Face the Critic: Ian Betteridge Edition

Ian Betteridge, quoting yours truly on non-consensual tracking back in 2020 and then my piece yesterday on the EDPB issuing an opinion against Meta’s “Pay or OK” model in the EU:

I wonder what happened to turn John’s attitude from “no action Apple can take against the tracking industry is too strong” to defending Facebook’s “right” to choose how it invades people’s privacy? Or is he suggesting that a private company is entitled to defend people’s privacy, but governments are not?

I’ve seen a bit of pushback along this line recently, more or less asking: How come I was against Meta’s tracking but now seem for it? I don’t see any contradiction or change in my position though. The only thing I’d change in the 2020 piece Betteridge quotes is this sentence, which Betteridge emphasizes: “No action Apple can take against the tracking industry is too strong.” I should have inserted an adjective before “tracking” — it’s non-consensual tracking I object to, especially tracking that’s downright surreptitious. Not tracking in and of itself.

That’s why I remain a staunch supporter of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency, and consider it a success. Apple didn’t ban the use of the IDFA for cross-app tracking, and they were correct not to. They simply now require consent. If I had believed that all tracking was ipso facto wrong, I’d have been opposed to ATT on the grounds that it offers the “Allow” choice.

Also from 2020, I quoted Steve Jobs on privacy:

Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain English, and repeatedly. That’s what it means. I’m an optimist, I believe people are smart. And some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data.

That’s what ATT does. And that’s what’s Meta’s “Pay or OK” model in the EU does. It offers users a clear fair choice: Use Facebook and Instagram free of charge with targeted ads, or pay a reasonable monthly fee for an ad-free experience. No less than Margrethe Vestager herself, back in 2018, was keen on this idea:

My concern is more about whether we get the right choices. I would like to have a Facebook in which I pay a fee each month, but I would have no tracking and advertising and the full benefits of privacy. It is a provoking thought after all the Facebook scandal. This market is not being explored.

Now Meta is “exploring” that market, but the European Commission doesn’t like the results, because it turns out that when given the clear choice, the overwhelming majority of EU denizens prefer to use Meta’s platforms free-of-charge with targeted ads.

The best aspects of the EU’s digital privacy laws are those that give people the right to know what data is being collected, where it’s being stored, who it’s being shared with, etc. That’s all fantastic. But the worst aspect is the paternalism. The EU is correct to require that users be required to provide consent before being tracked across properties. And Apple is correct for protecting unique device IDFA identifiers behind a mandatory “Ask App Not to Track / Allow” consent alert. But Jobs was right too: people are smart, and they can — and should be allowed to — make their own decisions. And many people are more comfortable with sharing data than others. The privacy zealots leading this crusade in the EU do not think people are smart, and do not think they should be trusted to make these decisions for themselves.

I don’t like Meta as a company. If a corporation can be smarmy, Meta is that. And they’ve done a lot of creepy stuff over the years, and for a long while clearly acted as though they were entitled to track whatever they could get away with technically. I suspect they thought that if they asked for consent, or made clear what and how they tracked, that users would revolt. But it turns out billions of people who enjoy Meta’s platforms are fine with the deal.

It’s obviously the case that for some people, Meta’s past transgressions are unforgivable. That’s each person’s decision to make for themselves. Me, I believe in mercy. Again, I still don’t really like the company, by and large. But Threads is pretty good. And sometimes, when I occasionally check in, Instagram can still make me smile. It’s very clear what I’m sharing with Meta when I use those apps, and I’m fine with that. If you’re not, don’t use them. (I’ve still never created a Facebook blue app account, and still feel like I haven’t missed out on a damn thing.)

To sum up my stance: Tracking is wrong when it’s done without consent, and when users have no idea what’s being tracked or how it’s being used. Tracking is fine when it’s done with consent, and users know what’s being tracked and how it’s being used. Privacy doesn’t mean never being tracked. It means never being tracked without clear consent. I think Meta is now largely, if not entirely, on the right side of this.

It’s paternalistic — infantilizing even — to believe that government bureaucrats should take these decisions out of the hands of EU citizens. Me, I trust people to decide for themselves. The current European Commission regime is clearly of the belief that all tracking is wrong, regardless of consent. That’s a radical belief that is not representative of the public. The government’s proper role is to ensure people can make an informed choice, and that they have control over their own data. That’s what I thought four years ago, and it’s what I think now. 


Might Meta Go Pay-Only in the EU? 

Eric Seufert, writing at Mobile Dev Memo, spitballing how Meta might respond if the EU accepts the recommendation from the EDPB that their “Pay or OK” model is illegal:

Charge a nominal fee for the ad-supported versions of Facebook and Instagram

Meta could introduce a small fee to use the ad-supported versions of Facebook and Instagram, rendering them as completely paid products in the EU. By eliminating its free tier, Meta should theoretically sidestep the conditions proposed in the EDPB’s opinion, since the elimination of a free tier supported by personalized advertising renders the Pay or Okay restrictions irrelevant.

As frequent MDM Podcast guest Mikołaj Barczentewicz points out in this blog post, both Netflix and Disney+ target ads behaviorally in their paid, ad-supported tiers. Meta could point to these products as examples of this pricing model being invoked: all options are paid, but the cheapest option is subsidized by behaviorally-supported ads. Of course, the EDPB has given itself latitude with its definition of “large online platform” to only litigate specific instances of commercial strategy.

I didn’t think of this when I spitballed my own ideas for how Meta might respond. Maybe they offer two tiers: €1/month with targeted ads, or €6/month without ads. Maybe they even make the fee for the ad tier truly nominal, say €1/year? The problem with this might be that too few people are willing to pay anything at all for social networking. Because it’s always been free-of-charge, people (not unreasonably!) now think it ought to forever remain free-of-charge.

Regarding the “just exit the EU” option, Seufert writes:

I don’t believe that Meta will respond by exiting the EU market altogether — at least not in the near term. Per above: the EU is 10% of (what I understand to be) Facebook’s global advertising revenue, and GDPR fines aren’t as significant as those incurred under the DMA. The maximum fine under the GDPR is 4% of annual worldwide turnover, whereas the maximum fine under the DMA is 20% of annual worldwide turnover. While I do believe the EU regulatory regime’s intransigence will influence a scaled, US-domiciled tech company to exit the EU market in the medium term, my sense is that Meta won’t take that course of action in immediate response to this decision.

That 10 percent figure is big but not indispensable. And it’s not much bigger than Apple’s 7 percent figure for App Store revenue from the EU. The EU is indeed a big and important market, but it’s nowhere near as big or important as the European Commissioners think.

Twitter Alternative Post News Is Shutting Down 

Noam Bardin:

It is with a heavy heart that I share this sad news with you. Despite how much we’ve accomplished together, we will be shutting down Post News within the next few weeks.

We have done many great things together. We built a toxicity-free community, a platform where Publishers engage, and an app that validated many theories around Micropayments and consumers’ willingness to purchase individual articles. We even managed to cultivate a phenomenal tipping ecosystem for creators and commenters.

But, at the end of the day, our service is not growing fast enough to become a real business or a significant platform. A consumer business, at its core, needs to show rapid consumer adoption and we have not managed to find the right product combination to make it happen.

Post News was a longshot from the start, going up against (a) the entrenched leader in the space, Twitter/X; (b) the open alternative of Mastodon; (c) Meta-backed and Instagram-derived Threads; and (d) the Jack-Dorsey-funded Bluesky. I’m not sure there’s room for all four of those, let alone a fifth.

But I think Post shot itself in the foot right out of the gate going web-only. They eventually got around to putting an “app” in the App Store but it’s just a thin wrapper around their website — so thin that you can drag-and-drop the tab controller buttons and see exactly which PWA framework they used from the custom URLs shown in the drag proxy. People don’t want to use PWAs; they want real apps. Native iOS apps are so important to social networking that Threads launched app-only for its first two months before launching its web version.

China Orders Apple to Remove WhatsApp, Threads, Signal, and Telegram From Chinese App Store 

Aaron Tilley, Liza Lin, and Jeff Horwitz, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Threads as well as messaging platforms Signal and Telegram were taken off the Chinese App Store Friday. Apple said it was told to remove certain apps because of national security concerns, without specifying which.

“We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” an Apple spokesperson said.

These messaging apps, which allow users to exchange messages and share files individually and in large groups, combined have around three billion users globally. They can only be accessed in China through virtual private networks that take users outside China’s Great Firewall, but are still commonly used.

I’m surprised any of these apps had been available in China until now. Two questions:

  • Are these apps still on the iPhones of Chinese people who already had them installed? I don’t recall Apple ever using the kill switch that revokes the developer signing for already-installed copies of apps pulled from the App Store. E.g., iGBA, the rip-off Nintendo emulator that briefly rocketed to the top of the charts last weekend — pulled from the App Store early this week, but if you installed it while it was available, you can still use it.

  • Do Android phones in China offer sideloading?

The Best Simple USB-C Microphone: Audio-Technica’s ATR2100x-USB 

Joe Fabisevich asked a common question on Threads:

What’s the go to simple USB-C podcast mic that sounds good, but doesn’t have to be top of the line or super expensive? Think more “I need to sound professional on a podcast or two”, not “I make my money by recording podcasts.”

My answer: Audio-Technica’s ATR2100×-USB. It costs just $50 at Amazon. (That’s an affiliate link that will make me rich if you buy through it.) Spend an extra $4 and get a foam windscreen cap. I mean just look at it — it literally looks like the microphone emoji: 🎤. You can just plug it into a USB-C port and it sounds great. No need for an XLR interface, but it does support XLR if you ever have the need.

My main podcasting microphone remains the $260 Shure BETA 87A Supercardioid Condenser, which I connect to a $180 SSL 2 audio interface. But that stays in my podcast cave in the basement. I keep the ATR2100× in my carry-on suitcase, so it’s with me whenever I’m away from home. My Dithering co-host Ben Thompson uses the same ATR2100× when he’s away from home, too. It’s a great simple mic and a fantastic value at just $50.

Google Reorg Puts Android, Chrome, Photos and More Under Leadership of Devices Team 

David Pierce, writing for The Verge:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced substantial internal reorganizations on Thursday, including the creation of a new team called “Platforms and Devices” that will oversee all of Google’s Pixel products, all of Android, Chrome, ChromeOS, Photos, and more. The team will be run by Rick Osterloh, who was previously the SVP of devices and services, overseeing all of Google’s hardware efforts. Hiroshi Lockheimer, the longtime head of Android, Chrome, and ChromeOS, will be taking on other projects inside of Google and Alphabet.

This is a huge change for Google, and it likely won’t be the last one. There’s only one reason for all of it, Osterloh says: AI. “This is not a secret, right?” he says. Consolidating teams “helps us to be able to do full-stack innovation when that’s necessary,” Osterloh says.

I’m sure this is about AI, but I think it’s also about getting the company’s shit together and forming a cohesive strategy for integration with their consumer devices. Lost amid the schadenfreude surrounding the near-universal panning of Humane’s AI Pin is the question of, well, what are the device form factors we need for AI-driven features? I would argue, strenuously, that the phone is the natural AI device. It already has: always-on networking, cameras, a screen, microphones, and speakers. Everyone owns one and almost everyone takes theirs with them almost everywhere they go.

Putting all of Android under a new division led by the guy in charge of Pixel devices since 2016 says to me that Google sees AI not primarily as a way to make Android better, in general, but to make Pixel devices better, specifically. Best-of-class AI, only on Pixels, could be the sort of differentiation that actually results in Pixels gaining traction.

Elizabeth Warren, Still Using Twitter/X: ‘It’s Time to Break Up Apple’s Smartphone Monopoly’ 

Senator Elizabeth Warren seemingly thinks Apple ought to be forced to operate iMessage as a public utility, free of charge. Or something? She doesn’t actually say what she thinks should happen. Is she suggesting Apple be forced to spin off “iMessage” as a separate company? If not, what is she advocating “breaking up”?

Google Fires 28 Employees Who Disrupted Workplaces to Protest Israel Cloud Contract 

Chris Rackow, Google’s head of global security, in a company-wide memo published at The Verge, under the clear subject “Serious consequences for disruptive behavior”:

Behavior like this has no place in our workplace and we will not tolerate it. It clearly violates multiple policies that all employees must adhere to — including our Code of Conduct and Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, Retaliation, Standards of Conduct, and Workplace Concerns.

We are a place of business and every Googler is expected to read our policies and apply them to how they conduct themselves and communicate in our workplace. The overwhelming majority of our employees do the right thing. If you’re one of the few who are tempted to think we’re going to overlook conduct that violates our policies, think again. The company takes this extremely seriously, and we will continue to apply our longstanding policies to take action against disruptive behavior — up to and including termination.

It says a lot about how adrift Google was that “We are a place of business” needed to be stated, but better late than never. I can’t believe they let these goofs occupy Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s office for 8 hours before having them arrested. They look and act like college students doing a sit-in at the dean’s office, not professional employees protesting their CEO. In college you pay to be there — students are the customers, ostensibly. At work they pay you, at will.

Meta Releases New AI Assistant Powered by Llama 3 Model 

Alex Heath, reporting for The Verge:

ChatGPT kicked off the AI chatbot race. Meta is determined to win it.

To that end: the Meta AI assistant, introduced last September, is now being integrated into the search box of Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger. It’s also going to start appearing directly in the main Facebook feed. You can still chat with it in the messaging inboxes of Meta’s apps. And for the first time, it’s now accessible via a standalone website at Meta.ai.

For Meta’s assistant to have any hope of being a real ChatGPT competitor, the underlying model has to be just as good, if not better. That’s why Meta is also announcing Llama 3, the next major version of its foundational open-source model. Meta says that Llama 3 outperforms competing models of its class on key benchmarks and that it’s better across the board at tasks like coding. Two smaller Llama 3 models are being released today, both in the Meta AI assistant and to outside developers, while a much larger, multimodal version is arriving in the coming months.

I keep circling back to the notion that OpenAI has no moat. ChatGPT is certainly the best-known LLM, and perhaps still the best, but I don’t think that’s any more of a long-term competitive advantage than some company in 1986 having “the best C compiler”. What’s needed are ways to bring LLMs to users. To give them purpose, in products. That’s what Meta is doing, by integrating their AI into all of their major products.

Netflix Will Stop Reporting Subscriber Numbers Next Year 

Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:

Netflix will no longer report subscriber numbers — which has been a key metric for streaming services for years — beginning with the first quarter of 2025.

The company made the announcement in releasing its first-quarter 2024 earnings Thursday. Netflix handily topped expectations for subscribers net adds, gaining 9.33 million in the period, to reach nearly 270 million globally. It also beat Wall Street expectations on the top and bottom lines. [...]

Despite the Q1 earnings beat, Netflix shares dropped more than 4.5% in after-hours trading Thursday, possibly as investors reacted negatively to the news that the streamer will stop reporting quarterly sub totals.

In its Q1 letter to shareholders, Netflix said that engagement — time spent with the service — is its “best proxy for customer satisfaction.” As such, it will no longer report quarterly membership numbers or average revenue per member (which it dubs “ARM”), as of Q1 2025. Netflix said it will announce “major subscriber milestones as we cross them” but will cease disclosing quarterly subscriber numbers.

I don’t think investors should be alarmed. This is what companies do when their growth phase is over. Apple used to break down unit sales for its various devices and stopped long ago. Netflix is no longer an up-and-comer — they’re the established leader in streaming, and should be judged accordingly.

U.S. Court Rules That Police Can Force a Suspect to Unlock Phone With Thumbprint 

Jon Brodkin, reporting for Ars Technica:

The US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination does not prohibit police officers from forcing a suspect to unlock a phone with a thumbprint scan, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday. The ruling does not apply to all cases in which biometrics are used to unlock an electronic device but is a significant decision in an unsettled area of the law. [...]

Payne’s Fifth Amendment claim “rests entirely on whether the use of his thumb implicitly related certain facts to officers such that he can avail himself of the privilege against self-incrimination,” the ruling said. Judges rejected his claim, holding “that the compelled use of Payne’s thumb to unlock his phone (which he had already identified for the officers) required no cognitive exertion, placing it firmly in the same category as a blood draw or fingerprint taken at booking.”

“When Officer Coddington used Payne’s thumb to unlock his phone — which he could have accomplished even if Payne had been unconscious — he did not intrude on the contents of Payne’s mind,” the court also said.

Via Jamie Zawinski, who advises never using Touch ID or Face ID. I strongly disagree with that advice. Almost everyone is far more secure using Face ID rather than relying on a passcode/passphrase alone. People who don’t use Face/Touch ID are surely tempted to use a short easily-entered passcode for convenience, and anyone who disables Face/Touch ID while using a nontrivial passphrase is encountering a huge inconvenience every single time they unlock their phone. There’s no good reason to put yourself through that.

My advice is to internalize the shortcut to hard-lock an iPhone, which temporarily disables Face/Touch ID and requires the passcode to unlock: squeeze the side button and either of the volume buttons for a second or so. I wrote an entire article about this two years ago. Don’t just learn this shortcut, internalize it, so that you don’t have to think about it under duress. Just squeeze the side buttons until you feel the phone vibrate. Then it’s hard-locked. Do this whenever you go through security — be it at the airport, the ballpark, or anywhere. If you see a magnetometer, hard-lock your iPhone. If you get pulled over by a cop while driving, hard-lock your phone before you do anything else. (You can still launch the Camera app from the lock screen to record the encounter, if you wish, while the phone remains hard-locked.) Tell everyone you know how to hard-lock their iPhones.

(Also, this ruling is specific to the details of this particular case, and thus only addresses fingerprint authentication, not facial recognition. Those concerned with civil liberties should presume, though, that the same court would rule similarly regarding cops unlocking a device by waving it in front of the suspect’s face. But with “Require Attention for Face ID” — which is on by default — Face ID won’t work if you keep your eyes closed, and I don’t think a court would allow police to force your eyes open. The trick to worry about is the police handing you back your phone, under the pretense that you can use it to make a call or something, and then yanking it from your hands after you unlock it.)

Nothing Integrates ChatGPT With Its Wireless Earbuds and Phones 

James Pero, writing at Inverse:

Nothing’s audio products — including the newly announced Ear and Ear A — are bringing what the company calls an “industry-first” integration with ChatGPT that allows users who also own a Nothing Phone like the recently released Phone 2a to launch the chatbot with a pinch gesture on their Nothing earbuds.

“By integrating ChatGPT with Nothing earbuds, including the new Nothing Ear and Ear A, and with Nothing OS, we’ve taken our first steps towards change, and there’s more to come,” said Nothing CEO, Carl Pei, in a press release.

Looks like it’s time for the DOJ to file another lawsuit against Apple for offering tight integration between its phones and peripherals.


European Data Protection Board Goes There, Rules Against Meta’s ‘Pay or OK’ Model

Eric Seufert, on Threads:

The EDPB — the EU’s legislature of privacy authorities — adopted a draft opinion today determining that large online platforms can’t offer a “pay or okay” model as a strict binary and must also offer a third, free choice that doesn’t utilize personalized advertising.

Given which way the wind’s been blowing in the EU, this is unsurprising, but make no mistake, this is a radical stance. From the EDPB’s draft ruling (PDF):

The offering of (only) a paid alternative to the service which includes processing for behavioural advertising purposes should not be the default way forward for controllers. When developing the alternative to the version of the service with behavioural advertising, large online platforms should consider providing data subjects with an ‘equivalent alternative’ that does not entail the payment of a fee. If controllers choose to charge a fee for access to the ‘equivalent alternative’, controllers should consider also offering a further alternative, free of charge, without behavioural advertising, e.g. with a form of advertising involving the processing of less (or no) personal data. This is a particularly important factor in the assessment of certain criteria for valid consent under the GDPR. In most cases, whether a further alternative without behavioural advertising is offered by the controller, free of charge, will have a substantial impact on the assessment of the validity of consent, in particular with regard to the detriment aspect.

With respect to the requirements of the GDPR for valid consent, first of all, consent needs to be ‘freely given’. In order to avoid detriment that would exclude freely given consent, any fee imposed cannot be such as to effectively inhibit data subjects from making a free choice. Furthermore, detriment may arise where non-consenting data subjects do not pay a fee and thus face exclusion from the service, especially in cases where the service has a prominent role, or is decisive for participation in social life or access to professional networks, even more so in the presence of lock-in or network effects. As a result, detriment is likely to occur when large online platforms use a ‘consent or pay’ model to obtain consent for the processing.

Seufert again:

In its opinion on Meta’s use of the Pay or Okay model, the EDPB effectively says that any sufficiently valuable product must offer a free version that doesn’t monetize via behavioral ads. That the quality of being indispensable means consumers must have unfettered access to it.

What makes this all the more outrageous is that many major publishers in the EU use this exact same “pay or OK” model to achieve GDPR compliance — and none offer a free alternative with non-targeted ads. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Der Spiegel to offer free access without ads. Christ, they don’t even let you look at their homepage without paying or consenting to targeted ads. And Spotify quite literally brags about its ad targeting. But Spotify is an EU company, so of course it wasn’t designated as a “gatekeeper” by the protection racketeers running the European Commission.

They’re not saying “pay or OK” is illegal. They’re saying it’s illegal only if you’re a big company from outside the EU with a very popular platform.

Meta’s only options for compliance with this ruling, as I see it:

  • Offer a new free tier with contextual, rather than targeted, ads. To achieve an ARPU equivalent to Meta’s paid and free-with-targeted-ads tiers, this new offering would likely have to inundate users with a veritable avalanche of annoying ads. This, I would wager, would be deemed “malicious compliance” and thus also illegal.

  • Offer a new free tier with contextual, rather than targeted, ads — but only show roughly the same frequency of ads as their lucrative free-with-targeted-ads tier. This is what the EDPB (and EC) are demanding, and seemingly think they can force Meta to do. Meta would almost certainly see ARPU plummet for all users who opt into this tier. Who knows if the revenue would even be sufficient to break even per such user?

  • Invent some novel way to generate as much revenue per non-targeted ad as targeted ones. This is the “nerd harder” fantasy solution, a la demanding that secure end-to-end encryption provide back doors available only to “the good guys”.

  • Cease offering Facebook and Instagram in the EU. (WhatsApp doesn’t monetize through targeted ads, so isn’t germane to this ruling.) This is the option the EDPB and EC believe “unthinkable” for Meta to take, because the EU is, in their minds, an indispensable market.

I don’t see how Meta can risk the second choice. Meta could afford to see ARPU plummet solely within the EU, and at first thought, you might think some revenue per EU user is surely better than no revenue at all from the EU. But if Meta caves and complies with this ruling by offering a free tier with significantly lower ARPU, that opens the door for regulators and legislative bodies around the globe to demand the same. Then, poof goes Meta as an industry colossus.

I suspect the EU regulatory bodies have some surprises coming regarding how this is going to play out. 


‘Oh the Humanity’ 

Ben Sandofsky:

An ex-Apple designer who went on to startup success once told me, “I wish I could give a workshop for Apple alumni jumping into startups, to help them un-learn The Apple Way.” As someone who strives to build products with the craft and quality of Apple, it pains me to admit that The Apple Way can destroy a lot of startups. Which brings us to Humane.

Great piece. And it brings to mind an observation I’m far from the first to make: There are far fewer startups founded by former Apple employees than one would expect, given Apple’s spectacular run over the past 25 years.

Nest is an obvious exception, but Tony Fadell had a very atypical career at Apple. He was brought in as a contractor in 2001 to help create the iPod, and stayed until 2008. He was more “the iPod guy” not “an Apple person”. And the original Nest thermostat couldn’t be more opposite from Humane’s AI Pin — the Nest did exactly what it promised, very well. Even the fact that it included a screen. Most importantly, Nest’s thermostat took aim at replacing existing dumb thermostats, which were terrible. Nest’s product really was something like 10× better than what it aimed to disrupt. The AI Pin took aim at the iPhone, which is insanely great.

Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani’s Interpreter and Friend, Stole $16 Million to Pay Only a Portion of His Gambling Losses 

Speaking of sports gambling scandals, here’s Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt, reporting for The New York Times:

Ohtani has many other accounts, of course — he earns more money from endorsements and business deals than he does from his lucrative baseball salary. But it was this account, solely for Ohtani’s baseball earnings, that Mizuhara would scheme to take control of and then, as he fell deeper into a gambling addiction, pilfer for years, according to prosecutors.

Mizuhara changed the settings of the account so alerts and confirmations of transactions would go to him, not Ohtani. Drawing on phone recordings obtained from the bank, prosecutors said Mizuhara had also impersonated Ohtani to gain the bank’s approval for certain large transactions. And whenever one of Ohtani’s other advisers — his agent, tax preparer, bookkeeper or financial adviser, all of whom were interviewed for the federal investigation — inquired about the account, Mizuhara told them that Ohtani preferred the account to remain private.

Between November 2021 and January this year, Mizuhara stole $16 million from the account to feed his “voracious appetite for illegal sports betting,” according to E. Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

Sounds like the plot from a Coen brothers movie. At every step where anyone tried to check with Ohtani on this bank account, they went through Mizuhara as a translator.

This being a baseball story, the criminal complaint was stuffed with numbers:

  • 19,000 bets.
  • $142,256,769.74 total winning bets.
  • $182,935,206.58 total losing bets.

That’s 20-some bets per day, for years, for nearly $20,000 per wager on average. Just the frequency alone, setting aside the high stakes, is staggering.

It’s good to know, though, that Ohtani was oblivious to all of it.

NBA Bars Jontay Porter for Betting 

Joe Vardon, reporting for The Athletic:

The league said that Porter, who spent part of his time in the NBA and part of it in its developmental G League, privately told a sports bettor he was hurt, removed himself from a game to control prop bets on his own play, and placed his own wagers on NBA games.

He is the first active player or coach to be expelled from the NBA for gambling since Jack Molinas in 1954.

According to the results of a league investigation, Porter, 24, gave a confidential tip about his health to a person he knew to be a sports bettor, prior to the Raptors’ game on March 20 against the Sacramento Kings. A third individual, connected to both Porter and the original recipient of Porter’s health information, placed an $80,000 parlay bet to win $1.1 million, betting that Porter would underperform against the Kings.

To make sure that the bet hit, the league found, Porter pulled himself out of that game against the Kings after just three minutes, claiming he was ill. The investigation also showed that from January through March, while either playing for Toronto or the Raptors’ G League affiliate, Porter placed at least 13 bets on NBA games using an associate’s online betting account. While none of those bets were on games in which Porter played, he did bet on the Raptors to lose as part of a parlay bet. The wagers ranged in size from $15 to $22,000, and totaled $54,000. He netted nearly $22,000 in winnings on the wagers, the league said.

Porter is a bench player, but in the NBA bench players do well. Porter’s salary this season was $411,000, and he’s earned close to $3 million since he made the NBA four years ago. But how much do you want to bet he’s not the last player in a major sport to get caught up in a point-shaving scam like this?

Of Course Regulation Can Work 

Dan Moren, writing last week at Six Colors:

Lately you can’t throw a digital camera without hitting a story on the various regulatory and legal challenges Apple’s been facing. While some have decried these actions as interference in the internal operations of a company, there’s one salient detail that I think those opinions often overlook.

Regulation works.

Here are just a handful of examples from the past few months of Apple changing its policies due to regulations — or, in some cases, the mere threat of regulation.

I’d change “regulation works” to “regulation can work” or “regulation sometimes works”. But there’s no question we’re seeing results. Moren cites three recent examples:

These changes are all wins. But they’re also all low-hanging fruit. Apple has no major self-interested reasons to fight against any of them, and regulatory scrutiny forced the company to stop ignoring them. It’s similar to how the Japan Fair Trade Commission’s investigation led to Apple loosening its anti-steering rules for “reader” apps worldwide in 2021. That might not have happened at all without the regulatory scrutiny, and certainly wouldn’t have otherwise happened when it did. But it was the lowest of low-hanging fruit: Apple, to my eyes, lost nothing by loosening those anti-steering provisions.

The real regulatory rubber hits the road on the issues that are against Apple’s own interests, or detrimental to the experience of users (which issues are, effectively, against Apple’s interests — Apple is in the business of making its users happy).


  1. The parts-pairing stuff is complex. Right-to-repair advocates often wrongly assume that Apple’s repair policies are geared toward making money — either turning a profit on the repairs and replacement parts directly, or by implicitly encouraging users to buy brand-new devices to replace broken ones rather than fix them. That’s just not the case. Repairs are not a profit center for Apple. The complexity Apple is trying to manage is guaranteeing that supposedly genuine replacement components are in fact genuine, and that stolen devices can’t be mined for black-market components. Last week’s changes seem to manage a good balance of all these factors. ↩︎

Delta Game Emulator Now Available From the App Store 

Everything is coming up Milhouse this week for Riley Testut. Juli Clover for MacRumors:

Game emulator apps have come and gone since Apple announced App Store support for them on April 5, but now popular game emulator Delta from developer Riley Testut is available for download. [...]

Delta is an all-in-one emulator that supports game systems including NES, SNES, N64, Nintendo DS, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance. It works with popular game controllers, and supports cheats, save states, backups, syncing, and more. As this is Testut’s longtime project, it is more polished and feature rich than other emulators that have popped up. [...]

Delta can be downloaded from the App Store for free, and it does not collect information or include ads. The app is available in the United States and other countries, but it is not available in the European Union where it is instead being offered through an alternative app marketplace.

An incredibly polished, high-performance game emulator, available free of charge with no ads. That’s some old-school internet awesomeness. (App Store link.)

The alternative app marketplace for EU denizens to get Delta is Testut’s own AltStore PAL. (Delta is free there, too, but AltStore PAL requires a €1.50/year subscription to cover Apple’s Core Technology Fee.)

Now the questions is: Does Nintendo care? Nintendo recently shut down Yuzu, a popular open source Switch emulator. (David Pierce and Sean Hollister made a great episode of Decoder about this whole saga.) There’s a big difference between emulating the Switch — which is still current — and emulating classic consoles, but Nintendo still monetizes those classic consoles via emulation on the Switch.

Update: 24 hours later and Delta is the #1 app in the App Store. You love to see it. David Smith:

While the App Store is far from perfect, seeing Delta sustain its position at the top of the App Store is a lovely reminder of its best feature.

That an indie developer can dedicate years honing their craft and then create something so compelling that it beats out apps from trillion-dollar companies, enriching the lives of millions of people along the way.

That’s beautiful. That’s inspiring. And just plain awesome.

AltStore PAL Launches in the EU 

Riley Testut:

I’m thrilled to announce a brand new version of AltStore — AltStore PAL — is launching TODAY as an Apple-approved alternative app marketplace in the EU. AltStore PAL is an open-source app store made specifically for independent developers, designed to address the problems I and so many others have had with the App Store over the years. Basically, if you’ve ever experienced issues with App Review, this is for you!

We’re launching with 2 apps initially: my all-in-one Nintendo emulator Delta — a.k.a. the reason I built AltStore in the first place — and my clipboard manager Clip, a real clipboard manager that can actually run in the background. Delta will be FREE (with no ads!), whereas Clip will require a small donation of €1 or more. Once we’re sure everything is running smoothly we’ll then open the doors to third-party apps — so if you’d like to distribute your app with AltStore, please get in touch.

Exciting times for iOS users in the EU. Both of these things can be true:

  • The DMA is a bad law that, I believe, will result in more harm than good for most users.
  • For iOS power users and enthusiasts, alternative app marketplaces are going to be fun and useful. Right now there’s no better place to be an iPhone user than the EU.

(Also: How fun is the name AltStore PAL?)

Donald Trump Writes and Narrates Documentary Short Film on the Battle of Gettysburg 

Amazing he found time for this amidst his campaigning and legal travails. But like many former presidents, he has a serious interest in history.

‘Papyrus 2’ 

Jason Kottke:

Ryan Gosling was on Saturday Night Live this weekend and they did a sequel to one of my favorite SNL sketches (which is completely dorky in a design nerd sort of way) ever: Papyrus. Behold, Papyrus 2.

See also: Elle Cordova’s “Fonts Hanging Out” trilogy.

‘MKBHDs for Everything’ 

Ben Thompson, marking the 10th anniversary of Stratechery as a full-time endeavor:

Who, though, is to blame, and who benefited? Surely the responsibility for the Humane AI Pin lies with Humane; the people who benefited from Brownlee’s honesty were his viewers, the only people to whom Brownlee owes anything. To think of this review — or even just the title — as “distasteful” or “unethical” is to view Humane — a recognizable entity, to be sure — as of more worth than the 3.5 million individuals who watched Brownlee’s review.

This is one of the challenges of scale: Brownlee has so many viewers that it is almost easier to pretend like they are some unimportant blob. Brownlee, though, is successful because he remembers his job is not to go easy on individual companies, but inform individual viewers who will make individual decisions about spending $700 on a product that doesn’t work. Thanks to the Internet he has absolutely no responsibility or incentive to do anything but.

The review is now up to 4.2 million views.

Walt Mossberg, Still the King 

Regarding the jacktastic argument that Marques Brownlee shouldn’t call the worst product he’s ever reviewed the worst product he’s ever reviewed, I’m reminded of the lede from Alan Deutschman’s 2004 profile of Walt Mossberg for Wired:

Walt Mossberg is walking through a convention hall at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas when a man starts screaming at him. The screamer, Hugh Panero, blames Mossberg for his company’s recent problems: falling stock price, a sudden plunge in consumer interest. Mossberg is annoyed but hardly intimidated. As the author of the weekly “Personal Technology” column in The Wall Street Journal, he’s used to dealing with disgruntled execs. He lets Panero shout. A crowd is gathering. Finally, Mossberg yells back, “I don’t give a fuck about your stock price!”

Keep reading. The story doesn’t end there.

What Mossberg always got right was that he relentlessly focused on his readers. Not what a product was supposed to be. Not what future versions might be. And not the fucking stock price of the company that made it. What he cared (and cares, in retirement) about was the actual experience of using the actual product, as it actually was, by actual users. He was rewarded with his readers’ trust.

That same mentality is what made Siskel and Ebert superstar film critics: they loved movies and they judged them for what they were, from the perspective of fellow moviegoers. They weren’t Hollywood insiders, and in the same way Mossberg didn’t give a fuck about XM Radio’s stock price, they didn’t give a fuck about how their reviews might affect opening weekend box office numbers. They cherished the trust of their TV viewers and newspaper readers, and rewarded them by providing nothing less than their fully honest expert appraisals of the movies they reviewed.

Art criticism has a long history, though. Consumer technology criticism does not. Mossberg blazed the trail.

Jackass of the Week: Daniel Vassallo 

Daniel Vassallo, who has over 172,000 followers on Twitter/X, regarding Marques Brownlee’s scathing but utterly fair (if not bend-over-backwards fair) “The Worst Product I’ve Ever Reviewed... For Now” review of the Humane AI Pin:

I find it distasteful, almost unethical, to say this when you have 18 million subscribers.

Hard to explain why, but with great reach comes great responsibility. Potentially killing someone else’s nascent project reeks of carelessness.

First, do no harm.

Marques Brownlee:

We disagree on what my job is.

There’s cool, and then there’s cool.

No Notes 

John Davidson, writing for the Australian Financial Review on Phil Schiller’s testimony in Australia, where Apple is once again facing off against Epic Games (archive link in case FR’s web server goes down):

The casual approach to its meetings, instituted by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when he returned to the company in 1997 after having been fired in 1985, explained why Epic’s lawyers could find precious few contemporaneous records of Apple’s decision-making processes since the App Store was first launched in 2007, Mr Schiller suggested.

“When Mr Jobs came back in 1997, in one of the earliest meetings someone was taking notes, writing down what [Mr Jobs] was saying about what we’re doing. He stopped and said ‘Why are you writing this down? You should be smart enough to remember this. If you’re not smart enough to remember this you shouldn’t be in this meeting’. We all stopped taking notes and learnt to just listen and be part of the conversation and remember what we were supposed to do. And that became how we worked.” Mr Schiller testified.

“It was very action-oriented. It was built to be like a small start-up where we all are working together on the same things, and we all know what our plans are and what we’re doing.”

And:

Nor is there much talk in meetings of how profitable the Apple App Store is, despite the fact it would be the 63rd biggest company on the Fortune 500 if it were hived off as a separate entity.

“Are you telling His Honour that you have no idea whether ... the App Store has been profitable?” asked an incredulous Neil Young, KC, leading the cross-examination on behalf of Epic Games.

“I believe it is [profitable],” replied Mr Schiller, who has been in charge of the App Store since the beginning. “I’m simply saying ‘profit’ as a specific financial metric is not a report I get and spend time on. It’s not how we measure our performance as a team,” he said.

Sounds like Epic is getting its hat handed to it once again.

Seeing What One Wants to See 

Matt Stoller, linking to the aforelinked FT report on Apple “losing” the top spot in IDC’s phone market share figures:

The early signs that Apple is having a Boeing-like slow collapse.

That’s quite the take. It is true that iPhone sales have been relatively flat for two years — here are the quarterly revenue and year-over-year revenue change charts from Six Colors for the October–December 2023 quarter. But they’re not in decline. Apple’s problem — or perhaps better said, Apple investors’ problem — is that iPhone sales have peaked because they’ve saturated the globe. Everyone who wants one and can afford one has one.

But whatever is going on with iPhone sales, a comparison to Boeing is just dumb. Boeing’s problem isn’t cheap Chinese competition. It’s that when Boeing was Boeing — a truly great American company — it was an engineering-driven company. It was — past tense — in broad strokes similar to Apple in that regard. Then Boeing “merged” with McDonnell Douglas, the McDonnell Douglas CEO became Boeing’s CEO, other executives with zero aviation experience came over from companies like General Electric, and “a passion for great planes was replaced with a passion for affordability.” The 737 Max isn’t just unpopular — it’s an engineering disaster. The iPhone 15 lineup is, by consensus, the best lineup of phones in the industry — the fastest chips, great reliability, and industry-leading customer satisfaction. Even if iPhone sales were in decline — which only IDC is claiming to be true — it’s not for reasons that bear any resemblance to Boeing at all.

Call me when Apple is led by executives who lack a passion for great computers.

The Financial Times Pretends Apple Plays the Market Share Game 

Tim Bradshaw and Michael Acton, reporting for the Financial Times, under the eye-opening headline “Apple Loses Smartphone Crown to Samsung as Chinese Rivals Gain Ground” (archive link):

Apple lost its lead in the global smartphone market at the start of 2024, with iPhone sales falling 10 per cent as lower-cost Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi experienced rapid growth.

Sounds bad! Then comes the second paragraph of the report:

Samsung regained its position as the world’s largest smartphone maker by volume in the first quarter, according to market researcher International Data Corporation, just three months after Apple claimed the top spot for the first time.

So we’re talking about unit sales volume (a measure Apple has never pursued as a top priority), using numbers from IDC (sketchy at best), and a supposed lead that Apple held for ... three months? Which three months happen to be the holiday quarter, when — every single year — all of Apple’s sales go up, and when new iPhone models drop. Warm up your dictionaries, time to refresh your memory of how to spell beleaguered.

The iPhone’s success is so poorly reflected by market share numbers that the Department of Justice invented a fictional category of “performance smartphones” just to make it maybe sorta kinda — if you squint just right — look like they might possibly hold a monopoly under U.S. law.

IDC estimated that global iPhone shipments declined 10 per cent to 50.1mn in the first three months of 2024 compared with the same period in 2023, giving it a 21 per cent market share.

Let’s see if there’s a 10 percent drop in iPhone revenue year-over-year when Apple reports results for the January–March quarter on May 2. If so, that’ll be quite the feather in IDC’s cap. If not, I’m sure we’ll see a correction from IDC and the FT.

Not All Web APIs Are Good APIs 

Eric Lee on Threads:

I was wondering why I haven’t seen websites utilizing Vibration API when I see more and more apps using it including Arc Search and AirChat. Safari doesn’t even support it so there it goes 🫠

This exemplifies the broken thinking among many web developers and PWA advocates regarding Safari and WebKit. Just because an API exists and some browsers support it does not mean all browsers should support it. I never ever want a website to be able to vibrate my device. Ever. Nor do I want websites to be able to prompt me with an alert asking for permission to vibrate my device. Not supporting the Vibration API is a feature, not an omission.

If you want web apps to have the same full range of capabilities as native apps, iOS is not the platform for you. PWA advocates treat it as axiomatic that web apps should be peers to native apps, but that’s not true for everyone. I think of native apps as software I carefully consider before installing, even from the App Store. I think of websites and web apps as software I will visit/run without consideration, because they’re so comparatively restricted.

The Etak Navigator 

James Killick, writing on Map Happenings:

Today, I’d like to tell you about the Etak Navigator, a truly revolutionary product and the world’s first practical vehicle navigation system. [...]

Nearly everything about the Etak Navigator had to be conceived from scratch. Most important was the self contained positioning system. Remember that back in 1985 GPS was not available.

Not only was GPS unavailable, neither, of course, was wireless data. Or affordable hard drives. Data for the Etak Navigator was stored on cassette tapes. Tapes offered more storage than floppy disks but it took 6 cassettes just to cover the San Francisco Bay area. And of course Nolan Bushnell was involved. What a story. What a product.

Update: The utterly forgettable 1991 film Nothing But Trouble features several scenes showing the Etak Navigator in action.

John Sterling, Radio Voice of the Yankees for 36 Years, Retires at 85 

Bryan Hoch, MLB.com:

The Yankees announced on Monday that Sterling has retired, effective immediately. The 85-year-old Sterling will be recognized in a pregame ceremony on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. He will visit the WFAN radio booth during that afternoon’s game against the Rays.

“I am a very blessed human being,” Sterling said in a statement. “I have been able to do what I wanted, broadcasting for 64 years. As a little boy growing up in New York as a Yankees fan, I was able to broadcast the Yankees for 36 years. It’s all to my benefit, and I leave very, very happy. I look forward to seeing everyone again on Saturday.” [...]

Known for his gyrating “Sterling Shake” victory call (“Yankees win … theeeeee Yankees win!”), humorous phrases tacked onto play-by-play action (“Back to back, and a belly to belly!”) and personalized home run calls (“Bern Baby Bern!”), Sterling called 5,060 consecutive games from September 1989 to July 2019 — every at-bat of Derek Jeter’s career, every inning of Mariano Rivera’s and more.

The story includes a slew of his all-time great calls; more here on Twitter/X. There’s something different about radio announcing from TV announcing. Some guys can do both. But there was something ineffably radio about Sterling. I will always think of stadium announcer Bob Shephard as “the voice of the Yankees”, but John Sterling was the voice of Yankee fans. He just unabashedly loved the team, and was ecstatic for every win, and crushed with every loss.

And think about this: He called over 5,400 Yankee games over 36 years. He’s legitimately considered a living legend for it. But he didn’t get the job until he was 49 years old.

Apple’s Mysterious Fisheye Projection 

Mike Swanson:

If you’ve read my first post about Spatial Video, the second about Encoding Spatial Video, or if you’ve used my command-line tool, you may recall a mention of Apple’s mysterious “fisheye” projection format. Mysterious because they’ve documented a CMProjectionType.fisheye enumeration with no elaboration, they stream their immersive Apple TV+ videos in this format, yet they’ve provided no method to produce or playback third-party content using this projection type.

Additionally, the format is undocumented, they haven’t responded to an open question on the Apple Discussion Forums asking for more detail, and they didn’t cover it in their WWDC23 sessions. As someone who has experience in this area — and a relentless curiosity — I’ve spent time digging-in to Apple’s fisheye projection format, and this post shares what I’ve learned.

Fascinating deep dive.

Nominee for Claim Chowder of the Year 2024: Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2023 Award for Humane’s AI Pin 

When this was published in late October it struck me as deeply weird that Time would give an award to a product that was, at the time of publication, over five months away from actually shipping. And now that it has shipped, and appears poised to go down in history as an Edsel-like infamous bomb, it seems even more weird. But in this case the footnote seemingly explains it:

* (Investors in Humane include Time co-chairs and owners Marc and Lynne Benioff)

Shocker: ByteDance Still Receives Data From U.S. TikTok Users 

Alexandra Sternlicht, reporting for Fortune (News+):

Evan Turner, who worked at TikTok as a senior data scientist from April to September in 2022, said TikTok concealed the involvement of its Chinese owner during his employment. When hired, Turner initially reported to a ByteDance executive in Beijing. But later that year, after the company announced a major initiative to store TikTok’s U.S. user data only in the U.S., Turner was reassigned — on paper, at least — to an American manager in Seattle, he says. But Turner says a human resources representative revealed during a video conference call that he would, in reality, continue to work with the ByteDance executive. The stealth chain of command contradicted what TikTok’s executives had said about the company’s independence from ByteDance, Turner says. [...]

Nearly every 14 days, as part of Turner’s job throughout 2022, he emailed spreadsheets filled with data for hundreds of thousands of U.S. users to ByteDance workers in Beijing. That data included names, email addresses, IP addresses, and geographic and demographic information of TikTok U.S. users, he says. The goal was to sift through the information to mine for insights like the geographical regions where users watched the most videos of a particular genre and decide how the company should invest to encourage users to be more active. It all took place after the company had started its initiative to keep sensitive U.S. user data in the U.S., and only available to U.S. workers.

“I literally worked on a project that gave U.S. data to China,” Turner says. “They were completely complicit in that. There were Americans that were working in upper management that were completely complicit in this.”

Packy McCormick:

It’s astonishing that we don’t have the political will to simply ban TikTok.

Pok Pok 

My thanks to Pok Pok for sponsoring last week at DF. Pok Pok is a delightful collection of digital toys for kids aged 2–7, for both iPhone and iPad. Designed by parents and educators unhappy with the apps they found, Pok Pok has no ads, no overstimulating sounds, and no addictive gimmicks to get kids hooked. It’s just fun. Each toy is playful and open, letting kids explore and discover at their own pace. Existing toys are expanded and new ones are added regularly to keep play fresh.

Pok Pok has won both an Apple Design Award and an App Store Award for Cultural Impact just last year. Beautiful graphics, fun sound design, and great haptics. Try Pok Pok for free — you and your kid(s) will love it.

The Masters VisionOS App 

It’s Sunday at Augusta, the leaderboard is tight at the top, and Augusta National has a pretty damn good VisionOS app. Some cool VR features like tabletop-style VR maps of the holes, with 3D shot-tracking. All free of charge, too, from one of the only major sporting events in the entire world with a restrained approach to advertising and sponsorships.

Underpromise and Overdeliver 

Eric Migicovsky (on a different subject), in a post on Twitter/X:

Aspiring consumer HW makers (big and small) - this may sound obvious, but my rec is to underpromise/overdeliver for your first version. It’s hard because you want to balance sharing the vision for what the product category will become, but get customers adjusted to the reality that you need to ship what’s most likely an MVP for your first version.

Big or small, old or new — or even hardware or software. It’s always true: underpromising and overdelivering is always the path to delight, but also always devilishly difficult to pull off. That’s the game. The subtext for Migicovsky’s tweet is obviously Humane, whose AI Pin clearly overpromises and underdelivers. Migicovsky links to Nilay Patel’s 2013 review of the original Pebble Smartwatch, which concludes:

After using the Pebble for a few days, I realized that I was daydreaming about it: I wanted it to do more. That’s unusual — I rarely trust new products to work correctly, especially new products from unproven companies. But the Pebble’s charming simplicity and fundamental competence inspires confidence. It’s so good at what it does now that it’s easy to imagine all other things it might do in the future. There’s no reason it can’t replace a Fitbit or Nike Fuelband, for example, and I’d love to be able to send replies to emails and text directly from the device.

Pebble obviously didn’t make it, but that’s the sort of 1.0 review you want to see: It’s good at what it already does and I can see how it could do more in the future. The one and only review of the Humane AI Pin that expresses a sentiment like that is Raymond Wong’s for Inverse.

Sidenote: Andru Edwards on Threads:

The fact that people on @hu.ma.ne’s PR team keep leaving, and those who take over are unresponsive has been making the planning of this sit-down interview with them that I’ve been working on for a few months, a challenge to say the least. Just sent another follow-up 😅🤞🏽

It’s generally considered a bad sign when a company experiences large-scale turnover in their PR/comms teams right around the launch of the company’s first product.

More on the Problem With ‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’ 

Week-old news I’d been meaning to link to:

In a new interview with Khan that aired late Monday on Comedy Central, Stewart claimed Apple leaned on him to avoid talking to Khan, who took over as head of the FTC in 2021.

“I wanted to have you on a podcast, and Apple asked us not to do it,” Stewart said. He continued: “They literally said, ‘Please don’t talk to her,’ having nothing to do with what you do for a living. I think they just … I didn’t think they cared for you, is what happened.”

Stewart had a brief stint on Apple TV from 2021 to 2023 with a show called “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” which had an accompanying podcast. The partnership ended over creative differences last fall. Stewart returned to Comedy Central as a part-time “Daily Show” host in February.

The thing I don’t understand about this is why Apple ever hired Stewart to do that show, or why Stewart agreed to do that show with Apple. Based on, you know, the entire body of Stewart’s work, it’s obvious that Lina Khan is exactly the sort of person he’d want to interview. It’s not like something changed. My only guess is that the part of Apple that agreed to host The Problem With Jon Stewart didn’t get buy-in from the top of the company. But I find that hard to believe. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s like hiring Martha Stewart to do a show and then asking her not to do any cooking segments.

Personally, I think Apple should put its big boy pants on and gladly host a topical news show that is free to criticize the company or the technology industry as a whole. John Oliver regularly skewered then-HBO owner AT&T and now skewers new owner Warner Bros. Discovery on Last Week Tonight. It’s an age-old tradition. Letterman lambasting NBC execs. Or the time Letterman tried to deliver a welcoming fruit basket to GE headquarters after they bought NBC (stay with that one through the end to learn the official General Electric corporate handshake).

But the real problem with The Problem With Jon Stewart was that the show stunk and no one watched it. I’m a big Jon Stewart fan and watch a bunch of shows in the same basic genre (I never miss Last Week Tonight and most weeks we watch Bill Maher’s Real Time). And now I’m once again enjoying Stewart in his Monday spot hosting The Daily Show. But The Problem With Jon Stewart just wasn’t good. Now, thanks to this outed dirty laundry about a conflict with Apple over political subject matter, there are people who think that’s the sole reason why the show was cancelled. That surely played a part. But the main reason is almost certainly that the ratings stunk. What’s weird about the streaming era of TV is that streaming services are incredibly secretive about ratings — that’s the complete opposite of over-the-air TV and theatrical box office numbers for movies, where viewership numbers were public. If the viewership numbers for The Problem With Jon Stewart had been public, everyone would’ve surmised that Apple cancelled the show because it wasn’t popular, not because he wanted to interview Lina Khan (on the podcast even — not the show itself!) or express misgivings about the tech industry.

It’s just a real head-scratcher why Apple ever wanted to host the show in the first place. Even if it had been entertaining and thus popular, it seems clear Apple wasn’t comfortable with Jon Stewart talking about Jon Stewart topics.

‘A Tour de Force of International Crisis Management for the Biden White House’ 

Josh Marshall, writing at Talking Points Memo:

Together, Israel, the U.S. and various allied Arab states took down 99% or more of all those devices. Iran launched a massive aerial bombardment and virtually none of it got through. And now the U.S. has managed to get Israel not to launch an immediate and inevitably escalatory retaliation.

It goes without saying that no administration works on its own. It comes to the game with the world’s most powerful military and major power status. It’s operating with Arab allies who have been gravitating toward a de facto anti-Iran alliance with Israel for years. And yet, anyone who knows anything about foreign or defense policy knows that most of it is all the endless number of things that can go wrong and the one or two ways they can go right. Navigating the last week to this point today is a tour de force of international crisis management for the Biden White House.

See also: Marshall’s previous post, regarding Iran’s intentions for yesterday’s attack. I’m with him. My first thought was that Iran’s attack was performative, a stunt. But the more we learn the more it looks like Iran really tried to hit Israel hard — and, thankfully, were stopped.

I went to bed last night with a dreadful feeling I’d wake up to find the U.S. and Israel enmeshed in a regional war. Knock on wood, that hasn’t happened, and might not. And I think that’s entirely thanks to the Biden administration’s diplomacy, and Biden himself.

Microsoft Is Testing Ads in the Windows 11 Start Menu 

More Windows news from Tom Warren at The Verge:

Microsoft says it’s starting to test ads inside the Start menu on Windows 11. The software maker will use the Recommended section of the Start menu, which usually shows file recommendations, to suggest apps from the Microsoft Store.

“This will appear only for Windows Insiders in the Beta Channel in the US and will not apply to commercial devices (devices managed by organizations),” says Microsoft in a blog post.

The app promotions can be disabled in the Settings section of Windows 11, but it appears that Microsoft will enable these by default. Microsoft is seeking feedback on the changes, so it’s possible the company could decide to ditch these ads in development builds of Windows 11 if there’s enough feedback that suggests they’re not going to be a popular addition.

This feels more like a late (and unfunny) April Fools gag than a serious idea.

Joanna Stern’s Humane AI Pin (Mini) Review 

Not even worth a full column, just a 90-second social media video. Or “vid”, if you will.

She points out that Humane only offers a website — no apps — for accessing your captured photos, videos, and notes. I totally get why Humane designed the AI Pin as a standalone device, not a phone peripheral (like Apple Watch or AirPods are) — Apple can make such peripherals do whatever they want because Apple can make the iPhone do whatever they want. (Which, yes, is the wrongheaded foundation of much of the DOJ’s antitrust complaint against Apple.) “If you want things done right, do it yourself” is always true advice.

But not making iPhone or Android apps for interacting with Humane’s back-end is just pure stubbornness. Humane cofounder Bethany Bongiorno is swearing up and down, now, that “ai pin is not about replacing your smartphone”, but their Change Everything teaser film from July 2022 — about which I had some thoughts — positioned it as the successor to the phone. The no-screen thing is just stubborn, and the website-but-no-apps thing is stubborn too. If they had an app it could put photos and videos shot with the AI Pin right in your library, for one thing. Imagine if Nest thermostats — also created by ex-Apple folks — didn’t have apps. Who would buy one?

(My closer on that teaser video from July 2022: “Sometimes a dead canary is just a dead canary, and sometimes a dud ad is just a dud ad, but I’d check the Humane mine for methane just in case.”)

Cherlynn Low’s Humane AI Pin Review for Engadget 

Cherlynn Low:

When you can read what’s on the screen, interacting with it might make you want to rip your eyes out. Like I said, you’ll have to move your palm closer and further to your chest to select the right cards to enter your passcode. It’s a bit like dialing a rotary phone, with cards for individual digits from 0 to 9. Go further away to get to the higher numbers and the backspace button, and come back for the smaller ones.

This gesture is smart in theory but it’s very sensitive. There’s a very small range of usable space since there is only so far your hand can go, so the distance between each digit is fairly small. One wrong move and you’ll accidentally select something you didn’t want and have to go all the way out to delete it. To top it all off, moving my arm around while doing that causes the Pin to flop about, meaning the screen shakes on my palm, too. On average, unlocking my Pin, which involves entering a four-digit passcode, took me about five seconds.

On its own, this doesn’t sound so bad, but bear in mind that you’ll have to re-enter this each time you disconnect the Pin from the booster, latch or clip. It’s currently springtime in New York, which means I’m putting on and taking off my jacket over and over again. Every time I go inside or out, I move the Pin to a different layer and have to look like a confused long-sighted tourist reading my palm at various distances. It’s not fun.

One thing all the reviewers seem to agree upon is that the AI Pin feels like an impressive piece of kit: small, lightweight, sturdy, well-made. And it packs a lot into a small factor: camera, laser projector, speaker/microphone. But it’s also seemingly bursting at the seams, battery-life and heat-dissipation-wise. So I get it, me suggesting they should have added something else to the hardware — anything else — would pose a design and engineering challenge.

But with that throat-clearing out of the way: it seems obvious that the AI Pin should have a fingerprint scanner for authentication. You have to touch it for all interactions anyway — it doesn’t listen for a trigger word — so why not add the equivalent of Touch ID? Every single review notes the same thing Low complains about above: authenticating with your passcode takes too long, is error-prone, and you need to do it periodically throughout the day.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang 

From its About page:

Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the largest historical dictionary of English slang. Written by Jonathon Green over 17 years from 1993, it reached the printed page in 2010 in a three-volume set containing nearly 100,000 entries supported by over 400,000 citations from c. ad 1000 to the present day. The main focus of the dictionary is the coverage of over 500 years of slang from c. 1500 onwards.

The printed version of the dictionary received the Dartmouth Medal for outstanding works of reference from the American Library Association in 2012; fellow recipients include the Dictionary of American Regional English, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. It has been hailed by the American New York Times as ‘the pièce de résistance of English slang studies’ and by the British Sunday Times as ‘a stupendous achievement, in range, meticulous scholarship, and not least entertainment value’.

On this website the dictionary is now available in updated online form for the first time, complete with advanced search tools enabling search by definition and history, and an expanded bibliography of slang sources from the early modern period to the present day. Since the print edition, nearly 60,000 quotations have been added, supporting 5,000 new senses in 2,500 new entries and sub-entries, of which around half are new slang terms from the last five years.

I forget when I first came across Green’s Dictionary of Slang, but it’s so astonishingly good, in every possible way that it could be good, that I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a household name like Merriam-Webster. The web edition is beautiful, fast, and free of charge. It doesn’t even have ads. It’s amazing.

And now I can’t believe I haven’t recommended it here sooner. Bookmark it, trust me.


From the Department of Spending Tim Cook’s Money: Online Photo Storage Is Surely Expensive to Offer, but Apple Should Offer More

Some follow-up comparison points regarding my gripe today about Apple’s new commercial telling iPhone users they needn’t worry about photo storage:

  • The free tier for Google One offers 15 GB of storage. That’s still not much, and only a fraction of the on-device storage for any recent phone, but it’s 3× more than iCloud. 10 extra GB doesn’t sound like much, but 3× is a large factor.

  • I shot 2.07 GB of footage (96 photos, 5 videos) on Easter Sunday alone. Those are the keepers, after culling all the blurry and meh shots. (iPhone 15 Pro for videos and a few photos; Ricoh GR IIIx for most of the photos.1)

  • Google used to offer “unlimited storage for photos and videos” to owners of Pixel phones, but they dropped this offer starting with the Pixel 6 in late 2021. That was such an appealing offer — especially considering that much of the appeal of Pixel phones comes from their renowned camera systems. I can only surmise that this proved more expensive to Google than they deemed worthwhile.

  • You don’t need to pay for iCloud to back up a large amount of iPhone storage — you can still back up to a Mac or PC manually. I don’t know any non-expert users who do this, though, and there are zillions of iPhone owners who don’t even own a Mac or PC. For the masses, iCloud backup is the only backup.

Here’s a comparison of the current U.S. pricing for cloud storage, including photos, from Apple and Google:

Price/month iCloud Google
Free 5 GB 15 GB
$1 50 GB
$2 100 GB
$3 200 GB 200 GB
$10 2 TB 2 TB

Google’s only clear win is at the free tier, and once you start paying $3/month, they’re tied. Both companies offer additional storage beyond 2 TB at the same price: $5/month per extra TB. Google only shows those more-than-2-TB storage tiers if you’re signed in and already pay for storage. $5/month per extra TB is also exactly what Dropbox charges.

So on the one hand, it’s not like Apple’s iCloud storage pricing is out of line with its competitors. But on the other hand, the free tier of iCloud has been stuck at 5 GB since the day iCloud was announced, which was so long ago that Steve Jobs announced it at his final WWDC keynote in 2011. iCloud’s $1/month 50 GB and $3/month 200 GB tiers have been unchanged since 2015. Like the stingy U.S. minimum wage — which was last increased, to $7.25/hour, in 2009 — these tiers ought to be adjusted for “inflation” periodically, but aren’t.

In the case of the minimum wage, “inflation” is, well, actual inflation. In the case of cloud storage, “inflation” should account for factors like increased device storage (2011’s iPhone 4S was offered with 16, 32, or 64 GB) and increased image size (the iPhone 4S only shot video up to 1080p 30 fps, which consumes about 65 MB per minute; today’s iPhone 15 shoots up to 4K 60 fps, which consumes about 440 MB per minute).2 [Update: Mike Gore reminded me that the iPhone 4S only shot H.264 video, not the more efficient HEVC format that debuted with iOS 11 in 2017. 1080p 30 fps video recording in H.264 is about 130 MB per minute.]

It’s very easy for me and you to just declare that Apple ought to just foot the bill to offer more storage for over a billion users worldwide, but we’re not the ones making new TV commercials telling iPhone 15 users they needn’t worry about photo storage. If Apple really wants iPhone users not to worry about photo storage, they should offer more with iCloud, cost-to-Apple be damned. 


  1. Much like with Fuji’s deservedly-heralded X100 line, the fixed-lens Ricoh GR IIIx is seemingly backordered everywhere — perhaps because Ricoh recently announced a minor upgrade. I bought a Fuji X100S in 2014 and loved it; but bought the GR IIIx a little over a year ago because it’s small enough to fit in a pocket and the X100 cameras aren’t. I just find myself carrying the smaller Ricoh more often than I did the X100S. They’re both absolutely terrific cameras. ↩︎

  2. Idle thought that just occurred to me: is the paucity of available iCloud storage in the typical user’s account — free or $1/month — the reason why iPhones still default to shooting 1080p video rather than 4K? Default settings really matter. There are surely tens of millions (hundreds of millions?) of iPhone owners who shoot 1080p instead of 4K only because that’s the default. That’s a big difference in resolution for permanent memories. But I suspect almost everyone with 128 GB or more of storage has plenty of available space on device to store 4K video. It’s iCloud where they’re running short on space. ↩︎︎