Linked List: January 2018

BMW’s Apple CarPlay Annual Fee Is Next-Level Gouging 

Tim Stevens, writing for CNet:

Instead of a one-time, $300 fee, starting on 2019 models BMW will charge $80 annually for the privilege of accessing Apple’s otherwise totally free CarPlay service. You do get the first year free, much like your friendly neighborhood dealer of another sort, but after that it’s pay up or have your Lightning cable metaphorically snipped.

On the surface this is pretty offensive, and it seemed like something must be driving this. The official word from BMW is that this is a change that will save many (perhaps most) BMW owners money. Indeed, the vehicle segments where BMW plays are notorious for short-term leases, and those owning the car for only a few years will save money over that one-time $300. But still, the notion of paying annually for something that’s free rubbed me the wrong way. And, based on the feedback we saw from the article, it rubbed a lot of you the wrong way, too.

It’s patently offensive. If BMW goes through with this, you can never truly own one of their cars. $80/year isn’t much compared to the price of the car, but on general principle this is way out there in Fuck You territory.

We bought an Acura back in 2006, paid it off within a few years, and haven’t sent a single penny to the Honda Motor Company since. Not one penny. And the car is still running great — with every single function working just as well as it did the day we drove it off the lot. The fact that everything still works well speaks to Honda’s reliability. The fact that we haven’t had to send them a money is because, you know, we own the goddamn thing.

Stevens:

In speaking with multiple sources at various manufacturers who offer cars with Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto, I was quickly able to confirm that such fees, at least right now, do not exist. CarPlay and Android Auto, which are free for we consumers to use, are also provided for free for manufacturers to embed into their cars.

CarPlay isn’t entirely free, however. As Markdown inventor and Apple guru John Gruber pointed out on Twitter, car manufacturers who wish to officially support Apple products must pay a licensing fee to enter Apple’s Made for iPhone (MFi) program, just like any other licensed accessory maker. As Gruber was able to confirm, however (and I was able to verify), this is a one-time fee. And, while I could not get anyone to disclose the exact fees entailed, it’s quite clear that there’s no additional fee for CarPlay on top of the base MFi license.

My understanding is that Apple’s fee is nominal — and unequivocally nominal in the context of the price of any new car, let alone a new BMW. There’s a hardware component — CarPlay-enabled cars need an Apple authentication chip — but the gist of it is that Apple’s goal is to get more cars on the road that are CarPlay-enabled, not to make money from CarPlay-enabled cars.

The Apple Cash FAQ 

Horace Dediu:

As individuals we think that having lots of cash makes us rich. For companies it’s the opposite. Cash is a liability. If you come across a company that is cash rich and has nothing else, its enterprise value will be zero. Companies are valued on their future cash flows, meaning their ability to generate cash, not how much they managed to keep. In other words, cash is a measure of past success and investors are interested only in future value. That future value comes from the intelligent allocation of resources toward a valuable goal. A company rich in cash but poor in vision is likely to be taken private or broken up and shut down. Cash is an IOU to shareholders with a thank-you note for the support through the years.

Such a fabulously clear and concise overview of Apple’s financials.

The Ressence Type 2 E-Crown Concept 

Stephen Pulvirent, writing for Hodinkee:

Working with Tony Fadell (who you might know as the designer of the iPod, the founder of Nest, and a noted Talking Watches guest), Ressence has gone a few steps further than anyone else thinking in this direction. The idea is that you initially set the Type 2 e-Crown Concept using the mechanical mechanism on the watch’s rear, and then you never need to touch that again (unless you want to, of course — this is a mechanical watch and that system will always work). After that, you can use a paired down iPhone app to adjust to one of two timezones and you can have the watch automatically reset to the correct time after its power reserve winds down. The details have all been thought through as well, with the intermediary mechanism powering itself both kinetically and through 10 tiny photovoltaic cells hidden behind the dial. If you don’t wear the watch and the battery runs below 50%, 10 little shutters open up to reveal the cells and gather light for energy (you can also open these manually via the app). The watch even automatically adjusts for Daylight Savings time, so no worries there either.

It’s a mechanical watch with a super-low-power electronic system to keep the watch time in sync and communicate with a phone app. I’m generally reluctant to link to “concept designs”, but I suspect this one will ship, and Fadell’s involvement certainly increases my interest.

Here’s Ressence’s own description of their e-Crown system. Ressence, if you’re not a watch nerd, is a fascinating company making truly innovative watches. But they’re rather pricy — the gorgeous Type 3 carries a suggested retail price of CHF 33,500 (about $35,000 USD).

Bad Design in Action: The False Hawaiian Ballistic Missile Alert 

Jason Kottke:

Hopefully this, uh, “redesign” is temporary and a full overhaul is in the works. That menu is a really dangerous bit of interface design and adding an “oopsie, we didn’t mean it button” doesn’t help. The employee made a mistake but it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t be fired for it. The interface is the problem and whoever caused that to happen — the designer, the software vendor, the heads of the agency, the lawmakers who haven’t made sufficient funds available for a proper design process to occur — should face the consequences. More importantly, the necessary changes should be made to fix the problem in a way that’s holistic, resilient, long-lasting, and helps operators make good decisions rather than encouraging mistakes.

Die With Me: $1 Chat App That Only Works When You Have Less Than 5 Percent Battery Remaining 

What a stupid, silly idea. I love it.

Tim Carmody on the Demise of The Awl and Hairpin 

Tim Carmody, writing at Kottke.org:

The Awl should have been the model for a new generation of sites that all outlived it. It wasn’t. We would mourn it less if there were more new blogs, staffed by hands young and old, rising to succeed it, jockeying to become required reading. Right now, there aren’t.

But who knows? There is still plenty of time.

Open Letters: Dean Allen on His Mother’s Wedding 

Open Letters was a site that ran in the latter half of 2000. Contributions were from anyone. There were small, collaborative projects like Open Letters all over the web back then. It was good.

Dean Allen’s letter was great:

Dear Dad,

So Mom got married yesterday. It was in a park, amid some lurid autumn trees. The ceremony was performed with the river and the mountains in the background, and the whole affair was small, and nice, and stress-free. Unforced.

For the week leading up to it I was in a lousy mood. I was having trouble being any good at anything, and it all seemed glum. I couldn’t be bothered to prepare for the wedding (usually, if an event is coming up, with family or people I haven’t seen in a while, I try to gather up some material beforehand: bits of biography for the what’ve-you-been-up-tos, jokes, etc., but at Mom’s wedding I might as well have walked in, in a rented tuxedo, by mistake). Waking up yesterday I did something that happens now and again when things just aren’t going well: I opened my eyes and said, “Not this again.”

We just don’t have things like this anymore.

Jason Kottke on Dean Allen 

Lovely remembrance from Jason Kottke:

Weirdly, or maybe not, my two biggest memories of Dean involve food. One of my favorite little pieces of writing by him (or anyone else for that matter), is How to Cook Soup.

One of my favorites from Dean as well.

Apple Shuttle Buses Rerouted Following Attacks 

Jack Morse, reporting for Mashable:

The tech giant runs shuttle buses full of employees from San Francisco to its headquarters in Cupertino every day, and, according to a source inside the company, someone is attacking those buses — and breaking windows.

On an internal Apple email thread viewed by Mashable, one Apple employee speculated that the culprit may be firing “rubber rounds” at the buses. At least one of the buses only had the outer pane of its double-paned windows broken.

In response, late Tuesday night, Apple emailed employees to alert them that an untold number of shuttles would be rerouted, adding 30 to 45 minutes to riders’ commute. Mashable obtained the email and has verified its authenticity.

Christ, what an asshole the guy doing this is. Looks like he’s hit Google buses, too.

Apple to Create New Campus, Hire 20,000 New Employees 

Apple:

Apple expects to invest over $30 billion in capital expenditures in the US over the next five years and create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one. Apple already employs 84,000 people in all 50 states.

The company plans to establish an Apple campus in a new location, which will initially house technical support for customers. The location of this new facility will be announced later in the year.

Intriguing. This also seems to serve as Apple’s announcement that they plan to repatriate — and pay US taxes on — their overseas cash.

Gorgeous 50-Megapixel Panoramas Shot on an iPhone at 20,000 Feet 

These shots are amazing — but I have to ask: why an iPhone 7?

Farhad Manjoo: ‘It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone’ 

It’s time for Farhad Manjoo to write a less eye-roll-inducing column:

Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week. It could also needle you: “Farhad, you spent half your week scrolling through Twitter. Do you really feel proud of that?” It could offer to help: “If I notice you spending too much time on Snapchat next week, would you like me to remind you?”

This sounds annoying as hell. Being aware of how much time you’re spending in which apps is an interesting idea, but you can already get a good sense of that in the Settings → Battery panel.

Another idea is to let you impose more fine-grained controls over notifications. Today, when you let an app send you mobile alerts, it’s usually an all-or-nothing proposition — you say yes to letting it buzz you, and suddenly it’s buzzing you all the time.

Mr. Harris suggested that Apple could require apps to assign a kind of priority level to their notifications. “Let’s say you had three notification levels — heavy users, regular users and lite, or Zen,” Mr. Harris said.

Apple could set rules for what kind of notifications were allowed in each bucket — for instance, the medium bucket might allow notifications generated by other people (like a direct message in Instagram) but not those from the app itself (Instagram just sending you an alert to remind you that your high school friend’s mom’s brother posted a new picture recently).

I’m all in favor of controls to reduce notifications. But excessive notifications don’t make me feel addicted to my phone — they make me annoyed.

This whole narrative that our phones are “too addictive” is nonsense. When I was a teenager my friends and I spent hours each week on the phone. Regular dumb old landline phones. There was no problem with landline phones being “addictive”. We simply craved social interaction and an alleviation of boredom. We use our “phones” today for the same reasons. They are more of a solution — again, to our collective desire for social interaction and alleviation of boredom — than a problem.

Study: 42 Percent of Republicans Believe Accurate — but Negative — Stories Qualify as ‘fake News’ 

Erik Wemple:

All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

17 percent for Democrats is a depressing enough figure. 42 is absurd.

Alex Roy Reviews the Tesla Model 3 After a Cross-Country Speed Run 

Alex Roy, writing for The Drive:

The Model 3 is a triumph of industrial design. Forget the naysayers. Ask anyone who isn’t a car person, or especially women — a group too often excluded from the conversation, despite its size and disproportionate purchasing power, by an industry yet to have its Weinstein moment — for real perspective. Starting with a clean sheet, Tesla has out-Volvo’ed Volvo, delivering the purest interpretation of Scandinavian design in automotive history. I felt liberated from the tyranny of traditional car dashboards full of knobs and buttons.

I’m not saying I’m opposed to analog controls and traditional dashboards. Quite the opposite. What I am opposed to is overly complicated design in either direction. The best iteration is always the simplest, and traditional car manufacturers have largely blown it in their respective efforts to integrate digital with analog.

He does have one major UI design gripe: the entire interface — visual, audio, and interaction — of the Autopilot system. But this is a glowing review overall.

Longtime readers may remember Roy’s previous mention on Daring Fireball, regarding his attempt to set the record for the Cannonball Run 10 years ago.

(Thanks to Nick Heer.)

Hawaii Missile Alert: How One Employee ‘Pushed the Wrong Button’ and Caused a Wave of Panic 

Amy Wang, reporting for The Washington Post:

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert. […]

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

This is just terrible, terrible user interface design.

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Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark 

At this point Uber should best be described not as a business or startup, but as a racket, a criminal enterprise.

The iOS Economy, Updated 

Horace Dediu, on the latest figures from Apple on App Store revenue:

A few observations:

  • Developer payment rate is now above $25 billion/yr. I’ve been notified via Twitter that this is higher than the revenue of McDonald’s Corporation in 2016.

  • During this year iOS users will be spending about $100 million per day for Apps. This was Google’s AdWords revenue rate in 2012.

  • The spending on App Store has been rising steadily, adding about $5 billion/yr since mid 2011.

  • Apps are the biggest component of Apple services and helped that segment gross over $57 billion in 2017, passing Fortune 100 level (net of developer payments).

See also: Apple’s cash illustrated — an informative graph.

Peter Valdes-Dapena Reviews the Tesla Model 3 

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a review for CNN, the video seems like the “real” review, and the written article seems like an afterthought extracted from the video review. He makes three main points:

  1. The car drives and performs well, about how you’d expect given Tesla’s reputation.

  2. It’s expensive for what you get compared to other cars in this price range — but this point seems hard to quantify, because none of those other cars have Tesla’s excellent electric drive train.

  3. Having almost all of the controls, including things like controlling the air vents, go through the touchscreen is not a good design. He writes:

    To do almost anything, from adjusting the mirrors to tweaking the car’s speed while driving in Autopilot, I had to use the screen. There are two unmarked knobs on the steering that are involved in various functions but, before you can use the knobs, you have to poke around on the big screen first. It’s annoying and most people will hate it. More importantly, it’s terribly distracting.

I feel like #3 is by far the most interesting point, but Valdes-Dapena seems ill-equipped to make it. He just says it’s very annoying, rather than explaining or illustrating why it’s annoying. Perhaps because he’s used to writing about cars, not about user interfaces?

I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that car reviews seldom devote attention or expertise to the design of the controls of the car. They matter a lot to me (shocker, I know), but I think they matter a lot to everyone, whether they think about control design consciously or not. The Model 3’s touchscreen centric design is so radical, it deserves a thorough review of its own.

Facebook Purportedly Changes News Feed to Make It ‘Good for People’ 

Laura Hazard Owen, writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Facebook is making big, immediate changes to News Feed. The company will now prioritize content from friends, family, and groups over “public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post Thursday night. News publishers that have relied on Facebook for traffic will suffer: “Some news helps start conversations on important issues,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.”

Who knows what they’re actually changing, but I’ll take this opportunity to reiterate what I’ve believed all along: news publishers that have relied on Facebook for traffic are fools. The only audience you can count on is an audience you’ve built yourself and have a direct relationship with.

Casey Newton put it well:

So many publishers think they have audiences, when what they really have is traffic.

I think we’re about to find out who has an audience.

Ben Bajarin: ‘Apple’s Indirect Presence Fades From CES’ 

Ben Bajarin, writing from CES 2018:

We would go to CES and remark at how Apple’s dominance loomed over the show. Vendors of all shapes and sizes were rushing to be a part of the Apple ecosystem. Apple’s ecosystem was front and center with everything from iOS apps, to accessories galore for iPhone and iPad, and even companies looking to copy Apple in many ways. The last year or so, things have dramatically changed, and that change is further evident at this year’s CES.

Gone are the days of Apple’s presence, or observably “winning” of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and now Google’s assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.

While many Apple defenders want to dismiss the momentum we are observing with the Amazon ecosystem on display here at CES, while Amazon is similarly not present just like Apple, I believe it is a mistake to do so.

It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.

It may or may not mean anything for Apple, but I do think this is an interesting and undeniable observation.

Confide Popular With Republican Politicians 

I thought that Confide rang a bell. I hadn’t tried it personally until yesterday, but now I remember where I’d heard of it: in the early days of the Trump White House, there were reports like this one from Axios that leaking staff members were using it to communicate privately.

Wired: ‘How Outlier, the Underground Fashion Label for Nerds, Got Cool’ 

Adam Rogers, writing for Wired on indie menswear maker Outlier (a former DF sponsor):

Pants tough enough to deal with anything became Outlier’s signature play — trousers “for the end of the world,” as the folks at GQ put it. “We were trying to solve a specific cycling problem,” Burmeister says. “How to not look like a cyclist but still perform.”

They started going to textile conferences — Outdoor Retailer, then in Utah, was a big one. They wanted to find out where big companies, which they assumed used all the best stuff, got their supplies. But it turned out that the big companies of the world actually used the best cheapest materials.

As for the actual best, well, “we found that there was all this stuff nobody was touching. We were stunned. Like, nobody is using this? Nobody is using this?” Burmeister says. Military fabrics, equestrian fabrics, industrial fabrics — they were all for sale, or had been. They found, for example, a doubleweave with Cordura-grade nylon on one side and a softer nylon/polyester blend on the other. It seemed like it would make really great pair of jeans.

Outlier’s clothes aren’t cheap, but once you wear them, you realize how cheaply made most other clothes are. (Via Greg Koenig.)

Android Central: ‘Essential Phone Review, Four Months Later: The Sun Is Setting on This Experiment’ 

Andrew Martonik, writing for Android Central two weeks ago:

It all starts with just general app instability. Apps crash — a lot. More than I’ve experienced on any other phone. They freeze, stutter, lock up and force close. Sometimes you tap an app to open it, and nothing happens for multiple seconds. When an app calls up another one through a share action, it takes the same egregious delay. Sometimes apps open and switch just fine, but then randomly slow down to a crawl with inordinately long splash screens or loading animations. And it isn’t tied to just one app, it’s all apps.

The app issues seem to come as a result of general system instability that I haven’t seen in a high-end phone in years. Touch response is very slow, making everything simply feel sluggish as you tap and scroll around every day. The phone will often struggle to open or close the camera and can fail to save photos if you close the camera too quickly. I’ve had the entire phone go unresponsive for several minutes and require a force reboot (hold the power button for ~15 seconds) multiple times. […]

The camera app is slow and unstable and lacks basic features like viewfinder grid lines or any sort of customization or “pro” mode. HDR mode doesn’t really seem to do anything but take photos slower, and toggling it on still inexplicably turns the flash to “auto” mode. The slow performance directly contributes to missing shots, and the fundamentals of a small sensor with no OIS mean you get grainy and blurry low-light shots regularly. The Essential Phone’s camera is still so far from the competition.

In short, the Essential phone is a disaster.

(Yet oddly it has the same score from The Verge — 8/10 — as the iPhone 8.)

‘The Good War’ 

Thought-provoking graphic essay by Mike Dawson and Chris Hayes.

MacOS 10.13 High Sierra’s App Store System Prefs Panel Can Be Unlocked With Any Password 

This one is relatively low stakes:

  • These settings are unlocked by default for admin users.
  • Entering a bogus password only works if you’re logged in as an admin user.
  • The settings in this panel aren’t particularly sensitive.
  • It’s apparently already fixed in the current High Sierra developer betas.

But, still, this is embarrassing given what we just went through with the very serious root-access-with-no-password bug. As a wise man once said, “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again.”

Pop-Up Mobile Ads Surge as Sites Scramble to Stop Them 

Lily Hay Newman, reporting for Wired:

These redirects can show up seemingly out of the blue when you’re in a mobile browser like Chrome, or even when you’re using a service like Facebook or Twitter and navigating to a page through one of their in-app browsers. Suddenly you go from loading a news article to wriggling away from an intrusive ad. What enables these ad redirects to haunt virtually any browser or app at any time, rather than just the sketchy backwaters in which they used to roam? Third-party ad servers that either don’t vet ad submissions properly for the JavaScript components that could cause redirects, or get duped by innocent-looking ads that hide their sketchy code. […]

An ad hijacking your browser like that isn’t technically a hack, in the sense that it doesn’t exploit a software vulnerability. Instead, it relies on the attacker’s ability to submit and run ads that contain redirecting JavaScript. But though they aren’t a critical threat to web users yet, redirecting mobile ads could create a jumping off point for attackers. And since you encounter the redirects while browsing on even prominent, legitimate sites, there’s nowhere to hide. Sometimes the ads are even designed to block your “Back” button, or keep redirecting when you try to close them, making it difficult to escape without having to restart the browser.

“I do think it’s new that the ads are so pervasive and are on first-tier publishers,” says Anil Dash, CEO of the software engineering firm Fog Creek. “These things used to be relegated to garbage sites, now it’s happening on the New York Times.”

The fact that ad networks are delivering unvetted JavaScript in their payloads is unsurprising but horrifying. They’re confined to your browser’s sandbox, but JavaScript-based ads are effectively malware at this point: they violate your privacy; consume excessive CPU time, bandwidth, and battery life; and now literally hijack your browsing experience.

(And now with Meltdown and Spectre, we have the added worry that JavaScript might be malware that breaks through browsers’ sandbox protections.)

Google Announces Plan to Improve URLs for AMP Pages, But Even If It Happens, Which Remains Uncertain, AMP Will Still Suck 

Malte Ubl, tech lead for the AMP Project at Google

Based on this web standard AMP navigations from Google Search can take advantage of privacy-preserving preloading and the performance of Google’s servers, while URLs remain as the publisher intended and the primary security context of the web, the origin, remains intact. We have built a prototype based on the Chrome Browser and an experimental version of Google Search to make sure it actually does deliver on both the desired UX and performance in real use cases. This step gives us confidence that we have a promising solution to this hard problem and that it will soon become the way that users will encounter AMP content on the web.

The next steps are moving towards fully implementing the new web standard in web browsers and in the Google AMP Cache. Our goal is that Web Packaging becomes available in as many browsers as possible (after all Web Packaging has exciting use cases beyond just AMP such as offline pages, ES6 module loading, and resource bundling). In particular, we intend to extend existing work on WebKit to include the implementation of Web Packaging and the Google Chrome team’s implementation is getting started.

We’re super excited about getting this work under way and we expect the changes to first reach users in the second half of 2018. Thanks for all of your feedback on the matter and we will keep you all updated on the progress right here in this blog!

A bunch of readers have forwarded this story to me, based on my previous criticism of AMP. This announcement isn’t bad news, and might be good news, but at this point it’s all conjecture, particularly for browsers other than Chrome. Even if it all works out, it only solves one problem: URLs. It doesn’t solve the deeper problem of content being hosted on Google’s servers, rather than publishers’ own servers. In addition to ceding independence, think about what this means for search engines other than Google. One of AMP’s foundational tenets is that Google Search is the one and only search engine.

And at a technical level AMP still sucks:

I’m on the record as being strongly opposed to AMP simply on the grounds of publication independence. I’d stand by that even if the implementation were great. But the implementation is not great — it’s terrible. Yes, AMP pages load fast, but you don’t need AMP for fast-loading web pages. If you are a publisher and your web pages don’t load fast, the sane solution is to fix your fucking website so that pages load fast, not to throw your hands up in the air and implement AMP.

But other than loading fast, AMP sucks. It implements its own scrolling behavior on iOS, which feels unnatural, and even worse, it breaks the decade-old system-wide iOS behavior of being able to tap the status bar to scroll to the top of any scrollable view. AMP also completely breaks Safari’s ability to search for text on a page (via the “Find on Page” action in the sharing sheet). Google has no respect for the platform. If I had my way, Mobile Safari would refuse to render AMP pages. It’s a deliberate effort by Google to break the open web.

Seven months later and still none of these things work properly for AMP pages displayed on Mobile Safari. And I forgot to mention back in May that Mobile Safari doesn’t automatically show/hide its browser chrome as you scroll, like it does for any normal web page. AMP pages are also incompatible with Safari Reader mode, making them harder to read for some people, and impossible to read for others.

Sharing canonical URLs rather than google.com/amp URLs is just one of many problems with AMP, and the “fix” proposed here requires updated versions of every web browser in the world to work.

North Carolina Congressional Map Ruled Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered 

Alan Blinder, reporting for The New York Times:

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, declaring it unconstitutionally gerrymandered and demanding that the Republican-controlled General Assembly redraw district lines before this year’s midterm elections.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because the judges believed it to be a partisan gerrymander, and it deepened the political chaos that has enveloped North Carolina in recent years.

More good news on the voting front.

New Bill Aims to Eliminate Paperless Voting Machines 

Timothy B. Lee, writing for Ars Technica:

“With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again,” said co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

So a group of senators led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) wants to shore up the security of American voting systems ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. And the senators have focused on two major changes that have broad support from voting security experts.

The first objective is to get rid of paperless electronic voting machines. Computer scientists have been warning for more than a decade that these machines are vulnerable to hacking and can’t be meaningfully audited. States have begun moving away from paperless systems, but budget constraints have forced some to continue relying on insecure paperless equipment. The Secure Elections Act would give states grants specifically earmarked for replacing these systems with more secure systems that use voter-verified paper ballots.

I don’t know of a single voting or computer security expert who is in favor of paperless voting machines. The sooner we get rid of them, the better.

Update: Electronic voting machines in the U.S. are far less regulated and easier to rig than slot machines in Las Vegas.

Regarding This Open Letter From Two Investor Groups to Apple Regarding Kids’ Use of Devices 

David Gelles, reporting for The New York Times:

Now, two of the biggest investors on Wall Street have asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier for parents to limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads. […]

Jana, an activist hedge fund, wrote its letter with Calstrs, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which manages the pensions of California’s public-school teachers. When such investors pressure companies to change their behavior, it is typically with the goal of lifting a sagging stock price. In this case, Jana and Calstrs said they were trying to raise awareness about an issue they cared deeply about, adding that if Apple was proactive about making changes, it could help the business.

This open letter is getting a lot of attention, but to me, the way to limit your kids’ access to devices is simply, well, to limit their access to devices. I’m sure iOS’s parental controls could be improved (and in a statement, Apple claims they have plans to do so), but more granular parental controls in iOS are no substitute for being a good, involved parent.

See also: the open letter from Jana and Calstrs.

AT&T Drops Huawei’s New Smartphone Amid Security Worries 

Paul Mozur, reporting for The New York Times:

AT&T walked away from a deal to sell the Huawei smartphone, the Mate 10, to customers in the United States just before the partnership was set to be unveiled, said two people on Tuesday familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were not public. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that AT&T had changed plans.

The reasons that led to AT&T’s shift were not entirely clear. But last month, a group of lawmakers wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing misgivings about a potential deal between Huawei and an unnamed American telecommunications company to sell its consumer products in the United States. It cited longstanding concerns among some lawmakers about what they said are Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government.

The letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said Congress has “long been concerned about Chinese espionage in general, and Huawei’s role in that espionage in particular.”

This sounds bad, but without any specific accusations regarding what Huawei might actually be doing to collaborate with the Chinese government — let alone actual evidence — I’m not sure what to make of this.

Ad Tracking Companies Complain About Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention 

Alex Hern, in a decidedly-pro-ad-industry report for The Guardian:

Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web.

Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced.

With annual revenue in 2016 topping $730m, the overall cost of the privacy feature on just one company is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

If this is accurate, it goes to show the outsize influence Safari has. Criteo is claiming that a new feature in Safari, a browser with only 15 percent of global share, resulted in more than a 20 percent drop in their revenue. This, despite the fact that Intelligent Tracking Prevention — the feature in question — doesn’t block ads per se. It only prevents certain methods of privacy-invasive tracking. I fail to see how this is a bad thing.

What Spectre and Meltdown Mean for WebKit 

Great explanation from Filip Pizlo on the Spectre and Meltdown-related changes that have shipped (and will ship) in WebKit. Includes a pretty good overview of how the Spectre exploit works.

How Meltdown and Spectre Were Independently Discovered by Four Research Teams at Once 

Great piece by Andy Greenberg for Wired:

Yet when Intel responded to the trio’s warning — after a long week of silence — the company gave them a surprising response. Though Intel was indeed working on a fix, the Graz team wasn’t the first to tell the chip giant about the vulnerability. In fact, two other research teams had beaten them to it. Counting another, related technique that would come to be known as Spectre, Intel told the researchers they were actually the fourth to report the new class of attack, all within a period of just months.

“As far as I can tell it’s a crazy coincidence,” says Paul Kocher, a well-known security researcher and one of the two people who independently reported the distinct but related Spectre attack to chipmakers. “The two threads have no commonality,” he adds. “There’s no reason someone couldn’t have found this years ago instead of today.”

90Fun’s Puppy 1 Auto-Following Suitcase Won’t Stop Falling Over 

Natt Garun, reporting for The Verge from CES:

Last week, 90Fun announced an autonomous suitcase that uses Segway’s self-balancing technology and a remote control to follow you around, leaving your hands free. We took 90Fun’s Puppy 1 suitcase for a spin at CES, and it’s clear that the vision of hassle-free travel is still some ways away.

We were only able to play with a prototype of the Puppy 1, which means that the design is not yet final.

You’ve got to watch the video. It’s mind-boggling that this was deemed ready to demonstrate publicly. This is like a parody of bad CES demos.

Pharmaceutical Ads in the U.S. 

From Harper’s Index for January:

Amount the US pharmaceutical industry spent in 2016 on ads for prescription drugs: $6,400,000,000

Number of countries in which direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads are legal: 2

Electronic Toymaker VTech Settles for $650,000 With FTC Over Children’s Privacy Suit 

Shannon Liao, reporting for The Verge:

The Federal Trade Commission said today that the electronic toymaker VTech Electronics has agreed to settle for a fine of $650,000, to be paid within the next seven days, after charges that it violated children’s privacy. The Hong Kong-based VTech is also the parent company of LeapFrog, a popular brand for educational entertainment for children.

The FTC alleges that VTech collected “personal information of hundreds of thousands of children” through its KidiConnect mobile app “without providing direct notice and obtaining their parent’s consent.” The personal information included children’s first and last names, email addresses, date of birth, and genders. VTech also allegedly stated in its privacy policy that such data would be encrypted, but did not actually encrypt any of it. […]

The settlement dates back to the 2015 data breach that VTech suffered. By November 2015, about 2.25 million parents had registered and created accounts on VTech’s platform for almost 3 million children. At the same time, VTech was informed by media that a hacker had accessed its computer network and children’s personal information.

$650K is a slap on the wrist for a company with billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Goodbye Android Pay, Hello Google Pay 

Pali Bhat, writing on the official Google blog:

Today, we’re excited to announce we’ll be bringing together all the different ways to pay with Google, including Android Pay and Google Wallet, into a single brand: Google Pay.

This makes sense. Or better said, I don’t think Android Pay ever made sense as a brand from Google’s perspective. “Google Pay” works as a brand anywhere, on any device.

It seems to me that Google is stepping away from promoting Android as a brand, period. Take a look at the web page for the Pixel 2 phones and search for “Android”. I see one match, and it’s a small print footnote.

How to Take a Picture of a Stealth Bomber Over the Rose Bowl 

Fascinating interview by Alexis Madrigal with aerial photographer Mark Holtzman:

Madrigal: So that’s the picture as you took it right out of the camera, or did you have to crop it?

Hotlzman: I always crop it a little. I had to rotate it a little. In the uncropped version, I had the whole stadium, plus some of the parking lot. Unlike film, the way you shoot digital is you shoot wider and crop it in. It’s hard. Things are happening really quick. It’s very fluid. I’m flying at 100 miles per hour. They are flying 200 miles an hour in the other [direction]. So, that’s 300 miles per hour. Things happen really quickly.

Just an incredible photograph.

Aaptiv 

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If your New Year’s resolutions include getting in better shape, you should check out Aaptiv. They’ve got a New Year’s sale right now, and you can start with a free trial.

Panic to Suspend Sales of Transmit for iOS 

Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser:

Transmit iOS made about $35k in revenue in the last year, representing a minuscule fraction of our overall 2017 app revenue. That’s not enough to cover even a half-time developer working on the app. And the app needs full-time work — we’d love to be adding all of the new protocols we added in Transmit 5, as well as some dream features, but the low revenue would render that effort a guaranteed money-loser. Also, paid upgrades are still a matter of great debate and discomfort in the iOS universe, so the normally logical idea of a paid “Transmit 2 for iOS” would be unlikely to help. Finally, the new Files app in iOS 10 overlaps a lot of file-management functionality Transmit provides, and feels like a more natural place for that functionality. It all leads to one hecka murky situation.

Was the use case for this app too edge-casey or advanced? Did we overestimate the amount of file management people want to do on a portable device? Should we have focused more on document viewing capabilities? Maybe all of the above?

My optimistic take: we hope that as iOS matures, and more and more pro users begin to seriously consider the iPad as a legitimate part of their daily work routines, Transmit iOS can one day return and triumph like it does on the Mac.

The good news is that this does not affect Coda for iOS, which includes full-featured remote file management. But it’s an interesting contrast to Apple’s announcement today of record-breaking App Store revenue. iOS is a vastly bigger platform, but high-quality apps that you pay for to use for work still do better on the Mac. Sure makes me wonder just how much of App Store revenue is from games.

Jason Snell on the iMac Pro’s Groundbreaking T2 Chip 

Jason Snell, writing at Macworld:

This new boot process means there’s also a new utility for Mac users to get to know: Startup Security Utility, which you can only access by booting into Recovery mode by holding down Command-R while starting up. Startup Security Utility gives the T2 guidance about just how strict it should be when judging whether it should boot your computer.

By default, security is set to Full, which means that only the current operating system or another OS version signed and trusted by Apple — meaning it hasn’t been tampered with in any way — can be booted by the computer. This version requires a network connection when you attempt to install any OS software updates, because it needs to verify with Apple that the updates are legitimate. You can also set the security level lower, to Medium (which allows older version of macOS to run regardless of Apple’s level of trust), or turn the feature off entirely, emulating the way all other Macs currently start up.

(This goes for Boot Camp, too — the T2 respects Microsoft’s signing authority for Windows 10 beginning with 2017’s Fall Creators Update, so Boot Camp users can reboot into Windows 10 while remaining fully secure.)

See also: Timothy Perfitt’s detailed look at how SecureBoot works.

App Store Continues to Grow 

Apple Newsroom:

App Store customers around the world made apps and games a bigger part of their holiday season in 2017 than ever before, culminating in $300 million in purchases made on New Year’s Day 2018. During the week starting on Christmas Eve, a record number of customers made purchases or downloaded apps from the App Store, spending over $890 million in that seven-day period.

“We are thrilled with the reaction to the new App Store and to see so many customers discovering and enjoying new apps and games,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “We want to thank all of the creative app developers who have made these great apps and helped to change people’s lives. In 2017 alone, iOS developers earned $26.5 billion — more than a 30 percent increase over 2016.”

At the end of the same item:

Since the App Store launched in July 2008, iOS developers have earned over $86 billion.

So over 30 percent of all App Store royalties paid to developers in history came in 2017 alone.

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman 

First episode: January 12.

First guest: Barack Obama.

Fuckin’-A.

Apple: ‘About Speculative Execution Vulnerabilities in ARM-Based and Intel CPUs’ 

Apple:

Update: Apple Watch is unaffected by both Meltdown and Spectre.

Security researchers have recently uncovered security issues known by two names, Meltdown and Spectre. These issues apply to all modern processors and affect nearly all computing devices and operating systems. All Mac systems and iOS devices are affected, but there are no known exploits impacting customers at this time. Since exploiting many of these issues requires a malicious app to be loaded on your Mac or iOS device, we recommend downloading software only from trusted sources such as the App Store. Apple has already released mitigations in iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2 to help defend against Meltdown. Apple Watch is not affected by either Meltdown or Spectre. In the coming days we plan to release mitigations in Safari to help defend against Spectre. We continue to develop and test further mitigations for these issues and will release them in upcoming updates of iOS, macOS, and tvOS.

Correction of the Year 

From a Politico report by Eliana Johnson on the rupture of Donald Trump’s relationship with his former campaign chairman and his preferred pick for original chief of staff, Steve Bannon:

Since then, however, most of the fights that Bannon has engaged in have pitted him against the Trump White House. Though he has cast himself as the ultimate loyalist — an indispensable translator of the political sentiments of the Trump base — it became increasingly clear, in recent months, that he and the president had different interests and that Bannon would, when necessary, work to thwart the president, and vice versa.

Back at the helm of Breitbart News, for example, he endorsed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate primary while the president backed appointed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange. He blamed the president’s decision on lobbying efforts by Kushner, whom he privately referred to as “Fredo,” the traitorous brother of The Godfather.

Josh Rogin:

FUNNY CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story misidentified the fictional character name Bannon uses to refer to Jared Kushner as Frodo, a “Lord of the Rings” reference, rather than Fredo, a reference to “The Godfather.”

It’s hard to overstate the gaping chasm between Frodo — a noble, heroic figure — and Fredo Corleone. Describing Fredo merely as “traitorous” is euphemistic — Fredo was weak, ineffective, oblivious, and stupid, too.

Fans of the Fat Nano Unite 

On Tuesday, in an aside regarding Rick Tetzeli’s description of the original iPod click wheel as “clunky”, I wrote:

Also, a personal niggle: I don’t think there was anything “clunky” about the original iPod scroll wheel. In fact, I liked the original iPod’s mechanical scroll wheel, which physically spun, better than the capacitive touch scroll wheel that replaced it. From a Mac user’s perspective, the original iPod was an amazing device. If you want something from iPod history to cite as an example of questionable Apple design, I suggest either the 2007 “Fat” Nano or the 2009 iPod Shuffle that literally had no playback buttons at all.

I heard from a bunch of readers — including good friends — who objected to my disparagement of the Fat Nano. I didn’t mean to imply no one loved it, though. Only that it was widely criticized on aesthetic grounds, and wound up lasting for just one year. Someone must have liked it at Apple too, otherwise it wouldn’t have shipped. I even heard from at least one reader who liked the no-button Shuffle. The iPod line was so good, and so well-designed, that it’s hard to say any of them exhibited “bad design”.

Even the much-derided 1998 hockey puck mouse that debuted with the original iMac has fans (including my wife).

The Verge: ‘Chrome Is Turning Into the New Internet Explorer 6’ 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Whether you blame Google or the often slow moving World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the results have been particularly evident throughout 2017. Google has been at the center of a lot of “works best with Chrome” messages we’re starting to see appear on the web. Google Meet, Allo, YouTube TV, Google Earth, and YouTube Studio Beta all block Windows 10’s default browser, Microsoft Edge, from accessing them and they all point users to download Chrome instead. Some also block Firefox with messages to download Chrome.

Good story, but I think it’s a little weird to tell the history of Chrome without mentioning WebKit until late in the story.

Excerpts From Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’: Inside Trump’s White House 

Michael Wolff, in an excerpt from his upcoming new book Fire and Fury, published by New York Magazine:

On the Saturday after the election, Trump received a small group of well-wishers in his triplex apartment in Trump Tower. Even his close friends were still shocked and bewildered, and there was a dazed quality to the gathering. But Trump himself was mostly looking at the clock. Rupert Murdoch, who had promised to pay a call on the president-elect, was running late. When some of the guests made a move to leave, an increasingly agitated Trump assured them that Rupert was on his way. “He’s one of the greats, the last of the greats,” Trump said. “You have to stay to see him.” Not grasping that he was now the most powerful man in the world, Trump was still trying mightily to curry favor with a media mogul who had long disdained him as a charlatan and fool.

From the same excerpt, what Murdoch thinks of Trump:

On December 14, a high-level delegation from Silicon Valley came to Trump Tower to meet him. Later that afternoon, according to a source privy to details of the conversation, Trump called Rupert Murdoch, who asked him how the meeting had gone.

“Oh, great, just great,” said Trump. “These guys really need my help. Obama was not very favorable to them, too much regulation. This is really an opportunity for me to help them.”

“Donald,” said Murdoch, “for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.”

“Take this H-1B visa issue. They really need these H-1B visas.”

Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas, which open America’s doors to select immigrants, might be hard to square with his promises to build a wall and close the borders. But Trump seemed unconcerned, assuring Murdoch, “We’ll figure it out.”

“What a fucking idiot,” said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.

Regarding Trump’s mental health:

Jim Baker, chief of staff for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and almost everybody’s model for managing the West Wing, advised Priebus not to take the job. Priebus had his own reservations: He had come out of his first long meeting with Trump thinking it had been a disconcertingly weird experience. Trump talked nonstop and constantly repeated himself.

“Here’s the deal,” a close Trump associate told Priebus. “In an hour meeting with him, you’re going to hear 54 minutes of stories, and they’re going to be the same stories over and over again. So you have to have one point to make, and you pepper it in whenever you can.”

A 71-year-old man who tells the same stories over and over: a narcissist in the early stages of dementia.

Mac Innovation vis-à-vis Microsoft’s Surface Line 

David Gewirtz, in a ZDNet piece headlined “Maybe It’s Time for Apple to Spin Off the Mac as a Separate Company”:

All that brings us back to the idea of spinning out the Macintosh business. I know, I know. There are lots of structural reasons why this might not be possible for Apple. The company has merged development groups, macOS and iOS are growing ever closer, yada, yada, yada. Let’s set all that aside and just brainstorm the idea for a few minutes.

Ask yourself a few questions. Would a stand-alone company on the verge of market dominance ever let its flagship top-end machine languish for five years? What about its most versatile (the Mac mini)? Would it let that machine languish, without even a processor bump, for three years? Apple went two years without updating the iMac, and that’s a top-seller.

The answer to these questions is “of course not.” Think about the Apple of the past, the one fully-focused on the Mac. Would it have allowed Microsoft to gain such innovation ground with the Surface Studio and Surface Book products? Would it have gone years without even processor-bumping its models?

The whole notion of spinning off the Mac into a separate company is so dumb it isn’t worth addressing. But the last paragraph quoted above is. I’ve seen this argument made multiple times recently — that Microsoft’s innovative and deservedly well-regarded Surface lineup was only enabled by Apple taking its collective eye off the ball in the PC space. I don’t buy that at all.

There are two Macs that have languished in recent years: the Mac Pro and Mac Mini. Microsoft’s Surface lineup doesn’t have an entry in either of those categories. The Surface lineup is composed of laptops and the iMac-esque Surface Studio.

Apple’s MacBook and iMac lineup lacks touchscreens not because Apple hasn’t paid attention to them but because Apple genuinely doesn’t think these machines should have touchscreens. Maybe Apple is wrong. Maybe Microsoft is onto the future of these form factors and Apple will have to play catch up. I don’t think so, but time will tell. But Apple has invested significant time and resources into the MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac, and now iMac Pro as they are.

If Microsoft’s Surface lineup has taken advantage of complacency, it’s on the part of existing Windows PC makers, not Apple.

Trump’s 17-Tweet Bender Yesterday Was Based Entirely on What Was on Fox News 

Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox:

Trump skeptics probably shouldn’t waste their time sowing fear of nuclear conflict in Korea — Asian stock exchanges, including in Seoul, do not appear particularly alarmed about Trump’s social media antics — but his allies should take more seriously the notion that this is a terrible way to do the job of president of the United States. Even at its very best, cable news is not an ideal source of information about the world, and the Fox News shows that Trump prefers are not cable news at their very best.

Trump-era Fox has frequently been compared by its critics to a state broadcasting network in an authoritarian regime. But the Soviet Union’s top leaders were not relying on their own propaganda outlets for information about the world. For the president to govern effectively, actual problems need to be brought to his attention. But in the propaganda bubble that Trump prefers to inhabit, there is no endless darkness in Puerto Rico or falling life expectancy amid a growing opioid crisis.

This is uncharted territory. The propaganda isn’t being directed by the executive leadership, but rather, the leader is being manipulated by the propaganda. I would make the case that the most powerful person in the world isn’t Donald Trump, but Rupert Murdoch. Fox News controls what Trump thinks, and Murdoch controls Fox News.

If Fox News ever turns against Trump, he’ll be done.

Basecamp Doesn’t Employ Anyone in San Francisco, but Now Pays Everyone as Though They Did 

David Heinemeier Hansson:

We don’t actually have anyone who lives in San Francisco, but now everyone is being paid as though they did. Whatever an employee pockets in the difference in cost of living between where they are and the sky-high prices in San Francisco is theirs to keep.

This is not how companies normally do their thing. I’ve been listening to Adam Smith’s 1776 classic The Wealth of Nations, and just passed through the chapter on how the market is set by masters trying to get away with paying the least possible, and workers trying to press for the maximum possible. An antagonistic struggle, surely.

It doesn’t need to be like that. Especially in software, which is a profitable business when run with restraint and sold to businesses.

Icicles Falling From Roof of New Chicago Apple Store Blamed on Faulty Heating System 

Blair Kamin, writing for the Chicago Tribune:

Apple spokesman Nick Leahy on Friday said the building’s architects, London-based Foster + Partners, had designed the glass-walled store with winter in mind, but had been foiled by a technical malfunction.

“The roof has a warming system that’s built into it,” he said. “It needed some fine-tuning and it got re-programmed today. It’s hopefully a temporary problem.”

In addition, he said, the store was designed to drain water — not through conventional gutters, but through four internal support columns.

That makes a lot more sense than that Chicago winter weather wasn’t taken into consideration, but let’s see about that “hopefully”.

For months now, the famously secretive Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker has refused to let architecture critics tour its spaceshiplike, ring-shaped new headquarters, also designed by Foster + Partners.

What, one wonders, does Apple have to hide?

Last week, Apple admitted to intentionally slowing down older iPhones without telling customers. This week, it apologized and cut $50 off its $79 price to install a new battery into old phones.

I have no idea what the battery/performance saga has to do with Apple’s secrecy regarding access to its new headquarters at Apple Park, but I do know this: this battery thing will be the gift that keeps on giving for years to come to lazy critics who want to make vague hand-wavy accusations that Apple’s culture of secrecy is based on the fact that the company has something unseemly to hide.

The State of Apple’s Design Mojo 

Rick Tetzeli has a good feature for Fortune on the state of Apple’s design, with a wide range of sources (including yours truly):

For many Apple critics, the story ends right here. Siri’s not great, the Touch Bar’s kind of a mess, the operating systems are pretty but somewhat confusing, and the reassuring Home button has been killed … the list goes on. Apple’s far from perfect. Point made.

But here’s the thing: Pick just about any time in Apple’s history, and you’ll find a similar set of worrying choices and seeming failures — even during those halcyon days of Steve Jobs’ triumphant second tenure at the company. 1998: that beautiful, bulbous, Bondi Blue iMac is actually an underpowered computer with an unreliable mouse and a CD slot that few consumers could use productively. 2000: The Power Mac G4 Cube, so gorgeous it becomes part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, doesn’t deliver the power and features heavy users demand. 2001: The first iPod is released, but it’s not really ready for primetime, since the scroll wheel is clunky and the device works only with Macs, which account for just 2.6% of worldwide PC sales. 2005: Apple’s in the phone business! With something called the Rokr, a kludgy music player/cell phone that the company developed with Motorola. 2007: The iPhone is introduced, with few applications and poor connectivity. 2011: The iPad is introduced, and, as my brother-in-law Mark told me at the time, “I can’t imagine anyone ever using this for anything interesting.” (He’s bought four since then.)

The problem with the Touch Bar, to my mind, is not that it’s a bad idea that Apple should abandon. It’s that the first version isn’t good enough. The Apple approach to dealing with the mixed (at best) reaction to the Touch Bar should be to go back to the drawing board and make it better. Keep what’s good and interesting about what it is now, and fix the issues people are complaining about.

(Also, a personal niggle: I don’t think there was anything “clunky” about the original iPod scroll wheel. In fact, I liked the original iPod’s mechanical scroll wheel, which physically spun, better than the capacitive touch scroll wheel that replaced it. From a Mac user’s perspective, the original iPod was an amazing device. If you want something from iPod history to cite as an example of questionable Apple design, I suggest either the 2007 “Fat” Nano or the 2009 iPod Shuffle that literally had no playback buttons at all.)

Games Using Phone Microphones to Track What You’re Watching on TV 

Sapna Maheshwari, reporting for The New York Times:

The apps use software from Alphonso, a start-up that collects TV-viewing data for advertisers. Using a smartphone’s microphone, Alphonso’s software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely and to try to analyze things like which ads prompted a person to go to a car dealership.

More than 250 games that use Alphonso software are available in the Google Play store; some are also available in Apple’s app store.

Some of the tracking is taking place through gaming apps that do not otherwise involve a smartphone’s microphone, including some apps that are geared toward children. The software can also detect sounds even when a phone is in a pocket if the apps are running in the background.

The Times provides the above link to the games in the Google Play store with this code, but no such link for affected games in the iOS App Store. Would be nice to see a list of the games on iOS. The good news is you have to approve microphone access for these games, on both platforms, but who knows how many people approve it without thinking about it? I don’t care what these apps disclose in the privacy policies — everyone knows nobody reads privacy policies. This is malware.

Web Trackers Are Exploiting Browser Login Managers 

Gunes Acar, Steven Englehardt, and Arvind Narayanan:

First, a user fills out a login form on the page and asks the browser to save the login. The tracking script is not present on the login page [1]. Then, the user visits another page on the same website which includes the third-party tracking script. The tracking script inserts an invisible login form, which is automatically filled in by the browser’s login manager. The third-party script retrieves the user’s email address by reading the populated form and sends the email hashes to third-party servers.

You can test the attack yourself on our live demo page.

Once again I say: the web would be better off if browsers had never added support for scripting. Many of the ads you see on legitimate websites today are effectively malware.

The Talk Show: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Holiday Spectacular 

As per holiday tradition at The Talk Show, a brief chat about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with a cavalcade of special guests, including Guy English and John Siracusa.

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