Linked List: May 2016

NYT: ‘Rise of Ad-Blocking Software Threatens Online Revenue’ 

Mark Scott, writing for the NYT:

Already, 36 percent of the smartphone users in the Asia-Pacific region have so-called ad-blocking browsers on their mobile devices, allowing them to remove online ads when they use the Internet. In India and Indonesia — two of the world’s fastest-growing Internet markets — that figure is almost two-thirds of smartphone users, according to the report.

Still, only 4.3 million Americans, or 2.2 percent of smartphone owners, used ad blockers — through browsers or other services — on their smartphones as of March. By comparison, 159 million people in China have installed ad-blocking software on their cellphones, the report said.

I’m surprised the difference is that vast. What explains the disparity? Are ads in Asia that much worse?

Update: Near-unanimous consensus that it’s two factors: (a) Asia cellular plans have severe data caps, and (b) the ads are way more obtrusive than they are here.

Thunderbolt Display Stock Limited at Apple Stores 

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

Apple began shipping the five-year-old Thunderbolt Display in September 2011. In terms of prospective updates, the 27” Retina 5K iMac could be the basis for a corresponding 5K Thunderbolt Display, which could feature the same 5,120×2,880 pixels resolution, USB-C ports for connecting Thunderbolt 3 peripherals, and possibly an ultra-thin design resembling the latest iMacs.

Only the late 2013 Mac Pro, late 2014 or newer 27” Retina 5K iMac, and mid 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro with AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics are capable of driving 5K external displays, however, and each setup requires using two Thunderbolt cables per display. The lack of support is due to bandwidth limitations of the DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4 specs on current Macs.

DisplayPort 1.3 has increased bandwidth, but Skylake-based Macs with Thunderbolt 3 will not support the spec and Intel’s next-generation Kaby Lake processors on track for a late 2016 launch will not as well. Apple could opt to release a 4K Thunderbolt Display instead, but supply chain considerations make this unlikely, so the company’s exact plans for the future of its standalone display remain to be seen.

A 27-inch standalone retina display will be a genuine finally. If they announce it at WWDC, the crowd will go nuts. But just how they’ll drive it is a fascinating question. Using two Thunderbolt cables would be clunky. Maybe one cable that forks into two Thunderbolt adapters at the end?

Update: Best guess so far, from Stephen Foskett:

@gruber What if Apple put the graphics card in the monitor? It would work with most (all?) Thunderbolt Macs and wouldn’t require 2 cables…

I’d bet on this.

Eddy Cue and Steph Curry Celebrating the Warriors Game 7 Comeback 

Great photo on the front page of today’s San Francisco Chronicle. It was a great series, and a great game 7. This photo really captures the passion of sports — both from a player and a fan. You can see this moment in slo-mo video at around the 2:30 mark here.

Not sure about the flip-flops, though.

Reuters: ‘Push for Encryption Law Falters Despite Apple Case Spotlight’ 


Draft legislation that Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Intelligence Committee, had circulated weeks ago likely will not be introduced this year and, even if it were, would stand no chance of advancing, the sources said.

Key among the problems was the lack of White House support for legislation in spite of a high-profile court showdown between the Justice Department and Apple Inc over the suspect iPhone, according to Congressional and Obama Administration officials and outside observers.

“They’ve dropped anchor and taken down the sail,” former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden said.

I think the push for mandatory back doors has faltered in part because of Apple’s public opposition, not despite it. Apple clarified why back doors are a terrible idea.

Klay Thompson’s 11 Three-Pointers in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals 

I really do think this was the single greatest pure shooting performance in basketball history. Most of these shots were incredibly difficult — and most of them didn’t even hit the rim. He would have had a good shooting night even if you only counted the pure swishes. I like Golden State’s chances tonight.

The Talk Show: ‘Medium Rare MacBook’ 

A nice treat for your holiday weekend listening enjoyment: MG Siegler returns to The Talk Show. (Finally.) Topics include rumors of an upcoming Siri SDK and an Amazon Echo-like device from Apple, the future of the MacBook lineup, Peter Thiel’s secretive role as the financial backer of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, and my hatred of Roman numerals.

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Maps Plus 

Yesterday’s post about my distaste for Google’s use of Android-style Material Design for their iOS apps reminded me about one of the most interesting iOS apps I’ve seen in the last year: “Maps+”, from IZE. It’s a native iOS app that follows the UI design of Apple Maps, but uses Google Maps for the actual maps. It’s close to what you’d get if Google Maps were still providing the data for Apple Maps. It can’t do turn-by-turn directions, but when you ask for directions, it gives you the choice of whether to hand off to Apple Maps or Google Maps.

At 96, Dr. Henry Heimlich Finally Uses His Life-Saving Technique 

Best “finally” ever?

Google : 2010s :: Microsoft : 1990s 

Jason Snell, writing at Macworld:

As someone in Google’s ecosystem as well as Apple’s, I’m happy that they continue to develop apps for iOS. Unfortunately, every time I open one of them, I’m brought back to the mid-’90s and Word 6.

I don’t know the reason — arrogance, pride, or a lack of desire to do the extra work are all options — but for a while now, Google has insisted on using the Material Design approach when creating iOS apps. Just as Word 6 inflicted Windows conventions on Mac users, Google’s iOS apps inflict Android on iOS users. […]

I’m not saying either design is superior. If you’re on Android, you should expect apps to look like Android apps–Apple Music for Android uses Android’s icons for sharing and offering additional options, rather than the ones you’d see on iOS. And the reverse should be true too. (It’s not. Google Play Music looks the same on iOS as on Android.)

Hear, hear. I find every one of Google’s iOS apps too foreign to bear.

Update: Jason specifically calls out iTunes on Windows as being in the same boat. I’d add the late Safari for Windows, too.

Peter Thiel, Comic Book Hero 

Great take from Ben Thompson:

The tech industry, like Thiel, is no underdog: it is the dominant economic force not just in the United States but in the entire world, both because of the wealth it creates, but especially because of the wealth it destroys. And, to quote another comic book figure, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

In this case, no matter how badly Thiel was personally hurt by Gawker, or how morally wrong their actions were, he is the one with far greater power, and the appropriate approach is not to leverage said power in an act of vigilantism, but to exercise the responsibility of defending the conditions that made his power possible to emerge, conditions that I believe are to the long-term benefit of everyone. That would be an approach worth applauding and emulating, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because the freedom that made possible the tech industry that made Thiel rich depends on it.

Google Beats Oracle in Java API Case 

Joe Mullin, reporting for Ars Technica:

Following a two-week trial, a federal jury concluded Thursday that Google’s Android operating system does not infringe Oracle-owned copyrights because its re-implementation of 37 Java APIs is protected by “fair use.” The verdict was reached after three days of deliberations. […]

There was only one question on the special verdict form, asking if Google’s use of the Java APIs was a “fair use” under copyright law. The jury unanimously answered “yes,” in Google’s favor. The verdict ends the trial, which began earlier this month. If Oracle had won, the same jury would have gone into a “damages phase” to determine how much Google should pay. Because Google won, the trial is over.

I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t seen anyone who was rooting for Oracle in this case.

Update: Florian Mueller, writer of the FOSS Patents weblog, is staunchly on Oracle’s side:

Also, while Google was able to present all of the “evidence” and testimony that helped its defense, Oracle had been precluded from presenting the entirety of its willful-infringement evidence.

Presumably, Judge Alsup will deny Oracle’s motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), if his jury instructions are any indication. Then Oracle will appeal again. I predict Oracle is very likely to succeed once again on appeal.

Update 2: Mueller, for what it’s worth, has worked as a “paid consultant” for Oracle on this case. So feel free to take his support with a healthy dose of salt.

What Does Facebook Think About Board Member Peter Thiel Secretly Funding Lawsuits Against a Publisher? 

Kara Swisher, writing for Recode:

What does Facebook, which has been trying mightily to court the media industry to publish on the social networking site, think about Thiel’s actions, especially given he is a prominent director of the company?

And, more importantly, will it do anything about them?

The answer is, not surprisingly, a solid “No comment” from the company and a number of other board members. In fact, insiders are going out of their way to say that Facebook is not responsible for Thiel’s private actions and noting that it had nothing to do with the lawsuit.

Felix Salmon: ‘Peter Thiel’s Dangerous Campaign Against Gawker’ 

Felix Salmon, writing at Fusion, making the case that Peter Thiel revealed his role in the Hogan-Gawker case as a strategic move:

But then the Thiel bombshell dropped. The Hogan case, it turned out, wasn’t a war in which Gawker could emerge victorious; instead, it was merely a battle in a much larger fight against an opponent with effectively unlimited resources.

Gawker could continue to fight the Hogan case; it could even win that case outright, on appeal. But even if Hogan went away, Thiel would not. Thiel’s lawsuits would not end, and Thiel’s pockets are deeper than Denton’s. Gawker’s future is indeed grim: it can’t afford to fight an indefinite number of lawsuits, since fighting even frivolous suits is an expensive game.

The result is that investing in Gawker right now is a very unattractive proposition, since any investor knows that they will be fighting a years-long battle with a single-minded billionaire who doesn’t care about how much money he spends on the fight. And if Gawker can’t raise any new money to continue to fight the Hogan case, then its corporate end might be closer than anybody thinks.

Andrew Ross Sorkin Interviews Peter Thiel 

Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times scored Thiel’s first interview regarding Thiel’s heretofore secret funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker (to the tune of around $10 million). The problems start with the headline: “Peter Thiel, Tech Billionaire, Reveals Secret War With Gawker”. Thiel did not reveal it — Forbes did. If it were up to Thiel this would still be secret. The fact that Thiel waged his “war” secretly is a key aspect of this story that should not be brushed over.

“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he said in his first interview since his identity was revealed. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”


Mr. Thiel said he considered his financial backing of the cases against Gawker to be “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done. I think of it in those terms.” He refused to divulge exactly what other cases against he has funded but said, “It’s safe to say this is not the only one.”

Philanthropy. Got it.

Update: It’s possible that Thiel himself was the source for Forbes’s story revealing his role. I didn’t see that angle, but if so, and Sorkin’s aware of it, “reveals” works in the headline. But none of Thiel’s public remarks supports that.

Elizabeth Spiers on Gawker and Peter Thiel 

Elizabeth Spiers:

On the one hand, you have to admire Thiel’s sheer and apparently unending determination to make Denton and Gawker pay for coverage he didn’t like — it’s Olympic level grudge-holding. But the retribution is incredibly disproportionate in a way that seems almost unhinged. It would be hard to argue that Thiel was materially damaged by Gawker’s coverage in the way that he’s now trying to damage Gawker. His personal finances haven’t been destroyed and even the most egregious things Gawker has written haven’t put literally everyone who works for Thiel out of a job. (What did Lifehacker ever do to Peter Thiel?) And given his hard libertarian tendencies, it should at least make him uncomfortable in a very prickly way to utilize government bureaucracy to put a capitalistic enterprise out of business.

Even if Thiel wants to argue that Owen Thomas’s 2007 notorious “Peter Thiel is Totally Gay, People” post had a cataclysmically negative emotional toll for him, trying to destroy the entire business via abuse of the U.S. legal system still seems so epic in its vindictiveness that I couldn’t help but wonder whether this kind of asymmetrical reaction is just part and parcel of what you can expect in Thiel’s orbit generally, if you choose to do business with him.

Adobe on QuickTime on Windows 

There is some irony to the fact that Adobe is wrestling with the problems caused by security vulnerabilities in an Apple plugin.

‘Oldie Complains About the Old Old Ways’ 

Brent Simmons:

So, again, I’m documenting the problems currently solved by Objective-C’s dynamism, and suggesting that Swift, as it evolves, needs to take these problems into account. The foundation should be built with some idea of what the upper floors will look like.

The answer doesn’t have to be that Swift is dynamic in the way Objective-C is, or even dynamic at all. But the eventual Swift app frameworks need to solve these problems as well as — hopefully better than — UIKit and AppKit do right now. And those solutions start with the language.

I love Brent’s open-minded approach to this debate. One thing I’ve seen some “I’ve switched to Swift and don’t miss the dynamic aspects of Objective-C” proponents seemingly overlook is that today’s Swift apps for iOS and Mac rely (deeply) upon the dynamic Objective-C runtime and frameworks. There’s no such thing as a pure-Swift app on iOS or Mac today — they’re apps written in Swift on top of dynamic frameworks.

Everything Is a Remix: The Force Awakens 

Kirby Ferguson on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Great stuff, as usual.

Josh Marshall on Peter Thiel’s Bankrolling of Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuit Against Gawker 

Josh Marshall, writing at TPM:

It all comes down to a simple point. You may not like Gawker. They’ve published stories I would have been ashamed to publish. But if the extremely wealthy, under a veil secrecy, can destroy publications they want to silence, that’s a far bigger threat to freedom of the press than most of the things we commonly worry about on that front. If this is the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich, few publications will have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely.

Brian Roemmele on VocalIQ and the Self Learning Technology in the Next-Gen Siri 

Brian Roemmele:

It is not a secret that Siri has not kept up the pace that just about all of us expected, including some of the Siri team. The passion that Steve had seemed to have been waning deep inside of Apple and the results were Dag and Adam Cheyer moved on and formed Five Six Labs (V IV in Roman numerals) and Viv.

(VI and V are 6 and 5 in Roman numerals. IV is 4. So “Viv” could come from V-IV (5-4) or VI-V (6-5). This image from their website suggests “Viv” comes from 6-5. Anyway, Roman numerals suck. Update: The article now reads “formed Six Five Labs”, but still has the Roman numerals wrong.)

Tom Gruber, one of the original team members and the chief scientist that created Siri technology, stayed on and continued his work. During most of 2016 and 2017 we will begin to see the results of this work. I call it Siri2 and am very certain Apple will call it something else.

(No relation, for what it’s worth.)

Apple has always been a vital mix of internally created technology and acquired technology. From iTunes to TouchID Apple has been spectacular in identifying young and smart companies and integrating them into the very core of Apple.

Late in 2015 Apple approached a small Cambridge, England Voice AI company called VocalIQ and made a pitch to Blaise Thomson that he could not refuse. As a University of Cambridge spin out, VocalIQ had already been around for about 2 years and I had become very familiar with their amazing technology. VocalIQ built astounding technology that no doubt you and I will use every day, some day soon.

Via Nick Heer (whose excellent Pixel Envy should be on your daily reads list), who writes:

So, who’s excited for WWDC?

Forbes: Peter Thiel Has Been Secretly Funding Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuit Against Gawker 

Ryan Mac and Matt Drange, reporting for Forbes (sorry for linking to Forbes — I think this is the first time I’ve done so since they started attempting to block visitors using content blockers — but this is their scoop):

Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media. According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer. […]

Money may not have been the main motivation in the first place. Thiel, who is gay, has made no secret of his distaste for Gawker, which attempted to out him in late 2007 before he was open about his sexuality. In 2009, Thiel told PEHub that now-defunct Silicon Valley-focused publication Valleywag, which was owned by Gawker, had the “psychology of a terrorist.”

“Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda,” Thiel said at the time.

A storyline right out of pro wrestling.

(Interesting perhaps only to me: I already had tags in my CMS for “Gawker” and “Hulk Hogan”, but not for “Peter Thiel”. Apparently this September 2014 post was the only time I’ve even mentioned Peter Thiel on Daring Fireball.)

‘Scotch Trooper’ 

Very fun Instagram account.

The Information: Apple Developing Siri API and Echo-Like Device 

Amir Efrati, writing for The Information (paywall, alas):

Apple is upping its game in the field of intelligent assistants. After years of internal debate and discussion about how to do so, the company is preparing to open up Siri to apps made by others. And it is working on an Amazon Echo-like device with a speaker and microphone that people can use to turn on music, get news headlines or set a timer.

Opening up its Siri voice assistant to outside app developers is the more immediate step. Apple is preparing to release a software developer kit, or SDK, for app developers who want their apps to be accessible through Siri, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort. […]

Apple hopes to make the Siri SDK available in time for its annual conference for developers in June.

Will be interesting to see how this API works. Will the Siri extensions be packaged within existing iOS (and Mac?) apps? As for the Echo competitor — I hope they call it the Hi-Fi.

Hazel 4.0 

Speaking of Paul Kim, he just released version 4.0 of his excellent Mac utility, Hazel. If you’ve wanted an app to automatically clean up the files on your desktop and Downloads folder, that’s Hazel. Hazel does a lot more than that, but that’s the basic gist. You set up the rules you want and it just works. (If you want to know just how much more Hazel offers, David Sparks just released a two-and-a-half hour Hazel Video Field Guide that will teach you just about everything.)

Michael Tsai’s Dynamic Swift Roundup 

One more item regarding Swift and dynamism — Michael Tsai’s excellent roundup of links on the subject, including this Hacker News thread.

On Dynamism 

Paul Kim:

One thing many people seem to overlook about the dynamism of Objective-C is that it enabled NeXT (and Apple) to provide better GUI tools. Using dynamism, they were able to make GUI building declarative in nature. Connect this to that. Call this method. All stored in a file that was (and still is) data, not code. Competitors at the time (and today) resorted to code generation which is fragile and, ironically, unsafe. Yes, you could have a more declarative file format, but implementing that in using a static language required a lot of hard-coding and switch statements. Not the elegance that many people claim to be moving towards.

I’m not saying that a language has to be purely dynamic but it shouldn’t be purely static either. It think it’s spurious not to credit a level of dynamism for the quality of apps on Apple platforms over the years, and to be pedantic, the NeXT ones as well — many of which were considered the best on any platform at the time. To deny that, I feel, shows a lack of understanding of what has made the platform great all these years.

Objective-C is a very dynamic language. Swift (for now at least) is not. There are arguments on both sides, and I find the whole thing fascinating. But what I’ve noticed is that those arguing most strenuously against dynamism (or if you prefer, in favor of Swift’s relatively strict type safety) are doing so in the name of idealism. That rigorous type safety is correct almost in a moral sense (or, if you prefer, that the sort of bugs you can write with Objective-C’s dynamic features are immoral, that a modern language should prevent you from writing them in the first place).

Those arguing in favor of dynamism — and keep in mind Kim’s utterly even-handed stance quoted above — are doing so from an utterly practical perspective. We have 25 years of evidence that Objective-C and the NeXTStep/Cocoa/Cocoa Touch frameworks allow for the creation of the best apps in the world — and that they allow smaller teams to accomplish more, faster. (Exhibit A: Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web singlehandedly on a NeXT system in 1991.)

I can’t prove that dynamic nature of Objective-C and the frameworks has been essential to the success of the Mac and iOS for app development. But a lot of people who’ve spent years — or decades — creating those apps sure think so. I tend to side with pragmatism over idealism.

Why Big Apps Aren’t Moving to Swift (Yet) 

Ben Sandofsky:

I strongly believe Swift is the future of iOS development. It’s only a matter of when, and the blocker is the breakneck speed it evolves. For smaller apps, Swift is good enough. For big apps, it’s at least a year away. […]

If you’re working in a smaller app, stop reading. The benefits of Swift 3.0 probably outweigh the risks. If you’re curious about the challenges of large companies, large codebases, and complex dependencies, this post should explain why big projects are holding back.

In the run-up to WWDC (and in the wake of this announcement from Chris Lattner a week ago, that certain features slated for the upcoming Swift 3.0 have been postponed) I’ve seen a slew of great pieces on Swift and dynamic programming. Sandofsky provides a good layman’s overview of why it’s not yet practical — arguments over dynamism aside — for big apps to move to Swift.

Kirk McElhearn on iTunes 12.4 

Kirk McElhearn, writing at Macworld:

Apple has thankfully merged the two different types of contextual menus, in most locations. Instead of one menu displaying when you click the “…” button, and another when you right-click an item, the menus are the same, and work in the same way. I never understood why Apple wanted these two menus to be different, but it’s good that they’ve realized how confusing they were.

Unfortunately, there are some locations where the “new” contextual menu exists; click the “…” button next to an artist or album name, and the new menu is still there. There’s also a new Song menu in the menu bar, which reproduces the menu items from the contextual menu.

When you’re watching a movie, the Song menu changes to Movie; watch a TV show and it changes to “TV Show”. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I’ll be damned if I can recall another app that did something like this with the name of a menu.

See also: McElhearn’s follow-up with additional observations.

Marco Arment on Apple and AI 

A thoughtful piece by Marco Arment over the weekend, which spawned much discussion:

Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping that these will become the next thing that our devices are for.

If they’re right — and that’s a big “if” — I’m worried for Apple.

Today, Apple’s being led properly day-to-day and doing very well overall. But if the landscape shifts to prioritize those big-data AI services, Apple will find itself in a similar position as BlackBerry did almost a decade ago: what they’re able to do, despite being very good at it, won’t be enough anymore, and they won’t be able to catch up.

Here’s how Craig Mod put it:

When the interface becomes invisible and data based, Apple dies.

That sounds right to me. But I’m not sure I accept the premise that the rise of AI assistants will decrease in any way our desire for devices with screens. iPhone and Android doomed BlackBerry because people stopped buying BlackBerries. Even if we accept the premise that Google Assistant is going to be a big deal that Apple won’t be able to compete with, I’m not sure how that decreases demand for the devices Apple already makes.

I keep thinking back to the original iPhone introduction in 2007, when Steve Jobs touted their partnership with Google. Watch from around the 50 minute mark. Eric Schmidt even jokes that their partnership was sort of like a merger without actually merging — with Apple doing what Apple does best, and Google doing what Google does best. I don’t know if that was ever tenable in the long run, but it’s interesting to wonder where they’d be today if they had made it work.

Google’s Encryption Choices With Allo 

Hamza Shaban, writing for BuzzFeed:

Google’s “smart” replies and virtual assistant improve with use, “learning” by analyzing conversations and context. But this kind of fine-tuned processing requires a record or “memory” of chats that take place in the normal settings. Similar to Google’s web browser, Chrome, which includes its own incognito mode, the normal settings offer a more intuitive experience to consumers, Google said. The option to turn on incognito mode in Allo and enable end-to-end encryption offers additional security, but with the choice to revert back to the fuller version, Google added.

But others are concerned with the broader ramifications of Allo’s design. “Google has given the FBI exactly what the agency has been calling for,” Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist, told BuzzFeed News.

A live Google bot inside a chat stream is an interesting feature, and it can’t be done with end-to-end encryption. But this means law enforcement can require Google to hand over transcripts, and effectively wiretap your “normal” Allo chats. That’s a tradeoff many people will be willing to make. My beef is with using the words “normal” and “incognito”. Perhaps I’m spoiled by iMessage, but to me a “normal” chat is one with end-to-end encryption and no AI bot. Allo’s “normal” chats are the ones that are abnormal.

And “incognito” is absolutely the wrong word for Allo’s private chats. The word incognito means “having one’s true identity concealed”. That’s not what happens with Allo’s private chats. You’re still identified by your phone number. They should call this “private”, not “incognito”.

Project Ara, Now Less Ambitious, Still a Dumb Idea 

Remember Project Ara, Google’s modular phone project? Headline of David Pierce’s piece for Wired: “Project Ara Lives: Google’s Modular Phone Is Ready for You Now”.

After years of failed demos, public sputters, and worrisome silence, Ara works. About 30 people within ATAP are using Ara as their primary phone. Camargo actually has the luxury of worrying about things like aesthetics, rather than whether it’ll turn on. “Please pay no attention to how it looks,” he tells me, flipping the blocky smartphone over in his hands, “because it’s a prototype.” It’s not a concept, not an idea, not a YouTube video. It’s a prototype. Developer kits for Ara will be shipping later this year, and a consumer version is coming in 2017.

In what universe does this qualify as “ready for us now”? It’s not ready at all, and nothing in this story makes it sound like a good idea. It’s nonsense.

Update: I’ve been asked why I think Ara is a dumb idea. Here’s what I wrote two years ago:

How does this have any more mass market appeal than building one’s own PC? And with mobile devices, size and weight matter more than ever, and reductions in size and weight can only come through integration.


My thanks to for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Every day they have a new daily deal — but even if you don’t care about the daily deals, they’re worth visiting just for the stories, videos, and community. Just go there and check it out — it’s easier than trying to explain it.

The Talk Show: ‘Facebook on Your Face’ 

For your weekend listening enjoyment, a new episode of America’s favorite 3-star podcast, with special guest Rene Ritchie. Topics include Apple’s new flagship retail store in San Francisco, recent improvements to App Store approval times, and Google’s announcements at I/O this week — Google Home and Google Assistant, Allo and Duo, and Android “N” and Android Instant Apps.

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Inside Apple’s New San Fran Store 

Nice photographs from The Verge.

Apple Acknowledges ‘Error 56’, Pulls iOS 9.3.2 for iPad Pros 

Rene Ritchie:

Apple has pulled the iOS 9.3.2 update for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and is working on a fix. Apple provided an updated comment to iMore on the issue:

“We’re working on a fix for an issue impacting a small number of iPad units that are receiving an error when trying to update the software,” an Apple spokesperson told iMore. “We’ll issue an update as quickly as possible.”

Seems odd that it took so long for Apple to pull this.

The Daily Mail: Daniel Craig Done With James Bond 

Rehema Figueiredo, reporting for The Daily Mail:

Insiders said Craig turned down a £68million offer from MGM studio to return as Bond for two more films following last year’s hit Spectre. The sum included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer.

One LA film source said: ‘Daniel is done — pure and simple — he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted.’ He added: ‘He had told people after shooting that this would be his final outing, but the film company still felt he could come around after Spectre if he was offered a money deal.’

One source said that executives had finally agreed to let the actor go after growing tired of his criticism of the franchise.

Craig had a very good run, but I thought Spectre was the worst of his films. The soap opera-style plot twist with Blofeld did damage to the entire Bond canon, and wasn’t suspenseful in the least. I’m ready for a Bond who enjoys being Bond.

The Verge’s Overview of the Google I/O 2016 Keynote 

I watched most of the keynote and came away very impressed. My short take:

Under the new Alphabet organization and Sundar Pichai’s leadership, Google has focused itself on the things Google is actually good at, and which people will actually want to use. No more pie-in-the-sky stuff like Google Glass. Google is clearly the best at this voice-driven assistant stuff. Pichai claimed that in their own competitive analysis, Google Assistant is “an order of magnitude” ahead of competing assistants (read: Siri and Alexa). That sounds about right. This might be like Steve Jobs’s 2007 claim that the iPhone was “5 years” ahead of anyone else.

Pichai’s example of a query Google Assistant can handle but which “other assistants” cannot was asking “What is Draymond Green’s jersey number?” I tried that query in the Google app on my iPhone. Got the right answer: 23. I tried with Alexa on my Echo, and got the response “Hmm. I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.” I tried with Siri, and I got this.

Update: Wow. Dozens of DF readers have replied that Siri correctly answers that same question when they ask: exhibits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 on Twitter, and more via email. And lo, when I ask “What is Steph Curry’s jersey number?”, Siri nails it. But I’ve tried at least 20 times, on multiple iOS devices, with “Draymond Green” and Siri gets it wrong each time, usually sending me to that same dry cleaner in New Jersey, sometimes suggesting a Bing web search. I can’t get it to work even when I say “What’s the jersey number for Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors?” Maybe it’s my Philly accent. I tried with Derek Jeter (retired), Larry Bird (long retired), and Tony Romo (2017 Super Bowl champ-to-be) and Siri correctly answered all three — quickly.

Judge on Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee List Has Mocked Trump on Twitter 

I really liked this one.

iTunes 12.4 Brings Back the Sidebar 

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge:

The key improvement here is the removal of the drop-down menu on the righthand side of the screen, which previously held all of the options that are now exposed in the lefthand menu. That’s a real help, but the lefthand menu doesn’t take over everything. You’ll still have to search through those top tabs to find major features, like Apple Music and the App Store. (There is, by the way, no one tab that says “Apple Music” — it’s actually a combination of the For You, New, Radio, and Connect tabs.)

Bringing back the sidebar is an improvement, but the fundamental problem remains: there’s no visual hierarchy to iTunes’s multitude of sections and features. Mail, for example, has a clear hierarchy: accounts → mailboxes → messages → message details. I’m not saying iTunes could or should copy Mail’s design, but it ought to be just as clear as Mail in terms of knowing where you are, or where to find something.

MacRumors on Siri for Mac 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

In the menu bar, there’s a simple Siri black and white icon that features the word “Siri” surrounded by a box, while the full dock icon is more colorful and features a colorful Siri waveform in the style of other built-in app icons. Clicking on either of the icons brings up a Siri waveform to give users a visual cue that the virtual assistant is listening for commands, much like on iOS devices when the Home button is held down.

Why would Siri need both a menu bar item and an icon in the Dock?

NYT: Google to Introduce Voice-Activated Home Device Tomorrow at I/O 

David Streitfeld, reporting for the NYT from San Francisco, on the eve of Google I/O:

Google will introduce its much-anticipated entry into the voice-activated home device market on Wednesday, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Named Google Home, the device is a virtual agent that answers simple questions and carries out basic tasks. It is to be announced at Google’s annual developers’ conference in Silicon Valley.

Google Home will come to market in the fall — a long time away, given the speed of technology, but Google needed to plant a stake in the ground now. The device will compete with Amazon’s Echo, which was introduced less than two years ago.

Google has the speech recognition and back-end performance down. But is this going to be a Google-branded device, or a platform for OEMs like Android? The Times’s report makes it sound like a Google-branded device — none of which have done well. Update: I forgot about Chromecast, which is doing well. And Google Home might be the same sort of “just plug it in” low-cost device.

Amazon has already sold an estimated three million units.

Estimated by whom? How?

Intel Culture Just Ate 12,000 Jobs 

Jean-Louis Gassée:

But Intel had a justification, a story that it kept telling the world and, more perniciously, itself:

‘Just you wait. Yes, today’s x86 are too big, consume too much power, and cost more than our ARM competitors, but tomorrow… Tomorrow, our proven manufacturing technology will nullify ARM’s advantage and bring the full computing power and immense software heritage of the x86 to emerging mobile applications.’

Year after year (after year), Intel has repeated the promise. There are some variations in the story, such as the prospect of the 3D transistor, but mobile device manufacturers don’t seem to be listening.

Marvel Product Placement Run Amok: Tony Stark Using a Vivo Phone 

Dave Gonzales, writing for Geek:

Called a “Futurist” by Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye in the film, Stark is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s genius on the forefront of speculative technology. If Banner knows human mutation, Stark knows the machines. That’s why it’s so shocking to see Tony using a Vivo cell phone in Civil War, a cell phone that would absolutely be condemned by the US government if it were being used like it is in the film. It makes absolutely no thematic sense within the context of the film, but there’s a big reason why Marvel would endanger the theme of its most popular on-screen character.

Tony Stark using a Vivo phone is another of Marvel Studios’ ongoing attempts to make more money in the Chinese box office, which — for better or worse — has become noticeable to the American and English audiences.

Vivo doesn’t even sell phones in the U.S. They’re a mid-market Chinese brand. It’s not just gratuitous product placement — it’s simply incompatible with Tony Stark’s character. No phone would satisfy Tony Stark but his own, from Stark Industries. Stark’s phone in Iron Man 2 had subtle LG branding (bad enough), but also a prominent “Stark Industries” label on screen. But Vivo? If Marvel wants to sell out to the highest bidder for the other Avengers’ phones, that’s one thing. But not Stark.

See also: Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes’s ultimately futile resistance against James Bond using a Sony or Samsung phone, on the grounds that “Bond only uses the ‘best’, and in their minds, the Sony phone is not the ‘best’.”

(This post is proof that I’m concerned only with truly important matters in life.)

TSA Is Falling Apart 

Alan Levin, reporting for Bloomberg:

Reports filed over the time it took U.S. Transportation Security Administration to screen passengers grew more than 10-fold, to 513 this past March from 48 in March 2015. Concern about lack of courtesy by TSA screeners increased more than three-fold, to 1,012 in March from 294 a year ago. […]

The TSA is trying to get 500 new airport screeners through training and onto the job by the end of June as a growth in travelers has led to longer lines at airports. Almost 6,800 people traveling on American Airlines missed flights in March due to delays at TSA checkpoints, airline spokesman Casey Norton said in an interview earlier this month.

Almost 7,000 people in a single month, just on American. That’s unacceptable. TSA has never been competent at conducting airport screening — but this year the whole thing is collapsing upon itself.

AnandTech Reviews the iPhone SE 

Speaking of the iPhone SE and the complete dearth of similarly-sized Android phones:

As I said earlier in the review, Android manufacturers have essentially given up on making small smartphones, and most of them haven’t actually made a top tier smartphone at the 4-inch size in about four years. By 2012 things had moved to 4.5 inches or more, with Samsung also introducing the original 5.3-inch Galaxy Note near the end of 2011. Today’s idea of a compact Android phone is something like the Xperia Z5 compact, where the screen has a size of 4.6 inches, which is just a bit smaller than the screen on the iPhone 6s. Getting an even smaller screen means moving to truly low end smartphones like the Moto E, and at that point you’re discussing two entirely different parts of the market.

Even when you consider the smallest high-end devices from the Android manufacturers, it’s not hard to see that the iPhone SE comes out on top. Apple’s A9 SoC is still one of the fastest chips you’ll find in a smartphone, and it goes without saying that the Snapdragon 810 SoC in a smartphone like the Xperia Z5 Compact really isn’t comparable in the slightest. Based on my experience, the camera is also unmatched at this size and price. It’s certainly a step behind the best Android phones and the iPhone 6s Plus, but bringing the sensor from the iPhone 6s to the SE allows for some really great photos, and the best 4K recording video you’ll get on a phone.

The results of their battery life test are simply astounding. The iPhone SE beat the iPhone 6S by nearly two hours: 9.27 vs 7.45. Goes to show just how much more power larger displays consume.

The Tiny Hands Review of the iPhone SE 

Nice piece by Adrianne Jeffries for Motherboard, on the history of phone sizes:

For the past three weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone SE.

I’m an Android user. I like my widgets and my Google apps, and I always felt the iPhone was too fancy and breakable for me. This was my first experience using an iPhone as my everyday device.

The phone, which has the same processor as the iPhone 6s, is certainly fast. The camera is crisp and good in low light. The battery has remarkable stamina.

The iPhone SE is also cheaper than other iPhones, starting at $399 as compared to $649 for the 6s.

But there’s really only one thing that would make me break for an iPhone: size.

The iPhone SE’s popularity clearly suggests that a significant number of people prefer a smaller phone. But so why aren’t there any top-tier Android phones with 4-inch displays? I’m genuinely confounded by that.

Jason Snell Reviews the 2016 MacBook 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

What’s less reasonable is transmuting last year’s fair criticism into outrage that Apple hasn’t given the MacBook an immediate rethink. Given the lead time it takes to redesign hardware, the cramped space inside the MacBook shell, and Apple’s track record in keeping product designs around for at least two years, changing the MacBook design now would have been tantamount to Apple admitting that the statement it was making with the MacBook was misguided.

While I’m sure that Apple has heard the criticism and possibly even agreed with some of it, do I think that Apple regrets the overall statement that the MacBook makes? Not on your life. The MacBook is inhabiting the role that the MacBook Air used to fill in Apple’s product line — it’s the future, the cutting edge, a product that seems outlandish today but will appear commonplace tomorrow. (I’ll remind you that the MacBook Air also debuted as an impractical low-powered laptop with a single USB port — and it was nearly three years before Apple redesigned the Air hardware.)

I’m also not entirely sure why Apple would regret it. Does every computer need to offer every feature to appeal to every user? We heap our expectation and desire on every new Apple product, and the MacBook’s design pushes back. It is unabashedly a product that is not created to check all the boxes. In fact, it checks some you didn’t know existed and ignores the existence of ones you considered givens.

The outrage is coming from people who want Apple to update the MacBook Airs with retina displays. That’s not going to happen. The Airs are now Apple’s low-priced models. The Pros will get thinner (and thus more Air-like) and the new MacBook will get faster (and thus more Air-like). But the MacBook Air as we know it serves only one purpose: to hit the $899/999 price points.

MacRumors: ‘iOS 9.3.2 Bricking Some 9.7-Inch iPad Pro Devices With “Error 56” Message’ 

Juli Clover, writing at MacRumors:

While not all 9.7-inch iPad Pro users have reported problems, there have been a number of reports on the MacRumors forums and on social networks, suggesting the problem is widespread. Attempting to restore through iTunes doesn’t appear to resolve the issue. From MacRumors user NewtypeCJ:

Mine is bricked. Says it needs to be plugged into iTunes, won’t restore or update, just a big loop. Fantastic. :/

Proceed with caution, if you’ve got a 9.7-inch iPad Pro that hasn’t yet been updated to iOS 9.3.2. I have a friend whose company tried upgrading two 9.7-inch iPad Pros to iOS 9.3.2, and both of them hit this error. (They understandably left their third one running 9.3.1.) I know a bunch of people have updated their iPad Pros successfully, so it’s not universal, but it still seems dangerously common.

‘I Love “Barry Lyndon”, Because There Is No Swearing, It’s Very Nice, Picturesque’ 

Vice has a nice interview with Emilio D’Alessandro, Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant for three decades:

Why are people so fascinated by Kubrick?

People who had never met him would always be terrified before meeting him. But he was so private, so he fed off this mystery. He would make me say that I do work for him, never that I work with him. People would ask and I would have to lie! But as I worked for this company for so long, I would see people go in scared but come out smiling. People just did not know him. They did so much to make him feel like somebody who never wanted to meet people, but it’s not true at all.

Were you a big fan of his films prior to working with him on A Clockwork Orange?

I didn’t have any interest in film, I was just interested in racing. After about two months of working for his company, I still didn’t know who Stanley Kubrick was. When [we were finally introduced], I saw this person who looked like Fidel Castro and didn’t realize who he was. I thought, “Oh dear, here we go.” I expected him to smell like perfume or be more put together. When he came towards me and introduced himself as Stanley Kubrick, I nearly fainted.

D’Alessandro has a new book out, Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at His Side. Just ordered my copy.

ProPublica: ‘How Typography Can Save Your Life’ 

Speaking of typography and settings blocks of text in all-caps, Lena Groeger wrote a good piece for ProPublica:

Of course, if you’re trying to make something hard to read, then all caps is the perfect choice. Companies that set safety warnings in all caps may, intentionally or not, veil important information from consumers.

Here’s a version of the Surgeon General’s Warning that appears in Edward Tufte’s masterpiece Visual Explanations. The warning appears on a cigarette billboard and has been artfully concocted in ALL CAPS, underlined, and surrounded by a dark black border.

Glenn Fleishman on the Typographic History of Using All-Caps to Denote Shouting 

Glenn Fleishman, writing at Meh:

Previous articles on this subject — such as this previously definitive short at the New Republic — trace the explicit association of capitals with yelling (as opposed to mere emphasis) to 1984, with inferences a few decades before that.

I’m here to BLOW THIS OUT OF THE WATER, with a series of citations that date back to 1856. People have been uppercase shouting intentionally for a century more than recollected. And, as with so many things, longtime Internet users want to claim credit, when they really just passed on and more broadly popularized an existing practice.

Bloomberg: ‘Twitter to Stop Counting Photos and Links in 140-Character Limit’ 

Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg:

Twitter Inc. is making a major shift in how it counts characters in Tweets, giving users more freedom to compose longer messages.

The social media company will soon stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit for messages, according to a person familiar with the matter. The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. Links currently take up 23 characters, even after Twitter automatically shortens them. The company declined to comment.

It’s 2016 and this is big news.

Siri Creator Dag Kittlaus Shows Off First Public Demo of Viv, ‘The Intelligent Interface for Everything’ 

Impressive demo. I’m not sure what the path to ubiquity is for Viv, though, unless they get acquired by a company that makes ubiquitous hardware. Siri started as an app too, but in practice these AI assistants need to be system-level features.

Philadelphia 76ers Are First NBA Team to Announce Jersey Advertising Deal 

Advertising is like sand — eventually it spreads everywhere. It’ll be interesting to see which, if any, NBA teams decline to do this. I think it looks tawdry. I feel the same way about selling naming rights to stadiums and arenas. Easier to say as a fan than a team owner, though.

Interesting too that the Sixers are partnering with StubHub as their “Official Ticketing Partner” rather than fighting against StubHub, like the Yankees.

Berkshire Hathaway Bought $1B in Apple Stock 

Erik Holm and Anupreeta Das, reporting for the WSJ:

Berkshire Hathaway‘s new investment in Apple was selected by one of Warren Buffett‘s stockpicking lieutenants, not by the “Oracle of Omaha” himself.

Berkshire revealed an Apple stake worth nearly $1 billion early Monday, as part of Berkshire’s quarterly disclosure of its stock holdings. Mr. Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive, confirmed in an email that he was not the one who added the shares to Berkshire’s massive equity portfolio.

Mr. Buffett is famously averse to investing in tech companies, and has specifically ruled out investing in Apple before. But in recent years, he has added two former hedge-fund managers, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, to Berkshire’s investing team. They’ve shown a willingness to wade into corners of the market that Mr. Buffett himself won’t touch, including the tech sector.

Apple has long struck me as the sort of company Berkshire likes to invest in. A renowned brand, loyal customers, large profits, and a good, stable executive team that is focused on the long run. They’re obviously in technology, but Apple is nothing like a typical tech company.

Racism Is the Bogeyman 

Moving, personal story from Albert McMurry. Pass this one on.

Blue Bottle Coffee 

My thanks to Blue Bottle Coffee for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. If you’re anything like me, your day starts with coffee (and if you’re really like me, that continues straight through the afternoon). It’s worth it to make it good. Blue Bottle Coffee is excellent — and when you sign up for a subscription, you’ll get a steady supply delivered straight to your door.

To find the best coffee for their subscription service and network of cafes, Blue Bottle visits farms around the world, roasts the beans to order, and ships them to you within 24 hours of roasting. They always offer a selection of single origins, with early access to select coffees for members. You choose the frequency of deliveries, type of coffee, and quantity, so you never have to worry about getting more than you need, or worse, running out mid-week.

I’ve been a paying subscriber for over three years now, and I truly could not be happier to recommend them. Delicious coffee, interesting variety, amazing convenience. Visit Blue Bottle Coffee and you can start with a free trial.

Apple Confirms Reports of Potential Bug in iTunes; Safeguard Patch Expected Next Week 

Official statement from Apple on the “iTunes deleting your music” bug:

In an extremely small number of cases users have reported that music files saved on their computer were removed without their permission. We’re taking these reports seriously as we know how important music is to our customers and our teams are focused on identifying the cause. We have not been able to reproduce this issue, however, we’re releasing an update to iTunes early next week which includes additional safeguards. If a user experiences this issue they should contact AppleCare.

That sounds a little weird — not sure how they can safeguard against a bug if they can’t reproduce it.

Serenity Caldwell:

I read it as “we’re still not convinced it isn’t user error, but we’ll make the dialog boxes less terrible.”

Donald Trump Masqueraded as Publicist to Brag About Himself 

Marc Fisher and Will Hobson, reporting for The Washington Post:

The voice is instantly familiar; the tone, confident, even cocky; the cadence, distinctly Trumpian. The man on the phone vigorously defending Donald Trump says he’s a media spokesman named John Miller, but then he says, “I’m sort of new here,” and “I’m somebody that he knows and I think somebody that he trusts and likes” and even “I’m going to do this a little, part-time, and then, yeah, go on with my life.”

A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump’s early career experienced in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s: calls from Trump’s Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with “John Miller” or “John Barron” — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump’s top aides.

You really have to listen to the recording to believe it. (And be sure to read the update at the bottom of the article, where Trump hangs up the phone on the Post reporters.)

Philly Police Admit They Disguised a Surveillance Truck as a Google Streetview Car 

Dustin Slaughter, reporting for Motherboard:

The Philadelphia Police Department admitted today that a mysterious unmarked license plate surveillance truck disguised as a Google Maps vehicle, which Motherboard first reported on this morning, is its own. […]

“It’s certainly concerning if the city of Philadelphia is running mass surveillance and going out of its way to mislead people,” said Dave Maass, a former journalist and researcher at the nonprofit advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation. […] “If I were Google, I would be seriously rankled over the use of their logo to hide surveillance,” he said.

Swift Draws Nearly Even With Objective-C in TIOBE Index 

Speaking of the TIOBE Index, in this month’s rankings, Objective-C placed 14th (down from 4th a year ago) and Swift placed 15th (up from 18th). They’re soon going to cross paths.

Motherboard: ‘In Oracle v. Google, a Nerd Subculture Is on Trial’ 

Great write-up by Sarah Jeong on the ongoing Oracle v. Google case. This bit from the end caught my eye, though:

But Oracle v. Google does nothing to disabuse the nerd of the conviction that they are right, and that the copyright law forged by the normals is an unrigorous wishy-washy piece of nonsense. Because in this case, the law really is completely out of touch with what the technology actually is, with reality itself. Just look at the Federal Circuit opinion that ruled that APIs are copyrightable, where they say, “Google was free to develop its own API packages and to ‘lobby’ programmers to adopt them.” A federal appeals court actually proposed that in some alternate universe, Android launched and told developers to write apps in a language they’d never encountered before.

Isn’t that almost exactly what Apple did with iOS and Objective-C?

Java was incredibly popular before Android shipped — it’s been ranked first in the TIOBE index for almost two decades. So without question, basing Android on Java made it far more likely that it would gain third-party developer traction than if it had been based on a new language. But iOS shows that it’s not preposterous. Otherwise there would never be any new programming languages. (And yes, Objective-C has been around since the late ’80s — but it languished in relative obscurity as the primary language for the NeXTStep and Mac OS X AppKit APIs.)

Update: Jeong’s live-tweet coverage of the trial has been a fantastic read. An example of Twitter at its very best for “what’s happening right now”.

An iTunes Bug, Not Apple Music, May Be to Blame for Disappearing Music Libraries 

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore:

After an article went live last week accusing Apple Music of deleting your local music and replacing it with Apple Music DRM-protected copies, we put out an explainer detailing how Apple Music works — TL;DR: It’s not designed to remove anyone’s local library. […]

I will reiterate: Apple Music is not automatically deleting tracks out of your Mac’s library, nor is it trying to force you to stay subscribed to the service. In this instance, it appears that Apple Music is an unfortunate scapegoat: The real problem may be a bug with the subscription service’s container application, iTunes.

Based on several Apple Support threads, it appears that the most recent version of iTunes 12.3.3 contains a database error that affects a small number of users, and can potentially wipe out their music collection after the update. The error has been mentioned a few times, primarily on the Windows side, in the weeks since the 12.3.3 update, but appears to be rare enough that it hasn’t previously received major press. Apple did put out a support document shortly after the 12.3.3 update that walks you through some fixes if you find that your local copies of music are missing.

Caldwell has been on top of this whole “Apple Music deletes your music files” story right from the start.

Neil Cybart on Apple’s R&D Spending 

Neil Cybart, writing at Above Avalon about the lack of attention Apple watchers seem to be paying to the company’s R&D spending:

I suspect most of this has been due to the fact that Apple does not draw attention to its product pipeline and long-term strategy, choosing instead to embrace secrecy and mystery. Now compare this to Mark Zuckerberg laying out his 10-year plan for Facebook. It is easy and natural for people to then label Facebook as innovative and focused on the future. The same principle applies to Larry Page reorganizing Google to make it easier for investors to see how much is being spent on various moonshot projects. Jeff Bezos is famous for his attitude towards failing often and in public view, giving Amazon an aura of being a place of curiosity and boldness when it comes to future projects and risk taking.

Meanwhile, Tim Cook has remained very tight-lipped about Apple’s future, which gives the impression that Apple isn’t working on ground-breaking ideas or products that can move the company beyond the iPhone. Instead of labeling this as a mistake or misstep, Apple’s product secrecy is a key ingredient of its success. People like to be surprised. Another reason Apple takes a much different approach to product secrecy and R&D is its business model. Being open about future product plans will likely have a negative impact on near-term Apple hardware sales. Companies like Facebook and Google don’t suffer from a similar risk. The end result is that there is a legitimate disconnect between Apple’s R&D trends and the consensus view of the company’s product pipeline. Apple is telling us that they are working on something very big, and yet no one seems to notice or care. I find that intriguing.

From Cybart’s opening:

There are only a handful of logical explanations for Apple’s current R&D expense trajectory, and all of them result in a radically different Apple. In a few years, we are no longer going to refer to Apple as the iPhone company.

People who don’t understand Apple assume that the company is, or should be, almost singularly focused on riding out the iPhone gravy train for as long as possible. There are so many great Steve Jobs quotes, but this is the one that hangs prominently on the wall at Apple’s Infinite Loop headquarters:

If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

App Store Review Times Are Getting Shorter 

Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has cut the approval time for new submissions to its App Store from more than a week to less than two days, part of a broader push to increase revenue from services including mobile applications.

The accelerated pace allows app developers to fix bugs faster, try out new features more regularly and better react to market changes, while building developer loyalty to Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. The mean approval time has fallen from 8.8 days a year ago to 1.95 days in the past two weeks, according to, which analyzes user-submitted data. In December, the average was more than five days.

Wonder how Apple is achieving this. More reviewers? Lower standards?

Update: I don’t get this: “part of a broader push to increase revenue from services”. I don’t see how shorter review times will increase Apple’s revenue. If anything, it might be costing them more, since the most obvious way they could achieve this is by hiring more reviewers. In some companies everything is a cost center, but not at Apple. If these review times are not just a statistical fluke, the simplest explanation for why is that Apple is responding to long-standing complaints from developers. Remember too, that App Store leadership moved from Eddy Cue to Phil Schiller just a few months ago.

Apple Invests $1 Billion in Uber’s China Competitor Didi 

Julia Love, reporting for Reuters:

“We are making the investment for a number of strategic reasons, including a chance to learn more about certain segments of the China market,” he said. “Of course, we believe it will deliver a strong return for our invested capital over time as well.”

Didi Chuxing, formerly known as Didi Kuaidi, said in a statement that the funding from Apple was the single largest investment it has ever received. The company, which previously raised several billion dollars, dominates the ride-sharing market in China. The company said it completes more than 11 million rides a day, with more than 87 percent of the market for private car-hailing in China.


Apple Talk: A New, In-Depth Industry Analysis Podcast From iMore 

Rene Ritchie:

So, rather than crowd everyone and everything together onto one scattered show, we’ve split them in two specifically focused shows.

The original iMore show will continue to be all about on the community, with popular segments like Q&A and some new segments we’re working hard on and will debut soon. Apple Talk, our new show, will be all about in-depth industry analysis and critique of Apple and related companies.

They were kind enough to have yours truly as their guest on this premiere episode. Great discussion. Michael Gartenberg is a terrific addition to the iMore roster.

‘The Night Manager’ 


The Night Manager, a six-part miniseries premiering on Tuesday, April 19, is a contemporary interpretation of John le Carré’s best-selling spy novel, which follows hotel manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) in his quest to bring down international arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).

I’m four episodes in, and really enjoying it. The first episode was a little “meh”, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Laurie, in particular, is phenomenal — a villain who conveys intelligence, charisma, and genuine menace.

The Panic Sign 

Of course Panic’s sign is the most fun sign ever. Of course.

Race and the Default Emoji Skin Tone 

Speaking of Eli Schiff, he wrote an interesting piece on race and emoji:

It is therefore quite strange that yellow (white) emoji were set as the default, given that not assuming all users to be white was the entire premise behind making the new diverse set of emoji. In this way, the Unicode Consortium’s efforts to achieve a more inclusive solution only served to doubly reinforce a racism of defaults. […]

It was at this point that the troubling nature of the situation became more clear. It is not simply that it is problematic for whites to use the white emoji, but so too is it racist for them to use the brown shades and the yellow default. In sum, it is racist for whites to use any emoji.

There are two choices going forward: either white users should refrain from using emoji, or an alternative default must be drawn. Perhaps green, blue or purple would be an ideal choice as they don’t have racial connotations.

I’ve been wondering about the decision to use yellow ever since iOS started supporting the skin tone variants. It still seems “sort of white”, in a way that a Smurf-y blue or Hulk-y green would not.

Budweiser Renames Its Beer ‘America’ 

Mark Wilson, writing for Fast Company:

With the backdrop of the Olympics and a comically botched election, this summer is bound to be what Ricardo Marques, a vice president from Budweiser, calls “maybe the most American summer ever.”

So Budweiser is going to potentially ingenious, potentially absurd branding extremes. The company has kept the same can you already know, but when you look closely, you’ll realize that it has swapped out its own name, “Budweiser,” for “America.” That’s right, Budweiser has renamed its beer America for the summer. “We thought nothing was more iconic than Budweiser and nothing was more iconic than America,” says Tosh Hall, creative director at the can’s branding firm JKR.

I rolled my eyes when I first saw this story, but the more I think about it, the more genius I think it is. It’s the perfect publicity stunt for Budweiser.

Coach Apple Watch Bands? 

David Boglin de Bautista, writing for Haute Écriture:

A sales associate at a Coach boutique informed me Friday that Coach will be releasing Apple Watch bands as early as June and sent me photos of some of the bands. Now, a sales associate has confirmed the number of bands that will be available, their prices, and sent me more photos, though another sales associate at a different boutique says the bands may not be available for purchase until the fall.

The sales associate along with others working there told me after I called and asked for more information that there will be 9 new watch bands from Coach in white, black, and saddle, though, there is a red band in the first photos, for $150 each.

Hard to say from this whether it’s an official partnership with Apple — like Hermès — or if Coach is just designing and selling standalone bands. I’m guessing it’s the latter, given that these are standalone bands.

This sort of thing, I think, is the “luxury” story for Apple Watch, not the Edition models. I noticed last week that the Walnut Street Apple Store here in Philadelphia no longer displays the Edition models.

James Bond-Style Credit Sequence for ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ 

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything more up my alley than this. Incredibly well done work by Kurt Rauffer.

I still can’t get over the fact that EON Productions rejected Radiohead’s “Spectre” in favor of that utter piece of rubbish from Sam Smith.

Be Careful What You Wish For 

Marco Arment:

Podcasts are just MP3s. Podcast players are just MP3 players, not platforms to execute arbitrary code from publishers. Publishers can see which IP addresses are downloading the MP3s, which can give them a rough idea of audience size, their approximate locations, and which apps they use. That’s about it.

They can’t know exactly who you are, whether you searched for a new refrigerator yesterday, whether you listened to the ads in their podcasts, or even whether you listened to it at all after downloading it.

Big publishers think this is barbaric. I think it’s beautiful.

Big publishers think this is holding back the medium. I think it protects the medium.

Couldn’t say it better myself.

The New York Times on Apple’s Dominant Position in Podcasting 

John Herrman, writing for the NYT Saturday:

Interviews with over two dozen podcasters and people inside Apple reveal a variety of complaints. The podcasters say that they are relegated to wooing a single Apple employee for the best promotion. That sharing on social media is cumbersome. And that for podcasters to make money, they need more information about their listeners, and Apple is in a unique position to provide it. The problems, they say, could even open up an opportunity for a competitor.

“The lack of podcast data is kind of shocking,” said Gina Delvac, the producer of “Call Your Girlfriend,” a popular show about pop culture and politics.

Data data data. Publishers crave data — but one of the things I love about podcasts is that the format blocks the collection of most data, because there is no code that gets executed. JavaScript has brought the web to the brink of ruin, but there’s no JavaScript in podcasting. Just an RSS feed and MP3 files. The assumption that more data will somehow allow shows to make more money — I don’t buy it.

Apple’s stance as the giant of the industry remains undisputed, though, and podcasters are left to navigate a complicated relationship with the company. Most send messages to the company at a general email address. To those who have direct contact, their relationship centers on one person: Steve Wilson.

Mr. Wilson, podcasters say, acts as Apple’s de facto podcast gatekeeper. Attention from him can be the difference between a hit and a dud — and between a podcast that pays and one that doesn’t.

It’s fascinating that Apple and iTunes remain so dominant in podcasting.

Typographica’s 2015 Year in Type 

Great collection, as always.

The Talk Show: ‘Chock Full of Whimsy’ 

For your weekend listening enjoyment, the latest episode of my podcast, The Talk Show. Special guest Ben Thompson returns to the show to talk about Apple’s recent quarterly results, what we think is going on with iPhone sales, Apple Music, and a lot more.

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My thanks to StoryWorth for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 8, and StoryWorth is a terrific and meaningful gift idea: it’s a way to get to know her better. Here’s how it works: Each week, StoryWorth will send your mom a new question. She answers it with a story, which gets shared with you. After a year, all of her stories are bound in a beautiful keepsake book. It’s a great way to get to know your mom better.

StoryWorth is the rare gift that can be purchased at the very last minute, but is still really personal and meaningful. Even better: StoryWorth is offering Daring Fireball readers $20 off, just by following this link to buy.

On the ‘Star Wars’ Opening Crawl 

Moisés Chiullan:

There is something wrong with the opening crawl for The Force Awakens. Fan and typography enthusiast John Gruber and original Star Wars opening title sequence designer Dan Perri help unravel the mystery of where (and when) things went wrong.

I had a ton of fun doing this podcast. As both a Star Wars and typography obsessive, I’m blown away that I never before noticed how inconsistent the opening crawls are across the films. (Overcast users: I suggest turning off Smart Speed and Voice Boost for this one.)


Farhad Manjoo, writing at the NYT, calls on Apple to take more “moonshots”, a la Google:

It is likely that Apple is already working on some bold plans in secret (a car and a pay TV service are among several that have long been reported). The shift I’m calling for would not be radical, just evolutionary. It should be more nimble and slightly more public with its experiments, and push more of them out sooner. When it releases stuff, it should move faster to fix and improve what is wrong. Above all, it should take more risks; it should say yes more often.

These changes will be difficult because they could upset Apple’s customer base and its brand. Experimenting more means failing more, usually in public. Failing means looking bad, and looking bad isn’t something Apple does well.

Whether you think this is a good idea or not, I don’t see how anyone could describe such a change at Apple as “just evolutionary”. Upsetting the Apple brand is just about the most radical thing Apple could do.

I know The New York Times can’t say that it’s certain that Apple is working on a car, but I can. They are. Of course they’re working on a pay TV service. It would be astonishing if they didn’t have teams hard at work on VR and AR. The difference between Apple and other companies is that Apple will spend tens (or in the case of the car, hundreds) of millions of dollars on a new product and never ship it. They don’t just say no to ideas — they say no to long-in-development projects.

Follow Apple’s Suppliers 

Bloomberg’s Tim Culpan has an interesting bull take on iPhone sales — their two major Taiwanese suppliers, Hon Hai and Pegatron, took their stock hits months ago and have now leveled off:

The short-interest chart hints at what’s really going on. Bearishness on stocks of both suppliers peaked in January and February, with the 159 million shorted shares of Hon Hai on Feb. 16 being the highest in at least five years. […]

A wise investor would avoid making decisions based only on such correlations. But it’s worth at least asking why the companies that rely the most on Apple seem nonplussed by the bad news out of Cupertino.

(That’s the modern informal nonplussed, of course.)

If You See Slowness, They Blew It 

Nilay Patel:

Here’s the problem with the Apple Watch: it’s slow.

It was slow when it was first announced, it was slow when it came out, and it stayed slow when Watch OS 2.0 arrived. When I reviewed it last year, the slowness was so immediately annoying that I got on the phone with Apple to double check their performance expectations before making “it’s kind of slow” the opening of the review.

Posit: The things on Apple Watch that people actually like and use are the things that aren’t slow (notifications, activity tracking and goals, Apple Pay, complications, maybe Glances) and the things that are slow are the things people don’t use (apps, especially). Apple should have either cut the slow features from the original product, or waited to launch the product until all the features were fast.

I would vote for launching when they did, with the slow features cut — there is value in what Apple Watch already does well.

Apple’s Plan for Refurbished iPhones Is Rejected in India 

Speaking of Apple and India, here’s Saritha Rai, reporting for Bloomberg:

India has rejected Apple Inc.’s request to import and sell refurbished iPhones to the world’s second largest mobile population, a telecommunications ministry official said Tuesday.

The U.S. company’s application has been turned down, the official said, asking to not be identified, citing official policy. Apple has been seeking permission to import and sell used phones to court price-conscious consumers with a similar proposal rejected in 2015 by the environment ministry.

Apple’s new phones are too expensive for most Indians, and they’re not allowed to sell cheaper refurbished iPhones.

Apple’s Prospects in India 

Roopesh Chander:

I think Tim Cook’s outlook on the Indian market is a little too optimistic.

Firstly, iPhone sales in India were never really hampered by the unavailability of LTE (or 4G as they call it here in India). Anyone who can afford an iPhone in India has access to a fast broadband internet either at home or at work, probably both. The LTE rollout speeded up only this year here in India (earlier, only one network operator, Airtel, offered LTE), but LTE support is a standard feature among high-end devices being sold here for a while. At present, LTE is supported by even sub-$150 devices from big brands. The spread of LTE in India is not going to suddenly make iPhones more desirable, nor is there any significant upgrade cycle coming because of LTE. […]

Third, India is indeed looking a bit like how China was in 2005 in terms of GDP per capita, but India has far less number of people who can afford an iPhone than China does. The addressable market for Apple in India is tiny, and is growing quite slowly. Of that, those who can afford the current year flagship will constitute a minuscule number compared to China.

Under-Promising and Over-Delivering 

Shira Ovide, writing for Bloomberg:

Here’s what Cook didn’t say: 1) Apple has been misjudging its own business, and that makes it tough to believe what executives say; and 2) The company failed to prepare investors for an inevitable slowdown in growth — even if that slowdown proves temporary. If one duty of public company executives is to under-promise and over-deliver, Apple has flopped in that job.

This is fair and astute criticism of Cook and Apple’s executive team. The problem isn’t the drop in iPhone sales so much as forecasting them accurately.

Michael Nunez, reporting for Gizmodo:

But if you really want to know what Facebook thinks of journalists and their craft, all you need to do is look at what happened when the company quietly assembled some to work on its secretive “trending news” project. The results aren’t pretty: According to five former members of Facebook’s trending news team — “news curators” as they’re known internally — Zuckerberg & Co. take a downright dim view of the industry and its talent. In interviews with Gizmodo, these former curators described grueling work conditions, humiliating treatment, and a secretive, imperious culture in which they were treated as disposable outsiders. After doing a tour in Facebook’s news trenches, almost all of them came to believe that they were there not to work, but to serve as training modules for Facebook’s algorithm. […]

That said, many former employees suspect that Facebook’s eventual goal is to replace its human curators with a robotic one. The former curators Gizmodo interviewed started to feel like they were training a machine, one that would eventually take their jobs. Managers began referring to a “more streamlined process” in meetings. As one former contractor put it: “We felt like we were part of an experiment that, as the algorithm got better, there was a sense that at some point the humans would be replaced.”

If news curation can be automated, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Progress in the industrialized world has always involved previously labor-intensive jobs being replaced by automated machinery. We’ve gotten to the point now where some of this work is white collar, not blue collar, and some journalists seem offended by the notion. Their downfall is their dogmatic belief in not having a point-of-view, of contorting themselves to appear not to have a point of view — which, as Jay Rosen has forcefully argued, is effectively a “view from nowhere”. The irony is that machines don’t have a point of view — they are “objective”. Over the last half century or so, mainstream U.S. journalism has evolved in a way that has writers and editors acting like machines. They’ve made it easier for themselves to be replaced by algorithms. Most readers won’t even notice.

I do two things here at DF most days: find interesting things to link to, and comment on them. An algorithm may well beat me at finding interesting links. My job then, is to be a better writer — smarter, funnier, keener, more surprising — than an algorithm could be. When I can’t do that, it’ll be time to hang up the keyboard.

Update: Kevin van Haaren:

@gruber Computers algorithms aren’t objective they reflect the point of view of their creators. It’s a reason diverse teams should make them.

I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, but this is a good point. What I’m saying is more If what you do can be replaced by a robot (whether hardware or software), it will happen — and modern U.S. news journalism’s brand of “objectivity” feels algorithmic.

The App Store Educational ‘Discount’ 

Michael J. Tsai has a collection of links regarding the App Store issuing refunds to educational customers after years of using hundreds of copies of an app.

Luma Loop 3: Special Edition 

I’ve been a happy customer of Luma Loop camera straps for years — it really is one of the nicest, most rugged, most comfortable pieces of kit I’ve ever owned. Every single detail is considered, and this new special edition model sounds even better. Once I got used to the over-the-shoulder style, I could never go back to wearing a traditional around the neck strap for an SLR-sized camera.

Climate Scientists Tell Jimmy Kimmel: ‘Why Would We Fuck With You?’ 

Great piece on Jimmy Kimmel last night.

Daring Fireball RSS Feed Sponsorship Openings 

Two notes about the DF RSS feed sponsorship schedule:

First, the sponsor originally scheduled for this week needed to reschedule at the last moment. If you can pull the trigger quickly, let’s make a deal.

Update: Done.

Second, I’ve had this system in place for almost nine years now, and it has worked wonderfully as a business model. I make a good living writing DF. Sponsors are happy with the results, and frequently return for subsequent sponsorships. And you, the readers, seem to be happy, with what are truly non-intrusive (small downloads, no animation, no JavaScript) messages from sponsors who I think might truly be of interest to you. And it’s pretty cool that my model has paved the way for other indie writers to do the same thing.

But the ebb and flow of the schedule still surprises me. Back in January I was only sold out a week or two in advance. But in February I pretty much sold out through the end of April in a three-day stretch. Now, the schedule for May and June is pretty much wide open. (Some years June sells out before April and May do, in anticipation of WWDC.) So, as I always say in these reminders: If you’ve got a cool product or service you want to promote to the DF audience, please get in touch.

Bob Lefsetz Calls for Apple Board to Fire Tim Cook 

Bob Lefsetz:

And what does society want?

Something new and different that not only titillates its fancy, but demonstrates extreme utility.

Unlike the Apple Watch, which was good in theory yet dead on arrival, or after twenty four hours, when it ran out of juice. You had to recharge it, was it worth the effort, or were you better off just putting it in a drawer? And like a cult band from the eighties which hits a wall and goes no further, there was no word of mouth on the Apple Watch, some owners testified, but the rest of the populace just ignored it.

Tim Cook needs to be replaced. Apple doesn’t need a traffic cop, it needs a visionary. Execution is important, but it’s secondary to inspiration. The idea is king, never forget it.

Lefsetz has been banging the “Apple is doomed without Steve Jobs” drum ever since he died. Either he was right all along, or he’s fitting the facts to his narrative. Time will tell. But he’s a pretty high profile columnist (in the music and entertainment industry, specifically) to go so far as to call for Cook’s ouster.

This reads like reactionary crazy talk to me. He speaks of the Apple Watch as though it’s been pulled from the market, and equates current iPad sales (10 million units and $4.4 billion in revenue in the just-completed “bad” quarter) to those of the iPod:

Kind of like the iPad, replaced by the phablet, the large phone.

The iPad was killed by the phablet the same way the iPod was killed by the iPhone. What did Cook and company do? They doubled-down on the iPad, creating a Pro version with a stylus that was a marvel of technology but is something most people just don’t need. Meanwhile, there was this canard that the device was a desktop replacement when the truth is it’s nothing of the sort.

Here’s an interesting fact: the iPod never generated more than $4 billion in revenue in a quarter, including holiday quarters. The iPad generated more revenue for Apple last quarter than the iPod ever did, even in its heyday. Lefsetz has a point — one contributing factor to decreased iPad sales is the rise of large phones. But to go all the way to “killed” is a hell of a stretch.

GoPro vs. Phone Cameras 

Georgia Wells and Jack Nicas, reporting for the WSJ (paywalled, alas; a referral from Google search results might let you through):

Now GoPro is trying to expand into the mainstream. But the trouble is most people already have smartphones that are nearly as small and light as GoPro’s devices and come with cameras just as good.

Last year, GoPro bungled its attempt to reach mainstream customers by setting the price too high on its first everyman camera and not resolving kinks that make it difficult to use. It is now trying again, urging other companies to integrate GoPro cameras into products from cars to baby bouncers.

The stakes are high: GoPro expects its sales this year could fall by as much as 17% after rising to $1.62 billion last year, its first decline since it started selling its flagship product in 2010. GoPro could swing to a $167 million loss this year after reporting $36 million in profit last year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis.

Remember the Flip camcorder? That’s what’s happening to GoPro. Don’t bet against the phone, in any product category.

The Economist: ‘Craig Steven Wright Claims to Be Satoshi Nakamoto. Is He?’ 

The Economist:

This mystery may finally be solved: Craig Steven Wright — a 45-year-old Australian computer scientist and inventor who was outed against his will and with dubious evidence as Mr Nakamoto in December last year — now claims he is the real Satoshi. On May 2nd he published a blog post offering what he says is cryptographic proof that he is indeed the creator of bitcoin.

It’s an intriguing mystery, but I’d heavily emphasize the may in “may be solved”. Wright’s story still seems fishy to me.

Still, questions remain. Mr Wright does not want to make public the proof for block 1, arguing that block 9 contains the only bitcoin address that is clearly linked to Mr Nakamoto (because he sent money to Hal Finney). Repeating the procedure for other blocks, he says, would not add more certainty. He also says he can’t send any bitcoin because they are now owned by a trust. And he rejected the idea of having The Economist send him another text to sign as proof that he actually possesses these private keys, rather than simply being the first to publish a proof which was generated at some point in the past by somebody else. Either people believe him now — or they don’t, he says. “I’m not going to keep jumping through hoops.”

Such statements will feed doubts.

I don’t understand why Wright won’t sign another text, provided by The Economist. And there’s still no explanation for the backdated GPG key that was exposed last year. The backdated key doesn’t prove anything conclusively, but it sure is suspicious.

Update: Security researcher Dan Kaminsky cries foul:

Yes, this is a scam. Not maybe. Not possibly.

Update 2: The Economist is now backpedaling.