Linked List: September 2017

The Talk Show: ‘You Tell Me If It’s a Dongle’ 

Special guest Joanna Stern returns to the show. Topics include Apple Watch Series 3, our mutual fear of heights, Velcro, and more.

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Trump’s FCC Commissioner Calls on Apple to ‘Activate’ iPhone FM Antennas That No Longer Exist 

FCC statement (PDF):

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released the following statement today calling on Apple to activate the FM chips that are in iPhones to promote public safety: In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States. And I’ve specifically pointed out the public safety benefits of doing so. In fact, in my first public speech after I became Chairman, I observed that ‘you could make a case for activating chips on public safety groundsalone.’ When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life-saving information. I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones.

Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That’s why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones. It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first. As the Sun Sentinel of South Florida put it, ‘Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it.’”

The Sun Sentinal comment comes from this well-intentioned but deeply misinformed editorial:

When Hurricane Irma wiped out power and cell phone service, a hidden feature in our smartphones could have helped Floridians stay informed. […]

Smartphones contain an inner switch that lets them receive over-the-air analog signals from local radio stations. In other countries, including Cuba, manufacturers are required to flip the switch on. But in this country, Apple rules. And it prefers to sell the iPhone with the FM radio button switched off.

The idea being that Apple (and other companies) refuse to “flip the switch” because FM radio is free so they want everyone to use streaming services that cost money.

But there is no such switch. In a statement to MacRumors, an Apple spokesperson said the following:

Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products. Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.

That’s unequivocal, but leaves open the question about older iPhones. I’ve dug around, and what I’ve been told is that there is an FM radio chip in older iPhones, but it’s not connected, and there’s no antenna designed for FM radio. The chip is just part of a commodity component part, and Apple only connected the parts of the chip that the iPhones were designed to use. No iPhone was ever designed to be an FM radio, and there is no “switch” that can be “flipped” — nor software update that could be issued — that could turn them into one. It’s a complete technical misconception.

What’s absurd is that the FCC commissioner would take his understanding of the iPhone’s technical capabilities from a newspaper editorial rather than from Apple’s own FCC regulatory filings, which I’m pretty sure would show that they’re not capable of acting as FM radios.

Furthermore, I’m sure the timing of Pai’s “go blame Apple” letter has nothing to do with yesterday’s vociferous criticism of the FCC’s handling of the aftermaths of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

WebKit: ‘Designing Websites for iPhone X’ 

Nice piece by Timothy Horton writing for the WebKit blog on how websites can properly deal with the notch and “safe areas” on the iPhone X.

This is one reason why Apple considers it a strategic advantage not to permit third-party web rendering engines on iOS (in addition to maintaining control over the security and battery life aspects): on day one, every web view in iOS will support these CSS extensions, because they all use WebKit.

In the hypothetical world where Chrome for iOS was allowed to ship using Google’s own Blink rendering engine, Apple would be at Google’s mercy to support these features for Chrome users. I bet the Chrome team would adopt them quickly, but they might not be ready on day one, because Apple wouldn’t have given Google advance notice of the notch. And Apple simply wouldn’t want to cede that control.

The Case for Apple to Finally Just Make a TV 

Nilay Patel:

One of my biggest issues with the new Apple TV 4K is that it doesn’t automatically switch the mode your TV is in to match the content. It’s one of the biggest and longest-standing issues in the living room: you want to run the TV display at a refresh rate of 24Hz when you watch 24fps movies, but animating a user interface at 24Hz looks like garbage. Apple and others deal with this issue by running everything at 60Hz, but that creates visual issues for 24fps movies — kind of silly because you buy all this stuff to watch movies, not menu animations. There are endless forum threads about adjusting TV settings to handle the motion problems that come with playing 24fps video at 60Hz.

At the same time, Apple recently introduced the ProMotion display on the iPad Pro, which dynamically varies the refresh rate of the LCD panel to match the content being displayed. When you watch a movie, it slows down to 24Hz to match the 24fps frame rate of most movies, and when you’re scrolling around a web page or playing a game, it can ramp up to 120Hz for maximum smoothness.

So, what if Apple made a TV with ProMotion that dynamically adjusted the refresh rate for the content being displayed, just like the iPad Pro? It would run at 120Hz on the homescreen and in games, slow down to 24Hz to display movies and TV perfectly, and ramp up again when you hit the home or Siri button to bring up the interface again. And live sports apps like NFL Sunday Ticket and MLB At Bat could run at 60Hz for smoother motion — the Xbox One Sunday Ticket app already runs at 60Hz.

Like Patel, I really don’t expect Apple to make a TV, but I sure wish they would, and he really makes a great case here. Especially the fact that previously, the cable box was king, but today, there’s a sizable (and growing) market of cord-cutters who just want to use streaming apps.

Apple should make a cell phone running a stripped-down version of OS X” was a longstanding pipe dream, too.

1992: ‘The Executive Computer’ 

Peter H. Lewis, writing for The New York Times back in July 1992 (via Darshan Shankar):

Sometime around the middle of this decade — no one is sure exactly when — executives on the go will begin carrying pocket-sized digital communicating devices. And although nobody is exactly sure what features these personal information gizmos will have, what they will cost, what they will look like or what they will be called, hundreds of computer industry officials and investors at the Mobile ‘92 conference here last week agreed that the devices could become the foundation of the next great fortunes to be made in the personal computer business. […]

How rich is this lode? At one end of the spectrum is John Sculley, the chief executive of Apple Computer Inc., who says these personal communicators could be “the mother of all markets.”

At the other end is Andrew Grove, the chairman of the Intel Corporation, the huge chip maker based in Santa Clara, Calif. He says the idea of a wireless personal communicator in every pocket is “a pipe dream driven by greed.”

Chris Espinosa put it well: “For everybody who ever said that Sculley was out of touch, read this. He was right about it being the mother of all markets.”

The fact that Intel pooh-poohed it is telling too.

These devices are expected to combine the best features of personal computers, facsimile machines, computer networks, pagers, personal secretaries, appointment books, address books and even paperback books and pocket CD players — all in a hand-held box operated by pen, or even voice commands.

Stuck in traffic on a business trip, an executive carrying a personal communicator could send and receive electronic mail and facsimile messages from anywhere in the country. She could also call up a local map on a 3-inch by 5-inch screen, draw a line between her current position (confirmed by satellite positioning signals) and her intended destination, and the device would give her specific driving instructions (as well as real-time warnings about traffic jams or accidents). Certainly, these are just predictions for now, but they sure are fun to think about.

Remarkably prescient list of features. The big mistake is listing “networks” as one feature among many. In 1992 it wasn’t clear yet that the internet would become the one true network, connecting anyone and everyone. The single biggest problem with the Newton is that it launched before the advent of Wi-Fi or cellular data networking.

Or perhaps the bigger mistake is assuming these would be devices for elite “executives”, rather than being accessible, affordable, democratizing devices for everyone.

Hugh Hefner, Who Built Playboy Empire and Embodied It, Dies at 91 

Laura Mansnerus, writing for The New York Times:

Hugh Hefner, who created Playboy magazine and spun it into a media and entertainment-industry giant — all the while, as its very public avatar, squiring attractive young women (and sometimes marrying them) well into his 80s — died Wednesday at his home, the Playboy Mansion near the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 91.

What a life.

The News From Today’s Amazon Hardware Event 

Nice roundup by Shannon Liao for The Verge.

Apple White Paper: ‘Face ID Security’ (PDF) 

New from Apple, a white paper describing the security aspects of Face ID. Here’s a bit on how you’ll confirm payments:

To authorize an in-store payment with Face ID, you must first confirm intent to pay by double-clicking the side button. You then authenticate using Face ID before placing your iPhone X near the contactless payment reader. If you’d like to select a different Apple Pay payment method after Face ID authentication, you’ll need to reauthenticate, but you won’t have to double-click the side button again.

To make a payment within apps and on the web, you confirm intent to pay by double-clicking the side button, then authenticate using Face ID to authorize the payment. If your Apple Pay transaction is not completed within 30 seconds of double-clicking the side button, you’ll have to reconfirm intent to pay by double-clicking again.

Apple also published a support document with a summary of this stuff, and Rene Ritchie has a good deep dive at iMore.

Amazon: Google Won’t Tell Us Why It Pulled YouTube From the Echo Show 

Casey Newton, reporting for The Verge:

Google won’t tell Amazon why it blocked access to YouTube on its Echo Show device, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services said. Speaking to reporters at Amazon’s headquarters today, longtime Amazon exec Dave Limp said he would “send a team to Mountain View” tonight if Google would just specify what went wrong.

Interesting to me that the Google/Amazon cold war is escalating at the same time the Apple/Amazon cold war is de-escalating (with Apple TV 4K now on sale at Amazon, and Amazon Prime coming soon to Apple TV).

Update: iCloud Text Replacements Are Moving to CloudKit Soon 

Good news related to yesterday’s item regarding the fact that text replacement shortcuts have never synced reliably between Macs or iOS devices: an Apple spokesperson emailed me to say they checked with the team, and an update that moves text replacement syncing to CloudKit should be rolling out to iOS 11 and MacOS 10.13 High Sierra users in the “next month or so”.

That is music to my ears. I was thinking yesterday that this might take until next year (with iOS 12 and MacOS 10.14) to fix. Delighted to hear that Apple is already on the case.

Twitter Begins Testing Support for 280 Characters Per Tweet 

I think this is a mistake. I’d rather see them keep the limit at 140 characters but add support for plain text media attachments — the same way you can add a photo or video to a tweet, you could add a plain text string.

Eric Reid: ‘Why Colin Kaepernick and I Decided to Take a Knee’ 

Eric Reid, former teammate of Colin Kaepernick, in an op-ed for The New York Times:

After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.

iCloud Text Replacements Do Not Sync Reliably 

Brian Stucki has a detailed post about something I’ve been irritated by for five years now:

Text replacement snippets are a useful tool that can be used on macOS and iOS. With this feature you create shortcut text that, when typed, expands to something longer. […]

In iOS 6 (2012), syncing between Mac and iOS devices was introduced. At least that is when Apple said it was introduced. I have yet to see the feature roll out. Therein lies the premise of this post.

Text replacement syncing is completely broken. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it will only sync back old snippets that you have deleted. Sometimes the sync will work one direction, but not the other. Every time I ask about this on Twitter, it brings a strong response of similar experiences. Even though I know it’s broken, I decided to get scientific about it. […]

From my own experience, syncing of all other data via iCloud has really improved. Notes, Calendar, address book, reminders, photos, etc all sync almost instantly across all devices.

What is so special/not special about Text Replacement snippets that makes it so hard?

My personal experience exactly matches what Stucki reports here. And, also, exactly as Stucki writes, my experience with other forms of iCloud syncing has been nearly perfect in recent years, corresponding pretty closely to the introduction of CloudKit in 2014. Apple Notes, for example, used to sync via IMAP (yes, the email protocol), and it was never reliable for me. When Apple Notes switched to CloudKit a few years ago, syncing became rock-solid. Even the newish feature that lets you share notes with others and collaboratively edit shared notes is rock solid for me.

I don’t know what’s going on with text replacement syncing, but it is the worst kind of buggy: it works just well enough to keep using it, but my machines are never in perfect sync. And, the feature is really useful, and really helpful to me on a daily basis. Apple: please get this fixed.

Update: Greg Pierce:

My little birds told me years ago these sync using the horribly buggy and deprecated “iCloud Core Data”. Seems trivial to migrate to CloudKit.

Update 2: An Apple spokesperson told me that text replacement syncing is moving to CloudKit for iOS 11 and MacOS 10.13 High Sierra users in the “next month or so”.

Bill Gates Now Using an Android Phone ‘With a Lot of Microsoft Software’ 

I say this with no snark intended: who would have guessed 10 years ago that Bill Gates would be using a personal computing device running a non-Microsoft OS? Or really, an OS that didn’t have “Windows” in the name?

I wonder what’s more popular among Microsoft employees — iPhone or Android? I’m guessing iPhone.

While I’m at it, it occurs to me that Apple is the only company left where all its employees are using only systems made by their own company. Microsoft employees need to use phones running iOS or Android. Google employees need to use MacOS or Windows (there might be some administrative jobs where they can use Chromebooks, but I doubt there are any engineers or designers getting by with Chrome). But at Apple, it’s MacOS on your PCs, iOS on your phone and tablet, WatchOS on your watch, and even tvOS on your set-top box. Microsoft used to have a slogan “Windows everywhere”. Apple doesn’t have one OS that runs everywhere (although it’s close with iOS — WatchOS and tvOS are really just offshoots of iOS with different UI layers), but there is a sort of cultural “Apple everywhere” mindset that I worry could lead to the sort of insularity that blinded Microsoft in the early ’00s.

Update: A few Google employees have written in to say that Chromebooks are actually in somewhat common use by Google engineers for work, because just about all work is compiled on servers and Chromebooks can serve fine as a simple machine that’s just running a terminal app in a Chrome tab. But my point stands: MacBooks are the most common device, even if for work they’re just running Chrome and a Terminal. Folks at Google aren’t just using Google products. (Lots of Google folks use iPhones too.)

A few other people have pointed out that Apple uses non-Apple tech for server related stuff. iCloud runs on Linux. That is indeed unlike the Microsoft of yore, where they ran Windows all the way up their stack. But the difference is that enterprise-grade server-side Windows was (and is) a product for Microsoft. Apple doesn’t have a cloud server product. What I’m saying is that when people at Apple choose a product to use personally, they almost always choose Apple’s own products.

Apple’s Two-Step Verification Replaced by Two-Factor Authorization With iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra 

Glenn Fleishman:

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a method of protecting an online account. The two factors — things that identify you — in 2FA: Something you yourself know, like a password; and something you have that can receive a token to confirm who you are, such as a smartphone.

Apple’s original two-step system relied on its Apple ID site for set up and management, and could only send codes to iOS devices and via SMS. Its update in September 2015 left two-step in place for those who continued to want to use it, but the 2FA revision was far better. Enrollment happens via iOS and macOS. Apple’s system isn’t as robust as some security experts would like, but it’s definitely better than a password-only option.

The differences between the old two-step and newer two-factor systems can be confusing. But the new system is definitely better. I go through this more than most people, because I own a bunch of Apple devices and review a bunch of them regularly. I’ve got three iPhones in use right now. Switching my Apple ID to two-factor a year or so ago made this so much easier.

You Can Only Wash Google and Levi’s New $350 ‘Connected’ Jacket Ten Times 

So this jacket doesn’t just figuratively stink, it will literally stink too.

Showtime Websites Secretly Mined User CPU for Cryptocurrency 

Shannon Liao, reporting for The Verge:

This past weekend, Showtime websites were found to be running a script that allows the sites to mine visitors’ extra CPU power for cryptocurrency, as pointed out by users on Twitter. The afflicted sites included and, but the script has since been removed following reports from Gizmodo and other sites.

The crypto mining Javascript is called Coinhive, and according to the site, it was made as an alternative to banner ads as a way for website owners to get around pesky ad-blockers. Ironically, some ad-blockers have now included Coinhive on the list of the banned.

This is like going to a restaurant and finding out the valets were using your car as an Uber while you ate.

Jared Sinclair on Apple Watch Series 3 

Jared Sinclair:

I was born in 1981, so I’ve got one foot on either side of the tech revolutions of the ’90s and ’00s. As far as I can recall, this is the first time since I first got a cellphone (let alone a smartphone) that I am deliberately leaving the house without any device in my pocket. It’s a refreshing feeling. I took a four-mile walk for exercise, drove an hour to my parents’ and back to pick up the kid, and picked up my wife from the airport. Apple Watch with cellular supports a critical slice of the features a smartphone provides, which means I get to enjoy best of both the old and new worlds: I am free from the temptation to waste quiet moments on social media and soul-crushing national news, but not at the expense of missing out on texts and phone calls from friends and family, or getting directions home, or triaging the occasional urgent email. This newfound flexibility is, simply put, mind-blowing.

I don’t mind or resent always having my phone with me. But I know several people who do. I really do feel like the addition of cellular networking — and the seamless way Apple has made it work — is going to be a game-changer for many people.

David Letterman on The Howard Stern Show 

Talk show gold: The Howard Stern Show has posted Letterman’s 90-minute appearance last month. Both of them were at their best. Fascinating, engaging, and funny.

(If you don’t want to listen using the Soundcloud player on the web page, you can download the MP3 file using the youtube-dl command line tool, which in turn you can easily install using Homebrew. Then you can just type youtube-dl "" in Terminal and you’ll get the MP3 download.)

Rogue Amoeba’s 15th Anniversary Sale 

Rogue Amoeba co-founder Paul Kafasis:

We’re always eager to help even more people with their audio needs, so to celebrate our 15th anniversary, we’re offering a rare and very limited-time sale. Through the end of September, we’re offering discounts on every product we make.

So just how big is this sale? We started by lowering the price of all of our products by 15%, to match the 15 years we’ve been in business. We didn’t stop there, however. We’re also offering the chance to boost those savings by 1.33×, 1.67×, 2×, 3×, or even 4×. A few lucky users will save as much as 60% off our everyday low prices.

They’ve rigged up a fun little “scratch-off” ticket to uncover your discount. Also fun: a screenshot of the original Audio Hijack from 2002.

It’s a good year for 15-year anniversaries.

Horace Dediu’s Estimate for Apple Watch Sales to Date 

Horace Dediu:

My estimate has been that Apple sold about 15 million Watches in the last 12 months at an average price of about $330. This puts the Apple Watch revenue run rate at $4.9 billion, indeed above Rolex.

They may be slightly high but the news makes me feel quite comfortable in my methodology. Note also that within the last quarter Apple said sales for the Watch increased by 50%. This is also reflected in my estimate of 3 million in Q2 vs. ~2 million for 2016 Q2.

Overall, about 33 million Apple Watch units have been sold since launch and they generated about $12 billion in sales. Coupled with a 95% customer satisfaction score, altogether, this has been a great success story. But only 2.5 years in, it’s still act one.

Apple Switches From Bing to Google for Siri Web Search Results on iOS and Spotlight on Mac 

Matthew Panzarino, reporting for TechCrunch:

Apple is switching the default provider of its web searches from Siri, Search inside iOS (formerly called Spotlight) and Spotlight on the Mac. So, for instance, if Siri falls back to a web search on iOS when you ask it a question, you’re now going to get Google results instead of Bing.

Consistency is Apple’s main motivation given for switching the results from Microsoft’s Bing to Google in these cases. Safari on Mac and iOS already currently use Google search as the default provider, thanks to a deal worth billions to Apple (and Google) over the last decade. This change will now mirror those results when Siri, the iOS Search bar or Spotlight is used.

The search results include regular ‘web links’ as well as video results. Web image results from Siri, swiping down and searching within iOS and Spotlight will still come from Bing, for now. Bing has had more than solid image results for some time now so that makes some sense. If you use Siri to search your own photos, it will, of course, use your own library instead. Interestingly, video results will come directly from YouTube.

Apple is claiming they’re making this change for the sake of consistency. It has seemed a little odd that Safari’s default search engine (for queries typed in the location field) has always been Google, but Siri’s web searches have always been Bing. But I wonder how much of this was dictated by user experience and how much was determined by the business deal, which analyst A.M. Sacconaghi Jr. estimates has Google paying Apple $3 billion this year alone.

Also seems strange that Bing holds onto image search, and that video search will go to YouTube specifically, not Google video search. If I’m reading this right, when you ask Siri to search for video you won’t see any results that aren’t from YouTube.

DXO Ratings Are Horseshit 

DXO has released its review of the iPhone 8 Plus camera, and it got their “highest scores” ever. No one should give a shit. They assign precise numbers like 96 for “photos”, 89 for “video”, and 55 for “bokeh” — but these numbers just give a false illusion of scientific rigor, as though they’re like CPU or GPU benchmark scores. (And CPU/GPU benchmark scores have their own problems.)

They’re not. There are certain aspects of a camera that you can measure objectively, but the overall quality of a camera is utterly subjective. Go read John Paczkowski’s interview with Phil Schiller and Apple designer Johnnie Manzari that I linked to an hour ago — they talk about how Apple sees cameras as being about art, history, and people. Go read Austin Mann’s review of the iPhone 8 Plus camera (also linked to here at DF earlier today) — that’s how you review and measure the quality of a camera.

Particularly with their “overall” score, DXO is pretending to assign an objective scientific-looking measurement to something that is inherently subjective. It’s horseshit, but everyone in the media falls for it. I said it was horseshit last year when they named a Pixel their “highest rated ever”, and I say it’s bullshit now when they said that about an iPhone.

London Won’t Renew Uber’s License 


London’s transport authority announced Friday that it will not renew Uber’s license, saying the company is not “fit and proper” to operate in the city.

The move, if upheld after an appeal, could deal a serious blow to Uber’s business.

Transport for London cited the company’s approach to reporting serious criminal offenses, and the way it explained its use of software that prevents regulators and law enforcement from monitoring the app.

Actions have consequences. As new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a company-wide memo responding to this: “The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation.”

Polling Experts Cast Doubt on Widely Cited College Free Speech Survey 

Lois Beckett, reporting for The Guardian:

Polling experts are raising concerns about a new survey thatfound nearly 20% of American college students believe it’s appropriate to use violence to silence offensive speech. […]

However, his survey was not administered to a randomly selected group of college students nationwide, what statisticians call a “probability sample”. Instead, it was given to an opt-in online panel of people who identified as current college students.

“If it’s not a probability sample, it’s not a sample of anyone, it’s just 1,500 college students who happen to respond,” Zukin said, calling it “junk science”.

“It’s an interesting piece of data,” Michael Traugott, a polling expert at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, said. “Whether it represents the proportion of all college students who believe this is unknown.”

Important follow-up to this piece I posted earlier in the week.

Behind the iPhone 8 and iPhone X Cameras 

Speaking of the new iPhone cameras, John Paczkowski goes behind the scenes on the development of Portrait Lighting mode with Phil Schiller and designer Johnnie Manzari:

And to get it right, Apple relied on what it does best: enthusiastic study and deconstruction of the art form it wishes to mimic and advance. In the case of the iPhones 8 Plus and X, this meant pouring over the way others have used lighting throughout history — Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Vermeer.

“If you look at the Dutch Masters and compare them to the paintings that were being done in Asia, stylistically they’re different,” Johnnie Manzari, a designer on Apple’s Human Interface Team, says. “So we asked why are they different? And what elements of those styles can we recreate with software?”

And then Apple went into the studio and attempted to do just that. “We spent a lot of time shining light on people and moving them around — a lot of time,” Manzari says. “We had some engineers trying to understand the contours of a face and how we could apply lighting to them through software, and we had other silicon engineers just working to make the process super-fast. We really did a lot of work.”

Portrait Lighting mode is a practical meaningful effect of the A11 Bionic chip’s astounding performance. Even if Android software engineers at Google or Samsung or wherever reproduced the work Apple has put into this, they don’t have the hardware to perform it on in real time.

As I wrote in my iPhone 8 review, in the old days, if you wanted better photos, you made better lenses and better film/sensors. With cameras small enough to fit in a phone, you need better software and better silicon.

Austin Mann’s iPhone 8 Plus Camera Review From India 

I look forward to Mann’s iPhone reviews more than any other each year. My lord what a remarkable camera these devices are. Mann:

I’m writing to you from a small hotel room in India having just experienced a magical adventure in western India orchestrated by friends at Ker & Downey. I’ve shot thousands of images and countless portraits with the iPhone 8 Plus and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned.

While the iPhone 8 Plus looks essentially the same as the phone we’ve had since the 6 Plus, there are some new features in the 8 Plus which really impact creative pros across the board — most notably Portrait Lighting, along with a few other hidden gems. […]

After shooting 100 portraits or so, I can easily say Studio Light is my favorite of the effects. It emulates a gold bounce card as if it is just outside of the frame, bouncing nice warm light into the face and eyes of the subject. It does a nice job of making the face subtly pop from the rest of the background without doing anything too dramatic.

I’ve found Studio Light to be my favorite too. I’m pretty sure that’s why Apple put it first in the list.

Do yourself a favor and take your time reading Mann’s review, and really look at these photos. They’re simply amazing. (He’s got a great video too, with his tips for getting the most out of the new Portrait mode lighting effects.)

‘Truffle Oil’ Without Any Actual Truffles 

Eugenia Bone, writing for The New York Times:

Ever since Jeffrey Steingarten broke the story in Vogue in 2003, it has been common knowledge among aficionados that truffle oil is typically synthetically flavored. But dubious truffle oil products have proliferated. For instance, Walmart now sells Roland Extra Virgin Olive Oil With White Truffle. Its 1.86 ounces, about the equivalent volume of an egg, cost $18. On its ingredient list: “truffle aroma.”

My cousin Maria, the truffle hunter’s wife, used to make truffle oil with the broken bits of truffle she couldn’t serve, but not to preserve the flavor — the oil was flavorful for only as long as a fresh truffle. Much as we may want to capture truffles in a jar, the biology isn’t accommodating.

I forget where I first read about this, but once you know it, you can’t untaste that “truffle oil” just tastes like an oily chemical coating.


You must separate the Link Bracelet into two pieces before removing the band from your Apple Watch. While removing the band, don’t force the band or twist it. Use the steps below to avoid damaging the band or clasp.

My Series 0 Apple Watch was the space black steel model with the link bracelet. When swapping bands, it’s a little tricky to get it on and off if you keep it in one piece. At some point a few years ago, someone told me the right way to take it on or off: separate into to two pieces first. It’s a cinch once you know this trick.

Word of the Day: Dotard 

Choe Sang-Hun, reporting for The New York Times from Seoul:

Responding directly for the first time to President Trump’s threat at the United Nations to destroy nuclear-armed North Korea, its leader called Mr. Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” on Friday and vowed the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”

I’d never heard it before, but dotard is a real word: “an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.”

‘The Real Story in This Mess Is Not the Threat That Algorithms Pose to Amazon Shoppers, but the Threat That Algorithms Pose to Journalism’ 

Maciej Ceglowski, demolishing a “news” story that spread around the world claiming that Amazon’s suggestions were helping people make bombs, when in fact they were helping people conduct high school chemistry experiments: 

The real story in this mess is not the threat that algorithms pose to Amazon shoppers, but the threat that algorithms pose to journalism. By forcing reporters to optimize every story for clicks, not giving them time to check or contextualize their reporting, and requiring them to race to publish follow-on articles on every topic, the clickbait economics of online media encourage carelessness and drama. This is particularly true for technical topics outside the reporter’s area of expertise.

And reporters have no choice but to chase clicks. Because Google and Facebook have a duopoly on online advertising, the only measure of success in publishing is whether a story goes viral on social media. Authors are evaluated by how individual stories perform online, and face constant pressure to make them more arresting. Highly technical pieces are farmed out to junior freelancers working under strict time limits. Corrections, if they happen at all, are inserted quietly through ‘ninja edits’ after the fact.

There is no real penalty for making mistakes, but there is enormous pressure to frame stories in whatever way maximizes page views. Once those stories get picked up by rival news outlets, they become ineradicable. The sheer weight of copycat coverage creates the impression of legitimacy. As the old adage has it, a lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is pulling its boots on.

The Inside Story of the A11 Bionic Chip 

Speaking of the A11, I missed this feature for Mashable by Lance Ulanoff last week when it came out, but it’s interesting:

“We’re clearly on a path now where, with generations of our products, one of the core elements is the chips in them that, to us, they’re intrinsically part of the definition of the product,” said Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller who, along with SVP of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji, sat down with me 24 hours after the big unveil for an intense chat about silicon, the Apple way.

I had many questions about the A11 Bionic, Apple’s fifth-generation CPU that sits inside not only the iPhone X, which ships in November, but also the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus — mostly about just how many things this new system on a chip (SoC) could do. Srouji, who runs the silicon team, and Schiller were taking me deep, or at least as deep as Apple is comfortable going on its proprietary technology.

Tom’s Guide: ‘iPhone 8 Is World’s Fastest Phone (It’s Not Even Close)’ 

Mark Spoonauer, writing for Tom’s Guide:

The “Bionic” part in the name of Apple’s A11 Bionic chip isn’t just marketing speak. It’s the most powerful processor ever put in a mobile phone. We’ve put this chip to the test in both synthetic benchmarks and some real-world speed trials, and it obliterates every Android phone we tested. […]

If you’re wondering how all this translates to real-world performance, we have more good news for iPhone 8 shoppers — and bad news for everyone else. To really put the A11 Bionic chip through its paces, we put the same 2-minute video, shot in 4K by a drone, on the iPhone 8, Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8+, and then added the same transitions and effects before exporting and saving the video.

The iPhone 8 finished this strenuous task in just 42 seconds, while the Note 8 took more than 3 minutes. The Galaxy S8+ took more than 4 minutes.

More than 4 times as fast in a legitimate real-world CPU-intensive task. Android is literally years behind.

11 Tips for iOS 11 

A bunch of good tips packed into a 2.5-minute video by Joanna Stern.

Craig Federighi Says 3D Touch App Switcher Gesture Will Return in Future Update to iOS 11 

Craig Federighi, in an email responding to a customer asking for the return of the 3D touch shortcut for app switching:

We regretfully had to temporarily drop support for this gesture due to a technical constraint. We will be bringing it back in an upcoming iOS 11.x update.

Thanks (and sorry for the inconvenience)!

Facebook Newsroom: ‘More on Russian Ads’ 


4) Do you expect to find more ads from Russian or other foreign actors using fake accounts?

It’s possible.

Translation: “Definitely.”

Why Google Is Spending $1.1 Billion to Acqhire 2,000 HTC Engineers 

Dan Frommer, writing for Recode:

Why should Google cede the high end of the handset market to Apple — which dominates the industry’s profits — by default? Google can now really, truly make the best Android phone by tightly integrating hardware, software and services. And, if successful, it could eventually join Apple in profiting hundreds of dollars per device sold — not just the smaller amount it makes from search ads.

Phones are today’s focus, but what’s next matters more.

While HTC is keeping its Vive VR business, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to think of things that smartphone hardware engineers could be asked to work on.

What comes after the smartphone? Augmented reality (AR) or “mixed reality” glasses? AirPods-like earpieces? Wearable sensors? Implanted devices? All of the above? It’s increasingly clear that Google’s parent company Alphabet won’t be leaving this problem up to its Nest subsidiary to solve. Google must play a leading role in the next wave, or it will lose relevance.

In the near-term, the challenge for Google isn’t making great phones. They proved they could do that with last year’s Pixel models. The challenge for them is bringing them to the masses. I don’t know anyone who owns a Google Pixel who isn’t involved in the tech industry in some way, either as a developer or in the media. No one. The Pixels are Android’s best answer to the iPhone, and no one knows about them.

Google can build all the great new hardware they want, but they’re not going to succeed until they learn to do product marketing.

Tim Cook Says DACA Is the ‘Biggest Issue of Our Time’ 

Tim Cook, speaking on stage in New York at Bloomberg’s global executive forum:

“These people — if you haven’t met them — at Apple, we have many that came to the U.S. when they were 2 years old. They didn’t exactly make a decision to come. They came here — they only know our country. This is their home. They love America deeply. When you talk to them, I wish everyone in America loved America this much.

They have jobs, they pay taxes, they’re pillars of their communities. They’re incredible people. And so, to me, it would be like someone coming to Mike [Bloomberg] and saying, ‘Mike, I just found out, you aren’t really a citizen here, you need to leave.’

This is unacceptable. This is not who we are as a country. I am personally shocked that there’s even a discussion of this. This is one of those things where it is so clear — and it’s not a political thing, or at least I don’t see it like that at all. This is about basic human dignity and respect. It is that simple and straightforward.”

I like this bit too:

“As a CEO, not only today but in the past as well, I think silence is the ultimate consent. If you see something going on that’s not right, the most powerful form of consent is to say nothing. I think that’s not acceptable to your company, to the team that works so hard for your company, for your customers, or for your country. Or for each country that you happen to be operating in.”

Ben Clymer Reviews the Apple Watch Series 3 Edition 

Hodinkee’s Ben Clymer was, I believe, the only reviewer seeded with an Apple Watch Series 3 Edition, and his review is excellent:

Now, what I haven’t mentioned yet is that there is actually a sister product to Apple Watch Series 3 that is all but a must-have: AirPods. Apple’s wireless Bluetooth headphones have been with me since December of last year, and while the sound quality is hardly audiophile worthy, they are incredibly convenient. At this point, I couldn’t live without them, and I felt that way even before I received this sample Series 3 to try. They are an even bigger part of my life with the Series 3 in the picture.

Indeed, Apple Watch with AirPods is a terrific combination, both for listening to music and for making phone calls.

On the ceramic case:

Again, the quality of the ceramic matches that of any high-end polished ceramic watch I’ve seen in the market from Switzerland. In fact, Apple has indicated they are using much of the same finishing techniques that one might expect to see in, say, Le Brassus or Le Sentier, and if you look through Apple’s “Designed by Apple In California” book, and then tour Audemars Piguet for example, you’ll see the very same tools.

And as Ben Thompson noted, this is probably the best line from any of the Series 3 reviews:

Still, we now have smartwatches from two of the three big luxury watch groups, and likely more to come. And that’s before we actually talk about sales numbers of Apple versus the traditional players or the fact that all of theirs use what is the equivalent of an off-the-shelf caliber in Android OS while Apple’s is, to borrow a term they’ll understand, completely in-house. Ironic, really.

Understanding How the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Toggles in Control Center Work in iOS 11 


In iOS 11 and later, when you toggle the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth buttons in Control Center, your device will immediately disconnect from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth accessories. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will continue to be available, so you can use these important features:

  • AirDrop
  • AirPlay
  • Apple Pencil
  • Apple Watch
  • Continuity features, like Handoff and Instant Hotspot
  • Instant Hotspot
  • Location Services

This is an interesting feature, but I think it’s going to confuse and anger a lot of people. Until iOS 11, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles in Control Center worked the way it looked like they worked: they were on/off switches. Now, in iOS 11, they still look like on/off switches, but they act as disconnect switches.

Off the top of my head, I would suggest making them three-way switches: on and connected, on but disconnected, and off. I don’t have an idea for how to present that visually though. Or make on/off buttons available in the expanded menu you get when you 3D touch on these controls. Update: DF reader Matthew Smith emailed to point out that these buttons already have three states: “In Control Center, when you tap the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icon, it goes from blue to grey. If you tap the Airplane mode icon, both icons go grey, but also gain another indicator: A diagonal line through their icons. This is a good way to tell the difference between disconnected and off. So with the currently available indicators, these could easily become a 3-way switch.”

Motherboard has a story that posits that this change is a security risk, but I think that’s overblown. I think the problem is simply that these buttons no longer do (a) what they used to do, even though they look the same, and (b) what people naturally expect them to do, just by looking at them.

Everything You Might Want to Know About Cellular Service With Apple Watch Series 3 

Serenity Caldwell:

Apple’s GPS + Cellular Apple Watch is almost here, and I’ve gotten a ton of questions from our readers and various folks on Twitter in regards to how cellular data will work on the Apple Watch. Here’s a brief overview of everything you need to know in that regard.

Great FAQ. One small thing she missed: the new Explorer watch face is exclusive to cellular-capable watches, and it shows you whether you’re currently connected to LTE or not with the four green circles that serve as a signal-strength indicator. If you don’t see the circles, the watch is not using LTE; if you see them, it is. With all other watch faces, you need to peek at Control Center to see whether you’re on LTE.

Brian X. Chen’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review 

Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times:

Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.

So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics.

I’d like to reiterate just how good my experience with Siri has been while testing the watch on LTE. Siri has been fast and accurate, just as it needs to be. The primary interaction model for communicating via the watch isn’t apps. I don’t want to hit the crown button, go to the app screen, find the Phone app, tap it, and somehow initiate a call by poking at the screen. I want to hold the crown button and say “Call Amy”. And that has just worked.

Also, dictating text for Message replies has been excellent. 30 minutes ago I was out getting coffee and got a text from my wife about dinner plans. In response, I dictated a response that, if transcribed perfectly, I would spell and punctuate as follows: “Fucking-A, that sounds good to me.” Siri’s actual translation: “Fucking a that sounds good to me.” I thought perhaps I could trick Siri into prudishly mis-transcribing that first word, but no, she got it.

Joanna Stern’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review: Untethered, All Day 

Aside from the LTE connectivity issues she ran into, Stern’s review is interesting because she tried something Apple Watch Series 3 isn’t really meant for: going all day long without your iPhone. She had to recharge midday, but Apple’s own specs only list the watch as having 4 hours of battery life while connected to LTE, and 1 hour of talk time.

It’s a fun video, too. I realize these larger publications have video teams, but all I can think is that if I published videos alongside my product reviews, I’d still be working on my review of the iPhone 7 from last year.

Serenity Caldwell: ‘Apple Watch Series 3’s “LTE Problems” Are Actually an Existing Wi-Fi Bug’ 

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore:

Essentially, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch tries to save battery life at all times by using your iPhone’s connection, or failing that, a Wi-Fi network. What’s happening here is that the watch is attempting to jump on a so-called “captive” network — a public network with an interstitial login prompt or terms and conditions agreement. (You’ve probably seen these at a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Panera.)

In theory, the Apple Watch shouldn’t be allowed to connect to captive networks at all, because there’s no way for it to get through that interstitial layer. Unfortunately, watchOS 4 has a bug where captive networks are being recognized identically to normal saved Wi-Fi networks — so while you’re technically “connected” to a network, you won’t be able to connect to the internet; nor will you be able to go to cellular, because the Watch’s auto-switching prevents you from connecting.

This article is simply phenomenally detailed, including how to tell if your Apple Watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Apple Admits to Apple Watch LTE Problems When Joining Unauthenticated Wi-Fi Networks 

Lauren Goode, writing for The Verge:

While writing my review of the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE capabilities, I experienced notable connectivity issues. The new Watch appeared to try to connect to unknown WiFi networks instead of connecting to cellular, when I was out and about without my phone. (The issues are laid out in much more detail in the review.)

Within the first couple days of experiencing this, Apple replaced my first review unit with a second one, but that one proved to be problematic, too.

Eventually, the company issued an official statement, acknowledging the issue. “We have discovered that when Apple Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity, it may at times prevent the watch from using cellular,” an Apple spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We are investigating a fix for a future software release.”

Joanna Stern (and her WSJ colleague Geoffrey Fowler) ran into LTE connectivity problems, too — hopefully caused by this same issue with the watch joining unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks. I didn’t run into any problems with LTE connectivity. Every single time I tried to do something via LTE — make a call, send messages, invoke Siri — it just worked. For what it’s worth, my review unit watch was paired with my review unit iPhone 8, on AT&T’s network.

I’m not the only reviewer who seemingly had no issue with LTE. BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen made no mention of any such issues, and she placed a phone call via her watch after swimming 1,500 feet into the San Francisco Bay.

I suspect one reason I haven’t run into this is that I generally avoid using unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks. They’re a security risk, and at least in my experience they generally offer slower, less reliable connectivity than LTE. This might also explain how Apple shipped these watches with such a bug — I doubt Apple employees seeded with testing units were connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots.

I’m not trying to blame the victims here. This is a severe bug that Apple needs to fix as soon as possible. And it’s left Apple in the embarrassing position of having a slew of reviews today in which the tentpole new feature of Series 3 shit the bed.

Poll: College Students Are Hostile Toward Free Speech 

Catherine Rampell, writing for The Washington Post:

Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants “safe spaces,” or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.

Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor.

Even worse, a large segment of them fundamentally do not understand the First Amendment:

For example, when students were asked whether the First Amendment protects “hate speech,” 4 in 10 said no. This is, of course, incorrect. Speech promoting hatred — or at least, speech perceived as promoting hatred — may be abhorrent, but it is nonetheless constitutionally protected.

This notion equating speech with violence is more than just an irritation. It’s ammunition for the right to shut down legitimate protest. It’s self-defeating for people on the left to take this stance. Sticks and stones, folks.

Update: Polling experts are casting serious doubts on this poll’s methodology. But whether this poll is valid or not, there’s no question in my mind that today’s youth have a serious problem with free speech. There’s a reason why many comedians won’t play college campuses anymore — too many kids can’t take a joke.

Nilay Patel on the iPhones 8 

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

Qi is pretty slow, though — Apple’s goal is to match the charging speed of its own 5W pack-in charger, but I only saw about 15 percent more charge on the 8 Plus every 30 minutes with the Mophie, which is especially pokey when you consider that you can’t pick up and use your phone during that time. A future iOS update will let the iPhone 8 draw more power out of the Mophie and Belkin pads Apple sells in stores, so hopefully things speed up when that happens.

So with fast charging (Apple’s 29-watt charger and a USB-C-to-Lightning cable) you get about 2 percent charge per minute. With Qi you get about 0.5 percent charge per minute — but that might improve in a future iOS update.

Matthew Panzarino on the iPhones 8 

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch:

Nearly every iPhone upgrade for the past several years has been driven by the camera. There have been impressive updates in hardware and feature additions, but anecdotally I cannot count the number of times people have cited the camera as the primary reason that they’re interested in updating their phone.

So, how does the camera in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus stack up?


My favorite review so far. I think people underestimating the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus cameras are missing the boat.

Geoffrey Fowler on the iPhones 8 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

The virtues I see in the iPhone 8 are niche: I’m glad you don’t have to spend $1,000 to get an improved camera and processor and even wireless charging, if that matters to you. But Apple’s confusing iPhone family now includes three pairs of practically identical phones: the regular and Plus versions of the iPhone 8, 7 and 6s. Don’t buy the spendiest one.

I think this is terrible advice. I don’t think the iPhone X is for everyone. But if you’re not going to get the iPhone X, you should definitely get the iPhone 8 if you can afford it. The cameras are better, and the A11 Bionic chip is truly built for the future.

But you will have to look closely. There has been no resolution change — still 12 megapixels. And I didn’t find any shocking improvements like I saw in low-light performance we got in the iPhone 7.

I could go on and on about this, but just counting megapixels is arguably the worst way to gauge camera quality. Yes, iPhone 7’s sensor is 12 MP and so is iPhone 8’s, but the iPhone 8 sensor is bigger. That means every pixel is bigger. That means every pixel can absorb more light. The fact that the iPhone 8 sensor is bigger but has the same number of pixels is — at least in my opinion — far better than if it were the same size as the 7’s but had more (smaller) pixels.

Farhad Manjoo on the iPhones 8 

Farhad Manjoo, writing for The New York Times:

So here’s my conclusion, after nearly a week testing the 8 and 8 Plus: The 8s feel like a swan song — or, to put it another way, they represent Apple’s platonic ideal of that first iPhone, an ultimate refinement before eternal retirement.

Unsurprisingly, both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are very good phones. Most of Apple’s improvements over the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are minor, but if you have an older model, either of the 8s will feel like a solid upgrade. And if you are considering upgrading from an Android phone, there’s one area where the new iPhones still rank head and shoulders above their competition — the processor, the engine that runs the entire device, where Apple is so far ahead that it almost feels unfair.

The Courage of Embracing the Notch 

Marco Arment:

Apple just completely changed the fundamental shape of the most important, most successful, and most recognizable tech product that the world has ever seen.

That’s courage.

It is. But as I wrote when Phil Schiller used the word to explain why they removed the headphone jack last year, that took courage too. It takes courage to rob a bank too. The objection people had to calling the removal of the headphone jack “courage” is based on the notion that courage is always noble. You can despise the notch and/or think it’s the stupidest thing Apple has ever done, but still acknowledge that it took courage to embrace it.

My objection (again, after admittedly only spending 10-15 minutes with an iPhone X in hand) remains that Apple could embrace the notch on the lock and home screens, allowing for this new iconic silhouette, without embracing it all the time.

I suspect (or maybe it’s just hope) what might happen is something along the lines of the evolution of the new look-and-feel that debuted in iOS 7. With iOS 7, Apple took everything to an extreme. The thinnest, lightest fonts. The least amount of button-y shapes for buttons. The least amount of depth and texture in the interface. The most amount of translucency. Each year since then, iOS has turned the dial away from the extremes on all those things. iOS 11 goes so far as to make common use of very heavy, black weights of San Francisco in the UI. I think that could happen with the software’s handling of the notch.

Or maybe we’ll just get used to it quickly. I really don’t want to spend too much time ranting against something I’ve only used for a few minutes.

PixelCut’s Ultimate Guide to iPhone Resolutions 

Helpful illustrated guide to the relationship between points, rendered pixels, and display pixels on all iPhones, including the upcoming iPhone X. They also have a nice illustration specific to the X.

The EFF Withdraws From the W3C Over Support for DRM 

Cory Doctorow, in an open letter from the EFF to the W3C:

In our campaigning on this issue, we have spoken to many, many members’ representatives who privately confided their belief that the EME was a terrible idea (generally they used stronger language) and their sincere desire that their employer wasn’t on the wrong side of this issue. This is unsurprising. You have to search long and hard to find an independent technologist who believes that DRM is possible, let alone a good idea. Yet, somewhere along the way, the business values of those outside the web got important enough, and the values of technologists who built it got disposable enough, that even the wise elders who make our standards voted for something they know to be a fool’s errand.

I’m no fan of DRM. Who is? But I am a fan of practicality, and there are practical reasons why web browsers should be able to play DRM-protected content without using proprietary plugins. Netflix, for example, is never going to serve video without DRM. Or perhaps better put, movie and TV studios wouldn’t allow Netflix to do that. Nor would professional sports leagues or the Olympics.

So either you can watch Netflix in a web browser or you can’t. If your web browser doesn’t support DRM natively, then you have to use plugins. And plugins are rapidly going the way of the dodo bird, because they suck. Even Flash’s end-of-life has been announced. iOS and Android don’t even support browser plugins anymore — and together they dominate real-world usage.

I love the EFF and will continue to support them, but I’d rather see a world where Netflix and all the other DRM-protected streaming services still work in standards-based web browsers than a world where they don’t but where the W3C can claim a moral victory. If you think the open web is losing ground to native app-based platforms now, think about how bad it would be if you couldn’t watch Netflix or live sports.

I also think it’s silly to say DRM doesn’t work. It’s not perfect, and can be worked around, but it’s harder to pirate DRM-protected content than it is non-DRM-protected content. Just making it harder is “working” to at least some degree.

Update: In a series of tweets, Doctorow clarifies that it was the W3C’s refusal to seek compromises over the DMCA, not support for DRM in general, that led to the EFF’s decision to leave:

Significantly, refusal from DRM advocates to promise not to use the DMCA against security researchers, accessibility workers, archivists […] is an ominous sign that they want to reserve the right to execute exactly that power. Publishing EME after the refusal to deal on this is recklessness embodied: when someone tells you they plan to use the power you’re giving them, you should believe them.

I’ll leave the original post as-is, because I think it expresses well my thoughts on why the W3C should support DRM, but this DMCA issue is important, and now I’m uncertain how to feel about the EFF’s decision to leave. The DMCA is an odious — and I think unconstitutional — law. DRM should be protected by its encryption and longstanding copyright law. Anything that’s “fair use” under copyright law should be “fair use” with DRM content if the DRM can be circumvented.

Halo Top: Eat the Ice Cream 

This is one of the best commercials I’ve ever seen. The less you know about it going in, the better.

Mystery of the Day 

Mara Bernath, reporting for Bloomberg:

Swiss prosecutors are trying to figure out why someone apparently attempted to flush tens of thousands of euros down the toilet at a Geneva branch of UBS Group AG.

The first 500-euro ($597) bills were discovered several months ago in a bathroom close to a bank vault containing hundreds of safe deposit boxes, according to a report in Tribune de Geneve confirmed by the city prosecutor’s office. A few days later, more banknotes turned up in toilets at three nearby restaurants, requiring thousands of francs in plumbing repairs to unclog the pipes.

In all, police have extracted tens of thousands of euros in soiled bills, many of which appear to have been cut with scissors.

While destroying banknotes isn’t a crime in Switzerland, “there must be something behind this story,” said Henri Della Casa, a spokesman for the Geneva Prosecutor’s Office. “That’s why we started an investigation.”

I can’t figure out an angle on this one.

Update: All I’ve come up with is this: the perpetrator is an employee pissed off at their employer, the bank, and they thought they could get away with destroying this cash but not with stealing it.

Report Says Red Sox Used Fitbit, Not Apple Watch, in Sign-Stealing Scheme 

The Score:

The device used by the Boston Red Sox in their infamous sign-stealing controversy has been revealed as a Fitbit product, according to a major-league source of Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

Though Fitbits are used as a tracker to measure an individual’s steps and levels of fitness activity, many products — specifically Fitbit Surge — can be synced with mobile devices and receive text messages.

This takes some of the fun out of this story. Now the Red Sox are just cheaters with bad taste in gadgets.

APFS Will Be for Flash Drives Only in First High Sierra Release 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

iMacs with Fusion Drives were converted to APFS during the beta testing process in the first macOS High Sierra beta, but support was removed in subsequent betas and not reimplemented.

With the release of the Golden Master version of the software, Apple has confirmed APFS will not be available for Fusion Drives and has provided instructions for converting from APFS back to the standard HFS+ format.

I have all-flash drives in both my MacBook Pro and iMac, but I’m not in any hurry to switch to APFS. And since drives that can be updated are automatically updated to APFS when you update to High Sierra, I’m in no rush to update to High Sierra. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to APFS. This just feels like something for which I’ll wait for 10.13.1.

Squarespace Personalized Templates 

My thanks to Squarespace for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Squarespace lets you create a truly personalized website: their platform enables developers and designers to “make it yours” with their easy to use, but personalized templates. Start with an award-winning template, or build your site from scratch.

Best of all, you can try Squarespace for free. When you’re ready to subscribe, get 10 percent off at with offer code DARING17.

Matthew Panzarino Interviews Craig Federighi About Face ID 

Great complement to my interview with Federighi on the same topic yesterday, including some privacy-related points I didn’t think to ask about:

When it comes to customers — users — Apple gathers absolutely nothing itself. Federighi was very explicit on this point.

“We do not gather customer data when you enroll in Face ID, it stays on your device, we do not send it to the cloud for training data,” he notes.

There is an adaptive feature of Face ID that allows it to continue to recognize your changing face as you change hair styles, grow a beard or have plastic surgery. This adaptation is done completely on device by applying re-training and deep learning in the redesigned Secure Enclave. None of that training or re-training is done in Apple’s cloud. And Apple has stated that it will not give access to that data to anyone, for any price.

Terrific interview.

Advertising Trade Groups Object to Safari’s New Intelligent Tracking Protection 

Marty Swant, writing for Adweek (headline: “Every Major Advertising Group Is Blasting Apple for Blocking Cookies in the Safari Browser”):

The biggest advertising organizations say Apple will “sabotage” the current economic model of the internet with plans to integrate cookie-blocking technology into the new version of Safari.

Six trade groups — the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s and two others — say they’re “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plans to release a version of the internet browser that overrides and replaces user cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards. The feature, which is called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by putting in place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting.

This is like a group of peeping Toms objecting to the invention of window shades. What ad trackers do is abhorrent, and what Safari’s new Intelligent Tracking Protection does is indisputably in the interests of users.

Steven Sinofsky (formerly president of the Windows division at Microsoft):

Stand strong Apple [rhetorical]. Had these groups come after us trying to offer browsing safety. MS backed down.

Pretty sure Apple is standing strong on this. Here’s a response I received from an Apple spokesperson:

“Apple believes that people have a right to privacy — Safari was the first browser to block third party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy.

Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.”

The Original iPhone Superimposed on the iPhone X, Pixel-for-Pixel 

David Barnard:

The entire home screen of the original iPhone (320 x 480 pixels) is about the size of 2 icons on the iPhone X home screen (1125 x 2436 pixels).

Linking to Barnard’s tweet, Joshua J. Arnold nails it:

This is what a decade’s worth of sustaining innovation looks like.

The Talk Show: ‘200: Episode CC’, With Special Guest Craig Federighi 

Very special guest Craig Federighi returns to the show to talk about Face ID, the perils of live demos, Apple’s approach to designing the iPhone X, privacy, security, and more. A great way to close out Apple’s big week and mark the 200th episode of the show.

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Still No Charity Money From Leftover Trump Inaugural Funds 

Jeff Horwitz and Julie Bykowicz, reporting for the AP:

President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised an unprecedented $107 million for a ceremony that officials promised would be “workmanlike,” and the committee pledged to give leftover funds to charity. Nearly eight months later, the group has helped pay for redecorating at the White House and the vice president’s residence in Washington.

But nothing has yet gone to charity.


Nikon Selects 32 Pro Photographers for Promotion: None Are Women 

Jason Vinson, writing for Fstoppers:

The only problem with such an amazing monster of a camera is that Nikon thinks it’s too much for women to handle.

I know what you are thinking. No way Nikon would ever make such a claim. It seems absurd that only men could handle the D850. I myself can think of a large number of women photographers that would be more than capable of producing spectacular images with any camera, let alone this camera. But when Nikon created a team of 32 professional photographers to be the faces of the Nikon D850, they didn’t choose a single woman photographer.

This is just astonishingly bad. It would be worth complaining about if there were only a handful of women in the group, but zero? How did that ever get approved?

Attention to Detail in the Steve Jobs Theater 

Nice catch by Brad Ellis: not only were the tables in the hands-on area concentric with the walls of the room, but the pads on the tables were too.

You Can Double-Tap to Obscure the Notch While Playing Video on iPhone X 

I’m not on board with Apple’s “embrace the notch” user interface, but I do find it commendable that they showed the notch everywhere during the keynote Tuesday. Compare and contrast with accusations that Apple was hiding the camera bumps on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in promotional photos back in 2014.

Apple truly did the opposite with the notch: they emphasized it, showing it even while playing full-screen video. There is very good news here: you can just double-tap video to toggle between filling the screen (which shows the notch on the left side, obscuring the left edge of the video) and preserving the video’s true aspect ratio (which hides the notch with black bars). And I think, but can’t confirm, that it will default to hiding the notch while playing video.

Update: Ben Bajarin did get an answer from Apple on this at the event, and I was correct: the default is for video not to zoom to fill every pixel, so you won’t see the notch in video playback unless you double-tap.

‘Craig Federighi’ Answers Face ID Questions on Conan O’Brien 

(a) I thought this was pretty funny; and (b) I’m kind of blown away that Federighi is famous enough to spoof.

The Eeyore Principle: Face ID Will Never Work 

The Macalope, responding to Ron Amadeo’s “I’m worried that FaceID is going to suck—and here’s why” piece for Ars Technica:

How do we know, know, know this?

This is not the first phone we’ve tried with a facial recognition feature, and they all have the same problem.

Even the iPhone X? […]

But, for now, we know Face ID will be crappy because all the other facial recognition technologies were crappy and it ain’t like Apple ever took something that was crappy for a long time an made it better like, oh, computing or digital music or tablet computing or smartphones or fingerprint recognition or a bunch of other things. It’s not like that’s literally what they do.

Exactly the same thing happened with Touch ID. There were a few Android phones with fingerprint scanners that were out before the iPhone 5S, and they sucked. So some folks made two bad assumptions: (1) that all fingerprint scanners would always suck; and (2) that Apple would be willing to put a shitty fingerprint scanner in iPhones.

Facebook Enabled Advertisers to Target ‘Jew Haters’ 


Last week, acting on a tip, we logged into Facebook’s automated ad system to see if “Jew hater” was really an ad category. We found it, but discovered that the category — with only 2,274 people in it — was too small for Facebook to allow us to buy an ad pegged only to Jew haters.

Facebook’s automated system suggested “Second Amendment” as an additional category that would boost our audience size to 119,000 people, presumably because its system had correlated gun enthusiasts with anti-Semites.

One: Facebook is a morally corrupt company. They’re just bad people.

Two: as David Simon noted, “I kind of love that ‘Jew hater’ aligns cleanly with the Second Amendment demographic. The algorithms don’t lie, do they.”

Facebook Is Heading Toward a Bruising Run-in With the Russian Election Interference Probe 

Josh Marshall:

Facebook is so accustomed to treating its ‘internal policies’ as though they were something like laws that they appear to have a sort of blind spot that prevents them from seeing how ridiculous their resistance sounds. To use the cliche, it feels like a real shark jumping moment. As someone recently observed, Facebook’s ‘internal policies’ are crafted to create the appearance of civic concerns for privacy, free speech, and other similar concerns. But they’re actually just a business model. Facebook’s ‘internal policies’ amount to a kind of Stepford Wives version of civic liberalism and speech and privacy rights, the outward form of the things preserved while the innards have been gutted and replaced by something entirely different, an aggressive and totalizing business model which in many ways turns these norms and values on their heads. More to the point, most people have the experience of Facebook’s ‘internal policies’ being meaningless in terms of protecting their speech or privacy or whatever as soon as they bump up against Facebook’s business model.

Steve Jobs Theater, Mid-Construction 

Great catch by Dr. Drang:

Google Earth is a little behind, but it captures the Steve Jobs Theatre at an interesting stage of construction.

The Lessons and Questions of the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 

Must-read piece by Ben Thompson:

To return to Lennon’s words, Jobs, particularly in his second stint at Apple, had learned how to be himself: less designer than editor-in-chief, Jobs not only drove those he worked with to create “with great deal of care”, he also set Apple on a path towards being its best self. That, famously, means the integration of hardware and software, but at least in the case of the iPhone, the pertinent integration goes down to the silicon.

To that end, the products Apple unveiled at the new Steve Jobs Theater could not have been more appropriate: a cellular watch significantly smaller than competitors with comparable battery life, a new iPhone 8 improved in virtually every dimension, and, of course, the iPhone X, with nearly every new feature dependent on that integration.

You Can’t Protect Yourself From the Equifax Breach 

Rich Mogull, writing for TidBITS:

As much as I hate to end on a sour note, the reality is that, until the system changes, until our financial lives are governed by something stronger than some short strings of plain text that never change, we have to keep our guard up and hope for the best. And hope is never part of security best practices.

Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular vs GPS-Only: What’s the Difference? 

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore:

The GPS + Cellular Series 3 has double the storage capacity: 16GB to the GPS-only’s 8GB. While we don’t have an official answer from Apple as to why, I’m guessing it has to do with the watch’s impending Apple Music streaming feature: Apple Music needs a certain amount of cached storage to stream, and if the company additionally plans to allow users to locally download playlists from the streaming catalog, the extra space is necessary.

One question I’ve been asked a lot is whether you have to activate the cellular option on a cellular-capable watch. The answer is no. It’s just like with iPads — you can buy a cellular model and choose not to activate it until you want to.

‘Can Anyone Catch the Cell Phone King?’ 

This Forbes cover from 10 years ago is a nice exception to Betteridge’s Law.

What Happened With Craig Federighi’s Face ID Demo 

David Pogue:

Tonight, I was able to contact Apple. After examining the logs of the demo iPhone X, they now know exactly what went down. Turns out my first theory in this story was wrong — but my first UPDATE theory above was correct: “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” says a rep, “and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.” In other words, “Face ID worked as it was designed to.”

It was probably the white glove folks who clean every demo unit to perfection after the final rehearsal. A set up mistake that resulted in a demo failure. Update: I’ve just confirmed this with an Apple engineer familiar with the situation. It’s not just spin from Apple PR.

What It Was Like to Attend Apple’s iPhone X Event 

Terrific photo essay from Dan Frommer at Recode. Really does capture the feel of the event.

Jackasses of the Week: Bodega 

I don’t write much about “Silicon Valley” as a culture, because I don’t live there and, frankly, I don’t care. But the fact that this startup is being taken seriously is absurd. It’s a company named Bodega, and Fast Company’s headline says it all: “Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas And Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Obsolete”.

First, all they’ve done is make a fancy vending machine. That’s great. Vending machines are a real thing, and maybe there’s a market for better ones. But better vending machines are still just vending machines.

Second, what kind of sociopaths are these people that they want to put mom-and-pop corner stores and bodegas out of business? Local family-owned stores are what make for great neighborhoods. They’re good people running good businesses that people love. Good startup ideas are things that replace products or services that people hate. Taxis suck, for example. That’s why ride sharing services are so popular and successful. Bodegas and corner stores are great.

Third, as Helen Rosner argues in this thread, they’ve got a crummy business model.

Fuck these guys.

The Face ID Logo 

Nice catch by Patrick Smith: the Face ID logo is a perfect homage to Susan Kare’s 1984 “Happy Mac”. There’s so much wonderful history in that face.

Apple Removes the App Store From iTunes 12.7 

Give them a few more years and maybe it’ll just be a music and movie player again.

New Apple Developer Video: Designing for iPhone X 

Long story short: embrace the notch.

Update: To be clear, I’m just summarizing Apple’s advice here. I’m not saying I think this is good. In landscape in particular, the notch looks downright goofy.

Disney Is the Lone Holdout From Apple’s Plan to Sell 4K Movies for $20 

Ben Fritz, reporting for Morningstar:

Apple Inc. has signed new deals to sell movies in ultra high-definition with every major Hollywood studio except the one with which it has long been closest: Walt Disney Co.

As someone with a significant collection of already-purchased movies from iTunes, I love that Apple arranged to get them “upgraded”. I don’t know what Disney’s problem is, though, but I hope they get on board.

So many people refuse to pay for movies. I’m not even talking about piracy here, but people who simply only watch what they can stream for “free” from Netflix or other streaming services. Why not reward the people who have paid for your movies? Re-buying previously purchased movies just because you’ve gotten a better TV makes you feel like a schmuck.

Verizon and AT&T Announce Cellular Apple Watch Pricing 

$10 a month, and Verizon is giving away the first three months free.

Claim Chowder: X Man 

Well, you can’t win them all.

Locking It All Down 

Rene Ritchie:

As hard as it is to believe someone inside Apple would leak the firmware, it just as hard to believe such a leak was possible. The firmware was live on the internet, protected only through obscured URL. That means, when the URLs were leaked, anyone could access the firmware. No VPN, login credentials, or other security checks required.

It’s absolutely the fault of the leaker but my guess is that the days of security through obscurity are done and Apple locks down the firmware delivery process ASAP.

I don’t want to get into a “blame the victim” scenario, but Ritchie makes a good point here. The wrongdoer is the person who leaked the URLs. But given how sensitive these GM builds of iOS 11 were, there’s no way they should have been publicly accessible. The richest company in the world — and a computer company at that — must do better than security by obscurity.

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Oral History 

I knew the basic story that Curb Your Enthusiasm started life as a brief mockumentary for a Larry David standup special, but reading this, it’s clear that the show is an amazing accident. I can’t wait for the new season to start.

On Facebook’s Role in Trump’s Win 

Margaret Sullivan, writing for The Washington Post:

We don’t know everything about Facebook’s role in the campaign. What we do know — or certainly ought to know by now — is to not take Facebook at its word. It always plays down its influence, trying for a benign image of connecting us all in a warm bath of baby pictures, tropical vacations and games of Candy Crush.

Stephen Hackett’s St. Jude Fundraiser 

Stephen Hackett:

A week ago, I announced that once again this year, I’d be taking the revenue from 512 Pixels and donating it to St. Jude, and would be encouraging you to donate to the hospital that has saved the lives of thousands and thousands of kids with cancer, including my son.

I’m humbled and blown away that in just a week, we’ve met our goal of $9,000.

It’s now over $10,000 as I type this. Let’s keep it going.

CNN’s Text-Only Site 

Add photographs and links to videos, and this should be CNN’s regular website. So fast, so simple. (Via SwiftOnSecurity.)

Are Top US ‘Startups’ Really Startups? 

Om Malik, on a list of top U.S. “startups” that includes Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, and Palantir:

So can we stop calling them startups — and instead maybe call them VC-backed private companies — otherwise the label startup loses its meaning.

Google Buying HTC? 


A report from a Taiwanese news outlet called Commercial Times says Google is in the final stages of acquiring all or part of smartphone maker HTC.

The news follows a separate story from late August that suggested Taiwan-based HTC was interested in some sort of sale.

HTC, once one of the more popular smartphone makers in the United States, has fallen off of most carrier store shelves after several consecutive unsuccessful smartphone launches. It recently launched a separate division that sells virtual reality headsets.

This isn’t shocking — Google is obviously interested in making its own hardware. But I wonder how they think this will go differently from their Motorola fiasco?

Faviconographer: Tab Favicons in Safari for Mac 

Daniel Alm (developer of the excellent time-tracking app Timing):

Faviconographer asks for a list of all visible tabs (and their positions) in the current window, and for the URLs of those tabs.

It then uses that information to fetch the corresponding icons from Safari’s Favicon cache (WebpageIcons.db), and draws them above the Safari window.

It’s a “hack” — the cleanest solution would be Apple implementing Favicons in Safari — but it works surprisingly well.

Note: Faviconographer does not “hack” your system. It does not inject code into other apps or manipulate system files. In fact, it doesn’t even require Administrator access!

Daniel sent me a beta of this a few weeks ago, and I was dubious, to say the least. But it really does work surprisingly well. It’s not as good as true per-tab favicon support in Safari would be, but it’s closer than you think. And, importantly, it really is a clean hack, insofar as it doesn’t inject code or anything like that. And it’s free. If you use Safari you should try it.

Jamf Now 

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Daring Fireball readers can create an account and manage three devices for free. Forever. Each additional device is just $2 per month. Create your free account today.

BBC Confirms iOS 11 GM URLs Were Leaked to 9to5Mac and MacRumors 

Leo Kelion, reporting for the BBC:

“As best I’ve been able to ascertain, these builds were available to download by anyone, but they were obscured by long, unguessable URLs [web addresses],” wrote John Gruber, a blogger known for his coverage of Apple.

“Someone within Apple leaked the list of URLs to 9to5Mac and MacRumors. I’m nearly certain this wasn’t a mistake, but rather a deliberate malicious act by a rogue Apple employee.”

Neither Mr Gruber nor the two Apple-related news sites have disclosed their sources.

However, the BBC has independently confirmed that an anonymous source provided the publications with links to iOS 11’s gold master (GM) code that downloaded the software from Apple’s own computer servers.

I wish I could say more about how I know what I know, but it’s good to see the BBC confirm this. The BBC doesn’t say definitively that the leak was sent by an Apple employee, but I can state with nearly 100 percent certainty that it was. I also think there’s a good chance Apple is going to figure out who it was.

Again: these URLs were not discovered by guessing the URLs, or because they were published at obvious URLs prematurely. Someone who works at Apple emailed these URLs to 9to5Mac and MacRumors — possibly without even knowing just how much information could be gleaned from these builds compared to the last developer beta builds. Update: Let me clarify that sentence: whoever leaked these URLs knew it would be an incredibly damaging leak, if for no other reason than that they included the IPSW image for iPhone D22. The list of URLs they leaked included every device. The least amount of heretofore unknown information that was going to come out of this leak was massive, and whoever leaked it knew that. What I’m saying is they quite possibly didn’t even know just how many little things, things I won’t mention here for the sake of DF readers who are trying to stay spoiler-free for Tuesday’s event, were spoiled by this leak.

That person should be ashamed of themselves, and should be very worried when their phone next rings.

The Talk Show: ‘Under Rumored’ 

Jim Dalrymple returns to the show for a preview of next week’s Apple event. We speculate on the naming of the new iPhones, facial recognition in lieu of Touch ID, third-generation Apple Watches, Apple TV, HomePod, and more. Recorded before last night’s massive leak of the iOS 11 GM, which renders some segments comically wrong — literally, the first thing out of my mouth was that there’s a lot we don’t know.

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iOS 11 GM Leaked, Reveals New iPhone Names, Wallpapers, Cellular Apple Watch Details, and More 

The story no one seems to be talking about is how these GM builds leaked, including the build for D22, which revealed all sorts of heretofore unknown details. As best I’ve been able to ascertain, these builds were available to download by anyone, but they were obscured by long, unguessable URLs. Someone within Apple leaked the list of URLs to 9to5Mac and MacRumors. I’m nearly certain this wasn’t a mistake, but rather a deliberate malicious act by a rogue Apple employee. Whoever did this is the least popular person in Cupertino. More surprises were spoiled by this leak than any leak in Apple history.

Equifax Breach Response Turns Dumpster Fire 

Brian Krebs:

I cannot recall a previous data breach in which the breached company’s public outreach and response has been so haphazard and ill-conceived as the one coming right now from big-three credit bureau Equifax, which rather clumsily announced Thursday that an intrusion jeopardized Social security numbers and other information on 143 million Americans.

Bloomberg moved a story yesterday indicating that three top executives at Equifax sold millions of dollars worth of stock during the time between when the company says it discovered the breach and when it notified the public and investors.

Shares of Equifax’s stock on the New York Stock Exchange were down more than 13 percent at time of publication versus yesterday’s price.

The executives reportedly told Bloomberg they didn’t know about the breach when they sold their shares. A law firm in New York has already announced it is investigating potential insider trading claims against Equifax.

Raise your hand if you believe they really weren’t aware of the breach.

Siri’s Voice Improvements in iOS 10 and 11 

This piece published last month in Apple’s Machine Learning Journal has a table at the bottom with audio clips comparing how the U.S. Siri voice sounded in iOS 9, 10, and 11. It truly is striking how much better she sounds now — and the improvements last year in iOS 10 were pretty good, too.

(Via Andrew Escobar.)

On Siri’s Voice 

David Pierce, writing for Wired:

When I ask Acero what he learned about why the voice worked so well, he laughs because the answer is so obvious. “It is natural!” he says. “It was not robotic!” This hardly counts as a revelation for Acero. Mostly, it confirmed that his team at Apple has spent the last few years on the right project: making Siri sound more human.

This fall, when iOS 11 hits millions of iPhones and iPads around the world, the new software will give Siri a new voice. It doesn’t include many new features or tell better jokes, but you’ll notice the difference. Siri now takes more pauses in sentences, elongates syllables right before a pause, and the speech lilts up and down as it speaks. The words sound more fluid and Siri speaks more languages, too. It’s nicer to listen to, and to talk to.

Siri’s voice does sound more natural in iOS 11, and this is most definitely a good thing. It’s the voice assistant equivalent to getting a better UI font or retina graphics for a visual UI. But: if given a choice between a Siri that sounds better but works the same, or a Siri that sounds the same but works better, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t choose the latter.

Such slow-moving has cost Apple its lead in many people’s eyes, as Amazon and Google hoover up developer support and race ahead in features. Joswiak at least projects patience. The question, he says, is not how many things Siri could do. “It’s ‘how do you do it right?’ Because what we didn’t want to do is become prescriptive.” He bristles at Amazon’s and Google’s demanding syntax, which require you to say things like, “Alexa, ask Daily Horoscopes about Taurus” or “OK Google, let me talk to Todoist.” He’d rather wait until you just say what you want, however you want, and have it happen. Apple, as always, prefers doing nothing to doing something halfway.

I get this, and agree with Apple’s sentiments here. I think the rigid, convoluted syntax required by Alexa is maddening. It’s like speaking a command line, not talking. But even so, Siri, as it stands today, is at best a halfway product. Again, I’m pro-Siri in the voice assistant debate, but even so I think it’s generous to describe it as “halfway”. The whole category is garbage, Siri included. And frankly, it just doesn’t feel like Apple has made as much progress in six years as they should have.

Something went wrong in Siri’s development, and it wasn’t the voice quality.

WSJ: No Touch ID in D22 

The Wall Street Journal, under the byline “Yoko Kubota in Tokyo, Tripp Mickle in San Francisco, and Takashi Mochizuki in Tokyo”:

The production delays earlier this summer stemmed in part from Apple’s decision to build new phones using organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, screens similar to those used by rival Samsung Electronics Co. At the same time, Apple decided to ditch the physical home button that contains fingerprint sensors for unlocking the device. Apple tried to embed the Touch ID function, or fingerprint scanner, in the new display, which proved difficult, the people familiar with the process said.

As deadlines approached, Apple eventually abandoned the fingerprint scanner, the people said, and users will unlock the phone using either an old-fashioned password or what is expected to be a new facial-recognition feature. Nonetheless, precious time was lost and production was put back by about a month, according to people familiar with the situation.

By this account, it sounds like Apple is rushing D22 to market, before it’s actually good enough to ship. But it really depends who the Journal’s sources are. With two of the bylined reporters in Tokyo, it seems very possible the sources are in the supply chain, not at Apple.

It all comes down to how good the facial recognition is. If it’s as fast, reliable, trustworthy, and convenient as Touch ID, then omitting Touch ID is a legitimate design choice. Forward progress on biometrics. If it’s worse than Touch ID in any meaningful way, it’s an inexcusable mistake.

Researchers Hack Voice Assistants Using Inaudible Frequencies 

Mark Wilson, writing for Fast Company:

Using a technique called the DolphinAttack, a team from Zhejiang University translated typical vocal commands into ultrasonic frequencies that are too high for the human ear to hear, but perfectly decipherable by the microphones and software powering our always-on voice assistants. This relatively simple translation process lets them take control of gadgets with just a few words uttered in frequencies none of us can hear. […]

An intruder who wanted to “open the backdoor” would already need to be inside your home, close to your Echo. But hacking an iPhone seems like no problem at all. A hacker would nearly need to walk by you in a crowd. They’d have their phone out, playing a command in frequencies you wouldn’t hear, and you’d have your own phone dangling in your hand. So maybe you wouldn’t see as Safari or Chrome loaded a site, the site ran code to install malware, and the contents and communications of your phone were open season for them to explore.

It’s a clever hack, and something Apple, Amazon, Google, et al ought to address. But if you have a passcode on your iPhone (and you should), Siri won’t open websites while locked. It will place phone calls, though.

‘If That Worn Out Baseball Glove Tightly Gripping a Turd Can Be President, Then Amigos, Anyone Can.’ 

Vicente Fox has Donald Trump’s number. More like this, please.

Glow, the Smart Energy Tracker for Your Home 

From their Kickstarter campaign page:

Years of research and hundreds of studies have been done on how people use energy. One thing everyone agrees on? Simple, real-time feedback helps reduce energy waste and can save 10% - 20% or more on energy bills.

So, we set out to design a beautiful and effective home energy tracker to do just that. Meet Glow, the smart energy tracker that lets you see your energy use.

Beautifully simple design, and perhaps more importantly, a super-simple installation process. I know Ben Lachman, Glow’s founder, and he’s been hard at work on Glow for years now. (Ben’s Nice Mohawk is the company behind Ita, the list-making app I’ve touted many times over the years.)

They’ve got a week to go in their campaign and are just $11,000 short of their goal as I write this. It’s a great idea that I hope to see funded.

Gene ‘Stick’ Michael, Architect of the ’90s Yankees Dynasty, Dies at 79 

Joel Sherman, writing for The New York Post:

In what was to be his last act as principal owner, in late August of that season, Steinbrenner named Gene Michael general manager.

It only changed Yankees history — and baseball history — forever.

Michael died of a heart attack Thursday at age 79. His final career average as a player was .229, but he was a giant of the game, the guy who put the cornerstones in place for the last Yankees dynasty. […]

Michael was always firm that the most important organization to scout was your own, and he made scads of trades to improve those early 1990 Yankees, but he never touched Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte or Jorge Posada, even at times when Steinbrenner — who returned in 1993 — would scream to do so. The Boss had a particular early fascination with wanting to get rid of Williams, and Stick would resort to lying that he had called other clubs and no one wanted Williams as a way to protect him.

He put together the best team I’ve ever seen, and everyone who knew him seems to have loved him.

A List Apart, Reimagined 

Jeffrey Zeldman:

As A List Apart approaches its 20th anniversary — a milestone in independent, web-based publishing — we’re once again reimagining the magazine. We want your feedback. And most of all, we want you.

We’re getting rid of advertisers and digging back to our roots: community-based, community-built, and determinedly non-commercial. If you want to highlight local events or innovations, expand your skills, give back, or explore any other goal or idea, we’re here to support you with networking and backing from the community.

I have linked to articles at A List Apart many times over the years. It’s hard to imagine an indie web without them. Going with direct reader support in lieu of advertising is a bold move, and an indictment of the current state of web advertising. Their Patreon campaign is here — I’m in.

LG’s OLED Displays Still Have Quality Issues 

Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica a few days ago:

Two years later and things don’t seem to be any better. The OLED panel on my pre-production unit still has the same issues as the LG G Flex. In low brightness in a dark room, the screen is grainy and has “dirty” looking horizontal banding all over it. The light level is also woefully uneven, with hotspots blazing out of the left and right corners.

Above, I’ve pitted the LG V30 against the Galaxy S8 in an attempt to capture the issues on camera.

The difference isn’t subtle. It’s night and day. The Samsung display looks uniformly gray. The LG display looks like shit.

NYT: ‘Fake Russian Facebook Accounts Bought $100,000 in Political Ads’ 

Vindu Goel and Scott Shane, reporting for The New York Times:

Hundreds of fake Facebook accounts and pages apparently operated out of Russia bought $100,000 in political ads on Facebook during the presidential campaign last year, the company disclosed on Wednesday.

The revelations about ads on the social network can only add to the continuing political skirmishing in Washington over Russia’s role in the election. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and the Senate and House intelligence committees are all investigating the matter, including the possibility that someone with ties to President Trump’s campaign worked with Russia.

Facebook officials said the fake accounts and pages had been connected to a shadowy Russian company called the Internet Research Agency, which is known for using “troll” accounts to post on social media and comment on news websites.

$100,000 (for about 3,000 total ads) is chump change for Facebook. In fact, chump change is probably too strong a word. Facebook reported $9.3 billion in revenue last quarter. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, and about 91 days per fiscal quarter. That means Facebook generates about $1,200 in revenue every second of every day.

$100,000 is literally almost nothing to Facebook — a little over one minute’s worth of revenue in a three-month quarter. I’m not saying this shouldn’t be reported. And I’m definitely not saying that I think Facebook is being completely up front and honest about just how much money they made from Russian disinformation trolls during the election last year. I’m just saying that what they’ve reported today is almost nothing.

Samsung’s OLED Display Monopoly 

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

In a new research note shared with investors this morning, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says OLED iPhone panel supply is “controlled wholly by Samsung,” with Samsung likely charging Apple $120 to $130 per OLED panel module, which is approximately $75 more than the 5.5-inch LCD module price of $45 to $55 for “Plus” sized iPhones.

It really is quite fascinating that Apple is reliant upon Samsung — their arch-rival in the phone business — for anything at all, let alone for the most essential and expensive components in iPhones. With chip manufacturing, Apple moved from reliance upon Samsung for chips like the A7 to a mixture of Samsung and TSMC for future chips.

As Kuo’s report notes, Apple is moving aggressively to help LG become an OLED supplier for iPhones in 2018 and later. But this year, it sounds like D22’s OLED displays are solely supplied by Samsung. That cannot sit well with Apple. First, it’s never a good position to be reliant on just one company. Second, it’s even worse when that company is your biggest rival in the consumer phone market. And third, there’s a history of bad blood between the two companies. Apple just doesn’t like Samsung.

How the Red Sox Used Tech, Step by Step, to Steal Signs From the Yankees 

The New York Times has a good illustration explaining how the scheme worked. It’s not about stealing every signal or signaling every pitch to every batter. It was about (1) decoding the Yankees’ signs; (2) relaying the decoded signs to the dugout via messages sent to trainers wearing Apple Watches; and (3) telling the players what the signs are, so that they could decode them while they were on second base.

The Apple Watch only factored into step 2, but that matters because electronic communication devices are strictly prohibited from the dugout. It’s not so much that the Red Sox gained a significant advantage through this scheme, but that they so knowingly and blatantly violated a very simple hard-and-fast rule.

It’s like getting caught using a calculator on a no-calculator math test. It doesn’t matter if you only used it on a small fraction of the questions — it’s a clear violation of the rules.

Apple Developer Site Down, Perhaps Due to Accounts Being Hacked by Russians 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple’s Developer site has been down for a couple of hours now, and while it originally seemed like the outage was related to maintenance, a few reports trickling in from developers suggests there could potentially be another cause.

Several developers are reporting that all of their developer account addresses have been updated with an address in Russia, perhaps indicating some kind of breach or serious internal error. According to multiple developer reports, their accounts list a Russian address instead of their correct address.

John Lanchester on Facebook: ‘The Company’s Ambition, Its Ruthlessness, and Its Lack of a Moral Compass Scare Me’ 

John Lanchester’s lengthy essay on Facebook for the London Review of Books is well worth your time. Highly engaging:

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does — ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ — and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

The Schiller Coastal Studies Center at Bowdoin College 

Speaking of Phil Schiller:

Bowdoin has received a major gift from Philip Schiller and Kim Gassett-Schiller of Half Moon Bay, California, that will allow the College to substantially expand opportunities for students studying oceans and the environment at its Coastal Studies Center.

Through the support of a $10-million gift from the Schillers, Bowdoin will be able to construct a state-of-the-art dry laboratory connected to the Center’s existing marine laboratory and a convening center. The convening center will include modernized classrooms, housing, and dining facilities for students, faculty, and visiting scholars. It will also serve as a facility for retreats, dialogue, and collaboration among local and national leaders working to address critical issues of coastal and climate concern.

A great cause, and, I suspect, a fast-growing area of interest for students.

Apple, Amazon Join Race for James Bond Film Rights 

Tatiana Siegel and Borys Kit, reporting for The Hollywood Reporter:

The James Bond sweepstakes has taken an unexpected turn. While Warner Bros. remains in the lead to land film distribution rights to the megafranchise — whose deal with Sony expired after 2015’s Spectre — a couple of unlikely suitors have emerged that also are in hot pursuit: Apple and Amazon.

The tech giants are willing to spend in the same ballpark as Warners, if not much more, for the rights, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. MGM has been looking for a deal for more than two years, and Sony, Universal and Fox also had been pursuing the property, with Warners and Sony the most aggressive.

But the emergence of Apple — which is considered such a viable competitor that Warners is now pressing MGM hard to close a deal — and Amazon shows that the digital giants consider Bond one of the last untapped brands (like a Marvel, Pixar or Lucasfilm) that could act as a game-changer in the content space. Apple’s and Amazon’s inclusion in the chase would indicate that more is on the table than film rights, including the future of the franchise if MGM will sell or license out for the right price.

I’ve been saying for years that they should do a spin-off movie starring Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. Also ripe for spin-offs: the exploits of the other agents in the 00 sector. With Bond, you know he’s going to win in the end. Make some movies or a serious HBO-style limited series about the other agents in the 00 sector and you’d never know who was going to die when. There is a ton of untapped potential in this franchise.

If Apple does win the bidding for these rights, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of Bond using some shitty Sony phone. And, for what it’s worth, Phil Schiller is a huge Bond fan.

Brian X. Chen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 

Brian X. Chen, reviewing the new flagship phone from Samsung for The New York Times:

That brings us to what stinks about the Note 8. Some of the biometrics, including the ability to unlock your phone by scanning your face or irises, are so poorly executed that they feel like marketing gimmicks as opposed to actual security features.

The iris scanner shines infrared light in your eyes to identify you and unlock the phone. That sounds futuristic, but when you set up the feature, it is laden with disclaimers from Samsung. The caveats include: Iris scanning might not work well if you are wearing glasses or contact lenses; it might not work in direct sunlight; it might not work if there is dirt on the sensor.

I don’t wear glasses or contact lenses and could only get the iris scanner to scan my eyes properly one out of five times I tried it.

Shipping features like this is what separates Apple from Samsung.

Pixelmator Pro 

Coming this fall:

The modern, dark single-window interface of Pixelmator Pro has been created exclusively for working with images. Its streamlined, macOS-inspired design provides a completely native Mac app experience and is fully consistent with the look and feel of macOS. And a reimagined, user-centered workflow design makes the professional editing tools in Pixelmator Pro incredibly accessible, even to first-time users.

Pixelmator Pro pushes the boundaries of image editing, using breakthrough machine learning to deliver more intelligent editing tools and features. Integrated via the new, blazing fast Core ML framework, machine learning lets Pixelmator Pro detect and understand various features within images, bringing a number of groundbreaking advancements, such as jaw-droppingly accurate automatic layer naming, automatic horizon detection, stunningly realistic object removal, and intelligent quick selections.

Looks beautiful, and such a great example of an app taking advantage of the APIs in MacOS. Moving from a bunch of floating palettes to a single-window interface feels like the modern way to go.

Behind the Scenes at Apple’s Fitness Lab 

Ben Court, in a feature story for Men’s Health:

Located on a side street in Cupertino — a few miles from Apple’s shiny new headquarters — the single-story building these Apple workers are entering looks like any anonymous suburban office block. Inside, once I clear security and get buzzed past a solid white door, I enter an invite-only secret exercise lab. On a recent morning, about 40 employees are sweating away on different contraptions — rowers, treadmills, cable machines — as 13 exercise physiologists and 29 nurses and medics monitor data. Many of the exercisers are hooked up to a metabolic cart and ECG and are wearing a $40,000 mask apparatus that analyzes their calorie burn, oxygen consumption, and VO2 max. Down one hall there’s a studio for group fitness; behind another white door an endless pool; and over there, three chambers where temperatures can be set to mimic Arctic conditions (subfreezing) to Saharan heat (100°F-plus). At Apple every room has a name, and these climate-controlled chambers are called Higher, Faster, and Stronger.

The labels are appropriate, because the company that transformed the way you enjoy music and video is now sinking its teeth into a meatier challenge: new ways you can optimize your health. “Our lab has collected more data on activity and exercise than any other human performance study in history,” says Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies, in a rare interview. “Over the past five years, we’ve logged 33,000 sessions with over 66,000 hours of data, involving more than 10,000 unique participants.” A typical clinical trial enrolls fewer than a hundred participants.

Donning my Apple Kremlinologist hat, I take this story as a strong sign that we’ll see new Apple Watch hardware at next week’s event. Otherwise, why do it now?

The Red Sox Used Electronic Devices, Including Apple Watch, to Steal Signs Against Yankees 

Michael S. Schmidt, reporting for The New York Times:

Investigators for Major League Baseball have determined that the Boston Red Sox, who are in first place in the American League East and likely headed to the playoffs, executed a scheme to illicitly steal hand signals from opponents’ catchers in games against the second-place Yankees and other teams, according to several people briefed on the matter. […]

The Yankees, who had long been suspicious of the Red Sox stealing catchers’ signs in Fenway Park, contended the video showed a member of the Red Sox training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout and then relaying a message to players, who may have then been able to use the information to know the type of pitch that was going to be thrown, according to the people familiar with the case.

Baseball investigators corroborated the Yankees’ claims based on video the commissioner’s office uses for instant replay and broadcasts, the people said. The commissioner’s office then confronted the Red Sox, who admitted that their trainers had received signals from video replay personnel and then relayed that information to some players — an operation that had been in place for at least several weeks.

What is it with these New England teams and their need to cheat?

Also: has there ever been a more Daring Fireball-worthy story than this?

The Very Bad Economics of Killing DACA 

Paul Krugman:

So this is a double blow to the U.S. economy; it will make everyone worse off. There is no upside whatever to this cruelty, unless you just want to have fewer people with brown skin and Hispanic surnames around. Which is, of course, what this is really all about.

Tech Industry Calls for Legislative Action After Trump Administration Announces End to ‘Dreamer’ Immigration Program 

Nat Levy has a good roundup of tech industry leaders’ responses to the Trump administration’s announcement today that it will end the DACA program in six months. The CEOs from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, and more are all in unison on this.

Cortana and Alexa, Sitting in a Tree 

Nick Wingfield, reporting for The New York Times:

For the past year, the two companies have been coordinating behind the scenes to make Alexa and Cortana communicate with each other. The partnership, which the companies plan to announce early Wednesday, will allow people to summon Cortana using Alexa, and vice versa, by the end of the year. […]

Initially, getting the two systems to work together is going to be a little awkward. Someone working with an Alexa device will have to say “Alexa, Open Cortana” followed by their command, while someone starting with a Cortana machine will have to say “Cortana, Open Alexa.”

It’s certainly interesting that Microsoft and Amazon are collaborating on this, but telling one of them to “open” the other is really awkward. You, the user, shouldn’t have to memorize which tasks go with which assistant.

A.I. assistants remain in their infancy. This feels like getting two babies to talk to each other, when what we really need is to nurture them so that they can mature as fast as possible.

Gray Langur Tours: Adventure Into Hidden and Mysterious Bhutan 

My thanks to Gray Langur Tours for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. I’ve never had a sponsor quite like this, and I love it. Bhutan is the world’s first carbon negative country, the only place where Gross National Happiness is more meaningful than Gross National Product, and tourism is strictly “high value, low impact” by design.

On October 19, Gray Langur will embark on their Kingdom of the Clouds Tour, a special two-week adventure into the world’s most different-thinking country — one that is, uniquely, as innovative as it is timeless. Those on the tour will explore both iconic and remote regions of the country, and have the opportunity to participate in Bhutanese ritual and culture that most travelers will never get to experience.

This special tour is a one-time event, and as such, availability is extremely limited. Daring Fireball readers interested in adventuring to the fiercely independent Land of the Thunder Dragon can use the code DARINGFIREBALL for a 20 percent discount. Register by September 19 to reserve your spot.

An exotic location — the last surviving great Himalayan kingdom — with truly expert guides. Check out their website and see just how amazing Bhutan is. Gray Langur was founded by Gabriel Cubbage, who until recently was the CEO of AdBlock and whom I’ve known personally for over 10 years. He’s a great guy. I would love to hear from DF readers who take this tour.

On The New York Times’s Claim That Trump’s iPhone Doesn’t Have a Web Browser 

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, reporting for The New York Times:

Mr. Kelly cannot stop Mr. Trump from binge-watching Fox News, which aides describe as the president’s primary source of information gathering. But Mr. Trump does not have a web browser on his phone, and does not use a laptop, so he was dependent on aides like Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, to hand-deliver printouts of articles from conservative media outlets.

Now Mr. Kelly has thinned out his package of printouts so much that Mr. Trump plaintively asked a friend recently where The Daily Caller and Breitbart were.

We know that Trump switched from an old Samsung Android phone to an iPhone after taking office, and we can tell from the metadata on his tweets that he’s using the Twitter for iPhone app. That’s led some DF readers to question whether this is even possible, given that you can’t remove Safari by the normal procedure (tapping and holding on the app icon), and the Twitter app has a built-in web browser.

But it is possible. You can remove Safari from the home screen using the Restrictions feature (Settings → General → Restrictions). That still leaves the built-in browser in Twitter, but you can restrict it from reaching any actual websites in the “Allowed Content: Websites” section of the same Restrictions feature. Disable Safari, turn off access to any websites, and you’ve got an iPhone that effectively “doesn’t have a web browser”. And Trump can be locked out of changing these settings by the Restrictions PIN code, which is wholly separate from the device’s main lock screen code. Or, more likely, these restrictions are managed by White House or Secret Service administrators via MDM.

‘No Madness Like American Madness: Scenes From a Debacle in Phoenix’ 

Dave Eggers, reporting for Medium from the streets of Phoenix during Trump’s “rally” last week:

That was a strange thing. There were a hundred or so protesters standing on the high steps, and at any given time a few dozen Trump attendees passing them on the sidewalk, but for much of the time they were in close proximity, and no one said anything.

Something was happening there, in that close confrontation between the two groups. There was recognition. There was the uncomfortable knowledge that they were in many ways very similar people. The rally attendees were not frothing at the mouth and were not spouting racial epithets. They were moms, dads, teenagers, and families who for whatever reason have an exceedingly high tolerance for wretched behavior and the absence of moral leadership from their chief executive.

Thus the protesters were flummoxed. It seemed cruel and strange to yell “Nazi” to a pair of grandparents in yellow polo shirts, or at a trio of Eagle Scouts, and so given the chance to say something directly to Trump supporters passing by them, mere inches away, much of the time they said nothing.

Siri Leadership Moved From Eddy Cue to Craig Federighi 

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

Apple has updated its executive leadership page to acknowledge that software engineering chief Craig Federighi now officially oversees development of Siri. The responsibility previously belonged to Apple’s services chief Eddy Cue. […]

Apple’s leadership page is only now reflecting Federighi’s role as head of Siri, but the transition has been apparent for several months, based on recent interviews and stage appearances at Apple’s keynotes.

Really does seem like a better fit for Federighi’s division than Cue’s.

Kashmir Hill: ‘Yes, Google Uses Its Power to Quash Ideas It Doesn’t Like’ 

Kashmir Hill, writing for Gizmodo:

The Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus’s “+1” social buttons to articles on the site, alongside the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button. They said it was important to do because the Plus recommendations would be a factor in search results — a crucial source of traffic to publishers.

This sounded like a news story to me. Google’s dominance in search and news give it tremendous power over publishers. By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network.

I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn’t put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes. […]

With that, I published a story headlined, “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers,” that included bits of conversation from the meeting. […]

It escalated quickly from there. I was told by my higher-ups at Forbes that Google representatives called them saying that the article was problematic and had to come down. The implication was that it might have consequences for Forbes, a troubling possibility given how much traffic came through Google searches and Google News.

Shameful that Forbes caved on this, but such is Google’s influence over websites that depend on inbound search traffic.

Update: Be sure to read through to the Hill’s update at the end of the story. There’s some dispute over her allegation that after Forbes took down her article, that Google immediately removed it from their search results and cache. I’m more interested in the simple fact that Google used promises of better search results as a carrot to encourage news sites to include Google Plus buttons on their articles, and that when Hill reported on this, Forbes took the story down in response to complaints from Google.