WorkOS 

My thanks to WorkOS for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. WorkOS is a modern identity platform for B2B SaaS, supporting SSO, SCIM, user management, and RBAC.

Recently, WorkOS acquired Warrant, the Fine Grained Authorization (FGA) service for developers. Warrant’s product is based on Zanzibar, the open source authorization system originally designed by Google to power Google Docs and YouTube. This enables fast authorization checks at enormous scale while maintaining a flexible model that can be adapted to even the most complex use cases.

WorkOS is already used by hundreds of high-growth startups like Vercel, Webflow, Plaid, and Perplexity.

If you are looking to build enterprise features like SSO, SCIM, or RBAC, consider WorkOS. It’s a drop-in replacement for Auth0 and supports up to 1 million monthly active users for free.

Daylight Computer’s DC-1 Tablet 

New $730 tablet with a sounds-too-good-to-be-true 10.5-inch e-ink-like “e-paper” display that refreshes at 60 fps. Super visible in daylight, amber backlighting at night. Runs a custom version of Android, ships with a stylus, and looks really nice. I jumped on a pre-order.

Om Malik got an early look:

What the company has created is a beautiful tablet — about the size of a normal iPad Air. It is just a “little less than white,” white, with a gorgeous screen. It is very simple, elegant, and lovely. It has an e-ink screen, and the matte monochrome paper-like display is optimized for reading, writing, and note-taking. It refreshes at 60 frames per second, a pretty big deal for e-ink displays. This is much less stressful on the eye and easy to use even in direct sunlight. It has 8 GB memory, about 128 GB in-built storage, an 8-core chip, microphones, speakers, and a powerful battery.

Publishing AI Slop Is a Choice 

From a New York Times story by Nico Grant, under the headline “Google’s A.I. Search Errors Cause a Furor Online”:

With each mishap, tech industry insiders have criticized the company for dropping the ball. But in interviews, financial analysts said Google needed to move quickly to keep up with its rivals, even if it meant growing pains.

Google “doesn’t have a choice right now,” Thomas Monteiro, a Google analyst at Investing.com, said in an interview. “Companies need to move really fast, even if that includes skipping a few steps along the way. The user experience will just have to catch up.”

That quote is insane. There’s no reason Google had to enable this feature now. None. If their search monopoly has been losing share recently, it’s not because of rivals who are serving up AI-generated slop. It’s because even before this, Google’s search results quality was slipping in obvious ways. This is just making it worse. They’ve turned Google Search — the crown jewel of the company, arguably the greatest consumer product ever made — into the butt of jokes.

LLM-powered search results are a bauble. The trust Google has built with users over the last 25 years is the most valuable asset the company owns. Google most certainly does have a choice, and they’ve chosen to erode that trust just so they can avoid accusations that they’re “behind”.

Behind is where you want to be when those who are ahead are publishing nonsense.

The Talk Show: ‘Canadian Girlfriend Vibes’ 

Special guest M.G. Siegler returns to the show to talk about the new iPad Pros, the iPadOS/MacOS functional gulf, the OpenAI/Scarlett Johansson controversy, and M.G.’s excellent new blog Spyglass.

Sponsored by:

  • Pine Works is a design and development agency with good ethics and strong opinions. World-class apps, websites, and digital products.
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Atari Acquires Intellivision 

My 7-year-old self would have been very very excited about this news. (Via Paul Thurrott.)

9to5Mac: ‘Apple Elaborates on iOS 17.5 Bug That Resurfaced Deleted Photos’ 

Chance Miller, reporting for 9to5Mac:

Earlier this week, Apple released iOS 17.5.1 to address a rare problem where deleted photos would reappear on a user’s device after installing iOS 17.5. In the release notes, Apple said this was caused by “database corruption.” The company has now confirmed a few additional details to 9to5Mac to further clarify the situation.

One question many people had is how images from dates as far back as 2010 resurfaced because of this problem. After all, most people aren’t still using the same devices now as they were in 2010. Apple confirmed to me that iCloud Photos is not to be blamed for this. Instead, it all boils to the corrupt database entry that existed on the device’s file system itself.

According to Apple, the photos that did not fully delete from a user’s device were not synced to iCloud Photos. Those files were only on the device itself. However, the files could have persisted from one device to another when restoring from a backup, performing a device-to-device transfer, or when restoring from an iCloud Backup but not using iCloud Photos.

Republican Profiles in Courage 

Various comments from Nikki Haley regarding Donald Trump, while she was campaigning against him for the Republican nomination:

  • “If you mock the service of a combat veteran, you don’t deserve a driver’s license, let alone being president of the United States.”
  • “We can’t have, as Republicans, him as the nominee. He can’t win a general election. That’s the problem. We’ve got to go and have someone who can actually win.”
  • “This may be his survival mode to pay his legal fees and get out of some sort of legal peril, but this is like suicide for our country.”

Also Haley, this week: “I will be voting for Trump.”

Here’s hoping Trump gives her the Bill Barr treatment. Barr, who wrote in his own 2022 book that Trump has “shown he has neither the temperament nor persuasive powers to provide the kind of positive leadership that is needed​,” recently said he’d be voting for him anyway.

In a sign of appreciation for his own former attorney general’s support, Trump posted this nice note on Truth Social:

Wow! Former A.G. Bill Barr, who let a lot of great people down by not investigating Voter Fraud in our Country, has just Endorsed me for President despite the fact that I called him “Weak, Slow Moving, Lethargic, Gutless, and Lazy” (New York Post!). Based on the fact that I greatly appreciate his wholehearted Endorsement, I am removing the word “Lethargic” from my statement. Thank you Bill. MAGA2024!

All class.

TinyPod: Upcoming Case Turns an Apple Watch Into a Click-Wheel Phone 

Ryan Christoffel, writing at 9to5Mac:

17 years after the iPhone’s launch, that idea of an iPod-inspired phone has not been forgotten. In fact, there’s a company teasing that it has created one … kind of.

Say hello to the tinyPod. [...]

tinyPod is essentially a case for the core Apple Watch hardware that takes inspiration from the iPod to turn your Watch into something of a tiny phone. Oh, and instead of using your Digital Crown to navigate watchOS, you’ll use the included iPod-like click wheel.

Clever idea! It’s largely overlooked just how powerful a computer a modern Apple Watch is.

Humane Is for Sale, But Who Would Buy Them? 

Liana Baker, Mark Gurman, Shirin Ghaffary, and Katie Roof, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Artificial intelligence startup Humane Inc. has been seeking a buyer for its business, according to people familiar with the matter, just weeks after the company’s closely watched wearable AI device had a rocky public launch. [...] Humane is seeking a price of between $750 million and $1 billion in a sale, one person said. The process is still early and may not result in a deal.

Last year it was valued by investors at $850 million, according to tech news site the Information. The company has raised $230 million to date from a roster of high-profile investors including OpenAI Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman.

I suspect they’ll sell for a pittance — way less than the $230 million they’ve raised. I just don’t see what they have to offer. Humane doesn’t own the AI that powers the AI Pin — that comes from OpenAI, which seemingly not only doesn’t want to buy Humane, but is supposedly in exploratory talks with Jony Ive’s LoveFrom to design and build their own AI devices. The laser projector idea seems to be a bust, and the hardware’s battery life is measured in hours between battery pack swaps.

Off the top of my head, the only company that could afford a $1 billion-ish price for Humane and is dumb enough to do it is HP.

* 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.


Spotify’s Car Things to Be Rebranded as Car Bricks

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge, “Spotify Is Going to Break Every Car Thing Gadget It Ever Sold”:

Unfortunately for those owners, Spotify isn’t offering any kind of subscription credit or automatic refund for the device — nor is the company open-sourcing it. Rather, it’s just canning the project and telling people to (responsibly) dispose of Car Thing.

“We’re discontinuing Car Thing as part of our ongoing efforts to streamline our product offerings,” Spotify wrote in an FAQ on its website. [...] The company is recommending that customers do a factory reset on the product and find some way of responsibly recycling the hardware. Spotify is also being direct and confirming that there’s little reason to ever expect a sequel. “As of now, there are no plans to release a replacement or new version of Car Thing,” the FAQ reads.

Car Thing was initially made available on an invite-only basis in April 2021, with Spotify later opening a public waitlist to buy the accessory later that year. The $90 device went on general sale in February 2022 — and production was halted five months later.

No word in Spotify’s Car Thing bricking FAQ about when they’re dropping support for Apple Music, Amazon Music, and YouTube Music. Oh, that’s right, they never supported any music services other than their own, despite having spent the last decade petitioning their home-turf European Commission to secure unfettered pay-no-commission access to platforms created by Apple and Google. It actually worked for them with Google.

Spotify and European Commission supporters are likely to respond to the above by arguing that Car Thing is totally different from the iPhone and Android. Car Thing was never popular at all, and iPhone and Android combine to form a duopoly that controls the entire market for phones. “Gatekeepers” must play by different rules to rein in their gatekeeping power, and Car Thing was by no means a gatekeeping platform.

That’s all true, but what do you think Spotify planned to do if Car Thing became a hit product? Do you think they planned to open it up to competing streaming services after it became popular? I doubt it. And if you think they not only would have opened Car Thing up to competing services, but would have done so without charging significant commissions or fees, I have a bridge to sell you.

To be clear, I think it’s fine for companies to create hardware exclusively for the use of their own services. And of course I also think it’s fine (great, in fact) to create hardware that is open to third-party software free of charge. But it’s also fine to create console platforms where third-party software is subject to fees and commissions paid to the platform owner. Spotify’s anti-App-Store rhetoric would lead you to believe that Apple only began extracting 30/15 percent commissions from in-app subscriptions after the iPhone became a dominant platform.

But that’s not what happened at all. When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs stated that their goal was to achieve 1 percent market share of the phone market by the end of 2008. At the end of 2008, they surpassed that goal, hitting a whopping 1.1 percent market share:

  1. Nokia, 38.6%
  2. Samsung, 16.2%
  3. LG, 8.3%
  4. Motorola, 8.3%
  5. Sony Ericsson, 8%
  6. RIM, 1.9%
  7. Kyocera, 1.4%
  8. Apple, 1.1%
  9. HTC, 1.1%
  10. Sharp, 1%

2008 was also the year the App Store launched, with support for free apps (no commission charged to developers) and paid apps (30 percent commission). Apple added subscriptions in early 2011, with the same 70/30 split. All of the iPhone’s subsequent success happened with that App Store commission in place, and that commission has only gone down over time — most notably, for Spotify, by dropping the commission from 30 to 15 percent for subscription renewals after the first year, starting in 2016.

The number one free download from the App Store in 2008 was Pandora Radio, a music streaming app. Other early hits included Last.FM and AOL Radio. But when Spotify announced they’d submitted their first version to the App Store in 2009, it was an open question whether Apple would allow it. Paid Content: “Spotify Waves iPhone Buzz Under Apple’s Nose” and “What If Apple Blocks Spotify’s iPhone App?BBC News: “Spotify has been called an ‘iTunes killer’ because of its ease of use and its comprehensive, free library of millions of songs.” TechCrunch: “Spotify in the iPhone App Store – Will Apple Approve It?

And my guess:

But so the big question is whether Apple will accept the app, despite the fact that Spotify is clearly a competitor to the iTunes Store. They should. For one thing, competition is good for Apple. For another, I think rejecting Spotify from the App Store could result in an antitrust investigation from the EU.

Apple did, of course, accept Spotify into the App Store. They eventually added the ability for third-party apps to play audio in the background too. I was wrong only in thinking that allowing Spotify into the App Store could avoid antitrust scrutiny from the EU.

So let’s be clear about Spotify’s position: It’s OK — for them at least — to create a new hardware platform with no support at all for third-party software, but not OK for another company that owns its own music service to create a hardware platform that offers access to any and all competing services, but charges a commission for access, if that platform becomes popular. Once sufficiently popular, it’s only fair to allow Spotify access to those platforms free of charge, despite the fact that Spotify never allowed third parties access to their own platform at all, and built their own success through access to the App Store, at a time when the iPhone had single-digit market share for phones and low-teens market share among “smartphones”. Got it. 


‘Jerky, 7-Fingered Scarlett Johansson Appears in Video to Express Full-Fledged Approval of OpenAI’ 

The Onion:

In response to allegations that the artificial intelligence research organization used the actress’s voice without consent, a jerky, seven-fingered Scarlett Johansson appeared in a video Thursday to express her full-fledged approval of OpenAI. “It is me, Scar Johnson, to express to the internet that everything about OpenAI is a-okay to me, thank you,” said the shaky, stuttering Johansson, pausing to give several three-foot-long thumbs-ups before explaining that OpenAI has all legal rights over her name, image, and likeness.

Coming soon to Google search results near you.

Some Goofy Results From ‘AI Overviews’ in Google Search 

Asked “how many rocks should i eat” [sic], Google Search responded:

According to UC Berkeley geologists, eating at least one small rock per day is recommended because rocks contain minerals and vitamins that are important for digestive health. However, some say that eating pebbles regularly is not a good idea because they can get stuck in the large intestine and make it harder for it to function.

Ben Collins, newly-named CEO of The Onion, surmises that Gemini got this nutrition info from America’s finest news source.

In another winner, answering “cheese not sticking to pizza”, Google Search suggested:

Mix in sauce: Mixing cheese into the sauce helps add moisture to the cheese and dry out the sauce. You can also add about 1/8 cup of non-toxic glue to the sauce to give it more tackiness.

Maybe don’t eat the pizza at Google’s cafeteria, given that their recipe comes from renowned Reddit chef “fucksmith”. (We’re all rightly dunking on the Elmer’s Glue suggestion, but it’s just as wrong to suggest mixing cheese into the sauce. No one does that.)

Anyway, Apple is behind on AI.

Update: Another one: “No, you can’t use gasoline to cook spaghetti faster, but you can use gasoline to make a spicy spaghetti dish. Here’s a recipe for spaghetti cooked with gasoline...” Gemini gleaned this classic Italian recipe from — wait for it — another AI.

Craig Hockenberry quips: “We’re playing the shittiest game of telephone ever.”

OpenAI Shows Records and Plays Recordings for Washington Post Showing They Really Did Hire an Unnamed Actress to Voice ‘Sky’ 

Nitasha Tiku, reporting for The Washington Post:

But while many hear an eerie resemblance between “Sky” and Johansson’s “Her” character, an actress was hired in June to create the Sky voice, months before Altman contacted Johansson, according to documents, recordings, casting directors and the actress’s agent.

The agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the safety of her client, said the actress confirmed that neither Johansson nor the movie “Her” were ever mentioned by OpenAI. The actress’s natural voice sounds identical to the AI-generated Sky voice, based on brief recordings of her initial voice test reviewed by The Post. The agent said the name Sky was chosen to signal a cool, airy and pleasant sound.

Joanne Jang, who leads AI model behavior for OpenAI, said that the company selected actors who were eager to work on an AI product. [...] Jang said she “kept a tight tent” around the AI voices project, making Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati the sole decision-maker to preserve the artistic choices of the director and the casting office. Altman was on his world tour during much of the casting process and not intimately involved, she said.

This seemingly clears OpenAI of any suspicion that they were lying about having hired an unnamed actress to provide Sky’s voice, and had actually trained it on recordings of Johansson. I will admit I had my suspicions. (It also speaks to the importance of trusted institutions like the Post.)

But as Tiku elaborates, hiring an unnamed actress to provide the voice doesn’t necessarily get OpenAI out of jeopardy:

He compared Johansson’s case to one brought by the singer Bette Midler against the Ford Motor Co. in the 1980s. Ford asked Midler to use her voice in ads. After she declined, Ford hired an impersonator. A U.S. appellate court ruled in Midler’s favor, indicating her voice was protected against unauthorized use. [...]

Several factors go against OpenAI, he said, namely Altman’s tweet and his outreach to Johansson in September and May. “It just begs the question: It’s like, if you use a different person, there was no intent for it to sound like Scarlett Johansson. Why are you reaching out to her two days before?” he said. “That would have to be explained.”

Tom Waits won a similar lawsuit against Frito-Lay in 1990, based on the Midler precedent.

‘&udm=14’: The Disenshittification Konami Code 

Nice follow-up from Ernie Smith on his post about Google’s humbly-named but somewhat-hidden “Web” search: he made a simple web front-end that redirects searches to Google with the magic &udm=14 parameter appended. Expert users won’t need this site, but typical users might love it as their home page.

How to Make Google’s ‘Web’ View Your Search Default 

Ernie Smith, writing at Tedium:

But in the midst of all this, Google quietly added something else to its results — a “Web” filter that presents what Google used to look like a decade ago, no extra junk. While Google made its AI-focused changes known on its biggest stage — during its Google I/O event — the Web filter was curiously announced on Twitter by Search Liaison Danny Sullivan. [...]

The results are fascinating. It’s essentially Google, minus the crap. No parsing of the information in the results. No surfacing metadata like address or link info. No knowledge panels, but also, no ads. It looks like the Google we learned to love in the early 2000s, buried under the “More” menu like lots of other old things Google once did more to emphasize, like Google Books.

I haven’t tested it extensively but it sure looks like vastly superior search results than Google displays by default. The trick is to append &udm=14 to the end of your Google search URL. Smith documents how to use this URL structure as your default in a Chrome-derived browser, so that you get these “Web” results by default searches initiated from the browser location field. (Which, lo these many years later, remains the modern command line.)

Safari, uniquely amongst popular web browsers, doesn’t allow users to configure custom search engines. There are ways to get custom search engines in Safari using extensions — Kagi, my default search engine of choice since late 2022, does just this — but it’s kludgy. Why doesn’t Safari support adding custom search engines like every other browser does?

On the Mac, I initiate most web searches from LaunchBar, not Safari’s location field, and LaunchBar makes it trivial to add a custom search using this &udm=14 URL trick. Similar utilities like Alfred and Raycast do too. The downside compared to LaunchBar’s built-in Google search action (and Safari’s location field) is that a simple custom query URL doesn’t provide as-you-type suggested results.

Trailer for Marvel’s Intriguing, but Annoyingly-Punctuated ‘What If…? An Immersive Story’ 

In addition to this immersive VisionOS-exclusive experience from Disney, Apple itself is releasing Parkour, the second episode of its own “Adventure” series, on Friday.

Pixar Lays Off 175 Employees, 14 Percent of Staff, Shocking No One Who’s Tried Watching Their Recent Films 

Samantha Masunaga, reporting for the LA Times:

Walt Disney Co.-owned computer animation studio Pixar is laying off 14% of its staff, as it cuts back on the number of streaming series it produces. The layoffs, which will affect about 175 employees, were signaled as far back as January. [...]

But Emeryville, Calif.-based Pixar, in particular, has also struggled to break out of a pandemic-induced slump at the box office. While the storied studio known for “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “Up” once churned out hit after hit, its recent performance has been mediocre.

Animated films such as “Toy Story” spinoff “Lightyear,” released in 2022, was a disappointment at the box office, as was 2020’s “Onward.” Last year’s “Elemental” opened with weak ticket sales but managed to recover thanks to strong word-of-mouth reviews.

After Lee Unkrich’s Coco (2017), Brad Bird’s The Incredibles 2 (2018), and Josh Cooley’s Toy Story 4 (2019), I couldn’t name a Pixar film off the top of my head. After a few duds I stopped watching new Pixar movies automatically and waited for ones that were well-regarded. And I’m still waiting.

The core “Pixar braintrust” is gone — Steve Jobs is dead, Joe Ranft is dead, Ed Catmull retired, and John Lasseter was driven out of the company by scandal. Unkrich left Pixar in 2019. Stanton is still listed as creative vice president, but his most recent Pixar movie was co-writing Toy Story 4. Of the braintrust, only Pete Docter — now Pixar’s chief creative officer, and the director of Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out — remains. Stanton has directed a lot of live action episodic content since Toy Story 4, including Obi Wan for Disney, Better Call Saul, For All Mankind, and the only good episode of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem. His next two projects are live action films, Revolver and In the Blink of an Eye. Brad Bird is directing a cool-sounding “retro-futuristic detective story” titled Ray Gunn, with Lasseter producing, but that’s for Skydance Animation, not Pixar.

There’s just nothing special about Pixar any more. Excellence is fragile, and genius talent is rare.

Apple Loosens Core Technology Fee for Hobbyists and Small Developers 

Apple Developer News, with an item from three weeks ago that I thought I’d already linked to but had not:

Today, we’re introducing two additional conditions in which the CTF is not required:

  • First, no CTF is required if a developer has no revenue whatsoever. This includes creating a free app without monetization that is not related to revenue of any kind (physical, digital, advertising, or otherwise). This condition is intended to give students, hobbyists, and other non-commercial developers an opportunity to create a popular app without paying the CTF.

  • Second, small developers (less than €10 million in global annual business revenue) that adopt the alternative business terms receive a 3-year free on-ramp to the CTF to help them create innovative apps and rapidly grow their business. Within this 3-year period, if a small developer that hasn’t previously exceeded one million first annual installs crosses the threshold for the first time, they won’t pay the CTF, even if they continue to exceed one million first annual installs during that time. If a small developer grows to earn global revenue between €10 million and €50 million within the 3-year on-ramp period, they’ll start to pay the CTF after one million first annual installs up to a cap of €1 million per year.

The first item is simple. The second isn’t simple, but still makes the CTF far more palatable, and lower-risk, for small developers. But my main takeaway is that by all outward appearances, it seems like Apple’s DMA compliance plans are holding up, including the CTF. I find the European Commission utterly inscrutable, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes. But right now I think what we see from Apple regarding the DMA is what we’re going to get.

Copilot+ Laptops and Stickers 

A detail that caught my eye in Sean Hollister’s scathing review at The Verge of the MSI Claw, a Steamdeck-like handheld gaming device, is that the device has an ugly “Intel Core Ultra 7” sticker on it. The sticker doesn’t even look like it’s on straight.

This got me wondering if, in the switch from Intel and AMD x86 chips to Qualcomm ARM chips, PCs might finally get away from those ugly stickers that have been littering laptop palm rests for decades. Based on these product shots from Samsung for their Galaxy Book4 Edge, the answer is no. They still have stickers, just different ones. Maybe that’s just Samsung though? The product shots for Microsoft’s other Copilot+ launch partners don’t show stickers.

Semafor: ‘As Clicks Dry Up for News Sites, Could Apple News Be a Lifeline?’ 

Max Tani, writing for Semafor:

Like many digital publishers, The Daily Beast was struggling at the end of 2023. Facebook, long a primary driver of clicks to the publication, had turned away from news. Search traffic had become increasingly erratic, as Google adjusted its algorithm to combat a flood of AI-powered junk. The site’s paid subscription program had atrophied since Donald Trump left office.

But it had a new lifeline: Apple.

Late last year, the digital news tabloid (where I worked from 2018 to 2021 as a media reporter) entered into Apple’s partnership program, called Apple News+. The program made all of the publication’s buzziest exclusives available to paying Apple subscribers, behind Apple’s own paywall. And the impact for a mid-sized news site was immediate, putting the Beast on track to make between $3-4 million in revenue this year from Apple News alone — more than its own standalone subscription program, and without much additional cost.

Apple News+ is yet another example of Apple successfully playing long games, with patience and determination. Apple Pay is another example. When it debuted in 2019 Apple News+ was largely written off. But now I’m seeing more and more stories like this, writing about it as a success.

Could be some lessons here regarding knee-jerk no-patience “Apple is late to AI” takes.

Adobe Unveils Firefly-Powered Generative Remove in Lightroom 

Adobe:

Today, Adobe unveiled Generative Remove in Adobe Lightroom, bringing the magic of Adobe Firefly directly into everyday photo editing workflows across Lightroom mobile, web and desktop surfaces. Generative Remove is Lightroom’s most powerful remove tool yet, giving everyone the power to remove unwanted objects from any photo non-destructively in a single click by intelligently matching the removed area with pixel perfect generations for high-quality, realistic and stunning results. From removing distractions in family photos, to empowering professionals with speedier retouching workflows and more fine-grain control, Generative Remove empowers exciting capabilities for all photographers. Generative Remove is available today as an early access feature across the Lightroom ecosystem for millions of users.

As software ever more dominates the field of photography, Nilay Patel often asks, “What is a photo?”

I’m not exactly comfortable with making removal of people and objects this easy, but I also really want to use the feature myself. The discomfort this causes is exactly in line with the discomfort that Photoshop 1.0 raised in 1990. Generative fill/erase is rising to the level of table stakes. Google launched Magic Eraser in 2021. Adobe’s brief demo video in this press release doesn’t show a professional photographer — it’s a woman shooting photos with her phone. Apple is going to have to add this to Photos, and it ought to be announced next month.

Taking Aim at Apple’s Fanless MacBook Airs With Fans 

Andrew Cunningham, writing for Ars Technica:

One caveat that I hadn’t seen mentioned in Microsoft’s presentation or in other coverage of the announcement, though — Microsoft says that both of these devices have fans. Apple still uses fans for the MacBook Pro lineup, but the MacBook Air is totally fanless. Bear that in mind when reading Microsoft’s claims about performance.

Are any of today’s first batch of “Copilot+ PCs” fanless? If not, can any of them truly be said to have “taken aim” at the MacBook Air?

  • Acer Swift 14 AI: I couldn’t find any mention of fans or cooling, which makes me think it has fans.
  • Asus Vivobook S 15: “Plus, dust filters for both fans keep your laptop pristine.”
  • Dell: No mention.
  • HP: No mention.
  • Lenovo: No mention.
  • Samsung Galaxy Book4 Edge: Only mention of “fan”: “Galaxy Book4 Edge also brings fan-favorite features, Chat Assist and Live Translate, to the PC.”

If any of these are fanless, I’d expect that to be a touted feature. If I’m wrong and one or more of these are fanless, let me know and I’ll post an update. But if they’re not fanless, it’s hard to say they’re MacBook Air peers.

Microsoft’s New Flex Keyboard for the Surface Pro Tablet 

Also from Tom Warren:

The basic silhouette of the hardware hasn’t changed much, save for the new Flex Keyboard attachment. The tablet with an integrated kickstand has been a Surface staple for years now, and Microsoft continues to refine it rather than trying to reinvent it.

I got a chance to try this new Flex Keyboard, and I’m surprised at how much more stable it is than previous models. There’s no noticeable bounce when you’re using it on a desk, and even on my lap, it felt a lot more study than the previous Surface Pro keyboards.

You can even use this keyboard away from the Surface Pro as it automatically switches over to a Bluetooth connection once you undock it. Microsoft has a tiny battery inside the base to enable this and the new haptic feedback on the trackpad in this Flex Keyboard. The haptic feedback doesn’t feel as prominent as on the Surface Laptop Studio 2, but it’s still nice to have inside this new keyboard.

The basic idea of the Flex Keyboard is that it’s like the bottom part of a laptop — an integrated keyboard and trackpad, with a little dock for the included Slim Pen stylus. Unlike Apple’s iPad Magic Keyboard, the Flex Keyboard has a battery and works wirelessly over Bluetooth. I spitballed a similar idea for Apple’s Magic Keyboard on my podcast last month with Federico Viticci.

The appeal of working wirelessly isn’t so much, to my mind, for tablets. I can’t recall ever wishing my iPad Magic Keyboard would remain connected to my iPad over Bluetooth. In fact, I could see that being annoying when I want to use my iPad all by itself, with its on-screen keyboard. There’s a certain “you know what you’re getting” aspect to the fact that the Magic Keyboard is only active when the iPad is magnetically attached. The appeal I see of the Flex Keyboard design would be using it with a headset like Vision Pro. Vision Pro has great support for Bluetooth keyboards and Apple’s Magic Trackpad, but that makes two things you need to carry around with your Vision Pro if you want to use it for productivity. Better would be a single keyboard with an integrated trackpad.

Microsoft can use this design because they’ve steadfastly stuck to their guns on including a kickstand with Surface Pro tablets. Apple has never released an iPad with a kickstand, and almost certainly never will. But without a kickstand on the iPad itself, the Magic Keyboard needs that big cantilevered magnetic hinge to attach and support the iPad, which in turn renders the design unfeasible for pairing with a Vision headset. Even if the new Magic Keyboard had a battery and supported Bluetooth, it wouldn’t be a graceful peripheral for Vision Pro because of the hinge.

So Microsoft has an integrated keyboard/trackpad peripheral that seems perfect for use with a headset, but they only make headsets that no one seems to care about. And Apple has a headset that would be great with an integrated keyboard/trackpad, but their integrated keyboard/trackpad is designed exclusively for the new iPad Pros.

The Flex Keyboard With Slim Pen isn’t cheap, either: $450. A 13-inch iPad Magic Keyboard costs $350 and the Pencil Pro costs $130.

‘Inside Microsoft’s Mission to Take Down the MacBook Air’ 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

On a recent morning at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft representatives set out new Surface devices equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips inside and compared them directly to Apple’s category-leading laptop. I witnessed an hour of demos and benchmarks that started with Geekbench and Cinebench comparisons, then moved on to apps and compatibility.

Benchmark tests usually aren’t that exciting to watch. But a lot was at stake here: for years, the MacBook Air has been able to smoke Arm-powered PC chips — and Intel-based ones, too. Except, this time around, the Surface pulled ahead on the first test. Then it won another test and another after that. The results of these tests are why Microsoft believes it’s now in position to conquer the laptop market.

Microsoft’s comparison were all against M3 MacBook Air models. Fair enough, insofar as the MacBook Air is by far Apple’s best-selling line of laptops, and the M3 models shipped just two months ago. But the MacBook Airs are fanless. A lot — most? all? I’m not sure — of the new “Copilot+ PCs” Microsoft showed off today have fans. (Or if you prefer, “active cooling systems”.) Microsoft’s own new Surface Laptops have MacBook-Air-esque pricing (13-inch starts at $1,000; 15-inch starts at $1,300) but they weigh about 0.3 pounds more than the equivalent-sized MacBook Air. Those weights puts them more in the class of the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro.

All of this app compatibility and performance is nothing without battery life, though. Microsoft uses a script to simulate web browsing. On 2022’s Intel-based Surface Laptop 5, it took eight hours, 38 minutes to completely deplete a battery; the new Surface Copilot Plus PC lasted three [sic] times that, hitting 16 hours, 56 minutes. That’s an incredible jump in efficiency, and it even beats the same test on a 15-inch MacBook Air M3, which lasted 15 hours, 25 minutes. That’s a whole hour and a half more.

Microsoft ran a similar test for video playback, which saw the Surface Copilot Plus PC hit more than 20 hours in a test, with the MacBook Air M3 reaching 17 hours, 45 minutes. That’s also nearly eight hours more than the Surface Laptop 5, which lasted 12 hours, 30 minutes. If those battery gains extend beyond basic web browsing and video playback, this will be a significant improvement for Windows laptops.

I presume Warren meant that the new Surface Laptop lasted twice as long as the old Intel-based model, not three times as long. But this highlights my main hardware takeaway from today’s event: the M3 MacBook Air served as a good foil/benchmark for all these comparisons — performance, battery, price — but the real comparison was Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite vs. Intel’s and AMD’s x86 offerings.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that today marks the beginning of the end for x86. Either the x86 architecture has reached an inevitable endpoint, or Intel and AMD are just unable to compete talent-wise. (Or both.) But as of today the performance-per-watt gulf between ARM and Intel/x86 is no longer just an Apple silicon thing — it’s now a PC thing too. If there was any chance for Intel or AMD to catch up, it had to happen between the M1’s breakthrough introduction in 2020 and now. But they couldn’t do it.

The saddest part of the event were the cursory appearances — each by pre-recorded video, despite it being an in-person event in Redmond — of Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger and AMD CEO Lisa Su. Their token appearances felt like Microsoft pretending they haven’t moved on from x86, during an event whose entire theme was, effectively, “moving on from x86”. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite is only being compared to Apple’s base M3, so it’s still up to Intel and AMD to offer chips with performance on the level of the M3 Pro and Max, but the writing is on the wall. The future belongs to ARM system architectures.

Microsoft Introduces ‘Copilot+ PCs’ 

Microsoft today held an event on the eve of their Build developer conference to introduce their new “AI first” class of PCs, which they’re calling Copilot+ PCs. The event video is not on YouTube (yet?), and the URL (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/event) is not a permalink.

The most notable new Windows feature is Recall (which conceptually seems much like Rewind, which has been available as a third-party app for MacOS for a while now):

We set out to solve one of the most frustrating problems we encounter daily — finding something we know we have seen before on our PC. Today, we must remember what file folder it was stored in, what website it was on, or scroll through hundreds of emails trying to find it.

Now with Recall, you can access virtually what you have seen or done on your PC in a way that feels like having photographic memory. Copilot+ PCs organize information like we do — based on relationships and associations unique to each of our individual experiences. This helps you remember things you may have forgotten so you can find what you’re looking for quickly and intuitively by simply using the cues you remember. [...]

Recall leverages your personal semantic index, built and stored entirely on your device. Your snapshots are yours; they stay locally on your PC. You can delete individual snapshots, adjust and delete ranges of time in Settings, or pause at any point right from the icon in the System Tray on your Taskbar. You can also filter apps and websites from ever being saved. You are always in control with privacy you can trust.

Recall can “view” and remember everything that appears on screen because it’s integrated with the Windows 11 graphics system. That’s the sort of “AI feature” that truly benefits from being a first-party solution that can integrate at lower levels of the OS than third-party apps can.

One of the more impressive demos they showed was using Copilot as a voice-driven assistant that helps you cooperatively play Minecraft. The game still gets the entire GPU for graphics because Copilot is running on the NPU.

OpenAI and Sam Altman Ripped Off Scarlett Johansson’s Voice, Supposedly Using an Unnamed Soundalike Voice Actress 

Scarlett Johannson, in a statement released to several media outlets:

Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system. He told me that he felt that by my voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers to feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.

After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer. Nine months later, my friends, family and the general public all noted how much the newest system named “Sky” sounded like me.

When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference. Mr. Altman even insinuated that the similarity was intentional, tweeting a single word “her” - a reference to the film in which I voiced a chat system, Samantha, who forms an intimate relationship with a human.

Two days before the ChatGPT 4.0 demo was released, Mr. Altman contacted my agent, asking me to reconsider. Before we could connect, the system was out there.

At 11:30pm PT last night, OpenAI tweeted:

We’ve heard questions about how we chose the voices in ChatGPT, especially Sky. We are working to pause the use of Sky while we address them.

They’ve “heard questions”.

This plays into every bad stereotype about Silicon Valley “tech bros”. I mean, if they had never contacted Johansson and simply hired an actress who sounds like her, to some degree, that’d be one thing. But to negotiate with her to provide her voice officially, and go ahead with a soundalike after she turned down the offer? Some choice: work with them or get ripped off. How in the world did Sam Altman expect to get away with this? One can only presume Altman expected Johannson to roll over, but why would he expect that? She’s the highest-grossing actress in the history of Hollywood, and Hollywood talent isn’t known for rolling over. And Johansson in particular has a reputation for standing up for herself against deep-pocketed companies.

Also, given the mix of arrogance and the tidbit in Johansson’s statement about Altman reaching out again just two days before OpenAI’s demo, does anyone actually believe this “Sky” voice was not trained on recordings of Johansson herself? The best case scenario for OpenAI is that they really did find a soundalike actress, but that whole story has strong “I found a girlfriend this summer but she lives in Canada” vibes.

AI Ambitions vs. Carbon Neutrality Goals 

Justine Calma, writing for The Verge:

Microsoft’s producing a lot more planet-heating pollution now than it did when it made a bold climate pledge back in 2020. Its greenhouse gas emissions were actually around 30 percent higher in fiscal year 2023, showing how hard it could be for the company to meet climate goals as it simultaneously races to be a leader in AI.

Training and running AI models is an increasingly energy-hungry endeavor, and the impact that’s having on the climate is just starting to come into view. Microsoft’s latest sustainability report is a good case study in the conundrum facing big tech companies that made a slew of climate pledges in recent years but could wind up polluting more as they turn their focus to AI.

The Verge ran this under the headline “Microsoft’s AI Obsession Is Jeopardizing Its Climate Ambitions”, which I think correctly pegs Microsoft’s priorities. I wonder whether for Apple the problem is flipped, and Apple’s climate obsession is jeopardizing their AI ambitions? Apple has not backed off one iota from the goal it declared in 2020 to be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030. At the time, the Apple Car struck me as the biggest obstacle to that goal. That’s not a problem now that they’ve cancelled Project Titan. But AI strikes me as the new biggest obstacle — a wildcard industry change they didn’t foresee in 2020.

Perhaps the New Ultra-Thin iPhone Rumored for 2025 Is in Addition to, Not Replacing, the iPhones Pro 

Re: my idle speculation on rumors of a more expensive, thinner-than-ever iPhone 17 model slated for 2025, Ryan Jones writes:

For maybe the first time, I suspect you’re off.

They tried upmarket, iPhone X, it worked. They tried Mini, not enough sales. They tried Plus, not enough sales. Pro Max became most popular.

So what do you do?

  • Make the Pro Max even bigger (they are, this year, 6.7″ → 6.9″)
  • cut the “extra” non-Pro phone, smaller didn’t work, bigger didn’t work
  • go up market again

Thus:

  • iPhone 18 (6.1″)
  • iPhone 18 Pro (6.1″)
  • iPhone 18 Pro Max (6.9″)
  • iPhone “Ultra” (6.7″)

Oh, I like this thinking a lot. It fits with Apple’s historic strategy. When they try new things and they aren’t hits, they move on. The iPhone 5C was a one-off — no more colorful “beautifully, unapologetically plastic” iPhones. The iPhone Mini only lasted two years (iPhone 12 and 13), and these rumors suggest the iPhone Plus will only last three (iPhones 14, 15, and this year’s upcoming 16).

But when iPhone models prove popular, Apple doesn’t sweep them away. The revolutionary iPhone X, notably, appeared alongside the decidedly evolutionary iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, all three of which phones sported the then-new A11 Bionic chip. Two years ago Apple added the Ultra to the Apple Watch lineup, but only eliminated the titanium “Edition” models of the traditional Watches. It makes all the sense in the world that Apple might create a four-model iPhone family exactly like Jones suggests: keep the regular-sized standard iPhone, keep the Pro and Pro Max, and add a new, thinner-than-ever, more-expensive-than-ever, “Ultra” model at the top. Going upmarket is a strategy that has worked every time they’ve tried in the past. If they sell $2000+ iPads, why not sell $2000+ iPhones? iPhones are more important to more people than any device Apple makes.

Spitball: So how could Apple make an iPhone so thin that, like the new iPad Pros, it’s the first thing people notice about the device? How about getting rid of the glass back? Make the back aluminum or titanium, increasing rigidity, decreasing weight, and eliminating a point of failure for drops. This would require a new method for inductive charging — the whole reason all high-end phones, not just iPhones, have glass backs is that inductive Qi charging doesn’t pass through metal. Maybe something more like MagSafe on MacBooks?

The thinnest iPhone to date was 2014’s iPhone 6, at 6.9mm (not including camera lenses).

‘Pathways’ — New Apple Developer Learning Resources 

Apple, last week:

Pathways are simple and easy-to-navigate collections of the videos, documentation, and resources you’ll need to start building great apps and games. They’re the perfect place to begin your Apple developer journey — all you need is a Mac and an idea.

Mildly interesting to me that this was announced in May, not at WWDC.

iOS 17.5.1 Includes Fix for Bug That Resurfaced Deleted Photos 

MacRumors, quoting Apple’s own release notes:

This update provides important bug fixes and addresses a rare issue where photos that experienced database corruption could reappear in the Photos library even if they were deleted.

That’s a nasty bug, so it’s no surprise that 17.5.1 is here just one week after 17.5.0.

Last week MacRumors also reported on a claim that iOS 17.5 was resurfacing photos on devices that had been wiped and resold (or given away), but that was an extraordinary claim that didn’t jibe with our understanding of how “wiping” an iOS device works. All storage on iOS devices is encrypted, and when you wipe the device (Settings → General → Transfer or Reset iPhone/iPad → Erase All Content and Settings), the encryption key is destroyed. The system doesn’t, and doesn’t need to, overwrite the storage with 0’s or random bits. It just destroys the encryption key from the Secure Enclave, rendering the data already written to storage unrecoverable. That report was based on a single post on Reddit, which has since been deleted. (MacRumors has an update appended to that report, but I think they should move that update to the top of the post, not the bottom. All evidence suggests that it was a false alarm.)

Apple’s 2023 App Store Transparency Report (PDF) 

One segment that caught my attention:

Apps removed from the App Store subject to government takedown demands: 1,462

By country or region:

  • China mainland: 1,285
  • South Korea: 103
  • India: 30
  • Russia 12
  • Indonesia: 8
  • Lithuania: 5
  • Ukraine: 5
  • Malaysia: 2
  • Mexico: 2
  • Philippines: 2
  • Thailand: 2
  • Türkiye: 2
  • Hungary: 1
  • Libya: 1
  • Pakistan: 1
  • Vietnam: 1

There are footnotes on the China and South Korea numbers. For China it says “There were 1,067 game apps removed for lack of a legally required GRN license.” That’s a 2020 law that requires a government license for any paid game. For South Korea, which one doesn’t think of as a repressive country, it says “There were 102 game apps removed for their inappropriate age rating”, which accounts for all but one of them.

A few other items:

  • Average weekly app downloads: 787,999,950
  • Average weekly app redownloads: 1,656,894,821

I long suspected users engage in frequent churn with certain apps installed on their phones, but this seemingly puts a number to it: redownloading previously installed apps is more than twice as popular as downloading new apps. But 788 million weekly app downloads is a big number.

  • Average weekly automatic app updates: 52,623,848,130
  • Average weekly manual app updates: 562,782,228

No surprise that automatic app updates dwarf manual updates, given that automatic updates have been the default setting for many years. These numbers indicate there are almost 100× more automatic updates than manual ones. (I update manually, typically each day, because I enjoy perusing the release notes, just in case there’s anything interesting in them. I’m glad Apple still offers manual updates as a setting.)

The Information: ‘Apple Plans a Thinner iPhone in 2025’ 

Wayne Ma and Qianer Liu, reporting for The Information (paywalled — MacRumors has a summary):

Apple is developing a significantly thinner version of the iPhone that could be released as early as 2025, according to three people with direct knowledge of the project. The slimmer iPhone could be released concurrently with the iPhone 17, expected in September 2025, according to the three people with direct knowledge and two others familiar with the project. It could be priced higher than the iPhone Pro Max, currently Apple’s most expensive model starting at $1,200, they said.

The people familiar with the project described the new iPhone, internally code-named D23, as a major redesign — similar to the iPhone X, which Apple marketed as a technological leap from previous generations and which started at $1,000 when it was released in 2017. Several of its novel features, such as FaceID, the OLED screen and glass back, became standard in subsequent models.

The iPhone X was a true ground-up redesign of the iPhone. No more Home button (replaced by a gestural interface), Face ID, all-screen design with round corners, and more. It effectively created a fork in the platform.

Left unsaid by The Information is how Apple plans to market this new iPhone. I suspect they’re either describing what Apple plans to call the iPhone 17 Pro, or that it’ll have a new name but replace the iPhone Pro in the lineup. That is to say, I do not think Apple plans to make regular iPhone 17’s, 17 Pros, and this new redesigned and more expensive thinner iPhone.

The screen will measure somewhere between the 6.12-inch diagonal display of the standard iPhone and the 6.69-inch display of the iPhone Pro Max, the person added. The rear cameras could be relocated from the upper-left corner of the phone’s back to the top center as part of the redesign, another person with direct knowledge said. [...] Ross Young, CEO at Display Supply Chain Consultants, later said on X that this model would have a 6.55-inch display, which would make it slightly smaller than the iPhone Pro Max.

The Information isn’t coming out and saying there will only be one size, but it sure sounds like that’s the rumor — and that one size is the current Max size. It’s also worth remembering that there was only one size of the iPhone X (5.8 inches) but its 2018 follow-up, the iPhone XS, added the Max size (6.5 inches). Perhaps Apple plans to ship a 5.8-inch-ish smaller iPhone 18 Pro? Or, perhaps, 6.5 inches is the new regular size and an even larger-display iPhone Pro will come in the iPhone 18 generation?

Speaking of larger-sized iPhones, though, The Information says the Plus models are going away:

In recent years, Apple has released four iPhone models. It plans to drop the iPhone Plus, one of its less-expensive models, which has a large screen but lacks the latest-generation processors and cameras, in 2025, three people said. The Plus, which debuted with the iPhone 14 and will still be part of the iPhone 16 lineup this year, has sold below expectations, they said.

Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring last week at DF. The September 2023 MGM hack is one of the most notorious ransomware attacks in recent years. Journalists and cybersecurity experts rushed to report on the broken slot machines, angry hotel guests, and the fateful phishing call to MGM’s help desk that started it all.

But while it’s true that MGM’s help desk needed better ways of verifying employee identity, there’s another factor that should have stopped the hackers in their tracks. That’s where you should focus your attention. In fact, if you just focus your vision, you’ll find you’re already staring at the security story the pros have been missing.

It’s the device you’re reading this on.

To read more about what Kolide learned after researching the MGM hack — like how hacker groups get their names, the worrying gaps in MGM’s security, and why device trust is the real core of the story — check out the Kolide blog.

Encyclopedia Sasser and The Case of the Forged 1977 Apple Employee Badge 

My suspicions were immediately raised by the photograph. That’s just not what ID card photographs looked like in the ’70s or even ’80s. But when #8 calls it fake, you know it’s fake. Go home, Bugs Meany.

Tweet URLs Finally Redirect to X.com 

Only took 300 days. (And, as I noted in a footnote a few months ago, with this change I’ll just call it X, not “Twitter/X”.)

Delta, the Emulator App, Changes Logo After Suggestion From Adobe Lawyers 

This is one of those stories with no bad guy. Delta’s icon/logo was clearly supposed to represent an uppercase Greek delta (Δ). Adobe’s logo is even more clearly an uppercase A. But Delta’s Δ really does look too much like Adobe’s A. If I were an Adobe lawyer I’d have sent the same letter. (Note that Adobe’s lawyers made no threats and were nice about it.)

What’s funny though is that, taking colors into consideration, Delta’s icon looks more like an upside-down Verge favicon.

Sam Alito Flew Seditionist Flag Outside His House in 2021 

Jodi Kantor, reporting for The New York Times:

After the 2020 presidential election, as some Trump supporters falsely claimed that President Biden had stolen the office, many of them displayed a startling symbol outside their homes, on their cars and in online posts: an upside-down American flag.

One of the homes flying an inverted flag during that time was the residence of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in Alexandria, Va., according to photographs and interviews with neighbors.

How in the world did this not come to light before now?

“I had no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag,” Justice Alito said in an emailed statement to The Times. “It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.”

Profile in courage.

Netflix Strikes Three-Year Deal to Broadcast NFL Games on Christmas Day 

Henry Goldblatt, writing for Tudum, Netflix’s splendidly named in-house blog:

Netflix has an early Christmas gift for you — but it won’t fit under the tree. On Dec. 25, 2024, we’ll be the global home of the NFL’s two Christmas Day marquee games: the Super Bowl LVII-winning Chiefs vs Steelers and Ravens vs. Texans. And mark your calendar for Christmas Day in 2025 and 2026 when we’ll be streaming at least one holiday game each year as part of this three-season deal.

My two questions:

First, who’s going to announce the games?

Second, how strong a bid did Apple make to get these games?

Samsung Pepsis Its Pants Again 

Speaking of Apple’s “Crush” ad, Samsung has posted a “response”, depicting a woman guitarist sitting atop a paint-splash-strewn platform standing in for a hydraulic press, with the slogan “We would never crush creativity. #UnCrush”

Rather than sit back and enjoy Apple own-goaling itself last week, they couldn’t resist gracelessly piling on, accomplishing nothing but to remind everyone that they’re Pepsi to Apple’s Coke — content to sit in second place forever, copying not just Apple’s hardware and software designs, but even parodying Apple’s ads. This one is the equivalent of picking ideas out of Apple’s trash. Sad.

Update: This marketing strategy didn’t turn out well for Commodore.

New iPad Pros Perform Well in Bend Tests 

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac:

The new iPad Pro is here and the inevitable YouTube stress tests are already online. JerryRigEverything and AppleTrack posted their bend test videos, and both seemingly came to the same conclusion: the new iPad Pro holds up well to extreme force and seems pretty resistant to bending during normal use.

AppleTrack repeated the same bends with the M2 iPad Pro and the new M4 iPad Pro to compare, and whereas the M4 iPad Pro came away almost unscathed, the M2 iPad Pro had a definitive curl in the corner near the cameras. JerryRigEverything praised the device for its “black magic levels of structural integrity”, at least when bent horizontally.

Good to know that they really are bend-resistant. But I can’t help but see some incongruity between the performative outrage over Apple’s “Crush” ad last week and the fact that the top-trending tech videos on YouTube today are of people destroying the very same iPads the “Crush” ad was promoting.

Instagram Cofounder Mike Krieger Joins Anthropic as Chief Product Officer 

Mike Krieger:

Anthropic’s research continues to be at the forefront of AI. When paired with thoughtful product development, I [see] tons of potential to positively impact how people and companies get their work done. And as a two time entrepreneur, I’m particularly excited by how Claude, along with the right scaffolding and product features, can empower more people to innovate at a faster pace and at a lower cost.

Tangentially related: Anthropic shipped a native iOS Claude app two weeks ago.


Follow-Up on Apple No Longer Including Stickers With New Products

I got some pushback from readers for saying “Boo hiss” to the news that starting with this week’s new iPads, Apple is no longer including logo stickers in the boxes, and more or less rolling my eyes at the environmental concerns.

My thinking was that with all the other “paperwork” included in the box — warranty info, safety info, Quick Start guides — why not include one extra sheet that’s just for fun? One argument against the stickers is even just one extra sheet adds up. If those stickers are 0.1mm thick, a stack of 1 billion of them would be 100km high. But that’s still just one sheet amongst many others that Apple includes in every box.

The better argument against the stickers is that they’re plastic. All the other in-box paperwork is actual paper, and the packaging itself — including the interior structure — is all cardboard. And paper and cardboard are entirely recyclable. Apple has eliminated almost all plastic from its packaging over the years, including the clear shrink-wrap. So consider my mind changed: eliminating the stickers from the box, but making them available to those who want them at Apple retail stores, is a good compromise.

I conducted the same poll on Twitter/X, Mastodon, and Threads: “Thoughts on Apple no longer including stickers with new devices to reduce waste?”, with two options: 👍 or 👎. The results:

Votes👍👎
Twitter/X3,61263%38%
Mastodon3,42573%27%
Threads2,71171%29%
Total9,74869%31%

As a meta note, I continue to find the relative popularity of the three platforms amongst my followers interesting. Also interesting that Twitter/X respondents were a bit less in favor of the change. And lastly, if you’re interested, all three posts on social media have a slew of replies. 


The M4 iPad Pros

The consensus from product reviewers — including yours truly — has been remarkably consistent for the latter half of the iPad’s entire existence, especially when it comes to iPad Pros: incredibly powerful and beautiful hardware hamstrung by infuriatingly limited software. That was the consensus regarding the new iPad Pros in 2022, in 2021, in 2020, and in 2018. In fact consensus is arguably too weak a word. I’m not sure there’s any product in all of tech that has been so consistently regarded by product reviewers for so many years.

Incredibly powerful and beautiful hardware hamstrung by infuriatingly limited software.

But what if we’re thinking about this wrong? This conclusion — that iPad Pros are great hardware let down by underpowered software — starts from a hardware-first perspective. In the abstract, given this amazing hardware, what type of software should power it? What kind of OS? What metaphors for the UI? iPad Pros have been — since the debut of the Pro fork in the iPad lineup — portable-workstation-class computer hardware. iPadOS has never been a workstation-style OS. The obvious truth — reiterated in recent weeks by the EU calling bullshit (or perhaps, conneries) on Apple’s claim that iPad and iPhone are separate platforms — is that iPadOS is a souped-up tablet-oriented variant of iOS.

This has never been more true than now — the M4 iPad Pros are, by some practical measures, the fastest computers Apple makes. But iPadOS is not the sort of system that the typical power user would think to run on super-powerful hardware.

But let’s invert our thinking on this. Instead of starting with the hardware and pondering what the ideal software would be like to take advantage of its power, let’s start with the software. A concept for simplicity-first console-style touchscreen tablet computing. A metaphor for computing with smartphone-style guardrails, with tablet-specific features like stylus support and laptop docking. A tablet OS that is unabashedly a souped-up version of iOS, not a stripped-down version of MacOS. What type of hardware should Apple build to instantiate such a platform?

Obviously Apple should build affordable iPads for the mass market: iPads that are pretty thin, pretty lightweight, with very nice displays, good performance, and great battery life. The original 2010 iPad — offered in only one size, 9.7 inches — had an entry price of $500. Inflation adjusted, that’s a little over $700 today. The new 11-inch M2 iPad Air starts at just $600; the 13-inch iPad Air at $800. The very nice no-adjective 11-inch iPad (officially marketed as 10.9-inches) costs just $350 — effectively half the price of the original iPad in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Those are excellent devices at compelling prices to fit the good (iPad) and better (iPad Air) slots in a good / better / best lineup. But what about best? What should Apple offer for the iPadOS user who is willing to spend more?

For the sake of this argument, let’s posit that there exist tens of millions — perhaps 100 million — users who love the iPad for what it is. People who feel empowered, not hamstrung, by how it works, and who have no or very little need for a computer that exposes the complexity of a desktop OS like MacOS or Windows. And that there exist tens of millions more people who enjoy having an iPad to complement, not replace, their desktop computer. That in broad strokes there exist two types of iPad user: (a) those for whom iPadOS, as it is, suits them well as their primary “big screen” personal computer; (b) those for whom an iPad, due to its very deliberate computing-as-an-appliance-style constraints, can only ever be a supplemental device to a Mac, Windows, or Linux “real” computer. Neither group needs a more powerful iPad, and so because of this, everyone — power-user nerds and typical users alike — tends to use iPads until they break, wear out, or age out of software support.

Personally, I fall squarely in group (b). I feel severely hamstrung trying to use any iPad for my day-to-day work. My personal iPad is a 2018 11-inch iPad Pro, and it’s still very much fine for my needs, even after spending the last week testing this new 13-inch M4 iPad Pro. And so the power-user thinking is that if I’m fine with 6-year-old hardware that is utterly blown away, spec-wise, by this new M4 generation of iPad Pros, then, ipso facto, something is profoundly and fundamentally wrong with the software platform. That if the iPadOS software platform were what it should be, it would compel users — like me, perhaps like you — to upgrade to this latest and greatest hardware to “take advantage of” the hardware’s extraordinary capabilities.

But what if that’s misguided? What if the iPadOS platform is great? Or at the very least, the software is very close to the mark of what it should be and how it should work? What then should Apple apply its hardware engineering resources to, to create a best tier in the iPad lineup?

In that case Apple would prioritize things like optimizing the hardware for thinness and lightness, while maintaining long battery life. To those ends, they would apply the extraordinary performance-per-watt of Apple silicon not so much to making slow things faster, but to making everything the iPad does more power efficient. Twice as fast for the same energy consumption is the Mac way of thinking. Same performance with half the energy consumption is the iOS way of thinking. But those are two sides of the same performance-per-watt coin.

From this viewpoint, going from better (iPad Air) to best (iPad Pro) shouldn’t be about power and performance and the ability to use the device for any and all complex computing tasks, but instead about being just plain nicer. Like going from a Toyota to a Lexus.

Display

For a device that is fundamentally all-screen, that means making the nicest possible displays. Every iPad Apple has ever made had a nice (for its time) display. Every iPad Pro has had a great display. But there remains so much room for refinement.

Consider printers. In my lifetime I’ve gone from crude, painfully slow, annoyingly loud dot-matrix printers, to inkjets, to 300 DPI black-and-white laser printers, to 600 DPI laser printers, to 1200 DPI color laser printers. During the decades-long era when printing was an important part of most people’s computing lives, the quality of the output improved steadily. No one needed higher-quality output but nicer is nicer.

There may well be an endpoint to display technology, where tablet-sized displays are so good that there’s no point improving them. Printers, in my opinion, got to that point a decade or two ago.1 But we’re not there yet, and Apple’s foot is seemingly pedal-to-the-metal pushing iPad Pro display quality forward.

Everything about this new tandem OLED “Ultra Retina XDR” iPad Pro display is excellent. Blacks are black, whites are white, and everything is far sharper than my middle-aged eyes can discern. Oh, and it is bright. It is so bright that when reading in bed at night, alongside a trying-to-fall-asleep spouse, I had to turn the brightness way down in Control Center. It is so bright that it seems perfectly usable outdoors in direct sunlight.

No one really needs a display this good on an iPad. But most people would surely enjoy having a screen this good on their iPad. And some of those are happy to pay a premium for it.

Performance

My review unit is a 1 TB model, with 10 CPU cores and 16 GB RAM. Here are benchmarks from Geekbench 6 (higher scores are better):

SingleMultiGPU
M4 iPad Pro (2024)3,78014,61653,555
M2 iPad Pro (2022)2,6279,98746,643
M2 MacBook Air (2022)2,6319,99746,486
M3 MacBook Air (2024)3,09212,03647,785

All devices have 13-inch displays. iPads running iPadOS 17.5. Macs running MacOS 14.5. All scores averaged across 3 runs.

There exists no iPad model with an M3 chip, and I suspect there never will be one. So I chose the four devices in the above table to speculate about how a hypothetical M3 iPad would perform. iPadOS and MacOS are very different OSes, but the Geekbench 6 results for an M2 iPad Pro and M2 MacBook Air aren’t just close, they’re effectively identical. Presumably, if there existed an M3 iPad Pro, its Geekbench scores would be nearly identical to those of the M3 MacBook Air.

I don’t know if Geekbench is a good benchmark for making such evaluations, but if it is, it would appear that, regardless of whether it’s in an iPad or MacBook, the M3 is about 1.2× faster than the M2, in both single- and multi-core performance, and the M4 is about 1.2× faster than the M3, in both single- and multi-core. Geekbench scores improved only about 1.1× going from M1 to M2. But if we can expect ~1.2× improvements with each successive M-series generation, the M6 will offer double the CPU performance of the M2, and the M8 triple. (As Intel has learned the hard way, it’s quite a big “if” to assume that this 1.2× improvement per generation can be maintained.)

I’ll also include results from Speedometer 3.0, a benchmark for web rendering engines (higher scores are better):

Speedometer 3.0
M4 iPad Pro (2024)33
M2 iPad Pro (2022)26
M2 MacBook Air (2022)27
M3 MacBook Air (2024)38

All results using Safari on iPadOS 17.5 or MacOS 14.5.

These results don’t make much sense to me. The M2 iPad Pro and M2 MacBook Air perform nearly identically, but the M3 MacBook Air is quite a bit faster than the M4 iPad Pro, despite the above Geekbench results suggesting that the M4 ought to be 1.2× faster than the M3. I don’t think this discrepancy is worth racking our brains over; I suspect that this is more about the differences between the iPadOS and MacOS versions of Safari/WebKit.

The bottom line is that the M4 is very fast, and according to both Apple’s stated specs and my own observations after a week of use, very power efficient. It appears that Apple is playing no marketing tricks, and despite its appearance only six months or so after the M3, the M4 is worthy of its next-generation name.

That leaves us pondering the fact that the M4 is a better chip than the M3 that hit the MacBook Air lineup just two months ago. That’s not ideal, but it is what it is. Ideally the new MacBook Airs would have the M4 too. Apple has not and almost surely is not going to fully explain the rationale behind this, but you don’t need to be Morris Chang to surmise that this is about TSMC’s production capabilities. The MacBook Airs are Apple’s best-selling laptops; the iPad Pros are Apple’s least-selling iPads. I think it’s as simple as this: the current MacBook Airs have the M3, not the M4, because there isn’t yet sufficient supply of M4 chips to satisfy demand for MacBook Airs. M4 supply obviously is sufficient to meet iPad Pro demand, and, further, according to Apple, only the M4 is capable of driving the Ultra Retina XDR displays, which are effectively two OLED displays stacked atop each other.

So I think there’s no way today’s MacBook Airs could have the M4, because TSMC can’t yet produce enough M4 chips on their second-gen 3nm process. And conversely there’s no way today’s new iPad Pros could sport the M3 because the M3 lacks a display controller that can drive the tandem OLED Ultra Retina XDR displays — plus, I suspect, the extraordinary thinness and low weights of these new iPad Pros wouldn’t quite be possible without the M4’s thermal advantages over the M3. Apple could make thin and light iPad Pros with the M3, but not iPad Pros this thin and light.

The Meaning of ‘Pro’

Which brings us back to the entire question of what the iPad Pro is supposed to be. It’s easy enough to say they’re all just computers. A MacBook could in theory run iPadOS. An iPad could in theory run MacOS. (The developer kits Apple supplied after announcing the Mac’s Apple silicon transition in 2020 were, effectively, iPad Pros in Mac Mini chassis.)

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone declare that Apple should “just” add touchscreen support to MacOS and allow iPads to dual-boot between MacOS and iPadOS, I’d be a very annoying customer at the bank tomorrow. Those who espouse this opinion are often so adamant that such an arrangement would be both an undeniably good idea for users and “easy” for Apple to do that they are convinced that the only possible explanation for why Apple hasn’t done this is that it’s all part of a scheme to sell both an iPad and MacBook to users who might otherwise just need one.

Apple clearly sees these two platforms from an entirely different perspective. Sure, there’s no denying that Apple is in the business of selling devices. But the idea that Apple deliberately hamstrings the iPad in order to sell more MacBooks makes no long term sense. Apple thrives and truly only succeeds when it makes the best devices possible. If iPadOS is fundamentally deficient, why does Apple sell so many iPads? Why are so many iPad users so happy with their iPad as their only computer other than their phone? “I want to work in ways that iPadOS does not support” does not mean “Everyone wants to work in ways that iPadOS does not support”.

I have observed numerous times that Apple uses the adjective pro in a multitude of ways. Sometimes it means professional, but sometimes it just means deluxe. This difference is exemplified by the iPad and MacBook lineups. With MacBooks, the Pro models are more professional. They have nicer displays and nicer speakers, yes, but primarily they’re about doing things faster. They are thicker and heavier than MacBook Airs. iPad Pros go the opposite way: they are thinner and lighter than the iPad Airs. Yes, it’s ironic that with iPads, the “Air” models are neither the thinnest nor lightest. But this really does explain the philosophical differences Apple sees between the iPad and Mac platforms. A better Mac is faster. Nicer too, but primarily faster. A better iPad is nicer. Faster, too, but primarily nicer. These new iPad Pros are just incredibly nice. And optimizing for niceness is underrated.

I’ve seen it suggested by the “amazing hardware hamstrung by iPadOS’s limitations” crowd that everyone who likes or even loves using an iPad should settle for the iPad Air or even the just-plain iPad. That the iPad Pro’s power is going to waste, and thus there’s no sense paying a premium price for it. But how is it a waste to put that power to use in ways that can’t necessarily be measured objectively? The new iPad Pros sport the M4 not just to accomplish more powerful tasks but primarily to make everyday tasks as nice as they can possibly be, starting with how it feels to simply hold an iPad Pro in hand.

The New Magic Keyboard

As is my wont, I’ve written this entire review using the M4 iPad Pro itself, using the new Magic Keyboard.2 What a fabulous upgrade this new Magic Keyboard is. The trackpad is bigger and undeniably better. Aluminum palm rests feel better. The keys have great typing feel — I think better than the feel of the old Magic Keyboards, but certainly no worse.

So the new Magic Keyboards offer sturdier construction, better typing feel, much better and bigger trackpads, and they add a function-key row, complete with a top-left Esc key.

The new Magic Keyboards are about 5 percent lighter than the old ones. Oddly, Apple doesn’t list the weight as a spec for the Magic Keyboards, but by my scale, the original 13-inch Magic Keyboard weighed about 700g; the new one weighs about 660g.

Some weights, with the iPads encased in their corresponding Magic Keyboards (all measured on my scale):

  • 13″ M3 MacBook Air: 1,227g
  • 13″ M4 iPad Pro: 1,247g
  • 13″ M2 iPad Pro: 1,398g
  • 14″ M3 Max MacBook Pro: 1,607g

Until now, a 13-inch MacBook Air was a noticeable 170g lighter than a 13-inch iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard (~12 percent). Now, though, a 13-inch iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard is only a negligible 20g heavier than a MacBook Air. That’s something. You can absolutely feel the difference in hand.

I have one significant complaint about the new Magic Keyboard: it’s hard to open. MacBooks have a notch carved out of their aluminum base, under the trackpad. When closed, this notch gives your thumb a place to begin exerting upward pressure on the display to open it up. There is no such notch on the new Magic Keyboard. So instead of lifting the “display” (which is really the iPad itself) up to open it into laptop configuration, I find myself starting with the iPad Pro perpendicular to the desk, and pulling the keyboard/trackpad down. You don’t have to pry it open, per se, but the top-heavy nature of an iPad in a keyboard case inherently makes it harder to open than a MacBook with their lightweight display tops. Top-heaviness also requires that the Magic Keyboard hinge be quite a bit stiffer than any MacBook hinge. It’s the nature of the beast. An iPad in the original Magic Keyboard isn’t easy to open either.

Miscellaneous

  • The new Pencil Pro feels just like a Pencil 2 but with a haptic-feedback “squeeze” action. Just like with Apple’s recent trackpads (including the trackpad on the new Magic Keyboards), the Pencil Pro doesn’t really have a clicking button. It’s faked through haptics. But the fakery is so convincing that it’s indistinguishable from an actual clicking button. I am not even vaguely an illustrator or sketcher, so I can’t claim to have put the Pencil Pro through its paces over the last week. But the cleverness of the new tool-switching radial menu for switching between Pencil tools is so fun that it makes me wish I had more use for a Pencil than annotating PDF documents. It’s really nice, and it’s great that the Pencil Pro works just as well with the new M2 iPad Airs.

  • Battery life has been excellent. As I type this sentence, I’ve been using the iPad Pro non-stop for hours, and the battery is still at 83 percent.

  • Moving the front-facing camera to the long side, optimized for use in laptop orientation, is an obvious win overall. I continue to think it’s a bit weird that Apple didn’t pull the trigger on this change years ago, when they first embraced the fact that many people wish to use their iPads in laptop-style keyboard cases. But there’s one downside: the Face ID sensors are in the same sensor array as the camera, and when holding the iPad Pro as a tablet, in portrait orientation, that’s where my right hand often is. I’ve gotten used to this change over the course of the week, though — I encountered the “hey, your hand is blocking the Face ID sensors” animated arrow warning far more frequently the first few days than the last few.

  • My review unit hardware is in space black, which I think looks great.

  • The remarkable thinness of the new iPad Pros — this 13-inch model I’ve been testing is just 5.1mm thick; the 11-inch models 5.3mm — has raised questions about durability. Is it going to bend? It feels quite sturdy in hand, with no flex. I asked representatives from Apple about durability, and they claim the new iPad Pros should prove every bit as durable (and in particular, bend-resistant) as previous iPad Pros. Arun “Mrwhosetheboss” Maini did me one better, and asked John Ternus about durability in an on-camera interview posted to Twitter/X. Ternus’s answer echoed what I was told on background: the new iPad Pros have their main logic board and a supporting rib running down the middle of the hardware in portrait mode. This design both better dissipates heat and adds rigidity to the chassis. Durability questions can only truly be answered through extensive real-world use, but my money is on these new iPad Pros being as durable as promised.

  • The cameras — front and rear — are both fine. No raves, but no complaints. It is a bit weird that the previous generation iPad Pros had both 1× (“wide”) and 0.5× (“ultra wide”) cameras, and the M4 models are back to just the lone 1×, but this seems less like a regression and more like a sign that adding an ultra wide camera to the previous generation was overkill. The microphone seems excellent for one that’s built into a tablet.

  • My review unit does not have the nano-texture display finish. If I buy one of these iPads, I’ll probably opt for the nano-texture, but I’m curious to see what reviewers who did get to test it think. (And I’m curious to see it in person, again, at an Apple Store this week.)

Conclusion

iPadOS is what it is. Whatever you (or I) think of it as a productivity platform, you’re a fool if you think it isn’t beloved by many. It’s popular, even for some “professional” use cases, not despite iPadOS’s guardrails but often because of them. Those guardrails feel limiting to me, often very much so, but those same guardrails are liberating to others. There is tremendous power in having a computer that is simple not merely by suggestion but by hard and fast technical constraints.

Should you only buy what you need, or splurge for what you’d most enjoy? A Lexus instead of a Toyota. A first-class seat instead of coach. Craft IPA instead of Budweiser. In other aspects of life, few question the mere existence of premium-priced superior experiences. But with the iPad, those unsatisfied by the nature of iPadOS seem to think those who do love iPadOS don’t deserve a premium tier of hardware.

And there are professional apps used for serious work on iPads. Apple’s own Final Cut and Logic for iPads are not toys. Both are very serious siblings — and for non-extreme projects, peers — to their respective Mac versions. For visual artists there are a plethora of serious iPad apps: DaVinci Resolve (video color grading), ZBrush (3D sculpting), Procreate Dreams, Affinity Designer, Frame IO. There’s even a paint app from Adobe called Photoshop, which apparently has been around for a while. Arguing that “no one can do real work on an iPad” reminds me of Yogi Berra’s “No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

A “pro” device that goes pro by getting thinner and lighter, not heavier and thicker, is not a non sequitur. Or at least not necessarily. What makes for a better iPad is simply orthogonal, in many regards, to what makes for a better Mac. Way back in 2010, when the iPad was new (and ran what was called iOS) and it felt like the Mac’s days might be winding down, I wrote, “It’s the heaviness of the Mac that allows iOS to remain light.” I meant that figuratively. But these new M4 iPad Pros make it quite literal. 


  1. Well, printer output quality. Not the printers themselves, which if anything, have gotten more maddening in recent years. ↩︎︎

  2. Well, almost the entire thing. There’s nothing I’m aware of for iOS that makes HTML/Markdown table creation as easy as TableFlip, an excellent $10 (cheap!) Mac utility by Christian Tietze. And I added many of the hyperlinks to the text from my Mac, while copy editing in BBEdit before publication. Inserting dozens of links from open Safari tabs or from web search results is a tedious task that I’ve automated all the tedium out of using Keyboard Maestro, AppleScript, and Perl — none of which are available on iPadOS. ↩︎