Linked List: February 2019

Energizer Releases Super-Thick Android Phone With Massive 18,000 mAh Battery 

I mean this sincerely: I love the idea of this phone. I do question why it has a camera bump, though.

U.S. Bans Lithium Batteries From Cargo Holds on Passenger Flights 

Taylor Hatmaker, writing for TechCrunch:

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules designed to protect air passengers from the potential dangers of lithium ion batteries. The new interim final rule disallows lithium ion cells and batteries in the cargo area of passenger airplanes. The rule also sets new guidance for lithium ion batteries that travel on cargo-carrying planes, specifying that they not exceed a state of being 30 percent charged. […]

The FAA’s current fact sheet suggests that these batteries should be carried in the passenger area and not checked, though it doesn’t go as far as banning them outright.

I think it’s been up to individual airlines to police this. On American, they’ve been asking me for years whether my checked bags contain any lithium-ion batteries.

YouTube Is Disabling Comments on Almost All Videos Featuring Children 

Julia Alexander, writing for The Verge:

YouTube will no longer allow the majority of channels featuring kids to include comment sections following a controversy over predatory comments being posted on videos of children.

YouTube will temporarily remove comments from videos that feature minors in the coming months. Only a select few channels with children will be allowed to include a comment sections, but even that comes with a caveat: they’ll be required to monitor their comments for safety.

“These channels will be required to actively moderate their comments, beyond just using our moderation tools, and demonstrate a low risk of predatory behavior,” YouTube wrote in a blog post.

“A low risk of predatory behavior”? How about zero tolerance?

Cooler Screens: Creeping on You in the Cold Drinks Aisle 

Paul Kafasis:

A new digital door technology from a company called Cooler Screens is now being tested in Walgreens, and it sounds absolutely awful. Rather than a basic, transparent glass door, coolers and freezers will be sealed by screens that show a sanitized image of the products behind them. […]

It seems there’s money to be earned by creeping on you in the cold drinks aisle, and Cooler Screens is determined to try and earn it. If this takes off, animated advertisements, eyeball tracking, and customer profiling will all become part of our simple shopping experience. But don’t worry, Cooler Screens has a privacy policy.

I feel like we’re on the cusp of the Minority Report dystopia where billboards address you by name as you walk past them.

Apple Announces Winners of Shot on iPhone Challenge 

These are all great photos. Love this comment from judge Austin Mann:

I love how accessible this image is: You don’t have to travel to Iceland to capture something beautiful, it’s right under your nose.

Hard to pick just one favorite, but I think mine is Darren Soh’s shot of a building in Singapore reflected in a puddle. Also, kudos to Apple for giving credit by name to every winner, along with their Instagram account handles.

Adaptive Video Game Controllers Open Worlds for Gamers With Disabilities 

Great accessibility story from Microsoft.

USB 3.2’s Nomenclatural Madness 

Zhiye Liu, writing for Tom’s Hardware:

Remember when the USB 3.0 standard was eventually rebranded to USB 3.1 Gen 1? Well, history is about to repeat itself once again. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) announced at MWC 2019 that the new USB 3.2 standard will absorb the prior USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 specifications.

Both USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are to be considered generations of the USB 3.2 specification. USB 3.1 Gen 1 (formerly known as USB 3.0), which offers speeds up to 5 Gbps, will be rebranded into USB 3.2 Gen 1 while USB 3.1 Gen 2, which supports communication rates up to 10 Gbps, will be called USB 3.2 Gen 2 moving forward. Since USB 3.2 has double the throughput (20 Gbps) of USB 3.1 Gen 2, the updated standard has been designated as USB 3.2 Gen 2x2.

Remember yesterday when I said if I went to work for Google I wouldn’t last a day? I wouldn’t last that long at USB-IF.

The Tiny Type Museum and Time Capsule 

Speaking of Glenn Fleishman (who, I’ll add, is my guest on the latest episode of The Talk Show), he’s got a Kickstarter project that is heading into the final two days with just a wee bit to go before getting funded:

The Tiny Type Museum and Time Capsule is a celebration of type and printing, and an effort at preserving history for future generations to re-discover. Each custom, handmade wood museum case holds a couple dozen genuine artifacts from the past, including a paper mold for casting newspaper ads in metal, individual pieces of wood and metal type, a phototype “font,” and a Linotype “slug” (set with your own message), along with original commissioned art and a letterpress-printed book and a few replicas of items found in printing shops. […]

I realize the museum’s price isn’t low, but the intent is for it to be comprehensive, authentic, and long-lasting. Sourcing and commissioning material, building a custom case designed to last centuries (and likely longer), and having the book printed in a historically accurate and archival method adds up quickly.

I wanted to do this right, have it be meaningful, and produce a treasure that will last the ages, and you’ll be proud to own, examine, and share.

Each Tiny Type Museum is $1,000, but you can get the letterpress-printed book for $200 and the e-book version is just $10. If you love typography and printing history, this project is irresistible.

The Old Guard of Mac Indie Apps Has Thrived for More Than 25 Years 

Glenn Fleishman, writing for Macworld a few weeks ago:

The longevity of indie apps is more extraordinary when you consider the changes Apple put the Mac through from the early 1990s to 2018. Apple switched from Motorola 680x0 processors to PowerPC to Intel chips, from 32-bit to 64-bit code, and among supported coding languages. It revved System 7 to 8 to 9, then to Unix across now 15 major releases (from 10.0 to 10.14). That’s a lot for any individual programmer or small company to cope with.

Nice profile of four Mac apps that are each 25 years old and going strong — BBEdit, PCalc, Fetch, and GraphicConverter.

How Google Maps ‘Satellite’ View Was Almost Named ‘Bird Mode’ 

Bret Taylor, co-creator of Google Maps and now chief product officer at Salesforce, in a Twitter thread:

Now, these exec reviews were Larry and Sergey’s favorite place to experiment with crazy meeting ideas (kind of fun, actually). I had attended one review where one founder spent the entire meeting on an elliptical machine. Their new experiment was a huge countdown clock.

The rule was: the review had to end on time. When the clock ticked zero, the buzzer would buzz, and like an NBA game, the meeting was over and decisions final.

So here we are, throwing out names like “Airplane View,” “Superman,” “I Feel Picture-y,” and this clock is ticking down.

I think it was Sergey who spoke last. “Let’s call it Bird Mode.” Bzzzzzzzz.

I start to speak and am cut off — meeting over.

I look around, and it’s clearly evident the feature has officially been named “Bird Mode” in the most insane way possible.

I wouldn’t last more than one day working at Google. Security would be escorting me out to the parking lot by mid-afternoon.

Huawei’s Mate X Foldable Phone 

Way more compelling design than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Because it folds outward rather than inward, you don’t need an extra display. It sounds like a better design and it looks like a better design. But at €2,299 (that’s $2,600) it’s clearly not priced to sell in serious quantities, and the crease doesn’t seem to exactly disappear. And what about cases? Most people use a case with their phone already, and surely people will be even more apprehensive about using a phone where both the front and back are part of the main display. Plus, the Mate X (gee, wonder why they called it the “X”?) display is plastic, not glass, so it’s probably more prone to scratching than most of today’s phones.

Even ignoring the price, it seems clear to me we’re still not close to a good practical design for a foldable phone. (Or should we be thinking of them as foldable tablets?)

Jony Ive’s Domain: All Design 

Dr. Drang:

I would argue that broadening Jony Ive’s design oversight to include software in addition to hardware was a mistake as big as putting Cue in charge of the App Store. The software side of Apple’s user interfaces — especially on iOS, which isn’t as hardened by long tradition as on the Mac — has become steadily more cryptic under Ive’s control. Some of this is due to Apple’s need to squeeze more functionality into the OS, but Ive hasn’t been up to the task of melding the new functions into the UI in a consistent and discoverable way.

To me, Ahrendts’s five years in charge of Retail has been similar to Ive’s time as Chief Design Officer. The Apple Stores look better than ever, but they don’t work as well as they used to. No one I know looks forward to going to an Apple Store, even when it’s for the fun task of buying a new toy. No doubt a lot of this is due to Apple’s success and the mobs of people milling about, but Ahrendts didn’t solve the problem of efficiently handling the increased customer load.

I think the problem with the Apple Store shopping experience is primarily that, in the iPhone era, Apple’s popularity has increased far more than they’ve increased their retail footprint. Demand has outstripped supply.

But the comparison to Ive taking responsibility for software design is interesting, too, because I think he’s also taken more responsibility for the design of the stores. When they say he’s head of design, they mean he’s head of all design. Ive has taken more of an interest in architecture in the last decade, and there are a lot of similarities between Apple Park and Apple’s newer retail stores.

Barry Ritholtz on What Happened With Amazon’s HQ2 in New York 

This piece by Barry Ritholtz is the best I’ve seen, by far, on what happened — and why — with Amazon’s aborted HQ2 project in Queens:

Before we determine who killed Amazon’s HQ2, let’s note who did not: It was not the progressives or the Anti-ICE lefties. No, the Socialists have not taken over America. The biggest opponent to Amazon HQ2 in NYC was not from the new Congressional class, all they did was make some noise, and little to do with what actually mattered. It was not, to the chagrin of Fox News, AOC or Elizabeth Warren, or anyone else in Congress. All of the incentives for this were State + City, not Federal. Congress literally had no say on this.

Spoiler alert: It was Jeff Bezos. He belatedly realized the political landscape had changed, and decided he was unwilling to engage further. He did not want to deal with it or be embarrassed. Full stop. […]

Amazon began as a bold idea, deftly executed. It embraced risk, and that generated a massive return on money. But many are simply uncomfortable with the one offs for any one company to get. If you want to encourage businesses to relocate to a specific area, then come up with a series of incentives that apply to ALL businesses that will open shop in that location — not just one. Thus, the entire HQ2 competition was conceptually flawed from the start.

As a fire-breathing Wall Street working capitalist, my instinct is to say: Build your own fucking HQ on your own goddamned dime.

Must-read piece.

Atoms — Ideal Everyday Shoes 

My thanks to Atoms for sponsoring this week at DF. Atoms makes beautiful, super comfortable shoes that slip on and off easily and even come in quarter sizes to ensure you get the perfect fit. More importantly, they’re looking to hire designers and a head of growth in Brooklyn. Cool stuff about working at Atoms: not only is their office located in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard, but you also receive killer company perks like membership at The Met and other museums.

I got a pair of their shoes a little over a week ago (black and white, of course), and I can vouch for their quality and comfort. Super soft, super cushiony. Right out of the box they feel like old favorites.

For now there’s a waitlist to score a pair of Atoms — but not for Daring Fireball readers. Just use this secret link to jump the line until March 3.

The Talk Show: ‘Plagiarists and Fabulists’ 

Glenn Fleishman returns to the show. Topics include: rumors of new Mac hardware and Marzipan at WWDC, Samsung’s new phones unveiled at their “Unpacked” event, 5G networks, Apple’s purported foray into the credit card business, and more — including Glenn’s “Tiny Type Museum” Kickstarter project.

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More Apps Caught Sending Highly Personal Information to Facebook 

Sam Schechner, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

In the Journal’s testing, Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, the most popular heart-rate app on Apple’s iOS, made by California-based Azumio Inc., sent a user’s heart rate to Facebook immediately after it was recorded.

Flo Health Inc.’s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which claims 25 million active users, told Facebook when a user was having her period or informed the app of an intention to get pregnant, the tests showed.

Real-estate app, owned by Move Inc., a subsidiary of Wall Street Journal parent News Corp , sent the social network the location and price of listings that a user viewed, noting which ones were marked as favorites, the tests showed.

None of those apps provided users any apparent way to stop that information from being sent to Facebook.

Just incredible. The appetite for analytics is so pervasive and perverse it’s led the entire industry to lose its mind.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I think Apple needs to institute stringent disclosure requirements on apps that share data with third parties. Apple’s not directly involved, but they promote the App Store as a resource users can trust.

Pinterest Is Blocking Disinformation 

Julia Carrie Wong, writing for The Guardian:

Schiff’s search results were indeed alarming: autofill suggestions for phrases such as “vaccination re-education discussion forum”, a group called “Parents Against Vaccination”, and the page for the National Vaccine Information Center, an official-sounding organization that promotes anti-vaccine propaganda. And while search results on Facebook are personalized to each user, a recent Guardian report found similarly biased results for a brand new account.

If the congressman had tried to search “vaccines” on the rival social media site Pinterest, however, he would have had little more to screenshot than a blank white screen. Recognizing that search results for a number terms related to vaccines were broken, Pinterest responded by “breaking” its own search tool.

Via Jason Snell, who says:

Pinterest’s solution isn’t perfect, but at least they’re trying. Which is more than we’ve seen from Facebook and Google.

Renee Diresta, back in August: “Free Speech Is Not the Same as Free Reach” — to me that gets to the core of what Pinterest is doing here.

Advertisers Pull Ads From YouTube Amid Pedophilia Controversy 

Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:

AT&T, one month after it thought it was safe to advertise on YouTube again, said it is pulling all advertising spending from the world’s biggest video platform. The telco joins a boycott by marketers alarmed by the discovery that a secret group of child predators has been using YouTube to make sexual comments about kids. […]

The issue — the latest “brand safety” scandal for YouTube — was exposed by vlogger Matt Watson in a Feb. 17 video. Watson discovered that YouTube’s algorithms enabled child predators to secretly connect across a series of videos with young girls engaged in everyday activities like gymnastics, stretching or hanging out at home. In those videos, members of what Watson called a “soft-core pedophilia ring” made sexualized comments about the girls tagged with timestamps identifying moments in the videos when the kids were in certain poses. The users in some cases traded child pornography in the comments section, he claimed.

Other marketers that have dropped spending with YouTube over the scandal include Disney, Epic Games, Hasbro, McDonald’s and Nestlé.

I thought maybe this controversy was overblown, but I watched Watson’s exposé and it is as awful as it sounds. I take issue with describing the group as “secret” though — they were (are?) operating in the open, under YouTube’s nose. They’re just using YouTube comments and YouTube’s algorithms are “helpfully” linking these videos together.

WSJ: ‘Apple, Goldman Sachs Team Up on Credit Card Paired With iPhone’ 

Tripp Mickle, Liz Hoffman, and Peter Rudegeair, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Apple currently takes a small cut when iPhone users make credit-card purchases through Apple Pay. It would get a bigger slice of the swipe fees from its own card, some of the people said. Executives also hope the card will boost use of Apple Pay, which has been slow to catch on among users and merchants.

Has Apple Pay really been “slow to catch on”? I see it (and use it) at an ever-growing number of merchants. Here’s a report from August that says almost one-third of iPhone owners used it in the last year and that it has over 250 million active users.

The Apple Pay card will use Mastercard Inc.’s payment network, which is the second-largest in the U.S. after Visa Inc., some of the people said. Cardholders will earn cash back of about 2% on most purchases and potentially more on Apple gadgets and services, some of the people said.

Shouldn’t The Wall Street Journal, of all publications, be able to state as fact which credit card has the bigger network, rather than relying on the word of “some of the people”? It’s not hard to look this up.

[Update: Dozens of readers have written to point out that I misread the above the sentence. “Some of the people” didn’t tell the Journal that Mastercard is the second-biggest credit card network; they told the Journal that Apple’s card will use Mastercard. My bad — but it’s a really poorly structured sentence.]

Banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. have spent heavily to lure cardholders with travel points, airport lounge access and other generous perks. Neither Apple nor Goldman is eager to join that race, people familiar with the project have said. Instead, the companies are betting that Apple customers will use the card because it is better integrated into the iPhone.

Engineers are working on new features for the Apple Wallet app that would encourage users to pay down their credit-card debt and manage their balances. Executives have discussed borrowing visual cues from Apple’s fitness-tracking app, where “rings” close as users hit daily exercise targets, and sending users notifications about their spending habits. There also could be notifications based on analysis of cardholders’ spending patterns, alerting them for example if they paid more than usual for groceries one week.

My American Express card is incredibly well-integrated with my phone already.

My big question is what the interest rates are going to be. Credit cards have turned into a dirty business where people who carry a balance pay exorbitant interest rates, even if they’ve never missed a payment. And the higher the interest rates, the harder it is to pay off the balance. Is that where Apple wants Services revenue growth to come from? Charging people usurious interest rates on their credit card debt?

Maybe if this works out well, they can start making payday loans at Apple stores.

Gurman on WWDC 2019: Marzipan Marches Forward and the New Mac Pro 

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg*:

Later this year, Apple plans to let developers port their iPad apps to Mac computers via a new software development kit that the company will release as early as June at its annual developer conference. Developers will still need to submit separate versions of the app to Apple’s iOS and Mac App Stores, but the new kit will mean they don’t have to write the underlying software code twice, said the people familiar with the plan.

In 2020, Apple plans to expand the kit so iPhone applications can be converted into Mac apps in the same way. Apple engineers have found this challenging because iPhone screens are so much smaller than Mac computer displays.

In some ways this makes sense — iPad apps are closer in scope to Mac apps. But for iPhone apps that don’t have iPad counterparts, why would developers target the Mac if they haven’t even bothered with iPad yet? And as Steven Troughton-Smith observed, in some ways the Mac is better-suited to iPhone apps than iPad is, because you can just run the app in a small window on the Mac, whereas iPad apps need to be full-screen, which leads iPhone-only apps running on iPad to look dreadful.

The only upside I can see to this entire endeavor is that some media consumption apps (Netflix, HBO, Hulu) might come to the Mac and be better than what we have now (using their websites, which have no offline access). Anything else I dread. I honestly can’t think of one productivity app on iPad where I’ve ever thought I’d like to use that app on the Mac. The best iPad productivity apps I know of — Things, Omni’s apps, Tweetbot — already have real Mac app counterparts.

Tucked away as the final sentence in the report:

The company has also internally weighed previewing a new version of the high-end Mac Pro, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Given that rumors suggest a late March event focused on subscription services (news and original video content), I would say WWDC has to be the unveiling of the new Mac Pros. Even if they don’t announce a ship date I’d be shocked if they don’t show it — they started working on it two years ago.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

Samsung Galaxy Fold 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Samsung’s foldable now has a name, the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and the company is revealing more about what this unique smartphone can do. Samsung is planning to launch the Galaxy Fold on April 26th, starting at $1,980. There will be both an LTE and 5G version of the Galaxy Fold, and Samsung is even planning on launching the device in Europe on May 3rd, starting at 2,000 euros.

Samsung is using a new 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display that allows the phone itself to have a tablet-sized screen that can be folded to fit into a pocket. The main display is QXGA+ resolution (4.2:3), and when it’s folded, a smaller 4.6-inch HD+ (12:9) display is used for the phone mode.

I remember when I got a hard time for suggesting it would be a good thing for an iPhone model to start at $1,500. A starting price of $1,980 is eye catching, for sure, but as I’ve been arguing for years, we accept the fact that pro laptops costs $2,000 or more, so why not $2,000 phones, when for so many people, the phone is by far their most-used and most important computing device? (Not to mention their primary camera.)

But I look at the Galaxy Fold and I still see a prototype. It looks terrible when folded — a thick device with a tiny display with huge forehead and chin. Clearly the two modes are not equals — the primary mode is open, and folded is an afterthought. And even in tablet mode, there’s a weird off-center notch in the corner. It just seems clunky.

Nest Secure Had a Secret Microphone, Can Now Be a Google Assistant 

“Secret Microphone” is the name of my new band.

The Official Fast Food French Fry Power Rankings 

It is astounding how strongly I agree with these rankings from Lucas Kwan Peterson at the LA Times. I know it’s fighting words to slag on In-N-Out, but their fries really are dreadful:

And bringing up the rear is In-N-Out. Before you tell me there’s a way to “hack” these fries, or somehow make them better, either by loading them with American cheese and secret sauce, or by ordering them well-done, I will grant this: It certainly doesn’t make the fries any worse. Just as dumping the fries into a dirt pile on the shoulder of a highway access road and running over that pile with my car would also probably not make the fries any worse.


Jeremy Keith:

Nine people came together at CERN for five days and made something amazing. I still can’t quite believe it.

Coming into this, I thought it was hugely ambitious to try to not only recreate the experience of using the first ever web browser (called WorldWideWeb, later Nexus), but to also try to document the historical context of the time. Now that it’s all done, I’m somewhat astounded that we managed to achieve both.

Want to see the final result? Here you go.

Very fun, and impressive in-browser recreation of the NeXT interface. Daring Fireball is mostly readable — the biggest hindrance is the lack of support for HTML entities.

‘Wherein the Collector Puts His Passions on Display’ 

Martin McClellan, writing for The Seattle Review of Books back in 2016:

But here is the heart of it: his collection is what allowed Mr. Jay his unique take on magic and entertaining. With such a library, Mr. Jay is able to fully articulate Nabokov’s rules for good readers, that one should have an imagination, a memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense. So, given his library, and having then the imagination to read well, the memory to recall his topics, a dictionary (and thesaurus, as anybody who has witnessed his patter or writing can attest), and the artistic sense to take these disparate historical inputs and spin them into stage shows that both marveled with their sublime skill and craft, and also startled for their stylistic lack of embarrassing modern magical pretense (although, certainly, on occasion, with a subtle wink, embracing a sort of Mellvillian riverboat conman affectation, the hallmark of the street performer’s garb, bridging the society they keep, from the society they bilk), it is no surprise that Mr. Jay achieved the heights of performing arts that he did. He proofed the theorem; should our society collapse, Mr. Jay will always have a profession, and that would be the exchange of coins (us) for providing wonders (him). And no doubt, his off-hours would be spent recording his memories and knowledge into books for the future Ricky Jays to find.

‘You Know, I Think I Probably Could’ 

Michael Chabon, remembering Ricky Jay:

Though I knew him for seventeen years, I never had the chance to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. So I was, am, and always will be grateful that among those rare occasions was the day I accompanied him—traveled in his wake, would be more like it—to the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. The experience was kind of a cross between walking into a Strip casino with Frank Sinatra in his heyday, touring violin shops in Cremona with Itzhak Perlman, making a circuit of the Tokyo fish market with Jiro Ono, and returning to the North Pole with Santa Claus after a long night’s around-the-world journey.

Jamf Now 

My thanks to Jamf for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. Jamf Now is a simple, cloud-based solution designed to help anyone set up, manage, and protect Apple devices at work. Easily configure company email and Wi-Fi networks, distribute apps to your team, and protect sensitive data without locking down devices.

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

Goldman Sachs: ‘Is Curing Patients a Sustainable Business Model?’ 

Tae Kim, reporting for CNBC:

Goldman Sachs analysts attempted to address a touchy subject for biotech companies, especially those involved in the pioneering “gene therapy” treatment: cures could be bad for business in the long run.

“Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” analysts ask in an April 10 report entitled “The Genome Revolution.”

“The potential to deliver ‘one shot cures’ is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically-engineered cell therapy and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies,” analyst Salveen Richter wrote in the note to clients Tuesday. “While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.”

Hard to think of a better example of what is turning capitalism into a dirty word. (Also, this is why we need government-funded research, to make the goal crystal clear: finding a cure, not finding profit.)

The FTC and Facebook Are Negotiating a Record, Multibillion-Dollar Fine for the Company’s Privacy Lapses 

Tony Romm, reporting for The Washington Post:

The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook are negotiating over a multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency’s investigation into the social media giant’s privacy practices, according to two people familiar with the probe.

The fine would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a technology company, but the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount. Facebook has expressed initial concern with the FTC’s demands, one of the people said. If talks break down, the FTC could take the matter to court in what would likely be a bruising legal fight.

Finally, billions, not millions. Fuck these negotiations: tell them it’s $20 billion and take them to court if they don’t accept it.

New US Postage Stamp Designed by Aaron Draplin 

Perfect. I’m going to buy a lifetime supply of these.

Kroger Pay 

Dan Monk, reporting for WKRP WCPO Cincinnati

The Kroger Co. debuted a new mobile payment option Wednesday that is launching in Columbus and Colorado but expanding to all stores nationwide by year end.

Kroger Pay is an app that generates a single-use QR code that can be scanned at the checkout counter to pay for a Kroger purchase. The app can be linked to any major credit or debit card. Kroger is also launching the Kroger Rewards debit card so payments, fuel points and other rewards can be tied to each purchase.

I don’t think there’s a Kroger anywhere near Philadelphia. I’ve never set foot in one. But they’re a huge chain — the largest supermarket chain in the world — so, like Walmart, they might have a chance of making their own payments thing work, eschewing Apple Pay.

But, still, QR codes? Gross.

White House Announces National Emergency Using iPhone Notes App 

Very serious, well-prepared people, the Trump administration.

It’s not even a clean screenshot — Sanders screwed it up with a black dot from the Markup feature while cropping.

Peter Kafka: ‘The Logic Behind Apple’s Give-Us-Half-Your-Revenue Pitch to News Publishers’ 

Peter Kafka, writing at Recode:

Here’s the short answer, which I’ve cobbled together by talking to industry sources: Apple has already signed many publishers to deals where they’ll get 50 percent of the revenue Apple generates through subscriptions to its news service, which is currently called Texture and will be relaunched as a premium version of Apple News this spring.

And some publishers are happy to do it, because they think Apple will sign up many millions of people to the new service. And they’d rather have a smaller percentage of a bigger number than a bigger chunk of a smaller number.

In the words of a publishing executive who is optimistic about Apple’s plans: “It’s the absolute dollars paid out that matters, not the percentage.”

Amazon Pulls Out of Planned New York City Headquarters 

J. David Goodman, reporting for The New York Times:

Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and unions, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.

What a waste of time and effort. Maybe next time don’t treat it like a game show.

Dieter Bohn on Amazon’s Acquisition of Eero 

Dieter Bohn, writing at The Verge:

We all feel trapped — or maybe captured — by the various ecosystems we live in. We all use excellent products every day made by behemoth companies, but increasingly only made by those companies. iPhone or Android, Chrome or Safari, Surface or Mac, Windows or Chrome OS, and even Facebook or Twitter: all, in one way or another, come from one of the big guys.

Eero was different. It was a tiny little company that made a great little product. Something simple, elegant, and reliable. Would it have been too much to ask that it stay independent? Perhaps, but we don’t know Eero’s financial situation. But it’s getting harder to find independent hardware startups that can scale up to something big without getting bought.

Former Apple Lawyer Who Was Supposed To Keep Employees From Insider Trading Has Been Charged With Insider Trading 

That’s quite the headline.

Paczkowski: ‘Apple Event Planned for March 25 Around a News Subscription Product’ 

John Paczkowski, writing for BuzzFeed News:

Apple has settled on a date for its first big product announcement of 2019. Sources tell BuzzFeed News that the company plans to hold a special event on March 25 at the Steve Jobs Theater on its Apple Park campus. Headlining the gathering: That subscription news service that has been all over the news today. Unlikely to make an appearance: next generation AirPods, or that rumored new iPad Mini.

Sources described the event as subscription services focused, but declined to say anything about Apple’s standalone video streaming service which is also rumored to debut in 2019.

‘At This Time’ 

Lauren Goode, writing for Wired:

Eero privacy policy currently states that the company collects data about users’ Eero networks to optimize performance, that it may share anonymized data, and that it may share personal data with third-party service providers. However, it also states, “We don’t ever track the websites you visit or collect the content of your network traffic. We don’t sell our customer data, and we don’t sell ads based on this data.”

Amazon tells Wired it has “no plans to change Eero’s policy at this time.”

I know Amazon wants to keep its options open and isn’t going to commit to anything today, but that “at this time” is painful to read.

Apple Fails to Block Porn and Gambling ‘Enterprise’ Apps 

Josh Constine, reporting for TechCrunch:

Facebook and Google were far from the only developers openly abusing Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program meant for companies offering employee-only apps. A TechCrunch investigation uncovered a dozen hardcore pornography apps and a dozen real-money gambling apps that escaped Apple’s oversight. The developers passed Apple’s weak Enterprise Certificate screening process or piggybacked on a legitimate approval, allowing them to sidestep the App Store and Cupertino’s traditional safeguards designed to keep iOS family friendly. Without proper oversight, they were able to operate these vice apps that blatantly flaunt Apple’s content policies.

The situation shows further evidence that Apple has been neglecting its responsibility to police the Enterprise Certificate program, leading to its exploitation to circumvent App Store rules and forbidden categories.

I had no idea until this Facebook thing broke just how many developers are using the “enterprise” system to effectively sideload native iOS apps, bypassing the App Store. TechCrunch has a list of a few dozen here, but the full list is way longer. Dozens and dozens of bootleg content apps like this one, which just changes its cert every few weeks. Either Apple has been purposefully looking the other way on this, or they’ve been asleep at the switch and a reckoning is coming.

WSJ: Apple Wants ‘About Half’ of Apple News Subscription Revenue 

Benjamin Mullin, Lukas I. Alpert, and Tripp Mickle, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (paywalled, as usual, alas):

Apple Inc.’s plan to create a subscription service for news is running into resistance from major publishers over the tech giant’s proposed financial terms, according to people familiar with the situation, complicating an initiative that is part of the company’s efforts to offset slowing iPhone sales.

Before we get to the Apple News subscription stuff, can I just point out that every single story about Apple this year frames every single thing they’re doing as an “effort to offset slowing iPhone sales”. This framing makes no sense. Does anyone think they’d be doing anything differently if last quarter’s iPhone sales had been slightly up rather than slightly down? And if you don’t actually know the numbers — that last quarter, although below expectations, was the second-best quarter for iPhone revenue ever, behind only the same quarter one year prior — this framing would lead a reasonable person to believe that iPhone sales are tanking.

I get it, Apple started banging the “look at our growth in Services” drum a few years ago because they’re running out of room for growth to even be possible in iPhone sales. And this Apple News subscription thing is definitely a service. But the context of this framing leaves a casual reader with a very wrong impression.

In its pitch to some news organizations, the Cupertino, Calif., company has said it would keep about half of the subscription revenue from the service, the people said. The service, described by industry executives as a “Netflix for news,” would allow users to read an unlimited amount of content from participating publishers for a monthly fee. It is expected to launch later this year as a paid tier of the Apple News app, the people said.

The rest of the revenue would go into a pool that would be divided among publishers according to the amount of time users spend engaged with their articles, the people said. Representatives from Apple have told publishers that the subscription service could be priced at about $10 a month, similar to Apple’s streaming music service, but the final price could change, some of the people said.

Apple keeping “about half” of this revenue is nuts. Given the margins in the news industry today, even Apple’s usual 70/30 split would seem a bit greedy, but half is insane.

MacRumors Projects WWDC Dates: June 3-7 in San Jose 

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

In our continued research, we discovered that San Jose requires permitting for large public events such as Apple’s WWDC Bash, which took place at the Discovery Meadow park next to McEnery in 2018.

Following that thread, we unearthed a 2019 events calendar from the City of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs that lists this year’s WWDC Bash at Discovery Meadow on the evening of Thursday, June 6. The event is named “Team San Jose 2019 WWDC” and is organized by “Apple.” An identical WWDC entry was listed in the Office of Cultural Affairs’ 2018 events calendar for the actual WWDC 2018 Bash.

Nothing’s official until it’s official, but June 3-7 in San Jose has been the smart money bet all along. It seems highly unlikely Apple will move WWDC back to San Francisco, and the O’Reilly Velocity conference is in San Jose June 10-13.

Hotel rates in downtown San Jose are higher than they’ve been the last two years, but that’s been true for these dates for months. They’ve already gone up since MacRumors published this story this morning, though.

Burying the Lede 

Reuters headline: “Vimeo Revenue Jumps 54 Percent in 2018, Paying Subscribers Near 1 Million”.

Sounds good, but five paragraphs down we get this:

Although Vimeo’s revenue is expected to rise “20 to 30 percent in the near-term,” according to its Chief Executive Anjali Sud, the video service is far from making a profit as it burns cash on product development and aggressive marketing to popularize its brand.

Vimeo started 15 years ago and still aren’t close to running in the black.

Amazon to Acquire Eero 

Amazon Press Center:

Amazon and eero today announced that they have entered into a definitive merger agreement under which Amazon will acquire eero. eero’s home mesh WiFi systems set up in minutes and blanket every room of a customer’s home in high-performing, reliable WiFi. eero is already delighting Amazon customers with its products and services, as indicated by eero’s 4.6-star product rating on

The natural and obvious plan would be to integrate Eero base stations with Echo speaker units — one set of small things to plug in around your home, rather than two. Which of course, while convenient, would be a no-go for anyone who wants to use Eero for Wi-Fi without having listening devices in their house. (I hope Amazon supports existing no-microphone Eero hardware for years to come, and see no reason why they wouldn’t.)

I liked it when Eero was an independent company, but I always suspected an acquisition was inevitable. I was kind of hoping it would be Apple, if anyone, if only for privacy reasons.

(Disclosure: Eero is a long-time sponsor of Daring Fireball, particularly The Talk Show.)

John Dingell’s Last Words for America 

John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress, one day before he died last week:

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts. […]

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately — we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

AirPods: From Mockery to Status Symbol 

Elena Cresci, writing for The Guardian:

Of all the widely ridiculed tech products, Apple’s AirPods have experienced an extraordinary turnaround. Back in 2016, they were roundly mocked by the tech industry. Tiny wireless earbuds? It seemed like a recipe for disaster — streets would be littered with these lost headphones, which would clutter up city pavements like discarded gloves and babies’ socks.

“If only there were an invention that could keep those AirPods tethered together, like a string,” wrote Ashley Esqueda from the tech website CNET on Twitter. “The beauty of the headphone cable is just like the beauty of a tampon string: it is there to help you keep track of a very important item,” wrote Julia Carrie Wong in the Guardian.

I never understood the notion that AirPods look weird. They look exactly like wired earbuds, without the wires. I do get the initial skepticism that they’d fall out and get lost frequently, but somehow Apple designed them not to, and it’s worked.

Turns out they’re one of the best products Apple has ever made. Almost everyone I know who has them loves them.


My thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring this week at DF. With over 7 million members and more than 25,000 classes, Skillshare is one of the best ways to learn new skills. It’s like Netflix for online learning. Interested in web development or data science? How about UX design, mobile photography, filmmaking, creative writing, even coffee brewing? Skillshare has it all.

Skillshare’s production values and content quality are so much better than what you typically see on the web. High quality is obviously their first priority. Here’s a personal recommendation: “Customizing Type with Aaron Draplin: Creating Wordmarks That Work”. Just look at the cool wordmarks on the title image of the video. So sweet.

And for this week only, Skillshare is offering the first 1,000 Daring Fireball readers two free months of Skillshare Premium.

Apple Tells App Developers to Disclose or Remove Screen Recording Code 

Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch:

Apple is telling app developers to remove or properly disclose their use of analytics code that allows them to record how a user interacts with their iPhone apps — or face removal from the app store, TechCrunch can confirm.

In an email, an Apple spokesperson said: “Protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem. Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity.”

A lot of these notices went out last night (according to several DF-reading developers), and Apple’s only giving them 24 hours to submit updated apps before they’re removed from the App Store. I think Apple’s doing the right thing here, and it’s an impressive display of what the App Store review team can analyze, but given that this has been going on for years, I think 24 hours notice over a weekend is a bit drastic.

Sprint Sues AT&T Over Its Bullshit 5G Branding 

Richard Lawler, reporting for Engadget:

In its claim, Sprint said it commissioned a survey that found 54 percent of consumers believed the “5GE” networks were the same as or better than 5G, and that 43 percent think if they buy an AT&T phone today it will be 5G capable, even though neither of those things are true. Sprint’s argument is that what AT&T is doing is damaging the reputation of 5G, while it works to build out what it calls a “legitimate early entry into the 5G network space.”

I don’t understand why Apple is participating in this charade. It’d be more honest for iOS to indicate this with a poop emoji in the status bar than with “5GE”.

Facebook’s Whack-a-Mole Markup Battle Against Ad Blockers 

Wolfie Christl:

Facebook adds 5 divs, 9 spans and 30 css classes to every single post in the timeline to make it more difficult to identify and block ‘Sponsored’ posts, oh my.

One look at the markup in the tweet he links to is enough to drive an HTML purist to drink.

On Margins: Lisa Brennan-Jobs and the Design, Production, and Writing of Memoir 

Speaking of excellent podcast episodes, do not miss Craig Mod’s interview with Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Any podcast that spends 15-20 minutes talking about the design of a book cover is catnip for me. But after listening, I went from not being interested in Brennan-Jobs’s memoir to wanting to read it immediately. It’s just a fabulous interview.

Reply All: ‘Negative Mount Pleasant’ 

Absolutely riveting podcast episode on the very local story behind Foxconn’s Wisconsin factory scam, as reported by Sruthi Pinnamaneni. A story of farcically bad government turns heartbreaking by the end.

Jeff Bezos’s War With National Enquirer Involves a Huge Spy Scandal 

John Schindler, writing for Observer:

A hint where this scandal is headed appeared last night when a Post reporter revealed on MSNBC that Gavin de Becker, the security guru to the stars whom Bezos hired to look into AMI, “told us that he does not believe that Jeff Bezos’s phone was hacked, he thinks it’s possible that a government entity might have gotten hold of his text messages.” […]

Another suspect is Saudi Arabia, which incurred the wrath of The Washington Post by murdering and dismembering their columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last October. Bezos referenced that awful crime in his blog post, including the line, “Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government,” explaining that AMI is seeking Saudi funding. Bezos added, “Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”

Here’s a detail I would like to see everyone reporting on this story identify: what type of text messages was Bezos exchanging with Lauren Sanchez? “Text message” technically implies SMS, but in common usage most people call iMessage messages “texts”, and the act of sending them “texting”. Or were they using some other platform? People call all sorts of messages “texts”.

This matters because SMS is not encrypted. iMessage is not just encrypted but end-to-end encrypted. If, as Bezos’s investigator apparently believes, Bezos’s phone was not compromised, that means either Sanchez’s phone was compromised, or the messages were intercepted in transit. But if they were iMessages, they couldn’t be intercepted in transit.

Jeff Bezos Exposes Extortion Attempt From National Enquirer 

Jeff Bezos:

Something unusual happened to me yesterday. Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual — it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought. I’m glad they thought that, because it emboldened them to put it all in writing. Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten. […]

Well, that got my attention. But not in the way they likely hoped. Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)

Reminiscent of when David Letterman exposed an extortion attempt regarding extramarital affairs in 2009.

Purported Exploit Exposes Keychain Passwords on MacOS 

Thomas Brewster, Forbes:

Just last week it emerged that a 14-year-old uncovered a bug that allowed snooping on iPhone and Mac users thanks to a problem in FaceTime. Now German 18-year-old Linus Henze has uncovered a vulnerability affecting the latest Apple macOS that leaves stored passwords open to malicious apps. That could include logins for your bank website, Amazon, Netflix, Slack and many more apps. And even though this is a Mac-only bug, if you’re using the iCloud keychain, passwords synced across iPhones and Macs may also be in danger.

To make matters worse, it’s likely that no fix is in the works. Henze isn’t disclosing his findings to Apple, telling Forbes the lack of payment for such research was behind his decision to keep the hack’s details secret from the Cupertino giant.

Henze hasn’t released code (thankfully), only a video purporting to show his exploit in action. I’d be skeptical except that Patrick Wardle has tested the exploit and vouches for it, telling Sergiu Gatlan at the website Bleeping Computer:

Yes, I was able to test it on a fully patched system and it worked lovely… It’s a really nice bug inspiringly so… If I’m a hacker or piece of malware this would be the first thing I do once I gain access to the system… Dump various keychains to extract passwords private keys signing certificates and sensitive tokens. It’s unfortunate that there is yet another bug in the keychain access… One would hope something like a keychain which is supposed to be secure would, in fact, be secure but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

This looks like a really bad vulnerability — especially so since Henze isn’t sharing details with Apple.

Why in the world Apple only offers security bounties for iOS is beyond my comprehension. Of course iOS has the most users, but the potential for truly critical bugs exists on all of Apple’s platforms.

Apple Is Compensating the 14-Year-Old Who Discovered Major FaceTime Security Bug 

Tom Warren, reporting for The Verge:

Apple released iOS 12.1.4 today to fix a major security flaw in FaceTime that allowed people to eavesdrop on iPhone users. The bug was originally reported to Apple by Michele Thompson after her 14-year-old son, Grant, discovered that you could add yourself to a Group FaceTime call and force recipients to answer immediately. Apple was initially slow to respond, but the company has now credited the discovery to Grant Thompson of Catalina Foothills High School.

Apple also tells The Verge that it’s compensating the Thompson family for discovering the vulnerability, and providing an additional gift to fund Grant Thompson’s tuition. Apple hasn’t revealed exactly how much it’s paying the Thompson family.

Hundreds of Bounty Hunters Had Access to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint Customer Location Data for Years 

Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard:

Around 250 bounty hunters and related businesses had access to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint customer location data, with one bail bond firm using the phone location service more than 18,000 times, and others using it thousands or tens of thousands of times, according to internal documents obtained by Motherboard from a company called CerCareOne, a now-defunct location data seller that operated until 2017. The documents list not only the companies that had access to the data, but specific phone numbers that were pinged by those companies.

In some cases, the data sold is more sensitive than that offered by the service used by Motherboard last month, which estimated a location based on the cell phone towers that a phone connected to. CerCareOne sold cell phone tower data, but also sold highly sensitive and accurate GPS data to bounty hunters; an unprecedented move that means users could locate someone so accurately so as to see where they are inside a building. This company operated in near-total secrecy for over 5 years by making its customers agree to “keep the existence of confidential,” according to a terms of use document obtained by Motherboard.

This story from January — also broken by Cox — just got a whole lot worse.

Reuters: ‘Apple Puts Modem Engineering Unit Into Chip Design Group’ 

Stephen Nellis, reporting for Reuters:

Apple Inc has moved its modem chip engineering effort into its in-house hardware technology group from its supply chain unit, two people familiar with the move told Reuters, a sign the tech company is looking to develop a key component of its iPhones after years of buying it from outside suppliers.

Modems are an indispensable part of phones and other mobile devices, connecting them to wireless data networks. Apple once used Qualcomm Inc chips exclusively but began phasing in Intel Corp chips in 2016 and dropped Qualcomm from iPhones released last year.

Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies, took over the company’s modem design efforts in January, the sources said. The organizational move has not been previously reported.

Recall the Cook Doctrine:

We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

Right now Apple only has two choices for modems: Qualcomm and Intel. Qualcomm’s modems have historically been superior, and probably still are, but Apple’s relationship with Qualcomm is contentious, to say the least. At Qualcomm’s FTC trial last month, Jeff Williams said “We had a gun to our head” when it came to negotiating with Qualcomm for iPhone modems, and that it cost Apple $1 billion a year in licensing fees Apple considers unfair. Considering that Apple’s only alternative is Intel, who’ve always been second-fiddle to Qualcomm in modems, yeah, I’d say this qualifies as a “primary technology” Apple needs to “own and control”.

Imagine what a spot Apple would be in if they relied on Qualcomm for CPUs.

OnePlus Photo Contest Winner Stole His Photo From Instagram User – Who Used a Canon DLSR to Shoot It 

Michael Zhang, writing for PetaPixel:

In September 2018, the Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus announced the winners of a #ShotonOnePlus photo contest in India to celebrate the best photos captured by its phone cameras. One of the winning shots was a shock to photographer Aman Bhargava: it looked strangely similar to a photo he had captured two years earlier on his Canon DSLR.

Submitted by photographer Pratyush Yadav, the photo looked like a slightly cropped version of a photo Bhargava captured in 2016 and posted to Instagram on May 22, 2017.

(The link to the contest winners has since been taken down by OnePlus.)

So there are two levels of fraud here. First, Yadav clearly stole the photo from Bhargava. There’s no question they’re identical, not merely very similar. Second, OnePlus selected it as a winner even though it was shot with a Canon DSLR, not one of their own phones.

Yadav was so bad at covering his tracks that he submitted the image with EXIF data (which is easily forged) that indicated the photo was shot in April 2017 using a OnePlus A6000 — a model that didn’t come out until May 2018.

Amidst the hubbub over Apple’s current Shot on iPhone contest, it occurred to me that Apple surely goes to extraordinary lengths to verify that the photos it advertises as having been “shot on iPhone” really were shot on an iPhone — and that they were shot by the photographer claiming to have shot them. This guy Yadav is the fraudster here, but it’s OnePlus that had the most to lose. Can you even imagine the bad publicity that would result if something like this — either a stolen photograph or a photo shot with an SLR (let alone both) — was named a winner in Apple’s contest?

More From Angela Ahrendts on Whether She Misses Fashion (and London) 

Vogue’s Suze Menkes, posting on Instagram last week:

I had to ask Angela Ahrendts this question: did she miss fashion after giving up Burberry five years ago to take on Apple retail? There was a significant pause before she answered:

“I loved fashion for 40 years. It is wonderful when you know everything there is to know about the industry, because you grew up in it. “I’ve been gone from London almost five years. I have two kids there — they were at university when we moved and they decided to stay. My son is a budding musician with an honours degree in song writing and my daughter has an honours degree in marketing — she works for a start up magazine and he does gigs round London and writes great music! I miss them, obviously. It’s such a great city and we try to make it back as much as we can. But California is not so bad!

In hindsight, that’s a far more interesting answer than what made it into Menkes’s profile of Ahrendts. This makes it sound like Ahrendts didn’t miss the fashion industry so much as her London-based family. I still find Ahrendts’s departure a surprise, but at this point, including a warm farewell from Tim Cook on Twitter, I think it simply looks like Ahrendts decided it was time to leave.

(Via Neil Cybart’s Above Avalon newsletter.)

Inside Wisconsin’s Disastrous $4.5 Billion Deal With Foxconn 

Austin Carr, reporting for Bloomberg Businessweek*:

“This is the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

So declared President Donald Trump onstage last June at a press event at Foxconn’s new factory in Mount Pleasant, Wis. He was there to herald the potential of the Taiwanese manufacturing giant’s expansion into cheesehead country. He’d joined Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou and then-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to celebrate a partnership he’d helped broker — “one of the great deals ever,” Trump said. In exchange for more than $4.5 billion in government incentives, Foxconn had agreed to build a high-tech manufacturing hub on 3,000 acres of farmland south of Milwaukee and create as many as 13,000 good-paying jobs for “amazing Wisconsin workers” as early as 2022.

How’s it turning out? Terribly for Wisconsin:

The only consistency, many of these people say, lay in how obvious it was that Wisconsin struck a weak deal. Under the terms Walker negotiated, each job at the Mount Pleasant factory is projected to cost the state at least $219,000 in tax breaks and other incentives. The good or extra-bad news, depending on your perspective, is that there probably won’t be 13,000 of them. […]

A report from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency, estimated the state would be in the red on the deal until at least 2042, and even that projection didn’t account for the kinds of increased public-services costs associated with population growth. It also based income tax revenue projections on the implausible assumption that every employee would live in Wisconsin, whereas some would almost certainly commute from nearby Illinois. “There’s no way this will ever pay itself off,” says Tim Bartik, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. He says Foxconn’s incentives are more than 10 times greater than typical government aid packages of its stripe.

The best part is where Wisconsin officials admit they never looked at Foxconn’s record in such deals:

Wisconsin officials apparently didn’t consider Gou’s track record problematic. Instead, they describe the billionaire, who charmed them with stories of his early days selling TV parts in the Midwest, as almost philanthropic. “My impression of him was, what a nice person,” says Scott Neitzel, who led negotiations for the Walker administration. “An extremely genuine, down-to-earth tycoon.” When asked if the state looked at Foxconn’s history, WEDC Chief Executive Officer Mark Hogan says, “We didn’t spend a lot of time on that because, in the end, we got to know these people so well.”

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, well-known philanthropist.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

‘It’s Here. It’s Now.’ 

John Schwartz and Nadja Popovich, reporting for The New York Times:

NASA scientists announced Wednesday that the Earth’s average surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth highest in nearly 140 years of record-keeping and a continuation of an unmistakable warming trend.

“The five warmest years have, in fact, been the last five years,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the NASA group that conducted the analysis. “We’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future. It’s here. It’s now.”

Over all, 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001.

Number of times this was mentioned in last night’s State of the Union: zero.

Vogue Business Ran an Angela Ahrendts Profile Just Last Week 

Suzy Menkes, in a piece for Vogue Business last week:

It’s a long way from Burberry. I look at her tailored outfit by Ralph Lauren (she is on the company’s board) and the high-heeled boots she’s worn to the building site and ask if she misses fashion.

After a pause, she replies: “You know, I loved fashion for 40 years. It is wonderful when you know everything there is to know about the industry because you grew up in it. There are things about the fashion industry that I miss, but I went to Apple because I felt it was a calling to one of the greatest companies on the planet. I felt we could even do a little of what we did at Burberry: uniting people to do incredible things.”

Doesn’t sound like someone who was getting ready to leave Apple. And it’s rather conspicuous that Ahrendts doesn’t have anything else lined up yet.

Angela Ahrendts to Leave Apple in April; Deirdre O’Brien Named Senior Vice President of Retail and People 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced that Deirdre O’Brien is taking on new responsibilities for Apple’s retail and online stores in an expanded role as senior vice president of Retail + People, reporting to CEO Tim Cook. After five transformative years leading the company’s retail and online stores, Angela Ahrendts plans to depart Apple in April for new personal and professional pursuits.

Ahrendts lasted a lot longer than John Browett, but in Apple’s executive culture, five years is not a long run.

Interesting that they’re putting O’Brien in charge of retail. With 30 years at Apple, she’s an insider, not an outsider like Browett or Ahrendts.

‘Can’t Unsee’ 

Fun web game where you need to spot the mistakes in iOS-style UI designs.

Square In-App Payments SDK 

My thanks to Square for sponsoring this week at Daring Fireball.

Square’s In-App Payments SDK makes it easy to integrate secure, compliant payments into your app. Square built an interactive card-entry interface that is optimized for speed and accuracy, and you can customize the look to match your app. Apple Pay and other digital wallets are supported, and you can also enable buyers to securely save their card on file for quicker checkout next time. If you’re a developer who needs to process payments, check it out.

Abu Zafar: ‘Why iMessage Is Better Than the Best Messaging Apps on Android’ 

Abu Zafar:

Messaging on Android is a mess.

iPhone users have it easy. iMessage comes preinstalled, and it achieves more than even the best messaging apps on Android. iMessage is end-to-end encrypted, it supports SMS, and it’s packed with features that range from gimmicky (Animoji) to can’t-live-without-it useful (Memoji). The experience of one iPhone user messaging another is seamless, secure, and convenient.

The same can’t be said for Android users.

In the video above, I tested a number of popular messaging apps on Android to try and replicate the iMessage experience. I found many that came close, but not a single one achieves the perfect trifecta of seamless, secure, and convenient.

iMessage is one of the most successful and most important products in Apple’s history. It’s widely taken for granted though.

See also: Dieter Bohn: “The Moral Case for iMessage on Android”.

Apple Apologizes for Group FaceTime Bug, Software Update With Fix Delayed Until Next Week 


We have fixed the Group FaceTime security bug on Apple’s servers and we will issue a software update to re-enable the feature for users next week. We thank the Thompson family for reporting the bug. We sincerely apologize to our customers who were affected and all who were concerned about this security issue. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we complete this process.

We want to assure our customers that as soon as our engineering team became aware of the details necessary to reproduce the bug, they quickly disabled Group FaceTime and began work on the fix. We are committed to improving the process by which we receive and escalate these reports, in order to get them to the right people as fast as possible. We take the security of our products extremely seriously and we are committed to continuing to earn the trust Apple customers place in us.

Good on Apple for thanking the Thompson family, and for acknowledging that something is wrong with their process for escalating critical bugs reported by regular customers.

In the meantime, regular 1:1 FaceTime works and is safe to use. But Group FaceTime is unavailable until the software update rolls out next week.

The Design of Loopback 2 

Rogue Amoeba’s Neale Van Fleet:

When we shipped the first version of our audio routing tool Loopback in early 2016, its powerful technology was packaged into a somewhat stripped-down interface. Because we were uncertain how large the market for this tool would be, we chose not to devote too much time to the front-end of that initial release.

By Loopback’s first birthday, it was clearly a hit with audio professionals and hobbyists alike. We knew it was time to begin planning how to flesh out the skeletal Loopback 1 into a much more refined version 2.

I love this sort of “from sketch to finished product” look at the evolution of a design. There are a lot of thoughtful small touches in Loopback 2.