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.

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.

Microsoft’s Hard-Sell Pitch to Windows 10 Users With PCs Ineligible for Windows 11 

Tom Warren, writing at The Verge:

Microsoft is trying to entice Windows 10 users to upgrade to Windows 11 with fullscreen prompts 18 months before the end of support cutoff. Reddit user Woopinah9 spotted a notification “while in the middle of working,” where Microsoft thanks Windows 10 “customers” for their loyalty with a full-screen message and then explains the end of support date. You might be expecting a free upgrade as part of this interruption, but unfortunately for this Reddit user, their PC can’t upgrade to Windows 11, so it’s more “hey check out this cool thing we have! oh but you cant have it,” as one Redditor puts it.

Upon reading this lede, I was more or less thinking “Eh, so what?” Interruptions in the middle of working are annoying, so notifications like this should only appear after a restart or login, at the beginning of work session. That’s a legit gripe. But the basic gist — that Windows 10 is approaching end-of-life for updates, including security fixes, in 18 months, and your PC doesn’t meet the requirements for upgrading to Windows 11 — is something users should be notified about. And it’s not like Microsoft is pulling the plug on Windows 10 early — it shipped in July 2015.

But then I read on:

Surprisingly, Microsoft’s full-screen prompt doesn’t directly mention that consumers will be able to continue securely using the operating system beyond October 14th, 2025, if they’re willing to pay. Microsoft revealed last week that it will cost businesses $61 per device for the first year of Extended Security Updates (ESU) for Windows 10. This then doubles to $122 for the second year and then doubles again in year three to $244.

Microsoft hasn’t detailed ESU pricing for consumers yet, but the company did previously reveal it will offer these extended updates to consumers for the first time ever. Schools will be offered a big discount, with Microsoft offering a $1 license for year one, which then doubles to $2 for year two and doubles again to $4 for the third year. Hopefully, non-business users of Windows 10 will get similar discounts, but Microsoft says it will share details “at a later date.”

What a racket. If Microsoft has engineers working on Windows 10 updates, everyone should get them. It’s wild to think there are teams in Redmond concocting ways to squeeze customers out of money for updates to decade-old PCs.

The Verge’s Review Scale 

Re: my postscript wondering how in the world David Pierce’s scathing review of the Humane AI Pin resulted in a 4/10 score — I didn’t realize that The Verge has a page describing their review scale:

We assume the 10-point scale is relatively straightforward, but below is a short guide as to how we view the numbers. All review scores are whole points. We no longer use half points or decimals when scoring a product.

  1. Utter garbage and an embarrassment.
  2. A product that should be avoided at all costs.
  3. Bad — not something we’d recommend.
  4. Mediocre — has multiple outstanding issues.
  5. Just okay. This product works well in some areas but likely has significant issues in others.
  6. Good. There are issues but also redeeming qualities.
  7. Very good. A solid product with some flaws.
  8. Excellent. A superb product with minor or very few flaws.
  9. Nearly perfect.
  10. The best of the best.

Those are great descriptions and that’s a useful 10-point scale! But by these guidelines, the AI Pin should have gotten a 2. Maybe a 3, tops, but I’d say “should be avoided at all costs” fits. Definitely far short of 4’s “mediocre”.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve found The Verge’s review scoring incoherent.

David Pierce Reviews Humane’s AI Pin: ‘Nope. Nuh-Uh. No Way.’ 

David Pierce, mincing no words at The Verge:

That raises the second question: should you buy this thing? That one’s easy. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way. The AI Pin is an interesting idea that is so thoroughly unfinished and so totally broken in so many unacceptable ways that I can’t think of anyone to whom I’d recommend spending the $699 for the device and the $24 monthly subscription. [...]

As the overall state of AI improves, the AI Pin will probably get better, and I’m bullish on AI’s long-term ability to do a lot of fiddly things on our behalf. But there are too many basic things it can’t do, too many things it doesn’t do well enough, and too many things it does well but only sometimes that I’m hard-pressed to name a single thing it’s genuinely good at. None of this — not the hardware, not the software, not even GPT-4 — is ready yet.

Ever since Humane de-stealthed and revealed the AI Pin last July, the big question (for me at least) has been whether it’d actually be useful to own a gadget that does what the AI Pin is supposed to do. It’s seemed to me all along that almost everything the AI Pin does would be just as well, if not better, done by a phone with an LLM-powered voice assistant. But Humane has far bigger problems, because the AI Pin clearly doesn’t even do what it’s supposed to. Pierce:

I’d estimate that half the time I tried to call someone, it simply didn’t call. Half the time someone called me, the AI Pin would kick it straight to voicemail without even ringing. After many days of testing, the one and only thing I can truly rely on the AI Pin to do is tell me the time.

The more I tested the AI Pin, the more it felt like the device was trying to do an awful lot and the hardware simply couldn’t keep up. For one, it’s pretty much constantly warm. In my testing, it never got truly painfully hot, but after even a few minutes of using it, I could feel the battery like a hand warmer against my skin. Bongiorno says the warmth can come from overuse or when you have a bad signal and that the device is aggressive about shutting down when it gets too hot. I’ve noticed: I use the AI Pin for more than a couple of minutes, and I get notified that it has overheated and needs to cool down. This happened a lot in my testing (including on a spring weekend in DC and in 40-degree New York City, where it was the only warm thing in sight).

The battery life is similarly rough.

Pierce’s review is so brutal it’s uncomfortable at times. I don’t know where Humane goes from here but this launch might be impossible to recover from reputationally. It seems borderline criminal that they shipped it in this state. Here’s one more tidbit:

Me: “Play ‘Texas Hold ’Em’ by Beyoncé.”

The AI Pin: “Songs not found for request: Play Texas Hold ’Em by Beyonc\u00e9. Try again using your actions find a relevant track, album, artist, or playlist; Create a new PlayMusic action with at least one of the slots filled in. If you find a relevant track or album play it, avoid asking for clarification or what they want to hear.”

That’s a real exchange I had, multiple times, over multiple days with the AI Pin.

I thought perhaps the “\u00e9” thing was a CMS glitch, but no — watch Pierce’s corresponding video review and you’ll hear the AI Pin pronounce “Beyoncé” as “beeyonk-backslash-you-zero-zero-ee-nine”.

(Yet, somehow, the AI Pin garnered a 4/10 on The Verge’s review scale. How bad, how broken, would a product experience have to be to get a lower score? Would the reviewer need to be electrocuted by the device to rate it lower? “3/10, sent me to the ER with a nasty burn”? “1/10, it killed my spouse when she tried it”?)

Eclipses Should Be Celebrations of Science, Not Pseudoscience 

Narayana Montúfar, covering the astrological “impact” of Monday’s solar eclipse for Women’s Health:

So, what makes the Great American Eclipse of April 8, 2024 so special? Ancient astronomers — who, by the way, were also astrologers — believed that the geographical area where any eclipse was visible would energetically feel its effects the most.

Astrology fans like to say it’s all just harmless fun, but they also love to wave their hands and pretend their pseudoscience is even vaguely related to the hard science of astronomy. It’s a genuine travesty that the two words in English are so similar. I stumbled across this story earlier in the week and it’s been irritating me like a piece of popcorn stuck in my teeth ever since. Astrologers horning in on the excitement about the eclipse is scientific sacrilege.

Actual science is the great accomplishment of mankind. The antidote to ignorance, superstition, religious zealotry, and nonsensical beliefs in general. An eclipse exemplifies, to even the lay-est of laypeople, just how advanced modern science is. We were informed by astronomers, years in advance, exactly when and exactly where the eclipse would occur — down to the second, down to the meter — and everyone in the path of totality could literally see how exactly right those predictive calculations were. We should be celebrating and emphasizing this to laypeople, because these same scientists are the same people who’ve been telling us for decades that we’re destroying our climate with carbon emissions.

So here’s my “by the way” retort to Montúfar’s aside: how many astronomers today — not in “ancient” times — are also astrologers? Spoiler: the answer is fucking zero.

Mattel Makes New Version of Scrabble for Dum-Dums 

Jack Guy, CNN:

Now, an updated game named Scrabble Together adds “a second side to the board that is collaborative and faster-paced to make gameplay more accessible for anyone who finds word games intimidating,” according to a statement from Mattel published Tuesday.

Instead of competing, players collaborate to complete goal cards, and there are helper cards if assistance is required.

Mattel said it conducted research among British board-gamers that shows that competitiveness is perceived as declining in younger generations.

Being forced to play this version of the game sounds like the penalty one should suffer if they get caught cheating in the real version. Competition can be one of the most fun things in the world.

Automattic Acquires Beeper, Will Merge With Texts 

Eric Migicovsky:

If you haven’t heard of Beeper before, welcome! We make a universal chat app — one app to send and receive messages on 14 different chat networks. You might have also heard about Beeper Mini, our briefly available iMessage-on-Android app.

While the Beeper Mini/iMessage thing is where Beeper garnered, by far, the most publicity, it was always a sideshow from their primary goal of building a universal messaging app for multiple (14!) platforms. Think of it like a modern-day Adium.

In many ways, our journey has only just begun. Beeper has just over 115,000 users and was, until today, in beta. Given the state of the messaging landscape today, we believe there is a huge opportunity for us to push boundaries and create new experiences in chat. The majority of other chat apps have stagnated, entrenched in their positions, with no significant new players emerging since Discord’s launch in 2015. Given the state of the messaging world, we’ve long felt the need for a strong ally with the resources to support us on our quest. Automattic has a long history of putting user control and privacy first with open source, and great bilateral relationships with Meta, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Matrix and others that we hope can usher in a new era of collaboration. [...]

This is a big bet. Automattic is doubling down on chat after their acquisition last year of Texts.com, a messaging app with a similar mission. Our teams and products will merge, and I will take on the role leading the team as Head of Messaging. It will take a bit of time for us to integrate and combine forces under the Beeper brand. We’ve got big plans!

I’d describe Texts.com as having not just a similar mission as Beeper, but the exact same mission. I’ve been using Texts on my Mac as my primary interface to Twitter/X DMs for over a year (since Twitter shut down third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific). I don’t get a ton of Twitter DMs, and I get fewer now than ever before, but Texts offers a better interface to them than Twitter/X itself does. I also have my Instagram, WhatsApp, and Signal accounts connected to Texts. If I used any of those platforms heavily, I’d rely on their dedicated apps. But I don’t, so a universal messaging inbox is better. I’m more interested in having one central place to check than anything else for those platforms.

Now that I’ve tried Beeper for Mac (connecting Twitter/X, WhatsApp, Signal, Instagram, and Slack accounts) — it’s remarkable how similar it is to Texts. They’re both Electron/React apps, and both suffer from a lot of Electron-isms. (What in the world is going on with the keyboard shortcuts in the contextual menu for the text editing field?) Both are just big bloated Electron web apps pretending, by appearance, to be Mac apps. I feel like they should be merged, not that we’re losing a competition that offered a choice between two different approaches. Beeper might have some unique tech but Texts is by far a better app on the Mac.

As for iMessage, here’s Matt Mullenweg:

A lot of people are asking about iMessage on Android… I have zero interest in fighting with Apple, I think instead it’s best to focus on messaging networks that want more engagement from power-user clients. This is an area I’m excited to work on when I return from my sabbatical next month.

Smart.

OJ Simpson Dies From Cancer at 76 

Man, I hope this doesn’t throw a kink into the Liam Neeson-starring The Naked Gun reboot that’s shooting this year.

TSMC Will Build Third Arizona Fab After Winning $6.6B in CHIPS Funding 

Ashley Belanger, reporting for Ars Technica:

The US Department of Commerce has proposed another round of CHIPS Act funding up to $6.6 billion for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which President Joe Biden hopes will “support the construction of leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing facilities right here in the United States.”

With this award — which includes additional funding up to $5 billion in low-cost government loans — TSMC has agreed to increase funding in Arizona fabrication plants to $65 billion. That’s the largest foreign direct investment in a new project in US history, the Commerce Department said, and it will fuel construction of TSMC’s third Arizona fab. [...]

But analysts told the Financial Times that the US is still moving too slowly to become a global chip leader. One engineer told FT that by 2028, “Nvidia and other AI chip vendors are likely to have migrated to 2nm” process technology, ahead of the TSMC Arizona fabs reaching that goal. In January, TSMC Chairman Mark Liu told investors that Taiwan-based fabs “will start 2nm mass production next year” and that the company has “plans to build ‘multiple’ more fabs operating on that technology” in Taiwan, FT reported.

The goal should be to jump ahead of Taiwan, not merely catch up. I suspect that’s just not remotely feasible, though. Still though, any domestic chip fabrication is better than no domestic chip fabrication.

From the Annals of Underpromising and Overdelivering: Apple’s Timing for the Mac’s Transition to Apple Silicon 

In the previous item I mentioned Microsoft’s “the boy who cried wolf” problem regarding its upcoming Surface devices powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips. To wit: Microsoft has been trying to promote ARM-based Surface laptops and tablets — and ARM-based Windows PCs in general — for 12 years. Each time they do, they promise that the performance will be great. And each time so far, that’s turned out to be wrong. So their problem now isn’t just whether the performance — including x86 emulation — really will be good with these new Snapdragon X Elite chips. It’s whether anyone will believe them even if performance is great. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” goes the saying.1 Microsoft is way past “twice” at this point.

Compare and contrast with Apple’s transition of the Mac to Apple silicon. They could have made the transition years earlier than they did, but chose to wait until the advantages were overwhelming — in performance, efficiency, and price. Here’s the section on performance from my review of the first-generation iPad Pros in 2015, five years before the M1 Macs debuted:

The iPad Pro is without question faster than the new one-port MacBook or the latest MacBook Airs. I’ve looked at several of my favorite benchmarks — Geekbench 3, Mozilla’s Kraken, and Google’s Octane 2 — and the iPad Pro is a race car. It’s only a hair slower than my year-old 13-inch MacBook Pro in single-core measurements. Graphics-wise, testing with GFXBench, it blows my MacBook Pro away. A one-year-old maxed-out MacBook Pro, rivaled by an iPad in performance benchmarks. Just think about that. According to Geekbench’s online results, the iPad Pro is faster in single-core testing than Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 4 with a Core-i5 processor. The Core-i7 version of the Surface Pro 4 isn’t shipping until December — that model will almost certainly test faster than the iPad Pro. But that’s a $1,599 machine with an Intel x86 CPU. The iPad Pro starts at $799 and runs an ARM CPU — Apple’s A9X. There is no more trade-off. You don’t have to choose between the performance of x86 and the battery life of ARM.

We’ve now reached an inflection point. The new MacBook is slower, gets worse battery life, and even its cheapest configuration costs $200 more than the top-of-the-line iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is more powerful, cheaper, has a better display, and gets better battery life. It’s not a clear cut-and-dry win — MacBooks still have more RAM (the iPad Pro, in all configurations, has 4 GB of RAM, although Apple still isn’t publishing this information — MacBook Pros have either 8 or 16 GB), are expandable, and offer far more storage. But at a fundamental level — CPU speed, GPU speed, quality of the display, quality of the sound output, and overall responsiveness of interface — the iPad Pro is a better computer than a MacBook or MacBook Air, and a worthy rival to the far more expensive MacBook Pros.

The entire x86 computer architecture is living on borrowed time. It’s a dead platform walking. The future belongs to ARM, and Apple’s A-series SoC’s are leading the way.

So at a time when Microsoft was already three years into pushing underpowered ARM-based Windows laptops, Apple had ARM chips that really were competitive with Intel’s x86 offerings, but waited five years to build an overwhelming, undeniable advantage before making the switch on the Mac.

By 2018 it was incredibly obvious that Apple would make the switch on the Mac, but it was still two years away. When you ask people to switch from something tried and true to something new, “good enough” isn’t good enough. The new thing needs to be something like an entire order of magnitude better in at least one way, and preferably multiple ways.


  1. Or, if you prefer, George W. Bush’s poetic rendering of the adage: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” God bless old W — we all know how hard it is to put food on your family↩︎

Microsoft Preparing New Push for ARM-Powered Windows Laptops 

Tom Warren, reporting for The Verge:

Microsoft is getting ready to fully unveil its vision for “AI PCs” next month at an event in Seattle. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that Microsoft is confident that a round of new Arm-powered Windows laptops will beat Apple’s M3-powered MacBook Air both in CPU performance and AI-accelerated tasks.

Keep in mind when this event takes place that raw CPU performance isn’t what makes Apple silicon great. It’s performance-per-watt, along with the efficiencies of the entire OSes being optimized for the architecture.

After years of failed promises from Qualcomm, Microsoft believes the upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors will finally offer the performance it has been looking for to push Windows on Arm much more aggressively. Microsoft is now betting big on Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors, which will ship in a variety of Windows laptops this year and Microsoft’s latest consumer-focused Surface hardware.

And the next version of Bluetooth might offer rock-solid reliability.

Microsoft is so confident in these new Qualcomm chips that it’s planning a number of demos that will show how these processors will be faster than an M3 MacBook Air for CPU tasks, AI acceleration, and even app emulation. Microsoft claims, in internal documents seen by The Verge, that these new Windows AI PCs will have “faster app emulation than Rosetta 2” — the application compatibility layer that Apple uses on its Apple Silicon Macs to translate apps compiled for 64-bit Intel processors to Apple’s own processors.

Faster x86 emulation than Rosetta 2 would be quite the achievement, but is it really a bragging point? Three-and-a-half years into the Mac’s Apple silicon era, we’re so far into the transition that almost every app is now native. Are there any remaining pro Mac apps, where performance matters, that still only run under Rosetta?

Whereas on Windows, there’s relatively little ARM-native software, despite the fact that Microsoft started pushing ARM-based Surface devices back in 2012 — 12 years ago. Rosetta emulation is already a non-issue for Mac users in 2024, but x86 emulation might remain forever a problem for Windows. Windows laptop users would surely agree that they’d like longer battery life and quiet fans (if not fanless laptops, like the MacBook Air), but they seemingly have no desire to buy ARM-based machines.

So I guess the favorable comparisons to Rosetta 2 aren’t about being competitive versus the Mac, but instead are an attempt to reassure skeptical Windows users that, this time, ARM-based Surface laptops really will perform just fine even running x86 software. That’s condemning both of all existing ARM-based PCs and the state of x86 chips from Intel and AMD. The implicit message might be that the best way to run x86 Windows software is with an ARM-based chip. That’s certainly the case for Apple silicon Macs — they’re so fast and so efficient that right out of the gate they ran Intel-compiled apps as fast — or faster — than Intel-based MacBooks could. But Microsoft has a real “boy who cried wolf” problem on this front — they’ve made this promise before and it hasn’t panned out.

Google Expands in-House Chip Efforts for AI Data Centers 

Miles Kruppa and Asa Fitch, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

Google is making more of its own semiconductors, preparing a new chip that can handle everything from YouTube advertising to big data analysis as the company tries to combat rising artificial-intelligence costs.

The new chip, called Axion, is a type of chip commonly used in big data centers. It adds to Google’s efforts stretching back more than a decade to develop new computing resources, beginning with specialized chips used for AI work. Google has leaned into that strategy since the late 2022 release of ChatGPT kicked off an arms race that has threatened its dominant position as a gateway to the internet.

The chip efforts promise to reduce Google’s reliance on outside vendors and bring it into competition with longtime partners such as Intel and Nvidia, analysts said. Google officials said they didn’t view it as a competition. “I see this as a basis for growing the size of the pie,” said Amin Vahdat, the Google vice president overseeing the company’s in-house chip operations.

Alan Kay’s adage remains evergreen: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”


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. ↩︎︎


Apple’s New iPhone Ad: ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ 

I saw this new iPhone 15 commercial a few times over the weekend, watching basketball. (Congrats to the South Carolina women and UConn men, both of whom won championships convincingly.) The gist of the commercial is that you shouldn’t worry about deleting photos to free up storage, because modern iPhones have plenty of space. The commercial-ending tagline as our protagonist stops deleting photos and resumes shooting new ones of his adorable dog: “Lots of storage for lots of photos / Relax it’s iPhone 15”.

It’s true that the iPhones 15, 14, and 13 all start with 128 GB of storage, which I think is the perfect baseline storage capacity. Only the so-old-it-still-has-a-home-button 3rd-gen iPhone SE starts at 64 GB. Especially when you’re talking about photos — which is what this commercial is about — 128 GB is a lot of on-device storage.

But this commercial made me want to yell at my TV each time it came on: “The problem is iCloud storage, not on-device storage!” The free tier of iCloud remains just 5 GB, and the $1/month paid tier offers just 50 GB, which may not be enough to back up even a 64 GB iPhone SE. I’m an outlier — 660 GB in iCloud Photos alone — but my wife, a casual/occasional photographer, has 55 GB in iCloud Photos. Even people who don’t shoot many photos in a year can wind up with large photo libraries because they’ve been using iPhones for 10–15 years.

I’d much rather have constrained storage on-device, with ample storage online, than the other way around. iOS does a great job in this situation with the (on by default) “Optimize iPhone Storage” option in Settings → Photos. But the other way around is surely the situation for many, if not most, iPhone users: more space on device than storage in iCloud. And no amount of cleverness in iOS can protect a user with un-backed-up photos and videos if they lose or break their iPhone.

Am I missing something? It feels like this new commercial is just whistling past the single biggest shortcoming in the Apple ecosystem.

Google Launches Upgraded Find My Device Network for Android 

Erik Kay, writing on Google’s company blog:

Today, the all-new Find My Device is rolling out to Android devices around the world, starting in the U.S. and Canada. With a new, crowdsourced network of over a billion Android devices, Find My Device can help you find your misplaced Android devices and everyday items quickly and securely. Here are five ways you can try it out. [...]

Starting in May, you’ll be able to locate everyday items like your keys, wallet or luggage with Bluetooth tracker tags from Chipolo and Pebblebee in the Find My Device app. These tags, built specifically for the Find My Device network, will be compatible with unknown tracker alerts across Android and iOS to help protect you from unwanted tracking. Keep an eye out later this year for additional Bluetooth tags from eufy, Jio, Motorola and more.

Sounds like Google isn’t planning to make its own tracker tags.

A separate post by Dave Kleidermacher on the Google Security Blog gives a high-level overview of the platform’s privacy and security features.

Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring DF last week. Kolide’s Shadow IT report found that 47% of companies let unmanaged devices access their resources, and authenticate via credentials alone.

Even with phishing-resistant MFA, it’s frighteningly easy for bad actors to impersonate end users — in the case of the MGM hack, all it took was a call to the help desk. What could have prevented that attack (and so many others) was an un-spoofable form of authentication for the device itself.

That’s what you get with Kolide’s device trust solution: a chance to verify that a device is both known and secure before it authenticates. Kolide’s agent looks at hundreds of device properties; their competitors look at only a handful. What’s more, Kolide’s user-first, privacy-respecting approach means you can put it on machines outside MDM: contractor devices, mobile phones, and even Linux machines.

Without a device trust solution, all the security in the world is just security theater. But Kolide can help close the gaps.

The ‘xz’ Back Door 

Dan Goodin, writing for Ars Technica:

The compression utility, known as xz Utils, introduced the malicious code in versions ​​5.6.0 and 5.6.1, according to Andres Freund, the developer who discovered it. There are no known reports of those versions being incorporated into any production releases for major Linux distributions, but both Red Hat and Debian reported that recently published beta releases used at least one of the backdoored versions — specifically, in Fedora Rawhide and Debian testing, unstable and experimental distributions. A stable release of Arch Linux is also affected. That distribution, however, isn’t used in production systems. [...]

Several people, including two Ars readers, reported that the multiple apps included in the HomeBrew package manager for macOS rely on the backdoored 5.6.1 version of xz Utils. HomeBrew has now rolled back the utility to version 5.4.6. Maintainers have more details available here.

There are several notable things about this hack. One is that it was years in the making — “Jia Tan”, the developer who added the back door, had been contributing legit patches to the xz project for years. Another is that it was very subtle: the ultimate goal was a back door in OpenSSH but the attacker(s) put their code in a compression library that was sometimes a dependency for another library that was itself only sometimes a dependency of OpenSSH. Yet another is that it seems nearly miraculous that it was discovered — Andres Freund, the Microsoft engineer who uncovered it, only became suspicious when he noticed that his SSH connections initiated from the command line went from taking about 0.2 seconds to 0.7 seconds. It pays to be picky sometimes!

Question 1: How do we keep this from happening again?

Question 2: How do we know similar back doors haven’t been successfully put in place already?

More from Goodin here, including a good overview diagram.

Evan Boehs: “Everything I Know About the XZ Backdoor”.

Amazon Ditches ‘Just Walk Out’ Checkouts at Its Grocery Stores 

Maxwell Zell, writing for Gizmodo:

Amazon is phasing out its checkout-less grocery stores with “Just Walk Out” technology, first reported by The Information Tuesday. The company’s senior vice president of grocery stores says they’re moving away from Just Walk Out, which relied on cameras and sensors to track what people were leaving the store with.

Just over half of Amazon Fresh stores are equipped with Just Walk Out. The technology allows customers to skip checkout altogether by scanning a QR code when they enter the store. Though it seemed completely automated, Just Walk Out relied on more than 1,000 people in India watching and labeling videos to ensure accurate checkouts. The cashiers were simply moved off-site, and they watched you as you shopped.

It was The Information, too, that broke the story about how labor-intensive “Just Walk Out” was, reporting last May:

For its part, Amazon still relies on a significant amount of human staffing to power Just Walk Out behind the scenes, according to a person who has worked on the technology. Amazon had more than 1,000 people in India working on Just Walk Out as of mid-2022 whose jobs included manually reviewing transactions and labeling images from videos to train Just Walk Out’s machine learning model, the person said. The reliance on backup humans explains in part why it can take hours for customers to receive receipts after walking out of a store, the person said.

Molly White, back in January, regarding the purported AI-generated George Carlin comedy special:

Need to start keeping a list of all the times some big supposed display of bleeding edge technology turns out to just be A Guy.


More on the EU’s Market Might

A couple of follow-up items regarding my column the other day, in which I idly speculated about whether the DMA might lead Apple (and/or perhaps Meta and Google) to pull back from the EU market.

First, a correction/clarification. Based on Six Colors’s transcript of Apple’s Q1 2024 analyst call back in January, I quoted Apple CFO Luca Maestri as saying, in response to a question asking whether investors should be concerned that DMA compliance will hinder services revenue, “Just to keep it in context, the changes apply to the EU market, which represents roughly 7% of our global absolute revenue.”

The word absolute was a transcription error, however.1 Listen to the published recording of the call, and it’s clear that what Maestri actually said was specifically in answer to the question: “Just to keep it in context, the changes apply to the EU market, which represents roughly 7% of our global App Store revenue.” (My thanks to Oliver Reichenstein for the timestamped pointer to the recording.)

That’s an important correction that, as ever, I’m happy to make, but it doesn’t really change my speculation. I wrote:

It’s unclear whether Maestri was saying that the EU accounts for 7 percent of Apple’s worldwide App Store revenue, or 7 percent of all revenue, but I suspect it doesn’t matter, and that both are around 7 percent. App Store revenue ought to be a good proxy for overall revenue — there’s no reason to think EU Apple users spend any less or any more in the App Store than users around the world.

It’s certainly possible that EU citizens account for significantly more (or even less) than 7 percent of Apple’s overall global revenue, but it strikes me as very unlikely that the EU’s share of Apple’s overall revenue is significantly different from its share of App Store revenue. I struggle to come up with any explanation for why the EU might account for only 7 percent of App Store revenue but significantly more (or less) of Apple’s overall revenue. Why would overall revenue from any region differ significantly from the App Store revenue from the same region, on a percentage basis? But it is an open question. (I hope an analyst asks Cook and Maestri about it directly on the next quarterly call in May.)


Second, I missed that the European Commission, alongside its announcement that it had opened non-compliance investigations against Google, Apple, and Meta under the Digital Markets Act, also separately published remarks from its two leaders, executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager and commissioner Thierry Breton.

From Vestager’s remarks, which were delivered in English:

The third one relates to the objective of the DMA to open closed ecosystems to enable competition at all levels. Under Article 6(3) of the DMA, gatekeepers have an obligation to enable easy uninstallation of apps and easy change of default settings. They must also display a choice screen. Apple’s compliance model does not seem to meet the objectives of this obligation. In particular, we are concerned that the current design of the web browser choice screen deprives end-users of the ability to make a fully informed decision. Example: they do not enhance user engagement with all available options. Apple also failed to make several apps un-installable (one of them would be Photos) and prevents end-users from changing their default status (for example Cloud), as required by the DMA.

I don’t know what she means by “depriv[ing] end-users of the ability to make a fully informed decision” or “they do not enhance user engagement with all available options”. I can only guess that she’s complaining that Apple’s current browser choice screen doesn’t actively encourage users to pick a browser other than Safari? But it doesn’t encourage users to choose Safari, either, and the choices are listed in randomized order each time. The iOS 17.4 choice screen just says what a default web browser is, and then offers a list of the most popular browsers in the user’s country.

As I wrote this week, there aren’t many un-installable apps on iOS. I might be missing some, but the list I came up with: Settings, Camera, Photos, App Store, Phone, Messages, and Safari. Vestager makes clear in her remarks what wasn’t clear in the EC’s announcement of the investigation: they have a problem with Photos. If they follow through with a demand that Photos be completely un-installable (not just hidable from the Home Screen, as it is now), this would constitute another way that the EC is standing in as the designer of how operating systems should work. Photos is not just an app on iOS; it’s the system-level interface to the camera roll. This is integrated throughout the entire iOS system, with per-app permission prompts to grant differing levels of access to your photos. Vestager is saying that to be compliant with the DMA, Apple needs to allow third-party apps to serve as the system-level image library and camera roll. That is a monumental demand, and I honestly don’t even know how such a demand could be squared with system-wide permissions for photo access. This is product design, not mere regulation. Why stop there? Why not mandate that Springboard — the Home Screen — be a replaceable component? Or the entire OS itself? Why are iPhone users required to use iOS? Why are iOS users required to buy iPhones?

Then we get to Breton’s remarks, the first half of which were delivered in his native French. Here are two translations of his French remarks, from the iOS Translate app and from Google Translate. To my reading, there are no significant semantic differences between the two translations. Here’s the bulk of it, amalgamating the best from both translations:

And I will tell you a simple but important thing: in 18 days, the DMA has moved the lines of the digital giants more than in the last 10 years.

It’s not me who says it, but developers and users who finally see concrete changes and openness to give everyone the opportunity to gain market share, for example for browsers.

In 18 days, therefore, already very concrete results. Why?

Because it is an internal market regulation. This is where the revolution operates.

You know how much I fought for the DMA to be a so-called “domestic market” regulation, ex ante therefore. Because it is the best way to promote our continent, Europe, which is an open continent, but according to our conditions.

And a market of 450 million customers is simply unthinkable for anyone not to be there.

Where the digital giants could pay fines of several billion dollars without batting an eye — by the way, when they had to pay them, after long years of procedures, which was not systematic, far from it... — today none of them can afford not to be in our market.

This is the reality of the balance of power of the world in which we operate.

So does everyone play the game perfectly the first time? We are entitled to doubt it of course and we are here to doubt by definition in a way I would say.

At the very least, to check.

And that’s what we’re doing today.

Breton’s remarks in French were, in some ways, far zestier than his subsequent remarks in English. Breton lays bare the EC’s belief that they hold all the cards — that it is “unthinkable” for any of the designated gatekeepers not to conduct business in the EU, and that “none of them can afford not to be in our market.”

Perhaps he’s right, and I’m all wet for even speculating that one or more of the gatekeepers will pull one or more of their products from the EU market as a result of the DMA’s onerous demands and the threat of huge fees. But I, for one, consider it very thinkable. (Especially for Meta, as you’ll see next.)

From Breton’s remarks delivered in English:

First, today we are opening a case against Meta. We suspect that Meta is breaching the DMA rules on data combination [Article 5(2) DMA].

You all heard about Meta’s “Subscription for No Ads” model. With this new model, users have to pay if they want to use Facebook and Instagram without targeted advertising. And this has forced millions of users across Europe into a binary choice: “pay or consent”. And if you consent, Meta can use your data, generated for example on Messenger, to target ads on Instagram.

But the DMA is very clear: gatekeepers must obtain users’ consent to use their personal data across different services. And this consent must be free! We have serious doubts that this consent is really free when you are confronted with a binary choice. With the DMA, users who do not consent should be provided with a less personalised alternative of the service, for example financed thanks to contextual advertising. But they do not have to pay.

The EC’s problem here is that when faced with the clear choice between using Meta’s platforms free of charge with targeted advertising, or paying a monthly fee, the overwhelming majority of people choose to use the service free of charge with targeted ads. Just because typical people overwhelmingly prefer free services with targeted ads doesn’t mean that a paid subscription isn’t a fair alternative. Here’s Margrethe Vestager herself, back in 2018, in an interview with Jorge Valero of Euractiv:

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.

A provoking thought indeed, but apparently this was only worth exploring until they found out that EU citizens would overwhelmingly consent to free services with targeted ads. Privacy fundamentalists can’t seem to accept that most people don’t share their fervor that consensual targeted advertising is inherently wrong. Most people see it as a good deal.

The obvious solution would be for the European Commission to pass a law banning targeted advertising. But I suspect they haven’t done that, and won’t, because so many publishers in the EU use targeted advertising (along with “pay or OK” subscription offerings). They don’t want to eliminate all targeted advertising, just Meta’s (and Google’s), but that’s hard to put into written law while claiming not to be targeting specific American companies.

It’s certainly possible that Meta can devise ways to serve non-personalized contextual ads that generate sufficient revenue per user.2 But if they can’t, the rubber hits the road on Breton’s belief that none of the designated gatekeepers “can afford not to be in our market”. Why exactly would Meta choose to remain in the EU if they’re forced to offer their services for pennies on the dollar (or in this case, cents on the euro)? Out of the goodness of Mark Zuckerberg’s heart?

Consider too that if Meta goes along with this interpretation by the EC of the DMA’s requirements, and offers a vastly-less-lucrative free-of-charge option to use Instagram and Facebook without targeted ads in the European Union, there’s nothing to stop regulators and legislators around the world from demanding the same. Conceding to this might mean not just generating only a fraction of Meta’s current revenue in the EU, but generating only a fraction of its current revenue worldwide.

Breton — after casting a stink eye at Google for presenting its own hotel, flight, and shopping recommendations in web search results, and at Amazon for promoting its own Amazon-branded products (a shocking practice for a retailer — good luck ever finding Kirkland products at Costco, Up & Up at Target, or, say, Ol’ Roy dog food at Walmart, right?) — concludes with a threat:

Should we have indications of ineffective compliance or possible circumvention of the DMA, we will not hesitate to make use of the DMA’s full enforcement toolbox, including innovative tools that did not exist in antitrust enforcement such as the retention orders. And if our investigations conclude that there is lack of full compliance with the DMA, gatekeepers will face heavy fines.

We have a duty: ensuring full compliance with the DMA. And we will do all we can to create an online space that is fair and competitive to the benefit of all consumers and businesses operating in our Single Market.

Turns out, though, that actual users don’t agree that removing longstanding features from Google search results is somehow for their benefit. I’m guessing they’d see even less benefit if entire popular services and products were removed from the EU market. 


  1. Jason Snell uses OpenAI’s amazing Whisper to generate the first draft of these transcripts, but he does proofread them. But neither he nor I thought “absolute” sounded weird in that context. Snell, of course, has now corrected the transcript. ↩︎

  2. One obvious solution would be to show more ads — a lot more ads — to make up for the difference in revenue. So if contextual ads generate, say, one-tenth the revenue of targeted ads, Meta could show 10 times as many ads to users who opt out of targeting. I don’t think 10× is an outlandish multiplier there — given how remarkably profitable Meta’s advertising business is, it might even need to be higher than that. But showing that many ads would be such a bad experience that I suspect it would land Meta right back where they are today with the paid subscription option, with the EC declaring it non-compliant because users don’t want it. ↩︎︎


The EU’s Share of Apple’s Global Revenue

A few readers have asked about my speculation that Apple, along with the other DMA-designated gatekeepers (none of which are European companies of course), might reasonably pull out of the relatively small EU market rather than risk facing disproportionately large fines from the European Commission. The DMA allows the EC to fine gatekeepers up to 10 percent of global revenue (which would hit a hardware-based company like Apple particularly hard) for a first offense, and up to 20 percent for subsequent fines. But the EU represents only 7 percent of Apple’s revenue. That figure comes from CFO Luca Maestri on Apple’s Q1 2024 analyst call:

Amit Daryanani, Evercore: Fair enough, and then as a follow up, you folks have implemented a fair bit of changes around the apps for in Europe post the DMA implementation there. Can you just touch on what are some of the key updates and then Luca, does NetApp at all, do you see it having any significant impact financially to your services or the broader Apple P&L statement.

[Remarks from Tim Cook omitted.]

Luca Maestri: Yes, and Amit, as Tim said, these are changes that we’re going to be implementing in March. A lot will depend on the choices that will be made. Just to keep it in context, the changes apply to the EU market, which represents roughly 7% of our global absolute App Store revenue.

[Update 29 March: See transcription correction here. Maestri said “App Store revenue”, not “absolute revenue”.]

It’s unclear whether Maestri was saying that the EU accounts for 7 percent of Apple’s worldwide App Store revenue, or 7 percent of all revenue, but I suspect it doesn’t matter, and that both are around 7 percent. App Store revenue ought to be a good proxy for overall revenue — there’s no reason to think EU Apple users spend any less or any more in the App Store than users around the world.

There’s some “7 percent sounds way too low” confusion that stems from the fact that Apple, in its quarterly consolidated financial statements, breaks results into five geographic regions: Americas, Europe, Greater China, Japan, and “Rest of Asia Pacific”. “Europe” accounts for somewhere around 25 percent of Apple’s global revenue. That’s the number most people think about. But there are a significant number of high-GDP countries in Europe that aren’t in the EU — the UK (most famously), Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, Norway, and Ukraine. More importantly, Apple’s “Europe” includes the entire Middle East.

So EU member states account for only 25–30 percent of Apple’s revenue from “Europe”, and just 7 percent globally. 7 percent is significant, to be sure, and in addition to users, there are of course many iOS and Mac developers in EU countries. I really don’t know what Apple pulling out of the EU would even look like, but it would be ugly. Could they merely stop selling the iPhone there but continue selling other products? Would that create a massive gray market for iPhones imported from outside the EU? How would Apple deal with the hundreds of millions of existing iPhone owners in the EU? I have no idea. It would be a mess, to be sure, but the DMA has already made doing business in the EU a mess for Apple and the other designated gatekeepers. But one can make the case — as Eric Seufert has — that American companies have to at least consider the fact that doing business in the EU isn’t worth the risk of fines so vastly disproportionate to the revenue they generate in the EU.

And it’s not like the risk is merely a first-offense fine of up to 10 percent of annual global revenue and a single second fine of up to 20 percent — there’s no limit to how many times the EC can fine a gatekeeper for non-compliance with the DMA’s arbitrary and vague rules.

The EC just fined Apple $2 billion for violating article 102(a) of their rules on competition, for hindering Spotify (a European company — surely a coincidence) in the music streaming market. The entirety of article 102(a):

Any abuse by one or more undertakings of a dominant position within the internal market or in a substantial part of it shall be prohibited as incompatible with the internal market in so far as it may affect trade between Member States.

Such abuse may, in particular, consist in:

(a) directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions;

Where “unfair” is never defined. That’s as specific as the law gets. Note too that the base penalty for this infraction, per the EC’s 2006 guidelines, was €40 million, but the EC raised the fine by a factor of 45× to €1.8 billion because the guidelines aren’t binding:

In addition, the Commission decided to add to the basic amount of the fine an additional lump sum of €1.8 billion to ensure that the overall fine imposed on Apple is sufficiently deterrent. Such lump sum fine was necessary in this case because a significant part of the harm caused by the infringement consists of non-monetary harm, which cannot be properly accounted for under the revenue-based methodology as set out in the Commission’s 2006 Guidelines on Fines. In addition, the fine must be sufficient to deter Apple from repeating the present or a similar infringement; and to deter other companies of a similar size and with similar resources from committing the same or a similar infringement.

Judging from the EC’s actions and statements, there’s no reason to believe that the EC will not pursue maximum fines under the DMA.1 


  1. In addition to weighing revenue generated in the EU vs. the risk of fines of 10–20 percent of global revenue, the designated “gatekeepers” are already paying significant penalties in terms of engineering resources. Every software engineer working on features related to DMA compliance is an engineer not working on new features or improving existing features for the non-EU world. I suspect Apple is currently spending more than a commensurate-with-revenue 7 percent of engineering resources on DMA compliance features and APIs. ↩︎