Yes, Virginia, NFT’s Are a Scam 


Data from the Block reveals a weekly traded value of around $80 million in July 2023, just 3% of its peak back in August 2021. So what happened? NFTs had a bull run then crashed. Hard. We now find ourselves in the midst of a bear market for NFTs, with numerous projects now struggling to find buyers following a pessimistic market outlook on their future value. [...]

Of the 73,257 NFT collections we identified, an eye-watering 69,795 of them have a market cap of 0 Ether (ETH).

This statistic effectively means that 95% of people holding NFT collections are currently holding onto worthless investments. Having looked into those figures, we would estimate that 95% to include over 23 million people whose investments are now worthless.


(Via Kevin Drum, who quips: “We all like to think we’ve gotten smarter over the years, but at least the tulip bubble folks ended up with some pretty flowers.”)

My Current Action Button Shortcut: Mute Toggle When Face Down, Otherwise Launch Camera 

In my review, I wrote about creating a Shortcuts workflow for the iPhone 15 Pro Action button that showed a menu on screen offering options to launch the Camera app or toggle silent mode. After publishing, I came up with something better:

  • If the phone is face down or in portrait mode upside-down (like, say, if it’s in my pocket), toggle Silent mode.
    • When going from silent mode off to on, vibrate the phone for feedback.
  • Otherwise, launch the Camera app.

Still requires Sindre Sorhus’s free Actions utility from the App Store, for the ability to do different things based on the current state of silent mode. (I only want the phone to vibrate when going from sound on to sound off.)

iCloud links for the two shortcuts:

Relay FM’s Live Podcastathon for St. Jude 

12 hours of nonstop fun and nonsense to raise money for one of the best causes in the entire world: curing childhood cancer and helping families affected by it. They’re already approaching half a million dollars raised this year. Don’t be cheap: give generously.

‘Warning: Update Your iPhone 15 to iOS 17.0.2 Before Transferring Data From Another iPhone’ 

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

If you are unboxing an iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro, or iPhone 15 Pro Max today, make sure to update the device to iOS 17.0.2 before transferring data to the device from another iPhone, or else you might encounter issues.

iOS 17.0.2 is only available for the iPhone 15 lineup. Apple says the update fixes an issue that may prevent transferring data directly from another iPhone during the device setup process, so installing it is very important. The update should appear during the setup process, or it can be installed via the Settings app under General → Software Update if you proceeded to set up the device as new and transfer data later.

Oof, not what you want on launch day: some new iPhones running the factory-shipped version of iOS 17 are getting stuck on the Apple logo when attempting a device-to-device transfer, and then require a complete software restore. For what it’s worth, I went through the device-to-device transfer process multiple times with my review units and never hit this bug, but that’s just luck. The good news is a new iPhone 15 should offer to install the 17.0.2 update as soon as you connect it to Wi-Fi during the setup process, and that screen explicitly warns you not to proceed without updating if you plan to use device-to-device transfer.

iPhone 15 Eve 

1:00am photos outside Apple Store Walnut Street here in Philadelphia (mirrored on Threads). Video killed the radio star; pre-order killed the campouts.

As good a time as any to remind you that my recommended way of migrating from an old iPhone to a new one is the direct device-to-device transfer.

Craptacular Is More Like It

Aaron Tilley and Yang Jie, reporting for The Wall Street Journal under the not-at-all-clickbait-y headline “Inside Apple’s Spectacular Failure to Build a Key Part for Its New iPhones” (News+ link):

The new iPhone models unveiled last week are missing a proprietary silicon chip that Apple had spent several years and billions of dollars trying to develop in time for the rollout. The 2018 marching orders from Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook to design and build a modem chip — a part that connects iPhones to wireless carriers — led to the hiring of thousands of engineers. The goal was to sever Apple’s grudging dependence on Qualcomm, a longtime chip supplier that dominates the modem market.

The above lede sets the stage correctly, and if anything, undersells the contention between Apple and Qualcomm. Qualcomm does dominate the modem chip market, but that might even be putting it too mildly — they’re effectively the only game in town for good 5G cellular modem chips. And Apple’s reliance upon Qualcomm for cellular modems is more than just begrudged — it is despised. Even if Apple and Qualcomm got along, Apple would have a problem with its reliance upon a single company for a core technology. But Apple and Qualcomm do not get along, at all.

But everything that follows the above lede is dubious at best, and in parts, a nonsensical and rather transparent hit piece. It reads like it was fed to Tilley and Jie by Qualcomm, and they bought it hook, line, and sinker — despite obvious glaring problems.

Apple had planned to have its modem chip ready to use in the new iPhone models. But tests late last year found the chip was too slow and prone to overheating. Its circuit board was so big it would take up half an iPhone, making it unusable.

This simply makes no sense at all. It’s an impossible scenario. It sounds like something from an anonymous troll on Twitter/X, not a report in The Wall Street Journal. But it was reported by the Journal, so let’s ponder just how ridiculous this one paragraph is.

First, the timeline just doesn’t add up. We’re supposed to believe not just that Apple was only testing the feasibility of a modem chip for the iPhones 15 “late last year”, but also that the chip “was so big it would take up half an iPhone, making it unusable”. It’s true that a modem chip that “takes up half an iPhone” would be unusable, but so why would such a chip even be considered for possible use in this year’s phones? It could be the best-functioning 5G modem in the world — faster performance and more efficient — and it simply couldn’t be used if it were that big. It’s not even close. Look at the teardown from an iPhone 14 to see how small Qualcomm’s X65 modem chipsets are.

It’s certainly possible that “late last year” Apple tested a prototype for an Apple-designed cellular modem, and that prototype was large, performed slowly, and ran too hot. That’s how component development works: functionality comes first in early large prototypes, miniaturization comes after. You don’t have to be a systems engineer to see how that makes sense. Why waste time on miniaturization for a component that isn’t known to work well enough?1

But there’s no way they were testing such a thing for this year’s iPhones. The lead time on hardware is years not months. And because Apple needs to produce hundreds of millions of new iPhones each year, the lead time for iPhone hardware designs is longer, not shorter, than most products. Apple not only knows today the cellular modem that will be in next year’s iPhone 16 models, they probably already have decided on the modems, along with just about everything else, for the iPhone 17 two years from now.

Apple — which hasn’t publicly acknowledged its modem project, much less its shortcomings — is estimated to have paid more than $7.2 billion to Qualcomm last year for the chips.

Apple press release from 2019: “Apple to Acquire the Majority of Intel’s Smartphone Modem Business.” I’m not sure how they could acknowledge the project more clearly than that.

Back to the Journal:

Engineering teams working on Apple’s modem chip have been slowed by technical challenges, poor communication and managers split over the wisdom of trying to design the chips rather than buy them, these people said. Teams were siloed in separate groups across the U.S. and abroad without a global leader. Some managers discouraged the airing of bad news from engineers about delays or setbacks, leading to unrealistic goals and blown deadlines.

Here’s where the Journal’s story starts to smell like a planted narrative from Qualcomm. We can’t know that Qualcomm is behind this, but we do know that Qualcomm threw shade at Apple’s modem efforts with a press release about a renewed deal between the companies the day before the iPhone announcement event. How better to follow that up than a new story painting a picture of technical ineptitude and managerial chaos inside Apple’s modem team, set to appear the day before the iPhones 15 hit customers’ hands? This narrative especially suits Qualcomm if they’re concerned about their own engineering talent defecting.

“Just because Apple builds the best silicon on the planet, it’s ridiculous to think that they could also build a modem,” said former Apple wireless director Jaydeep Ranade, who left the company in 2018, the year the project began.

The Journal’s first named source is a former Apple employee who admittedly left the company before they even began their own modem project, and his keen insight is that a company that is good at one thing might not be good at an altogether different thing.

Apple isn’t expected to produce a comparable chip until late 2025, people familiar with the matter said. There could be further delays, these people said, but the company believes it will eventually succeed.

If Apple isn’t expecting to produce a 5G modem chip comparable to Qualcomm’s until “late 2025”, why would they have been testing a chip in 2022 hoping to put it in today’s iPhone 15? A project that is not yet four years old suddenly slipped an additional four years behind schedule? The story refutes itself.

Apple found that designing a microprocessor, essentially a tiny computer to run software, was easy by comparison. Modem chips, which transmit and receive wireless data, must comply with strict connectivity standards to serve wireless carriers around the world.

“These delays indicate Apple didn’t anticipate the complexity of the effort,” said Serge Willenegger, a former longtime Qualcomm executive who left the company in 2018 and doesn’t know the current state of the Apple chip. “Cellular is a monster.”

The second named source is a retired executive who spent his entire career at Qualcomm, and whose keen insight is to emphasize that the field where Qualcomm is the undisputed industry leader is very difficult.

Apple’s push to build more of the various semiconductors used in its products stretches back more than a decade. In 2010, the company began using its own processing chips in iPhones and iPads. The chips helped Apple outperform many of its Android rivals, which relied on chips from Qualcomm, Taiwan-based MediaTek and other makers.

Apple silicon outperforms “many Android rivals”? Please do share the ones it does not outperform. But those A-series chips are “easy”.

The company in 2020 began replacing processor chips from Intel, used for years in Mac computers, with a proprietary chip that allowed its laptops to run faster and generate less heat, improvements that helped boost flagging Mac sales. The Apple chip also saved the company an estimated $75 to $150 on every computer.

Apple’s universally hailed M-series chips are certainly helping Mac sales, but it’s wrong to say Mac sales were “flagging” on Intel. In fact, the final quarter of Mac sales before the debut of Apple silicon models — the third calendar quarter of 2020 — was, at the time, the best sales quarter the Mac had ever had. This, despite the fact that the Apple silicon transition had been announced in June that year at WWDC. The Mac was breaking all-time sales records before the switch.

Apple code-named its modem chip project Sinope, after the nymph in Greek mythology who outsmarted Zeus. It began taking shape in 2018, following the directive of Cook, Srouji, and others for Apple to build its own wireless components, said Chris Deaver, a former Apple human-resources executive and co-founder of BraveCore consultants.

Deaver, the third named source in the Journal report, worked at Apple in human resources from 2015-2019, and co-authored an upcoming book whose pre-order description reads, “From the thought leaders who helped Tim Cook transition Apple from ‘thinking different’ to ‘working different together’ — a timely guide that helps leaders be more creative and creatives be better leaders”. You will never guess the color palette of the book jacket.2

Srouji flew to Munich to greet Apple’s newly acquired Intel wireless employees in December 2019. He told a gathering that the modem-chip project would be a game changer for Apple, the next step in the company’s evolution, said people who watched the meeting. He said the chip would distinguish Apple devices, as Apple’s processors had done.

As Apple filled the project’s ranks with Intel engineers and others hired from Qualcomm, company executives set a goal to have the modem chip ready for fall 2023. It soon became apparent to many of the wireless experts on the project that meeting the goal was impossible.

So it was in 2019, not “late last year”, that Apple hoped for its own cellular modems to be suitable for the iPhones 15 this year. Again, this is all from the same WSJ report.

Apple found that employing the brute force of thousands of engineers, a strategy successful for designing the computer brain of its smartphones and laptops, wasn’t enough to quickly produce a superior modem chip.

The implication here is that Apple silicon is designed by the proverbial infinite monkeys typing on infinite typewriters — in complete contradiction of Brooks’s Law.

Modem chips are trickier to make than processing chips because they must work seamlessly with 5G wireless networks, as well as the 2G, 3G and 4G networks used in countries around the world, each with its own technological quirks. Apple microprocessors run software programs designed solely for its iPhones and laptops.

Again and again, this story emphasizes that SoC’s — comprising CPUs, GPUs, neural processing units, and more — are easy, but cellular modems are uniquely difficult. The nonsensical spin in this paragraph is that cellular modems are made difficult by the variety of networks around the world, and Apple’s CPUs are made easier by the fact that they need only execute software “designed solely for its iPhones and laptops”. Let’s leave aside the fact that this clunky phrasing omits form factors like watches, tablets, and desktop computers, and instead consider that Apple silicon is so performant that, via Rosetta 2 translation (technology that I’m sure was also easy to make), the slowest Apple silicon Mac ever made (an M1 MacBook Air with 8 GB RAM) runs software compiled for Intel processors faster than any Intel Mac Apple ever shipped. Apple silicon not only doesn’t exclusively run software “designed” for it, it runs software compiled for Intel chips better than Intel’s own chips do.

Apple executives who didn’t have experience with wireless chips set tight timelines that weren’t realistic, former project engineers said. Teams had to build prototype versions of the chips and certify they would work with the many wireless carriers worldwide, a time-consuming job.

The second sentence here implies that Apple’s modem project executives didn’t expect that they’d need to build prototypes or that worldwide carrier certification would be time-consuming — because I’m sure Apple had no difficulty getting the iPhone certified across all supported carriers prior to the start of this project in 2019.

Executives better understood the challenge after Apple tested its prototypes late last year. The results weren’t good, according to people familiar with the tests. The chips were essentially three years behind Qualcomm’s best modem chip. Using them threatened to make iPhone wireless speeds slower than its competitors.

The company scratched plans to use the chips in Apple’s 2023 models, and the planned rollout was moved to 2024. Eventually, Apple executives realized the company wouldn’t meet that goal either. Apple instead opened negotiations with Qualcomm to continue supplying the modem chips. Apple’s licensing deal with Qualcomm expires in April 2025, though it can be extended for another two years.

I cannot emphasize enough how goofy the idea is that “late last year” Apple was still hoping to use its own cellular modems in this year’s iPhones.

Here’s what the Journal is declaring a “spectacular failure”: High-end cellular modems are essential components that are very difficult to engineer, and Qualcomm owns the entire market. Apple bought Intel’s second-tier modem business for $1 billion in 2019 and set an ambitious goal of producing its own modems that match or surpass Qualcomm’s by 2023. They missed that best-case-scenario target and thus are still buying modems from Qualcomm and will continue to for at least the next year or two. Not only is this not a “spectacular failure”, not a word of it is news.

Apple has the cash and the desire to keep pursuing its modem chip, according to people involved with the project. “Apple isn’t going to give up,” said Edward Snyder, a managing director of Charter Equity Research and a wireless industry expert. “They hate Qualcomm’s living guts.”

Finally, a named source in this cursed story who said something accurate. 

  1. For example, consider this passage from a February report by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman about Apple’s progress to invent a blood glucose monitor for Apple Watch:

    Apple’s system — more than 12 years in the making — is now considered to be at a proof-of-concept stage, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the project is confidential. The company believes the technology is viable but needs to be shrunk down to a more practical size.

    Engineers are working to develop a prototype device about the size of an iPhone that can be strapped to a person’s bicep. That would be a significant reduction from an early version of the system that sat atop a table.

    That’s how prototypes work. But no one is proposing, with a straight face, that an iPhone-sized blood glucose monitor might go in next year’s Apple Watch. ↩︎

  2. Deaver announced the book on LinkedIn a month ago, and one of the comments on his post reads, “Thank you for the early peek into your book Chris 🙏🏽😊 It’s very insightful 👏🏽👌🏽”. That comment is from ... Jaydeep Ranade, the second named source in the WSJ report. It’s enough to make a cynical person think that Aaron Tilley fishes for disgruntled former employees willing to be named sources by just clicking around on LinkedIn. But I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that one of the four named sources in the story happened to comment on the LinkedIn post of another. ↩︎︎

Microsoft Xbox Chief Phil Spencer Wanted to Buy Nintendo in 2020 

Michael McWhertor, reporting for Polygon on what I consider the most eye-catching of the revelations from Microsoft’s botched document upload to the FTC:

But Xbox head Phil Spencer said in 2020 — a month before Microsoft announced its plan to acquire ZeniMax and subsidiary Bethesda Softworks — that his No. 1 pick for an acquisition or merger is Nintendo. In emails leaked as part of the Federal Trade Commission’s case to block the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard deal in court, Spencer named Nintendo as “THE prime asset for us in Gaming.”

Spencer discussed the possibility of an acquisition or merger with Nintendo in an email with Microsoft executive Takeshi Numoto. Spencer said that he’d “had numerous conversations with the [leadership team] of Nintendo about tighter collaboration and feel like if any US company would have a chance with Nintendo we are probably in the best position.”

Two things stood in Microsoft’s way, according to Spencer: “The unfortunate (or fortunate for Nintendo) situation is that Nintendo is sitting on a big pile of cash,” and “they have a [board of directors] that until recently has not pushed for further increases in market growth or stock appreciation.”

I can’t imagine things going well for Nintendo — a company whose entire existence is based on their unique style, design, and taste — under Microsoft, a company infamous for having no taste.

And the translation for that last paragraph quoted above is that Nintendo is (a) profitable and (b) run by a board of directors who are interested not in a quick buck, but instead on stewarding the company’s continuing long-term success as a distinct and independent company.

Update: I either forgot this or never knew it, but Microsoft inquired about acquiring Nintendo back around 1999, before committing to designing and building its own hardware for the original Xbox.

The Verge: ‘Apple’s New FineWoven iPhone Cases Are Very Bad’ 

Allison Johnson, The Verge:

If I’m putting one of these cases on my phone, I’m inevitably going to scratch it on accident with a jagged fingernail edge, or it’s going to come into contact with my car keys. And when you scratch FineWoven, the results are seemingly permanent. When we first inspected the cases after picking them up at Apple Park, Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel picked one up and ran his fingernails across it five times — and that was all it took to leave a trail of indelible scuffs on the fabric. The scratches are still there a week later, no matter how many times I’ve tried “buffing” it out by rubbing my finger over it.

I’m trying to imagine what this case would be like after a year of being subjected to the dust and lint at the bottom of my purse or the stray scratches from nails and keys. God help me if my toddler ever managed to put his grubby hands on it, which he absolutely would. I just don’t see any way that this material ages gracefully. The leather cases had their problems, but when leather gets old, it at least looks nice — a scuffed, dusty fabric case will not.

I’m curious what real-world usage will look like, but that fingernail test doesn’t seem fair when comparing FineWoven to leather. One fingernail scratched across one of Apple’s leather cases or wallets will leave a permanent mark too. Perhaps it’s the case that such wear looks good on leather but bad on FineWoven.

Judging from my inbox, third-party leather case makers are very excited about Apple’s decision no longer to use it.

Update: Also worth noting is that Apple’s new FineWoven Magnetic Link Apple Watch bands are not yet available — you can’t even place a pre-order for a new watch that comes paired with one, nor a standalone watch strap. The FineWoven Modern Buckle straps are available, but not the Magnetic Link. Weird?

Google Has No Repair Option for Cracked Pixel Watch Screens 

Victoria Song, writing for The Verge:

Several Pixel Watch owners have vented their frustrations about the inability to replace cracked screens, both on Reddit and in Googlesupport forums. The Verge has also reviewed an official Google support chat from a reader who broke their Pixel Watch display after dropping the wearable. In it, a support representative states that Google “doesn’t have any repair centers or service centers” for the device.

“At this moment, we don’t have any repair option for the Google Pixel Watch. If your watch is damaged, you can contact the Google Pixel Watch Customer Support Team to check your replacement options,” Google spokesperson Bridget Starkey confirmed to The Verge. [...]

That warranty leaves owners on their own to deal with damage caused by drops or accidental strikes, and according to Google’s Store, there is no option for an extended warranty to go with a Pixel Watch. If your Pixel Watch is accidentally damaged, that’s it.

Google is not serious about hardware. It’s that simple. I hope someday they get serious.

‘Really Specific Stories’, With Yours Truly 

Martin Feld’s Really Specific Stories is a podcast series “about tech podcasting, its devoted community of producing and listening fans, and the value of a medium based on open RSS”. I never find it comfortable talking about my work, but Feld is a lovely and gracious interviewer. Previous guests include Jason Snell, Stephen Hackett, and the entire ATP triumvirate. (Did you know there’s a third guy on ATP? I learn something every day.)

Michigan Woman Rescued From Outhouse Toilet After Climbing in to Retrieve Apple Watch 

The Associated Press:

A woman was rescued Tuesday from an outhouse toilet in northern Michigan after she climbed in to retrieve her Apple Watch and became trapped. The woman, whose name was not released, lowered herself inside the toilet after dropping the watch at the Department of Natural Resources boat launch at Dixon Lake in Otsego County’s Bagley Township, state police said Wednesday in a release.

First responders were called when the woman was heard yelling for help. The toilet was removed and a strap was used to haul the woman out. “If you lose an item in an outhouse toilet, do not attempt to venture inside the containment area. Serious injury may occur,” state police said in the release.

Tim Cook had a good line in the keynote last week about people’s attachment to their iPhones and Apple Watches: “If you left either one at home, I bet you’d go back to get it.”

Home, yes. Outhouse, no.

The iPhones 15 Pro (and iPhones 15)

Blah blah blah, something something something about how most people don’t upgrade their phones every year, so we ought not review new ones based on year-over-year comparisons. But, I get a new iPhone every year. A lot of you probably do too. So let’s just lean into a direct comparison between the iPhones 15 Pro and last year’s 14 Pro. After just under a week testing them, with the iPhone 15 Pro Max as my primary, I’ve got four reasons to consider upgrading.


I’m putting this first, even above the camera. Camera improvements are objective. The differences between titanium and the previous material for top-tier iPhones, polished stainless steel, are in many ways subjective. But the reduction in weight and better feel in hand are just so dramatic. Everyone uses their phone in different ways. There are some people out there who never take photographs or shoot video with their phones. But everyone carries and holds their iPhone. Making it a nicer object in hand is a huge win for a handheld tool.

We shy away from admitting it, at least of late, but gadget lust is real. People are drawn to exquisite objects and premium materials. New cars, new cameras, new watches (or newly-purchased old watches). Phones have been playing this game since long before Apple entered the industry. If you’re old enough, you remember the first time you saw a Motorola Razr. The way they snapped shut. The cool buttons. I remember thinking, Damn that’s cool. And before that era, this was cool.

I don’t think there’s any reason Apple used stainless steel for six generations — 2017’s iPhone X through last year’s 14 Pros — other than the fact that it looked cool, and looked premium. As I wrote last year, reviewing the iPhones 14 Pro, “It certainly looks nice that it’s polished to a high gloss, but steel is just so damn heavy.”

Our long national nightmare of too-heavy iPhones is over.

Titanium is an upgrade in every way. First, it makes for dramatically lighter devices. I’ve been testing all four new iPhone models, Pro and non-pro alike, and while the Pro models are a few grams heavier than the corresponding non-pro models using aluminum frames, the weight difference in hand is negligible. To compare cameras side-by-side, I’ve been walking around with three phones — the new iPhone 15 Pro Max and regular 15 Pro, and my year-old 14 Pro — and I had to put cases made from distinct materials on the phones to tell them apart in my pocket, because the new 15 Pro Max feels about the weight of last year’s regular-size 14 Pro. It’s not the same weight, but it’s surprisingly close: 221g vs. 206g. The new regular-size 15 Pro weighs just 187g, compared to the aluminum iPhone 15 at 171g. But those numeric weight values don’t do justice to the feel. These new titanium iPhones Pro just feel strikingly lighter and better-balanced than the stainless steel iPhone Pro models they replace.

I also strongly prefer the way these new titanium frames both look and feel to the touch. My review unit 15 Pro Max is in natural titanium, and the 15 Pro is blue. Both are quite handsome. (And the blue titanium is a close match to the Midnight MacBook Airs.) Polished stainless steel is nice, of course, but it never jibed with my conception of the iPhone as a tool, like a traditional camera. You don’t see high-end cameras made from stainless steel — too heavy, too polished. The finish on the titanium frames of the iPhones 15 Pro is just terrific. It’s elegant, not industrial, but it conveys a certain let’s get to work seriousness. For pure hand feel alone, I’ve preferred the non-pro iPhones in the 11–14 models. Now, I clearly prefer the feel of the 15 Pro models. It’s the best feel of an iPhone in hand since the lovely iPhone 5 and 5S, way back when iPhones were little slivers of a thing a decade ago. Looks-wise, the textured titanium is somewhat reminiscent of the brushed stainless steel of the iPhones 4 and 4S.

The buttons — side, volume, and Action — all have great clickiness and no wiggle. The button edges are crisp but not sharp.

Even if you, like many people, put your iPhone in a case the day you buy it and never see or feel the titanium again until the day you take it out of the case to trade it in for a new one, you win, because your iPhone 15 Pro will be so much lighter and better balanced. The titanium look and feel is a subjective win for those of us who go caseless most or even just much of the time. But it’s an undeniable win in weight reduction even for the always-cased.

Apple first used titanium in a product back with the 2001 PowerBook G4, the laptop that defined the basic roundrectilinear shape and metallic finish of Apple’s laptops to this day. That machine still looks remarkably modern for a 22-year-old computer, but it didn’t take long for Apple to abandon titanium for aluminum. Apple’s material science chops weren’t ready for titanium then — those PowerBooks were painted, and the paint flaked over time. I’d argue they aged well, developing a patina, as watch collectors say, but they aged, and aged quickly.

Apple is fundamentally a computer company, but materials engineering is an essential arm of the company. How many years did we listen to Jony Ive-narrated introductory videos talking about aluminium and unibody construction? We take unibody laptop frames for granted now — they’re just the way almost all high-quality laptops are made across the entire industry — but it was a revolutionary technique at the time of introduction.

Apple is proud enough of its use of titanium in the iPhones 15 Pro that an entire segment of the keynote last week was presented by Isabel Yang, a materials science engineer. It’s a significant breakthrough, especially at the scale with which Apple needs to produce all iPhone models, particularly the Pro ones. I’ve long suspected that the Edition models of Apple Watch have been a testing ground for materials they might someday use in high-production-quantity devices. Ceramic made for arguably the most beautiful watches Apple has ever made, but seemingly didn’t go anywhere — it was never even rumored as a potential material for the iPhone. The titanium Edition watches from Series 5–7, however, strike me as the devices that paved the way for last year’s Apple Watch Ultra and, now, the kings of the Apple lineup, the iPhones Pro.

It’s a rousing success that makes for the best feel in hand, by far, of the modern (post-X) iPhone era, and is unmatched by any competing phone maker. Top-tier Android phones are made from aluminum, Apple’s mid-tier material. Titanium is better functionally — it’s stronger — and just as importantly, it’s just fucking cool.


There are three major new camera features in the iPhone 15 models this year.1 First is a significant upgrade to the main camera (the one that covers the ranges 1×-2× optically). Second, Portrait mode has seen its biggest year-over-year improvement since the feature debuted. Third, and exclusive to the 15 Pro Max, is a new 5× telephoto camera, with a 120mm equivalent field of view. (The regular 15 Pro’s telephoto remains at 3×/77mm; the non-pro iPhones 15 have no telephoto lens.)

Main camera first. Last year Apple introduced a new 48 megapixel sensor for the 14 Pro main camera. It still produced 12MP images by default, clustering the 48MP sensor into a matrix of “quad pixels”. Each 2×2 square of 4 native pixels on the sensor was used to create 1 pixel of the image. This technique traded detail for extra light sensitivity. You could opt to shoot ProRAW to get 48MP images with the iPhone 14 Pros, but that really is a professional feature. I consider myself a semi-serious prosumer photographer, but when it comes to shooting formats, I shoot very simply — using the built-in Camera app, and the default format (HEIF). I care a lot about my photos, but I really do just point and shoot.

Last year the iPhone 14 Pro offered four “lenses” from the three back cameras: 0.5×, 1×, 2×, and 3×. 0.5× was the ultra wide hardware camera. 3× was the telephoto. Both the 1× and 2× “lenses” were from the same main camera, though. At 1× the camera system quad-binned the entire 48MP camera sensor; at 2× it used a 12 MP crop from the center of the camera sensor. The result is that for 2× photos, you still got a 12MP image, with far more detail and resolution than you’d get from shooting at 1× and then cropping to the center of the image in post.

This year with the iPhones 15 Pro, the ultra wide and telephoto situations are similar, except that on the Pro Max the telephoto is 5× instead of 3×. But the “Photonic Engine” image processing pipeline for the main camera on both 15 Pro models is more advanced this year. Here’s how Apple describes it:

The Photonic Engine uses a new 48MP frame in our image pipeline, enabling iPhone to combine the best of low light — 12MP images with large quad pixels — with the best of detail — a 48MP image with individual pixels. This approach is an industry first, and it enables a new default resolution for the Main camera — a 24MP image with more detail, great low-light performance, and all the features users expect from an iPhone camera — Deep Fusion, Smart HDR, Live Photos, and zero shutter lag.

Take photos at 1× and compare to 12MP photos of other phones —  you see more details when you zoom in, especially when looking at hair, skin, or the texture of clothing.

Effectively, this is a next-generation step into computational photography. With quad pixels, you can easily see how the iPhone 14 Pro generated 12MP images from a 48MP sensor. It’s grade school division: 48 ÷ 4 = 12. But there is no 24MP sensor in the 15 Pro main camera. The Photonic Engine takes several images from the sensor for each photo, including a 48MP one for detail, and a 12MP quad-pixel one for low-light and noise reduction, then computationally fuses them together to produce a single 24MP image. Apple is having its cake and eating it too, merging the benefits of a sensor with many small pixels with the benefits of a sensor with fewer large pixels. You don’t need to know that this is happening, you just get more detail in your photos from the main camera.

I mentioned above that both the 1× and 2× “lenses” on the iPhone 14 Pro use the same physical main camera. With the iPhones 15 Pro, Apple has added additional virtual lenses:

  • 1.0× ≈ 24mm
  • 1.2× ≈ 28mm
  • 1.5× ≈ 35mm
  • 2.0× ≈ 48mm

When shooting HEIC or JPEG (i.e. when you’re not shooting ProRAW), all focal ranges from 1.0 to 1.9 produce 24MP images. It’s effectively using computational photography to do optical zoom in this range from a the fixed-length main camera. In a certain sense it’s cropping, but it’s far removed from any simplistic cropping. There’s nothing magic about these particular stops between 1× and 2× other than the fact that 28 and 35mm equivalents have long been very popular focal lengths in traditional photography. You can “zoom” to any focal length between 1–1.9× and you’ll still get a 24MP image: 1.4×, 1.7×, 1.9×, whatever. 1.2× and 1.5× get special treatment in the Camera app simply because 28 and 35mm equivalents are so popular, and I believe Apple’s image processing pipeline is optimized for these lengths. [Update: I originally wrote that you get 24MP images from 1.0–2.0×, but that was slightly mistaken — once you go from 1.9× to 2.0×, resolution drops to 12MP, presumably because at 2.0× the iPhone is using a precise center crop of the 48MP sensor.]

By default, when you repeatedly tap the 1× focal length button in the Camera app viewfinder, it cycles between 1.0/1.2/1.5×, and momentarily shows you the traditional equivalent after switching (24/28/35mm, respectively). You can adjust these options in the Camera section of the Settings app, including changing the default from 1× to 1.2× or 1.5×. For example, to simplify your options, you might consider turning off the preset for 1.2×/28mm, so that the 1× button in the viewfinder just toggles between 1.0 and 1.5×. I’m not sure what I want to do yet, personally, but I’m leaning toward keeping all three available, but changing my default to 1.5×/35mm, which I consider generally more natural looking for scenes and more flattering to human subjects.

You could always get the equivalent of these focal lengths by “zooming” to 1.2× or 1.5× in the Camera app, but now you keep more native resolution from the image sensor.

It’s also worth noting that this improvement to the Photonic Engine comes to the non-pro iPhones 15 too, on their main camera, which also now sports a 48MP sensor. However, the non-pro iPhone 15 models don’t get the feature that treats 1.2×/28mm and 1.5×/35mm as discrete “lenses”. And the hardware story is not as simple as “This year’s non-pro iPhone 15 gets the 1× camera system from last year’s iPhone 14 Pro”. The 1× lens on the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus is a 26mm equivalent focal distance; the 1× lens on the iPhone 14 Pro (and this year’s 15 Pro models) is a 24mm equivalent. In my brief testing, the 1× hardware lens on the iPhone 15 models is noticeably inferior (or, if you prefer, less pro) to that on the Pro models, including last year’s iPhone 14 Pro. Shooting side-by-side in the same lighting, images from the iPhone 15 look flatter and lack vibrancy and contrast compared to those from the iPhone 15 (or 14) Pro. The camera system on the non-pro iPhones 15 seems fine, but if you care about photography, you want to get an iPhone Pro. It’s not just that the iPhones Pro have a telephoto lens and the non-pro ones don’t; the images from the main camera are noticeably better on iPhones Pro.

Another significant improvement this year is a much-improved Portrait mode. Apple claims improvements that boost detail and dynamic range, but the main improvement is that you no longer need to manually select Portrait mode before capturing. You can simply capture images using the regular still photo mode, and if a person, dog, or cat is detected, Portrait mode will be available via an “ƒ” button in the viewfinder, and you can toggle it off and on while shooting, and make adjustments to the background blur and focal distance in post. You get the same on-the-fly Portrait mode with the front-facing camera, too, on all iPhone 15 models.

I expect this to make a significant practical difference in my photography. In many situations, shooting candid pictures of friends and family, I just take out my iPhone, open the Camera app, frame the image, and start shooting — quickly and discreetly. When the moment feels fleeting, I don’t feel like I have time to futz with a manual switch to Portrait mode. A quick check of my Photos library shows that out of about 2,800 photos I shot with the iPhone 14 Pro in the last year, 233 were in Portrait mode. Those are some of my favorite photos of the last year, but I expect to wind up with way more Portrait mode photos this year, thanks to the dynamic on-the-fly application of Portrait mode. It’s a can’t-lose feature, because if you’re ever unhappy with the way a picture looks in Portrait mode, you can simply turn it off in post, and you’ll wind up with the same image you would have had even if this automatic Portrait mode feature didn’t exist.

Lastly, now seems like a good place to reiterate that these new features all work with zero shutter lag. To date this has been a hard and fast rule for Apple’s Camera team — everything happens instantaneously, and can be previewed live in the viewfinder before you capture. It’s intriguing to ponder what features Apple could enable if they allowed iPhones to “develop” photos for a few seconds after capture, but I think I understand why they don’t. Once you allow some features to take post-capture processing time, it’s a slippery slope to an overall camera experience that feels slow and laggy. The iPhone camera has always felt fast and snappy, and the iPhone 15 lineup is no exception.

That brings us to the elephant in the room: the 5× lens exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. If you prefer a larger iPhone, well, you’re in luck, because you get that lens with the iPhone size you prefer. But if, like me, you prefer the regular-size iPhones, but, all things considered, would prefer the longest available telephoto lens, you have a decision to make.

Qualitatively the new 5× lens seems about as good as the recent 3× telephoto iPhone Pro lenses. Which is to say it’s fine, for a telephoto lens on a tiny (relative to “real” cameras) phone, but it’s nowhere near as good as the main camera. The 3D sensor-shift module seems to work like a charm to keep things stable — a real challenge at focal lengths like this. If you find yourself frequently wishing for more than 3× optical zoom with your current iPhone camera, you’re probably going to like this 5× lens a lot.

Me, though, I just don’t shoot many telephoto lens pictures or videos. Again, looking at my personal Photos library (and using Smart Albums to sort images by camera and lens), out of roughly 2,800 photos I’ve taken with my iPhone 14 Pro, only 170 used the 3× telephoto lens. As a point of reference, 417 were shot with the ultra wide 0.5× lens, which includes all macro shots. Tallying up my lens usage for the last year reiterates my gut feeling: my ideal hypothetical iPhone might be an iPhone 15 Pro Mini, even if that meant having only two camera lenses instead of three, if those two cameras were the same 0.5× ultra wide and 1× main cameras as the actual iPhone 15 Pro models.

The biggest potential problem I might have with that hypothetical iPhone 15 Pro Mini of my dreams would be battery life, not the missing telephoto lens. I do occasionally use the telephoto lens I have, and I’m sure I will again this year, but not enough to justify an overall larger phone. Your mileage, of course, may vary. Some people love shooting with long lenses. Me, though, even when shooting with standalone cameras that use interchangeable lenses, I’ve only ever bought prime lenses in the 28mm to 50mm range. I zoom with my feet.

One hitch with the iPhone Pro Max having a 5× telephoto lens is that if you really want a 3-4× focal length for framing, it needs to be digitally zoomed from the main camera. In my testing this doesn’t seem to make much difference, but more talented photographers might disagree. I tend to think that when I do want a long lens with extra reach, I might as well go really long.

In past years when the Plus-sized iPhones have had exclusive camera lenses, those lenses made their way down to the regular-size iPhones in the next model year. So I suspect Apple’s plan is for next year’s iPhone 16 Pro and Pro Max to both have 5× telephoto cameras based on this tetraprism design. I hope so, but if that doesn’t happen and 5× remains exclusive to the Max, so be it. The main camera is where the action is for me — and that main camera has seen another terrific year-over-year upgrade with the 15 Pro models.

Action Button

It’s a little thing, literally, but I dig the new Action button.

A decade ago I was bewildered by the fact that of all the things Android phone makers had shamelessly copied from the iPhone, the mute switch wasn’t one of them. But then the iPad dropped its physical mute switch, and I could see the trade-off inherent to a physical switch: software control. With a physical mute switch, silent mode can’t be controlled by software, because software can’t flip the physical switch. (Carmakers, to name one common example, face this same dilemma with dashboard knobs and switches.) If a hardware button, knob, or switch has state, then that statefulness can’t be controlled by software unless the software can push, twist, or flip the physical controls.

If you just want a mute toggle, the new Action button is, I think, as good if not better than the old mute switch. No matter what action you assign to the button, it activates with a long-press, but that long-press delay is pretty short — it’s just long enough to avoid accidental activations, and is short enough that it never feels slow. When assigned to toggling silent mode, you get a quick series of haptic taps when it goes into silent mode, and one haptic tap when it goes out of silent mode. It’s easy to tell the haptics apart, if you’re using it without looking at it (like, say, if your iPhone is in your pocket or purse).

Because I’ve been spending a lot of time testing the new cameras, I’ve spent most of the last week with the Action button assigned to the Camera app. For many years now Apple has offered a shortcut to jump into the Camera app from the lock screen. There’s a button you can long-press in the lower-right corner of the lock screen, but the quickest way is to swipe right-to-left anywhere on the lock screen. I went into this thinking I might leave my Action button set to toggle silent mode, on the grounds that we already have these shortcuts for jumping into the Camera app, but one thing that’s become clear to me these past few days is that assigning the Action button to Camera is super useful when you want to jump to the Camera app while your iPhone is unlocked because you’re already using it. It’s cool and useful to have a button that always jumps you right into Camera no matter what state your iPhone is in.

So at the moment, I’m a bit torn between assigning my Action button to act as a mute switch or as a Camera launcher. Which brings me to another intriguing option: Shortcuts.

I created a simple workflow in Shortcuts that shows a menu with three options: Photo, Video, and Mute/Unmute. The Photo and Video options jump you to the corresponding shooting mode in the Camera app, and the Mute/Unmute option reverses the current setting for Silent mode. Shortcuts has built-in actions to enable and disable Silent mode on the device, but doesn’t have a built-in way to get the current Silent mode state. For that, my shortcut uses an action from the excellent free (and aptly-named) Actions utility by Sindre Sorhus. When Silent mode is engaged, the command is “🔊 Unmute”; when Silent mode is off, the command is “🔇 Mute”. (Now that there isn’t a physical switch to inspect, when Silent mode is engaged, the iPhones 15 Pro show a bell-with-line-through-it icon in the status bar, in the top left corner next to the time or carrier name. But it felt clever to make the menu item in my shortcut dynamically reflect the current state.) Here’s the shortcut, if you’re interested, and here’s a screenshot showing it in, err, action.

Is a menu like this a good use of the Action button? I’m not sure yet, but it sure is fun. The iPhones 15 Pro now have a dedicated hardware button that anyone can program using Shortcuts. I love it. One DF reader emailed me last week wondering if you can assign the Action button to act like an old-school Home button. You can, with Shortcuts. I can’t wait to see what others come up with.

[Update: I made a better version of this shortcut. Instead of showing a menu you need to choose from, it opens the Camera app unless the phone is face down or upside down, in which cases it toggles the state of Silent mode. I’ve been using it this way for two days now and love it.]


The overwhelming consensus seems to be that Apple only switched from Lightning to USB-C with the iPhones 15 due to the regulatory mandate from the EU. And, conversely, that Apple stayed with Lightning this long — and if not for the EU regulation would stay with it for years to come — because they’re rolling in revenue from MFi licensing fees.

To the first part of that — that Apple only switched because the EU forced their hand — I say Well, maybe. It’s obviously a factor. The EU is too big a market for Apple to walk away from. But the USB-C mandate doesn’t kick in until next year, and existing devices from 2023 and earlier will still be allowed when the regulation does kick in. So the iPhones 15 could have had Lightning ports and remained available in the EU for years to come. It’s next year when Apple would have to switch.

And if Apple really wanted to stick with Lightning, they could, in theory, make USB-C iPhones only for the EU market, and limit them all to the same USB 2 transfer speeds as Lightning. That would make for a supply chain hassle, to be sure, but it seems like less of a hassle than making iPhones with two SIM card trays just for the Hong Kong and Chinese markets.

As for the second part of the consensus thinking on why Apple has stuck with Lightning — that it’s an MFi licensing money grab — I say Hogwash. Multiple sources have confirmed for me that MFi licensing revenue for Lightning devices and cables is negligible, just a rounding error by Apple’s standards. But consider the arrogance of thinking that Apple would spitefully hold the iPhone back just for a bit of licensing revenue. That Apple would knowingly make the iPhone worse for no benefit other than their own financial bottom line. That’s bonkers. I think the opposite is true: Apple pulls no punches when it comes to making the iPhone as good as it can possibly be for the most customers, even to the detriment of Apple’s other devices. For one thing, it would make more sense for bleeding edge Apple silicon to be designed first for the Mac, and to trickle down to the iPhone in subsequent years. But instead, Apple silicon is designed for and ships first for the iPhone, and then flows up to the Mac and iPad. The iPhone gets Apple’s best silicon (now on a 3nm process, the first in the world for any consumer product), best displays, and best materials (now titanium). It is the best device Apple can possibly make given the constraints of reasonable pricing and the inordinate scale at which it needs to produce them. No effort is spared — year after year after year. And nothing, not even a global year-plus-long pandemic, could knock it off its annual schedule. Apple loves all its products, but it loves the iPhone most.

And but we’re supposed to believe that Apple deliberately made the iPhone’s charging and data port worse, for years, for a fistful or two of dollars? My god, the sheer arrogance it takes to believe that Apple takes for granted an iota of the iPhone’s success and enduring popularity.

The simple fact is that Apple kept all iPhones on Lightning while it thought staying on Lightning was the best choice for the most customers. I know that there have been engineers inside Apple — engineers who helped invent both Lightning and USB-C — who’ve been advocating for the iPhone to switch from Lightning ever since USB-C debuted in MacBooks in 2015. Maybe Apple should have switched sooner. But there were good reasons not to, mostly surrounding the trust involved in building an ecosystem. When they switched from the 30-pin connector to Lightning, Phil Schiller said it would be the connector for “the next decade”. That was the iPhone 5 in 2012.

In actual use, I have to say it is a little weird having USB-C on the iPhone. I got curious and connected an iPhone 15 Pro to my iPad Pro to see what would happen. The first time, the iPhone started charging the iPad. That wasn’t what I expected, and from what I gather, isn’t supposed to happen. I unplugged the cable and tried again, and the same thing happened: the iPhone charged the iPad. I unplugged the cable and swapped one side of the cable for the other, and this time the iPad started charging the iPhone, as though the cable had a direction for charging. Craziness. I tried again and the iPad (a 2018 11-inch iPad Pro running iPadOS 17) crashed. I expect Apple will straighten this out, but I’m surprised it’s buggy at the moment.

Overall, though, it just isn’t that big a deal. It’s nice to know that 10 Gbps USB 3 transfer speeds are available for the iPhones 15 Pro — 20 times faster than the USB 2 limit of 480 Mbps (which remains the cap on the non-pro iPhone 15 models). But it’s irritating, as with all things related to “USB-C” cables, that you’ll need special (and more expensive) cables to achieve those transfer speeds, and there’s no way to identify which cables support which transfer speeds just by looking at them, unless they have the Thunderbolt logo on the connector — but expensive, thick Thunderbolt cables are overkill for USB 3 data transfer. The cables that ship with all iPhone 15 models are nice, white2 braided cables, but are not high-speed USB 3 cables. (These cables from Monoprice are good options.)

The reason Apple opposed (and continues to oppose, even as their product line falls into compliance) the EU’s USB-C port mandate isn’t because they wanted to stick with Lightning forever. Why did they start migrating the iPad lineup from Lightning to USB-C back in 2018 if they were all-in on Lightning forever? The big problem isn’t that they’re required to ship USB-C ports in all products next year — it’s that they’ll be required to continue shipping USB-C ports in perpetuity until the regulation is revised or rescinded, and regulations like this tend never to be revised nor rescinded. If you think USB-C is a “forever port” that will never be bettered by a superior design, you’ve got nothing to worry about. But Apple doesn’t think that way. Someday there will be a port that’s better than USB-C, and that’s when this EU regulation is going to pose a problem, because that future port is almost certain to be a proprietary one, not an open standard from the USB consortium, among whose members there exists but one company that I know of that had the good taste never to ship a single product using the gross Micro-USB or Mini-USB ports. Which of those companies is pushing for something better than USB-C?

There will be a successor to USB-C eventually. It’ll probably be invented by Apple. The best we can hope for is that that successor will be inductive, or even over-the-air wireless, and thus not subject to the EU’s plug mandate. 

  1. There’s a fourth major new camera feature this year for the 15 Pro models: shooting spatial video, ideal for consumption on the forthcoming Vision Pro. But shooting spatial video on the iPhone 15 Pro is “coming later this year”. Apple has not made available to reviewers pre-release software that enables it, nor was it available to demonstrate last week at the event in Cupertino. So not only have I not been able to try shooting it, I haven’t even been able to see what a spatial video looks like when played back on an iPhone display. So, a mere footnote it is for this feature. ↩︎

  2. Amongst other botched details, the rumor mill shit the bed on the color-matched cable thing this year. ↩︎︎

AirPods Pro 2, Now With USB-C Charging Case

Among the oft-quoted Alan Kay’s numerous aphorisms is “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” A sort-of corollary to that, which I believe, is that the best way to appreciate new technology is to go back to using an older version.

A few weeks ago I was running late for an appointment I’d be walking to here in Philadelphia. Most everywhere I walk, I wear my AirPods Pro 2, but that day I couldn’t find them, and I was late enough that I didn’t have time to search. I was terribly worried I’d be alone with my own thoughts for the entire journey, but my old first-generation AirPods Pro were sitting on my desk, and they still had a charge, so I wore those instead.

I remember thinking last year, when I first upgraded from the original AirPods Pro to the AirPods Pro 2, that the new ones sounded at least a little better and that both Transparency and Active Noise Cancellation modes were much improved. But going back to the original AirPods Pro for just one afternoon walking around the city really brought home just how much improved the AirPods Pro 2 are. Transparency mode and Noise Cancellation are way better, and more strikingly, just the audio quality difference alone was obvious. After a year as a near-daily user of AirPods Pro 2, I now find the audio quality of the first-generation ones to be thin and tinny. I was downright blown away by the difference.

Last week Apple announced a minor revision to the AirPods Pro 2. They now come with a USB-C charging port on the case (instead of Lightning), and some sort of upgrade to the H2 chip in the earbuds of the revised models will enable low-latency lossless audio with the Vision Pro headset when that product ships next year.

I’ve been wearing a pair of the revised AirPods Pro 2 earbuds since last week, paired with my year-old iPhone 14 Pro and a few other devices. I obviously can’t say anything about their special capabilities when paired with a Vision Pro, but in all regards related to currently-shipping features, they’re better than ever.

As of today a firmware update is available for all AirPods models. For the second-generation AirPods Pro — both the year-old ones with Lightning and the new ones with USB-C — this is a major feature update. Tweaked features include the option to mute/unmute yourself with a click of an earbud stem while using AirPods during a phone or VoIP call, and improvements to both Transparency and Active Noise Cancellation modes. But the update also brings two new features.

The first new feature is Conversation Awareness, which Apple describes thus:

When you’re wearing AirPods Pro and need to speak with someone nearby, Conversation Awareness automatically lowers the volume of what’s playing, enhances voices in front of you, and reduces background noise.

When enabled (all AirPods options are set in the Settings app on iOS or MacOS), Conversation Awareness really is completely automatic. If you’re listening to music or a podcast and just start talking to someone, or if someone else just starts talking to you, it kicks in. It’s very clever, but whether you’ll enjoy it highly depends upon your listening environment. In my 5+ days of testing, it kicked in too frequently amidst a crowd of people, none of whom were talking to me. Sometimes on city sidewalks, oftentimes in a grocery store. In an urban environment, there are just too many people talking around me, and the AirPods have no way of knowing that they’re not talking to me, for this feature to be anything but an annoyance overall. But it’s definitely accurate: it always kicks in when I start talking, and every time it has kicked in when someone else was talking near me, even when they weren’t talking to me, I could tell whose voice it was that the AirPods detected. File this feature under “Not for me personally, but you might love it.”

The second new feature is a new listening mode: Adaptive Audio. One way to think of Adaptive Audio is as a mid-point between Transparency and Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). That’s how Apple describes it:

The H2-powered AirPods Pro now feature Adaptive Audio, automatically prioritizing sounds that need your attention as you move through the world. By seamlessly blending Active Noise Cancellation with Transparency mode when you need it, Adaptive Audio magically delivers the right mix of sound for any environment.

Feel free to roll your eyes (or ears) at technology being described as “magical”, but damned if I can come up with a more apt adjective. In my (admittedly brief) testing time, Adaptive Audio seems more like a next-generation, even smarter replacement for Transparency mode. I’ve set mine to toggle between just two modes when I long-press either AirPod stem: Adaptive and ANC. If you’d like, you can add regular Transparency as a third mode you toggle between, but I haven’t yet found an environment where I’d want plain Transparency instead of Adaptive. Transparency with AirPods Pro 2 has been great as an urban pedestrian; Adaptive is even better. It just automatically Does What I Want™ in seemingly every context. I hear traffic and passersby, but even loud trucks and buses passing by don’t keep me from clearly hearing the podcast (typically) or song (less typically) I’m listening to.

Perhaps my usage scenarios are in the sweet spot for what Adaptive Audio is good at — the opposite of how my usage scenarios are not good for Conversation Awareness. But from my time using them, I don’t even see why Adaptive Audio isn’t a replacement for Transparency. For me, so far, it’s just Transparency but better, with more on-the-fly dynamic adjustments. It’s fantastic. (Perhaps battery life is one reason to keep plain Transparency mode around, but I have zero complaints about the battery life I’ve gotten these past five days.)

If you already use AirPods Pro, you know there are cute sounds that play when you switch modes. Each mode gets its own unique tone, and the tones for Transparency and Active Noise Cancellation sort of sound like the opposite of each other. The tones suggest “opening” and “closing” the world around you as you toggle them. Adaptive Audio has a new tone, which I’d describe as spritely or joyful. It’s the sort of sound you can imagine a fairy’s magic wand making in a kid’s movie. It’s a fun sound for a fun mode, and I can’t help but take the joyfulness of this tone as a subtle suggestion from Apple that this is the “best” mode for most people in most scenarios, other than the obvious situations where you want full-on immersive Active Noise Cancellation.

The Vision Pro is Apple’s initial foray into spatial computing. But Vision Pro is not Apple’s first product in the world of augmented reality: AirPods Pro (and to a lesser degree, at the moment, AirPods Max) are. We humans are visual creatures and we naturally tend to think of augmented reality as a primarily visual experience, but AirPods Pro offer profoundly enjoyable and useful augmentation of the aural world around you. Starting today, Adaptive Audio takes that to another level.

Adaptive Audio is only available for the AirPods Pro 2, which means I’m only going to be more irritated if I ever again find myself wearing my old first-generation AirPods Pro out of necessity. At this point AirPods Pro 2 are as much better than the original AirPods Pro than the original AirPods Pro seemed from the original non-pro AirPods. They’re far more than wireless earbuds — they’re clever, powerful, delightful computers you put in your ears. I’ll close with what I wrote about them a year ago:

The new AirPods Pro are the best single expression of Apple as a company today. Not the most important product, not the most complicated, not the most essential. But the one that exemplifies everything Apple is trying to do. They are simple, they are useful, and they offer features that most people use and want. Most people use headphones. A lot of people use them every day — in noisy environments. AirPods Pro are — for any scenario where big over-ear-style headphones are impractical — the best headphones in the world. 

Kolide — Device Trust for Okta 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. In the few short months since ChatGPT debuted, hundreds of AI-powered tools have come on the market. But while AI-based tools have genuinely helpful applications, they also pose profound security risks. Unfortunately, most companies still haven’t come up with policies to manage those risks. In the absence of clear guidance around responsible AI use, employees are blithely handing over sensitive data to untrustworthy tools.

AI-based browser extensions offer the clearest illustration of this phenomenon. The Chrome store is chock-a-block with extensions that (claim to) harness ChatGPT to do all manner of tasks: drafting emails, designing graphics, transcribing meetings, and writing code. But these tools are prone to at least three types of risk: malware, data governance, and prompt injection attacks.

Kolide is taking a two-part approach to governing AI use: allowing you to draft AI policies as a team, and using Kolide to block malicious tools. Visit Kolide’s website to learn more about how Kolide enforces device compliance for companies with Okta.

Today Is Release Day for iOS 17 and Its Sibling OS’s 

MacOS 14 Sonoma is coming next Tuesday, September 26, but all the other annual new major versions of Apple’s platforms are out today: iOS and iPadOS 17, WatchOS 10 (which really rejiggers the way WatchOS is organized), tvOS 17, and the iOS 17 “firmware” variant for HomePods.

Also, today marks the availability of the new 6 and 12 TB storage tiers for iCloud+. I’m glad to see Apple offer these tiers — it’s long seemed a bit odd that a services-focused company had no tiers above 2 TB. (Disappointingly, none of the iCloud storage tiers have increased in size — the free tier remains a measly 5 GB and the $1/month plan just 50 GB.)

Twitter Competitor T2 Rebrands as ‘Pebble’ 

Paresh Dave, writing for Wired:

Pebble, a Twitter-style service formerly known as T2, today launched a new approach: Users can skip past its “What’s happening?” nudge and click on a tab labeled Ideas with a lightbulb icon, to view a list of AI-generated posts or replies inspired by their past activity. Publishing one of those suggestions after reviewing it takes a single click.

Gabor Cselle, Pebble’s CEO, says this and generative AI features to come will enable a kinder, safer, and more fun experience. “We want to make sure that you see great content, that you’re posting great content, and that you’re interacting with the community,” he says.

Pebble, heretofore known as T2, had been in a similar place as Bluesky — a would-be direct replacement/alternative to Twitter, but hamstrung for growth by being invite-only. With this name change Pebble is open to all, using a system where Twitter/X users can claim the same handle on Pebble.

I’ve had an account for months, but find myself seldom using it. If Pebble’s status IDs are sequential, there have only been about 270,000 total posts made on the platform to date. There just isn’t much action there, even compared to Bluesky. And there’s really only so much time in the day to check in with multiple very similar social networks. I think there’s room for several Twitter-like services to thrive, but not for half a dozen of them.

But also, the Pebble team made the same decision as Post, another would-be-Twitter-replacement upstart that hasn’t gained traction: they don’t have an app, only a website that you can use like an app on your phone. [Update: Post did launch web-only, but now does have an app.] Has there ever been a successful social network in the last decade that didn’t debut with an app for iOS? Bluesky’s app isn’t great, but it’s better than a PWA, and I wonder how many normal people out there just don’t trust apps that don’t come from the App Store or Google Play. And, putting trust aside, I wonder how many people even know about adding PWAs to their home screens.

It’s very telling, I think, that Meta launched Threads only as a native app for iOS and Android, and even the web app version came over a month later. That big high-profile Threads launch would have been much smaller if they’d launched web-first.

Panos Panay Is Leaving Microsoft, Just Days Ahead of Their Surface Event 

Panos Panay, on Twitter/X:

After 19 incredible years at Microsoft, I’ve decided to turn the page and write the next chapter. I’m forever grateful for my time at Microsoft and the amazing people I had the honor to make products with.

Emma Roth, reporting for The Verge:

Panay’s departure from Microsoft is somewhat abrupt. Just last month, Panay mentioned he was excited to appear at Microsoft’s special event that’s set to take place on Thursday, September 21st, where the company is poised to reveal the latest additions to its Surface lineup and “AI innovation.” However, Microsoft spokesperson Frank Shaw tells The Verge Panay will not appear at this week’s event.

The timing on this is so awkward, given that the Surface event — that Panay was presumably set to emcee — is just three days from now. Microsoft’s terse statement and Panos’s tone in the tweet make it seem acrimonious, but not scandalous.

And lo, Dina Bass and Matt Day report for Bloomberg: Inc. is hiring Microsoft Corp.’s product chief to run the division responsible for the voice-activated Alexa assistant and Echo smart speakers, according to people familiar with the situation. Panos Panay, an almost 20-year veteran who led Microsoft’s Windows team and was central to the company’s hardware push with its Surface computers, said Monday he’s leaving the technology giant.

Dave Limp, the longtime Amazon hardware chief, said last month that he would retire before the end of the year.

Jack Wellborn:

I have mixed opinions on Panos Panay.

Same here. Panos without question elevated Microsoft to be a major player in PC hardware, but looking back, I don’t see any of their devices as iconic. From the get-go, I always wondered how hamstrung the Surface was (and remains) by Microsoft’s need to maintain good relations with other PC OEMs.

Apple Is No Longer Selling the MagSafe Battery Pack and MagSafe Duo Folding Charger 

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac:

Although these accessories are technically obsoleted by today’s announcements, you can still buy them on sites like Amazon (MagSafe Battery Pack and the MagSafe Duo Charger) while supplies last, if so desired.

It’s unclear if Apple plans to introduce USB-C versions of these accessories in the future, or if these products have reached their natural end-of-life anyway. It’s never quite clear how popular Apple’s iPhone accessories are, after all.

The Duo Charger was a good concept, especially for traveling, but modern iPhones are too big for it, and it didn’t support the new higher-speed charging for recent Apple Watches.

But the MagSafe Battery Pack is a flat-out great product I’m sad to see disappear, and might still be something you’d want to buy while supplies last. Travel with one, and you can charge a new iPhone 15 using either a USB-C cable (plugged into the phone) or a Lightning cable (plugged into the battery pack). Either way, the other device will get charged via the two-way MagSafe connection.

Before the MagSafe Battery Pack, Apple sold a series of battery cases for some older iPhone generations. You remember them — they looked a bit weird, because the battery part was like a pregnant hump. Apple never once released a battery case at the same time the corresponding iPhones were announced. They’d announce the iPhones in September, then release the battery packs like two months later, without fanfare. I’ve always suspected this was deliberate — that Apple did not want to announce an external battery pack or case at the same time as new iPhones to avoid the possibility of even some of the news coverage for the new iPhones suggesting that they need an external battery pack because the built-in battery is insufficient.

So, maybe Apple is simply done selling the MagSafe Battery Pack. But, even if they have a new USB-C version in the works, I’m not at all surprised that it wasn’t released last week. Let’s wait for November. I hope they do release one, because Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack is far better than the third-party ones I’ve tried (including two decent ones from Anker). Apple’s isn’t the biggest, but it’s the best because it’s the smartest. It negotiates intelligently with the iPhone when connected and doesn’t waste energy charging the iPhone past 80 percent or so. You can feel the difference in efficiency by heat alone. Third-party inductive battery packs get quite warm; Apple’s doesn’t. Also, the third-party ones seem to all be “magnetic”, not officially “MagSafe” — Apple’s sticks better too.

Why the iPhones 15 Pro Feel So Much Lighter 

Dr. Drang:

Finally, we come to Jason Snell’s surprise at how light the 15 Pro seemed when he played with it in the hands-on area. He mentioned this not only in his Macworld article, but also in the post-keynote episode of Upgrade. You wouldn’t expect a change from 206 g for the 14 Pro to 187 g for the 15 Pro would be that noticeable, but Greg Joswiak mentioned it in the keynote and Jason confirmed it. How can that be?

One answer is that people are just more sensitive than we give them credit for being. A 9–10% drop in weight may seem like a small amount to our brains but a large amount to our hands. But because it allowed me to do some simple calculations, I decided to look into another possibility.

Your ability to manipulate a phone is based primarily on its mass, but also on its moment of inertia. And since the reduction in mass when switching from stainless steel to titanium is occurring almost entirely at the perimeter of the phone, the moment of inertia should be reduced more than if the mass were reduced uniformly.

Drang, of course, shows his work. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s something to this: the new iPhones Pro feel even lighter than the weight reduction alone would suggest.

Thoughts and Observations on This Week’s ‘Wonderlust’ Apple Event

Was Tuesday’s “Wonderlust” event mostly predictable? Yes. Does that mean it was boring? For some people, yes. But for most people, it was the biggest tech news event of the year, just like Apple’s iPhone event is every year of late.

That’s weird and new, historically — and for many tech enthusiasts, disappointing. The way tech has traditionally worked is that company fortunes wax and wane over the course of each decade. And the big new “tech product of the year” not only changes from one company to another every few years, it changes across product categories. From PCs to PDAs to digital cameras to iPods.1

But for the past decade, the biggest event on the entire tech calendar has been Apple’s annual introduction of new iPhones. You can argue that it should not be the biggest event of the year, but it objectively is, media-coverage-wise. I’m not sure I know a single person who isn’t at least aware of the fact that Apple just announced new iPhones this week. That alone is extraordinary. It’s a lot like the Super Bowl, which often isn’t even the best football game of the year, let alone sporting event, but is undeniably the biggest. Even people who don’t watch it know when the Super Bowl is played. But even the Super Bowl is just a U.S. phenomenon — the iPhone event is worldwide, more like the World Cup or Olympics, but the World Cup and Olympics are only held every four years.

And in the same way that the Super Bowl garners media attention from far outside the world of sports journalism, so too do the iPhone events attract media coverage from outside the world of tech. There’s just a totally different and unique vibe attending the iPhone events in person. There’s a buzz, a sense of hustle and anticipation, and most of all a palpable sense of unimaginably high stakes that pervades these iPhone events from the perspective of a media attendee. You can say these events are boring because they’re predictable, but Apple needs every iPhone generation to be a hit product, the press knows it, and the press is always looking for a slip-up to dwell on, like the antennagate nonsense controversy back in 2010 with the iPhone 4.2 Die-hard sports fans are annoyed by all the non-sporting aspects surrounding the Super Bowl, like the attention focused on the halftime concert performers and even the TV commercials. Die-hard tech fans are likewise annoyed by the “what planet have you been on?” coverage of new iPhone details the rest of us knew were coming for like the last year. Exhibit A: this week’s mainstream news coverage being utterly dominated by the switch from Lightning to USB-C.

The Steve Jobs Theater is a wonderful place and these iPhone events are, to me, fascinating experiences. (I shot a video Tuesday that attempts to capture the layout and experience of the post-keynote hands-on area scrum.) But they’re not at all interesting in the sense of “Boy I wonder what Apple is going to announce today.” It’s more like intense interest regarding how Apple chooses to frame announcements that we all know are coming. And it makes perfect, but boring, sense, to pair the introduction of new iPhones with the introduction of new Apple Watches and, this year, updated AirPods Pro.3

Again, though, this isn’t how the tech industry is “supposed” to work. All things come to an end, and eventually that truism will apply to the iPhone, but the fact is that for over a decade Apple’s September iPhone events have been the Super Bowls of technology. Iterative phone designs from the same company, year after year after year. No other event compares. You can add the next 10 events together — including Apple’s — and you won’t get the cumulative electricity of the iPhone event. This, despite the fact that the iPhone events are predictable. There’s never been anything like it, quite possibly never will be again, and a lot of tech enthusiasts resent it.

But there’s no denying that this is true. Apple has a formula and that formula continues to work.


The 20-minute “Mother Nature” sketch in the keynote, with Octavia Spencer in the titular role, has been widely panned. I do think it went on too long — the whole segment (sketch plus details) in fact was just 10 minutes long, not 20. But seemingly everyone, including me, felt like it lasted 20 minutes, which is never a good sign.

But I get it.

The message is this: most companies today are making promises about their future environmental impact. But Apple hasn’t just been making promises. They’ve been accomplishing truly great feats on this front. It’s no fucking joke that you can now buy an entire Apple Watch that is carbon neutral. Apple has made drastic changes in the materials it uses, the way it ships products around the world, the way it packages them, the ways it produces its own electricity, and more. What they wanted to make clear is that this whole area is one of the company’s highest priorities, truly part of its institutional moral compass, with implications for everything Apple does, and that they’ve already accomplished great things. And that most other companies are basically just greenwashingly full of shit on this stuff.

But how can Apple make this point? They can’t just put Lisa Jackson up there and call out other companies as corporate liars, even though they are. Comedy is the answer. Comedy lets you say things that can’t otherwise be said. Satire, parody, and farce are all deceptively powerful ways to communicate serious arguments.

The problem with this segment was simply that it wasn’t funny enough. It was a great concept but the result was merely OK. It needed more of a Tina Fey 30 Rock pace — funnier jokes and more of them. (Was Apple hamstrung by the WGA strike on this? I can’t help but wonder if so. The skit looked fine — it was the writing that felt limp.)

One landmark aspect of this segment was Apple’s declaration that they’re done with leather. No more leather iPhone cases, no more leather watch bands — including from Hermès. Their lucrative partnership continues, but with fabric and rubber straps alone. (Unless you buy an Apple Watch from Hermès itself.) Apple has replaced its own leather iPhone cases and watch straps with a new material they call FineWoven. I spent time in the hands-on area playing with both the new phone cases and watch straps, and I like the FineWoven material. The keynote emphasized only the ethical angles, vis-à-vis leather: carbon impact and animal rights. But for the iPhone cases at least, I think FineWoven is just plain nicer than the old leather ones. I personally like nice leather goods, but I always felt like the leather Apple used to produce iPhone cases was, at best, OK. In particular I don’t think it weathered well, and I have never been a heavy user of iPhone cases, generally carrying mine un-cased. Put all the ethical issues aside and pretend that Apple were still selling leather iPhone cases alongside these new FineWoven ones, and I’d rather buy a FineWoven one. I’m not entirely sold on the FineWoven Apple Watch straps based on my hands-on experience, but at worst, they seem pretty nice. (Apple’s leather watch straps were less expensive than the Hermès ones, but also very clearly not as nice.)

Pre-orders for the new cases have already begun arriving, and reactions to the new material are mixed. I’m curious how it’s going to weather over time, especially the watch straps, but my first impression is that this is a quality upgrade over Apple’s leather products, not just an ethical one. I don’t think the FineWoven material is nicer than fine leather, but I do think it’s nicer than the leather iPhone cases Apple made, and perhaps on par with their own previous leather watch straps. And one thing that it’s not is faux leather. As Jony Ive might describe it if he were still at Apple, it’s unapologetically fabric.

The Regular iPhones 15

It seems like the iPhones 15 — non-pro — are exactly what we could have hoped for: effectively, the iPhone 14 Pro without the telephoto third camera.

That leaves me to carp about the colors, which strike me as bland and washed out, with the exception of black, which, as usual, is a very deep black indeed. Color trends change seasonally, and I should probably trust Apple’s designers more than myself to stay on top of trends, but man, this lineup looks bland. Maybe pale hues are “in” this year, but I highly doubt that down the road anyone is ever going to say “Remember how great the iPhone 15 colors were?” Compare and contrast with the universal affection we all seem to share regarding the original iMacs.

New this year: the regular iPhones 15 have frosted glass backs; heretofore the non-pro models had been glossy, and the Pro models frosted/matte. For the first time, the Pro and non-pro iPhones feel very much alike in hand: brushed metal sides, frosted glass backs, very similar sizes, and finally, similar weights.

The iPhone 15 displays are brighter, with the same contrast ratio and maximum brightness as the displays in the 15 Pro models. Missing from the non-pro iPhone 15 models, though: ProMotion dynamic refresh rates, and the always-on display mode. In turn, the lack of an always-on display means that the new StandBy feature in iOS 17 is much more useful with the Pro models. With the non-pro iPhones 15, StandBy will only show until the display times out and goes to sleep; with the iPhones Pro (including last year’s 14 Pro models), StandBy is always on.

iPhones 15 Pro

The color selection for the Pro models fits recent trends: black (which is really more of a very dark gray), white, and a color of the year. Last year with the iPhones 14 Pro, that color was purple. This year it’s blue, and it’s a nice but quite dark blue. Intriguingly — and adding more grist to the argument that Apple just doesn’t have much fun with colors of late — there’s also “natural titanium”, which isn’t literally natural but is achieved through a PVD tint that looks like what people think titanium naturally looks like. On its own, “natural titanium” looks like a neutral brushed metallic shade. Side-by-side with the iPhone 15 Pro in white, however, you can see that Apple’s “natural titanium” is warmer. It doesn’t look at all gold, but there’s a wee touch of yellow to it. The overall effect of the natural titanium models is “premium gray”, sorta kinda along the vibes of a classic Aston Martin DB5. The white ones, I think, could fairly be described as “silver” — both truly color-temperature neutral and seemingly shinier. Neither the natural nor white titanium on the iPhone 15 Pro matches the titanium body of the Apple Watch Ultra, but natural is closer.

The 15 Pro and Pro Max feel so much lighter in hand compared to all of the stainless steel iPhones in the post-iPhone-X era. Assuming they prove durable in real world usage, the shift from polished stainless steel to titanium is a huge win, just based on weight alone. But I also prefer the look and feel of it — slightly textured rather than highly polished. I think of my iPhone as a tool, not jewelry; a polished finish never seemed appropriate, the way it does for the steel Apple Watch models.

The rounded edge of the frame — a design change that is also in the aluminum non-pro models — is also a win. This feels like an optimal middle ground between the completely round sides of the iPhones X/XS/11 and the flat sharp-edges sides of the iPhones 12/13/14. Look for this form factor to hold steady for three generations, too — Apple is a company of patterns.

The Action button seems great. Out of the box it defaults to acting as a mute toggle, but it’s easy (and arguably fun) to choose another action. Built-in actions include: flashlight, launching the Camera app, starting an audio recording in Voice Memos, and Magnifier. But the options literally go infinite when you assign it to execute a Shortcuts workflow.

R.I.P. iPhones Mini

I wasn’t expecting the iPhone 13 Mini to remain in the lineup, but now it’s official: it’s gone. What a shame. It obviously wasn’t popular enough but every single person I know who bought an iPhone 12 Mini or 13 Mini loved it, and dreads the idea of their next iPhone being bigger.

AirPods Pro ‘2.5’

If you’re not paying close attention, it’s easy to mistakenly believe that the only change to the AirPods Pro 2 is the connector on the charging case. But the USB-C AirPods Pro 2 are actually different earbuds too, effectively more like a version 2.5 or something. From Apple Newsroom:

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) are upgraded with USB‑C charging capabilities, additional dust resistance, and Lossless Audio with Apple Vision Pro. With iOS 17, all AirPods Pro (2nd generation) level up with access to new audio experiences like Adaptive Audio and Conversation Awareness. [...]

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with MagSafe Charging Case (USB‑C) will enable Lossless Audio with ultra-low latency to deliver the perfect true wireless solution with Apple Vision Pro. The H2 chip in the latest AirPods Pro and Apple Vision Pro, combined with a groundbreaking wireless audio protocol, unlocks powerful 20-bit, 48 kHz Lossless Audio with a massive reduction in audio latency.

The change from Lightning to USB-C is obvious. The increased dust-resistance is nice. But the ultra-low latency (single-digit milliseconds, I’m reliably told) lossless audio from Vision Pro is interesting. (And I suspect, will be considered a bit annoying to people who already own AirPods Pro 2 with the Lightning case.)

Photography and GPUs

On the surface, camera features and GPU specs don’t seem related, but they share one thematic similarity: they’re two areas where Apple is behind the industry state-of-the-art. iPhone cameras aren’t behind the state-of-the-art for phone photography, of course — they’re probably the best, and undeniably among the best. But they’re not the best cameras, period, full stop, in the world. Apple wants them to be, and is pursuing this relentlessly year after year. And while Apple Silicon GPUs are also undeniably market-leading for phones, they’re just as undeniably not market-leading in PCs, where Nvidia reigns supreme. I firmly believe Apple wants to do to Nvidia with GPUs what they did to Intel with CPUs — match or surpass them in pure performance, and utterly blow them away in performance-per-watt.

On the photography front there were two major new features announced Tuesday. The first is a new generation of portrait photography, where Portrait mode can be applied to an image after it was shot as a regular still image. I’ve wanted this feature ever since Portrait mode debuted. While capturing, you don’t have to do a damn thing. You just frame your photo and hit the shutter. No switching modes. But on-device machine learning will decide on the spot whether Portrait mode can improve the image (which will only happen automatically if the subject is a person, dog, or cat), but you can enable it, disable it, and adjust it to your heart’s content in post.

The second is the iPhone 15 Pro models’ ability to capture spatial video. I had speculated over the summer that it would be cool if Apple could launch this for iPhones this year, and they did it. Clearly the optimal way to watch spatial videos will be with a Vision headset, but the best way to capture them — especially in terms of the old adage that the best camera is the one you have with you — will be with iPhones. I considered it a lock that iPhones would eventually be able to capture spatial video memories, but to me it’s a sign of operational excellence and cross-device collaboration that Apple pulled it off this year, with iPhones that will ship months ahead of the first-generation Vision Pro. (The ability to shoot spatial video using an iPhone 15 Pro isn’t available yet — it’s “coming later this year”. And the hands-on area units didn’t have the feature, nor any example spatial videos preloaded. So the only thing we know about the feature is what was broadcast in the keynote.)

With regard to the A17 Pro, let’s start with the name. Apple uses “pro” in a lot of different ways for a lot of different products, but one thing they’re pretty consistent about is that “Pro” products are the only ones with “pro” components or features. (Note, for example, that ProMotion dynamic refresh rates are only available in the iPhone Pro, iPad Pro, and MacBook Pro.) So I think Apple has once again tweaked their two-pronged annual iPhone strategy: I bet next year’s iPhone 16 and 16 Plus will get an A17 SoC, but I will also bet that chip will not be the A17 Pro. Maybe that will be the A17 “Bionic”, maybe just the no-adjective “A17”, but I do not think it will be the A17 Pro that’s shipping in the iPhones 15 Pro.

What might be different in the non-pro A17 next year? I suspect the GPU might not be as beefy (perhaps, with binning, it will offer 5 cores instead of 6), and I suspect it might have 6 GB of RAM (like the A16 Bionic chips) instead of the 8 GB of RAM in the A17 Pro.

But my god, what a GPU the A17 Pro seems to have. Hardware-accelerated ray tracing is a huge deal, and a major differentiating factor between Apple’s M-series chips (which don’t have it) and high-end PC GPUs from Nvidia and AMD (which do). Clearly, this new GPU is not just the biggest aspect of the A17 Pro, it’s going to be the biggest aspect of the M3-series chips for Macs and iPads (and, eventually, Vision headsets) too. The A-series chips have always had world-class GPUs for phones, but Apple is attempting to narrow the high-end GPU gap on the PC side as well.

But when? The A17 Pro is the de facto launch of TSMC’s next-generation 3nm fabrication. Informed speculation suggests that Apple has secured 90-95 percent of TSMC’s 3nm output for the next year, and it sounds like TSMC’s production might not be able to keep up with iPhone 15 Pro demand — the 15 Pro models might wind up backordered for months to come. That’s an aspect of Apple’s two-pronged annual iPhone strategy I didn’t mention last week. I don’t think it would have even been possible for the non-pro iPhone 15 models to use the A17 chip because they’re going to have trouble enough producing them for the Pro models alone.

So based solely on TSMC’s 3nm production capability, I don’t expect to see M3 Macs or iPads this year, and perhaps not until midway through next year. Keep in mind too that the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air just launched three months ago. That to me was a sign that the M2 would remain “current” until at least next year. People hoping for new M3 MacBook Airs this year are setting themselves up for disappointment, I think.

It speaks to the iPhone’s preeminence in Apple’s product lineup — a preeminence based, reasonably, on profound popularity and profitability — that it gets the most cutting-edge silicon long before any other product.

Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2

The Series 9 watches continue to have their series number etched on the caseback. But the new Ultra doesn’t say “2” on it anywhere. It’s just the new Ultra. I think it’s indistinguishable from last year’s original Apple Watch Ultra on the outside — you’ll need to power the watch on and check in Settings → General → About to tell whether an Ultra is from the first or second generation. Apple almost never labels its products with generation numbers or model years on the outside. But this seems like an inconsistent way to treat the two different lines of Apple Watches. It’s almost enough to make you think that when the Series Apple Watches launched, there was an influential executive who thought numbering them was a good idea, and that executive is no longer at Apple.

The best new feature in Apple Watch this year has to be the new double tap gesture, enabling no-touch manipulation of the watch. We got to try this in the hands-on area, and it Just Worked™. Fast, accurate, and natural. In the keynote and their marketing materials, Apple says you need to tap your thumb and index finger, but I tried with my thumb and middle finger and it worked just fine. No more touching your nose to your watch when your hands are dirty from food preparation or carrying something you can’t set down. And the double tap gesture parallels the main gesture that will be used to navigate VisionOS. (One question that occurs to me now: What happens when you’re using a Vision Pro while wearing an Apple Watch, and you double tap with your watch hand? Does the gesture apply to both devices? Or do they somehow negotiate with each other and determine which one acts on it? Apple devices already negotiate like this when you utter “Hey Siri” within earshot of multiple devices — I suspect that when using a Vision Pro while wearing a new Apple Watch, the headset will get first crack at a double tap gesture.) 

  1. It’s almost certainly true that 2023 will be remembered as the year that AI broke through, and that ChatGPT in particular is the “tech product” of the year. But ChatGPT is software — a service that wasn’t launched at an event, and never had a singular day of attention. ↩︎︎

  2. On the eve of the iPhone event this week, Tripp Mickle wrote a piece for The New York Times under the headline “As Smartphone Industry Sputters, the iPhone Expands Its Dominance”, which contained this paragraph:

    Apple has also been lucky. Two of its biggest challengers, Samsung and Huawei, have stumbled in recent years. Samsung faltered in 2016 when the batteries in its flagship smartphone spontaneously combusted. Huawei, which was popular in China, floundered in 2020 after the Trump administration blocked it from buying U.S. technology.

    Huawei’s geopolitical travails are another matter, but it seems downright silly to attribute even an iota of the iPhone’s popularity in 2023 to one disastrous Samsung model seven years ago — especially given that Samsung has never put all its “flagship phone” eggs in one basket. But imagine now if that had been the iPhone 7 with the exploding batteries and that was ultimately recalled from the market. The news media is drawn to “Look how the mighty have fallen” story narratives like moths to an open flame. If it had been the iPhone 7 instead of the Galaxy Note 7 whose batteries combusted, we’d still be hearing about it in every article about today’s iPhones. Nothing like that has happened with an Apple product since the PowerBook 5300 back in 1995, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The pressure to avoid such a debacle with every single battery and power adapter Apple manufactures is intense. No one remarks when iPhone batteries don’t catch fire; no one would forget if a single one does. ↩︎︎

  3. The AirPods Pro make sense for this event not just because the charging case now has a USB-C port to match that of the new iPhones, but because these three products form the core of the “generic Apple customer”. If you only own one Apple product, it’s almost certainly an iPhone. If you’re going to buy a second or third, the most obvious choices are an Apple Watch and pair of AirPods. ↩︎︎

Hermès Still Sells Leather Apple Watch Straps, But Only Through Their Own Store 

I came away from Tuesday’s keynote with the impression that, like Apple, Hermès would no longer be making leather Apple Watch straps. But that’s not the case. Apple itself is only selling Hermès watches with fabric and rubber straps, but Hermès itself still has 21 leather straps for the Series 9 Hermès watches. Apple’s keynote seemed so adamant about nixing leather that I suspect there are fans of the Hermès leather straps who are disappointed, thinking they’re no longer being produced. But I can see why Apple decided against mentioning it. I don’t think this is an awkward state of affairs, but describing it during the keynote would have been awkward.

The Verge’s 17-Minute Summary of the iPhone 15 Event 

For those of you short on time, these synopses from The Verge are great.


Alexandra Bruell and Lindsay Ellis, reporting for, I swear, The Wall Street Journal:

Employers around the country have good news for workers who dread chats about their performance: Feedback is on the way out.

Many companies, executive coaches and HR professionals are looking to erase the anxiety-inducing word from the corporate lexicon, and some are urging it be replaced by what they see as a gentler, more constructive word: “feedforward.”

I refuse to believe this is true, and if it is true, my feedback is that any company that encounters an employee who bristles at the word feedback should fire them on the spot.

Inflation-Adjusted iPhone Pricing 

There were rampant rumors pre-event that Apple was going to raise the prices for the iPhone Pro models this year, but they didn’t. They did, however, eliminate the 128 GB $1099 iPhone Max model. There’s a 128 GB iPhone 15 Pro for $999, but the entry model Max has 256 GB of storage and costs $1199. That’s $100 higher than last year’s 128 GB 14 Pro Max, but the same price as last year’s 256 GB 14 Pro Max. Turns out, inflation adjusted, this year’s prices are lower, not higher.


September 2023 cover art for Dithering, depicting a crowd of people with a “Dithering” sign in the background.

Today’s a travel day for me, flying home from San Francisco. While I’m working on a column regarding yesterday’s event, Dithering subscribers already have my short take, with an episode Ben Thompson and I recorded this morning. One spoiler: I think we ought to cut Apple some slack on that “Mother Nature” sketch.

Dithering as a standalone subscription costs just $5/month or $50/year. You get two episodes per week, each exactly 15 minutes long. I just love having an outlet like Dithering for weeks like this one. People who try Dithering seem to love it, too — we have remarkably little churn.

Apple’s Two-Pronged Annual iPhone Strategy

In 2017 the iPhone X marked an obvious inflection point in iPhone history: the switch from the original home-button system interface, with Touch ID, to the “all-screen” interface with Face ID. But it also marked a widely misunderstood/under-appreciated (although, it pains me to point out, not by all) change in Apple’s annual iPhone hardware strategy. Instead of introducing just one new iPhone, in 2017 Apple began introducing two entirely different tiers of new iPhone each year. One “pro”, one “regular”:

Pro Regular
2017 X / A11 8 / A11
2018 XS / A12 XR / A12
2019 11 Pro / A13 11 / A13
2020 12 Pro / A14 12 / A14
2021 13 Pro / A15 13 / A15
2022 14 Pro / A16 14 / A15
2023 15 Pro / A17 15 / A16

(That last row, for this year’s models, is speculative at this writing, but it seems likely.)

This table doesn’t account for different sizes within the same tier (Mini / Max / Plus), but those have really just been different sizes of the same fundamental iPhones. The real difference has been between the pro and non-pro models. Apple didn’t start naming iPhones “Pro” until the iPhones 11 in 2019, but effectively, they started this “pro” tier with the X in 2017.

What everyone groks about this strategy is that the pro models are more expensive. Of course they are. But there are a few aspects to Apple’s strategy that many people miss. The most important is that the iPhone Pro models are only produced for one year. If the pattern holds, come next week, the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max will cease production, and be replaced in the product line by the new 15 Pro models. The non-pro iPhones, however, stay in production for at least two additional years, dropping in price by $100 each year. I find that fascinating, but it’s seldom remarked upon. The iPhones that are the most expensive, most cutting-edge, and I presume the hardest to manufacture are only produced for one single year. That’s an altogether new strategy from the years before the iPhone X, when there was just one new flagship iPhone per year (albeit in two sizes during the iPhone 6-6S-7 years), and most iPhones stayed in the lineup at reduced prices for years to come.

So while there have been reports that last year’s iPhone 14 Plus hasn’t sold particularly well, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure, or even that Apple expected it to sell all that well this past year. To me, the workhorse years for non-pro iPhones are years two and three in the lineup, when they come down in price. People shopping for less expensive iPhones but who want a big-ass screen have never had an option before: the now-year-old iPhone 14 Plus will be that.

One much-noted change last year is that the non-pro iPhone 14 models remained on the A15 chip from 2021. One less-noted change is that internally, the iPhone 14 is very different from the iPhone 13, despite the fact that both use the same A15 chip. iFixit describes the iPhone 14 — the non-pro models — as the most repairable iPhones Apple has ever made. The chip remained the same but the internal design was altogether different, and better. The iPhone 14 is a design that was meant to remain in production for years to come.

We won’t know tomorrow whether this more repairable, more accessible system architecture will repeat with the iPhone 15, but I suspect it will. No matter what, the regular iPhone 15 models will not simply be the iPhones 14 Pro models repackaged in aluminum frames rather than stainless steel. The strategy Apple has achieved, as I see it:

  • Pro models: cutting-edge chips, cameras, and materials; will be produced for just one year.
  • Non-pro models: refined architecture using the year-old SoC and older camera systems; will be produced for 2-3 years after their launch year.

The iPhones Pro are far more exciting, but the non-pro iPhones are essential to the lineup and thus to the entire iPhone ecosystem. In sports terms, the Pro models are the offense, and the non-pro models are the defense. The offense gets the glory, but it’s defense, they say, that wins championships. 

At Least the Word ‘Maniacal’ Fits 

CNBC has another excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk, this one telling the tale of Musk and his cousins moving thousands of servers from a data center in Sacramento to another in Portland:

“You’ll have to hire a contractor to lift the floor panels,” Alex said. “They need to be lifted with suction cups.” Another set of contractors, he said, would then have to go underneath the floor panels and disconnect the electric cables and seismic rods.

Musk turned to his security guard and asked to borrow his pocket knife. Using it, he was able to lift one of the air vents in the floor, which allowed him to pry open the floor panels. He then crawled under the server floor himself, used the knife to jimmy open an electrical cabinet, pulled the server plugs, and waited to see what happened. Nothing exploded. The server was ready to be moved.

“Well that doesn’t seem super hard,” he said as Alex the Uzbek and the rest of the gang stared. Musk was totally jazzed by this point. It was, he said with a loud laugh, like a remake of Mission: Impossible, Sacramento edition.

It’s all a bunch of yucks until it turns to yikes:

The servers had user data on them, and James did not initially realize that, for privacy reasons, they were supposed to be wiped clean before being moved. “By the time we learned this, the servers had already been unplugged and rolled out, so there was no way we would roll them back, plug them in, and then wipe them,” he says. Plus, the wiping software wasn’t working. “Fuck, what do we do?” he asked. Elon recommended that they lock the trucks and track them.

So James sent someone to Home Depot to buy big padlocks, and they sent the combination codes on a spreadsheet to Portland so the trucks could be opened there. “I can’t believe it worked,” James says. “They all made it to Portland safely.”

A profound sense of urgency is beneficial to a leader, up to a point. Despite CNBC’s framing, Musk clearly goes way past that point. This entire endeavor was absurdly and unnecessarily reckless. In addition to the privacy violations, yanking these servers out of Sacramento, against the direct advice of Twitter’s infrastructure team, directly led to months of instability for users.

Qualcomm Announces Renewed Deal With Apple for 5G Modems 

Ian King and Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is extending an agreement to get modem semiconductors from Qualcomm Inc. for three more years, a sign that its ambitious effort to design the chips in-house is taking longer than expected. Qualcomm shares surged on the news.

The new pact will cover “smartphone launches in 2024, 2025 and 2026,” Qualcomm said in a statement Monday. The companies’ agreement had been set to end this year, and the latest iPhone — due on Tuesday — was expected to be one of the last to rely on the Qualcomm modem chip. […]

“This agreement reinforces Qualcomm’s track record of sustained leadership across 5G technologies and products,” the San Diego-based chipmaker said. Though the financial terms of the new deal weren’t disclosed, Qualcomm said it was similar to the previous arrangement signed in 2019.

Funny how they announced this today, and even funnier that there’s no quote from anyone at Apple. Qualcomm, seemingly, has Apple over the barrel on these 5G modems.

Update: Keep in mind that Apple has been trying to build its own 5G modems for years now. Back in 2019 they bought Intel’s modem business — the same year they settled (effectively, losing) a lawsuit with Qualcomm. And then there was this story over the summer, where Apple accused Qualcomm of harassing Apple executives by subpoenaing them for a lawsuit filed by the FTC. These two companies do not like each other.

Oh Dear 

My thanks to Oh Dear for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. Oh Dear is a website monitor that offers peace of mind as a service. If you run a website and your website is down, you know what would-be visitors do: they close the tab and move on to the next site. When’s the last time you waited more than a few seconds for a site to load? If your site is monitored by Oh Dear, you’ll find out right way when it’s down, however you want to be notified — through email, SMS, Slack, webhooks, or any of a bunch of other options.

Oh Dear is not your average website monitor. They’re an all-in-one service offering complete website coverage, and of particular note for the discerning DF audience, Oh Dear is obsessive about their user interface and experience. Nerdy, yes, but beautiful too.

The China-Apple Cold War Heats Up

Yoko Kubota, reporting from Beijing for The Wall Street Journal Wednesday (News+ link):

China ordered officials at central government agencies not to use Apple’s iPhones and other foreign-branded devices for work or bring them into the office, people familiar with the matter said.

In recent weeks, staff were given the instructions by their superiors in workplace chat groups or meetings, the people said. The directive is the latest step in Beijing’s campaign to cut reliance on foreign technology and enhance cybersecurity, and comes as China seeks to limit flows of sensitive information outside of China’s borders. The move by Beijing could have a chilling effect for foreign brands in China, including Apple. Apple dominates the high-end smartphone market in the country and counts China as one of its biggest markets, relying on it for about 19% of its overall revenue.

Jenny Leonard and Debby Wu, reporting for Bloomberg1 Thursday:

China plans to expand a ban on the use of iPhones in sensitive departments to government-backed agencies and state companies, a sign of growing challenges for Apple Inc. in its biggest foreign market and global production base.

Several agencies have begun instructing staff not to bring their iPhones to work, people familiar with the matter said, affirming a previous report from the Wall Street Journal. In addition, Beijing intends to extend that restriction far more broadly to a plethora of state-owned enterprises and other government-controlled organizations, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a sensitive matter.

[Inside Baseball Interpolation: I have often mentioned here that Bloomberg, as a news organization, is uniquely fanatical about scoops — being the first to break news, and in particular, market-moving news. And they expect credit for their scoops when the news is re-reported elsewhere. So trust me, it pains them to credit the Journal for this scoop. But here’s where the Bloomberg institutional dickheadedness is revealed: check out the link for the word “report” in the blockquote above. Hint: It doesn’t link to, you know, the Wall Street Journal story that broke the news.]

If Beijing goes ahead, the unprecedented blockade will be the culmination of a yearslong effort to root out foreign technology use in sensitive environments, coinciding with Beijing’s effort to reduce its reliance on American software and circuitry.

This gets to the nut of my intense curiosity regarding this edict. How much of it is nationalism — the CCP turning up the dial on the inherently jingoist mindset of a police state — and how much of it, if any, is about the fact that iPhones are secure, and their security is outside the reach of the CCP? The Chinese government surely wants to surveil what government employees do on their phones, and iPhones make that harder.

Lastly, where does Apple’s unique relationship with the Chinese government play into this? Apple remains dependent upon China for manufacturing, the iPhone in particular. They make some iPhones elsewhere, but the overwhelming majority are assembled in China, and there’s no other supply chain on earth that can replace it today. That’s a terrible starting point for any negotiation. But: China gets a lot from Apple. Over the course of my lifetime, China has been fighting to change the perception of what “Made in China” stands for. It’s always meant cheap. It used to also imply shoddy. Apple is the feather in China’s cap. iPhones aren’t just the nicest phones in the world — they’re arguably the nicest and most complex mass-produced consumer products in any category. And they are made almost exclusively in China.

The Chinese government surely bristles at the pariah status of Huawei globally, but there’s no plausible scenario where any Chinese company achieves the sort of prestige Apple has. Huawei phones, at best, are third-rate, and everyone knows it, including everyone in China.2 If China maintains its symbiotic relationship with Apple, China will remain firmly associated with the most prestigious technology brand in the world. If not, and Apple migrates its primary manufacturing elsewhere, China again drops to being associated only with second- and third-rate products. Even worse, the best company — in that scenario — would have chosen to part with China. China gains enormous prestige from Apple; Apple takes a reputational hit from its reliance upon a brutal human-rights-violating communist dictatorship.

Perhaps China feels free to antagonize Apple out of the belief that Apple cannot eliminate its dependence upon Chinese manufacturing. But even if that’s true, the message to other companies (say, carmakers) eyeing a move to Chinese assembly would be this: once you grow dependent upon China we’ll screw you like we screwed Apple. China’s intended message to the world isn’t merely that they’re the most capable nation for manufacturing, it’s that they’re also a trustworthy and dependable partner.

This sandbagging of Apple regarding iPhone usage by government employees says the opposite: that China cannot be trusted as a partner.

So here’s how I tally the detente. If Apple can ease away from its dependence upon China for manufacturing, they might. But the risk is that doing so will upset the Xi Jinping regime and Apple will suffer in consumer product sales within China. (Perhaps that’s what we’re seeing now?)

If Apple does ease away from China, though, who can China replace them with? Who could they tout as a world-class technology company that relies upon China for manufacturing? Second place is so far behind Apple you can’t see it. 

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

  2. Here’s a fun paragraph from Mark Gurman from another Bloomberg piece on this:

    If consumers in China are looking to dump Apple, the new Huawei phone could provide an alternative. It sports a larger display and battery than the upcoming highest-end iPhone 15 Pro. The device also has higher-resolution cameras and a price that undercuts its US-based rival.

    No one is complaining that the iPhone Max/Plus displays aren’t big enough. A larger battery does not mean longer battery life. And most ridiculously, “higher-resolution cameras” not only doesn’t mean “better cameras”, there are like zero people on the planet, including Joe Huawei himself, who believes any Huawei phone has cameras that are competitive with those in iPhones. “Resolution” is the last refuge of camera scoundrels. For Chinese consumers Huawei offers two things over an iPhone: it’s a Chinese company, and the phones are cheaper. Apple should worry about the Chinese government. Apple has nothing to worry about from Huawei. ↩︎︎

3D Printing Precision Titanium Components 

Apple’s event branding is often inscrutable, at least if you’re looking for embedded hints, but it strikes me that next week’s Wonderlust branding — metallic sand — is an explicit allusion to 3D printing with steel and/or titanium. This video is a good example of what’s possible — parts that would be impossible to mill from a solid block.

The Indiana Pi Bill 


The Indiana Pi Bill is the popular name for bill #246 of the 1897 sitting of the Indiana General Assembly, one of the most notorious attempts to establish mathematical truth by legislative fiat. Despite its name, the main result claimed by the bill is a method to square the circle, although it does imply various incorrect values of the mathematical constant π, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The bill, written by a physician who was an amateur mathematician, never became law due to the intervention of Prof. C.A. Waldo of Purdue University, who happened to be present in the legislature on the day it went up for a vote.

Here’s a good summary (from modern day Purdue professor Edray Goins) of how this kook Edwin Goodwin arrived at π = 3.2.

I was reminded of this laughable legislation* by a friend commenting on the U.K. abandoning its foolhardy attempt to mandate the inspection of impossible-to-inspect end-to-end messaging. E2EE communication cannot be “scanned” for child pornography while remaining secure for all other purposes, but it would be nice if it could. Pi is not 3.2 and a circle cannot be squared, but it would nice if it were so. The U.K.’s legislation is every bit as much ignorant wishful thinking as Indiana’s was over a century ago.

That Indiana bill was not defeated, however — it was apparently merely shelved. The U.K., likewise, has not repealed the law granting them the power to effectively ban end-to-end encryption — they’ve merely declared that they will not use it — yet. That’s dangerous. This law should be rescinded, not ignored.

* From Waldo’s own account of the saga comes this gem of a quote (written in the third person), regarding an offer to be introduced to Goodwin: “A member then showed the writer a copy of the bill just passed and asked him if he would like an introduction to the learned doctor, its author. He declined the courtesy with thanks remarking that he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.”

Amen, Dr. Waldo.

Twitter/X’s Descent Into an Antisemitic Cesspool 

David Leavitt:

Public reminder that @elonmusk wants you to falsely believe there isn’t antisemitism on X, and refuses to remove hateful comments and accounts.

Leavitt posted screenshots to two “After reviewing the available information, we want to let you know [account] hasn’t broken our safety policies” notices from Twitter’s content moderators — one for the account “@J3wsAreBad”, the other for “@gasthejews6969”. I won’t link to either account, but I checked and both are indeed active actual usernames. (J3wsAreBad’s “real” name: “✨J3wsRapeK1ds✨”.)

If you’re unfortunate enough to be working as a content moderator at Twitter, these should be two of the easiest reports of your day to deal with. You don’t even need to look at any of their tweets — both of their usernames should be sufficient on their face to just delete them. No warnings, no suspension, just nuke them. There should be no more question whether these accounts should be deleted than there is whether a turd ought to be scooped off the sidewalk. But no, these accounts are welcome on Twitter.

This has nothing to do with any sort of reasonable criticism of or disagreement with the Anti-Defamation League. This is about a big blinking “Welcome Nazis” neon sign. Antisemitism is more than just a form of bigotry and hatred, it’s a millennia-old conspiratorial crackpot worldview. And Elon Musk is seemingly sinking into it.

Rotten Tomatoes Is Rotten 

Lane Brown, writing for Vulture:

But despite Rotten Tomatoes’s reputed importance, it’s worth a reminder: Its math stinks. Scores are calculated by classifying each review as either positive or negative and then dividing the number of positives by the total. That’s the whole formula. Every review carries the same weight whether it runs in a major newspaper or a Substack with a dozen subscribers.

If a review straddles positive and negative, too bad. “I read some reviews of my own films where the writer might say that he doesn’t think that I pull something off, but, boy, is it interesting in the way that I don’t pull it off,” says Schrader, a former critic. “To me, that’s a good review, but it would count as negative on Rotten Tomatoes.” [...]

Another problem — and where the trickery often begins — is that Rotten Tomatoes scores are posted after a movie receives only a handful of reviews, sometimes as few as five, even if those reviews may be an unrepresentative sample. This is sort of like a cable-news network declaring an Election Night winner after a single county reports its results. But studios see it as a feature, since, with a little elbow grease, they can sometimes fool people into believing a movie is better than it is.

Brown also uncovers implicit payola, with a Hollywood PR firm paying small-time critics tracked by Rotten Tomatoes $50 (fifty measly bucks!) for positive reviews. My whole family has been growing ever more skeptical of Rotten Tomatoes scores for years, but we reached a breaking point earlier this year when we rented M3gan, which we all found to be a shitty movie, but scored a 93 from Rotten Tomatoes. (It has a “generally favorable” 72 from Metacritic.)

Apple Acquires Classical Music Specialty Label BIS Records 

Robert von Bahr, founder of BIS Records:

A few days ago BIS Records turned 50 years old and I am immensely proud of what our small team of people has accomplished during this half-century. BIS’s specialty, while paying our dues to the core repertoire, has been to nurture young classical artists and interesting living composers and to safeguard the musical treasure that we all represent long into the future. It is to that end that, after much careful consideration, and having just turned 80, I am excited to announce the rather momentous news that we have made the decision to become part of the Apple family.

We thought long and hard on how to maintain and build upon our prestigious history and looked for a partner who would further our mission, as well as an increased global platform to bring classical music to new audiences all over the world. Apple, with its own storied history of innovation and love of music, is the ideal home to usher in the next era of classical and has shown true commitment towards building a future in which classical music and technology work in harmony. It is my vision and my sincerest dream that we are all a part of this future.

Now this is an Apple-style acquisition. (Via Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch.)

U.K. Abandons, for Now, Legislation That Would Have Banned End-to-End Encryption 

Cristina Criddle, Anna Gross, and John Aglionby, reporting from London for The Financial Times (paywall-circumventing Twitter link):

The UK government has conceded it will not use controversial powers in the online safety bill to scan messaging apps for harmful content until it is “technically feasible” to do so, postponing measures that critics say threaten users’ privacy.

In a statement to the House of Lords on Wednesday afternoon, junior arts and heritage minister Lord Stephen Parkinson sought to mark an eleventh-hour effort to end a stand-off with tech companies, including WhatsApp, that have threatened to pull their services from the UK over what they claimed was an intolerable threat to millions of users’ privacy and security.

Parkinson said that Ofcom, the tech regulator, would only require companies to scan their networks when a technology is developed that is capable of doing so. Many security experts believe it could be years before any such technology is developed, if ever.

No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook’s parent Meta, and Signal, another popular encrypted messaging app, are among those that have threatened to exit the UK market should they be ordered to weaken encryption, a widely used security technology that allows only the sender and recipient of messages to view a message’s contents. [...]

Officials have privately acknowledged to tech companies that there is no current technology able to scan end-to-end encrypted messages that would not also undermine users’ privacy, according to several people briefed on the government’s thinking.

This isn’t the worst reporting on encryption and lawmakers’ fantasies about “backdoors only accessible by the good guys”, but it’s fundamentally misleading. End-to-end encryption’s meaning is right there in its name. There’s no dial that can be adjusted from “weak” to “strong”. There’s no option for content inspection between end points. It’s not about choosing not to allow eavesdroppers, it’s about implementing protocols where it’s technically impossible to inspect content between sender and receiver.

The actual math is far more complex, but ultimately this boils down to the U.K. acknowledging that 2 + 2 can only equal 4.

The Rolling Stones: ‘Angry’ 

Amazing video and a great new song from the world’s greatest band. So fucking good.

Horace Dediu: ‘The Value of a Customer’ 

Horace Dediu, writing at the newly refreshed Asymco:

So the picture becomes clearer. The iPhone customer is 7.4 times more valuable than the Android customer. This is more impressive than the 4× rule I had 10 years ago. The reasons are mainly that my anecdotes were from developers who sold products in the US or EU whereas expansion of smartphones to 7 billion global users has drawn in more lower spending customers.

But Apple’s base has also grown to over 1 billion users (650 million store users). This highlights that Apple has effectively grown and discriminated customers effectively. It obtained not just 1 billion customers but the best 1 billion customers.

How to discriminate effectively is the holy grail of marketing. The naïve approach is to keep prices high. But that usually only results in a “luxury” branding and a small base that tends not to grow. The alternative “premium” approach is to offer functionality and multiple tiers and distribution options and financing and merchandising. There is no simple formula.

I really enjoyed this piece, but I will quibble with “There is no simple formula”. It’s the execution that is difficult and complex. But at a high level the formula Apple has applied to make the iPhone (and iPad) the unprecedented success that they are is remarkably simple.

First, make something people care deeply about. Computers are the biggest advance in human society since the industrial revolution; revolution is a strong word but it applied then and applies again today. People care about their computers and what they do on their computers very much, and they care most about the most personal of personal computers: their phones. They use them for communication, photography, entertainment (music and video), games, and more. They carry them almost everywhere they go, all day every day, and sleep next to them.

Second, make the best version of that thing people care deeply about. The people who care the most will perceive the superiority of your product, and gladly — not begrudgingly — pay a premium for it.

Third, keep iterating, tirelessly and continuously, to improve that product year after year. Focus on aspects that cannot be copied or imitated. In the iPhone’s case, those are things such as custom chips, superior hardware components and manufacturing techniques, software frameworks decades in the making, a culture that prioritizes great design, and an ever-expanding ecosystem that keeps customers in the flock by making them happy. Build a luxury resort they don’t want to leave, not a prison they can’t leave.

Don’t prioritize being first or being cheapest. Prioritize being the best. That’s a simple strategy. It’s the execution that’s hard as hell.

Should Apple Cease Advertising on Twitter? 

Ian Betteridge:

Apple is very good at taking a stand when it’s easy. It refused to carry various small right-wing social platforms on its App Store, because the content moderation policies weren’t up to scratch. Meanwhile, Twitter gets a pass despite having no practical control over hate speech and an owner who actively encourages it.

Should we be considering boycotting Apple and other companies that advertise on Twitter? Let’s frame that another way: if you found out that a company was actively funding hate speech, would you want to buy products from them?

I know I wouldn’t.

Betteridge is without question correct that Apple is in a difficult position here. If you think it would be easy, recall last year, when Apple had drawn Musk’s ire over the App Store’s policies. As I wrote then, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

But it’s hard to imagine any other ad venue — website, billboard, magazine, TV channel — where Apple would run ads that run alongside ads like this one. No need for a statement. Just cease running ads on Twitter/X, and stop paying for these promotional “hashflags”. When inevitably asked why, respond how Apple responds best: no comment.

Little Musk Who Cries ‘Wolf’ Daily Now Claims Twitter/X Is Going to Sue the Anti-Defamation League 

Rebecca Bellan, reporting for TechCrunch:

In the newest uproar you might have missed, Elon Musk says X, formerly Twitter, will file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League. Musk accused the ADL, an organization that works to combat antisemitism, extremism and bigotry, of falsely accusing him and X of being antisemitic.

“To clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism, it looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League … oh the irony!” tweeted the billionaire celebrity on Monday.

Musk also blamed the ADL for X’s falling U.S. advertising revenue. “Our US advertising revenue is still down 60%, primarily due to pressure on advertisers by @ADL (that’s what advertisers tell us), so they almost succeeded in killing X/Twitter!” said Musk.

Musk started off this latest tirade by claiming to be pro-free speech, but “against anti-Semitism of any kind.”

Musk claims he’s going to do all sorts of crazy shit. Sometimes he actually goes through with it, like the time he said he was going to buy Twitter and take it private. Most of the time, though, he doesn’t. We need to stop reporting on what he says and focus mostly on what he does. Just two weeks ago I began using this headline play on the proverbial Little Boy Who Cried Wolf when Musk declared that Twitter/X was going to get rid of the block feature. He might still go through with that threat, but it hasn’t happened, and I suspect it won’t.

So why am I even linking to this threat against the ADL? Because what has already happened is odious and noteworthy. A weekend-long trending “BanTheADL” hashtag that not only wasn’t suppressed, but was bolstered by Musk himself. Now this “It’s all the Jews’ fault” excuse in the form of the lawsuit threat — it doesn’t really matter if Musk follows through and sues (it’d be a nonsensical suit), the damage is that Twitter’s most popular user — who happens to own it — is openly courting antisemites.

‘The MacOS App Icon Book’ by Michael Flarup 

Speaking of Kickstarter projects, Michael Flarup is working on a sequel to his outstanding The iOS App Icon Book — this one dedicated to Mac app icons. Given my interests, I’d have been delighted by The iOS App Icon Book even if it had merely been pretty good. But it’s a splendid book — carefully curated, exquisitely well-designed, and very nicely printed and bound. It’s no small trick to reproduce icons meant for screens in a printed book. The iOS App Icon Book is also very well-written and considered, particularly regarding the seminal design shift introduced by iOS 7 in 2013.

So a sibling volume dedicated to Mac app icons? Hell yes.

Studio Neat’s Keen: The World’s Best Box Cutter 

New from the dynamic duo at Studio Neat: Keen, a $95 box cutter.

Yes, a box cutter/utility knife that costs about $100. A $100 tool to replace the sort of disposable thing that costs like a $1 a pop. Until about a year ago, those disposable plastic jobbies were what I used, and I kept losing them. About a year ago, after losing track of the last one in my office, it occurred to me that I lose them because I don’t care about them. I already owned a nice keychain-sized pocket knife from The James Brand, which I love, so I bought the Palmer, their $59 box cutter. 11 months later and I haven’t misplaced it once. And I’m happier for owning it: it’s way nicer to use than any disposable I’ve ever had.

A few weeks ago, though, my pals at Studio Neat sent me a pre-production Keen. I prefer it to the Palmer in every single regard. First, it’s thinner and smaller, but in no way too small. Second, it’s easier to change the blade. But most importantly, the Keen offers a completely original design for opening and closing the blade: a spring-loaded slider. It’s so different from any box cutter design I’ve ever seen that I wondered if I’d even like it at all, let alone prefer it, because it does not lock into place. Turns out though I much prefer it. It feels both more convenient and safer, because it’s impossible to leave the blade extended while you aren’t holding it. And when released, it springs back so quickly that if you drop it, the blade will retract by the time it lands.

Pens are so cheap you can get them free at most bank counters, but many people who care spend more to get a really nice one. (Studio Neat, in fact, has you covered there as well, if you’re interested, with their Mark One and Mark Two. Me personally, I remain devoted to the $1.75 Zebra Sarasa.) A box cutter is no different. Given how many packages I receive each and every week of the year, it’s one of my most-used tools. So why not buy the best? The Kickstarter is already fully-funded, but the eventual retail price will be around $25 higher than the Kickstarter price.

See also:


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Ollie’s Arcade 

The Iconfactory:

All of us here at the Iconfactory love the classic video games we played in our youth. Many hours were spent in front of titles like Asteroids, Moon Patrol, and Battlezone, as well as cherished handheld electronic games like Mattel Football, Simon, and Merlin. Ollie’s Arcade recaptures a little bit of this magic and gives players a chance to turn their iPhone or iPad into a retro gaming experience.

Two of the games in Ollie’s Arcade — Ollie Soars and Tranquility Touchdown — were inspired by simple Easter eggs in Twitterrific, our beloved Twitter app. We polished Tranquility Touchdown, completely revamped Ollie Soars, and added an all-new third game — our own take on the classic Snake. All of Ollie’s mini-games are easy to learn and designed to be accessible for everyone. You can even play with your favorite game controller or via wireless keyboard.

Ollie Soars is free of charge; the other two games are just $2 each. What a novel idea: pay once, play them forever. Tranquility Touchdown gets so many little details from the vector graphics arcade era right.

The Talk Show: ‘Pleading the Fifth’ 

Flexibits co-founder Michael Simmons returns to the show to talk about his experience at Apple’s developer lab for Vision Pro, and his enthusiasm for the future of spatial computing.

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Today’s Front Page of The Daily Tar Heel (PDF) 

Heartbreak and terror, evoked by graphic design.