Linked List: December 2018

The Talk Show: ‘Proprioceptive Lie’ 

For your holiday party listening enjoyment, Rene Ritchie returns to the show for a year-in-review look back at Apple’s 2018: the Mac, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, Siri and services, and more.

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Anker PowerCore II 6700 Portable Battery Pack 

I’ve long been obsessed by portable battery packs — I’ve bought way more of them than I need over the years, because I’m always looking for one that’s just right. Someone on Twitter just asked what my current favorite is, and I thought it’d be worth sharing: it’s Anker’s PowerCore II 6700 — $24 at Amazon.

I’m only interested in battery packs that are comfortably pocketable. This one is the best balance I’ve found between size/weight, battery capacity, and charging speed (both input and output are at 10W — a lot of smaller battery packs only do 5W). Really good build quality and the round edges make it feel much better in a jeans pocket. Pair it with a short Lightning cable and you’re set.

Biggest downside is that like almost all battery packs, it charges via Micro USB. I get around that by keeping only 3-in-1 (Micro USB/USB-C/Lightning) charging cables in my computer bag.

SketchParty TV 

My thanks to SketchParty TV for sponsoring last week on DF. SketchParty TV is a fun, fast, drawing-and-guessing game for Apple TV.

Using the native tvOS app — or AirPlay Mirroring — turn your HDTV into a Wi-Fi drawing canvas and high-tech party game. Think Pictionary but without anything to clean up. We’ve been playing with family over the holiday break, and it’s a lot of fun and super easy to get going.

All you need is an Apple TV plus an iPad or iPhone — and it works great with Apple Pencil. Features include:

  • Thousands of words to draw, localized in 7 languages.
  • Several kid-friendly word lists.
  • Built-in custom word list editor.

And I think this is worth pointing out: there are no in-app purchases. You pay $4.99 once and the whole game is yours. Well worth it. We’ve had a lot of fun with it already, and it’s a great idea if you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, especially a family party with kids and adults.

Shocker: Facebook’s ‘Clear History’ Privacy Feature Is Vaporware 

Kurt Wagner, writing for Recode:

Back in May, at the height of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, the company made a timely announcement: Facebook users would soon be able to clear the browsing history connected to their Facebook profile, meaning that the company would no longer link users to the apps and websites they visited off of the social network.

The product, called “Clear History,” got a lot of attention. Not only is browsing data important — Facebook uses it to target people with advertising — but CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Clear History himself during Facebook’s annual developer conference. Clear History was an olive branch meant to show everyone how serious Facebook is about privacy. […]

As it turns out, clearing your browser history was harder to implement than Facebook expected. It’s been more than seven months since Zuckerberg’s announcement and Facebook hasn’t mentioned Clear History since.

I don’t think it was hard, per se, but that the entire announcement was bullshit intended to distract people from the biggest privacy scandal in company history — and Facebook is a company riddled with privacy scandals.

This is what my idea of regulation would entail: every user of every social network should be able to see (and easily find) the entirety of what the network knows about them, and delete any and all of it whenever they want.

NYT: ‘Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech’ 

Max Fisher, reporting for The New York Times:

Every other Tuesday morning, several dozen Facebook employees gather over breakfast to come up with the rules, hashing out what the site’s two billion users should be allowed to say. The guidelines that emerge from these meetings are sent out to 7,500-plus moderators around the world. (After publication of this article, Facebook said it had increased that number to around 15,000.)

The closely held rules are extensive, and they make the company a far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself, The New York Times has found.

The Times was provided with more than 1,400 pages from the rulebooks by an employee who said he feared that the company was exercising too much power, with too little oversight — and making too many mistakes.

An examination of the files revealed numerous gaps, biases and outright errors. As Facebook employees grope for the right answers, they have allowed extremist language to flourish in some countries while censoring mainstream speech in others.

Are there Facebook apologists remaining? It’s very clear that Facebook’s top priority was and remains growth at all costs. The side effects of what they’ve enabled — allowing formerly fringe hate groups to gather, organize, and fuel each others’ hatred, forming effective like-minded communities — should have been obvious all along. No one forced them to scale their platform worldwide faster than they could police it. They chose to do so for profit. It’s clear they have almost no control over it.

Facebook is, in my opinion, the most dangerous company in the world, and ought to be broken up and then severely regulated. Again I say, Facebook is to privacy and civil discourse what Enron was to accounting.

The Essential Phone Is No Longer Available 

I’d love to see them come out with a sequel, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. In a world where Google makes pretty good Pixel phones, I don’t see where Essential has a market.

Trip ‘Claim’ Chowdhry Strikes Again 

Philip Elmer-DeWitt:

My take: I usually ignore Trip Chowdhry’s hyperbolic missives, but this one—with its Street-low Apple price target—could cause some trouble. Are there still investors, I wonder, who take him seriously?

See also: How wrong-headed can one Apple analyst be? (From Fortune.com, July 8, 2013).

Chowdhry is proof that financial TV networks and publications will quote any analyst who seems serious, no matter how vapid their analysis is or how preposterously wrong their prior reports have been. Chowdhry has been banging the “Apple is doomed and can’t innovate without Steve Jobs” drum since before Jobs was even gone. He’s a veritable gold mine of claim chowder.

Fortnite Now Runs at 60 FPS on A12 iPhones 

Richard Leadbetter, writing for Eurogamer:

When Fortnite first appeared on iPhone, we were quick to laud a genuine technological achievement — a visually cut-down version of the full game that was still recognisably Fortnite, that played the same way, that run the same code and allowed users to buddy up with their friends running on console and PC. Recently, Epic took the mobile version of Fortnite to the next level; the latest iOS devices run the game smoothly at 60 frames per second, just like their console equivalents — and the story of how that became possible is absolutely fascinating.

The truth is that aside from minor modifications to unlock the frame-rate and add the option to the game’s menu system, no substantial code revamp was required at all. Fortnite on the latest iPhones runs at 60 frames per second simply by virtue of the new Apple A12 Bionic silicon - or rather its increased power and crucially, its superior thermal performance.

An interesting real-world measure of how far ahead of the rest of the industry Apple’s chip team is. How long will it be before Fortnite runs at 60 FPS on high-end Android phones?

Amazon Crows About Record-Breaking Holiday Season With Nothing but Bezos Numbers 

“Millions”, “more than” “nearly 3x”, “record holiday season” — not a real number in the bunch. I don’t doubt that Amazon had their best holiday retail year ever — I certainly contributed my share of purchases. But I can’t help but roll my eyes at their “numbers”. If you want to keep your data private, fine, but then you can’t brag about it.

(And it’s a bit sad to know Apple is heading in Amazon’s direction, with their decision to no longer report unit sale numbers.)

Greg Kumparak: ‘Two Years Later, I Still Miss the Headphone Port’ 

Greg Kumparak, writing for TechCrunch:

None of these are that big of a deal. Charge your damned headphones, Greg. Stop losing your dongles. The thing is: they took a thing that just worked and just made me happy and replaced it with something that, quite often, just bugs the hell out of me. If a friend sent me a YouTube link and I wanted to watch it without bugging everyone around me, I could just use whatever crappy, worn out headphones I happened to have sitting in my bag. Now it’s a process with a bunch of potential points of failure.

“But now its water-resistant!” Water-resistant phones existed before all of this, plenty of which had/have headphone ports. As a recent example, see Samsung’s Galaxy S9 with its IP68 rating (matching that of the iPhone XS).

“But it can be slimmer!” No one was asking for that.

Regular readers know that I’m fully on Team AirPods — I honestly don’t miss the headphone jack on my iPhone or iPad Pro at all. But I sympathize with those who miss it. You certainly can’t argue with the simplicity angle.

But on the thinness front — there really are engineering issues related to the space the headphone jack takes up. I’m not going to say Apple “couldn’t” make an edge-to-edge iPad Pro or iPhone XS or XR with a headphone jack, because I don’t know that for a fact. But look at the XR’s off-center Lightning port. If they couldn’t center the Lightning port, I think there’s a good chance they literally could not fit a headphone jack there. When I asked Apple about the lack of a headphone jack on the new iPad Pros, their answer was simple: “Space.”

The Talk Show: ‘Fort Jason Sudeikis’ 

Special guest Jason Snell returns to the show. Topics include BBEdit’s 25th anniversary, the saga of Word 6 for Mac in the 1990s, Mac iOS user interface differences (including an extensive discussion of Mojave’s craptacular “Marzipan” apps, and a few varying theories on what those apps portend), Photos on Mac and iOS, and, of course, keyboards.

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Donald Knuth: The Yoda of Silicon Valley 

Terrific profile of Knuth by Siobhan Roberts for The New York Times.

A College Student Was Told to Remove a ‘Fuck Nazis’ Sign Because It Wasn’t ‘Inclusive’ 

Leticia Miranda, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Nicole Parsons said she was fed up with her university’s silence over a string of hate crimes on campus when she put up a sign in her dorm window that read “FUCK NAZIS YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE.” […]

But a week after posting the sign in her dorm window, she received an email from a resident director asking her to remove the sign over “issues of inclusion.” […]

“While Residence Education cannot force you or your roommate to take the sign down, I am asking that you or your roommate take the sign down so that all students can be a part of an inclusive residential experience, as well as having a respectful environment to be a part of here on our campus,” Eddie Papazoni, a resident director at UMass Amherst, told Parsons in the email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

“I was in absolute shock,” said Parsons. “This email tells me the university cares more about the feelings of Nazis than the safety of their students.”

Essential reading in today’s world: Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance. In the mid-20th century there wasn’t any debate in the West over whether we should tolerate the intolerant, because they had to fight the Nazis in a bloody war. We don’t want to learn this lesson that way again.

When someone draws a goddamn swastika on a “Happy Hanukkah” sign, “Fuck Nazis” is the appropriate response.

Agenda 

My thanks to Agenda for sponsoring this week at DF. Note-taking apps are near and dear to my heart. It’s hard thing to do well, and a really hard thing to do originally. Agenda does it both really well and in an original way. Agenda is date-focused, which is different than anything I’ve seen before. If you’ve never had a notes app click for you, Agenda might. By linking dates — and, if you want, calendar events — to notes, Agenda has a sense of past, present, and future.

They started with a great Mac app — so good that it was the only Mac app of any kind to win an Apple Design Award in 2018. They then added an iOS app, which syncs seemlessly with the Mac app using CloudKit. Markdown formatting, checklists, true native apps, great UI style, an active user community — yes to all the above.

And, now, Agenda has just added support for images and file attachments — their most-requested feature. Agenda is great for everything from meeting notes to travel journals. It’s free to download and use forever, on both Mac and iOS, with premium features available via a truly unique in-app purchase system, not a subscription.

Check it out. They even have an absolutely perfect icon. Agenda is truly a great app.

Mark Rober’s Glitter Bomb Package Video Was at Least Partly Staged 

Brianna Sacks, writing for BuzzFeed News:

On Wednesday, a man named Peter Logan emailed BuzzFeed News to share some strange things he noticed using Google’s Street View feature and Zillow. He realized that when the third thief, who opened the glitter-fart bomb inside her home, went outside to throw it out, her side yard and outdoor space seemed to be right next door to Cici’s house.

After watching the video several times much more closely, he realized that the second package thief’s car, a black Ford Focus, was also parked outside Cici’s house in several other shots. Zooming in, Logan was able to read the address on the third thief’s house, google it, and confirm that it was indeed Cici’s neighbor, leading him, he wrote, to “come to the opinion that the whole video was a put-on, that the package thieves were in on the gag.” […]

Rober has since edited the video to remove at least two of the “victims” and issued a statement.

A Bad Lip Reading of an Apple Product Launch 

One of these products was a real thing.

Siri Gains in Loup Ventures’s Annual Smart Speaker IQ Test 

Related to John Giannandrea’s leadership of Apple’s AI and ML teams:

We recently tested four smart speakers by asking Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana 800 questions each. Google Assistant was able to answer 88% of them correctly vs. Siri at 75%, Alexa at 73%, and Cortana at 63%. Last year, Google Assistant was able to answer 81% correctly vs. Siri (Feb-18) at 52%, Alexa at 64%, and Cortana at 56%. […]

Over a 12-month period, Google Home improved by 7 percentage points, Echo by 9 points, Siri (9-month) by 22 points, and Cortana by 7 points in terms of questions answered correctly.

And:

It’s also important to note that HomePod’s underperformance in many areas is due to the fact that Siri’s ability is limited on HomePod as compared to your iPhone. Many Information and Commerce questions are met with, “I can’t get the answer to that on HomePod.” This is partially due to Apple’s apparent positioning of HomePod not as a “smart speaker,” but as a home speaker you can interact with using your voice with Siri onboard.

There’s no “apparent” about it — that’s exactly how Apple has positioned HomePod. So part of the gap between HomePod and Google Home is in questions Siri can answer on other devices.

Apple’s biggest problem with Siri will soon be convincing people that it has improved enough to be worth trying again. Siri faces a “boy who cried wolf” problem — except instead of lying, people stopped trying it because it sucked.

John Giannandrea Named to Apple’s Executive Team 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced that John Giannandrea has been named to the company’s executive team as senior vice president of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Strategy. He joined Apple in April 2018.

Giannandrea oversees the strategy for AI and Machine Learning across all Apple products and services, as well as the development of Core ML and Siri technologies. His team’s focus on advancing and tightly integrating machine learning into Apple products is delivering more personal, intelligent and natural interactions for customers while protecting user privacy.

Giannandrea, you will recall, came to Apple from Google, where he was in charge of AI and search. It is quite possible that he is the best person in the world Apple could have hired to head up artificial intelligence and machine learning. Apple’s goal, obviously, is to meet or exceed Google in these areas — which is to say to lead the industry.

Drones Ground Flights at Gatwick Airport in ‘Deliberate Act’ of Disruption 

BBC News:

Tens of thousands of passengers have been disrupted by drones flying over one of the UK’s busiest airports. Gatwick’s runway has been shut since Wednesday night, as devices have been repeatedly flying over the airfield.

Sussex Police said it was not terror-related but a “deliberate act” of disruption, using “industrial specification” drones. About 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were due to fly on Thursday. Disruption could last “several days”.

Drones are super cool, and it’s amazing what footage talented drone operators can capture. But I keep wondering how long they can remain legal. This massive travel disruption at Gatwick is bad enough — I can only imagine how furious the passengers are whose flights have been grounded by this stunt.

But how long until someone like this uses a drone to commit violence?

Update: I had forgotten about this story from August: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro survived an assassination attempt by drones rigged with explosives.

Facebook Sued by District of Columbia Over Cambridge Analytica Data Harvesting 

Sheera Frenkel and Matthew Rosenberg, reporting for The New York Times:

The attorney general of the District of Columbia, Karl Racine, sued Facebook on Wednesday for allowing the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest the private data of tens of millions of the social network’s users.

It was a first step by a state attorney general to punish Facebook for privacy violations. “Facebook failed to protect the privacy of its users and deceived them about who had access to their data and how it was used,” Mr. Racine said in a statement.

Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local public policy, said in a statement, “We’re reviewing the complaint and look forward to continuing our discussions with attorneys general in D.C. and elsewhere.”

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but I think Facebook is in some serious trouble.

Kashmir Hill on Amazon and Facebook’s Secret Data-Sharing Agreement 

Kashmir Hill, writing for Gizmodo:

Facebook doesn’t want to tell us how its systems work. Amazon doesn’t want to tell us how its systems work. These companies are data mining us, sometimes in concert, to make uncomfortably accurate connections but also erroneous assumptions. They don’t want to tell us how they do it, suggesting they know it’s become too invasive to reveal. Thank god for leakers and lawsuits.

Facebook Shared Personal Information With Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, and Others 

Staggering report by New York Times reporters Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia, and Nicholas Confessore:

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

It’s tempting to file this under “Yeah, yeah, another Facebook privacy story, blah blah blah”, but this report is truly scathing, and worth a thorough read. Regulators should start thinking about breaking this company up.

And these other companies that used this data from Facebook need to answer for this. This is immoral, if not illegal, and everyone knows it.

Oath Officially Becomes Verizon Media Group on January 8 | TechCrunch 

Brian Heater, writing for TechCrunch:

“‘Oath’ rhymes with ‘growth,’ and that’s our job, to grow,” then CEO Tim Armstrong told us at the brand’s launch.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that this rhyme was evidence enough that this whole thing was doomed from the start.

Why Is the Split Keyboard Not Available on iPad Pros? 

I really like my new 11-inch iPad Pro. I’m using it more than I’ve used an iPad in a long time, especially for reading. It’s my favorite device for reading ever, and I read a lot. But it has been driving me nuts that it doesn’t support a split on-screen keyboard.

I tweeted about this a few weeks ago and a few people replied with the answer that the new iPad Pros have a different on-screen keyboard than the non-Pro iPads, one that more closely resembles the key layout of a hardware keyboard. It’s true that the keyboard is different, but that doesn’t explain why you can’t split it. Why not allow it to be split and revert to the same split keyboard as on non-Pro iPads? What makes this more baffling is that the bigger the iPad is, the more likely it is that you need a split keyboard — and the iPad Pros are the biggest iPads Apple has made. I want to type with my thumbs, iPhone-style, and can’t, because my iPad is too big. And I have relatively large hands and I’m using the 11-inch iPad Pro, not the 13-inch one. I’m not even sure Craig “Fleshy Palms” Hockenberry could thumb-type on a 13-inch iPad Pro.

The bottom line is that because I want to thumb-type, I type better on-screen with my iPhone than I do my iPad, and I can type better on an old iPad than my new one that cost $1,000. This is just baffling to me — so much so that until I found Apple’s support document confirming that the split keyboard is not available on 11-inch or bigger iPad Pros that I thought maybe the problem was me not knowing how to turn it on.

Don’t Fuck With a NASA Engineer 

Mark Rober:

Someone stole a package from me. Police wouldn’t do anything about it so I spent the last 6 months engineering up some vigilante justice. Revenge is a dish best served fabulously.

This is so good. Also, fart spray is apparently a real thing.

Forbes: ‘We Broke Into a Bunch of Android Phones With a 3D-Printed Head’ 

Thomas Brewster commissioned a £300 (roughly $380 USD) 3D-printed copy of his own head:

For our tests, we used my own real-life head to register for facial recognition across five phones. An iPhone X and four Android devices: an LG G7 ThinQ, a Samsung S9, a Samsung Note 8 and a OnePlus 6. I then held up my fake head to the devices to see if the device would unlock. For all four Android phones, the spoof face was able to open the phone, though with differing degrees of ease. The iPhone X was the only one to never be fooled.

Apple doesn’t get enough credit for how good Face ID is (and how good Touch ID has always been).

The Talk Show: ‘Out on Home Video’ 

Matthew Panzarino returns to the show. Topics include recent blockbuster movies, motion smoothing on TVs, iPhone demand rumors, Apple’s Made For iPhone (MFi) program, and more. Recorded live from The Overlook Hotel in Sidewinder, Colorado.

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Alfonso Ribeiro Sues Fortnite and NBA 2K Creators for Stealing His Carlton Dance 

Did not wake up today thinking I’d be linking to a TMZ story about Alfonso Ribeiro, but here we are. This story feels like 2018 in a nutshell.

Apple Music Connect, R.I.P. 

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac:

Apple Music Connect appears to slowly be going the way of iTunes Ping. Apple has started notifying Apple Music artists that it is removing the ability for artists to post content to Apple Music Connect, and previously posted Apple Music Connect content is being removed from the For You section and Artist Pages in Apple Music. Connect content will still be viewable through search results on Apple Music, but Apple is removing artist-submitted Connect posts from search in May. […]

Apple also says “Connect posts from artists are no longer supported” on this support document.

Two areas where Apple has never really succeeded: serious gaming and social media. Two areas where Steve Jobs never seemed interested: serious gaming and social media. I just don’t think either of these things are in Apple’s DNA.

You can argue, of course, that the distinction between casual and serious gaming is arbitrary, and that Apple is killing it in casual gaming on iOS. But I think people who play serious games see a very clear distinction, and Apple isn’t part of that world.

Last Call on This Round of DF T-Shirts and Hoodies 

Just a few hours left before I shut down the ordering page so we can start printing. We’ll start shipping them out on Monday or Tuesday.

Outlier 

My thanks to Outlier for sponsoring this week at DF. Outlier makes hardcore quality clothing, with obsessively sourced raw materials. Their clothes are designed for performance, durability, and movement. They are, simply, excellent.

Outlier has sponsored DF a few times before, and I have a few of their shirts, pants, shorts, and socks. Their quality is just amazingly good. And they’re built to last. I’m wearing their GD Cottonweight Merino Longsleeve as I type these words — looks great, feels great. Super simple but so nice.

Apple Music Now Live on Amazon Echo Speakers 

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac:

Apple Music support on Amazon Echo speakers is starting to roll out in the United States through the Alexa app on iOS and Android a few days ahead of schedule. You can now connect your Apple Music account with Echo speakers through the Alexa app and use Apple’s music streaming service with Alexa voice control.

Once you connect your Apple Music account to Alexa, you can set the music service as your default music library source and default music station source. This lets you request music from Apple Music without telling Alexa which service to use each time.

Reminder: DF T-Shirts and New Hoodies 

Thumbnail of a Daring Fireball logo hoodie.

Just a reminder: we’re taking orders on these items, but only through the end of this week. We’ve even got brand-new DF logo stickers we’ll include with each order, including 1-inch circles that should look nice on an AirPods case.

Algoriddim: ‘Why We’re Moving to Subscriptions’ 

Algoriddim:

After more than 8 years as a paid-for app, djay for iOS is changing. With the latest release, we are now offering a single universal app as a free download which offers everything you need to DJ, along with an affordable new monthly Pro subscription service with power user features, video mixing, music production tools, and most importantly, unlimited access to a large library of audio loops, samples, FX, and visuals.

It makes sense for Omni to add subscriptions as an option for OmniFocus, and it makes sense for Algoriddim to go all-in on subscriptions with this update to Djay. Until now they had like 6-7 SKUs for iOS, with different tiers and different apps for iPhone and iPad. Now they have one universal app, with a free mode that is more functional than ever, and a single paid subscription tier that unlocks everything. And they’re offering a substantial first-year discount to existing users of their paid apps. Simple, fair, and clear.

Optional OmniFocus Subscriptions 

Ken Case, co-founder of The Omni Group:

We think our current licensing model meets a lot of needs, and we will continue to offer this model for licensing our apps: we prefer for customers to view our apps as an investment, not an expense.

But our current model doesn’t cover every situation. It’s designed for software that you run on your own devices, where you can buy something from us and run it for as long as you wish (so long as you keep a compatible system around to run it). With this model, we still have customers running software they purchased from us 20+ years ago. (That’s a good investment!)

But as I mentioned in January’s roadmap, OmniFocus for the Web is a different sort of product. It’s a version of OmniFocus that runs on our computers, not yours. Running it on our computers means we have to maintain those computers, their network connections, power, and so on, as a constantly available online service, for as long as customers use the product. Running that service costs us money every month, so if we want the service to be sustainable we need an income stream which brings in money every month to cover those costs. In other words, this service model requires subscriptions — an arrangement where customers pay us money each month to keep the service going. […]

The OmniFocus subscription will cost $9.99/month, giving you access to the web service as well as OmniFocus Pro on all your Mac and iOS devices. If you’ve already invested in OmniFocus 3 and just want to add the web service, the cost for that will be $4.99/month.

I think it makes complete sense (and the pricing is very fair) for Omni to add subscriptions as an option. I can imagine, a few years from now, an Omni suite subscription, similar to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, that covers all of their apps on all platforms. Subscriptions are the way of the future for commercial software.

Washington Post Story on Apple’s Product Prices 

Geoffrey Fowler and Andrew Van Dam, writing for The Washington Post:

Apple this year became a trillion-dollar company. But it also became the thousand-dollar company: Suddenly you need at least 10 Benjamins to get the best new iPhone or the big iPad Pro.

Apple has never made cheap stuff. But this fall many of its prices increased 20 percent or more. The MacBook Air went from $1,000 to $1,200. A Mac Mini leaped from $500 to $800. It felt as though the value proposition that has made Apple products no-brainers might unravel.

Here’s the nut:

Most technology products are commodities that go down in price over time. Apple has worked very hard not to become a commodity.

I don’t think most of the Post’s comparisons are fair. Apple’s prices are going up not because they’re raising prices for the sake of higher prices, but because they’re designing more expensive products. Stainless steel costs more than aluminum. OLED costs more than LCD. Two cameras are more expensive than one. The new Mac Mini is significantly more expensive than the old one, but it’s a very different product even though from the outside it looks very similar — the old Mac Minis were built using mobile components; the new ones are built with desktop ones. The Mac Mini has gone pro, and its prices reflect that.

Imagine if Apple Watch had started out with only the aluminum models, and the stainless steel versions hadn’t appeared until this year. Clearly that would be considered a new higher-priced product, not a higher price for the same product. Likewise, no one is arguing that Apple has significantly reduced Apple Watch prices because they’re no longer selling the Edition models.

You can certainly argue that Apple is making a strategic branding mistake by making more expensive products. But it simply wasn’t an option to sell the iPhone X/XS as it exists for iPhone 7 prices.

The Original Macintosh User Manual 

An old link from 2007 I stumbled across this morning, while looking for a link to Steve Jobs’s open letter on the original iPhone price cut. Worth a re-link for sure.

Peter Merholz:

I recently purchased an original Macintosh User Manual (thanks eBay!). I had seen one at a garage sale, and was struck by how it had to explain a total paradigm shift in interacting with computers. I figured I could learn something about helping make innovation happen.

Daring Fireball T-Shirts and Hoodies 

Thumbnail of a Daring Fireball logo hoodie.

Taking orders on these items through the end of the week, and we’ll start sending them out after they’re printed this weekend. I’m wearing a print test of the hoodie as I write this — lightweight but very warm.

Samsung Partners With Fake Supreme Brand in China 

Stefan Etienne, writing for The Verge:

Samsung is getting criticized by hypebeasts everywhere after it claimed to be collaborating with Supreme; in reality, it partnered with a Supreme rip-off. Samsung is actually partnering with a fake legal brand, a rival company based in Barletta, Italy, that beat Supreme NYC in a court case this summer regarding who can use the brand name in Italy.

Partnering with a legal counterfeit brand is one of the Samsung-iest things Samsung has ever done.

Not Understanding the Concept of a Trade-In 

Peter Cohan, founder of Peter S. Cohan and Associates, writing for Inc under the jacktastic headline “Apple Is Offering a 40 Percent Discount on iPhones. Here’s Why Steve Jobs Would Hate It”:

How so? On December 2, Apple added a new banner to the top of its website advertising the iPhone XR for $449, $300 less than its official sticker price. The deal, noted with an asterisk and described at the bottom of the page, requires customers to trade in an iPhone 7 Plus, a high-end handset from two years ago.

O how mighty Apple has fallen!

To put it in perspective, the plunge in the iPhone gross margin has been precipitous. As I mentioned, In 2012, the iPhone had a 71 percent gross margin. Before the 40 percent discount, the iPhone X had a much lower gross margin of 48 percent — its price was $749 and the cost of the parts was $390, according to IHS Markit.

By discounting the price to $449, the iPhone gross margin drops to 13 percent.

I’m not even sure where to start here. First, it is indeed interesting that Apple is promoting the iPhone XR based on the $450 price with a trade-in of an iPhone 7 Plus. Does this signal that XR sales are weak? Does it run counter to the iPhone’s premium brand? Reasonable questions.

But did the iPhone have 71 percent profit margins in 2012? No, it did not. That’s nonsense. But as I wrote about Cohan six years ago, when he was calling for Tim Cook to be fired, “He’s like a stage magician doing a card trick who asks the audience, ‘Hey, everyone close your eyes for a second.’”

If you’re trading in an iPhone 7 Plus to get an iPhone XR for $450, you’re not just giving Apple $450. You’re giving them $450 and an iPhone 7 Plus. Apple refurbishes and resells traded-in iPhones; they don’t just toss them in the trash. Refurbished iPhone 7 Plus models are not cheap, either: $480/$570/$650 for 32/128/256 GB.

‘Really Not Very Good’ 

Owen Williams, writing for Motherboard:

One of the biggest problems today is that despite Chromium’s popularity, it’s really not very good on the resource front: it drains battery, hogs system resources and generally doesn’t play nice. This, largely, has been because Google and Chromium don’t own their own operating system (outside of ChromeOS), and don’t get exclusive access to low-level system APIs that Safari and Edge have enjoyed.

There’s a lot I disagree with in this piece, but this bit takes the cake. “Really not very good on the resource front” ought to be nominated for understatement of the year. Safari isn’t more efficient because it has “exclusive access” to system APIs. It’s more efficient because the WebKit/Safari team places a higher priority on efficiency than Chrome’s team does. It’s that simple.

This difference in priorities is why Google forked Chrome’s rendering engine from WebKit in 2013. Which, in turn, makes me wonder what the endgame will look like with Microsoft adopting Chrome. Is Microsoft really going to stick with Chrome, under Google’s ultimate control, or will they fork it, the way Google forked WebKit?

Update: Owen Williams just admits he made this shit up about using private APIs.

Doxie Mobile Scanners 

My thanks to Doxie for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week to promote their lineup of excellent scanners. If you want to go paperless in 2019, Doxie is the way to do it. Doxie quickly and reliably scans all your documents, receipts, and photographs with ease.

Thanks to its small footprint, rechargeable battery, and expansive memory, Doxie consistently delivers high-resolution scans wherever you are — no computer required. Their great native apps for Mac and iOS then let you save, share, and send your paper to the cloud.

Doxie is a must-have if you refuse to compromise on quality and want a straightforward way to finally go (and stay) paperless.

This week only, Doxie is giving DF readers a super secret 35 percent discount. Enter Amazon promotion code FIREBALL at checkout on any of Doxie’s three great models: Doxie Q, Doxie Go SE, or Doxie Go SE + Wi-Fi.

Mueller Briefs: Bad News for Trump, Manafort, and Cohen 

Ken White, writing for The Atlantic:

The president said on Twitter that Friday’s news “totally clears the President. Thank you!” It does not. Manafort and Cohen are in trouble, and so is Trump. The special counsel’s confidence in his ability to prove Manafort a liar appears justified, which leaves Manafort facing what amounts to a life sentence without any cooperation credit. The Southern District’s brief suggests that Cohen’s dreams of probation are not likely to come true. All three briefs show the special counsel and the Southern District closing in on President Trump and his administration. They’re looking into campaign contact with Russia, campaign-finance fraud in connection with paying off an adult actress, and participation in lying to Congress. A Democratic House of Representatives, just days away, strains at the leash to help. The game’s afoot.

Emails Show Facebook Is Well Aware That Tracking Contacts Is Creepy 

Kashmir Hill, in an excellent piece for Gizmodo:

Then a man named Yul Kwon came to the rescue saying that the growth team had come up with a solution! Thanks to poor Android permission design at the time, there was a way to update the Facebook app to get “Read Call Log” permission without actually asking for it. “Based on their initial testing, it seems that this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all,” Kwon is quoted. “It would still be a breaking change, so users would have to click to upgrade, but no permissions dialog screen. They’re trying to finish testing by tomorrow to see if the behavior holds true across different versions of Android.”

Oh yay! Facebook could suck more data from users without scaring them by telling them it was doing it! This is a little surprising coming from Yul Kwon because he is Facebook’s chief ‘privacy sherpa,’ who is supposed to make sure that new products coming out of Facebook are privacy-compliant. I know because I profiled him, in a piece that happened to come out the same day as this email was sent. A member of his team told me their job was to make sure that the things they’re working on “not show up on the front page of the New York Times” because of a privacy blow-up. And I guess that was technically true, though it would be more reassuring if they tried to make sure Facebook didn’t do the creepy things that led to privacy blow-ups rather than keeping users from knowing about the creepy things.

The Facebook executives who approved this ought to be going to jail. Facebook is to privacy what Enron was to accounting.

Microsoft Is Adopting Chromium 

Joe Belfiore, VP of Windows at Microsoft:

We will move to a Chromium-compatible web platform for Microsoft Edge on the desktop. Our intent is to align the Microsoft Edge web platform simultaneously (a) with web standards and (b) with other Chromium-based browsers. This will deliver improved compatibility for everyone and create a simpler test-matrix for web developers.

This is really rather stunning news, especially when you think back to the browser war in the 1990s. And I don’t think it’s a good thing for the web.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Sad to see Microsoft throw in the towel on their own browser rendering engine. The web doesn’t benefit when developers are encouraged to “just test in Chrome” through consolidation. We need a strong, diverse set of browsers. HANG IN THERE FIREFOX!

After Microsoft makes this switch, the only remaining major browser engines will be Chromium, Mozilla/Gecko, and Safari/WebKit. On the other hand, they plan to bring Edge to MacOS:

Microsoft Edge will now be delivered and updated for all supported versions of Windows and on a more frequent cadence. We also expect this work to enable us to bring Microsoft Edge to other platforms like macOS.

Microsoft making a browser for the Mac again also brings back memories of the ’90s, when IE was the best browser for the platform.

Google Allo to Shut Down in March 

Almost unbelievable that Google still can’t get a messaging platform off the ground.

Apple Announces Clear iPhone XR Case 

Finally. I’ve got one coming — will report on it once I have it.

Also available today: Apple’s 18W USB-C charger that’s included with iPad Pro, for $29.

React Native Accessibility Is Pretty Bad 

Doug Russell:

So I’ve been recently saddled with some React Native problems. […]

So I do what I always do, I fire up VoiceOver. I had read the docs for React Native when it was new. I knew they were aware of accessibility, so maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.

(You’ll be very surprised to learn it was quite a bit too bad.)

Some of the issues were specific to the project. They didn’t understand VoiceOver or how accessibility works in React, so I spent a bit of time fixing those problems before I got into the weeds.

Where I realized there were some tricky problems, and maybe some intractable problems, was when I dug into React Navigation. This is the library recommended (but not maintained) by Facebook for navigation in new projects.

Wrong-headed developers want to use cross-platform frameworks like React Native because they think it’ll save them time and resources, but if they want to do it right — and good accessibility support is most certainly part of doing it right — they’re making things harder on themselves. What they should admit openly is that they don’t care about doing it right, and in many cases are trying to cover up for the fact that they don’t know how to do it right.

Apple’s Game of the Year: ‎Donut County 

Slogan: “Be a hole”, which caused me to read it twice. (Via the App Store’s Game of the Year story, which, I shit you not, you can’t read on a Mac.)

Linea 2.5 

Clever new update to The Iconfactory’s iOS drawing app:

Simply draw a rough circle, square, rectangle, oval, or polygon and hold at the end. After a configurable delay, ZipShape will activate and transform your rough version into a clean, precise shape. It works with all of Linea’s drawing tools — including the new fill tool.

You don’t have to be perfect — after the shape is generated, there are transform handles you can use to tweak its final position and appearance. No rulers or stencils required!

Linea 2.5 adds a bunch of cool new features, but this ZipShape one is a real standout.

I’ve been impressed by Linea since it debuted, but I’m actually using it a lot more now with Apple Pencil 2. There’s a well-known photography adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s why Apple Pencil 2 is so much better — it’s with me so much more often.

Samsung Used a Stock DSLR Photo to Fake Their Phone’s ‘Portrait Mode’ 

Dunja Djudjic, writing at DIY Photography:

Earlier this year, Samsung was busted for using stock photos to show off capabilities of Galaxy A8’s camera. And now they did it again – they used a stock image taken with a DSLR to fake the camera’s portrait mode. How do I know this, you may wonder? Well, it’s because Samsung used MY photo to do it.

Not only is this outright fraud, they did a terrible job in Photoshop doctoring the image.

Djudjic:

Sadly, it’s nothing new that smartphone companies use DSLR photos to fake phone camera’s capabilities. Samsung did it before, so did Huawei. And I believe many more brands do it, we just haven’t found out about it yet. I’m pretty sure that Samsung at least bought my photo legally, even though I haven’t received the confirmation of it. But regardless, this is false advertising.

It’s undeniable that smartphone cameras are getting better (and there are more and more lenses with every new phone). But, we definitely shouldn’t trust the ads showing off their capabilities, or at least take them with a grain of salt.

I know one brand that does not do this.

Gaming the App Store 

David Barnard:

So, let’s talk about how developers are gaming the App Store and why it matters to the future of the platform. Any one of these tactics might seem somewhat bland individually, but when tens of thousands of apps deploy multiple tactics across many categories of apps, the impact can be measured in hundreds of millions of users and likely billions of dollars.

I’ve been focused on researching the weather category the past couple years as I’ve been working on my weather app, Weather Up, but these tactics apply to pretty much every category on the App Store.

None of this is news, but it continues to surprise me that Apple hasn’t cracked down on all of these scams, especially the ones that trick people into paying for subscriptions. That’s just outright theft. The apps that sell your location data to third parties are a head-scratcher too — surely Apple doesn’t want this going on.

Apple should put together an App Store bunco squad. A small team that polices the store for scammy apps and nips them in the bud. They could start just by combing the lists of top-grossing apps. It’s not just about protecting users and punishing bad actors — these scams keep good honest apps from rising to the top, and they undermine trust in the system. It’s in no one’s interest for “subscriptions” to be equated with “scams”. And I actually think it would be a fun and satisfying job — who wouldn’t enjoy busting bad guys?

Apple Debuts Online Store With 10 Percent Discount for U.S. Veterans and Active Military 

10 percent is a pretty great deal — worth sharing this with any friends or family who qualify.

The Talk Show: ‘A Vivid Nightmarescape’ 

New episode of the podcast: Dieter Bohn joins the show to talk about Google’s new Pixel Slate Chrome OS tablet/laptop, the Pixel 3, Google’s fascinating new Night Sight camera mode, speculation on how Apple might move the Mac to ARM chips, and more.

Brought to you by:

  • Banktivity: Powerful personal finance app for Mac and iOS with a great native UI. Save 10 percent on the Mac version with coupon code THETALKSHOW at checkout.
  • Casper: Get $50 off select mattresses with code talkshow. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Fracture: Your photos printed in vivid color directly on glass — great holiday gift.
Quinn Nelson’s MacBook / MacBook Air / MacBook Escape Shootout 

Don’t let the sensational headline scare you off from this video — it’s a really fair and interesting comparison between the 12-inch MacBook, new MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar. His conclusion, basically, is that if you want something remarkably thin and light, that’s the MacBook, not the Air, and otherwise you get a faster computer and a better much brighter display with the MacBook Pro.

I’m still bullish on the new Air for people with non-Pro performance needs, but this did make me think. If Apple updates the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro to include the third-generation butterfly keyboard and Touch ID sensor, and doesn’t reduce the prices of the MacBook Air at the same time, that would kind of leave the Air hanging in the lineup.

Nick Heer: ‘On Apple Portables in the Approximately $1,200 to $1,300 Price Range’ 

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

It comes down to the honesty and integrity of the product. Every so often, I think to myself could I imagine everyone on Apple’s executive team happily using this product? as a proxy for product integrity. For most of the current lineup, I have few reservations; I bet Phil Schiller would be very happy toting an iPhone XR and a base model iPad, for example. But — and perhaps this is projecting — I think they would get frustrated after a year of using any Mac with 128 GB of storage; but, especially, a MacBook Pro. It’s debatable, to me, whether that’s a fair base storage in the Air, but I don’t think it’s honest in the Pro. As far as I’m concerned, the MacBook Pro makes more sense starting at the $1,499 256 GB configuration — from both a pricing perspective, and for its integrity.

Samsung Tweets From iPhone, Again 

Marques Brownlee spots another case of a Samsung promotional tweet being posted from an iPhone. How this can still be happening, given how much attention these gaffes get, is beyond me. According to Luca Hammer, this Samsung account tweeted from iPhone over 300 times last year.

Couple of thoughts:

  • This wouldn’t happen, ever, if Samsung didn’t rely on outside marketing companies. But I’m not sure it would be possible for a worldwide marketing operation the size of Samsung’s to be run in-house. But to my knowledge we’ve never seen an Apple tweet sent from an Android phone.

  • Sometimes when these incidents occur I see people wondering why these tweets are being sent from any phone, rather than a desktop computer. These tweets are work. What these people don’t get, I think, is just how much work — serious professional work — gets done on phones.

iFixit 

My thanks to iFixit for sponsoring this week at Daring Fireball. You probably know them best for their detailed teardowns of new gadgets, but they also have an extensive library of over 40,000 free repair guides. And they sell precision tools and parts.

I’ve had a set of their tools for years, and they just sent me their latest flagship kit, the Pro Tech. It’s loaded with every rare bit and opening tool you could think of, packed in a clever small case, and backed by a lifetime guarantee. iFixit’s repair engineers design these tools in-house, and they’re the tools they themselves use.

Since last they sponsored DF they’ve developed a bunch of all-in-one repair kits for upgrading and repairing Apple devices. Their kits include a new part and all the tools you need for the job.

Their toolkits are great for any tinkerer on your holiday gift list. They’ve even got a special deal for DF readers — through the end of December, save $10 off your next $50 purchase with the code DARINGFIX.

George H.W. Bush, 41st President, Dies at 94 

Adam Nagourney, The New York Times:

Mr. Bush was president during a shift in the world order that had begun under Reagan. His measured response to upheaval in Eastern Europe drew complaints that he was not seizing the reins of history. But he chose a collaborative approach, working with the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to allow for the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The two leaders signed treaties mandating historic reductions in their countries’ nuclear and chemical weapons.

“George H. W. Bush was the best one-term president the country has ever had, and one of the most underrated presidents of all time,” James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s closest adviser for nearly 50 years, said in an interview in 2013. “I think history is going to treat him very well.”

By far and away — I mean it’s not even close — my favorite Republican president since Eisenhower. I respect him deeply: from his lifelong commitment to public service, to his genuine bipartisanship. The collapse of the Soviet Union could have gone very, very wrong under less steady U.S. leadership. And at a personal level, George and Barbara Bush were married for 73 years. 73 years!

There is a rule that will never be written but can clearly be felt that a president can only be eulogized by another president, and that job clearly falls to George W. That’s a hell of a thing, but he’s going to nail it.