Layers + The Talk Show Live ★
My thanks to Layers for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. Layers is a 3-day conference about design, technology, and a lot more (including great snacks). It runs Monday-Wednesday June 3-5, at the historic Montgomery Theater, right around the corner from Apple’s WWDC. Monday kicks off with an opening party from 5-8pm (they know everyone wants to watch Apple’s keynote), and the conference proper takes place Tuesday and Wednesday.
This is Layers’s 5th year. Back in 2015, I was on stage to interview Susan Kare — one of the highlights and great privileges of my career.
Use this link to register for Layers and you’ll get admission to the Layers Design Conference, June 3-5, and The Talk Show Live on Tuesday, June 4.
The Talk Show Live From WWDC will be held at the California Theatre. Doors at 6pm, show at 7pm. (General admission tickets for The Talk Show aren’t even available yet, but will go on sale early this week.)
Friday, 24 May 2019
There’ve been a bunch of leaks about iOS 13, nearly all from Guilherme Rambo at 9to5Mac and Mark Gurman at Bloomberg. But one thing we don’t know yet — and I emphasize yet, because leaks often spring very close to keynotes — is what iOS 13 is going to look like. No screenshots, no mock-ups.
Most likely, I’d say, is that visually, iOS 13 will bring what we’ve seen each of the past 5 years — another annual refinement of the iOS 7 look-and-feel that debuted in 2013. But there have been rumblings that something more dramatic is afoot. The original (let’s call it classic) iOS look-and-feel lasted 6 years — it would be fitting for the iOS 7 look-and-feel to last 6 years as well. I don’t really see how Apple could do something as radical as the iOS 6 to 7 transition. But to me there are aspects of the iOS 7 foundation that are tired.
I don’t know why, but one of those things has been bugging me a lot in recent months: the drab gray color that indicates tapdown state for list items and buttons. Putting aside skeuomorphic textures like woodgrain and leather and the 3D-vs.-flat debate, the utter drabness of tapdown states is just a bad idea. I didn’t like it when iOS 7 debuted, and I like it even less 6 years later.
In classic iOS, when you tapped down on list items or buttons, they’d instantly light up in vibrant color. The standard color was a bright cheerful blue. In iOS 7 through 12, the tapdown state is the color of dirty dishwater.
iOS 6 vs. iOS 12:
The classic iOS style was both joyful and a perfect visual indication of what you are tapping. It was both aesthetically pleasing and more usable. It’s useful — and accessible — to make crystal clear what exactly you are tapping on. The classic iOS look-and-feel made it feel fun just to tap buttons on screen. I miss that. Again, put aside specific techniques like photorealistic textures and depth effects. To me the fundamental weakness in post-iOS-7 look-and-feel is simply that it’s been drained of joy.1 ★
Friday, 24 May 2019
YouTube Is the Only Social Platform Taking Down Doctored Pelosi Videos ★
Kate Riga, reporting for TPM:
YouTube has taken down videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
doctored to make her seem drunk from its platform, saying that the
posts “violated our policies.”
“YouTube has clear policies that outline what content is not
acceptable to post and we remove videos violating these policies
when flagged to us. These videos violated our policies and have
been removed. They also did not surface prominently. In fact,
search results and watch next panels about Nancy Pelosi include
videos from authoritative sources, usually at the top,” a
spokesperson told TPM.
Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, are letting the videos
live on their sites.
“We remove things from Facebook that violate our Community
Standards, and we don’t have a policy that stipulates that the
information you post on Facebook must be true,” a company
spokesperson said in a statement obtained by Politico.
Shame on Twitter and Facebook. These videos are not parody or satire — they’re being passed off as real, and garnering millions of views. It’s dangerous propaganda.
iFixit Tears Down a New MacBook Pro ★
Looks like Apple made two material changes: a different one for the transparent membrane, and (perhaps?) the metal dome switches.
Thursday, 23 May 2019
Edge Magazine’s Cover Story on Playdate ★
My own excitement about Playdate aside, Jen Simpkins’s cover story for the new issue of Edge magazine (issue #333) is just a terrific read and an amazing behind-the-scenes look at how a 4-year project comes to life. Edge doesn’t publish on the web — how old-school cool is that? — but there are a few ways to read it:
One more thing: if you visit the media page on the Playdate site using an iPhone or iPad, Panic has created two ARKit models of the Playdate hardware. It’s fun to play with, and gives you a good sense of the device’s size.
Mac Toolbar Labels and Accessibility ★
Interesting post — and that rarest of all beasts, a good comment thread — on a creeping trend in Mac app design: toolbars that don’t have an option to show text labels under the button icons. I like showing button labels in (a) apps that I use infrequently, and (b) apps which have a lot of buttons, some of which have icons that are similar to each other (Apple Mail comes to mind).
I think it’s a real accessibility issue, and another instance of something that looks better but, for at least some people, works worse. I also think the problem is exacerbated by the current fashion where icons are just simple one-color hairline outline objects, not colorful illustrations of actual objects.
Vice News: Inside Huawei-Land ★
Tight 8-minute video tour of Huawei’s campus from Vice News:
“We wanted to invite U.S. media to come ask any questions on behalf of American customers,” said Catherine Chen, Huawei’s corporate senior vice president and director of the board.
VICE News took Huawei up on its offer and found out we were the only news organization that showed up.
I don’t know what Huawei thought this tour would accomplish, but I found it interesting.
Ars: ‘Why the Quirky Playdate Portable Could Succeed Where Ouya Failed’ ★
Kyle Orland, writing at Ars Technica:
This is the hipster microbrew of the console world, mixing in weird gaming flavors and unique controller ingredients that the Sony/Budweisers and Nintendo/Millers of the world can’t. Playdate is aiming to be the console you buy more as a statement about your refined and eclectic gaming tastes and less as a workhorse that will be a central point in your gaming life.
I think this is pretty good, but I quibble with the word “hipster”. To me, a hipster handheld would have big fat pixels, a more decidedly retro take. Some microbrews are hipsters, no argument, but most aren’t — they’re just good beers made at a small scale. That’s Playdate.
Wednesday, 22 May 2019
“We wanted this thing to come out of nowhere, fully formed, and just blow everybody’s minds.” That’s Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser, in the cover story of the new issue of Edge magazine.
The story is about Playdate, the most amazing and exciting product announcement, for me, since the original iPhone.
Everything racing through your mind right now as “but that’s impossible” is, in fact, not impossible. It’s true. Panic is making a handheld game player. It is adorable and exciting and fun and technically impressive. Go read all about it at Panic’s (also adorable, exciting, fun, and technically impressive) Playdate website, which even has a great domain name.
They’re making their own hardware (in conjunction with Swedish device makers Teenage Engineering). They wrote their own OS (there’s no Linux). It has a high resolution 400 × 240 black and white display with no backlighting. It has a crank.
It’s going to cost only $149 — $149! — and that includes a “season” of 12 games from an amazing roster of beloved video game creators, delivered every Monday for 12 weeks.
The idea of a new upstart, a company the size of Panic — with only software experience at that — jumping into the hardware game with a brand new platform harkens back to the ’80s and ’90s. But even back then, a company like, say, General Magic or Palm, was VC-backed and aspired to be a titan. To be the next Atari or Commodore or Apple.
In today’s world all the new computing devices and platforms come from huge companies. Apple, of course. All the well-known Android handset makers building off an OS provided by Google. Sony. Nintendo.
Panic is almost cheating in a way because they’re tiny. The Playdate platform isn’t competing with the state of the art. It’s not a retro platform, per se, but while it has an obviously nostalgic charm it is competing only on its own terms. Its only goal is to be fun. And aspects of Playdate are utterly modern: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, apps and software updates delivered over-the-air.
They’re taking advantage of an aspect of today’s world that is brand new – the Asian supply chain, the cheapness of Asian manufacturing, the cheapness of CPU and GPU cycles that allows things like Raspberry Pi to cost just $35.
And then there’s the issue of freedom. Last night Steven Frank, Panic’s other co-founder, tease-tweeted a link to Steve Jobs quoting Alan Kay during the introduction of the original iPhone: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”
You know that scene in GoodFellas where Tommy is about to be made, and Jimmy and Henry can’t contain their excitement because it’s as close as they themselves will ever get to being made? That’s a bit how I feel about Playdate — I have so many friends at Panic, and this feels as close as I’ll ever get to the makers of a hardware platform. (Let’s please ignore the fact that everything goes to shit in GoodFellas at that point.)
Cabel Sasser let me in on this about two weeks ago, and I don’t think I’ve spent a waking hour since when I haven’t thought about Playdate at least once. I am so excited to get one of these in my hands — and so proud of and happy for my friends at Panic.
This is fucking amazing. ★
Wednesday, 22 May 2019
U.S.-China Trade War Puts Huawei in a World of Hurt ★
Amie Tsang, reporting for The New York Times:
Google’s decision to cut off support to Huawei, the Chinese
telecommunications giant blacklisted by the Trump administration,
is rippling across the globe as companies suspend ties to the
In Britain, where Huawei is one of the most popular cellphone
brands, two of the country’s biggest mobile networks, EE and
Vodafone, announced that they would stop offering Huawei phones to
5G customers as a result of Google’s decision.
In Japan, the three largest cellphone companies also said they
were reconsidering plans to sell a new series of Huawei
BBC News reports that ARM is suspending all business with Huawei. So: no OS, no CPU, no carrier support in Europe or the U.S. (where Huawei has long been semi-banned over security concerns).
Those are problems I wouldn’t give to a monkey on a rock.
WebKit: Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution for the Web ★
John Wilander, WebKit engineer at Apple:
The combination of third-party web tracking and ad campaign
measurement has led many to conflate web privacy with a web free
of advertisements. We think that’s a misunderstanding. Online ads
and measurement of their effectiveness do not require Site A,
where you clicked an ad, to learn that you purchased something on
Site B. The only data needed for measurement is that someone who
clicked an ad on Site A made a purchase on Site B.
Today we are presenting a new technology to allow attribution of
ad clicks on the web while preserving user privacy.
This is an amazing proposal, and I really hope it takes off. Safari’s incredible popularity and importance on mobile devices could make this take off. The key idea is this: a web browser should work in the interest of its users.
Critically, our solution avoids placing trust in any of the
parties involved — the ad network, the merchant, or any other
intermediaries — and dramatically limits the entropy of data
passed between them to prevent communication of a tracking
Anything that relies on voluntary compliance is doomed. If it can be abused or circumvented, ad networks and other web trackers will abuse or circumvent it.
See also: Zack Whittaker’s story at TechCrunch, and this brief thread from Apple’s Maciej Stachowiak with links to other WebKit privacy initiatives.
Tuesday, 21 May 2019
DF Sponsorships for Spring ★
The rest of May and June remain largely open on the DF sponsorship schedule. Every week is a good week to sponsor Daring Fireball, if you ask me, but the weeks leading up to and after WWDC are particularly good. Lots of attention because there’s always a lot to write about. If you have a good product or service to promote to DF’s astute audience, I’d love to have you as a sponsor.
This current week remains open, too. If you can move quickly, get in touch today.
Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Apple updated MacBook Pro with faster 8th- and 9th-generation
Intel Core processors, bringing eight cores to MacBook Pro for
the first time. MacBook Pro now delivers two times faster
performance than a quad-core MacBook Pro and 40 percent more
performance than a 6-core MacBook Pro, making it the fastest Mac
notebook ever. […]
MacBook Pro is more powerful than ever for compiling code,
processing high-resolution images, rendering 3D graphics, editing
multiple streams of 4K video and more. The 15-inch MacBook Pro now
features faster 6- and 8-core Intel Core processors, delivering
Turbo Boost speeds up to 5.0 GHz, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro
with Touch Bar features faster quad-core processors with Turbo
Boost speeds up to 4.7 GHz.
Long story short, nice year-over-year CPU speed bumps for the entire MacBook Pro lineup, except for the 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar, which remains unchanged.1
The updates to the 13-inch models are relatively minor. The base model goes from a 2.3 GHz quad-core Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 3.8 GHz, to a 2.4 GHz quad-core Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 4.1 GHz. The fastest build-to-order option goes from a 2.7 GHz quad-core Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.5 GHz, to a 2.8 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.7 GHz. Nothing truly major there, but I think it’s great that they speed-bumped them anyway — and the move from 7th-generation Intel CPUs to 8th-generation is apparently a bigger deal, performance-wise, than the clock speeds suggest.
The updates to the 15-inch models are more significant. And if you’re a pro user whose work is genuinely CPU-constrained, the 15-inch is the model you’re buying. The $2,400 base model goes from a 2.2 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.1 GHz, to a 2.6 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.5 GHz. That’s a nice year-over-year bump right there. The fastest configuration goes from a 2.9 GHz 6-core Intel Core i9 with Turbo Boost up to 4.8 GHz, to a 2.4 GHz 8-core Intel Core i9, Turbo Boost up to 5.0 GHz. This is the first time any Apple portable has reached 8 cores or 5 GHz.
The very best model you can configure — the high-end 8-core CPU, with 32 GB of RAM, 4 TB of SSD storage, and the Radeon Pro Vega 20 video card — costs a very professional $6,549.
One word that doesn’t appear in today’s announcement is “keyboard”. Seriously, when the announcement went live at 1pm ET, the first thing I did was search for “keyboard”: “Not found”. But Apple spoke on background to a bunch of folks in the media this morning, including yours truly, and they do have keyboard-related news.
First, these new MacBook Pros still have the third-generation butterfly-switch keyboard that debuted with last July’s updated MacBook Pros. But Apple has changed the mechanism under the hood, using a new material for at least one of the components in these switches. The purpose of this change is specifically to increase the reliability of the keyboards. Apple emphasized to me their usual line that the “vast majority” of users have no problem with these keyboards, but they acknowledge that some users do and say they take it very seriously.
The change to the mechanism is intended to address both problems people are seeing with frequently-used keys: getting stuck, and generating two characters with a single keypress. These updated keyboards look identical — there’s no change to the layout or to the amount of key travel. And according to Apple, the updated keyboards should feel the same when typing — although Apple acknowledged that keyboard feel is highly subjective, and some of us, like the princess and the pea, can detect minor differences and form strong opinions about those differences.
Second, all MacBooks with butterfly keyboards, including the new MacBook Pros released today, are now covered by Apple’s keyboard service program. If a key gets stuck or stops working or starts duplicating characters, you can get it repaired free of charge. No need to guess whether a brand-new model will be added to the program later — if it has a butterfly keyboard, it’s in the program. Also, for existing models with the third-generation keyboard — last year’s new MacBook Pros and the new MacBook Air — if they require a keyboard replacement, they’ll get the new tweaked keyboard with the purportedly more durable mechanism.2
Third, Apple stated that repair times for keyboard service have been greatly improved. How much improved, they wouldn’t say, but they realize it’s a great inconvenience to be without your MacBook for any time at all. Keyboard replacements are now performed in-store, so a process that used to take 4-5 days (or more) might now take just a day or two.
This is all good news. Sure, what many of us would like to see is a truly new keyboard design — something that re-establishes the MacBook lineup as having the best keyboard in the industry. Personally, I’d like to see them add more travel to the keys, go back to the upside-down T arrow key layout, and include a hardware Esc key on Touch Bar models (in that order).3 Apple is always working on new keyboards, of course. It’s just a question of when they’ll ship. Major keyboard redesigns coincide with major redesigns of the entire form factor, and those projects are on years-long time frames.
But of course the biggest issue with these keyboards is reliability. Will this updated mechanism fix or at least greatly reduce the number of reliability problems? Only time will tell, but I’m cautiously optimistic. Apple didn’t have to say anything at all about this mechanical tweak. I mean, if they hadn’t said anything at all about the keyboards, we’d all be asking about it, but Apple often ignores questions it doesn’t want to answer. The folks I spoke to today seem confident these updated keyboards will prove significantly more reliable.
You can also see why Apple decided to announce these updates today, not on stage at WWDC in two weeks. First, they are just speed bumps. Second, there’s simply no way they want to talk about keyboard reliability on stage. As I observed above, they didn’t even mention the word “keyboard” in their Newsroom announcement. Best to get this out of the way ahead of WWDC.
So on the keyboard front, these new models can’t be worse and are likely better. That’s good. The best that we could hope for while waiting for a true next-generation keyboard design — which for all we know might be a year or more out — is a mid-generation tweak. At the very least, talking about this material tweak and including all butterfly keyboard models in the service program is an acknowledgement that last year’s keyboards were not good enough. That was the worst case scenario — that Apple didn’t see a problem.
But what pleases me more is that Apple is updating Mac hardware on an aggressive schedule. I wrote “just speed bumps” a few paragraphs ago, but speed bumps are important in the pro market. Apple shipped new MacBook Pros last July, added new high-end graphics card options to those models in October, and now has updated the whole lineup with new CPUs. They also just updated the non-Pro iMac lineup in March. This seems like an odd thing to praise the company for — updating hardware with speed bumps is something a computer maker should just do, right? The lack of speed bumps in recent years naturally led some to conclude that Apple, institutionally, was losing interest in the Mac.
Last year, a source at Apple admitted to me that they had “taken their eye off the ball on Mac”. Regular speed bumps are a very strong sign that their eye is back on the ball, especially in the pro market, where artists, video pros, developers, and scientists really can use every CPU and GPU cycle they can get.
One More Thing
One Mac Apple hasn’t spoken about in a while — over a year in fact — is the upcoming new Mac Pro. In 2013, Apple previewed the current Mac Pro at WWDC (“Can’t innovate anymore, my ass”), even though it didn’t go on sale until later in the year. I expect Apple to do something similar this year, and I know a lot of other people do too.
In broad strokes, the new Mac Pro is in one of three states:
- Ready to ship.
- Not ready to ship, but ready to be unveiled.
- Not even ready to be unveiled.4
Apple is good at setting expectations in the lead-up to keynotes. Most people waiting for the new Mac Pro think it’s in state #1 or #2, and thus, we’ll get some sort of look at it at WWDC. If it’s #3, though, and it’s still not yet ready even to be previewed, I strongly suspect Apple would get word out in advance so that no one leaves the keynote thinking about something that wasn’t announced instead of all the various things that were announced. That’s Apple’s expectation-setting playbook.
One way to get word out would have been to say something today, on background, along the lines of, “We’re announcing these updated MacBook Pro models today because our WWDC keynote is going to be all about software, not hardware.”
They didn’t say that. Maybe a “no hardware at WWDC” leak is still coming. We still have almost two full weeks until WWDC, and perhaps Apple didn’t want to mix good news on the MacBook Pro front with disappointing news on the Mac Pro front. But they didn’t say anything today. ★
Monday, 20 May 2019
Facebook’s Creepy Data Sharing With Phone Carriers ★
Sam Biddle, reporting for The Intercept:
Offered to select Facebook partners, the data includes not just
technical information about Facebook members’ devices and use of
Wi-Fi and cellular networks, but also their past locations,
interests, and even their social groups. This data is sourced not
just from the company’s main iOS and Android apps, but from
Instagram and Messenger as well. The data has been used by
Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors,
including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more
controversial uses like racially targeted ads.
Some experts are particularly alarmed that Facebook has marketed
the use of the information — and appears to have helped directly
facilitate its use, along with other Facebook data — for the
purpose of screening customers on the basis of likely
creditworthiness. Such use could potentially run afoul of federal
law, which tightly governs credit assessments.
Mark Zuckerberg, last month: “I believe the future is private.”
Pandora for Mac Is an Electron Turd ★
Speaking of un-Mac-like apps, Pandora released a Mac client today. I downloaded it just to kick the tires — it’s a bad native Mac app even by the low standards of Electron apps. For example, if you click and drag one of the “buttons” at the top of the window (“Log In”, “Sign Up”, etc.), it both drags the window and gives you a pandora.com URL drag proxy item. I don’t even know how such dysfunction is even possible.
If Marzipan can get more companies to build their Mac apps from their iOS app, that really would be an improvement over these Electron monstrosities. But part of the appeal of Electron is that it gives you an app that works on Windows too. (Pandora’s Windows app isn’t available yet, but is promised soon.) Marzipan won’t solve that problem.
Slack Changed Its Stock Ticker From ‘SK’ to ‘WORK’ Weeks Before IPO ★
Becky Peterson, writing for Business Insider:
Slack is not a public company yet, but it’s already gotten tired
of its stock ticker.
In an updated version of its IPO paperwork filed on Monday, Slack
revealed that it has dumped the proposed “SK” stock ticker it had
settled upon a few weeks ago. Instead, in a dramatic pivot, the
workplace collaboration company will makes its public market debut
with the more descriptive ticker symbol “WORK.”
It’s no big deal, but “SK” was a bad-ass ticker. “WORK” is just corny. I think you ought to be able to look at a ticker and make a good guess what company it belongs to.
(I’ve always wondered why Apple’s ticker is “AAPL”, with two A’s. Searching for an answer, I found this old MacRumors forum thread from 2003. Someone there thought they should change it to “IPOD”.)
Microsoft Edge Preview Builds Now Available for MacOS ★
Last month, we announced the first preview builds of the next
version of Microsoft Edge for Windows 10. Today, we are pleased to
announce the availability of the Microsoft Edge Canary channel for
macOS. You can now install preview builds from the Microsoft Edge
Insider site for your macOS or Windows 10 PC, with more
Windows version support coming soon.
I’m trying to think how long it’s been since I’ve had a Microsoft web browser running on my Mac. Apple released Safari in 2003, but I was still running classic MacOS on my Power Mac 9600 until 2004 or 2005 I think. So maybe 15 years?
Building a “Mac-like” user experience for Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge for macOS will offer the same new browsing
experience that we’re previewing on Windows, with user experience
optimizations to make it feel at home on a Mac. We are tailoring
the overall look and feel to match what macOS users expect from
apps on this platform.
I’m glad they put quotes around “Mac-like” because this is not very Mac-like. It looks and feels a lot like Google Chrome, which makes sense, because it’s a fork from Chromium. But even Chrome uses the Mac’s standard contextual menus (what you see when you right-click) — Edge even fakes those.
The whole thing does feel very fast.
Saturday, 18 May 2019
Atoms — Ideal Everyday Shoes ★
My thanks once again to Atoms for sponsoring this week at Daring Fireball. Atoms are getting ready to launch their new website and they’re using this sponsorship to give DF readers a sneak peak. It’s a great website, with a custom typeface to boot. (They wanted to get the dot on the i just right.) And you get a chance to pick up the world’s first shoes available in quarter sizes.
That sounds like a pain in the ass. How can you choose the right quarter-size increment ordering over the internet? Easy: Atoms sends you three pairs of shoes in quarter-size increments based on your normal shoe size. You pick the left and right shoe that feels best — a size 9 for your left foot and a 9.25 for your right, for example — and return the rest for free.
Atoms didn’t know this when they chose to sponsor DF, but going back to childhood, my left foot has always been ever so slightly bigger than my right. When trying on new shoes I’m often torn between half sizes. It’s like they made this quarter-size system just for me. No kidding. I’ve had a pair of Atoms for a little bit and have been wearing them a lot. (I got the black and white, but they also have all-black and all-white.) They’re very comfortable and still look near-new.
Friday, 17 May 2019
GB Studio ★
GB Studio is “A free and easy to use retro adventure game creator for your favourite handheld video game system”, by which they mean, but don’t want to name specifically, Nintendo’s Game Boy:
Simple visual scripting means you don’t need to have made a game
already. GB Studio also hides much of the complexity in building
GB games so you can concentrate on telling a great story.
What a fun idea from developer Chris Maltby. You can output ROMs for emulators, play them on actual Game Boy hardware with a flash cartridge, or even export them for the web (which will even work on phones). It’s a remarkably polished IDE.
There’s something about 1-bit (and few-bit) displays that makes me so nostalgic — the original Mac, Game Boy, Newton, PalmPilot, iPod. Those devices all inspired such deep affection. In our current world of ever-cheaper, ever-better color displays, I’d love to see 1-bit displays make a comeback somehow. That doesn’t make any sense, but nostalgia isn’t about sense. “A pain in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone”; “it takes us to a place where we ache to go again” and all.
The Pivot ★
Excellent piece from Horace Dediu:
Moving as it does between computers, devices, software, services,
retail, logistics and manufacturing means that it’s not
classifiable as an “x” company where “x” is an industry sector.
Rather, the company should be classified by the set of problems it
seeks to solve (e.g. communications, community, productivity,
This disconnect between what people think Apple sells and what
Apple builds is as perplexing as the cognitive disconnect between
what companies sell and what customers buy.
This is why so many people, particularly investment analysts, have always missed the point about Apple. They saw Apple as a computer company outside the Wintel world in a Wintel-dominated industry. Now they see Apple as a phone maker in a world where the market is saturated and people are holding onto the phones they already own longer and longer.
“Where’s the next iPhone?” they ask. That’s such a dumb question. As Dediu argues at the start of his piece, the iPhone is the most successful product of all time. What sense does it make to expect the same company to make two of the most successful products of all time within the span of 15 years? It doesn’t really make much sense to expect any other company to make a product as successful as the iPhone soon. I think there’s a good chance the iPhone is a once in a lifetime product.
How AirPlay 2 and the Apple TV App Work on a Samsung TV ★
I’m not surprised, but this looks and works almost exactly like the new TV app on an Apple TV set top box. If you have one of these TVs with the Apple TV app built-in, I can’t see many reasons why you’d want an Apple TV device. The new TV app on an actual Apple TV does integrate with apps like Prime Video and Hulu that are not available as “channels”, and of course Apple TV has that wildly popular library of games and its celebrated remote control, but if you mostly use Apple TV for iTunes movie and TV show content, you’re probably better off using the built-in Apple TV app on these TVs.
Update: A couple of readers point to one obvious advantage of Apple TV: privacy. Smart TVs do all sorts of nasty things like tracking what you watch and phoning home that Apple TV does not and never will do. There’s a very strong case to be made never to hook a “smart TV” up to the internet at all.
Gmail Tracks Your Purchase History (Shocker) ★
Todd Haselton and Megan Graham, writing for CNBC:
Google says it doesn’t use your Gmail to show you ads and
promises it “does not sell your personal information, which
includes your Gmail and Google Account information,” and does
“not share your personal information with advertisers, unless you
have asked us to.”
But, for reasons that still aren’t clear, it’s pulling that
information out of your Gmail and dumping it into a “Purchases”
page most people don’t seem to know exists. Even if it’s not being
used for ads, there’s no clear reason why Google would need to
track years of purchases and make it hard to delete that
information. Google says it’s looking into simplifying its
settings to make them easier to control, however.
I’m sure they’ll get right on that.
Steam Link Finally Available for iOS and Apple TV ★
Remember this saga from a year ago? Long story short, Steam is like an app store for PC games. Steam Link is like a LAN-based remote desktop that lets you stream your Steam games to another device, like an iPhone or Apple TV. Apple initially approved it on May 7 last year, Steam announced it, and then Apple un-approved it, “citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team”.
It seems bizarre to me that it took a year to resolve this, but I’m glad Apple decided it correctly. And I’m interested to see how well it works — my son is an avid player of games from Steam.
Thursday, 16 May 2019
First things first: earlier this week WhatsApp announced that they had closed a remote code execution vulnerability, affecting all platforms, that attackers could exploit simply by calling a user’s WhatsApp account — whether the call was answered or not. (A buffer overflow, no surprise.) They revealed to The Financial Times that this vulnerability had been exploited, targeting an unknown but presumably small number of users, by software from NSO Group, an Israeli company that sells expensive, exclusive, world-class hacking tools to governments (or at least NSO claims only to sell their software to legitimate governments). The FT story is locked behind their paywall (which makes me wonder why WhatsApp went to them with the story), but TechCrunch has a good summary.
Long story short, this was a bad bug that was apparently exploited in the wild. A reasonable point to be taken from this story is that end-to-end encryption is not a panacea. If an attacker manages to install malware on your device, whether via remote exploit or physical access to the device, it’s game over, because they’re now inside one of the ends.
It’s like if you have a secure communication line between two rooms, but an attacker gains entry into one of the rooms. The problem is not with the communication line.
“End-to-end encryption is not a panacea” was not the lesson taken by Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky. His take currently runs under the headline “End-to-End Encryption Isn’t as Safe as You Think”. When I first saw the story two days ago, though, the headline was “WhatsApp’s End-to-End Encryption Is a Gimmick”.
One of my favorite games to play when trying to see if a headline changed is to look at the URL slug and the
<title> tag from the article’s HTML source code. I’ll just repeat myself from a year ago:
I point this out from time to time, but the way most websites’
CMSes work is that an article’s URL slug — like the
“juiced_headline_of_the_week” segment in this very post’s URL
— are derived from the article’s original headline. But when a
headline changes, the URL shouldn’t change unless you have a way
to redirect traffic going to the old URL to the new one. Most
websites don’t do that. So when they change a headline, you can
still tell what the original headline was by looking at the URL
slug. For some reason, with a lot of news websites, they don’t
bother updating the headline in the HTML
<title> element either,
so you can read the original headline in your browser tab.
The URL slug from Bershidsky’s column: “whatsapp-hack-shows-end-to-end-encryption-is-pointless”.
<title> tag: “WhatsApp Hack Shows End-to-End Encryption Has a Vulnerability”.
These various evolutions on the headline range from bad (“End-to-End Encryption Isn’t as Safe as You Think”) to criminally bad (“WhatsApp Hack Shows End-to-End Encryption Has a Vulnerability / Is Pointless / Is a Gimmick”).
Bloomberg, of all publications, should be on its tip-toes to make sure it gets anything related to cybersecurity exactly right — every i dotted, every t crossed. Their reputation is in tatters in the wake of last year’s “The Big Hack” debacle — a story which they still haven’t retracted (or shown to be true with any actual evidence).1
Instead, they’re publishing this nonsense from Bershidsky:
The tug of war between tech firms touting end-to-end encryption as
a way to avoid government snooping and state agencies protesting
its use is a smokescreen. Government and private hackers are
working feverishly on new methods to deploy malware with operating
It’s no smokescreen. Bershidsky’s profound mistake is his apparent belief that security is binary — totally secure or totally insecure. And so in his mind, this week’s WhatsApp exploit means WhatsApp is insecure, and since other such exploitable bugs almost surely exist in other apps and in OSes, no messaging system is secure.
Security is not binary, though — which is obvious if you give it even a moment’s thought. A locked door is more secure than an unlocked one. A door with two locks is more secure than one with a single lock. A locked door with a locked gate in front of it is more secure than one without a gate.
Security exists on a continuum. The definition of continuum is instructive: “a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct”. It’s not secure or insecure; it’s more secure or less secure. Just like faster vs. slower or heavier vs. lighter. There are first grade primers that cover these concepts.
In the same way a door is more secure locked than unlocked, messaging of any sort is more secure encrypted than unencrypted. End-to-end encrypted messaging is more secure than encryption that is not end-to-end — it truly is an essential distinction.2 Just because the government or a criminal might be able to exploit software on your device even if the communications were E2E encrypted doesn’t make E2E encryption a “smokescreen”. Especially in the case of law enforcement — it is orders of magnitude easier to issue a subpoena to, say, your email provider than it is to attack your devices with malware to obtain the information they seek.
This week’s WhatsApp exploit was the work of some of the most talented hackers in the world. Calling them geniuses is no hyperbole. Finding vulnerabilities that allow remote code execution is (usually) extremely difficult. Actually writing the code to take advantage of them — turning a theoretical vulnerability into a working and deployable exploit — requires some of the best programming talent in the world. And on the other side, the security teams at goliath companies3 like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook employ equally talented programmers trying to close all possible vulnerabilities.4 It’s a cat-and-mouse game at the very highest level of programming and mathematical talent.
Obtaining a subpoena requires nothing of the sort — simply the regular mechanics of law enforcement, judicial oversight, and compliance with the law. Snooping on unencrypted network traffic is similarly trivial. Obtaining email via subpoena requires you to be able to make a free throw; doing what this week’s WhatsApp exploit seemingly accomplished requires you to be Steph Curry and hit 9 three-pointers in a single game against a playoff-caliber NBA defense.
Here’s Bershidsky’s closing:
The hard truth for activists and journalists in need of secure
messaging is that the more tech-savvy they are, the safer they can
make their digital communications. One can, for example, encrypt
messages on a non-networked device before sending them out through
one’s phone. But even that wouldn’t guarantee complete security
since responses could be screen-captured.
Truly secure communication is really only possible in the analog
world — and then all the old-school spycraft applies.
In other words, digital communication can never be completely secure, only analog can, except when that’s compromised by “old-school spycraft”. Complete guaranteed security with well-known exceptions. It boggles the mind that this was written and edited by sentient humans, and that they’ve spent two days slowly decreasing the asininity of the headline instead of just doing what obviously ought to be done and retracting the whole piece. ★
Thursday, 16 May 2019
Lego ‘Stranger Things’ ★
Even if you don’t watch Stranger Things and don’t like Lego, my god, if you don’t love the style of this video, you’re not hooked up right. It’s fantastic.
Update: Do not miss this interview video with Lego model designer Justin Ramsden.
Wednesday, 15 May 2019
FCC Proposes New Rules to Fight Robocalls ★
Makena Kelly, reporting for The Verge:
The new rule would make it easier for carriers, like AT&T,
Verizon, and T-Mobile, to automatically register their customers
for call-blocking technology. As of right now, customers have to
opt-in on their own. It would also allow customers to block calls
coming from phone numbers that are not on their contacts list.
Commissioners are expected to vote on the measure at their June
“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for
consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls,” FCC Chairman Ajit
Pai said. “By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed,
the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they
need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers
never have to get them.”
I’m trying to think of another issue that could garner so much bipartisan support in America today. I got nothing.
Washington Post: ‘Trump’s Prized Doral Resort Is in Steep Decline, According to Company Documents, Showing His Business Problems Are Mounting’ ★
David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell, reporting for The Washington Post:
At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his
biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall
revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort’s net
operating income — a key figure, representing the amount left
over after expenses are paid — had fallen by 69 percent.
Even in a vigorous economy, the property was missing the Trump
Organization’s internal business targets; for instance, the club
expected to take in $85 million in revenue in 2017 but took in
just $75 million.
“They are severely underperforming” other resorts in the area, tax
consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak told a Miami-Dade County
official in a bid to lower the property’s tax bill. The reason,
she said: “There is some negative connotation that is associated
with the brand.”
“Some negative connotation” — you don’t say.
Apple Support: ‘How to Enable Full Mitigation for Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) Vulnerabilities’ ★
Intel has disclosed vulnerabilities called Microarchitectural Data
Sampling (MDS) that apply to desktop and notebook computers with
Intel CPUs, including all modern Mac computers.
Although there are no known exploits affecting customers at the
time of this writing, customers who believe their computer is at
heightened risk of attack can use the Terminal app to enable an
additional CPU instruction and disable hyper-threading
processing technology, which provides full protection from these
This option is available for macOS Mojave, High Sierra and Sierra
and may have a significant impact on the performance of your
computer. […] Testing conducted by Apple in May 2019 showed as
much as a 40 percent reduction in performance with tests that
include multithreaded workloads and public benchmarks.
It’s good that there are no known exploits using these techniques, but even if there were, the overwhelming majority of Mac users — almost everyone — would not need to enable this mitigation. These MDS vulnerabilities enable malware on your computer to do bad things. But these vulnerabilities are not ways for malware to get onto your computer.
Once you have malware on your computer, the game is over. I’m not saying these MDS vulnerabilities aren’t a problem — they obviously are, because they make malware potentially more dangerous. But the game is keeping malware off your computers in the first place.
(Also worth noting: these particular vulnerabilities don’t affect iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, or the vast majority of Android devices because ARM chips don’t have these vulnerabilities. Only Intel chips. We’re running out of reasons for Apple not to switch the entire Mac platform to ARM.)
(Bonus parenthetical: It’s possible that there are similar vulnerabilities in ARM chips too, but if there are, none have been publicly disclosed yet.)
‘Behind Twitter’s Plan to Get People to Stop Yelling at Each Other’ ★
Interesting feature by Nicole Nguyen for BuzzFeed with an inside look at “twttr” — a new version of Twitter currently being tested. Lots of screenshots, and I particularly enjoyed (and would have liked to see more of) senior product designer Lisa Ding’s sketchbook.
I do think most of these designs significantly help indicate reply threading. What’s a reply to the original tweet, what’s a reply to another reply, that sort of thing. Twitter is really just awful for that right now, and always has been. And the fundamental reason why is kind of obvious: Twitter started as a product that did not even have the concept of replies. Users invented them, by starting a tweet with “@username” for whomever they were replying to. Twitter eventually embraced replies as a full-fledged feature, but the way it’s worked out over 13 years (poorly) is a perfect example of a fundamental design precept: the origins of a product forever shape its future.
But again, these “twttr” designs do seem to make replies clearer. That’s good. What I don’t see is anything, anything at all, that addresses the ostensible goal of this whole effort: reducing abuse, hostility, and general bad behavior. Trolls and bullies are Twitter’s core problem, not the clarity of reply threads.
Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Why Paul Ford (Still) Loves Tech ★
Paul Ford, writing for Wired, “In Defense of a Difficult Industry”:
The things we loved — the Commodore Amigas and AOL chat rooms,
the Pac-Man machines and Tamagotchis, the Lisp machines and RFCs,
the Ace paperback copies of Neuromancer in the pockets of our
dusty jeans — these very specific things have come together into
a postindustrial Voltron that keeps eating the world. We
accelerated progress itself, at least the capitalist and dystopian
parts. Sometimes I’m proud, although just as often I’m ashamed. I
Just a lovely piece that I suspect will resonate deeply with many of you. This bit, in particular, put into words something I’ve struggled to capture:
And of course I rarely get to build software anymore.
I would like to. Something about the interior life of a computer
remains infinitely interesting to me; it’s not romantic, but it is
a romance. You flip a bunch of microscopic switches really fast
and culture pours out.
“Not romantic, but it is a romance” — I think that’s what some of us are worried about losing if the Mac grows ever more iOS-like, and it feels a bit like what Brent Simmons wrote recently under the headline “Freedom”.
Google to Show Ads on Homepage of Mobile Site, App ★
Paresh Dave, reporting for Reuters:
Alphabet Inc’s Google will begin featuring ads on the homepage of
its mobile website and smartphone app later this year, it said on
Tuesday, giving the search engine a huge new supply of ad slots to
Google will also start placing ads with a gallery of up to eight
images in search results, potentially increasing ad supply
further. The ads will appear on Google pages and apps globally.
It’s interesting to me that they’re saying this is mobile-only, and thus doesn’t include the desktop homepage. But mobile is where the most attention is these days. I’ve long considered Google’s homepage the most valuable advertising space on the internet; it still is, and it’s rather remarkable how restrained they’ve been about using it. One obvious reason: they’ve remained laser-focused on keeping their homepage fast, fast, fast.
Update: Interesting take from a DF reader:
Just curious when the last time you were on a search engine’s home page on mobile? Surely everybody searches in the address bar from the most recently opened window? I had to type google.com into my address bar to even see what it looked like and I use google a dozen times a day. Results being more monetized I get… but mobile landing page? Maybe they’ll get Android users, but not iPhone.
That is true — most iPhone users surely almost never see Google’s pre-results landing page.
Friday, 10 May 2019
Postal Address Insanity ★
Josh Centers, writing at TidBITS:
If you wish to use Spotify and might ever want to sign up for a family plan, I strongly recommend copying down the exact address you enter somewhere, or you can do what I did and switch to Apple Music because I refuse to play these stupid games.
Tuesday, 7 May 2019
Over 650 Former Prosecutors Say Trump Would Be Charged With Obstruction if He Weren’t President ★
More than 650 former federal prosecutors have signed onto a statement asserting that if the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) did not prohibit a sitting president from being indicted, President Trump would be charged with obstruction of justice.
Android Q First Look ★
They should have called it Android R for “rip-off”. This is the iPhone X interface. The shamelessness of this rip-off is staggering. Does Google have no pride? No sense of shame?
Don’t Hold Your Breath ★
Samsung Electronics said on Tuesday it cannot confirm the shipping date for its foldable device Galaxy Fold yet and apologized to its pre-order customers in the United States for the delay. The world’s top smartphone maker delayed global sales of the splashy $1,980 foldable phone after reviewers discovered problems with its display, dealing a setback to Samsung and its efforts to showcase its innovation.
“If we do not hear from you and we have not shipped by May 31st, your order will be canceled automatically,” the South Korean tech giant’s U.S. subsidiary told Galaxy Fold pre-order customers in an email late on Monday, which was confirmed by a Samsung spokeswoman.
Today is May 7. How can anyone take them seriously that they do not know if they’re going to ship by May 31? This thing is never going to ship and everyone knows it.
Google Pixel 3A ★
Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times:
So this will probably come as good news. As of Tuesday, Google is selling the Pixel 3A, a new version of its popular Pixel smartphone, for about $400 — or roughly half the price of its high-end phones. It is the first time that Google is introducing its Pixel phones for the midrange and low-end market.
“We’re seeing the fatigue with some of the flagship pricing of smartphones going up and up and up, and people thinking, ‘You know, five years ago I could buy the best possible phone for half this price,’” said Brian Rakowski, a vice president of product management for Google.
$400 for a good phone with a great camera sounds compelling. But there’s a hump Google has never gotten over with the Pixel phones. They’re great devices that almost no one actually buys.
Friday, 3 May 2019
This Is Why I Would Never Buy Used AirPods ★
The Daily Mail:
But he went to Kaohsiung Municipal United Hospital where medics confirmed he had swallowed the AirPod. They said it was currently passing through his digestive system, saying it would need surgery to remove if it did not appear naturally. Doctors gave him a laxative and told him to inspect his waste for any sign of the device.
Fortunately for Mr Hsu the AirPod resurfaced when he relieved himself at a railway station the next day. He was forced into a foul-smelling search but was able to pick out the £65 device and found that it was still intact. After washing the AirPod and letting it dry Mr Hsu was amazed to find that it still worked.
It is The Daily Mail, so there’s a good likelihood the story is complete bullshit. But if it’s legit… jiminy.
SEC Charges Sapphire Glass Manufacturer and Former CEO With Fraud ★
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a New Hampshire-based company and its former CEO with misleading investors about the company’s ability to supply “sapphire glass” for Apple’s iPhones. The company, GT Advanced Technologies Inc., also is found to have misclassified more than $300 million in debt to Apple that resulted from its repeated failures to meet performance milestones.
Haven’t thought about these guys in a while.
It’s Not Just Dust ★
I’ve gotten a zillion emails and tweets about this Reddit thread from a Mac tech dissecting Apple’s butterfly-switch MacBook keyboards. Like most stuff on Reddit I don’t think it’s very cohesive. It’s like a notebook for an article, not an article. But the author does make one key observation that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make before, even though it’s obvious to anyone following this saga: If the reliability problem with these keyboards is only about particles getting lodged under the keys, then we should see random keys having problems. But that’s not what we see. What we see are that the most-used keys — vowels (especially “E”) and the space bar — are the keys most likely to get stuck or to start emitting duplicate characters.
I’m sure the dust thing is a real problem, but it’s clearly not the only problem. These keyboards simply aren’t durable.
Thursday, 2 May 2019
Peter Mayhew Dies at 74 ★
Filmmaking is a collaborate effort, and many deserve credit for Chewbacca. George Lucas, of course, for conceiving and writing the character. Ben Burtt for that distinctive and emotive voice. ILM costume designers. But Mayhew was the actor. And goddamn if Chewbacca doesn’t feel real. You know he’s a man in a suit but he feels like a real Wookiee. There were aliens in movies before Star Wars, but Chewbacca was the first I can think of who didn’t just look and feel like a real alien but who also felt like a full-fledged character — a character with an interesting personality and real relationships with the humans around him. More than anything else, it was Chewbacca’s realness as a character — along with C-3PO and R2-D2 — that made Star Wars so immersive. He wasn’t a gimmick or a prop. He was Chewie.
And he should have gotten a goddamn medal.
A Technical and Cultural Assessment of the Mueller Report PDF ★
Duff Johnson, writing for the PDF Association:
This article offers two things:
a brief, high-level technical assessment of the document, and
a question of culture: why everyone assumes it would be delivered as a PDF file — and would have been shocked otherwise.
This has nothing to do with the content of the Mueller Report, but rather the actual PDF file released by the Justice Department. Wonderfully nerdy.
Wednesday, 1 May 2019
Qualcomm to Record $4.5 Billion Revenue From Apple Settlement ★
Scott Rosenberg and Ina Fried, reporting for Axios:
In its quarterly earnings released today, Qualcomm said it would
record $4.5-$4.7 billion revenue in the coming quarter as part of
its settlement of a long-running intellectual-property quarrel
This isn’t catastrophic for Apple, and I think that figure is exactly in line with what just about everyone expected. But don’t tell me Qualcomm wasn’t the winner here.
‘Facebook Is Trying to Make the Word “Private” Meaningless’ ★
Good piece by Casey Johnston for The Outline on the hollowness of Facebook’s newfound push for “privacy”:
He emphasized several times that Facebook will not be able to see
the content of this material, saying it was private “even from us”
several times about several features, and emphasizing the words
“safety” and “secure.”
But what his presentation elided was the fact that Facebook does
not need to see the content of what people are saying in order to
advertise to them. The metadata — who, or what (as in a
business), you’re talking to, and even where you are or what time
the conversation is taking place as it comes together with other
pieces of information — provides more than enough information to
make a very educated guess about what you’re interested in, to the
point that knowing specifically what you are saying adds almost
Tim Cook and Luca Maestri on Intel ★
Something I missed last night perusing Tim Cook and Luca Maestri’s remarks on Apple’s quarterly analyst call: shots fired at Intel. (Emphasis added.)
For our Mac business overall, we faced some processor constraints
in the March quarter, leading to a 5 percent revenue decline
compared to last year. But we believe that our Mac revenue would
have been up compared to last year without those constraints, and
don’t believe this challenge will have a significant impact on our
Next I’d like to talk about the Mac. Revenue was 5.5 billion
compared to 5.8 billion a year ago, with the decline driven
primarily by processor constraints on certain popular models.
I asked an Apple source last fall why it took so long for Apple to release the new MacBook Air. Their one-word answer: “Intel.”
One of the big questions for next month’s WWDC is whether this is the year Apple announces Macs with Apple’s own ARM processors (and graphics?).