The Congressional ‘Crypto Is Bullshit’ Caucus 

Joseph Zeballos-Roig, reporting for Semafor:

“It’s all bullshit,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. told Semafor. He was wary of the industry even before the recent collapse of crypto exchange FTX, he said, and recent meetings with advocates have not given him any more confidence in its fundamental value. “I don’t think it passes the smell test. I can’t figure out what supports it.” (FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is an investor in Semafor.)

“Finally, there are more people blowing the bullshit whistle,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. said in a Wednesday interview. “There’s been a lot of lobbying around Congress and an effort to try to scare off lawmakers. To say ‘Oh, crypto is just so complicated. No one can understand it. Let the crypto world remain unregulated.’ That is precisely the argument that was made in the run-up to the 2008 crash.”

Stable Diffusion With Core ML on Apple Silicon 

Apple’s Machine Learning Research team:

Today, we are excited to release optimizations to Core ML for Stable Diffusion in macOS 13.1 and iOS 16.2, along with code to get started with deploying to Apple Silicon devices. [...]

One of the key questions for Stable Diffusion in any app is where the model is running. There are a number of reasons why on-device deployment of Stable Diffusion in an app is preferable to a server-based approach. First, the privacy of the end user is protected because any data the user provided as input to the model stays on the user’s device. Second, after initial download, users don’t require an internet connection to use the model. Finally, locally deploying this model enables developers to reduce or eliminate their server-related costs.

Exciting and fun to see Apple helping to make this run optimally on Apple Silicon.

‘Kanye West Isn’t Buying Parler After All’ 

Darrell Etherington, writing for TechCrunch:

Despite a joint statement between Ye (fka Kanye West) and Parler in October noting that the two had reached an agreement for the rapper to buy the social network, that will not come to pass, Parler owner Parlement Technologies said today.

I’m starting to think maybe we shouldn’t take some of these nutjobs at their word.

‘FTX’s Collapse Was a Crime, Not an Accident’ 

David Z. Morris, writing for CoinDesk, with the best “all you need to know” overview of the FTX scandal I’ve seen:

Perhaps most perniciously, many outlets have described what happened to FTX as a “bank run” or a “run on deposits,” while Bankman-Fried has repeatedly insisted the company was simply overleveraged and disorganized. Both of these attempts to frame the fallout obfuscate the core issue: the misuse of customer funds.

Banks can be hit by “bank runs” because they are explicitly in the business of lending customer funds out to generate returns. They can experience a short-term cash crunch if everyone withdraws at the same time, without there being any long-term problem.

But FTX and other crypto exchanges are not banks. They do not (or should not) do bank-style lending, so even a very acute surge of withdrawals should not create a liquidity strain. FTX had specifically promised customers it would never lend out or otherwise use the crypto they entrusted to the exchange.

In reality, the funds were sent to the intimately linked trading firm Alameda Research, where they were, it seems, simply gambled away. This is, in the simplest terms, theft at a nearly unprecedented scale. While the total losses have yet to be quantified, up to one million customers could be impacted, according to a bankruptcy document.

So in a sense FTX’s implosion had nothing to do with cryptocurrency directly, beyond the fact that no one would have given FTX a nickel if not for the vague belief that “something something crypto” would lead to a windfall. FTX took people’s money, told them they’d hold the money, but instead gambled that money away — on cryptocurrency.

‘The Greatest’ — Short Film From Apple Celebrating Accessibility Features 

People without arms using touchscreen phones. A deaf mother whose watch lets her know that her baby is crying. A blind man whose phone tells him not just that a door is in front of him, but what it says on the door. These are the days of miracles and wonders.

Steven Aquino, writing at Forbes:

Of course Apple wants you to use their products, but so too does Amazon and Google and Microsoft and others. There exists a deeper message: the point is not whether Apple is subliminally advertising to people; the salient point is Apple is overtly advertising a disabled person’s basic humanity.

What this short film expresses so clearly is that these accessibility feature don’t merely allow people with serious disabilities to use Apple devices, but to thrive with them.

Ooh.directory 

Phil Gyford has launched a splendid new directory of blogs:

For years I’ve seen people moan that “nobody blogs any more”, all while my feed reader was overflowing with new blogposts I never had time to read. I want to demonstrate that there are lots and lots of people blogging, about all kinds of subjects!

Even though I knew there was a lot of blogging going on, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by quite how much. So many people, so many topics, so much enthusiasm. It’s easy to get lost down rabbitholes, following links and blogrolls from one blog to the next.

I want more people to read blogs and more people to write blogs. I hope you’ll find some interesting blogs to read here and, maybe, some inspiration that will get you blogging.

Mastodon is — deservedly! — getting a lot of attention as people re-evaluate their use of Twitter. But what I’m digging more in our current moment is renewed enthusiasm for blogging, and, on the consumption side, RSS feed reading. Ooh.directory is an old-school idea, but an evergreen one. Looks great, too.

Kottke Is Back From Sabbatical 

His first day back in the saddle and I’m already gleaning great links to steal.

Oceanic+ App for Apple Watch Ultra Launches 

Apple Newsroom has a long feature story on Oceanic+, an app that turns Apple Watch Ultra into a serious dive computer, and which was previewed extensively during the Ultra’s introduction:

“One of our first goals was to keep it intuitive,” says [CEO] Mike Huish. “People who know how to use an Apple Watch already know how to use this dive computer, because it’s telling them things in a simple format they can understand. The navigation menus are simple — scrolling with the Digital Crown and using the Action button, you can navigate and use all the functionality of the dive computer while diving.”

Recreational scuba diving is a niche, but people who are into it are really into it. I think that’s why Apple partnered with Huish Outdoors (makers of Oceanic+) while the Ultra was in development. With diving, it was essential to partner with a company divers already know and trust.

Icon Speedruns: Flag and Pushpin 

New YouTube channel from designer extraordinaire Marc Edwards. I could watch stuff like this all day. I just love watching someone who’s good at what they do, do what they do.

Reed Albergotti: Kinda Smart on Apple and China, Kinda Dumb on Green Bubbles 

Reed Albergotti, formerly of The Washington Post, now writing for Semafor, in a piece with the clickbait headline “Apple’s Chinese Dream Is Over”:

China is also no longer cheap. Wages have skyrocketed, with the average factory worker making $6 per hour on average in 2020, up from less than a dollar in 2006. The average wage of a Chinese factory worker will very soon surpass the U.S. federal minimum wage. For comparison, the average rate for a Mexican factory worker has stayed stagnant at $2 per hour.

If that isn’t the most damning thing I’ve read about the U.S. federal minimum wage, I don’t know what is.

If any company can make the monumental shift away from China, it’s Apple. Its robust supply chain is the reason it was able to keep output going after the 2011 flooding in Thailand disrupted component makers. And it’s why Apple saw only minor product shortages during the height of the pandemic. The chip shortage that crippled Detroit automakers was a blip for Apple’s customers.

But it will cost billions and take years.

The biggest question is whether it will be the same Apple when the process is over. Will the new Apple be stronger and even more resilient? Or will it be unable to recreate the magic of China’s boom years?

It’s a good take on Apple’s increasingly more uncomfortable reliance upon China, but I wouldn’t write about it in the past tense yet.

Bonus content: Albergotti’s bottom-of-the-column take on Elon Musk’s griping about the App Store:

Epic Games can probably commiserate. Musk’s complaint is a pivotal factor in the antitrust lawsuit Epic filed against Apple in 2020. A federal appeals court will soon rule on the case’s outcome.

Albergotti’s description omits the fact that last year’s initial ruling in Epic v. Apple was overwhelmingly in Apple’s favor, including ruling that the App Store does not constitute a monopoly. Anything can happen on appeal, of course, but I’m not aware of anyone serious who expects the appeals court to overturn anything significant in the case.

European regulators also aren’t fans. They’ve forced Apple to get rid of the proprietary Lightning charging port on its phones and threatened to force Apple to open up iMessage (goodbye green bubbles).

Again with the past tense for things that haven’t happened yet, like Apple shipping an iPhone without a proprietary charging/data port.

And the EU’s possible mandate for messaging service interoperability is technical nonsense that reminds of Hugo Rifkind impossible-to-beat description of Brexit: “The thing is, the best way to understand Theresa May’s predicament is to imagine that 52 percent of Britain had voted that the government should build a submarine out of cheese.”

But even if it were possible for Apple, WhatsApp, and whatever other services would fall under the EU’s mandate to comply, what would that have to do with the green bubbles Messages renders for SMS messages? SMS is an example of messaging service interop from Apple. If Apple somehow did connect Messages to WhatsApp, surely WhatsApp messages would be rendered in some color other than blue.

NBC News: ‘The Inside Story of Trump’s Explosive Dinner With Ye and Nick Fuentes’ 

I’m quite sure many of you are sick of Donald Trump and actively avoid reading about him. But you’ll enjoy this exquisite story on how he wound up having dinner last week with an outspoken racist and antisemite. Marc Caputo, reporting for NBC News:

“I wanted to show Trump the kind of talent that he’s missing out on by allowing his terrible handlers to dictate who he can and can’t hang out with,” Yiannopoulos told NBC News. “I also wanted to send a message to Trump that he has systematically repeatedly neglected, ignored, abused the people who love him the most, the people who put him in office, and that kind of behavior comes back to bite you in the end,” he added.

And, Yiannopoulos said, he arranged the dinner “just to make Trump’s life miserable” because news of the dinner would leak and Trump would mishandle it.

Fuentes echoed the sentiment: “I hate to say it, but the chickens are coming home to roost. You know, this is the frustration with his base and with his true loyalists.”

Trump fumed afterward that Ye had betrayed him by ambushing him. “He tried to f[uck] me. He’s crazy. He can’t beat me,” Trump said, according to one confidant, who then relayed the conversation to NBC News on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

“Trump was totally blindsided,” the source said of Fuentes’ presence. “It was a setup.”

I don’t know about their steaks, but Mar-a-Lago clearly serves nothing but the finest schadenfreude.

WSJ: ‘Elon Musk’s Boring Company Ghosts Cities Across America’ 

Ted Mann and Julie Bykowicz, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

That fall, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was standing at a fenced-off site affixed with Boring signs near Fort Meade and telling a videographer to “get ready” for a high-speed train from Baltimore to Washington. Mr. Hogan declined to comment.

An aide to Mr. Hogan toured a parking-lot test site at the company’s then-headquarters near Los Angeles International Airport, getting a look at a tunnel-boring machine the company purchased secondhand. Boring named it Godot, the title character in Samuel Beckett’s play about a man who never shows up.

The Republican Hogan administration sped up the bureaucratic process for Boring, granting a conditional permit in October 2017 and an environmental permit a few months later. All Boring had to do was bring its machine and start digging, former Maryland officials said. But months, and then years, passed. Maryland was waiting for Godot.

Boring deleted the Maryland project from its website last year.

As Scott Lemieux quipped, The Boring Company appears to be “basically vaporware that exists solely to undermine actually potentially viable mass transit proposals”. The pitch to local municipalities — helmed by politicians with no engineering expertise — is just the monorail gag from The Simpsons but underground.

‘How the Wordle Editor Is Ruining Wordle’ 

Lizzie O’Leary, writing for Slate:

Look: I’m sure that Tracy Bennett, the Wordle editor, is a lovely person and a skilled crossword editor. But when I do a Wordle and discover I’ve walked into someone else’s pun, I feel foolish. The butt of a middlebrow dad joke. I want to tell Joe Kahn that the Times’ ever-expanding dominion should leave some room for serendipity and strangeness in the world.

No more puns, I beg of you, Wordle queen. I now understand that you started your reign on November 7 with BEGIN. Please: It’s time to CEASE.

I saw the Times’s announcement that they’d hired a Wordle editor, but I didn’t realize she was playing puns until the Thankgiving solution was FEAST. I had that one down to *EAST and guessed BEAST first, thinking it wouldn’t be FEAST on Thanksgiving. And when I realized it was, I was furious. Yes, that’s right, I got furious at a free word game.

Count me in with O’Leary — however central puns are to good crossword puzzles, they have no place in Wordle.

The Financial Times: ‘Twitter’s $5bn-a-Year Business Hit as Elon Musk Clashes With Advertisers’ 

Hannah Murphy, Alex Barker, and Arjun Neil Alim, reporting for The Financial Times:

Multiple top advertising agencies and media buyers told the Financial Times that nearly all of the big brands they represent have paused spending on the social media platform, citing alarm at Musk’s ad hoc approach to policing content and decision to axe many of its ad sales team.

Musk, meanwhile, has sought to personally call chief executives of some brands that have curbed advertising in order to berate them, according to one senior industry figure, leading others to instead reduce their spend to the bare minimum required so as to avoid further confrontation with the billionaire entrepreneur.

Planters’ Mr. Peanut mascot isn’t this nutty. The only way to keep advertisers on board is to make Twitter a place where they’d want their ads to appear. Berating CEOs is only going to make Twitter seem less attractive.

After several waves of job cuts and departures, Twitter’s ads business team has shrunk so much that many agencies no longer have any point of contact at the company and have received little to no communication in recent weeks, according to four industry insiders.

Some brands have been unable to get feedback on how previous campaigns have performed because of the staffing shortages, one media buyer said. Others are complaining Twitter’s ads systems have also become buggy, making it difficult or even impossible to run campaigns.

I’ve mentioned before that big brand advertisers are very conservative. They value stability and predictability, and loathe controversy and chaos. That alone would be enough to explain why Twitter’s ad sales have quickly plummeted under Musk’s leadership. But another huge aspect to brand advertising are personal relationships. Musk, to date, has screwed all of this up. He’s made Twitter itself unpredictable and controversial, and he fired the ad sales people who had personal relationships with Twitter’s most important advertisers.

Tim Cook Hosts Elon Musk at Apple Park 

A little birdie told me Cook was walking around campus with Musk a few minutes ago, but unsurprisingly, Musk himself broke the news. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Update: “Diplomacy” is clearly Tim Cook’s middle name.

‘Ivory’ — In-Development Mastodon Clients for iOS and Mac From Tapbots 

Tapbots, on Mastodon:

Hello people of the Fediverse! Some of you may have heard that a new Mastodon client, Ivory, is in development for iOS (and Mac!). This is true! Tapbots is going all in on Mastodon and we hope this place continues to grow and thrive. Tweetbot will continue to be developed alongside Ivory as a lot of code is shared. A new Mac version of Tweetbot and Ivory are also currently in development and we are working hard on getting those towards a public beta state.

Huzzah. There are some decent iOS Mastodon clients already, but none for the Mac.

The Apple TV’s Upgrade Experience Needs an Upgrade 

Jason Snell, writing a few weeks ago at Six Colors:

One Home Screen is a nice feature, but it’s not an iCloud backup of your Apple TV, nor is it the Apple TV equivalent of Migration Assistant. It is exactly what its name suggests — a home-screen-syncing feature and nothing more.

So after setting up my new Apple TV, I then had to log into every single streaming app. And I’ve got a lot of streaming apps — you know, for my work. [...]

The end result was that I spent almost half an hour setting up this new Apple TV to work with the stuff my old Apple TV worked with. There’s got to be a better way! Yes, I know authentication is difficult, and even iOS migrations tend to lose certain connections with outside services. But right now, I’m not seeing any attempt by Apple to make migration easier.

Snell and I talked about this on Upgrade this week. It’s undeniably a pain in the ass, and the people it affects the most are those of us who use Apple TV the most. Either you bite the bullet and re-sign in to all your streaming apps at once, or you do it one at a time, as needed, and waste a few minutes of would-be leisure time each time you first launch one of these apps. What makes it frustrating is knowing how good Apple’s migration process is for setting up a new iOS device or Mac.

‘Everyone’ AirDrop Is Now Limited to Just 10 Minutes for iPhone Users in China 

Filipe Espósito, reporting for 9to5Mac two weeks ago:

As noted by 9to5Mac readers, today’s update adds a time limit when the user chooses to enable AirDrop for everyone, not just contacts. With this change, people in China can no longer keep AirDrop turned on for everyone, including unknown users, for an unlimited time.

The change in how AirDrop works has been included in both iOS 16.1.1 and iOS 16.2 beta 2, both released today for users and developers. Also noted by our readers, this restriction is based on hardware rather than software. This means that only iPhone models purchased in Mainland China are affected by the update.

This is not the first time Apple has implemented an iOS restriction based on hardware model. For instance, the Taiwanese flag emoji is not available on iPhones sold in China. Apple also uses the same method to limit the volume level of its devices in European Union countries, as required by law.

However, when it comes to AirDrop, it’s unclear why Apple decided to limit the “Everyone” option to 10 minutes. Some people speculate that the Chinese regulator required Apple to update iOS as an attempt to prevent anonymous people from spreading harmful content and anti-government material.

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple didn’t comment on why the change was introduced in China, but said that it plans to roll out the new AirDrop setting globally in the coming year. The idea is to mitigate unwanted file sharing, the company said.

You don’t have to be Kreskin to surmise that Apple made this change at the behest of the CCP. There’s no explanation for it being China-only for now. Apple never explained why they dropped the Taiwanese flag from the emoji keyboard in China, either. (Also, the shameful aspect of the Taiwanese flag emoji issue is that Apple removed it from the keyboard for iOS users in ostensibly-free Hong Kong, too.)

People are rightfully angered by this change — AirDrop is clearly very useful for exchanging information during protests in China — but as with Apple complying with China’s laws requiring iCloud data centers in mainland China, Apple’s only choices are compliance or pulling out of the Chinese market. Defiance is not an option. Well, not a long-term one.

‘Maximum Viable Product’ 

Clive Thompson, in a piece from April:

What if more developers developed a sense for the “maximum” number of things a product should do — and stopped there?

What if more software firms decided, “Hey! We’ve reached the absolute perfect set of features. We’re done. This product is awesome. No need to keep on shoving in stuff nobody wants.”

Sure, this would have risks. Standing still risks becoming obsolete, as other competitors swoop in.

But it can also just mean you have confidence in your amazing design.

Indeed, some of my favorite pieces of software feel very much like the “maximum viable product”. They seem like highly mature apps that realize they don’t need to significantly evolve new gills or appendages. For twelve years, for example, I’ve used Scrivener for writing my articles and books. “Word processing” is a super-competitive area, but Scrivener hasn’t had any feature creep I can detect. It stuck to its guns. I’d say the same thing about Logic Pro: I’ve used it for twelve years now for music production, and while it’s added new instruments and effects, it has done so gently — it hasn’t larded its UI with endless features. And it’s facing tons of competition, too, from Pro Tools and Ableton Live and others.

I think this is common for a lot of apps that have proven to have staying power. It’s why they have staying power. One way to think of it is that software should be designed a little more like hardware. A 2022 MacBook doesn’t have any more buttons or ports than one from 20 years ago. (In fact, MacBooks have fewer ports.) It’s mostly software where there’s a temptation to keep expanding in scope endlessly.

How Amazon Shopping Ads Are Disguised as Real Results 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

Amazon is the first app many of us think about to buy things online. But is it actually a good place to go shopping? When you search for a product on Amazon, you may not realize that most of what you see at first is advertising. Amazon is betraying your trust in its results to make an extra buck.

Let me show you.

I long ago noticed the proliferation of paid placement in Amazon search results, but seeing it illustrated this way was an eye opener.

“Slippery slope” arguments are overused, but just like how paranoids can have real enemies, sometimes the slippery slope argument is true. I really hope that Apple has maxed out its paid placements in the App Store, because I think they already have too many. But I worry that every few months they’ll just keep adding more and it’ll soon be more ads than legit search results and editorial content.

Apple’s Ad Spend on Twitter: $48M in Q1 

Cat Zakrzewski, Faiz Siddiqui, and Jeremy B. Merrill, reporting for The Washington Post:

In the first quarter, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending $48 million on ads on the social network, according to a document reviewed by The Washington Post that was compiled from internal Twitter data. Apple’s spending accounted for more than 4 percent of Twitter’s revenue that quarter.

Peanuts for Apple, and even as their heretofore biggest advertiser, only 4 percent for Twitter. But more important than its raw percentage of revenue for Twitter is the fact that Apple is a company that other companies follow. How many marketing departments are having meetings today along the lines of “If Apple pulled its ad spending on Twitter, why shouldn’t we?”

Yours Truly, Guesting on Upgrade 

Jason Snell:

John Gruber joins Jason on Upgrade for the first time. Topics include eWorld, Apple’s iPhone production problems in China, FIFA and Qatar and the World Cup, the reasons behind Apple’s sports ambitions, BBEdit, regular expressions, Perl and Python, MarsEdit, nanotexture displays, webcams, and the state of the art in ADB-to-USB adapters. Happy Cyber Monday to all those who celebrate!

Happy Cyber Monday, indeed. (Snell and I managed to squeeze this into a brisk 144 minutes.)

iPhone 14 Pro Assembly Hit by COVID Protests in China 

Vlad Savov, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Turmoil at Apple Inc.’s key manufacturing hub of Zhengzhou is likely to result in a production shortfall of close to 6 million iPhone Pro units this year, according to a person familiar with assembly operations.

The situation remains fluid at the plant and the estimate of lost production could change, said the person, who asked not to be named because the information is private. Much will depend on how quickly Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese company that operates the facility, can get people back to assembly lines after violent protests against Covid restrictions. If lockdowns continue in the weeks ahead, production could be set further back.

I didn’t comprehensively check all colors, sizes, and storage capacities, but a quick check of a few iPhone 14 Pro configurations today all show December 28 as the promised delivery date. Apple, famously, under-promises and over-delivers on these delivery dates, but it’s still November and iPhone 14 Pro is in “Don’t count on this for Christmas” territory.

With a lot of products — like, say, laptops during the COVID lockdown — a delay like this just means the purchase will be deferred until the next quarter. Maybe you can’t get it now, but you’ll still buy it when it does become available. I’m not sure that’s true for iPhones that, if available, would be purchased as holiday gifts.

See also: Good Twitter thread from Bryce Weiner documenting the protests/riots by workers at Foxconn’s Apple factories.

* You know.

Protests Erupt Across China 

Vivian Wang, reporting for The New York Times from Beijing:

“We don’t want lockdowns, we want freedom!” the protesters shouted as they wound westward through one of the city’s neatly manicured embassy districts, where a Four Seasons hotel stands alongside humble shops selling traditional breakfast crepes. “Freedom of the press! Freedom of publishing!”

It was an extraordinary scene, rarely seen anywhere in China, let alone the capital, under Xi Jinping, the country’s authoritarian leader. But the elation of the moment was laced with anxiety about what, exactly, was happening. When some people began shouting explicitly political slogans, others urged them to remain more narrowly focused on opposing Covid controls. Even what to call the event depended on who and when you asked — was it a protest? Or just a vigil? [...]

When a police officer told people to stop chanting for an end to lockdowns, the crowd quickly pivoted. “Continue lockdowns!” they chanted, in an echo of the sarcasm that had spread online in recent days, as people shared overblown praise for the government to protest censorship. “I want to do Covid tests!”

Sarcasm, the gift that keeps on giving. See also: Chinese protestors are holding blank white signs:

“People have a common message,” said Xiao Qiang, a researcher on internet freedom at the University of California, Berkeley. “They know what they want to express, and authorities know too, so people don’t need to say anything. If you hold a blank sheet, then everyone knows what you mean.”

Some protesters told The New York Times that the white papers took inspiration from a Soviet-era joke, in which a dissident accosted by the police for distributing leaflets in a public square reveals the fliers to be blank. When asked, the dissident replies that there is no need for words because “everyone knows.”

Yahoo Takes Minority Stake in Ad Network Taboola (And, by the Way, Yahoo Is Still Around) 

Lauren Hirsch and Benjamin Mullin, reporting for The New York Times:

Yahoo is deepening its push into digital advertising, even as its competitors warn that the market is faltering.

The internet pioneer, which was taken private in a $5 billion deal last year, is taking a roughly 25 percent stake in Taboola, the company known for serving up attention-grabbing links on websites, the chief executives of the companies said in an interview. The deal is part of a 30-year exclusive advertising partnership that allows Yahoo to use Taboola’s technology to manage its sizable business in native advertising — ads that have the characteristics of traditional news and entertainment content.

Sad but unsurprising that Yahoo — at one time the premier quality-content-on-the-internet property — is now looking to the lowest common denominator clickbait property Taboola for inspiration and revenue.

Should Be Easy, Indeed 

Speaking of asininity (albeit, thankfully, not toxic in this case), over the weekend Elon Musk, responding to some idiot’s idea that “The man builds rockets to Mars, a silly little smartphone should be easy, right?”, offhandedly tweeted:

I certainly hope it does not come to that, but, yes, if there is no other choice, I will make an alternative phone.

This tweet offered a textbook test case for headline writers. The truth is simply that Musk claimed he’d “make an alternative phone” if necessary. Headline writers who failed the test went with statements of fact that Twitter would make an alternative phone, which, of course, is not going to happen. The hard part wouldn’t be the phone hardware; surely Twitter or Tesla or some new Musk-owned entity could easily slap their own brand on a white label Android handset. The hard part is that what he’s really talking about is making his own phone with his own app store. (Android phones that don’t play by Google’s rules also don’t get access to Google Play Services, which is effectively a closed-source segment of the Android operating system. Outside of China, I’m aware of zero successful Android phones that don’t use the Google Play app store by default.)

Perhaps he can just resurrect the Twitter Peek, though? Should be easy.

Today, in Twitter-Apple Drama 

Elon Musk:

Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?

What’s going on here @tim_cook?

I heard from a source who spent time working in Twitter’s ad products organization that Apple, until recently, was not just a big advertiser on Twitter, but the largest. The @apple account never posts regular tweets but frequently posts promoted tweets, and Apple heretofore had been a big spender on things like hashflags and custom like buttons, to promote major product introduction events.

Just last month there was an interesting micro-conflict because Apple paid to promote the #TakeNote hashtag for their “Take Note” announcement for new iPads, but the regular (unpaid) hashtag #TakeNote is a slogan long used by the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

Kara Swisher:

Frontloading a fight with @tim_cook with specious nonsense isn’t going to work. Why? For one, he’s not a manic toddler hopped up on Twinkies and weaponry cosplay. Plus, no advertiser like to spend their marketing money in Thunderdome of toxic asininity.

“Toxic asininity” is a keen description.

Anyway, Musk’s tweets today are mostly about Apple, including this gem:

Did you know Apple puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy through their App Store?

Yes, I think I recall hearing something about this once.

Tuple 

My thanks to Tuple for sponsoring last week at DF. Tuple is a lightning-fast pair programming tool built for remote developers. High-resolution screen sharing, low-latency remote control, and less CPU usage than you’d think possible. Because great programmers deserve better resolution and performance than Zoom or Meet.

Celebrity Endorsers Tom Brady, Giselle Bündchen, Larry David, and Steph Curry Sued in FTX Class Action Suit 

Dominic Patten, reporting for Deadline:

“I’m never wrong about this stuff, never,” said a dismissive and scoffing Larry David earlier this year in that now infamous Super Bowl ad for investing in cryptocurrency exchange FTX. While the Seinfeld co-creator rejected the wheel, coffee, the U.S. Constitution, electricity, putting a man on the moon and more innovations in the much praised commercial, looks like David might have been right about the now collapsed FTX, for all the good it’s going to do him.

Along with the likes of Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, Shaquille O’Neal, and Naomi Osaka, David is now a defendant in a class action suit against the now hollowed out FTX and its ex-CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

I don’t know whether they deserve to be sued, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves for promoting a Ponzi scheme.

‘Goncharov’ 

When Tumblr culture gets something right, they get it really right. This whole story is delightful.

The Talk Show: ‘Deliberately Churned’ 

For your holiday listening enjoyment: Christina Warren returns to the show to talk about the drama at Disney, tumult at Twitter, and how the hell to score Taylor Swift tickets.

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‘Overleveraging Attention’ 

Jim Ray, on his Flicker Fusion blog:

John Gruber asks:

I’m curious what else you think has surprised Musk about Twitter thus far. Not what you think Musk is wrong about, per se, but what he is already surprised about.

I think Musk is genuniely surprised he hasn’t been able (so far) to bluster his way through this.

I mean this sincerely. In an economy driven by attention, Musk uses bluster like a CDO, it’s how he became the world’s richest man and how he managed to just about single-handedly turn a public company private and rule by fiat.

I think it’s surprising because Musk’s bluster not only generates the attention he needs but acts as an ace up his sleeve, a way to guarantee a win. Musk leveraged, and then weaponized, the absolute worst tendencies of the social-era internet — fandom, brigading, the financialization of everything, the final merge of politics and identity. And Twitter was his weapon of choice.

I think Ray is exactly right here. I also think Musk believes his bluster will soon win out. (And as Ray alludes to near the end, if you want a one-word answer to the question “How the fuck did Donald Trump get elected?” it’d be hard to do much better than “Bluster.”)

Meanwhile, in ‘Free Speech’ Twitter Utopia 

Dan Moren, on our mutual friend Lex Friedman having his Twitter account suspended:

My pal @lexfri quit Twitter a few days ago. His account has now been suspended — I can only imagine that’s a result of his parting tweet, which contained some choice words about Elon Musk and Donald Trump.

So I guess we see exactly how much Elon cares about free speech.

Friedman’s tweet that prompted the suspension, in its entirety:

My final tweet is: Fuck @elonmusk and fuck @realDonaldTrump.

That’s it. That’s the tweet. No additional drama or backstory. And as I type this, Friedman’s account remains suspended.

Meanwhile, Musk is running another yes/no Twitter poll:

Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?

You couldn’t make up this clown show if you tried.

Update: Friedman posits a credible theory how this happened.

Twitter vs. The App Stores 

Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, in an op-ed for The New York Times:

There is one more source of power on the web — one that most people don’t think much about but may be the most significant check on unrestrained speech on the mainstream internet: the app stores operated by Google and Apple. [...]

In my time at Twitter, representatives of the app stores regularly raised concerns about content available on our platform. On one occasion, a member of an app review team contacted Twitter, saying with consternation that he had searched for “#boobs” in the Twitter app and was presented with … exactly what you’d expect. Another time, on the eve of a major feature release, a reviewer sent screenshots of several days-old tweets containing an English-language racial slur, asking Twitter representatives whether they should be permitted to appear on the service.

Reviewers hint that app approval could be delayed or perhaps even withheld entirely if issues are not resolved to their satisfaction — although the standards for resolution are often implied. Even as they appear to be driven largely by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail company plans and trigger all-hands-on-deck crises for weeks or months at a time.

Twitter wannabe Parler was banned from the App Store for three months in 2021 for its free-for-all lack of moderation. And it appears as though Apple executives aren’t exactly fans of Musk-era Twitter.

That said, I think content moderation isn’t where Musk is going to steer Twitter into direct conflict with Apple and Google over their app stores. The in-app purchasing revenue splits are. Here’s Musk last week, responding to a Slashdot post about Epic alleging a $360 million payola scheme from Google to keep Activision from creating its own Android game store:

App store fees are obviously too high due to the iOS/Android duopoly.

It is a hidden 30% tax on the Internet.

It’s not a big business at the moment, but Twitter’s year-old Super Follow subscription feature uses in-app payments, and “selling subscriptions” is apparently a big part of Musk’s plans. I’d be surprised if Musk isn’t soon as outspoken (and perhaps as litigious) about Apple and Google’s app store payment rules as Tim Sweeney and Epic Games.

Politico: FTC Is Likely to Challenge Microsoft’s $69 Billion Activision Acquisition 

Josh Sisco, reporting for Politico:

The Federal Trade Commission is likely to file an antitrust lawsuit to block Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of video game giant Activision Blizzard, maker of the hit games Call of Duty and Candy Crush, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

A lawsuit would be the FTC’s biggest move yet under Chair Lina Khan to rein in the power of the world’s largest technology companies. It would also be a major black mark for Microsoft, which has positioned itself as a white knight of sorts on antitrust issues in the tech sector after going through its own grueling regulatory antitrust battles around the world more than two decades ago.

Central to the FTC’s concerns is whether acquiring Activision would give Microsoft an unfair boost in the video game market. Microsoft’s Xbox is number three to the industry-leading Sony Interactive Entertainment and its PlayStation console. Sony, however, has emerged as the deal’s primary opponent, telling the FTC and regulators in other countries that if Microsoft made hit games like Call of Duty exclusive to its platforms Sony would be significantly disadvantaged.

Resident Evil Village, Metal 3, and the Future of Mac Gaming 

Tony Polanco, writing last month for Tom’s Guide:

Now, Resident Evil Village has made me a believer. Gaming on Macs can be just as good as on the best gaming PCs or best gaming laptops, provided developers actually optimize their titles for Apple’s computers. [...]

Without MetalFX enabled, I saw frame rates hover in the low 100s while I walked around the main protagonist’s home (Ethan Winters) during the intro. Later, when the game shifted to a dark, snow-covered mountain, frame rates fluctuated more dramatically — dipping into the low 70s at worst. Still, those are very impressive numbers with MetalFX off.

Saying I was shocked when I enabled MetalFX is an understatement. In Ethan’s home, frame rates instantly jumped into the low 200s. They dropped to the 150s when I began walking around, but those are still very high frame rates. Frames dipped into the upper 80s when traversing the mountain, but I’m not complaining.

And the kicker:

I should note that performance didn’t take a hit when I unplugged the Magsafe cable from the MacBook Pro. Typically, frame rates drop substantially on gaming laptops when you unplug, but that wasn’t the case here. And though I didn’t play for extended periods of time, I never once heard the MacBook Pro’s fans kick in, nor did the laptop ever get warm. Considering how some gaming notebooks start to sound like jet engines seconds after booting up a game, this is a huge win.

See also: Luke Larsen, writing at Digital Trends:

The most startling thing about playing Resident Evil Village on a MacBook Pro wasn’t actually performance. It was HDR. The MacBook Pro (16-inch) has one of Apple’s “XDR” displays, a mini-LED panel that’s better than any other gaming laptop display. That’s because mini-LEDs that can get this bright are still fairly uncommon in the world of gaming laptops. And in many ways, there’s no better game to play in HDR than Resident Evil Village.

U.K. Regulator to Investigate Apple and Google’s Mobile Web Browser Dominance 

Press release from the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority:

Responses to the consultation, which have been published today, reveal substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store. Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.

Mike Wuerthele, writing about the investigation for AppleInsider:

Another factors cited in the investigation are “suggested underinvestment in its browser technology” leading to added costs for developers forcing developers to create mobile apps to work around problems. On the surface, this seems contradictory to the mobile gaming aspect of the investigation.

It’s not contradictory at all. The unifying thread between mobile game publishers (especially cloud gaming) and web developers is that they want to route around the iOS and Android app stores (especially Apple’s). What they’d like Apple to do is either (a) make WebKit on iOS so robust that it could be used to make games and apps that are every bit as capable as native games and apps, or (b) allow third-party rendering engines (Chrome’s, of course, being the only one they actually care about), including, of course, the ability to save web apps to the home screen using those third-party rendering engines.

If you like using Electron apps on the Mac, you’d love the future of iOS these complainants are clamoring for government regulators to mandate.

Report: Amazon Alexa Is a ‘Colossal Failure’ on Pace to Lose $10 Billion This Year 

Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica:

Amazon is going through the biggest layoffs in the company’s history right now, with a plan to eliminate some 10,000 jobs. One of the areas hit hardest is the Amazon Alexa voice assistant unit, which is apparently falling out of favor at the e-commerce giant. That’s according to a report from Business Insider, which details “the swift downfall of the voice assistant and Amazon’s larger hardware division.”

Alexa has been around for 10 years and has been a trailblazing voice assistant that was copied quite a bit by Google and Apple. Alexa never managed to create an ongoing revenue stream, though, so Alexa doesn’t really make any money. The Alexa division is part of the “Worldwide Digital” group along with Amazon Prime video, and Business Insider says that division lost $3 billion in just the first quarter of 2022, with “the vast majority” of the losses blamed on Alexa. That is apparently double the losses of any other division, and the report says the hardware team is on pace to lose $10 billion this year. It sounds like Amazon is tired of burning through all that cash.

The BI report spoke with “a dozen current and former employees on the company’s hardware team,” who described “a division in crisis.” Just about every plan to monetize Alexa has failed, with one former employee calling Alexa “a colossal failure of imagination,” and “a wasted opportunity.” This month’s layoffs are the end result of years of trying to turn things around. Alexa was given a huge runway at the company, back when it was reportedly the “pet project” of former CEO Jeff Bezos.

It’s enough to make you think that HomePods aren’t expensive; it’s just that Alexa devices have been sold at a loss over the years. Also interesting that Siri (with some justification) has always been considered the worst of the big three voice assistants, and that it was held back technically (compared to Alexa and Google Assistant) by Apple’s commitment to privacy and on-device processing. The thing about Siri is that it was always at heart about making Apple’s platforms more accessible. Siri is there to make iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple TVs, Apple Watches, and even AirPods better. And Apple isn’t losing money on any of those. Siri will serve the same purpose on future platforms from Apple, too. Apple’s investments in Siri are part and parcel investments in their OS strategy for everything they make.

What is (was?) Alexa about, strategically? I’ve often heard that the vague idea was that people would buy Alexa devices for obvious stuff (playing music, setting timers) but that eventually they’d starting using Alexa to buy stuff from Amazon — and thus wind up buying more stuff from Amazon than they would if they didn’t have an Alexa device in their house. That never made sense to me. Buying stuff via voice commands seems inherently uncertain — like buying a lottery ticket where you need some luck to actually get the product you think you told Alexa to buy. Even if it works, how is it any better than just shopping at Amazon on your phone, iPad, or computer? It seems worse to me, and no more convenient. How do you comparison shop via voice?

For any task X on a new platform, if doing X is not far easier than just doing X on your phone, X is never going to be a reason to use that new platform.

Bob Iger Returning as Disney CEO; Bob Chapek Fired by Board 

Alex Weprin, reporting for The Hollywood Reporter:

In a stunning turn of events, The Walt Disney Co. says that Bob Chapek will step down as CEO, with Bob Iger returning to lead the company. Disney’s board of directors announced the decision Sunday night.

Not just Sunday night, late Sunday night. There was some Succession-style drama going on behind the scenes at Disney this weekend. “Effective immediately” is not a phrase major corporations apply lightly.

Chapek had just signed a new multi-year contract in June, after speculation following the ouster of TV chief Peter Rice earlier that month prompted the board to issue a notable public statement backing the CEO after the move.

Iger even acknowledged in an email to Disney employees Sunday that he is returning “with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and, I must admit, a bit of amazement.”

Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings, in a tweet after the news broke last night:

Ugh. I had been hoping Iger would run for President. He is amazing.

That, my friends, is a how a CEO should wield humor on Twitter. Deftly, and with class.

TSMC Planning 3-Nanometer Chip Production in Arizona 

Sarah Wu, reporting for Reuters:

Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC is planning to produce chips with advanced 3-nanometer technology at its new factory in the U.S. state of Arizona but the plans are not completely finalised yet, the company’s founder Morris Chang said on Monday. [...]

Chang, speaking to reporters in Taipei after returning from the APEC summit in Thailand, said the 3-nanometer plant would be located at the same Arizona site as the 5-nanometre plant. “Three-nanometer, TSMC right now has a plan, but it has not been completely finalised,” said Chang, who has retired from TSMC but remains influential in the company and the broader chip industry. “It has almost been finalised — in the same Arizona site, phase two. Five-nanometer is phase one, 3-nanometer is phase two.”

Would be a big win in all sorts of ways if this comes to pass.


Twitter Tumult

If you had told me three weeks ago that Twitter, as a company, would today be embroiled in turmoil — perhaps outright existential crisis — over a company-wide email from Elon Musk centered around the phrase “extremely hardcore”, this is not the scenario I’d have imagined.

It’s as though Musk has taken Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” motto and reduced it to “Break everything fast.” Last night, reports of mass resignations inside Twitter seemed so dire that Twitter itself seemed to be documenting its own demise, like HAL 9000 singing “Daisy”, ever more degenerately slurred, near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I lost count of how many of the people I follow were seemingly posting what they expected, last night, to be their last-ever tweets.

The New York Times:

Hours before a Thursday deadline that Elon Musk gave Twitter employees to decide whether to stay or leave their jobs, the social media company appeared to be in disarray.

Mr. Musk and his advisers held meetings with some Twitter workers whom they deemed “critical” to stop them from leaving, four people with knowledge of the conversations said. He sent confusing messages about the company’s remote work policy, appearing to soften his stance on not allowing people to work from home before warning their managers, according to those people and internal emails viewed by The New York Times.

All the while, two people said, resignations started to roll in. By the deadline, 5 p.m. Eastern time, hundreds of Twitter employees appeared to have decided to depart with three months of severance pay, the people said. Twitter later announced via email that it would close “our office buildings” and disable employee badge access until Monday.

Zoë Schiffer, today:

Email from Elon to the engineering team: “Anyone who can actually write software, please report to the 10th floor at 2pm today. Before doing so, please email me a bullet point summary of what your code commits have achieved in the past 6 months.”

Elon Musk is also asking for up 10 screenshots of the “most salient lines of code” from Twitter engineers.

This latest edict is bananas in several ways, not the least of which is that the company claimed just 12 hours earlier that its offices would be closed today. As I quipped (on Twitter, which, as I publish this, is still seemingly fully operational), either (a) the offices aren’t closed until next week; or (b) getting to the 10th floor is an interview puzzle to keep your job?

But at a deeper level, the idea that counting lines of code or looking at “up to 10 screenshots” of code can give any effective measure of a programmer is absurdly wrong. Some of the most elite programmers I’ve ever known have an uncanny knack for reducing lines of code. Programmers working on security issues necessarily code with painstaking care. And, of course, there are dozens of essential roles at Twitter — some highly technical — that don’t involve “code commits” at all.

Alex Heath and Mia Sato, reporting for The Verge:

Twitter had roughly 2,900 remaining employees before the deadline Thursday, thanks to Musk unceremoniously laying off about half of the 7,500-person workforce when he took over and the resignations that followed. Remaining and departing Twitter employees told The Verge that, given the scale of the resignations this week, they expect the platform to start breaking soon. One said that they’ve watched “legendary engineers” and others they look up to leave one by one.

“It feels like all the people who made this place incredible are leaving,” the Twitter staffer said. “It will be extremely hard for Twitter to recover from here, no matter how hardcore the people who remain try to be.”

Multiple “critical” teams inside Twitter have now either completely or near-completely resigned, said other employees who requested anonymity to speak without Musk’s permission. That includes Twitter’s traffic and front end teams that route engineering requests to the correct backend services. The team that maintains Twitter’s core system libraries that every engineer at the company uses is also gone. “You cannot run Twitter without this team,” a departing employee said.

It’s a fact that there have been mass resignations — on top of last week’s mass layoff — in the face of Musk’s fealty demand. Whether these resignations spell doom for the company remains to be seen.

My apparently wrongheaded optimism for Twitter under Musk’s leadership was rooted in the idea that while he might — and almost surely would — make mistakes with product decisions (including content moderation), product decisions can be reversed.

Losing essential talent and destroying employee morale, not so much.

This thoughtful, measured thread from departing Twitter engineer Peter Clowes sums it up:

I didn’t leave because I hate @elonmusk. I definitely didn’t agree with many of his decisions or how they were carried out but I also understood and respected others.

I don’t know him and if someone tells me to hate a stranger I say “no thanks”.

I didn’t leave because of the 50% company wide layoff that missed me. We all knew a layoff was coming. Prior management would likely have cut too shallow at first and then had to do multiple rounds. I think that would have sucked regardless.

I left because I no longer knew what I was staying for. Previously I was staying for the people, the vision, and of course the money (lets all be honest). All of those were radically changed or uncertain. [...]

If I stayed I would have been on-call constantly with little support for an indeterminate amount of time on several additional complex systems I had no experience in. Maybe for the right vision I could have dug deep and done mind numbing work for awhile. But that’s the thing…

There was no vision shared with us. No 5 year plan like at Tesla. Nothing more than what anyone can see on Twitter. It allegedly is coming for those who stayed but the ask was blind faith and required signing away the severance offer before seeing it. Pure loyalty test.

I’ve been struggling to express it succinctly but my shock has been, basically: Layoffs are inherently deeply traumatic, both personally and institutionally, and for a company still trying to do great things and compete in a tight marketplace — and Twitter’s marketplace is the most competitive in the world: attention — the highest post-layoff priority for any company’s leader should be to restore, maintain, and if possible, boost morale.

Yet all of Musk’s actions to date can only be seen as destroying morale. I do not think he’s secretly trying to destroy his own $44 billion acquisition, but if he were, as though in a real-life Brewster’s Millions scenario, this path seems like the surest way. He’s shooting holes into his own sinking ship. 


App Store Ads Gone Wild

Apple, last Tuesday:

Apple Search Ads makes it easy to promote your app on the App Store. And now with new Today tab and product page ad placements, you can drive discovery of your app in more moments across the App Store — when customers first arrive, search for something specific, and browse apps to download.

Upon launching, feedback from the developers of various popular apps and Apple observers shared a common theme. Simon B. Støvring:

With Apple’s recent changes to ads on the App Store, your product pages may now show ads for gambling apps. One of my product pages just did that 😞

Marco Arment:

Now my app’s product page shows gambling ads, which I’m really not OK with.

Apple shouldn’t be OK with it, either.

The App Store has corrupted such a great company so deeply. They make so much from gambling and manipulative IAPs that they don’t even see the problem anymore.

Cabel Sasser:

It is really sad to me that Apple needs to start taking Casino Game Ad Money in order to make their line go up for the shareholders. When Steve introduced iAds and the whole pitch was, “These ads aren’t garbage, you’ll like these ads.” This department shouldn’t exist at all, imho.

Sebastiaan de With:

I know it’s not as easily quantifiable, but Apple is utterly annihilating brand value, trust and goodwill with these ads. How is the revenue possibly worth it?

As a developer, this sucks. As a user, it sucks. As someone who cares about Apple products it’s just profoundly sad.

Federico Viticci:

Can you imagine having $48.2 billion cash on hand and YET still thinking “ah yes, those House of Fun Casino ads will grow our bottom line, let’s do it”.

Dan Frommer, quoting Steve Jobs:

@cabel And then, a year later, while introducing iCloud/MobileMe Mail:

“No ads. We build products that we want for ourselves, too, and we just don’t want ads.”

The gambling/casino-related ads were so dominating the auctions for these new ad slots that they were even being presented at the bottom of the product pages for apps intended to help people with gambling addiction. Other scumminess included ads for “psychic” apps on the product page for Disney+ and ads for hookup dating apps on the pages for marriage counseling apps. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

Within one day of the new ad slots going live, Apple issued a terse statement:

We have paused ads related to gambling and a few other categories on App Store product pages.

It’s now nearly a week later, and the gambling/hookup/psychic-type ads still don’t seem to be showing up (well, mostly), but it’s also just as hard to see why Apple is selling these spots in the first place. Well, duh, for the money, yes — that’s obviously the only plausible answer. But how much money can these ads be generating? How much can Apple hope they eventually generate? It can’t possibly be enough money to justify the damage it’s doing to Apple’s brand. These App Store ads are like the “Intel Inside” stickers on PC laptops — they’re worth money, but the money’s not worth it. Who’s laughing about those stickers now?

No ads in the App Store, period” would have been a powerful, appealing message. One that Apple could have used to justify its control over all software on the platform and its much-debated mandatory cut of all app and game transactions. “We sell ads in the App Store, but they’re OK because they don’t track you” seems to be the message Apple is going for, but that’s neither powerful nor appealing. It boils down to “Hey, it could be worse.”

Last month The Information published a piece by Wayne Ma on Phil Schiller’s leadership of the App Store. It contained this bit regarding the Today tab, which is effectively the front page of the store (italic emphasis added):

In 2015, App Store employees pitched a redesign of the store to Cue that required hiring and paying for a large editorial staff to write stories about apps and their developers. The redesign was meant to encourage users to visit the App Store every day to discover new apps, rather than having the store act like a vending machine that existed merely to peddle software. Cue wasn’t receptive to the pitch as he didn’t believe it was worth the money, given that the App Store was already performing well, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions.

Schiller, however, approved the redesign in his first days on the job, this person said. He believed the App Store had lost a lot of the spontaneity and fun associated with discovering new apps. He thought an editorial team could help bring those qualities back, according to a second person with direct knowledge of the project.

In 2017, Apple launched the redesign, which included new tabs on the App Store called Today, Games and Apps, highlighting various apps and developers. While the general perception among users Apple surveyed after the redesign was that developers had to pay to be featured on the App Store, that wasn’t the case, according to people familiar with the matter. Schiller gave the editorial team the power to select which games and apps to promote or feature on these tabs, without pressuring them to base those decisions on business and partnership goals, those people said.

I was reminded of that last week, when I saw this exchange on Reddit in a thread about these new App Store ad units:

sisco98: “Today tab, which until now has only displayed content handpicked from the App Store’s editorial staff, without any paid placement.” Up to now, I was pretty sure these picks were paid by developers.

spack12: Yeah I always figured those were ads too.

rotates-potatoes: Probably why they created the ad unit. If everyone’s going to assume it’s paid ads, might as well collect revenue from it. Many years ago I had an app featured in the app store. Was awesome, like 10× sales overnight. Was a complete surprise to me when it happened.

Apple is actually scrupulous about labeling paid placements as “ads”, and using different background colors for them. One can certainly argue that ads should be even more clearly demarcated, but if you look for it, it’s always clear. But people don’t look. If the message were clear — that there are no ads or paid placements in the App Store, period — people might learn. But if the message is that there are ads, but not many, but now there are more than there used to be, and but if you look closely you’ll see that the ads have a blue background and a small “ad” label — almost everyone is going to assume that anything that might be an ad is an ad and the whole App Store is pay-for-play all the way down.


Back in 2014, the front page of the Privacy section on Apple’s website was an open letter, signed simply by “Tim”. Here’s an archived version from The Internet Archive; here’s one from Archive.today. Cook’s letter read in part:

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

Apple’s commitment to privacy is no less today than it was then. One can well argue that it’s even stronger. But there are aspects of Apple’s position on advertising eight years ago, unrelated to privacy, that don’t square with Apple’s position today. Cook has repeated variations of that “you’re not the customer, you’re the product” mantra umpteen times since 2014. But how are these ads in the App Store not making users the product, and advertisers the customers?

It remains true that Apple is not monetizing the information we store on our devices or in iCloud, but they’re clearly monetizing our attention and their exclusive hold on that attention for all apps and games for iOS. Apple’s business model is no longer the straightforward selling of great products, and these new ads in the App Store are not designed to make anything better other than Apple’s Services bottom line. 


The 2022 iPad (and a Wee Note About the 2022 iPad Pros)

If you’ve used an iPad Air from the last two years — either the 4th-gen Air from October 2020 or the 5th-gen model introduced earlier this year — the new 10th-generation iPad (no adjective) is remarkably familiar. Same size (well, almost — see below), and the same basic design: no home button, round display corners, all-screen, no Face ID, and Touch ID on the side button.

They’re even offered in the same two storage tiers: 64 and 256 GB. I’ll throw in the brand-new 11-inch iPad Pro and the 9th-gen iPad to boot for a price comparison of all the 11-ish-inch iPads in the lineup today:

Storage 2021 iPad
(9th-gen)
2022 iPad
(10th-gen)
2022
iPad Air
2022
iPad Pro 11″
64 GB $330 $450 $600
128 GB $800
256 GB $480 $600 $750 $900
512 GB $1100
1 TB $1500
2 TB $1900
Cellular +130 +150 +150 +200

A lot of people are now complaining that the iPad lineup is “confusing”. I disagree. There are specific aspects of the iPads in the lineup that are confusing, or at least disappointing. These aspects are mostly related to peripherals — which Pencils and which keyboard covers work with which iPads — and I wrote about these issues last week. But in terms of the fundamental question facing would-be buyers — “Which iPad should I get?” — I don’t think this lineup is confusing. I’d argue, in fact, that it’s less confusing, because the lineup is more complete. Prior to last week, there was a significant gap between the 9th-generation iPad (which remains in the lineup, unchanged in price) and the iPad Air. The 10th-gen iPad fills that gap.

With the exception of the $120 difference between the 9th- and 10th-gen iPads, there’s now a $150 difference in price between each 11-inch-ish iPad model. So what are the differences between the 10th-gen iPad and the 2022 iPad Air? Here’s what stands out to me looking at the differences using Apple’s handy Compare tool:

  • The Air’s display is fully-laminated and has an anti-reflective coating, and offers a P3 wide color gamut. The iPad 10 display is not laminated and only covers the sRGB color gamut. The iPad 10’s display looks good, but side-by-side, the iPad Air’s looks better. (Lamination puts the actual display closer to the surface of the glass — more like pixels on glass than pixels under glass.)

  • The iPad Air has the M1 chip with 8 GB of RAM; the iPad 10 uses the A14 chip that debuted with the iPhones 12 in 2020 and has only 4 GB of RAM. One reason to prefer the Air’s M1 chip: the iPad Air supports Stage Manager in iPadOS 16; the iPad 10 does not. There are all sorts of other silicon advantages to the M1, of course, including a “Media Engine” for hardware accelerated video encoding and decoding. But anyone who is concerned about hardware-accelerated video encoding and decoding is not shopping for the consumer-priced iPad 10. Stage Manager, to me, is the difference that might matter most to non-pro iPad users on the fence regarding which model to buy.

  • The iPad Air uses the superior Apple Pencil 2; the iPad 10 — seemingly inexplicably, but in fact for understandable but esoteric reasons (see below) — pairs only with the Pencil 1, for which it requires a new $9 USB-C-to-Lightning adapter.

  • Apple makes one keyboard cover for the new iPad 10: the new $250 two-piece kickstand-propped Magic Keyboard Folio. Apple makes two keyboard covers for the iPad Air (and the same two keyboards also work with the iPad Pro): the $300 turn-your-iPad-into-a-laptop Magic Keyboard, and the no-trackpad thinner and lighter $180 Smart Keyboard Folio. The new Magic Keyboard Folio only works with the new iPad 10, and the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio only work with the iPads Air and Pro.

There are other subtle differences — the Air supports more Wi-Fi 6 bands, but the iPad 10 supports Bluetooth 5.2 while the Air only 5.0. But the above list is really it for practical differences. Do you think any of those bullet points are worth an extra $150? Then buy the iPad Air. If not, congrats, you can save $150 (and perhaps put it toward the pricey Magic Keyboard Folio).

Pencil It In

I’ve been testing the iPad 10 since the end of last week.1 2 It occurred to me soon after setting it up that I haven’t used a Pencil 1 in years. Putting aside the issue of the USB-C-to-Lightning adapter, it’s striking how much less I like the original Pencil compared to the Pencil 2. When the Pencil 2 debuted in 2018 alongside that year’s iPad Pros, I wrote:

The new Apple Pencil is one of the best “2.0” products I’ve ever seen. The original Apple Pencil is a terrific product, but the new one nears perfection for the concept. New and improved:

  • Matte finish. I never really thought to complain about the glossy texture of the original Pencil, but the moment I laid hands on the new one I realized matte is better for this product.

  • Magnetic charging and pairing. When rumors surfaced that the new iPad Pros were moving from Lightning to USB-C, there was a lot of speculation that Apple would need to make a new Pencil with USB-C. This is so much better. As a nice touch, when you first connect the Pencil to your iPad, iOS shows you a Pencil on screen and it’s the exact size of the actual Pencil. It’s adorable. With the original Pencil, Apple didn’t provide a good answer for where you were supposed to keep it when it wasn’t in your hand. The magnetic connection answers that. It’s strong enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to keep the Pencil connected magnetically when putting the iPad in a backpack.

  • No cap, no dongle. It took me almost two years, but last month I finally lost the cap to my original Pencil on a train. The new Pencil has no pieces to lose.

  • Flat side. The old Pencil was weighted to keep it from rolling, but a flat side works better. There’s a reason why most pens and pencil either have clips or at least one flat side.

  • Optional engraving. I wonder how much of this is a “Why not?” thing and how much is fueled by the real-world scenario of coworkers or family members losing track of whose Pencil is whose.

  • Double-tap. Seems like a such a small thing, but it really does make accessing the eraser easier.

The new Apple Pencil is so good I have no complaints and can only think of one suggestion for the future: it’d be nice if there were haptic feedback when you double-tap.

Four years later, that entire passage holds up. Now, though, I like the Pencil 1 even less. I don’t like the glossy/slippery surface material, I don’t like how it rolls around on a tabletop, and I find the cap downright silly. If the original Pencil had to have an integrated Lightning plug, it should have been retractible instead of permanently protruding and thus requiring a cap. Also, I’d forgotten that double-tapping (which, by default, switches between pen and eraser while drawing) was a new feature for Pencil 2. I spent a few minutes thinking the Pencil 1 Apple provided me with the iPad for testing was broken because double-tapping didn’t work.

As for the new adapter, once you’ve used it to pair a Pencil with your iPad 10, you can set it aside for occasionally charging the Pencil when needed. And if you misplace it, or leave it at home and find yourself needing to charge the Pencil 1 without it, you can in fact charge a Pencil 1 by plugging it into any iPhone. It of course doesn’t work as a stylus with an iPhone, and doesn’t even trigger an “Accessory Not Supported” alert (which is what you get if you try pairing a Pencil 1 with an iPad Pro or iPad Air using the USB-C adapter), but it does charge. If I owned an iPad 10 and Pencil 1, I’d probably just throw the Pencil’s cap away and keep the adapter attached to the Pencil. It even keeps the Pencil from rolling while attached.

If I didn’t already own a Pencil 1, though, I’d buy a Logitech Crayon instead. Objective advantages of the Crayon:

  • Price ($70 vs. $100).
  • Logitech’s new 2nd-gen Crayon charges by USB-C. It’s a female port, so you can simply charge it with any USB-C cable.
  • No pairing. I’m not sure how it works, but with Logitech’s Crayons, there’s no need to pair them with individual iPads. There’s a simple on/off switch on the barrel, and when on, it just works with any iPad from 2018 onward.
  • No cap or dongle to lose.

Objective disadvantage of the Crayon:

  • Unlike Apple’s Pencils, Logitech’s Crayon is not pressure sensitive. It does detect the angle of the stroke, but not pressure. If you’re an illustrator, that’s probably a dealbreaker. If — like me — you just use a stylus on your iPad to jot notes, make highlights, and make artistically challenged napkin sketches, you might not even notice or care about the lack of pressure sensitivity.

Subjective differences between the Crayon and Pencil 1:

  • Feel. Logitech’s Crayons are flat, like a carpenter’s pencil. I don’t mind that at all. They also have a matte finish that I much prefer to the slick glossy finish of the Pencil 1.
  • Because the Crayons don’t pair with your iPad, you can’t track the battery life of the Crayon in iPadOS. With an Apple Pencil, the Pencil’s battery life shows up in Settings → Apple Pencil and in the Battery widget. But the Crayon has three LEDs right on its barrel that show its battery life, which I consider as good or better than observing battery life through iPadOS for Apple Pencils.
  • The Crayons have an on/off switch. Apple Pencils manage their power state automatically. This is not a big deal to me at all — and leaving the Crayon switched on, but unused, for an extended period doesn’t seem to drain the battery quickly.

Unless you need pressure sensitivity or dislike the feel of a carpenter’s pencil in your hand, Logitech’s new 2nd-gen Crayon is a clear winner compared to Apple’s Pencil 1. Even Logitech’s old 1st-gen Crayon is a better option — if I have to charge via Lightning, I’d rather my stylus have a simple female port and not require an adapter.

Magic Keyboard Folio

Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m not a kickstand guy. I much prefer the cantilevered hinge of the Magic Keyboard, with its laptop-style footprint and the ability to just pick up the iPad while attached to the keyboard and not have the keyboard half flop around. The two-piece design makes for twice as much work to attach and detach.

But I can see why some people dig a keyboard design like this. Attached to the kickstand back but detached from the keyboard, you have a nice stand for watching movies or just reading. While both pieces are attached, if you fold the keyboard behind the iPad, it somehow detects this and ignores key presses. That’s really clever. You can also attach the keyboard half “backwards” and key presses will always be ignored.

One disappointment is that the keyboard is not backlit. Apple’s Magic Keyboard has backlighting. So too does Logitech’s $160 Combo Touch, which is a fundamentally similar design. The key difference between the Combo Touch and Magic Keyboard Folio is how the kickstand back attaches — with the Combo Touch, it’s a case you snap the iPad into; the Magic Keyboard Folio back attaches magnetically. In addition to my general dislike for kickstands, I dislike that aspect of the Combo Touch — it’s clearly designed with the idea that you’ll keep your iPad in the case even while not attached to the keyboard. When I detach an iPad from a keyboard, I just want to hold it naked. (The iPad, that is.)

The keyboard itself feels great — with keys that feel identical or nearly so to those of the Magic Keyboard, and the same goes for the trackpad. My biggest gripe is that the key layout mimics a baffling design decision from the 11-inch Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio: the left bracket key is full-width, but the right bracket key is half-width.

A close up of the right side of the Magic Keyboard Folio, centered on the bracket keys.

These keyboards are much narrower than MacBook keyboards or the almost-MacBook-width 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard. Widths, by my ruler:

  • MacBooks: 273 mm
  • 12.9″ Magic Keyboard: 268 mm
  • 11″ Magic Keyboard and Magic Keyboard Folio: 236 mm

32 mm is about 1.25 inches. That’s quite a bit of width to reduce. All the keys are smaller than on a standard-sized keyboard. Measuring from the left edge of the A key to the right edge of the semicolon key (the home row):

  • MacBooks and 12.9″ Magic Keyboard: 187 mm
  • 11″ Magic Keyboard and Magic Keyboard Folio: 177 mm

Even with smaller standard keys, though, these keyboards need to make additional concessions, with some punctuation and modifier keys reduced to partial widths. Apple made good decisions on these key cap widths, with the glaring exception of the bracket keys. Clearly these two keys are siblings or peers, and ought to be the same width. That there is not room to make both of them full-width is fine. But rather than make one full-width and the other half, clearly they should both be three-quarters width, like the Tab key or right Option key. Or just make them both half-width. Anything so long as they’re the same size. It makes no more sense for the left and right bracket keys to be different sizes than it would for the left and right arrow keys. Why Apple chose to do this with the 11-inch Magic Keyboard layout back in 2020 is beyond me; why they’re sticking with it is even more baffling.3

All of Apple’s iPad keyboard covers are somewhat expensive. The Smart Keyboard Folio for the iPad Air and 11-inch iPad Pro costs $180; the Magic Keyboard for the same two iPads costs $300. But given that the $250 Magic Keyboard Folio pairs only with the lower-priced iPad 10, it feels particularly expensive. It’s more than half the price of the $450 64 GB iPad 10, and paired with the $600 256 GB iPad 10, the combo costs a not-so-low-priced $850. And for $250 it feels wrong that it doesn’t offer backlighting. I can see omitting backlighting if it were, say, $150. But $250 is undeniably a premium price for a keyboard and trackpad.

Weight-wise, the new Magic Keyboard Folio is effectively a wash compared with the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro and Air. The Magic Keyboard Folio weighs 589 grams; the Magic Keyboard 598 grams. (Roughly 1.3 pounds.)

It’s a bit disappointing that the Magic Keyboard Folio is only available in white. I’d think Apple would at least offer white and black, like it does with the Magic Keyboard. (But the Smart Keyboard Folio is only available in one color, black.)

As for why the new Magic Keyboard Folio only pairs with the iPad 10, and why the iPad 10 doesn’t pair with either the Magic Keyboard or Smart Keyboard Folio, if you look at the specs, you’ll notice that the iPad 10 is not the same size as the iPad Air. It’s exactly 1 mm larger in all three dimensions: height, width, and most noticeably, depth. 1 mm is not a lot, but it’s enough to spoil any chance at case/cover compatibility, at least for a precision-fit-minded company like Apple.

Miscellaneous

  • You can’t use a Pencil while charging it. This is true whether the Pencil is charging from the iPad itself or from a wall charger. For me this is merely a curiosity — it only takes 10-20 minutes to fully charge a fully depleted Pencil, and it only takes a few seconds to give it a charge to last 15 minutes. But it’s also just a curiosity to me that Apple’s Magic Mouse is designed to be unusable while charging, and people complain about that endlessly.

  • The very best new design element of the iPad 10 is the placement of the front-facing camera along the long “landscape” side, which puts it top center when propped laptop-style with a keyboard. I’m so used to my iPad Pro’s down-and-to-left camera placement in landscape that using this iPad with the camera in the “correct” location takes some getting used to. But this is clearly where all future iPad front-facing cameras should go (with the possible exception of the Mini).

  • Speaking of that camera placement, last week I speculated in a footnote that it might be difficult for Apple to move the front camera to the landscape side for the iPads Pro and iPad Air:

    Here’s a spitball: Maybe my front-facing-camera-placement and all-iPads-should-support-Pencil-2 gripes are in conflict. The long side where the new iPad has the front-facing camera is the same long side where the iPad Pros, iPad Air, and iPad Mini have the magnetic attachment point for the Pencil 2. Maybe they both can’t fit in the middle of the same side?

    A little birdie confirmed to me that this is in fact exactly the case. The internal mechanism for magnetically attaching, charging, and pairing Pencil 2 is both expensive and somewhat large. And cameras are surprisingly large internally once you count the flex connectors and everything else. You can actually see this for yourself by looking at a teardown of a Pencil-2-compatible iPad. It’s going to require significant new engineering to make future iPads that support Pencil 2 with the front camera on the landscape side. My guess — and this is truly a guess, with zero hints from any sources — is that Apple will swap the positions of the Pencil 2 connector and the front camera. But on current iPads Pro and Air, only the 12.9-inch Pro has room for a Pencil 2 on that side. On the 11-inch Pro and the Air, the side button gets in the way. Also: attaching a Pencil on that side, with the current iPad Pro and Air designs, might obstruct the speakers. Fun time to be an iPad hardware designer.

  • The Apple Pencil 1 has always shipped with a small adapter with female Lightning ports on both sides, to allow you to charge the Pencil by connecting it to a Lightning cable. If you use that adapter and a USB-C Lighting cable to connect the Pencil to the iPad 10, it charges, but it doesn’t pair. The only way to pair a Pencil with the iPad 10 is using the new USB-C adapter.

Conclusion

The new 10th-generation iPad is a solid and welcome addition. It looks good, feels good, comes in a selection of fun colors (Apple sent me yellow), and brings the just-plain-no-adjective iPad to the modern all-screen era. It’s a shame it only supports the new Magic Keyboard Folio and not also the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio, and a bit frustrating that it pairs only with the first-gen Apple Pencil. But it’s an outstanding iPad for anyone looking to spend less than the price of an iPad Air or Pro, and feels designed for the future. 


  1. Apple sent me a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro to test too, but my review of that model fits in this footnote: the M2 chip is about 15 percent faster than the previous version’s M1, and the new exclusive-to-the-2022-iPads-Pro hover effect for Apple Pencil is fun and cool and I think will prove indispensable to artists who draw on iPads.

    Why are the new iPad Pros mere speed bump updates, rather than more significant ones? Perhaps this was the plan all along — all-new hardware designs take years to develop and produce. But these new 2022 M2 iPad Pros are based on a hardware design from 2018, so the physical dimensions are unchanged in four years. So I sort of suspect that this might be a downwind effect of COVID — work from home, greatly reduced travel between California and China, and the global supply chain congestion. I.e. that if not for COVID and all the chaos that ensued, we’d have been due for a new iPad Pro design in 2022, but instead, it’s been postponed. But Apple very much wants to keep the iPad Pros up to date with M-series chips, so, this year, it’s just a speed bump. That’s just purely conjecture on my part though. ↩︎

  2. As is my wont, I wrote the entirety of the first draft of this review on the iPad itself, using the Magic Keyboard Folio. And as I always find, writing on an iPad is a great way to focus my attention on just one piece of long-form writing. It’s obvious why so many authors swear by them. But — for me, with my Mac-ingrained habits and expertise — it’s a lousy, unproductive way to do everything else I typically do on a workday: writing shorter Linked List posts, reading and dealing with dozens of Safari tabs, looking at Twitter, reading and sending email and iMessages, etc. Going back to my Mac to catch up on everything else other than writing this article feels as liberating as taking off a pair of mittens while attempting to assemble a Lego kit. And even for the writing of this article, I’ve seldom gone more than a few minutes between missing some sort of utility or custom tool/script I rely upon on MacOS and which can’t be replicated on iPadOS. Using any iPad for my work feels like riding a bicycle uphill; using a Mac feels like riding one downhill. The best it gets for me on iPad is feeling like the slope isn’t too steep, but it always feels like pedaling uphill to some degree. Your mileage, of course, may vary — it’s folly to ignore the fact that some people find themselves more productive, or perhaps just more comfortable, on an iPad than a Mac or Windows PC. But not me. ↩︎︎

  3. My review of the Magic Keyboard from April 2020 stands up very well, but I wish I’d complained about these mismatched bracket keys then. This mismatched key cap layout is so obviously wrong I just assumed it wouldn’t happen again. ↩︎︎