I’ve used from Huawei, Royale, and Samsung have all felt a little off, almost like they were movie props meant to look like futuristic phones. From the plastic screens to the uncertain form factors, folding phones might be wow-worthy, but they haven’t felt like the kind of product that could change the way we think about smartphones.

I have little doubt that good foldables are in our collective future. Somewhere between today’s technology and something like the phone-to-tablet foldables on Westworld, we might look back on unfoldable phones as archaic and bulky.

Galaxy Z Flip vs. Motorola Razr 

Good hands-on comparison between the two new flagship folding phones from Michael Fischer. (He’s got standalone reviews of each phone, too.) The bottom line is that Samsung has handed Motorola its ass — faster, better hinge, better display, far better camera, and over $100 cheaper. The only thing the Razr has going for it is nostalgia for a phone that I suspect almost no one actually has any nostalgia for.

Apple Maps Expands ‘Look Around’ to Philly, Boston, and Washington 

Such a great feature. The Philly map is excellent.

Adam Engst’s Last Conversation With Larry Tesler 

Adam Engst, writing at TidBITS:

In 1980, Tesler left Xerox PARC to join Apple, and he worked there until 1997. During that time, he led the Newton Group, became Apple’s Chief Scientist, and was the vice president of AppleNet, which was tasked in part with developing and promoting Apple’s Internet strategy. It was at the end of his tenure there that I corresponded with him, since he and I were both on a private Net-Thinkers mailing list that discussed issues relating to Apple and the Internet.

It’s telling how much things have changed, I think, that an Apple vice president would speak freely on even a private mailing list that included a writer like me. (At that time, apart from publishing TidBITS, my Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh book had sold about 400,000 copies, and I had just penned a MacWEEK column entitled “The Emperor Has No Strategy” that had ruffled feathers with Apple executives.)

To give you a better sense of who Larry Tesler was, I’m going to reprint an email conversation he and I had on the Net-Thinkers list back in February of 1997. In retrospect, it must not have been that long before he left Apple, although I have no record of that in my email archive.

A different age.

Gurman: Apple Is Considering Allowing Third-Party Default Apps and, Seemingly, an SDK for HomePod 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:*

The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry.

Users have been clamoring for this ever since the App Store opened. I get why Apple has been cautious about allowing this, but at this point it’s overdue. There are third-party email clients and web browsers that are really good — Apple should celebrate that fact. And browsers will almost certainly still be required to use the system WebKit for rendering, alleviating system resource and security concerns. Chrome on iOS can’t burn through your battery like Chrome on MacOS does, because on iOS Chrome uses WebKit, not Blink.

I could also see Apple doing this for email (and maybe calendars and contacts too) but not for the web browser, simply as defense against Chrome’s growing hegemony over the web. But I think the fact that Chrome on iOS must use WebKit is defense enough against that. It’s WebKit that’s worth requiring, not Safari.

Now, Apple is working to allow third-party music services to run directly on the HomePod, said the people. Spotify and other third-party music apps can stream from an iPhone or iPad to the HomePod via Apple’s AirPlay technology. That’s a much more cumbersome experience than streaming directly from the speaker.

This is interesting news, because at a technical level it would seemingly require an SDK for HomePod. HomePod isn’t like Apple Watch where it’s tethered to an iOS device — it runs independently. It’s possible that Apple could just work privately with a handful of big names like Spotify and Pandora and bake support for those specific services into the HomePod OS, but I hope it’s something Apple announces at WWDC as an API for any audio app. (I’m thinking about podcast clients in particular.)

Also under discussion at Apple is whether to let users set competing music services as the default with Siri on iPhones and iPads, the people said. Currently, Apple Music is the default music app.

Siri does support third-party apps — you just have to specify them by name: “Hey Siri, play some Pearl Jam from Spotify”. It makes sense that this should be a setting too — if you’re a Spotify user it’s a bit ridiculous that you’re currently required to tack on “from Spotify” with every single request.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

The State of Scamware on the Mac 

Last week there was a hubbub regarding a report from antivirus software vendor Malwarebytes that claimed “Mac threats increased exponentially in comparison to those against Windows PCs” in 2020. That line got a lot of headlines.

Michael Tsai:

This sounds really bad at first, like the number of Mac threats is growing in proportion to the (larger) number of Windows threats. But I guess they are just using the non-technical meaning of “exponential,” so the whole thing boils down to “more than.” […]

This sounds unnecessarily alarmist compared with the contents of the report, and I remain convinced that for most users Apple’s built-in security measures are sufficient. I’ve seen far more Mac problems caused by anti-virus software than actual viruses.

Computer viruses are called viruses because like biological viruses, they spread by themselves. What Malwarebytes is talking about are scam apps — things that trick or otherwise convince the user to install voluntarily. Dan Goodin had a piece at Ars Technica last month about the scourge of fake Adobe Flash installers — which work because unsophisticated Mac users had been truthfully told they needed to upgrade their version of Flash for a decade. It’s a real problem — but third-party antivirus software is not the answer. As usual, Tsai has a wonderful compilation of links to commentary on the matter.

Be sure to read Jason Snell’s excellent take, which convincingly makes the point that Apple has been working to protect Mac users from these sort of apps for years, exemplified by this technical note Apple published back in November, expanding their definition of “suspicious software” that MacOS defends against.

Ryan Christoffel’s Proposed Fix for iPad Multitasking 

Ryan Christoffel, writing for MacStories:

I love the functionality enabled by iPad multitasking, but the current system is unnecessarily complex. I don’t believe the iPad should revert to its origins as a one-app-at-a-time device, but I know there’s a better way forward for multitasking.

My proposal for a new multitasking system employs a UI mechanic that already exists across both iPhone and iPad. Without losing any of iPadOS 13’s current functionality, it brings the iPad closer to its iPhone roots again and makes multitasking accessible for the masses.

Context menus are the key to a better multitasking system.

Christoffel published this two weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since — hence the delay in my linking to it. I’m working on a longer piece about this, but in short, I think two things about this idea:

  1. It’s very thoughtful and considered, and obviously comes from someone who gets the iPad Way, insofar as there is an iPad Way. And the design he proposes is better in every way — or at least almost every way — than what we have with iPadOS 13 today.
  2. It’s not good enough. Hiding everything behind contextual menus is a crutch.

If you haven’t read Christoffel’s proposal, do so. Consider it a reading assignment.

Google Has Banned Almost 600 Android Apps for Pushing ‘Disruptive’ Ads 

Craig Silverman, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

One of the biggest developers banned from the Play Store and Google’s ad networks was Cheetah Mobile, a publicly traded Chinese company that BuzzFeed News revealed in November 2018 had been engaging in ad fraud. The following December, Google removed one of the offending apps but allowed Cheetah to continue offering other apps in the Play Store. As of this morning, Cheetah’s entire suite of roughly 45 apps in the Play Store was removed, and the apps no longer offer advertising inventory for sale in Google’s ad networks.

Per Bjorke, Google’s senior product manager for ad traffic quality, told BuzzFeed News the removed apps, which had been installed more than 4.5 billion times, primarily targeted English-speaking users and were mainly from developers based in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and India. He declined to name specific apps or developers but said many of the banned apps were utilities or games. Google published a blog post today with details about the removals.

I don’t understand why Google was so lenient with Cheetah Mobile until now. BuzzFeed News’s investigation clearly showed they were fraudsters. They hadn’t made a mistake, it wasn’t a bug or misunderstanding — they were ripping off users. Just ban them, and keep an eye out for any attempts to return under a new name. Like I’ve been advocating for Apple’s App Store, there ought to be a bunco squad that hunts down scams and rackets of all sorts and gets them out of the store.

Google has even more leeway to be aggressive on this front, because Android allows sideloading apps. The Play Store is not the only supported way to install apps on Android devices.

Sony, Facebook Pull Out of GDC 2020 Due to Coronavirus Concerns 

This follows Mobile World Congress — a 100,000-attendee conference/expo in Barcelona that should be going on right now — being completely canceled.

Chris Espinosa on Larry Tesler 

Chris Espinosa:

Larry taught me the value of taking the user’s point of view; using heuristics to work magic; to look at all the cases. Much more than inventing copy and paste, he invented it as a writing tool, not a code-editing tool, for people who didn’t understand computers.

‘Pay Up, or We’ll Make Google Ban Your Ads’ 

Brian Krebs:

A new email-based extortion scheme apparently is making the rounds, targeting Web site owners serving banner ads through Google’s AdSense program. In this scam, the fraudsters demand bitcoin in exchange for a promise not to flood the publisher’s ads with so much bot and junk traffic that Google’s automated anti-fraud systems suspend the user’s AdSense account for suspicious traffic.

It’s almost like it’s a bad idea to rely on automated advertising from an ad platform that doesn’t care about you.

You have to admit, this is a clever attack. Companies need a Chief Asshole — someone whose job it is to lead a team that does nothing but think of ways to fuck with everything. That’s only tangential to what we think of as “security” — these crooks are using a system created by Google to defeat fraud to commit an entirely different type of crime.

‘Was It Good? I Don’t Know.’ 

Stephanie K. Baer, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

President Donald Trump criticized the Academy Awards during a rally Thursday for awarding this year’s top prize to Parasite, a South Korean movie. […]

“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year — did you see? ‘And the winner is a movie from South Korea’ — what the hell was that all about?” Trump said to a crowd in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know.”

“Let’s get Gone With the Wind — can we get, like, Gone With the Wind back, please?” Trump continued, referring to the 1940 Best Picture winner, which is set on a slave plantation during the Civil War.

Where to start with this? First, BuzzFeed’s headline is euphemistic: “Trump Criticized the Oscars For Awarding Best Picture To ‘Parasite’, a South Korean Movie”. That obfuscates the blatant truth: he criticized the Academy for awarding Best Picture to Parasite because it’s a South Korean film. His own remarks make that crystal clear — he expressly states that he doesn’t even know if it’s a good movie, but he knows it shouldn’t have been awarded Best Picture because it’s from South Korea.

That is outright bigotry. How can it even be denied?

And honestly, Gone With the Wind? That movie won best picture 80 years ago. The only relevance of Gone With the Wind is that it’s a movie about slave-owning plantation owners in the Civil War South. Out of all the Best Picture winners, Trump cited the one with a favorable perspective on slavery. Birth of a Nation would have been more subtle.

John Markoff on Larry Tesler 

John Markoff, writing for The New York Times:

It was Mr. Tesler who gave Mr. Jobs the celebrated demonstration of the Xerox Alto computer and the Smalltalk software system that would come to influence the design of Apple’s Lisa personal computer and then its Macintosh.

Mr. Tesler left Xerox to work for Mr. Jobs at Apple in 1980.

“The questions the Apple people were asking totally blew me away,” Mr. Tesler was quoted as saying in a profile that appeared in IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in 2005. “They were the kind of questions Xerox executives should have been asking but didn’t.”

It’s simply impossible to even guess where we’d be today if not for Larry Tesler and his team’s work at PARC.

In addition to helping develop the Lisa and Macintosh, Mr. Tesler founded and ran Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, after which he led the design of the Newton hand-held computer, although that proved unsuccessful.

Unsuccessful in the marketplace, no doubt, but the Newton was in many ways a triumph in human-computer interaction that in at least a few ways, remains unmatched. I’m thinking of the concept of the “soup” for data, in particular.

The group also created much of the technology that would become the Wi-Fi wireless standard, and Mr. Tesler led an Apple joint venture with two other companies that created Acorn RISC Machine, a partnership intended to provide a microprocessor for the Newton.

Helped invent Wi-Fi and ARM, no big deal.

In 1960, while attending the Bronx High School of Science, Mr. Tesler developed a new method of generating prime numbers. He showed it to one of his teachers, who was impressed. As Mr. Tesler later recalled, he told the teacher that the method was a formula; the teacher responded, “No, it’s not really a formula, it’s an algorithm, and it can be implemented on a computer.”

“Where do you find a computer?” Mr. Tesler asked.

What a life. Just read the whole thing — too many accomplishments to quote them all here.

Larry Tesler, UI Visionary, Dies at 74 

Luke Dormehl, in a detailed obituary at Cult of Mac:

Larry Tesler, a pioneering computer scientist who worked at Apple from 1980 to 1997 and created computerized cut, copy and paste, died Monday at the age of 74.

Tesler served as VP of AppleNet and Apple’s Advanced Technology Group. During his time at Apple, he played a key role in the development of products ranging from the Lisa to the Newton MessagePad. And that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his contribution to computing. […]

Tesler was passionate about something called modeless computing, meaning a type of computing (now taken for granted) in which the user doesn’t have to switch constantly between different input states. His Dodge Valiant bore a customized license plate reading “NO MODES.” He regularly wore a T-shirt warning colleagues not to “Mode Me In.” And his Twitter handle was @nomodes.

This is so terribly sad. Tesler was a titan in the field. Much of what we take for granted as fundamental in human-computer interaction today is thanks to Larry Tesler.

His death is especially jarring to me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about his “no modes” mantra just this month, specifically in the context of the recent debate regarding iPad multitasking. One simple way to describe what’s wrong with iPadOS multitasking is that it is a fundamentally modal design, and modes are generally bad. (It’s also hard to overstate how preposterously modal most user interfaces were prior to the GUIs Tesler helped pioneer at Xerox and Apple.)

I met Tesler a few years back, when I was invited to lunch with a few of his fellow early Mac luminaries. He was everything you’d think: gracious, friendly, and whip smart. And he was embarrassingly complimentary regarding my work at Daring Fireball. I had been thinking about reaching out to him to get his thoughts on the iPad.

So it goes.

Taiwan News: Apple Is Moving Some Production From China to Taiwan 

Keoni Everington, reporting for Taiwan News:

As the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in China, Apple is moving the manufacture of some of its top devices to Taiwan.

Apple has begun to move the production of a number of its top gadgets set to launch in the first half of 2020, according to a report by am730, which cited DigiTimes. The products listed in the report to be shifted to Taiwan include AirPods Pro Lite [sic], iPads, and Apple Watches.

Apple is trying to diversify its supply chain geographically due to the spread of the virus, which has seriously affected the production of Apple products in the communist country. Apple intends to gradually increase the proportion of production in Taiwan while still trying to maintain its cooperation with suppliers on the other side of the strait.

No mention of iPhones.

Update: Taiwan should have mandated that everyone in the world be able to type their emoji flag in exchange for taking on more manufacturing.

‘McDonald’s Spells It Out’ 

Very clever ad campaign, and it speaks to McDonald’s brand power that they don’t even say it’s from them, but you instantly know it is.

California Supreme Court Rules Against Apple Regarding Off-the-Clock Employee Bag Searches 

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors last week:

Apple broke California law when it failed to pay employees for time spent waiting for mandatory bag searches at the end of their shifts, the California Supreme Court ruled today. […]

Apple requires all personal packages, bags, and Apple devices that belong to retail employees to be checked by a manager or security before an employee is allowed to leave the store for any reason, including breaks, lunch, and the end of shifts.

Employees are also required to clock out before submitting to an exit search, and have estimated that the time spent waiting and undergoing searches ranges from five to 20 minutes. On busy days, some employees have waited for up to 45 minutes waiting for a bag check.

Apple has argued that allowing employees to bring bags and devices to work is a convenience and has positioned the searches as a “benefit” because employees could prevent searches by not bringing personal items or could be banned from bringing personal items all together. The California Supreme Court says that such a ban would be “draconian” and that Apple’s arguments that employee iPhones are a convenience are “at odds” with how the iPhone is described in marketing materials.

This whole thing is an embarrassment for the richest company in the world. I can see how it happened in the first place, but once it got to court, Apple should have recognized that the policy was flatly wrong and settled it by fully paying wages for time spent in these checks to retail employees worldwide. No matter the employer, if part of your job requires time spent in a security check, you deserve to be compensated for that time.

But for Apple in particular, this is absurd. First, Apple Retail stores are, square foot for square foot, the most profitable stores in the world. That would still be true if they paid employees for the time spent in these security checks. Second, taking this lawsuit to the state supreme court left Apple’s lawyers arguing that employees don’t need to take their Apple devices to work. Who doesn’t take their phone to work? I literally don’t know anyone who leaves the house for anything without their phone.

New Kansas — Miles Newlyn’s Revival of Cooper Black 

Miles Newlyn:

Why did you decide to revive Cooper Back in particular? In ’93 I released an elliptical seriffed blackletter font called Ferox and Cooper Black was the inspiration. Since then I’ve spent a fair bit of my career designing type with rounded or soft terminals. The Tate font family is probably my best known of these. I’m motivated by typeforms that have powerful foundations in pop culture, and Cooper Black is the most loved of all.

Why do you think it’s remained so popular over the years? It never looks bad. For that reason it’s available in signage and custom print shops EVERYWHERE. It’s thoroughly embedded in the collective psyche, and so its happy, fun and comforting spirit always reassures.

“Happy, fun, and comforting” is a perfect description of Cooper Black. New Kansas looks to me like an excellent modern digital revival.

Input’s Week-Old Motorola Razr’s Display Already Broke at the Fold 

Raymond Wong, writing for Input:

The Motorola Razr nightmare continues. A week after we purchased and reviewed the foldable phone, the plastic OLED display on our $1,500 device is now peeling apart… at the fold. We always try our best to not be alarmist, but when a giant horizontal air bubble appears literally out of nowhere and starts separating the top lamination and the display panel, we have to wonder why anyone would be optimistic about foldable phones.

And then here’s a guy whose brand-new Samsung Galaxy Z Flip cracked at the fold the first time he opened it, perhaps, he thinks, because of cold weather.

Lastly, from one year ago: “Apple ‘Faces Pressure’ to Deliver Foldable iPhone Fast”.

[Update: This post originally contained the quip “You’re folding it Wong”, a play on the infamous (but inaccurate) “You’re holding it wrong” Steve Jobs response to the iPhone 4 antennagate problem. When I wrote it, I thought it oh-so-clever to work in a second pun, in addition to holding/folding. But I should know better than to ever make a play on someone’s name, which is always out of line, and can easily veer into the outright offensive. I feel that’s true about my mistake here — it was offensive. I am truly sorry, and hereby apologize to Raymond Wong and to everyone who read the post as originally written. I should have known better, and will do better. I also want to thank Raymond for his gracious response.]

Apple Warns That Coronavirus Outbreak in China Will Affect Revenue This Quarter 

Apple press release:

Our quarterly guidance issued on January 28, 2020 reflected the best information available at the time as well as our best estimates about the pace of return to work following the end of the extended Chinese New Year holiday on February 10. Work is starting to resume around the country, but we are experiencing a slower return to normal conditions than we had anticipated. As a result, we do not expect to meet the revenue guidance we provided for the March quarter due to two main factors.

The first is that worldwide iPhone supply will be temporarily constrained. While our iPhone manufacturing partner sites are located outside the Hubei province — and while all of these facilities have reopened — they are ramping up more slowly than we had anticipated. The health and well-being of every person who helps make these products possible is our paramount priority, and we are working in close consultation with our suppliers and public health experts as this ramp continues. These iPhone supply shortages will temporarily affect revenues worldwide.

The second is that demand for our products within China has been affected. All of our stores in China and many of our partner stores have been closed. Additionally, stores that are open have been operating at reduced hours and with very low customer traffic.

Neither of these things should be a surprise. Surely all consumer electronics companies with a manufacturing dependency upon China are affected similarly. For a U.S. company, though, Apple is unique in terms of its retail presence in China. Update: The issue with iPhone suppliers, I know nothing about. But I think Apple itself should have foreseen the decrease in Chinese consumer demand from this outbreak back on January 28. It seems like Apple’s executives actually believed what the Chinese government was saying about this outbreak and based their sales guidance on it.

The other factor I’ve been thinking about is how this outbreak might be affecting the development of future Apple products. Apple’s guidance here is solely about quarterly revenue for this January-March quarter. But Apple employees need to travel to China every day. Remember a year ago, when United Airlines accidentally leaked that Apple was their biggest client, spending $150M a year, including 50 business-class seats to China every day. What I wrote then:

50 seats a day between SFO and Shanghai is just a jaw-dropping number. That’s 25 Apple employees flying home and another 25 heading over every single day.

It’s possible that Apple just has a standing order for those seats, and some days they go unused by Apple employees. But I’ve heard from a few birdies who frequent the SFO-PVG route that “50 seats a day” undercounts the number of Apple employees making this trip, because it’s only counting United. They fly other airlines when those 50 seats are already full, and that’s not uncommon. They also apparently fly a ton on Cathay Pacific because it’s a nicer experience than United.

Those Apple employees who travel to China aren’t doing so for kicks. They have work to do there. Suppliers to meet, parts and prototypes and assembly lines to inspect. The final products are all stamped “Designed by Apple in California / Assembled in China”, but the connection between those two statements is not conducted remotely. It involves a lot of Apple’s own employees traveling to China. If that travel has been curtailed by this outbreak, it’s a problem — but a problem that has nothing to do with the next few weeks.


My thanks to Square for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS. The entirety of their ad text: “Start taking 💸 with the In-App Payments SDK for iOS in less ⏰ than it takes to make ☕️.”.

They’re promoting a short, smart 4-minute video showing just how easy it is to use Square’s In-App Payments SDK for iOS.

The Woman Shaking Up the Diamond Industry 

For your weekend reading enjoyment, I highly recommend this recent New Yorker profile of Eira Thomas, co-founder and CEO of diamond-mining upstart Lucara, which has developed a knack for discovering particularly large stones:

Gren Thomas dismissed the idea that Lucara had been lucky. His daughter, he said, was both a workaholic and a rigorous scientist. Although it was “beyond anyone’s dreams” that the biggest diamond since the Cullinan would be discovered at Karowe, he felt that Eira had an unteachable talent for discovery. “She has a good smell for things that are liable to be successful,” Gren told me. “She has a good nose, as they say in our business.”

The whole story is fascinating: from the security of modern diamond mines to the history of the marketing that keeps diamond prices high. And, just a week after publication, Lucara found another very large diamond.

Dieter Bohn’s Motorola Razr Review: ‘Folding Flip Phone Flops’ 

Dieter Bohn, writing at The Verge:

The camera is perfectly acceptable for a phone that costs around $500 in the year 2018. Unfortunately for Motorola, the Razr costs $1,500 and it is 2020 — a year in which you can buy a Pixel 3A for $399 (or less on discount) with a camera that absolutely smokes the Razr.

It’s a 16-megapixel sensor, and I was able to get decent shots in bright light or simple conditions. But I’ve been able to say that about most smartphone cameras for years now. Introduce even a little complication, like movement, shadow, or low light, and the whole thing falls apart. I had a super hard time even getting it to properly focus on faces. There is a night mode but it doesn’t do much.

I get it that some compromises were inevitable, but the camera shouldn’t have been one. And it just seems so wrong that the hinge — the defining aspect of this very-premiumly-priced device — has an unpleasant creaking sound.

Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s Lost Notebook 

Wired has a great excerpt from Steven Levy’s upcoming book on Facebook. Here’s Levy on first meeting Mark Zuckerberg in 2006:

I took it in stride that Zuckerberg looked even younger than his 21 years. I’d been covering hackers and tech companies for long enough to have met other peach-fuzz magnates. But what did shake me was his affect. I asked him a few softball questions about what the company was up to, and he just stared at me. He said nothing. He didn’t seem angry or preoccupied. Just blank. If my questions had been shot from a water pistol at the rock face of a high cliff they would have had more impact.

I was flummoxed. This guy is the CEO, isn’t he? Is he having some sort of episode? Was there something I’d written that made him hate me? Time seemed to freeze as the silence continued.

Let’s Get Real About How Important Our Phones Are 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

At its “Unpacked” event here on Tuesday, the world’s largest smartphone maker unveiled a new model called the Galaxy S20 that touts ultrafast 5G and a camera with enough zoom for a spy. A second new smartphone, called the Galaxy Z Flip, opens and closes like a flip phone from 2003, using a cutting-edge folding-screen technology.

And with prices ranging from $1,000 to $1,400, either one is hard to justify as much more than a luxury.

This is the same nonsense we hear about Apple’s phones, post-iPhone X. Yes, phones that cost $1,000 or more are expensive. Yes, that’s outside the budget for most people. But why in the world would anyone argue this is ”hard to justify”? Phones are, for most people, the most-used computing device in their lives. They are also their primary — usually only — camera. A good camera alone used to cost $500-600.

There are way more people on the planet who’d rather have a $1,400 phone and a $400 laptop than the other way around. But you’ll never see a tech reviewer claim that $1,000-1,400 is “hard to justify” for a laptop. It’s ridiculously out of touch to argue otherwise. And, the fact that top-of-the-line phones have reached these price points does not negate the fact that truly excellent phones are available at much lower prices.

21st Century Autocracy 

David Frum, writing back in 2017:

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example — and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

21st century autocracy does not resemble 20th century autocracy. It’s a different ballgame. And we’re facing it right here in America, right now. I’m not going to say that the president of the United States brazenly pushing for a lighter criminal sentence for his long-time friend and co-conspirator is the worst that it can get. It’s not, and I think it’s going to get worse. But let’s stop pretending that Trump and his enablers haven’t already crossed the autocrat line. This is where we are; let’s deal with it with our eyes wide open.

Samsung’s Galaxy Book S Is Thinner, Lighter, Faster Than MacBook Air 

Sanjiv Sathiah, writing for NotebookCheck:

The Intel Core i5-8210Y delivers a multi-core score of 1544 which compares poorly with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx multi-core score of 2745. Yet, despite fitting the MacBook Air with a 49.9 Wh battery, Apple claims it will deliver just 13 hours of continuous video playback. However, because of the superior performance-per-watt of the Snapdragon 8cx when paired with the smaller 42 Wh battery in the Galaxy Book S, it delivers up to 25 hours (claimed) of continuous video playback. […]

The MacBook Air weighs 1.25 kg (2.75 pounds) and is 15.6 mm (0.61-inches) at its thickest point. This compares with the Galaxy Book S which weighs 0.96 kg (2.11 pounds) and measures 11.8 mm (0.46-inches). Given that buyers of the slightly more expensive MacBook Air (US$1,099) are also only going to be doing relatively light-weight tasks on it like internet browsing and running Microsoft’s Office suite on it, why would anyone choose the MacBook Air over the Galaxy Book S (US$999)?

Well, there’s the small notion of, you know, the operating system. And let’s see if it really does get 25 hours of video playback. But the point stands. A lot of people using MacBooks today aren’t devoted to the MacOS experience, and might switch, based on hardware alone. The ARM revolution for notebook PCs is coming, whether Apple is ready or not.

(I think they’re ready.)

What Jonathan Chait Does Like About Bernie Sanders 

In broad strokes, you can probably file me as a Jonathan Chait Democrat. I agree with Chait far more often than not, and when I disagree with him, I almost always think, “Well, he does make some good points.”

Long story short, we’re not Bernie Sanders fans.

But! As Chait points out in his column today, there’s a lot to like about Bernie Sanders even if you’re not a Bernie Sanders Democrat. (I will not bring up the fact that Bernie Sanders himself is not a Democrat.) Among the candidates who seem to have a legitimate chance to win the Democratic nomination this year — Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren, in alphabetical order — Sanders is far from my first choice. But if he’s the nominee — and he may well be — I will support him wholeheartedly and with no reservations. There is a lot to like about all of these candidates, and those of us in opposition to Trump have got to stick together.

Elections are fundamentally about winning. Trump is already trying to distract and divide us.

Today, in Our Headlong Roll Into Banana Republicdom 

Katie Benner:

Senior Justice Department officials intervened to overrule front-line prosecutors and will recommend a more lenient sentencing for Roger J. Stone Jr., convicted last year of impeding investigators in a bid to protect his longtime friend President Trump, a senior department official said Tuesday.

The move is highly unusual and is certain to generate allegations of political interference. It came after federal prosecutors in Washington asked a judge late Monday evening to sentence Mr. Stone to seven to nine years in prison on seven felony convictions for trying to sabotage a congressional investigation that threatened Mr. Trump.

Early on Tuesday, Mr. Trump declared the sentencing recommendation “horrible and very unfair.”

“The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Trump is not just intervening on behalf of a friend, it’s a case where Trump himself (and his son) were up to their necks in it.

“Highly unusual” is an absurd euphemism.

Fox’s Redesigned NFL Graphics 

John Teti, writing for The AV Club:

Everyone has their own focal point on Super Bowl Sunday. Some viewers are there for the halftime show. Others watch for the commercials. And let’s not forget those of us who tune in to see the main event: three hours of men in brightly colored garments, pummeling each other, for America.

Those are all marvelous reasons to watch, but in my living room, there was yet another, admittedly obscure facet of the game that filled me with anticipation right up until kickoff, as I wondered, “Will Fox premiere a new suite of onscreen graphics for the Super Bowl?” The answer, to my delight, was yes.

It really is a good graphics system — replacing an older design that was also very good. It works well for everyone — those who are playing close attention to the game and those who are not, but just want to see what’s going on at a glance.

(Via Todd Vaziri.)

MLB’s 2020 Batting Practice Caps Are Mostly Terrible 

Paul Kafasis:

I know it goes against all logic and reason, but it really seems like shoving one logo inside of another logo is not a great way to design a third logo.

Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Taika Waititi, Asked What Writers Should Be Asking for in the Next Round of Talks With Producers: ‘Apple Needs to Fix Those Keyboards. They Are Impossible to Write on. They’ve Gotten Worse. It Makes Me Want to Go Back to PCs.’ 

This clip is making the rounds this morning, with good reason. It hits home. Watch the whole video — Waititi is obviously being a bit glib with the entire premise of his answer, but he’s not joking. He’s a writer and writers really care about keyboards.

I’ve been saying for years now that Apple has done severe reputational harm to the MacBook brand, which effectively is the Mac brand for most people, especially writers. Yes, there’s a new keyboard with scissor-switch mechanisms in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a pleasure to type on. But we’re still months away from the rest of the MacBook lineup being updated to use that new keyboard. And that’s a presumption on my part, that all MacBooks will get the new keyboard sooner rather than later. It certainly wouldn’t make any sense if they didn’t — but the whole butterfly-switch saga has never made any sense.

Apple could switch every single Mac in the lineup to the new keyboards tomorrow, and people would still be joking about MacBook keyboards for years to come.

Morning Brew 

My thanks to Morning Brew for sponsoring DF last week. There’s a reason over 1 million people start their day with Morning Brew — the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Business news doesn’t have to be dry and dense… make your mornings more enjoyable, for free.

I’ve been subscribed for over six months. It’s a great daily read — concise, fun, and a clean crisp design. You get one email each morning and that’s it. I recommend it.

France Fines Apple $27 Million 

On the one hand, this is bullshit.

On the other hand, Apple generates $27 million in profit every two or three hours.

The DF Tootbot Is Once Again Fully Operational

A brief housekeeping note. In early November, I moved this website to a new server. It had been at the old server since 2007. One small thing that broke during the move is the script I use to automatically tweet links to new DF posts from the @daringfireball Twitter account — the DF Tootbot.

What broke is fairly technical, so I’ll try to make this short. The basic gist of how the script works:

  1. Read the DF RSS feed to get a list of all current posts.
  2. Go through each post in the feed and see if there are entries that (a) haven’t yet been tweeted, and (b) are at least 5 minutes old. (The reason for (b) is so that I have a few minutes after initially publishing to fix any egregious mistakes or typos.)
  3. Upon finding an entry that meets both criteria in #2, tweet it, using the entry’s title and URL as the text of the tweet.
  4. Add that DF post to a history log so that it won’t get tweeted again.

The script runs once per minute as a cron job. That’s it.

What broke when I moved servers was the history log. When I first wrote the script 10+ years ago, I used a database, cleverly thinking, “If this Twitter thing is here to stay, I’ll eventually tweet tens of thousands of posts, so I should use a database so lookups don’t get slow and the whole thing continues to run fast years from now.” The database I chose, unfortunately, is one that sometimes changes its underlying file format with major version updates.1 There were a lot of major version updates to Perl in the years since I last moved servers.

What I could have done is just start over with a new history log on the new server, and manually fill the new database with the last few weeks of entries. For the purposes of tweeting new entries from the RSS feed, there’s no reason to keep a full historical log. The script just needs to know which recent articles — articles still in the feed — have already been tweeted.

It bothered me that the script was using a database at all. It bothered me because the database wasn’t something I could just open in BBEdit and inspect and edit by hand. I’m a text file guy, as you may know. Because here’s the thing: reading a simple text file log with tens of thousands of lines is really really fast on a modern computer. It would have been more than fast enough 10 years ago, and it’s much faster today.

I wrote a test script and ran it against a 53 MB text file log with 1 million lines. It ran in a blink of an eye. A fraction of a second. I hope to write Daring Fireball for a long time to come, but I really doubt I have a million posts in me.

A database was overkill. I ran afoul of Donald Knuth’s well-known axiom:

Programmers waste enormous amounts of time thinking about, or worrying about, the speed of noncritical parts of their programs, and these attempts at efficiency actually have a strong negative impact when debugging and maintenance are considered. We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil.

So, I decided I should rewrite that part of the DF Tootbot to do what it should have done all along: use a simple human-readable text file for the history log. There were a few other changes I wanted to make, too — like switching from DF’s RSS feed to the JSON feed as the source for new articles, and supporting Twitter’s 280-character limit.

In the meantime, I had a copy of the old version of the script on my Mac that I could run manually. Three months of procrastination later, I finally spent Monday writing the new version and getting it running on the new DF server. This was the first tweet posted by the new Tootbot.2

In the interim, during the previous three months when @daringfireball tweets were only being triggered by me manually, the time between when I posted new items to Daring Fireball and when they got tweeted was, to put it mildly, erratic. Manually doing anything that should be automated is a bad idea for anyone, but it’s a particularly bad idea for someone with a strong tendency to think about only one thing at a time and pretty much forget everything else.

So why do I even bother with my own custom script for posting these tweets? Indeed, there are many services one can use for posting new items from a blog to a Twitter account.

I like having control over such things. Shocker, I know. For example, I want complete control over the exact text of the tweets. What happens, for example, when a DF post has a headline that’s too long to fit in a tweet? In that case, I want the headline to be truncated as elegantly as possible, at a whole word, with an ellipsis added to indicate the truncated words, and inside any double or single quotation marks that end the headline. With Twitter’s 2017 change from 140 characters to 280 as the upper limit of a tweet, that’s not common — but it can happen.

For those of you who don’t follow the @daringfireball Twitter account, consider it. It’s a great way to see when something new or updated has been posted to DF, and with Twitter’s app, you can even get notifications of new items. (Go to the @daringfireball account profile and tap the little bell icon — you can use this to get per-account Twitter notifications from anyone.)

For those of you who do follow @daringfireball, I apologize for the erratic posting schedule these last three months. It should be back to normal now, and for the foreseeable future. 

  1. Perl nerds only: I was using `DB_File` to tie a hash with a Berkeley DB. I have never used `DB_File` before or since, and in hindsight really can’t believe that I used it for this. ↩︎

  2. Keen observers will note a slight formatting change. The old Tootbot tweeted title + ": " + url (title and url separated by a colon and space); the new Tootbot tweets title + "\n" + url (title and url separated by a newline). This new format is a better compromise between how Twitter itself and third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific — both much-used by DF readers — display tweets. ↩︎︎

From the DF Archive, Heretofore the Longest Headline in DF History: ‘Yet Another in the Ongoing Series Wherein I Examine a Piece of Supposedly Serious Apple Analysis From a Major Media Outlet and Dissect Its Inaccuracies, Fabrications, and Exaggerations Point-by-Point, Despite the Fact That No Matter How Egregious the Inaccuracies / Fabrications / Exaggerations, Such Pieces Inevitably Lead to Accusations That I’m Some Sort of Knee-Jerk Shill Who Rails Against Anything “Anti-Apple” Simply for the Sake of Defending Apple, and if I Love Apple So Much Why Don’t I Just Marry Them?’ 

I’ll explain why I’m re-linking this now in a bit, but it’s also a fun bit of claim chowder from a staunch iPhone doubter who somehow finagled a Fast Company cover story.

Our Long National Nightmare Is Over: Netflix Makes Preview Autoplay Optional 

They’ve offered a setting for “Autoplay next episode in a series” for years, but the new setting released today for “Autoplay previews while browsing” is the thing that has driven me nuts.

‘Apple, Just Bundle News+ Already’ 

MG Siegler:

This isn’t rocket science. It’s not any kind of science. It’s common sense. News+ was never going to work as a stand-alone subscription offering from Apple. With the news today of a key departure from the group, perhaps the company now sees that. But the writing has been on the wall from day one. […]

So, what to do?

It’s so obvious that it’s already rumored. Make News+ a part of an Apple bundle. Yes, yes, “Apple Prime” as it were. Flip the script so that News+ isn’t yet another cognitive load on us. Something that may be a good deal but will I really have time for that? To: oh wow, this is included in what I already pay for? Awesome.

I don’t know if there’s a strategy behind waiting to unveil such a bundle, or if they’re still working on the technical and possible licensing details behind it, or if internally Apple is actually still debating the merits of a bundle. But I’m with Siegler: it seems obvious.

At the very least such a bundle should include Music, TV+, News+, and Arcade, but I’d like to see it include increased iCloud storage too. One single family subscription to get the best Apple “Services” have to offer. And the name is obvious at this point: Apple+.

New Features in iOS / iPadOS 13.4 Beta 1 

Lots of new stuff for a .4 update, including several new features when hardware keyboards are used with an iPad. Key remapping, for example, which allows you to, say, map the Caps Lock key to Escape.

My 2019 Apple Report Card

Last week Jason Snell published his annual Six Colors Apple Report Card for 2019. This year 65 voters (hand-selected by Snell) graded Apple in 12 areas. I was one of them, and, like last year, thought it only fair to publish my grades and remarks here at Daring Fireball. Comments in [brackets] are additional commentary I wrote now, and were not included in what I submitted to Snell.

Mac: D

This was a hard score for me to assign.

My first thoughts went to hardware. We’ve got an amazing new Mac Pro that rekindles the era of workstations that offer the best performance money can buy. The best CPUs, the best SSDs, the best RAM (up to 1.5 TB!). And it’s a tremendous design accomplishment — there aren’t even any cables inside the machine. We also have a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that I think is the best notebook Apple has made in 5-6 years. It fixes everything wrong with the 15-inch MacBook Pros that preceded it — especially the keyboard.

Everything isn’t perfect on the hardware front. The iMac Pro is now two years old. It’s a great machine but it hasn’t been touched in two years. That’s not pro. You can say it’s Intel’s fault because the iMac Pro is based on a line of Xeon CPUs that haven’t been updated in two years, but it’s Apple’s name on the box. The buck stops with Apple. And while the 16-inch MacBook Pro now has a totally new, totally great keyboard, it’s the most expensive model in the lineup and none of the other MacBooks have that keyboard. Yet, we all presume, but the fact is, if you buy a MacBook Air today — the best-selling, most-popular MacBook — you are not getting a good keyboard. So all things considered, I’d say a B for Mac hardware.

Then I think about software. And that means thinking about MacOS 10.15 Catalina. And those thoughts are not good. Off the top of my head I’m hard pressed to think of anything in Catalina that’s an improvement over 10.14 Mojave, and I can think of a lot of things that are worse. I get it that security and convenience are at odds, and it’s a difficult job for Apple to find the balanced sweet spot between the two. But Catalina clearly bends too far in the direction of security. By design, it’s just too inconvenient, with apps generating system-level alerts prompting for permission for things as rudimentary as being able to see the files on my desktop — sometimes when those apps are in the background, and I know that at the moment the alert appears those apps are not trying to read files on my desktop. But why in the world is the desktop treated as some sort of sensitive location?

Back in 2007 Apple ran a “Get a Mac” commercial mocking Windows Vista for this exact same sort of overzealous permission nagging. That’s exactly what Catalina feels like.

If Apple has somehow determined that typical users need these sort of permission alerts, fine, but there should be a single switch for expert users to toggle to effectively say “I trust all of the software on my Mac”. Call it “Pro Mode”, call it “Developer Mode”, call it “Expert Mode”, whatever. But I don’t know a single expert Mac user who is not seriously annoyed by the heavy-handed security design of Catalina. Not one. Every single expert user I know is annoyed. That is a bad place for MacOS to be. MacOS 10.16 needs a serious course correction to fix this, and if 10.16 goes the opposite way — growing even more heavy-handed in restricting professional Mac users from just using their machines as they want and expect to — I genuinely fear for the future of the Mac as a platform for serious computer users. Which is crazy considering that Apple just unveiled Mac Pro workstation hardware that can cost upwards of $50,000.

And there are bugs in Catalina. Lots and lots of bugs. About one out of ten times that I open my new 16-inch MacBook Pro, the display contrast is horribly wrong. [Not sure if I’m on a lucky streak or if this actually got fixed, but I haven’t seen this issue in over a week.] I can “fix” it by either turning the display brightness way down and then back up, or by closing the lid and reopening it. But I’ve been using Mac laptops for 20 years and I’ve never once had an issue like that. Another paper-cut bug: turn off toolbars in Finder windows and a few minutes later, the toolbars will reappear. There are always bugs in new OS releases, and we always complain that the state of Apple’s software is too buggy. But no one can convince me that Catalina is not abnormally buggy, even now, months after release.

And then there’s Catalyst. Don’t get me started.

If I could give Mac hardware and software separate scores, I’d give hardware a B and software an F — not one thing about Mac software got better in 2019 and everything that did change made it worse. Where’s the Tylenol?

iPhone: B

2019 was a stellar year for iPhone hardware. I love all the iPhone 11 models. I’ve been an avid hobbyist photographer for 20 years and I happily shoot over 95 percent of my photos using my iPhone. Everything about the iPhone 11 cameras is great, from the hardware to the Camera app software. I love the new ultra-wide angle lens in all of the 11 models, and I think Apple made the right call using the ultra-wide as the only additional lens on the regular iPhone 11 (as opposed to the telephoto). My one and only significant gripe is that there’s only one size for the non-Pro iPhone 11. There ought to be a smaller one.

iOS 13 is a very good release. Shortcuts are proving to be the most exciting power-user feature in the history of iOS as a platform. Sharing sheets are better than ever too. I think the overall look is getting a bit dated, though. A fair amount of Z-axis depth has been restored since the visual reboot in iOS 7, but it still feels obsessively “flat”. And parts of Apple’s iOS software feel designed only to look good, as opposed to actually be good from an interactive standpoint.

[I think my Mac remarks made me grumpy — I wrote them before anything else for my report card. If I were grading the iPhone in 2019 today, I’d bump it up to an A.]

iPad: D

iPad hardware is wonderful. It seems like iPad Pro hardware is on a roughly 18-month refresh schedule, so there was nothing new in Pro hardware in 2019, but the current models are so good in every regard that that’s just fine. And the consumer models offer the best bang-for-the-buck of any computers Apple has ever sold, period. Just like with the Mac, I’d give iPad hardware an excellent score on its own, an A.

But to say that I’m not a fan of iPadOS is an understatement. I wish there were a switch to force iPadOS back to the pre “multitasking” days when the iPad interaction model was “just a big iPhone” — where every app was full screen and there was no drag-and-drop. I only ever accidentally drag things like links, and I find iPadOS’s concept of “windows” to be baffling. [Turns out there sort of is such a mode in Settings → Home Screen & Dock → Multitasking.] Getting the split-screen and Slide Over stuff to work is utterly unintuitive. It’s not the sort of thing you can figure out on your own just by using it, which is how the Mac user interface works. You have to know in advance how iPadOS split-screen stuff works. Just consider the fundamentals: if you want to launch an app you just tap it on the home screen or in the Dock. So far so good. But if you want a second app next to the first one, you have to drag the icon for that app out of the Dock? Why in the world would dragging an app icon launch an instance of an app? Forget about the Mac — what other platform in the world works like that? Put instances of Safari in two different “windows” — say, one split-screened with Notes and another in a “window” of its own. Then, using a hardware keyboard, Command-Tab to Safari. Which one comes forward? Toss a coin. It’s madness. I’m glad Apple started branding iOS and iPadOS separately. One of them is very cohesive, the other is incoherent. The iPadOS multitasking emperor has no clothes. I wish I could run iOS on my iPad Pro.

Apple Watch: B

Steady as she goes. I love my titanium Series 5.

[I think Apple could do a much better job with watch face design. I’m not talking about allowing third-party watch faces, which, if I were in charge of Apple Watch, I wouldn’t allow either. I’m talking about Apple’s own watch faces, the only ones we can choose from.]

Wearables: A

Regular AirPods remain great and AirPods Pro are my favorite headphones ever.

Apple TV: D

No new hardware and the new Apple TV app is confusing. I’d be fine with a hardware update that did nothing but include an altogether new remote control — but a price drop would be good too. The overwhelming majority of my non-sports TV watching is done via Apple TV, and that damn remote is a daily nuisance.

Services: B

This was the year of Services for Apple — they even had a dedicated Services event. I think they mostly nailed it. The original TV series I was interested in were all good to great (The Morning Show, For All Mankind, Servant), and I think the “start with a whole year for free with the purchase of any iPhone, iPad, or Mac” promotion is just what the doctor ordered for a new service with a very limited library of content.

I’m still wary of Apple entering the credit card business, period, but I use my Apple Card for all Apple Pay purchases (to get the 2 percent cash back). Daily cash back is a great feature, and Apple’s 6 percent cash back promotion for Apple Store purchases during the holiday gift season was undeniably a great deal.

I’ll keep beating the drum that iCloud storage tiers are too small, though — especially the 5 GB free tier.

HomeKit/Home: C

I’ll give this whole a category a “meh”. We use it at home, mostly to control smart window shades and lights, but I think for most people, if you haven’t even really looked into it yet, I’d say you’re not missing much. I feel like Apple still hasn’t gotten close to making HomeKit truly compelling.

Hardware Reliability: A

This sort of thing is highly subjective, but everything new I’ve used this year has been rock solid.

Software Quality: C

The saving grace is iOS, by which I mean iPhone’s iOS. See my comments on Mac and iPad and Apple TV above. I’d go with a B for iOS and D for the others.

Developer Relations: C

From what I’ve seen from developer friends, App Store review times are truly excellent now — a complete change from before the reorganization that put App Store review under Phil Schiller. But when an App Store review does hit a snag, it can go completely dark (from the developer’s perspective) for a week or longer. There’s still much room for improvement here. And I continue to believe Apple should lighten up on allowing apps to at least link to websites where content purchases can be made.

Social/Societal Impact: C

It’s good for the entire world that Apple is a staunch supporter of LGBT and racial equality, serious environmentalism, privacy as a human right, and true user-controlled encryption as an aspect of privacy.

It’s an absolute disgrace that Apple allowed Donald Trump to use the Mac Pro assembly plant in Austin as the backdrop for an event to promote his re-election. I called it “a low moment in Apple’s proud history, and a sadly iconic moment for Tim Cook” when it happened, and feel just as strongly two months later. Trump is a liar, a crook, and his administration has proven to be a menace to everything Apple stands for: LGBT and racial equality, the environment, and privacy as a human right.