Wednesday, 8 December 2021
Russell Brandom, reporting for The Verge:
An appeals court has paused one of the most consequential parts of
the Epic v. Apple ruling, placing a stay on the enforcement
of the injunction issued by the lower court. As a result of the
stay, Apple can maintain its IAP system as the sole source of
in-app payments on iOS, despite the district court’s earlier
ruling that the exclusive arrangement is illegal.
The stay, issued Wednesday afternoon, does not reverse the earlier
ruling but puts enforcement on hold until the appeals court can
fully hear the case, a process that will likely take months.
“Apple has demonstrated, at minimum, that its appeal raises
serious questions on the merits of the district court’s
determination,” the ruling reads. “Therefore, we grant Apple’s
motion to stay part (i) of paragraph (1) of the permanent
injunction. The stay will remain in effect until the mandate
issues in this appeal.”
This isn’t quite “game over”, but I believe it’s close. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’s injunction mandating changes to the App Store seemed to be on shaky legal footing all along. Apple’s own lawyers, for example, seem extremely confident, writing in their motion to stay the injunction:
That injunction — which Epic has no standing to enforce — will
not survive appellate review. Virtually all digital transaction
platforms employ similar anti-steering provisions (Ex. C), which
have been recognized as procompetitive in this novel technological
Reporting for The New York Times, Kellen Browning writes:
If the appeals court had not ruled, Apple on Thursday would have
had to start allowing companies to include links within their apps
directing customers to outside websites where they can pay for
those companies’ services or subscriptions. That would have
prevented Apple from taking a cut of up to 30 percent on those
I don’t think that’s true. As noted by several commentators last week, Apple’s motion to stay made clear that they intended to collect their 15–30 percent of purchases made in-app even if forced to comply with the injunction. The injunction requires only that Apple allow other forms of payment processing, including links to the web — not that they aren’t entitled to monetize the platform by charging a mandatory commission. You might say, well, wait a minute, if apps are able to use payment processors other than Apple’s IAP, wouldn’t it be complicated and difficult to figure how to account for and collect these fees? Basically, that’s Apple’s argument. From page 14 of Apple’s motion to stay the injunction:
Finally, Epic suggests that “Apple will not receive a
commission” on “transactions that happen outside the app, ... on
which Apple has never charged a commission.” That is not
correct. Apple has not previously charged a commission on
purchases of digital content via buttons and links because such
purchases have not been permitted. If the injunction were to go
into effect, Apple could charge a commission on purchases made
through such mechanisms. See Ex. A, at 67 (“Under all
[e-commerce] models, Apple would be entitled to a commission or
licensing fee, even if IAP was optional”). Apple would have to
create a system and process for doing so; but because Apple could
not recoup those expenditures (of time and resources) from Epic
even after prevailing on appeal, the injunction would impose
Basically, Apple’s argument for a stay was that — as per Gonzalez Rogers’s own ruling — they were entitled to collect a commission even on digital content purchases that didn’t use IAP, but that doing so would require significant effort, and if they eventually won on appeal — which, as stated above, they expect to — they’d have no recourse to recoup the costs of that effort. The Ninth Circuit appeals court clearly agreed. ★
Wednesday, 8 December 2021
Kickstarter Plans to Move Its Crowdfunding Platform to the Blockchain ★
Lucas Matney, reporting for TechCrunch:
Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter is making a big bet on the
blockchain, announcing plans to create an open source
protocol “that will essentially create a decentralized version of
Kickstarter’s core functionality.” The company says the goal is
for multiple platforms to embrace the protocol, including,
Welp, all that’s left after that is to sell the company to Twitter and shut it down.
The Information: ‘Inside Tim Cook’s Secret $275 Billion Deal with Chinese Authorities’ ★
Wayne Ma, reporting for The Information (free article link for non-subscribers, which requires you to share your email address):
Apple’s iPhone recently became the top-selling smartphone in
China, its second-biggest market after the U.S., for the first
time in six years. But the company owes much of that success to
CEO Tim Cook, who laid the foundation years ago by secretly
signing an agreement, estimated to be worth more than $275
billion, with Chinese officials promising Apple would do its part
to develop China’s economy and technological prowess through
investments, business deals and worker training.
Cook forged the five-year agreement, which hasn’t been previously
reported, during the first of a series of in-person visits he made
to the country in 2016 to quash a sudden burst of regulatory
actions against Apple’s business, according to internal Apple
documents viewed by The Information. Before the meetings, Apple
executives were scrambling to salvage the company’s relationship
with Chinese officials, who believed the company wasn’t
contributing enough to the local economy, the documents show. Amid
the government crackdown and the bad publicity that accompanied
it, iPhone sales plummeted.
This is a deeply-researched and seemingly amazingly well-sourced story. Extraordinary work by Ma — particularly the Apple internal documents he was able to obtain. The backstory on that must be something. Long story short, Apple’s relationship with China is every bit as complicated, and delicate, as you’d think. I was skeptical about the headline — both the staggering $275 billion figure and the word “secret” — but Ma’s reporting backs it up.
The Information is subscriber-only, and costs $400 a year. That’s a lot, no question, but you get what you pay for. Reporting like this makes it worthwhile to me. I try always to be respectful when linking to paywalled material, and not quote so much as to spoil the whole thing. But I feel compelled to share this nugget:
Sometime in 2014 or early 2015, China’s State Bureau of Surveying
and Mapping told members of the Apple Maps team to make the Diaoyu
Islands, the objects of a long-running territorial dispute between
China and Japan, appear large even when users zoomed out from
them. Chinese regulators also threatened to withhold approval of
the first Apple Watch, scheduled for release in 2015, if Apple
didn’t comply with the unusual request, according to internal
Some members of the team back at Apple’s headquarters in
Cupertino, Calif., initially balked at the demand. But the Maps
app had become a priority for Apple, so eventually the company
complied. The Diaoyu Islands, when viewed in Apple Maps in
mainland China, continue to appear on a larger scale than
I would venture to say that all members of Apple’s Maps team balked at this request. It’s absurd and offensive. Asking professional cartographers to misrepresent the size of islands for propaganda purposes — even if only to users in mainland China — is like asking writers to misspell words or misstate facts, or asking mathematicians to generate incorrect results. It’s contrary to the nature of the profession.
‘The Media Coverage of Kamala Harris and Bluetooth Is Ridiculous’ ★
Last night, the journalists behind Politico’s West Wing Playbook
thought it wise to publish a story on the VP’s preference for
wired headphones — because she’s concerned over the vulnerability
of Bluetooth-enabled devices like AirPods — and then fleshed out
the piece with an insinuation that she’s being paranoid.
On Twitter, reporter Alex Thompson, one of the folks on the
byline, echoed this part from the piece: that some aides felt
VP Harris was being “a bit paranoid” over security and attached it
to an anecdote over Harris, then California Attorney General,
instructing her staff not to leave visitors alone in her office.
The critical bit about her ordering staff to not leave visitors
alone in her office — the Office of the Attorney General of
California — seems especially absurd. It’s a legal office. It’s a
government office. There are confidential documents. Someone left
alone could plant a listening device. So many operational security
It doesn’t make sense.
I’m not aware of any actual exploits that iPhone/AirPods users should worry about, but it certainly isn’t silly or “paranoid” that the vice president of the United States doesn’t want to take unnecessary risks.
Clymer links to this solid piece from The Daily Beast summarizing infosec concerns around Bluetooth. By its very nature, Bluetooth is a location beacon, for example.
Twitter Acquires Quill; Will Shut Down Service at the End of the Week ★
Together with Twitter, we will continue to pursue our original
goal — to make online communication more thoughtful, and more
effective, for everyone.
Quill will be shutting down, but its spirit and ideas will
continue on. You’ll be able to export your team message history
until 1pm PST, Saturday, December 11th 2021, when we will be
turning off our servers and deleting all data. For all active
teams, we’re issuing full refunds.
Most new endeavors don’t succeed. Trust me, I get it. The end is never pretty. But four days’ notice is almost bizarrely hostile — especially given that Quill was acquired, and didn’t simply run out of money. This is a service that they asked teams to trust. To say it’s disruptive to give people half a week to export their data and find a new collaboration platform is an understatement. What if someone is on vacation? What if it’s crunch week for a team facing a deadline?
Sebastiaan de With:
Quill was a great product. We rely on it at @luxdotcamera. I’m
happy for the very talented team.
However, this is a total service shutdown with a 4 day notice.
What an abysmal way to treat your users. Angry and disappointed. 👎
Twitter, where exciting new products go to be shut down.
Apple Music’s Year in Review vs. Spotify Wrapped ★
Chaim Gartenberg, writing last week for The Verge:
Spotify has been eating Apple’s lunch for years now with
Wrapped, which has practically become its own internet holiday
each year. And yet, it took Apple four full years to even launch
its bare-bones Replay feature, which debuted in 2019 and
hasn’t been meaningfully updated since. (I’ve been using kludged
together Smart Playlists on iTunes for years to try to poorly
replicate the Spotify experience.)
2021 is no exception, with Spotify offering what feels like its
most lavish recaps yet. My wife (who is a Spotify user) spent the
morning showing off her bespoke playlist to me, which included
(among other things) specially curated songs for specific moods,
rankings of where she placed among global Doja Cat listeners, a
color-changing “audio aura,” and an interactive quiz. All of it is
designed to be shared and shown off on other social media
I’m a bit surprised Apple hasn’t upped its year-in-review game for Apple Music, for the simple reason Gartenberg cites: Spotify Wrapped gets a ton of authentic social media action each year. Me, personally, I still wouldn’t care a whit about it. My music taste is old and boring — I neither need to be reminded of what I liked this year, nor want to share it. But it’s quite obvious that many people — especially younger people, whose tastes actually do reflect popular trends in new music — absolutely love it.
Saturday, 4 December 2021
My thanks to Atoms for sponsoring this week at DF. Atoms’s excellent Model 000 is a sneaker-style everyday shoe, available not just in half sizes but quarter sizes for a perfect fit. Atoms’ stretchy laces make it easy to slip the shoes on and off. Insoles made with copper thread neutralize odor. And lightweight materials make Atoms exceptionally comfortable and durable. My much-worn pair — size 12.25, quarter sizes for the win — is well over a year old and still look great.
For the holidays, Atoms has launched three new colorways, a limited edition art collaboration, and also brought back the popular Navy Blue and Neons. On top of that, Atoms is offering Daring Fireball readers $20 off one pair or $50 off two. A great deal for great shoes.
Friday, 3 December 2021
Ben Pearson: ‘Here’s Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult to Understand’ ★
Ben Pearson, writing for Slashfilm:
I used to be able to understand 99% of the dialogue in Hollywood
films. But over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed that
percentage has dropped significantly — and it’s not due to
hearing loss on my end. It’s gotten to the point where I find
myself occasionally not being able to parse entire lines of
dialogue when I see a movie in a theater, and when I watch things
at home, I’ve defaulted to turning the subtitles on to make sure I
don’t miss anything crucial to the plot.
Knowing I’m not alone in having these experiences, I reached out
to several professional sound editors, designers, and mixers, many
of whom have won Oscars for their work on some of Hollywood’s
biggest films, to get to the bottom of what’s going on. One person
refused to talk to me, saying it would be “professional suicide”
to address this topic on the record. Another agreed to talk, but
only under the condition that they remain anonymous. But several
others spoke openly about the topic, and it quickly became
apparent that this is a familiar subject among the folks in the
sound community, since they’re the ones who often bear the brunt
of complaints about dialogue intelligibility.
I think part of this is a trend that might have been inevitable, as the language of cinema inevitably became the lingua franca of the world. Most people can thoroughly enjoy movies recorded in a foreign language with subtitles. (Have I ever mentioned how fucking much I love Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite? My god, what a masterpiece.) So of course, you can, in theory, enjoy a movie recorded in your own language even if you can’t make out all or even a lot of the dialogue. Trend isn’t even the right word, though — it’s a fad, like grunge typography in the 1990s or the bizarre orange-teal color grading of movies during the 2000s.
But the other factor — which Pearson addresses directly — is the singular influence of Christopher Nolan. Nolan is to mumble-mouthed movie dialogue what David Carson was to illegible typography. Did I buy every issue of Ray Gun? Yes. Do I watch every movie Nolan makes? Yes. But, still, it’s a fad.
The correct answer here is Stanley Kubrick. In the same way the color grading of his films has never seemed dated, no matter the current fad, the audio tracks have not either. You can understand every fucking word every character says. Which makes Nolan’s recent films a bit frustrating, given how amazing a job he did supervising the 50th anniversary re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. My gut says Nolan is going to outgrow this.
Reuters: U.S. State Department Employees’ iPhones Were Hacked With NSO Group Spyware ★
Christopher Bing and Joseph Menn, reporting for Reuters:
iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department employees were
hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware
developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people
familiar with the matter. The hacks, which took place in the last
several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or
focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the
sources said. […]
Apple’s alert to affected users did not name the creator of the
spyware used in this hack. The victims notified by Apple included
American citizens and were easily identifiable as U.S. government
employees because they associated email addresses ending in
state.gov with their Apple IDs, two of the people said.
Fascinating to consider that the U.S. State Department is only aware of this hack because Apple notified the affected employees. That’s certainly how this report reads.
In a public response, NSO has said its technology helps stop
terrorism and that they’ve installed controls to curb spying
against innocent targets. For example, NSO says its intrusion
system cannot work on phones with U.S. numbers beginning with the
country code +1. But in the Uganda case, the targeted State
Department employees were using iPhones registered with foreign
telephone numbers, said two of the sources, without the U.S.
Big-time ✊🍆 feel to this. Like hearing about PC malware that bypasses PCs with Russian keyboards attached.
Canadian Police Claim AirTags Are Being Used by Thieves to Track Cars They Intend to Steal ★
York Regional Police:
Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents
where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end
vehicles so they can later locate and steal them. Brand name ‘air
tags’ are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when
they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots.
Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s
residence, where they are stolen from the driveway.
Thieves typically use tools like screwdrivers to enter the
vehicles through the driver or passenger door, while ensuring not
to set off alarms. Once inside, an electronic device, typically
used by mechanics to reprogram the factory setting, is connected
to the onboard diagnostics port below the dashboard and programs
the vehicle to accept a key the thieves have brought with them.
Once the new key is programmed, the vehicle will start and the
thieves drive it away.
Over the past year, more than 2,000 vehicles have been stolen
across the region.
Five incidents out of 2,000 is not exactly a trend, but the basic idea here is interesting. I’m interested in knowing how the police figured out that AirTags were used in this way. Let’s say a thief hides an AirTag on your car while it’s in a public parking lot. Then you park the car in your home’s driveway. The thief comes in the middle of the night and steals your car. You call the police and they come to your home to investigate. How would they know an AirTag had ever been involved?
My only guess is that in these five incidents, the victims were iPhone users who got the “AirTag Found Moving With You” alert. They tapped the “Play Sound” button, found the nefariously hidden AirTag, and (perhaps because they know their car is high-end) had the foresight to call the police. Or, maybe they disregarded the alert, thinking their iPhone had picked up on someone else’s AirTag by mistake. But then their car gets stolen a day or two later, and the unexpected “AirTag Found Moving With You” alert they had disregarded suddenly seems relevant, so they share that with the police.
If that’s the basic idea, then the use of AirTags in this way might be more prevalent than the five cases suggest, because if the car owner doesn’t use an iPhone (or uses an older iPhone still running an older version of iOS), neither the owner nor the police would have any way of knowing an AirTag had ever been involved in the theft.
Thursday, 2 December 2021
From the DF Archive: Taiwan Flag Emoji Disappears From iOS 13.1.2 Keyboard in Hong Kong ★
Speaking of kowtowing to China, this one still irks me. And, at this point, likely will for the foreseeable future.
The Other Memory-Holed Episode of ‘The Simpsons’ — the One With Michael Jackson ★
Small bit of follow-up regarding yesterday’s item about Disney+ blocking an episode of The Simpsons in Hong Kong because it contained a joke about Tiananmen Square. The article I linked to at The Wrap claimed “Disney+ users in the U.S. may be able to stream every episode of ‘The Simpsons’ ever made,” but that’s not true. Here’s Isaac Butler, writing for Slate two years ago:
One unexpected fallout from our cultural reckoning with the life
and work of Michael Jackson is the erasure of a Simpsons
episode. “Stark Raving Dad,” the premiere of the show’s
third season, tells the story of Homer being committed to an
insane asylum, where he meets a patient named Leon Kompowsky, who
claims to be Michael Jackson. Homer, not knowing who Michael
Jackson is, believes him. Antics ensue. The central joke is that
Leon is actually voiced by Michael Jackson, a joke extended
further by his use of a pseudonym in the end credits. Following
the renewed allegations of child sexual abuse against
Jackson, executive producer James L. Brooks announced last week
that The Simpsons will no longer include the episode in
syndication packages, streaming, or even future DVD releases of
the show. It’s gone. But don’t call it a book burning, he
cautions. “This is our book,” he told the Wall Street Journal,
“and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.” [...]
“Stark Raving Dad” is not the golden age’s best episode, but it is
the shot across the bow. In its absurd plotting and metatextual
japery, its alchemical mixture of cynicism and heartwarming
sentiment — to say nothing of the way it reckons with its guest
celebrity’s public image — it establishes the formula that the
show was to follow for years. The episode belongs in a museum — preserved forever, not swept into the memory hole.
There was also a years-long stretch after 9/11 where the season premiere of season 9 — “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” — was held from syndication because a segment takes place at the World Trade Center. It’s been back in syndication and streaming since 2006, though. They should do the same with “Stark Raving Dad”.
Ex-Google Employees Sue Company, Saying It Betrayed ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Motto ★
Bobby Allyn, reporting for NPR:
Three former Google employees have sued the company,
alleging that Google’s motto “Don’t be evil” amounts to a
contractual obligation that the tech giant has violated. At the
time the company hired the three software engineers, Rebecca
Rivers, Sophie Waldman and Paul Duke, they signed conduct rules
that included a “Don’t be evil” provision, according to the suit.
The trio say they thought they were behaving in accordance with
that principle when they organized Google employees against
controversial projects, such as work for U.S. Customs and Border
Protection during the Trump administration. The workers
circulated a petition calling on Google to publicly commit
to not working with CBP.
This feels like a publicity stunt, not the grounds for a serious lawsuit.
Also, Steve Jobs in an Apple Town Hall meeting back in January 2010: “Don’t be evil is a load of crap.”
‘How This All Happened’ ★
Morgan Housel, writing at Collaborative Fund:
This is a short story about what happened to the U.S. economy since the end of World War II.
That’s a lot to unpack in 5,000 words, but the short story of what happened over the last 73 years is simple: Things were very uncertain, then they were very good, then pretty bad, then really good, then really bad, and now here we are. And there is, I think, a narrative that links all those events together. Not a detailed account. But a story of how the details fit together.
I enjoyed this essay tremendously. This line, in particular, has stuck with me for the last week: “Expectations always move slower than facts.”
Could COVID Lead to Progress? ★
Steven Johnson, writing for The New York Times Magazine:
What about the more subtle psychological legacy of Covid? How will it change the way we perceive the world — and its risks — when the pandemic finally subsides? I have a memory from May of this year, taking my 17-year-old son to the Javits Center in Manhattan for his first vaccine, followed by a shopping trip to pick out a tie for his (masked, outdoor) senior prom. At some point waiting in line, I made a halfhearted joke about how we were embarking on the classic father-son ritual of heading out to the mass vaccination site to protect him from the plague. I meant it ironically, but the truth is that for my son’s generation, proms and plagues will be part of the rituals of growing up.
There’s no question in my mind that growing up, right now, is going to lead more kids to focus their careers on science and medicine. The worst thing that happened in early 2020 was a sort of worldwide collective denial. A sort of “OK, fine, there’s a bad virus going around Asia, we’ve heard this story before — it’s not going to be a major issue here” mindset. I certainly thought like that. It’s human nature. The fact that we hadn’t had a major worldwide pandemic in a century led us to believe — not so much through reason, but more through gut feeling — that we couldn’t have one. Not like this.
Today’s youth will never grow up feeling like that. For them, the next pandemic will always loom on the horizon.
Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Disney+ Scrubs ‘The Simpsons’ Episode With Tiananmen Square Joke From Hong Kong Service ★
Andi Ortiz, writing for The Wrap:
Disney+ users in the U.S. may be able to stream every episode of
“The Simpsons” ever made, but apparently, that’s not the case in
China. With the platform’s launch in Hong Kong, users have
discovered that one episode in particular has been scrubbed from
the streamer — the one that mocks Tiananmen Square.
According to users, season 16 of the show offers episode 11 and
then 13, but skips episode 12 altogether. The episode — first
broadcast in 2005 and titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan” — follows the
Simpson family on a trip to China, where they visit Tiananmen
Square. While there, they spot a placard that reads: “On this
site, in 1989, nothing happened.”
Profiles in courage.
Update: The other memory-holed episode of The Simpsons.
Square Changes Corporate Name to Block ★
Square is renaming itself Block as it focuses on technologies like
blockchain and expands beyond its original credit card reader
Jack Dorsey’s payments giant said in an announcement the new name,
effective Dec. 10, “acknowledges the company’s growth” and
“creates room for further growth.” Block will still trade under
the ticker SQ on the New York Stock Exchange.
Square was a perfectly fine name, and “Block” feels overly trendy. But, whatever. I do like the logo animation on the new Block website — a dot-xyz domain, not a dot-com.
Sal Piacente, Casino Cheating Expert, Reviews Card Counting and Casino Scams From Movies ★
Now I’ve got a list of movies to watch (or re-watch).
W.T.A. Suspends Tournaments in China Over Missing Tennis Star Peng Shuai ★
Matthew Futterman, reporting for The New York Times:
“While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she
is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and
intimidation,” Simon said in a statement released Wednesday
“I very much regret it has come to this point. The tennis
communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with
whom we have worked for many years. They should be proud of their
achievements, hospitality and success. However, unless China takes
the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff
at risk by holding events in China. China’s leaders have left the
WTA with no choice.”
The WTA continues to impress.
Alexis Gay: ‘When You Love the Em-Dash’ ★
One solid minute on the em-dash. Perfect.
The Talk Show: ‘Headline Goes Here’ ★
Special guest Jim Dalrymple returns to the show to discuss the past and future of Apple-centric reporting.
- Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
- Mack Weldon: Radically-efficient wardrobing.
- Earnest: Freedom of choice meets student loans.
David Pogue: ‘Stephen Sondheim, the Teacher’ ★
David Pogue, writing for CBS News:
Stephen Sondheim may have been best known as one of the greatest
composer/lyricists the theater has ever known. But he often said
that he would have loved to have been a teacher — and he was an
extraordinarily generous one to generations of young composers.
I was one of them. I came to New York right after college, full of
ambition to write Broadway musicals. Somehow I met Sondheim, and
for many years, he’d give me feedback on my songs, and I gave him
First of all, he always said, content dictates form. In other
words, the kind of music you’re writing should depend on the
character and the dramatic situation.
Facebook Ordered to Sell Giphy by U.K. Regulator ★
Jon Porter, reporting for The Verge:
The UK’s competition regulator has officially ruled that Facebook
parent company Meta’s acquisition of Giphy should be unwound, a
year and a half after the social media giant first said it was
acquiring the popular GIF-making and sharing website. In a
press release, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)
said that it had come to the decision after its investigation
found an acquisition could harm competition between social media
platforms, and that its concerns “can only be addressed by
Facebook selling Giphy in its entirety to an approved buyer.”
The CMA said the acquisition could be used to deny or limit other
platforms’ access to Giphy GIFs and drive more traffic to
Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. It also raised concerns that it
could be used to require other platforms to provide more data to
access the GIFs. Finally, the CMA also believes that Giphy’s
advertising services could have competed with Meta’s, but that
these were shuttered as a result of the merger.
Can you imagine Facebook trying to buy Instagram or WhatsApp now? I mean if even the Giphy acquisition is now considered problematic — Giphy! — imagine something bigger.
Monday, 29 November 2021
Jack Dorsey Steps Down as Twitter CEO; Will Be Replaced by CTO Parag Agrawal ★
Jessica Bursztynsky, reporting for CNBC:
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down as chief of the social media company, effective immediately. Parag Agrawal, the company’s chief technology officer, will take over the helm, the company said Monday.
Sunday, 28 November 2021
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Saturday, 27 November 2021
Vinegar — Safari Extension That Replaces YouTube Embeds With Simple HTML 5 Video Tags ★
YouTube5 was a Safari extension back when Flash was still a thing and hated by everyone. It replaced the YouTube player (written in Flash) with an HTML
And now the YouTube player situation has gotten bad enough that we need another extension to fix it. That’s where Vinegar comes in. Vinegar also replaces the YouTube player (written in who-knows-what) with a minimal HTML
I’ve been using Vinegar for over a week now, across all my devices — iPhone, iPad, Mac — and I’m already at the place where I don’t know what I’d do without it. Crackerjack good work. $2 on the App Store. Just buy it, trust me.
Friday, 26 November 2021
Jason Snell’s 2021 E-Reader Roundup: Kobo Sage, Kobo Libra 2, and Kindle Paperwhite ★
I’ve got a Paperwhite that’s now a few years old. I really don’t use it much, because for whatever reason, I prefer paper books. But Jason Snell is a voracious reader of books on e-readers, and, of course, he has impeccable taste in hardware and software. If you’re looking to buy someone an e-reader this holiday season, or to ask someone to get one for you, I’d read Snell’s review of these three.
Thursday, 25 November 2021
The Talk Show: The Scotland Board of Tourism ★
For your holiday listening enjoyment: Special guest David Smith returns to the show to talk about Apple Watch Series 7 and the state of WatchOS, Apple suing NSO Group, and more.
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Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Vlad Savov and Sohee Kim, reporting last week for Bloomberg, “Apple, Google Monopoly Over Apps Must Be Stopped, Epic Games CEO Says”:1
Epic Games Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney renewed his
attack on Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google as the world’s
dominant mobile duopoly before calling for a universal app store
that works across all operating systems as the solution.
“What the world really needs now is a single store that works with
all platforms,” Sweeney said in an interview in Seoul on Tuesday.
First, a note to Bloomberg editors: two companies can’t possess a monopoly. The word you’re looking for is duopoly — or, (very) arguably, monopolies, plural. Second: the solution to an ostensibly problematic duopoly is ... a single universal store? And we’re supposed to take this without laughing?
And, gee, I wonder which company Tim Sweeney thinks should own and run this store?
“Right now software ownership is fragmented between the iOS App
Store, the Android Google Play marketplace, different stores on
Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch, and then Microsoft Store
and the Mac App Store.” Epic is working with developers and
service providers to create a system that would allow users “to
buy software in one place, knowing that they’d have it on all
devices and all platforms.”
I’ve been arguing all along that, if victorious in their lawsuits against Apple and Google’s mobile app console platforms, Epic would surely turn its sights on Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft’s game console platforms, using their win over Apple and Google as precedent. When pressed on this — why Epic was going after the iOS and Android app stores, but not the Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox game stores (and in fact, gave those game console stores a 20 percent discount after launching their seemingly ill-fated jihad against Apple and Google) — Sweeney has previously given a hand-wavy justification about game console platforms being acceptable because the hardware itself isn’t profitable.
That reeked of bullshit from the get-go. Now he’s made it clear. Epic got their clocks cleaned in their lawsuit against Apple, and now Sweeney’s having a tantrum and letting it all hang out. If I were on the PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch store teams, I wouldn’t trust Epic as far as I could throw them. ★
Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Wirecutter Union Is Striking ★
During two years of bargaining, The New York Times company has
slow-walked contract negotiations with unfair labor practices and
insignificant wage offers that severely underpay our staff. We,
members of the Wirecutter Union, are fed up. To win the fair
contract we deserve, we’re prepared to walk out during the Black
Friday shopping week.
Wirecutter continues to bring in record revenue for the Times,
which is sitting on over $1 billion in cash. Yet our members
have seen next to no financial benefit from their vital
contributions to this success. Times management has offered
paltry guaranteed wage increases of only 0.5%, despite soaring
inflation and cash flows.
Choire Sicha, writing at New York Magazine, has the headline of the day, “Here’s the Best Strike for Most People”:
Many Wirecutter staff realized early on that their Times
colleagues weren’t as excited about their arrival, even as the
then-CEO extolled at sale time that Wirecutter “embodies the same
standards and values that are the pillars of our own newsroom.”
But Wirecutter was always treated as a second-class citizen,
isolated in its own Slack, its own offices, and its own reporting
structure under Perpich. It never joined the newsroom, and its
work was openly sneered at by some longtime staffers. Many Times
staffers don’t believe their work is journalism at all. The pay
scale, as well, is substantially different from Times salaries.
Even Times fellows, which are yearlong full-time jobs in the
newsroom designed to train emerging journalists, receive a
significantly higher salary than the starting rate for Wirecutter
The Times will take the money Wirecutter generates — remember, they now charge a subscription fee, on top of their original (and successful) monetization strategy of earning revenue through affiliate links for recommended products — but they do not treat Wirecutter staff as peers.
Fuck ’em, I say. Stay away from Wirecutter this weekend, and tell everyone in your family tomorrow to do the same. There are a zillion other places to find links to Black Friday deals.
MacOS 12 Monterey’s Network Quality Tool ★
It seems that Apple has quietly added a new tool in macOS
Monterey for measuring your device’s Internet connectivity
quality. You can simply call the executable
which executes the following tests:
- Upload/download capacity (your Tx/Rx bandwidth essentially)
- Upload/download flows, this seems to be the number of test
packets used for the responsiveness tests
- Upload/download responsiveness measured in Roundtrips Per
Minute (RPM), which according to Apple, is the number of
sequential round-trips, or transactions, a network can do in one
minute under normal working conditions
The capacity is roughly the same metric you could expect from
tools like Fast.com from Netflix, or OOkla’s
Neato. Just type
networkQuality in Terminal.
Tuesday, 23 November 2021
E.U. Regulators Are at It Again ★
Björn Finke, reporting for Süddeutsche Zeitung (original in German; I’m quoting here from Safari 15’s translation to English):
For example, these powerful companies must no longer prefer their
own services in search results, as Google did in the 2.4 billion
case. You may also not collect business data from independent
merchants on the platform and use it for your own offers, as
Amazon is accused of. And they must allow mobile phone users to
install other app stores and thus get more choice in mobile phone
programs. This will hurt Apple a lot. In the event of violations,
the Commission can intervene directly in the future without having
to prove market power and harmful consequences in long
Misguided, to say the least.
Parliament expanded the list of platforms to be viewed and
includes, for example, Internet-enabled TVs or voice assistants
such as Alexa. On the other hand, MEPs increased the thresholds
for sales to eight billion euros and the market value to 80
billion euros. This means that only Booking.com should be able to
fall under the law from Europe for the foreseeable future. MEP
Schwab argues that it is better for the Commission to focus on the
really large companies in the implementation and control of the
legal act. Critics warn, however, that the US government could
consider it an unfriendly act if the groundbreaking law hits
almost only American companies.
European regulations that are targeted, almost exclusively, at U.S. companies. You think that might be perceived here as “unfriendly”? You don’t say.
Another important addition to the Commission draft is that
Parliament wants to force gatekeepers to allow exchanges between
rival messenger services and social media. Then, for example, a
user could send a message from WhatsApp to the competitor Signal — this opening should also stimulate competition.
This nugget is under a sub-head that was translated to “Send a message from WhatsApp to Signal? No problem”. No problem at all. Probably will only take a few lines of code to get all the world’s messaging systems — including those using end-to-end encryption like Signal and WhatsApp (and iMessage) — talking to each other.
They should do another draft that mandates the invention of personal jet packs and flying cars, too.
600 Google Employees Sign Manifesto Opposing Company’s Vaccine Mandate ★
Jeffifer Elias, reporting for CNBC:
The manifesto within Google, which has been signed by at least 600
Google employees, asks company leaders to retract the vaccine
mandate and create a new one that is “inclusive of all Googlers,”
arguing leadership’s decision will have outsize influence in
corporate America. It also calls on employees to “oppose the
mandate as a matter of principle” and tells employees to not let
the policy alter their decision if they’ve already chosen not to
get the Covid vaccine.
Wow, they made a list of the dumbest people at Google.
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And, to be clear, Google has somewhere north of 140,000 employees.
(I sure would like to read the actual “manifesto”, but I can’t find it.)
The Apple v. NSO Group Complaint (PDF) ★
The opening paragraph:
Defendants are notorious hackers — amoral 21st century
mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated
cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant
abuse. They design, develop, sell, deliver, deploy, operate, and
maintain offensive and destructive malware and spyware products
and services that have been used to target, attack, and harm Apple
users, Apple products, and Apple. For their own commercial gain,
they enable their customers to abuse those products and services
to target individuals including government officials, journalists,
businesspeople, activists, academics, and even U.S. citizens.
It gets more strident from there.
I genuinely wonder what Apple’s goals are with this suit. Is it just to bring NSO Group’s activities to light? If this goes to trial, the testimony should really be something to see. How much in damages will Apple seek at trial? Enough to bankrupt NSO Group? (Don’t forget Facebook has an ongoing lawsuit against NSO Group for having exploited a bug in WhatsApp to install malware on targets.)
Apple’s Own Announcement of Their Lawsuit Against NSO Group ★
Apple’s legal complaint provides new information on NSO Group’s
FORCEDENTRY, an exploit for a now-patched vulnerability previously
used to break into a victim’s Apple device and install the latest
version of NSO Group’s spyware product, Pegasus. The exploit was
originally identified by the Citizen Lab, a research group at the
University of Toronto. [...]
NSO Group and its clients devote the immense resources and
capabilities of nation-states to conduct highly targeted
cyberattacks, allowing them to access the microphone, camera, and
other sensitive data on Apple and Android devices. To deliver
FORCEDENTRY to Apple devices, attackers created Apple IDs to send
malicious data to a victim’s device — allowing NSO Group or its
clients to deliver and install Pegasus spyware without a victim’s
knowledge. Though misused to deliver FORCEDENTRY, Apple servers
were not hacked or compromised in the attacks.
A couple of things are interesting about this. First, Apple repeatedly refers to the “FORCEDENTRY” exploit by name. This is not PR bullshit — they’re talking about a very specific exploit. Second, they refer to Android as their compatriot, not their competitor. There’s a time and place for Apple to brag about iOS being more secure than Android, but this isn’t it. The message here: “This isn’t just about us, NSO Group is after everyone.”
Lastly, the phrase “the immense resources and capabilities of nation-states”. This is Apple hammering home the fact that deliberate backdoors would be exploited. They’re up against countries with, effectively, infinite money and resources to find and exploit accidental vulnerabilities. If there were deliberate backdoors, the game would be over before it started.
Apple commends groups like the Citizen Lab and Amnesty Tech for
their groundbreaking work to identify cybersurveillance abuses and
help protect victims. To further strengthen efforts like these,
Apple will be contributing $10 million, as well as any damages
from the lawsuit, to organizations pursuing cybersurveillance
research and advocacy.
The New York Times story on this mentioned that Apple would be donating any damages from the lawsuit, if they win. It’s a nice touch that they’re donating $10 million no matter what happens in court. Citizen Lab and Amnesty Tech did crackerjack work exposing this exploit.
Apple is notifying the small number of users that it discovered
may have been targeted by FORCEDENTRY. Any time Apple discovers
activity consistent with a state-sponsored spyware attack, Apple
will notify the affected users in accordance with industry best
Apple Sues NSO Group ★
Nicole Perlroth, reporting for The New York Times:
Apple is also asking for unspecified damages for the time and cost
to deal with what the company argues is NSO’s abuse of its
products. Apple said it would donate the proceeds from those
damages to organizations that expose spyware. [...]
The sample of Pegasus gave Apple a forensic understanding of how
Pegasus worked. The company found that NSO’s engineers had created
more than 100 fake Apple IDs to carry out their attacks. In the
process of creating those accounts, NSO’s engineers would have had
to agree to Apple’s iCloud Terms and Conditions, which expressly
require that iCloud users’ engagement with Apple “be governed by
the laws of the state of California.” The clause helped Apple
bring its lawsuit against NSO in the Northern District of
Shades of nailing Al Capone for tax evasion.
Apple executives described the lawsuit as a warning shot to NSO
and other spyware makers. “This is Apple saying: If you do this,
if you weaponize our software against innocent users, researchers,
dissidents, activists or journalists, Apple will give you no
quarter,” Ivan Krstic, head of Apple security engineering and
architecture, said in an interview on Monday.
That is not — at all — how leaders at Apple usually speak in the press. Apple is not a hard or tricky company to read. They are furious about NSO Group.
Monday, 22 November 2021
Fairphone 4: A ‘Sustainable, Repairable, and Ethical’ Android Phone ★
Jerry Hildenbrand, writing for Android Central:
The phone comes with a full five-year warranty that covers
anything that you didn’t cause. For those things that you did
cause, let’s say you dropped it and broke the display, you can
likely easily fix it yourself using inexpensive spare parts that
Fairphone sells itself.
The same way Fairphone is attempting to shake up the phone
industry, it’s also trying to change the way we think about having
our phones repaired. What keeps your Samsung phone from being easy
to fix is how it is built and the materials used to make it.
Things like glued-in displays or sealed cases aren’t an issue with
the Fairphone 4. You can pull out most internal assemblies and
then replace them with new components using only a small Philips
Another side effect of this is having a battery that can be
swapped at any time by removing the 100% recycled plastic
backplate. This used to be normal for Android phones, but I can’t
think of a single mainstream device with a user-swappable battery
in 2021. Of course, you can still charge the battery quickly using
a USB C P.D. charger, but knowing that you can carry a spare “just
in case” is great.
Sounds great, right? But, among other caveats (e.g. a somewhat crummy camera given the €579/~$650 price):
One last issue is that the Fairphone 4 is “only” IP54
rated. This means the Fairphone 4 is “protected against dust
ingress sufficient to prevent the product from operating normally,
but it’s not dust-tight. The product is fully protected against
solid objects and splashing of water from any angle”.
You can use the Fairphone 4 in the rain, but you can’t take it
into the pool. Once you realize that the back of the phone pops
right off and the fact that gaskets and other waterproofing
measures would add to the cost considerably, you understand why.
iPhones have been dust- and water-proof since the iPhone 7 in 2016. (The iPhone 7 was rated IP67 — the 6 means dust-tight (the highest IP rating for particles), and the 7 means waterproof for temporary immersion. More recent iPhones are rated IP68, where the 8 stands for “full immersion” (Apple says up to 6 meters depth for 30 minutes). Samsung’s S21 is rated IP68 (but only to a depth of 1.5 meters for 30 minutes), and Google’s Pixel 6 phones are rated IP68 as well, albeit with a disclaimer that reads, in part, “Water resistance isn’t a permanent condition, and diminishes or is lost over time due to normal wear and tear, device repair, disassembly or damage”).
Is it possible that Fairphone — or someone else manufacturing a phone with Fairphone’s ease-of-repairability ideals — will eventually achieve IP68 levels of ingress protection? Of course. It’s also certainly the case that some people, like Hildenbrand, value repairability and battery-swapping more than they value dust and water resistance.
But not most people.
Saturday, 20 November 2021
Mux Video ★
My thanks to Mux for once again sponsoring DF. Mux is the developer video platform. Use their Video API to build video streaming into your application and make it play beautifully at scale on any device. A Mux stream is just one
GET request away from magical-feeling features like automatic thumbnails, animated GIFs, and data-driven encoding decisions. Looking for more insight into your video performance? They’ve got that covered too with data: which viewers are seeing errors or re-buffering, which player or CDN is performing better, and whether or not you should use Mux (trick question, yes).
Steve Wozniak’s Startup Privateer Plans to Launch Hundreds of Satellites to Study Space Debris ★
Mike Wall, writing for Space.com:
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s startup Privateer aims to help humanity get the goods on space junk before it’s too late. The Hawaii-based company, whose existence Wozniak and co-founder Alex Fielding announced in September, wants to characterize the ever-expanding space debris population like never before. Privateer will do this by incorporating a variety of data, including crowdsourced information and observations made by its own sizable satellite fleet.
“I think we’re looking at several hundred satellites,” Privateer Chief Scientific Adviser Moriba Jah told Space.com. “We won’t launch all several hundred at once; we’ll just slowly build it up.”
Leave it to Woz to fund a startup to do something useful in space, rather than just shoot himself into low orbit for a few minutes. We need to put something like satellite Roombas up there to clean this debris up.
Friday, 19 November 2021
One Last Update on Apple’s New Self Service Repair Program (I Hope) ★
From an update I just appended to yesterday’s follow-up:
I’m back to my original opinion, that the Self Service Repair
Program is just what it says on the tin — a program for people
who really do want to repair their own devices — and thus is
irrelevant to all but a small sliver of actual users.
Twitter No Longer Sends Users to AMP Pages ★
Henry Powderly, reporting for Search Engine Land:
With social media referrals to AMP pages cut down by the change,
the reasons for supporting AMP are getting fewer.
For some of us, the reasons were obvious all along. It never made sense to me why any publishers supported AMP in the first place.
It took four years, but support for AMP is suddenly collapsing. Good riddance.
Dave Mark on the Repairability of Apple’s Devices ★
Dave Mark, writing at The Loop:
Not sure how big the audience for right-to-repair is, but I do
count myself in its number. And if it was easier to do, I suspect
that number would be much larger. Imagine if repairing a cracked
display was a simple, five minute operation. Wouldn’t you rather
order the new display and make the swap yourself?
It used to be relatively easy to customize and repair your gear.
As parts have given way to part assemblies (glued/soldered
assemblies that become a single replaceable requirement, even if a
single part fails) and the quest for smaller makes devices harder
to open, harder to take apart, the ability to repair your own gear
has become harder, almost impossible.
So those small numbers John points out are real. But should this
be the way it is? Again, wouldn’t you love the ability to swap out
a display as easily as you used to be able to swap out RAM on your
Ideally, many people would still like to be able to swap out RAM on today’s Macs as easily as we could on old Macs. Same thing for SSD storage. Adding RAM and storage, years after purchase, was a great way to significantly extend the practical lifetime of Macs. A while back (15 years ago?) I replaced the spinning hard drive in a 15-inch PowerBook with an SSD, and it was like buying a brand-new much faster machine.
But: times change. Apple hasn’t moved away from user replaceable memory and storage components out of spite. Integrating memory and storage into the chips themselves is the reason why devices have gotten thinner and lighter and much, much faster. The incredible performance of Apple silicon — for both iOS devices and Macs — is part and parcel with integrating memory and storage directly onto the SoCs.
And in terms of replacing screens on iPhones, consider waterproofing and device aesthetics. To my knowledge, no company makes a mainstream smartphone with an easily-replaced display, because a smartphone with an easily replaced screen wouldn’t sell because of all the design trade-offs that would be involved.
Thursday, 18 November 2021
Yours truly, yesterday:
This appears to be a cause for celebration in right-to-repair
circles, but I don’t see it as a big deal at all. Almost no one
wants to repair their own cracked iPhone display or broken
MacBook keyboard; even fewer people are actually competent enough
to do so.
I expected some pushback on this, and got it, and I now think I missed one key point. Despite the program’s name, I think it’s not so much about individual users repairing their own personal devices. The biggest ramification, I think, will be that the program will allow unofficial independent repair shops to procure genuine OEM Apple replacement parts and service manuals. There are tons of people around the world (including here in the U.S.) who don’t live near an Apple store or an Apple-authorized repair shop. A lot of those people, though, might live near (or at least nearer) an independent repair shop. If those repair shops can now order genuine Apple parts and manuals, that’s a win, and maybe a bigger deal than I thought yesterday.
There’s also this factor: if the device in need of repair is still usable — say, an iPhone with a cracked but functional screen, or a MacBook with one or more broken but nonessential keys — it might be a lot more appealing for a user who doesn’t live near an Apple-authorized repair shop to go to a local independent shop for same-day service than to ship their device to Apple for official service.
On the flip side, though, I think a lot of the “Apple’s repair policies are screwing people” sentiment is based on the misconception that Apple grossly overcharges for repairs. A lot of companies in a lot of industries do just that. Car dealers, for example, are notorious for overcharging for parts and routine service. I think the logic goes something like this: Big companies always screw you over for service and repairs; Apple is obscenely profitable and reaps high margins; therefore surely Apple price-gouges for repairs, or makes repairs for older devices arduous to encourage people to buy new devices instead.
But Apple isn’t really like that at all. Longtime DF reader Jim Lipsey sent me a note yesterday. His two kids each happily use an iPhone 6S Plus, but each of them needed repairs this past summer — one needed the camera replaced, the other needed a new battery. Through Apple, the camera replacement cost $59, the battery $49. $108 total, to return two six-year-old iPhones to perfect working order. As Lipsey noted, that’s a tremendous cost-of-ownership value.
Update: Friday, 19 November
Wait a minute, wait a minute. On Twitter, Jason Aten reminded me of something I shouldn’t have already forgotten (considering that I posted about it): Apple two years ago announced the Independent Repair Provider Program. From their announcement then:
Apple today announced a new repair program, offering customers
additional options for the most common out-of-warranty iPhone
repairs. Apple will provide more independent repair businesses — large or small — with the same genuine parts, tools, training,
repair manuals and diagnostics as its Apple Authorized Service
Providers (AASPs). The program is launching in the US with plans
to expand to other countries.
Given this existing program, I don’t see how this week’s new Self Service Repair Program helps independent repair shops — or Apple customers who rely on those shops — at all. And the existing Independent Repair Provider Program allows shops to stock genuine parts from Apple. The new Self Repair Program requires you to submit the damaged device’s serial number to Apple first, then Apple sends the necessary parts on a need-to-use basis. I’m back to my original opinion, that the Self Service Repair Program is just what it says on the tin — a program for people who really do want to repair their own devices — and thus is irrelevant to all but a small sliver of actual users. ★