Roku’s New Remotes Have an Apple TV+ Button 

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

In a sign of how far Apple is willing to go to continue raising the profile of Apple TV Plus, the company has worked out a deal with Roku that will give the streaming video service its own shortcut button. This is the first time a branded Apple TV Plus button has appeared on any remote control.

You’ll find it on the new Roku Voice Remote Pro, announced today, which features a rechargeable battery, headphone jack for private listening, and two programmable shortcut buttons. The usual branded buttons include Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, and now Apple TV Plus.

There’s only room for four of these buttons on this remote. This is not a small deal.

Amazingly, you can even tell which end is which by feel on this remote.

‘Embrace the Grind’ 

Jacob Kaplan-Moss:

I often have people newer to the tech industry ask me for secrets to success. There aren’t many, really, but this secret — being willing to do something so terrifically tedious that it appears to be magic — works in tech too.

We’re an industry obsessed with automation, with streamlining, with efficiency. One of the foundational texts of our engineering culture, Larry Wall’s virtues of the programmer, includes laziness:

Laziness: The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it.

I don’t disagree: being able to offload repetitive tasks to a program is one of the best things about knowing how to code. However, sometimes problems can’t be solved by automation. If you’re willing to embrace the grind you’ll look like a magician.

I greatly enjoyed this piece on its own, but I think it ties in particularly well with the aforelinked item about Ben Thompson’s column on Taylor Swift’s re-recording of an entire hit album just to have a version she owned the rights to. Who would do that? Painstakingly re-create an entire work of art? Someone willing to embrace the grind.

‘Non-Fungible Taylor Swift’ 

Long story rendered very short, Taylor Swift does not own the rights to her first six albums, and isn’t happy about that. She faithfully re-recorded the entirety of her second album, Fearless, and just released the new version as Fearless: Taylor’s Version. Without breaking any contract or copyright, she effectively rendered the original studio version nearly worthless, because her fans know the deal.

Ben Thompson has a great column on the whole saga, and deftly connects it with Dave Chappelle’s similar direct-to-fans appeal to retake control over the rights to his seminal Chappelle’s Show. Thompson:

This explains what Swift got right in 2014:

A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the casting director chose the actress with more Twitter followers. I see this becoming a trend in the music industry. For me, this dates back to 2005 when I walked into my first record-label meetings, explaining to them that I had been communicating directly with my fans on this new site called Myspace. In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around.

This is the inverse of Swift leveraging her fans to acquire her masters: future artists will wield that power from the beginning (like sovereign writers). It’s not that “art is important and rare”, and thus valuable, but rather that the artists themselves are important and rare, and impute value on whatever they wish.

To put it another way, while we used to pay for plastic discs and thought we were paying for songs (or newspapers/writing or cable/TV stars), empowering distribution over creators, today we pay with both money and attention according to the direction of creators, giving them power over everyone.

Alex Berenson: The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man 

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

To be honest, I initially had serious doubts about publishing this piece. The trap of exposing conspiracy theories is obvious: To demonstrate why a theory is wrong, you have to explain it and, in doing so, incur the risk that some people will be convinced by the very theory you’re trying to debunk. But that horse has left the barn. More than half of Republicans under the age of 50 say they simply won’t get a vaccine. Their hesitancy is being fanned by right-wing hacks, Fox News showboats, and vaccine skeptics like Alex Berenson. The case for the vaccines is built upon a firm foundation of scientific discoveryclinical-trial data, and real-world evidence. The case against the vaccines wobbles because it is built upon a steaming pile of bullshit.

An evisceration for the ages. Keep this bookmarked in case anyone sends you links to Berenson’s anti-J&J vaccine nonsense today.

Programming as Meditation 

Craig Mod, writing for Wired:

A little over a year ago, as the Covid-19 lockdowns were beginning to fan out across the globe, most folks grasped for toilet paper and canned food. The thing I reached for: a search function.

The purpose of the search function was somewhat irrelevant. I simply needed to code. Code soothes because it can provide control in moments when the world seems to spiral. Reductively, programming consists of little puzzles to be solved. Not just inert jigsaws on living room tables, but puzzles that breathe with an uncanny life force. Puzzles that make things happen, that get things done, that automate tedium or allow for the publishing of words across the world.

I’ve been hacking on personal side projects a lot more over the last year, and the above really explains how it makes me feel. “Puzzles that breathe with an uncanny life force” — that’s it. That’s how programming has felt for me ever since I got my first BASIC program working back when I was a kid. Even when it was just me going up to the Commodore 64 display model at Kmart in the 1980s and typing:

20 GOTO 10

and then scurrying away with uncontrollable giggles — which I did, religiously, every single time we went to Kmart — I got that thrill.

‘Spring Loaded’ Apple Event Next Tuesday, Just as Siri Predicted 

Always happy to see homage to the one true Apple logo. As for any meaning to the name or design, my take is that it means nothing and thus means something: that the things getting announced are all mostly unrelated to each other.

Some Perspective on Blood Clot Risk 

Rebecca Wind, on Twitter:

The risk of blood clots from birth control pills is 1 in 1,000 and is considered a low-risk side effect. The risk from the J&J vaccine is 1 in 1,000,000. #GetVaccinated

That’s arguably understating the long-term risk for women on birth control pills.

You know what’s even worse for causing dangerous blood clots? Getting infected with COVID-19:

“We began to notice a really unusual manifestation of venous and arterial thromboembolism in patients with COVID-19,” said Malas. “In addition to higher instances of blood clots, the mortality for patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and with thromboembolism was much higher, compared to patients without clots. It’s unusual because we have never seen anything like this with other respiratory infections.”

Overall, 20 percent of the COVID-19 patients were found to have blood clots in the veins, and among patients in the intensive care unit, that statistic increased to 31 percent.

Tufekci, Gertz, and Silver on the FDA’s Pause on the J&J Vaccine 

Zeynep Tufekci, on Twitter:

FDA says the pause is due to “abundance of caution.” I am very much for abundance of caution against tail risk, and a full investigation into rare events. I respect these are difficult decisions. But “caution” isn’t the term for dramatic, forward-leaning and irreversible acts.

I appreciate the people saying “we should feel more confident because they’re investigating”, which is true — it works on me! — but the word “should” is doing a lot of work there. Meanwhile, let’s check in on how this affects dynamics of human cognition, media and social media.

Matt Gertz:

I am extremely skeptical of the ability of public messaging to disaggregate “the J&J vaccine is under review as a precaution” from “the J&J vaccine is not safe and the others may not be either” in the minds of normal people. An incredibly crucial, high-stakes test for the press.

Nate Silver, responding to Gertz:

It’s also a high-stakes test for the FDA, and they failed it, because of course lots of people are going to take away the latter message.

There’s also data on this based on decreased public confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe following similar pauses there. So the FDA can’t even use the excuse of flying blind.


Also Silver:

If out of the blue one morning Gov. Newsom was like “Shark attacks are extremely rare, but out of an abundance of caution, we’re closing every beach in California until we investigate more”, that’s not likely to get more people to go out to the beach, even once beaches reopen.

‘Do Less Harm’ 

Paul Kafasis:

The result of this decision is sure to be a lower number of people vaccinated, over a longer period of time. We know that will cause more COVID deaths. By contrast, just one death is currently associated with this vaccine. It’s unpleasant to measure one set of deaths against another, but that’s precisely what must be done in a public health crisis. If we were able to vaccinate all of the US with the J&J vaccine, we would currently expect to see about 330 issues with blood clots. Meanwhile, more than 560,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID already, with 330 more being killed by COVID every few hours.

The worst part about this is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is almost certainly our best vaccine. The efficacy numbers aren’t what matters — the J&J vaccine is way more than effective enough. What matters is that it’s single-dose. The single-dose J&J vaccine is the clearest path to pushing our overall nationwide (and worldwide) vaccinated numbers into herd immunity territory, wiping COVID-19 from the face of the earth. It would be a catastrophic mistake to panic over one-in-a-million blood clots for any of the approved vaccines, but it’s a worst-case scenario to unjustly malign our only highly-effective single-dose vaccine.

U.S. Calls for Pause on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine After One-in-a-Million Blood Clotting Cases 

Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere, and Carl Zimmer, reporting for The New York Times:

Federal health agencies on Tuesday called for an immediate pause in use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination.

All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition.

Nearly seven million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson shots so far, and roughly nine million more doses have been shipped out to the states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After a run of remarkably good news on the COVID vaccination front here in the U.S., this is an utter gut punch, and a horrendously wrong decision. This terrible decision is going to kill tens of thousands of Americans. Six blood clots after 7 million administered Johnson & Johnson vaccines, versus a disease that has a mortality rate of 18,000 per million cases in the U.S., and has killed over 1,700 of every million people.

One death after 7 million J&J vaccinations for these blood clots (which they don’t even know are attributable to the vaccine), versus over 50,000 dead per 7 million cases of COVID in Americans. That’s a ratio of 1 : 50,000. You can fairly argue those mortality numbers are skewed by the fact that COVID has already ripped through our nursing homes, killing a lot of our most vulnerable people, but still, the risk numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark. And mortality numbers don’t include the millions of Americans who suffered or are suffering from severe cases that require hospitalization.

This is criminal innumeracy.

Siri Claims Apple Event Planned for Next Tuesday 

Sami Fathi, writing for MacRumors:

Upon being asked “When is the next Apple Event,” ‌Siri‌ is currently responding with, “The special event is on Tuesday, April 20, at Apple Park in Cupertino, CA. You can get all the details on”

Works for me on my HomePods, but not when I ask my iPhone or iPad. Others are getting the April 20 answer on their Macs and iPhones — why it varies so much by device, who knows? Tuesday 20 April is exactly the date I was thinking about when I wrote about Apple not wanting to send a top executive to Washington to testify before the Senate antitrust committee next week.

ThinkPad X1 Nano: Lenovo’s 2-Pound Laptop 

Monica Chin, writing for The Verge:

If you’ve used a ThinkPad before, you probably know 90 percent of what to expect from the ThinkPad X1 Nano. All of the staples are here. It’s got the black carbon fiber chassis, the discrete buttons on top of the touchpad, the mechanical privacy shutter, the ThinkPad logo on the palm rest, and (of course) the red pointer nub in the middle of the keyboard.

But one thing is unique about the X1 Nano: it’s the lightest ThinkPad Lenovo has ever made. Starting at just 1.99 pounds, the Nano isn’t technically the lightest laptop on the market. But it’s still one of the best combinations of portability, build quality, and performance that you can buy.

Now here’s a PC laptop that truly catches my eye. If I had to use a PC laptop, I’d use a ThinkPad. But that 2 pound weight* — that’s something Apple currently does not compete with. An M1 MacBook Air weighs 2.8 pounds (and an M1 MacBook Pro weighs just 0.2 pounds more — the Air is only ever-so-slightly lighter than the 13-inch Pro).

How about this? My 11-inch iPad Pro attached to Apple’s Magic Keyboard: 2.36 pounds. Lenovo’s X1 Nano even has that beat on weight, and the ThinkPad has a 13-inch display and full-size keyboard.

Apple did sell a 2-pound laptop once: the 12-inch no-adjective MacBook that was available from 2015–2019. That 12-inch MacBook was beloved by some people I know, specifically because it was so damn light. But even folks who loved it admit it was severely compromised performance-wise.

Surely, Apple is going to come out with an Apple Silicon MacBook that runs really fast, lasts long on battery, and weighs 2 pounds (or less). It’ll make today’s M1 MacBook Air feel like a brick. It just can’t stand for long that Apple is so far behind the PC state-of-the-art in lightweight laptops.

* Worth noting that Lenovo sells the X1 Nano with two different screens, one a touchscreen, and one not. The touchscreen model weighs 2.14 pounds.

The Framework Laptop 

Upgradeable, modular 13-inch Windows laptop set to ship this summer. I’m sure it will succeed similarly to Google’s Project Ara, the modular device that reinvented the smartphone in 2014.

‘Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang’ 

Extraordinary piece for The New Yorker by Raffi Khatchadourian, profiling Anar Sabit, a young ethnic Kazakh woman who was living in Vancouver but returned to her family in Xinjiang, China in 2017 when her father died:

That summer, Sabit and her mother returned to Kuytun, to settle her father’s affairs. Friends had warned her not to go: rumors had been circulating of an escalating crackdown on the indigenous peoples of Xinjiang — of Kazakh traders being disappeared at the border. But Sabit had made an uneventful trip there less than a month earlier, and she wanted to be by her mother’s side. For two weeks, they met with family and visited ancestors’ graves. The trip, she later recalled, “was full of tears and sadness.”

On July 15th, Sabit and her mother drove to Ürümqi Diwopu International Airport, for a flight back to Kazakhstan. They arrived in the middle of the night, and the building was nearly empty. At customs, an officer inspected her mother’s passport and cleared her to go. But when Sabit handed over her documents he stopped, looked at her, and then took her passport into a back office.

“Don’t worry,” Sabit assured her mother, explaining that the delay was most likely another bureaucratic annoyance. Minutes later, the officer returned with an Uyghur official, who told Sabit to sit on a bench. “You cannot leave,” he said. “You can discuss between yourselves whether your mother will go or stay.”

In an emotional torrent, Sabit’s mother pleaded for an explanation. The officer replied, “We need to ask her a few questions.”

She wasn’t released until early 2019. Brutal, heartbreaking, angering story, and the scope is unimaginable:

Reporters with Radio Free Asia called up local Chinese officials, who, accustomed to speaking with Party propagandists, were strikingly candid. When one camp director was asked the name of his facility, he confessed that he didn’t know, because it had been changed so often, but gamely ran outside to read the latest version off a sign. A police officer admitted that his department was instructed to detain forty per cent of the people in its jurisdiction. In January, 2018, an official in Kashgar told the news service that a hundred and twenty thousand Uyghurs had been detained in his prefecture alone.

The growing camp infrastructure attracted notice, too. Shawn Zhang, a student in Canada, began using satellite data to map the facilities. By the summer, it appeared that roughly ten per cent of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population was under confinement. Adrian Zenz, an independent academic who has unearthed troves of government documents on Chen’s crackdown, estimated that there were as many as a million people in the camps — a statistic echoed by the United Nations and others. Not since the Holocaust had a country’s minority population been so systematically detained.

As the crackdown evolved, hastily assembled facilities, like Sabit’s in Kuytun, gave way to titanic new compounds in remote locations. When forced to acknowledge them publicly, the government described them as benign or indispensable — noting, “Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil.”

These are long block quotes, but they offer only a taste of the whole story. You’ve surely heard Joseph Stalin’s line that “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” This is the first-hand story of one internment in China’s Xinjiang ethnic cleansing camps, and it is tragic.

U.S. Secretary of State Says China Let Coronavirus Get ‘Out of Hand’ 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview on Meet the Press:

“I think China knows that in the early stages of Covid, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to, in real time, give access to international experts, in real time to share information, in real time to provide real transparency.

“One result of that failure is that the virus got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise.”

In other China-COVID news, their vaccines are apparently — by their own admission — not highly effective, yet are being distributed around the world in huge quantities. The Washington Post:

The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention conceded that the efficacy of Chinese coronavirus vaccines is “not high” and that they may require improvements, marking a rare admission from a government that has staked its international credibility on its doses.

The comments on Saturday from George Gao come after the government has already distributed hundreds of millions of doses to other countries, even though the rollout has been dogged by questions over why Chinese pharmaceutical firms have not released detailed clinical trial data about the vaccines’ efficacy.

China has struck deals to supply many of its allies and economic partners in the developing world and boasted that world leaders — including in Indonesia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates — have taken the shots.


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If you could use better shipping software, check them out.

Apple Did Not Refuse to Testify Before the U.S. Senate 

Business Insider (among others) is reporting that “Apple is reportedly refusing to testify at an upcoming congressional antitrust hearing” because of a testy letter from Senators Amy Klobuchar (D) and Mike Lee (R) that reads:

We write regarding Apple Inc.’s refusal to provide a witness to testify in a timely manner before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights at a hearing to examine the competition issues raised by app stores. […] We strongly urge Apple to reconsider its position and to provide a witness to testify before the Subcommittee in a timely manner.

Apple’s response, via Mark Gurman at Bloomberg:

We have deep respect for your role and process on these matters and, as we told your staff, we are willing to participate in a hearing in the subcommittee. We simply sought alternative dates in light of upcoming matters that have been scheduled for some time and that touch on similar issues.

Apple is sending Kyle Andeer, the company’s chief compliance officer, to speak at the Senate antitrust hearing on April 21.

Spitball: That week isn’t good for Apple because they’re planning to hold an event. But if the event is pre-filmed, would that preclude Tim Cook from being in Washington? Yes, I think. Even with these quarantine virtual announcement events, it’s still all hands on deck in Cupertino — just in case. And what if they’re filming it next week — a week he’d need to spend preparing for Senate testimony if he were testifying April 21? Cook needs to be ready, for example, to re-film his opening to address any sort of breaking news — something like a natural (or unnatural) disaster. Even though they’re filmed in advance, these virtual events are meant to feel live.

Update: Spitball 2: There’s also Epic-v.-Apple, which goes to trial May 3. That would certainly qualify as “upcoming matters that have been scheduled for some time and that touch on similar issues.”

The Talk Show: ‘Not to Get Zealotrous’ 

Craig Mod joins the show to talk about writing, designing, filmmaking, what makes for good software, and building a successful membership program to support independent art. And: pizza toast.

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Acorn 7.0 

Beautiful update to my favorite image editor. Big new features include:

  • A unified document window, where the tools (which used to be in floating palettes) are built right into the document window itself. (There’s also a preference setting if you still want them as palettes.)
  • Native Apple Silicon code.
  • A new “Command Bar”, that is sort of like Spotlight but just for Acorn. You pop up the Command Bar with Shift-Command-O and type what you’re looking for — you get instant results for Acorn commands and Acorn’s excellent Help documentation. (BBEdit and Nova both have features similar to this; it’s a great way to expose a deep professional app’s many commands to the keyboard without asking the user to memorize dozens of distinct shortcuts.)

See also: Acorn author Gus Mueller’s write-up on his blog, and the copiously-detailed Acorn release notes.

Acorn is usually $40, but is currently on sale for just $20 — a veritable steal for a pro tool like this — at Flying Meat’s website and on the Mac App Store. 14-day free trial, too.

Et tu, Procter & Gamble?

Sharon Terlep, Tim Higgins, and Patience Haggin, reporting for The Wall Street Journal, “P&G Worked With China Trade Group on Tech to Sidestep Apple Privacy Rules” (News+ link):

Procter & Gamble Co. helped develop a technique being tested in China to gather iPhone data for targeted ads, a step intended to give companies a way around Apple Inc.’s new privacy tools, according to people familiar with the matter. […]

The company has joined forces with dozens of Chinese trade groups and tech firms working with the state-backed China Advertising Association to develop the new technique, which would use technology called device fingerprinting, the people said. Dubbed CAID, the advertising method is being tested through apps and gathers iPhone user data. Through the use of an algorithm, it can track users for purposes of targeting ads in a way that Apple is seeking to prevent. […]

Through apps, CAID collects user device data, such as the device start-up time, model, time zone, country, language and IP address. Based on China’s personal information security standards, most of those data aren’t counted as “personal information.” But a so-called device ID can be generated by algorithm based on these data. That device ID can achieve a similar tracking effect as the identifier that Apple is allowing users to block.

Not a good look for a major American company like Procter & Gamble to be in cahoots with a Chinese trade group to circumvent Apple’s new privacy rules.

The whack-a-mole1 aspect of Apple’s new privacy rules is that while Apple can restrict access to the API that provides access to the IDFA identifier, clever developers can find (perhaps infinite) other ways to combine things they do have access to into a unique, or even just “close enough to unique to be useful for tracking”, identifier. IP addresses, to name just one example, are a big factor that Apple can’t block would-be-trackers from using. That’s what CAID is, but CAID isn’t some rogue effort on the part of surveillance advertisers alone — it has the backing of the Chinese government.

Doing this is clearly against Apple’s rules. The questions are: Can Apple detect these techniques? And what is Apple going to do if they do identify apps in China using CAID in flagrant violation of the App Store rules, if those apps have the backing (implicit or explicit) of the Chinese government?

Consider just Tencent. What is Apple going to do if WeChat is flagged for circumventing the App Store privacy rules, and Tencent says “No thank you” to Apple’s rules, that they’re going to do it anyway because they have the backing of the PRC? Reading between the lines, I think Apple is diplomatically telling the companies involved with CAID that they will pull the apps from the App Store over this. Here’s Apple’s statement to The Journal:

Device fingerprinting runs afoul of Apple’s rules, and the tech company has said it would ban any app that violates its policies.

“The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all developers around the world, including Apple,” an Apple spokesman said. “We believe strongly that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard the user’s choice will be rejected.”

I don’t read diplomat-ese fluently, but that statement seems adamant: “all developers around the world, even Apple”. I wonder, though, if Tencent believes they can track users with impunity because Apple wouldn’t dare pull WeChat (etc.) from the Chinese App Store.

Basically, IDFA was Apple’s attempt to work with companies to provide a way to offer a sanctioned identifier for advertising tracking that respected user privacy and user control over tracking. It didn’t work — these companies have no respect for user privacy or user control, even with IDFA. So Apple is taking it to the next level. That’ll only work if Apple backs up its rules with enforcement — even in China. 

  1. Random spelling factoid I recently learned: the actual arcade game is spelled “Whac-A-Mole”, with no “k”. Which, to me, looks wac-y. ↩︎

Samsung’s ‘iTest’ Lets You Try a Simulated Galaxy Device on Your iPhone 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

The iTest website is being advertised in New Zealand, according to a MacRumors reader who came across the feature. Visiting the iTest website on an iPhone prompts users to install a web app to the Home screen.

From there, tapping the app launches into a simulated Galaxy smartphone home screen complete with a range of apps and settings options. You can open the Galaxy Store, apply Themes, and even access the messages and phone apps.

This is a fun idea, and it’s pretty well done. Seems like the sort of thing that has to be done as a web app, though — seems doubtful Apple would approve a real app for the App Store that does this.

Google’s Project Zero Exposed Zero-Day Bugs Being Exploited by Western Counterterrorism Agencies 

Patrick Howell O’Neill, writing for MIT Technology Review:

Google found the hacking group exploiting 11 zero-day vulnerabilities in just nine months, a high number of exploits over a short period. Software that was attacked included the Safari browser on iPhones but also many Google products, including the Chrome browser on Android phones and Windows computers. […]

Instead of focusing on who was behind and targeted by a specific operation, Google decided to take broader action for everyone. The justification was that even if a Western government was the one exploiting those vulnerabilities today, it will eventually be used by others, and so the right choice is always to fix the flaw today.

I don’t think this was an easy decision, but I think it was the right call. Project Zero’s purpose is to find vulnerabilities and report them to get them fixed, period.

Amazon Workers Defeat Union Effort in Alabama 

Karen Weise and Michael Corkery, reporting for The New York Times:

Amazon appeared to beat back the most significant labor drive in its history on Friday, when an initial tally showed that workers at its giant warehouse in Alabama had voted decisively against forming a union.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against a union, giving Amazon enough to emphatically defeat the effort. Ballots in favor of a union trailed at 738, less than 30 percent of the votes tallied, according to a preliminary count. The results will still need to be certified by federal officials.

The lopsided outcome at the 6,000-person warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., dealt a crushing blow to labor organizers, Democrats and their allies at a time when conditions have been ripe for unions to make advances.

I’m not surprised this unionization drive failed, but I’m a little surprised the vote was so lopsided.

Samsung Announces SmartTag+ Tile Tracker With Ultra Wideband 


Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. today announced the official launch of Galaxy SmartTag+, available starting on April 16. Galaxy SmartTag+ is equipped with both Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and ultra-wideband (UWB) technology so that it can pinpoint the location with greater accuracy. It also uses augmented reality (AR) technology to visually guide you towards where your missing item is located using your smartphone’s camera.

Ultra wideband for precise location, augmented reality for showing you where to go. Have I mentioned recently that Apple’s AirTags product — which, admittedly, the company has never mentioned — feels late?

I still don’t get how this is more than a big $40 keychain. I’m not saying I never misplace my keys, but it doesn’t happen often enough that I’d want a big tag like this on my keyring all the time. And if I did have something this big on my keys, I’d be less likely to lose them even if the device wasn’t “smart”. All the other small things I lose track of — Apple Watch, my iPhone, my AirPods — have built-in location tracking.

Actually, Two of the Third-Party ‘Find My’ Products Announced Yesterday Are Months Away From Availability

In my post yesterday linking to Apple’s announcement of three new products that work with their Find My network accessory program, I pointed out that Belkin’s Soundform Freedom True Wireless Earbuds aren’t shipping until June. I should have dug deeper into the other two products:

  • Chipolo’s One Spot tracker isn’t shipping until June either, and might be in limited supply after it does ship. (“Join the waitlist for the very limited first batch and get exclusive access to pre-orders before it sells out.”) Chipolo’s existing One trackers that are already on sale won’t work as Find My accessories.

  • VanMoof’s $2,000 S3 and X3 bikes are available to order today, but new S3 orders will be delivered “within 9 to 11 weeks”, and X3 deliveries are “within 18 to 20 weeks”. [Update: Turns out VanMoof’s new Find My-enabled bikes will start shipping in a week, on April 15, but the current delivery dates for new online orders are months out because they’re already backordered. There should be some availability in VanMoof retail stores next week as well. So there is a simple reason to announce them this week.]

So it just makes yesterday’s announcement all the more curious: neither Belkin’s earbuds nor Chipolo’s tracker will be available until June, so why announce any of it now? Putting Find My integration in VanMoof’s bikes is cool, but they’re not exactly mainstream products. It only makes sense to me if Apple is on the cusp of announcing AirTags very soon, and wanted to get their “Find My supports third-party products too” story out the door beforehand, even if the products aren’t shipping for months. Apple also has significant updates to iOS, MacOS, WatchOS, and tvOS that all feel ready to ship, and iOS 14.5 is the version that introduces the much-publicized “opt-in to allow apps to track you” changes — a feature I suspect Apple wants to explain on their own terms during an event. Then, at the end of the show, Tim Cook can conclude by telling everyone these OS updates are all available now.

But yet here we are on Thursday, a week into April, and still no word from Apple about an online event next week. Their COVID-era online events, after WWDC last year:

Apple has always liked holding product events on Tuesdays, and, for last year’s online-only events, they sent the event announcements out 7–8 days in advance. Who knows, maybe they’ll send out an announcement for a special event to be broadcast next week as soon as I hit “Publish” on this post. But it’s starting to feel like something has gone awry. 

Nikkei Asia Report: ‘MacBook and iPad Production Delayed as Supply Crunch Hits Apple’ 

Cheng Ting-Fang and Lauly Li, reporting for Nikkei Asia from Taipei:

Production of some MacBooks and iPads has been postponed due to the global component shortage, Nikkei Asia has learned, in a sign that even Apple, with its massive procurement power, is not immune from the unprecedented supply crunch.

Chip shortages have caused delays in a key step in MacBook production — the mounting of components on printed circuit boards before final assembly — sources briefed on the matter told Nikkei Asia. Some iPad assembly, meanwhile, was postponed because of a shortage of displays and display components, sources said.

As a result of the delay, Apple has pushed back a portion of component orders for the two devices from the first half of this year to the second half, the people said. Industry sources and experts say the delays are a sign that the chip shortage is growing more serious and could impact smaller tech players even more heavily.

No word on which MacBook or iPad models, and Nikkei claims iPhone production hasn’t been affected yet. But, it seems possible that this might explain the fact that Apple hasn’t announced a spring special event yet — all-new iPad Pros are widely anticipated to be coming soon.

Frenzic: Overtime 

Speaking of Apple Arcade and classic iPhone games, The Iconfactory has made a sequel to Frenzic:

All of us here at the Iconfactory have dreamt of creating a sequel to the original Frenzic, which first debuted on the App Store thirteen years ago. Thanks to Apple Arcade, that dream is about to become a reality. We’ve taken the original game and propelled it not just to the next level, but far beyond. We can’t wait to tell you more about what went into its creation.

13 years! I’ve been beta-testing the new Frenzic for a while now, and it’s everything you’d expect: it looks, sounds, and feels fun.

Apple Arcade Expands Its Catalog to More Than 180 Games 

Another bit of news from Apple at the end of last week:

Apple today announced it is introducing two entirely new game categories and adding more than 30 incredible titles to Apple Arcade, its popular gaming subscription service for players of all ages. Apple Arcade offers breakthrough, unique benefits players love: no ads, no in-app purchases, support for Apple’s high user privacy standards, and one all-inclusive subscription offer with access for up to six family members. In addition to new exclusive Arcade Originals, including “NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition,” “Star Trek: Legends,” and “The Oregon Trail,” the service is introducing two new game categories, Timeless Classics and App Store Greats. Arcade Originals are playable across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are available on iPhone and iPad.

Timeless Classics includes universally loved, quintessential genres with titles like “Good Sudoku by Zach Gage,” “Chess - Play & Learn,” and “Backgammon,” while App Store Greats brings some of the best award-winning games from the App Store to Apple Arcade, including “Threes!,” “Mini Metro,” and “Fruit Ninja Classic,” all ad-free and fully unlocked.

This sort of expansion might have been planned all along, but it feels like a bit of a strategic change. Previously, every Apple Arcade title was an exclusive original. This expansion to include a bunch of existing games feels like the Arcade equivalent of securing the rights to a catalog of existing movies and TV shows. Apple Arcade is starting to feel a lot more like Netflix for games. These “Timeless Classics” and “App Store Greats” are (mostly?) still in the App Store as non-Arcade titles too — there are two copies of these games now, the standalone versions and the Arcade versions.

$5 a month, a wide variety of great titles, no ads, no in-app purchases. That’s a really compelling price for what you get.

Apple Announces Third-Party Products That Work With ‘Find My’ Network 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today introduced the updated Find My app, allowing third-party products to use the private and secure finding capabilities of Apple’s Find My network, which comprises hundreds of millions of Apple devices. The Find My network accessory program opens up the vast and global Find My network to third-party device manufacturers to build products utilizing the service, so their customers can use the Find My app to locate and keep track of the important items in their lives. […]

VanMoof’s latest S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin’s SOUNDFORM Freedom True Wireless Earbuds, and the Chipolo ONE Spot item finder make up the first group of innovative third-party accessories that work with Find My. These products will allow users to locate where they left their ride, their earbuds at the gym, their backpack, and so much more. Additional third-party device manufacturers will offer Find My-enabled products and accessories soon.

A somewhat unusual announcement. We’re all expecting Apple to announce its own “AirTags” tracking beacons imminently, but here’s Apple promoting third-party products, including a tag-like product from Chipolo that seems directly competitive with what we expect AirTags to be, and wireless earbuds from Belkin that obviously compete against AirPods. (According to Belkin’s website, these new earbuds cost $100 but aren’t shipping until June.) But it makes sense: Apple wants third-party products to use the Find My network. And if Apple really is on the cusp of announcing AirTags (and perhaps updated AirPods too), this is how they do it. Promote their partners’ products this week, ahead of their own announcements.

Conspicuously absent from the list, of course, is Tile. Given their membership in Epic’s Coalition for App Fairness, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Apple to promote Tile’s products. And it’s unclear to me whether Tile even wants to be in the Find My app — their spat with Apple is more about their own app competing with Find My, and their accusations that Apple unfairly advantages Find My by not holding it to the same rules as third-party apps that ask for always-on location access. Apple’s solution is this third-party accessory program; Tile’s preferred solution would be Apple allowing Tile’s own app to do everything Find My can do.

Kara Swisher With Tim Cook 

Just an astoundingly good interview.

Tom Bihn’s Synik 22 

My thanks to Tom Bihn for sponsoring last week at DF to promote their new Synik 22 backpack. It has everything: suspended laptop compartment that fits most 13-inch laptops, rolling luggage pass-through, ultra-comfortable edgeless shoulder straps, and full clamshell opening. Tom Bihn bags are all cut and sewn in Seattle, and come with a lifetime guarantee.

I love Tom Bihn’s bags. I bought one over a decade ago for my beloved 11-inch MacBook Air, traveled on dozens of flights with it, and now it’s still a perfect-sized bag for going places with an 11-inch iPad. And the bag looks brand-new. Tom Bihn’s bags are just the best stuff.

CJR: ‘An Insider-Trading Indictment Shows Ties to Bloomberg News Scoops’ 

Bill Grueskin, reporting for Columbia Journalism Review:

For more than six months, federal prosecutors say, a New York man used inside information to make illegal profits in the stock market — and a core element of his alleged scheme was his interaction with Bloomberg News, which published several stories shortly after the trader arranged to make significant purchases of the companies’ shares.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Jason Peltz on multiple counts of securities fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and lying to the FBI. Peltz, 38, is accused of working with over a half-dozen unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators to learn about impending takeovers and other market-moving news, and to move money between accounts as a way to hide his role and profits.

The indictment notes that Peltz’s moves were timed closely to stories that ran at “a financial news organization.” While the newsroom isn’t named, federal officials cite five stories and their timestamps — all of which match precisely to pieces that ran on Bloomberg News’ website. Each of those stories had shared bylines, but only one reporter is identified as an author for all of the articles: Ed Hammond, who worked at the Financial Times before coming to Bloomberg more than six years ago to cover mergers and acquisitions. In 2017, Hammond was named Bloomberg’s senior deals reporter in New York — a highly prestigious post in that newsroom.

Well this is just shocking.

MLB Moves 2021 All-Star Game From Atlanta, in Protest of Georgia Law Passed by Republicans to Restrict Voting Access 

Anthony Castrovince, reporting for

Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it will relocate the 2021 All-Star Game and MLB Draft, originally scheduled to take place in Atlanta, to a to-be-determined location. The decision comes a little more than a week after the passage of S.B. 202, a Georgia law that President Joe Biden criticized earlier this week, saying that it will restrict voting access for residents of the state.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that the decision to move the All-Star Game was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport” and was made after consultation with teams, former and current players, the MLB Players Association and The Players Alliance, among others.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

No fucking around on MLB’s part. Good for them. Here’s the deal: enact shameful laws, and the rest of society is going to react accordingly. Shame is powerful, and MLB is shaming the state of Georgia appropriately.

The Republican line is that this law is entirely about election integrity, and not about restricting voting access in Democratic-leaning areas. Bullshit. Here’s a NYT analysis of exactly what’s in the new law. Among other things, it restricts access to mail-in ballots, reduces the number of drop boxes in urban areas (the Atlanta metro area would go from 94 drop boxes in the last election to, at most, 23 in the next election). Most odious of all are restrictions on providing food and water to those waiting in line to vote. The fact that voters in some predominantly black precincts still have to wait upwards of two hours to cast their ballots is itself indefensible, but disallowing volunteers from offering them food and water while waiting in lines that should not exist in the first place is shameful.

In Russia, iPhone Apps Install You

In 2019, Russia passed a law mandating that phones and other “smart” devices come preloaded with a host of applications approved by the Russian government. In Russia, the law was known as the “Law Against Apple”. Apple, of course, resisted — they’ve never shipped iOS anywhere in the world with third-party applications pre-installed.1

The law went into effect yesterday. Apple’s apparently-compliant solution is not to pre-install any of the apps, but to offer them for download in the final step of the setup process for a new device. Via MacRumors, Twitter user Khaos Tian posted a screen capture of the new setup process.

First, at the very end of setup, Russian users now see a screen with the title “App Store”, with this description:

In compliance with Russian legal requirements, continue to view available apps to download.

There is only one option: “Continue”.

The next screen looks like a promotional page from the App Store app, with the heading “From the App Store: Russian Apps”, and a list of the dozen-or-so mandated apps, with “Get” buttons next to each of them. Nothing is installed automatically — you need to “Get” each one. There is no “Install All” option. At the bottom of the list is the following text:

In compliance with Russian legal requirements, here are some apps from Russian developers that you may download.

Notably, this second screen has an “X” button in the top right corner that stays in place even as you scroll down the list. Tap that button and you proceed with completing the setup process, with no requirement that you installed any of the suggested apps. Effectively, if you don’t want any of these apps, the new setup process simply requires two additional taps: “Continue” on the first screen and “X” on the second.

From Apple’s perspective, as well as that of Russian iPhone users, this seems like a good solution. Nothing is actually preinstalled. It’s still unclear what Apple would have done if the Russian government had mandated that these apps actually be preinstalled on every new iPhone.

In App Store, Transparency Is for Me, Not Thee

Arek Holko, on Twitter:

Apple leverages transparency when it suits them but doesn’t let the developers do the same.

He links to The Verge’s story today on Apple’s solution to this Russian law, and an August story from The Verge about Apple rejecting an app update from Facebook because it put the following description below an in-app purchase button: “Apple takes 30% of this purchase.” Touché.

It’s impossible to square Apple’s (reasonable) desire to explain that the prompt to suggest installation of these Russian apps is mandated by Russian law with Apple’s refusal to allow developers to explain the App Store rules they are required to comply with. As I’ve written before, it is prima facie wrong that one of the App Store rules is that apps are not allowed to explain the App Store rules to users.

It’s quite a thing that Russia’s “law against Apple” allows for more transparency to users than Apple’s own App Store rules. 

  1. Don’t tell me about the YouTube app on the first five versions of iOS — that was an app written and designed by Apple (including the not-branded-like-YouTube-at-all icon), with Google as a data-providing partner, much in the way that Yahoo was the original partner for Weather, and Google was the original data provider for Maps. The difference is that Apple and Google were such cozy corporate friends back then that both companies agreed to have the app be named “YouTube”. ↩︎

Fight Night in Philly 

Marc Raimondi, reporting for ESPN:

MMA fighter Khetag Pliev had to have a finger surgically reattached after it was severed during the second round of a fight Thursday night in Philadelphia. The fight, which was part of an event put on by Cage Fury Fighting Championship and aired on UFC Fight Pass, was stopped when the referee noticed Pliev was missing his left ring finger.

For several minutes, those in the venue were searching for the stray digit. Event promoter Rob Haydak said officials looked all around the cage, and there was even an announcement over the PA system asking people to look for it inside 2300 Arena.

Haydak said it was ultimately discovered that the finger had come off and was lodged inside Pliev’s glove all along.

We’re used to giving the finger in Philly, not finding it.

Your Product Sucks: Apple Music on MacOS Review 

“It is like a little kid wrote this… while being on drugs.”

“What about such advanced features as drag-and-drop? Nope.”

Music on Mac is just an utter embarrassment for Apple. Truly an ignominious fate for iTunes, which started 20 years ago as an exemplar of a great Mac app.

Rachel Levine: America’s First Openly Transgender Federal Official to Win Senate Confirmation 

David Crary, reporting last week for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Voting mostly along party lines, the U.S. Senate has confirmed former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be the nation’s assistant secretary of health. She is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.

The final vote Wednesday was 52-48. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined all Democrats in supporting Levine.

Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017, and emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is expected to oversee Health and Human Services offices and programs across the U.S.

It takes courage and a thick skin to be a trailblazer like Levine. She’s more than qualified for this position — the votes against her are as shameful as they are transparent. I’m so proud that she’s from Pennsylvania.

President Biden, today:

Today, we honor and celebrate the achievements and resiliency of transgender individuals and communities. Transgender Day of Visibility recognizes the generations of struggle, activism, and courage that have brought our country closer to full equality for transgender and gender non-binary people in the United States and around the world. Their trailblazing work has given countless transgender individuals the bravery to live openly and authentically. This hard-fought progress is also shaping an increasingly accepting world in which peers at school, teammates and coaches on the playing field, colleagues at work, and allies in every corner of society are standing in support and solidarity with the transgender community.

Living openly and authentically shouldn’t require bravery. Today it does; someday, it won’t.

The Talk Show: ‘Toaster Fridgey’ 

Rene Ritchie returns to the show to speculate about pending Apple product announcements and events. Lots of guessing, no wagering.

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Apple Is Adding Two New American English Voices for Siri 

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch:

Apple is adding two new voices to Siri’s English offerings, and eliminating the default “female voice” selection in the latest beta version of iOS. This means that every person setting up Siri will choose a voice for themselves and it will no longer default to the voice assistant being female, a topic that has come up quite a bit with regards to bias in voice interfaces over the past few years.

As Panzarino notes, in some countries, like the U.K., Siri’s default voice is male, not female. So “Why is Siri’s default voice female?” is not applicable worldwide. And my hunch has always been that the defaults in each country were selected by perceived quality. But making this an explicit choice during setup is the right answer — take the question of cultural bias out of the equation.

I believe that this is the first of these assistants to make the choice completely agnostic with no default selection made. This is a positive step forward as it allows people to choose the voice that they prefer without the defaults bias coming into play. The two new voices also bring some much needed variety to the voices of Siri, offering more diversity in speech sound and pattern to a user picking a voice that speaks to them. […]

“We’re excited to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the option for Siri users to select the voice they want when they set up their device,” a statement from Apple reads. “This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”

Here’s a screen recording I made of the new lineup of voices. Both new voices are very good. Interestingly, in addition to adding the two new voices, the Siri preferences no longer label any of the voices as “male” or “female” — they’re just “Voice 1” … “Voice 4”. That makes it harder to remember which one is which, but, it opens the door to nonbinary voices in a future update. There’s no reason Siri’s voice needs to be decidedly male or female. The diversity of the two new voices is subtle, but they don’t label them as such. You either hear it or don’t. The same could be true for the gender of future new voices.

I wonder too if the order is randomized? There doesn’t seem to be a pattern to how mine are ordered, and randomizing the order would further eliminate bias before each user makes their choice. Update: I checked with Apple and they confirmed: the order of voices is randomized (voices 1 and 4 are the existing ones, 2 and 3 are the new ones). It’s the same order on everyone’s device, but the order was chosen to mix old and new.

15 Million Johnson & Johnson COVID Vaccine Doses Spoiled by Factory Screwup 

Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, reporting for The New York Times:

Workers at a Baltimore plant manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the vaccines’ ingredients several weeks ago, ruining about 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.

The plant is run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Federal officials attributed the mistake to human error. […]

The mistake is a major embarrassment for Johnson & Johnson, whose one-dose vaccine has been credited with speeding up the national immunization program. It does not affect Johnson & Johnson doses that are currently being delivered and used nationwide. All those doses were produced in the Netherlands, where operations have been fully approved by federal regulators.

“Pilot of Ever Given Takes New Job at Baltimore Vaccine Plant”.

Jason Snell: ‘The Mac Needs Shortcuts’ 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

This is yet another reason why Apple should start the Mac on its transition to the user automation of the future. And the good news is, there is a clear path for Apple to take. The future of user automation on all of Apple’s platforms should be Shortcuts.

There were a lot of people who thought Apple might announce Shortcuts for Mac last year at WWDC. They didn’t, but they did make Shortcuts on iOS a lot better and noticeably faster. So now there are even more people hoping for Shortcuts for Mac this year.

I don’t think the path is that clear though. This piece by Snell is a great overview of Apple’s severely splintered automation story across iOS and MacOS. It just seems chaotic and unplanned.

Activision Reveals Malware Disguised as ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ Cheats 

As a first order priority, I’m against malware, of course. But if someone has to get hit by malware, cheaters are high on the list.

WWDC 2021: June 7–11, Entirely Online Again 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced it will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) June 7 through 11, in an all-online format. Free for all developers, WWDC21 will offer unique insight into the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. […] Apple also announced that this year’s Swift Student Challenge, an opportunity for young developers to demonstrate their coding skills by creating a Swift playground, is now accepting submissions.

No surprise that WWDC will be entirely online again this year. There’s simply no way the COVID situation will be at “safe for in-person conferences” levels by June. The big question is whether they plan on going back to a live event next year.

The invitation artwork consists of a diverse bunch of Memoji characters, peeking at a MacBook display as the hinge opens. (One of them is wearing a hearing aid.) It’s a clear callback to the Craig Federighi hero shot in the M1 announcement event that launched a thousand memes. But the other thing: every single one of the Memoji characters is wearing glasses, with the contents of the MacBook screen reflected in them. Does this mean Apple’s glasses product is getting announced at WWDC? I’d say that’s possible, but wouldn’t read too much into it. I think it’s more likely that the reflection in the glasses is just part of the art direction for the image. But it’s also not credible to think that Apple didn’t know people will read into this — at the very least it’s a deliberate tease. (Glasses could be the sort of thing Apple pre-announces half a year in advance of shipping, like the iPhone and Apple Watch, because they don’t have to worry about cannibalizing the sales of an existing product they sell. And they might want to get developers working on AR apps for the device. Not saying that’s likely, just saying it’s possible, especially if they want to have AR apps ready on day one.)

“We love bringing our developers together each year at WWDC to learn about our latest technologies and to connect them with Apple engineers,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations and Enterprise and Education Marketing.

That second-paragraph executive quote previously went to Phil Schiller. Prescott first appeared on stage (I believe) at an event in 2016, when she was running product marketing for the iWork apps, and has been on stage a few times since. Her promotion to VP of worldwide developer relations follows the retirement of Ron Okamoto. Okamoto had been in that position since 2001, and though he never had a high public profile — I don’t recall him ever appearing on stage (or on screen) — he was incredibly influential. The scope of Apple’s “worldwide developer relations” expanded quite a bit, to say the least, from 2001 to 2020.