The Talk Show: ‘The Butts Incident’ ★
John Moltz makes his long-awaited return to the show. Three big topics this week: the Facebook VPN app fiasco (and the company’s pattern of ethical violations), the Group FaceTime bug that allowed callers to listen to audio before the call was answered, and Apple’s quarterly results.
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You Really Couldn’t Make This Shit Up ★
Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng, writing for The Daily Beast:
Jeff Bezos’s top personal security consultant has questioned his
mistress’s brother as part of the probe into how the couple’s text
messages wound up in the hands of the National Enquirer.
Gavin de Becker, the Amazon chief’s longtime personal security
consultant and the point person for the investigation, confirmed
to The Daily Beast on Wednesday that his probe has scrutinized
Michael Sanchez, the brother of Bezos mistress Lauren Sanchez and
a personal and business associate of Trumpworld figures including
Roger Stone, Carter Page, and Scottie Nell Hughes. […]
Stone confirmed his association with Sanchez in text messages
with The Daily Beast on Wednesday evening. “I do know Michael
Sanchez — very good guy,” he wrote. Stone proceeded to deny
that he hacked Bezos’s phone. When The Daily Beast pointed out
that it had never suggested or asked if he had, Stone replied,
“You are busted. You are not a journalist. No one believes
anything you write.”
I was staying away from the whole Bezos divorce saga, but this is too unbelievable to ignore. Roger Stone is involved? I feel like a dope for being surprised by this.
Walt Mossberg on Apple’s Control of iOS ★
Unlike Facebook, which has no real competition, Apple’s app
ecosystem is dwarfed by Android and its apps. If you prefer much
looser enforcement vs. bad actors, more malware, less privacy and
a platform maker that itself collects private information by the
ton, you have a choice.
Apple Revokes Google’s Enterprise Certificates for iOS Apps ★
What’s good for the goose is good for the Google.
As soon as I saw this yesterday, I thought it was pretty much the exact same thing Facebook had been doing. Only fair they’d face the same result.
Update: BuzzFeed has statements:
In a statement, Google told BuzzFeed News, “We’re working with
Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS
apps, which we expect will be resolved soon.” Apple told BuzzFeed
News, “We are working together with Google to help them reinstate
their enterprise certificates very quickly.”
Apple has issued no such statement regarding Facebook.
Dumbest Take of the Day on the Apple-Facebook Thing ★
Casey Newton at The Verge, “Apple’s Power Over Facebook Ought to Worry the Rest of Us”:
But there’s an argument for Facebook’s kind of research, too, and
I heard it from some of you. One is that it’s common — and
indeed, by the end of the day, Google had to remove a similar app
from its enterprise development program.
All sorts of stuff is common but against the rules of the App Store.
Two is that Facebook’s program sought and obtained consent from
its participants, and that to say people shouldn’t have been able
to offer their consent is oddly patronizing.
By this logic the government shouldn’t regulate payday lenders and banks, because usurious interest rates are OK if people consent to them.
Three is that by paying its volunteers, it essentially made them
contractors — offering a fig-leaf defense of the move to include
Facebook Research among the company’s enterprise app deployments.
I’m sure they were all sending in 1099s. Give me a break. Everybody knows that Apple’s enterprise certificate program does not in any way permit distribution of this kind of software, which wouldn’t be allowed in the App Store. But that’s exactly how Facebook was using it.
There are pros and cons to Apple’s iron-clad control over native apps on iOS. This incident with Facebook is one of the pros.
Google Had a Similar Data Collection VPN App Distributed to iPhones as an Enterprise Beta ★
After we asked Google whether its app violated Apple policy,
Google announced it will remove Screenwise Meter from Apple’s
Enterprise Certificate program and disable it on iOS devices.
The company said in a statement to TechCrunch:
“The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under
Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake, and we
apologize. We have disabled this app on iOS devices. This app is
completely voluntary and always has been. We’ve been upfront with
users about the way we use their data in this app, we have no
access to encrypted data in apps and on devices, and users can opt
out of the program at any time.”
Makes you wonder how many companies are abusing the enterprise beta stuff to effectively side-load apps onto iPhones that would never pass muster in the App Store.
How Tax Brackets Actually Work ★
Marginal tax rates are fair and aren’t complicated, but are vastly misunderstood.
TechCrunch: Facebook Pays Teenagers to Install VPN That Spies on Them ★
Josh Constine, reporting for TechCrunch:
Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20
per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing
the iOS or Android “Facebook Research” app. Facebook even asked
users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. The program
is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound
and uTest to cloak Facebook’s involvement, and is referred to in
some documentation as “Project Atlas” — a fitting name for
Facebook’s effort to map new trends and rivals around the globe.
Unless I’m missing something, running this through their enterprise developer certificate is a flagrant violation of Apple’s policies. Apple shut down Facebook’s Ovano VPN in August for collecting this exact type of data. Doing it outside the App Store doesn’t make it any better. As Constine points out:
However, Facebook’s claim that it doesn’t violate Apple’s
Enterprise Certificate policy is directly contradicted by the
terms of that policy. Those include that developers “Distribute
Provisioning Profiles only to Your Employees and only in
conjunction with Your Internal Use Applications for the purpose of
developing and testing”. The policy also states that “You may not
use, distribute or otherwise make Your Internal Use Applications
available to Your Customers” unless under direct supervision of
employees or on company premises.
Security expert Will Strafach, quoted by TechCrunch:
“This hands Facebook continuous access to the most sensitive data
about you, and most users are unable to reasonably consent. There
is no good way to articulate just how much power is handed to
Facebook when you do this.”
What apps you’re using, all of your network data, your location — Facebook takes all of it with this app. (Strafach is tweeting up a storm tonight on this story.)
Genuinely interested to see how Apple responds to this. To my eyes, this action constitutes Facebook declaring war on Apple’s iOS privacy protections. I don’t think it would be out of line for Apple to revoke Facebook’s developer certificate, maybe even pull their apps from the App Store. No regular developer would get away with this. Facebook is betting that their apps are too popular, that they can do what they want and Apple has to sit back and take it. I keep saying Facebook is a criminal enterprise, and I’m not exaggerating. Sometimes a bully needs to be punched in the face, not just told to knock it off.
Apple’s Q1 2019 Results ★
Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2019 first
quarter ended December 29, 2018. The Company posted quarterly
revenue of $84.3 billion, a decline of 5 percent from the year-ago
quarter, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $4.18, up 7.5
percent. International sales accounted for 62 percent of the
Revenue from iPhone declined 15 percent from the prior year, while
total revenue from all other products and services grew 19
percent. Services revenue reached an all-time high of $10.9
billion, up 19 percent over the prior year. Revenue from Mac and
Wearables, Home and Accessories also reached all-time highs,
growing 9 percent and 33 percent, respectively, and revenue from
iPad grew 17 percent.
No surprises here — these numbers are exactly in line with Apple’s warning at the beginning of the month. For those who are concerned that Apple is too reliant on its iPhone business, these numbers should be a positive sign.
Apple Newsroom Feature on Finisar, Texas-Based Component Supplier ★
I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s no coincidence this feature dropped on the same day as the NYT’s story on Apple’s problem getting screws for the Mac Pro.
New Mac utility from Guilherme Rambo that gives you two things. First, open your AirPods case next to your Mac and a window will appear, showing the battery life of the case and the earbuds (just like on iOS). And you can click to connect them to your Mac. Second, a very nice Notification Center widget that will show you the battery life of your AirPods along with any iOS devices that trust your Mac.
Both useful and beautiful. AirBuddy looks like it’s part of MacOS — and it should be. $5 or more, on a pay-what-you-think-is-fair basis. (I paid extra — this is worth way more than $5.)
That November Rumor of a Low-Price Apple TV Dongle ★
Back in November, The Information reported that Apple was considering a low-price Apple TV dongle. Amazon, Roku, and Google all have dongles that cost $30-40 with 4K support. Apple TV starts at $150 and you have to pay $180 to get 4K support. For people who just want something to plug in the back of their TV to watch streaming video, Apple TV’s prices are exorbitant. Me, I love Apple TV, and the price is well worth it. But Apple’s getting their ass kicked in this market and the reason is price — it doesn’t look a little more expensive, it looks 4 times more expensive.
Given that Apple announced this month they’d be building support for iTunes TV shows and movies into smart TVs from Samsung, and that TVs from Sony, LG, and Vizio will include built-in support for AirPlay 2, of course it makes sense for Apple to make a low-price Apple TV dongle. Sell it for cost and make money on movies, TV shows, and subscriptions to Apple’s upcoming content service. Bang the marketing drum on the privacy angle — no tracking what you watch — and the fact that it doesn’t show you ads.
They should keep the excellent high-performance $200 Apple TV around, include a real controller in the box, and make a serious run at turning it into a successful gaming console. Free games — if you subscribe to Apple’s all-included subscription service.
Update: Think of an Apple TV dongle as the iPod Shuffle of Apple TVs — iPod Shuffles sold for as low as $49. Maybe they make a dongle that costs $69, but they offer it for $29 if you sign up for a year-long subscription to their original content subscription plan. Whatever it takes to make every recent TV out there a potential target for iTunes and Apple original content.
FaceTime Bug Lets You Hear the Audio of the Person You Are Calling Before They Pick Up ★
Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac:
Here’s how to do the iPhone FaceTime bug:
Start a FaceTime Video call with an iPhone contact.
Whilst the call is dialing, swipe up from the bottom of the
screen and tap Add Person.
Add your own phone number in the Add Person screen.
You will then start a group FaceTime call including yourself and
the audio of the person you originally called, even if they
haven’t accepted the call yet.
It will look like in the UI like the other person has joined the
group chat, but on their actual device it will still be ringing on
You can get video too. What a nightmare bug. Apple told BuzzFeed a fix will be released “later this week”, but until then, if you get a FaceTime call, assume the caller can hear you before you answer.
Update: Last night Apple disabled Group FaceTime — the source of the bug — on the server side, so it appears it’s safe to use FaceTime until the bug fix ships.
How Apple Got Screwed Assembling the 2013 Mac Pros in the U.S. ★
Jack Nicas, reporting for The New York Times:
But when Apple began making the $3,000 computer in Austin, Tex.,
it struggled to find enough screws, according to three people who
worked on the project and spoke on the condition of anonymity
because of confidentiality agreements.
In China, Apple relied on factories that can produce vast
quantities of custom screws on short notice. In Texas, where
they say everything is bigger, it turned out the screw suppliers
Tests of new versions of the computer were hamstrung because a
20-employee machine shop that Apple’s manufacturing contractor was
relying on could produce at most 1,000 screws a day.
This is a perfect example of how Apple’s China-centered supply chain, built over two decades, is going to be hard to replicate anywhere else in the world — and even if it happens, it’s going to take time.
This part of the story I don’t get:
Another frustration with manufacturing in Texas: American workers
won’t work around the clock. Chinese factories have shifts working
at all hours, if necessary, and workers are sometimes even roused
from their sleep to meet production goals. That was not an option
All sorts of industries in the U.S. operate around the clock. Hospitals, police and fire departments, diners, and, yes manufacturing plants. Surely The New York Times itself has staff on duty 24/7/365. My dad spent his entire career, over three decades, working third shift as a train dispatcher for Conrail. There are people in the U.S. who work weekends, who work holidays, and who work overtime. I don’t know how this statement that “Americans won’t work around the clock” passed the Times’s copy desk.
‘High Flying Bird’ – Another Steven Soderbergh Movie Shot on iPhone ★
Richard Lackey, writing for Cinema5D:
Almost exactly a year ago we took a brief look at the motivations
for Soderbergh’s current “shot on iPhone” trajectory, and some of
the first stills from Unsane (his first project to be shot with
iPhones), a psychological thriller starring Claire Foy, Joshua
Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, and Amy Irving.
Now he’s behind the iPhone again with High Flying Bird, an NBA
drama starring Andre Holland and written by Oscar-winner Tarell
Alvin McCraney, who co-wrote Moonlight with Barry Jenkins. The
supporting cast includes Zazie Beetz, Zachary Quinto, Kyle
MacLachlan, Bill Duke, Sonja Sohn, and Caleb McLaughlin.
Cheddar: Apple Considering Subscription Service for Games ★
Alex Heath, writing for Cheddar:
The service would function like Netflix for games, allowing users
who pay a subscription fee to access a bundled list of titles.
Apple began privately discussing a subscription service with game
developers in the second half of 2018, said the people, all of
whom requested anonymity to discuss unannounced plans.
It’s unclear how much the subscription will cost or what kind of
games Apple will offer. The service is still in the early stages
of development, and Apple could ultimately decide to abandon it.
There are three main types of entertainment media: music, video, and games. Apple already has a subscription service for music, we know for a fact that they’re full-steam ahead on original content for TV shows and movies, so it makes sense that they’d be looking at games too.
On mobile, Apple is clearly the dominant player in the industry. Surely any subscription gaming service from Apple would start — and perhaps end — with the iPhone and iPad. The Mac is perhaps further behind on PC gaming than it’s ever been. I don’t think that’s going to change. But Apple TV still strikes me as a missed opportunity, simply because it doesn’t ship with a gaming controller. Maybe this company-wide emphasis on services revenue is the thing that could make Apple reconsider that.
Apple Will Pay ‘Shot on iPhone’ Contest Winners to License Photos ★
Apple updated their “Shot on iPhone” contest announcement with the following:
Apple believes strongly that artists should be compensated for
their work. Photographers who shoot the final 10 winning photos
will receive a licensing fee for use of such photos on billboards
and other Apple marketing channels.
There we go.
Update: Om Malik:
From what I am hearing from within Apple, the plan was to pay a
licensing fee and not call it a prize. That is an argument I buy!
They’ve been paying licensing fees for “Shot on iPhone” photos all along, so this passes the sniff test.
Microsoft Office 365 Now Available in Mac App Store ★
Today, Office 365 is available for the first time on the Mac App
Store, making it easier than ever for Mac users to download Word,
Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and the whole suite of
Microsoft’s popular apps. Users can also purchase a subscription
for Office 365 from within the apps, so they can get up and
I’d bet a fortune Microsoft isn’t paying Apple the standard 70/30 split for the first year of a subscription. Maybe they’ve jumped right to 85/15? Maybe even more favorable to Microsoft? I’d love to know.
35 Years Ago Today: Steve Jobs Unveils the First Macintosh ★
The world wasn’t quite ready for Macintosh yet, but the people in that audience were. They practically went nuts when it started talking. Personal computers just couldn’t do that then.
See also: Tim Cook’s tweet marking the anniversary.
Bing Outage in China ★
Paul Mozur and Karen Weise, reporting for The New York Times:
Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, the last vestiges of the
global internet have slowly disappeared from an online world that
had already shut out Twitter, Google and Facebook.
Now one of the last survivors, Microsoft’s Bing search engine,
appears to have joined them — even though the American company
already censors its results in China.
The Chinese government appeared to block the search engine on
Wednesday, in what would be a startling renunciation of more than
a decade of efforts by Microsoft to engage with Beijing to make
its products available. If the block proves to be permanent, it
would suggest that Western companies can do little to persuade
China to give them access to what has become the world’s largest
internet market by users, especially at a time of increased trade
and economic tensions with the United States.
It says everything you need to know about how closed China is that no one even knows if Bing is actually being censored or if it’s just a glitch. Update: Turns out it really was just a glitch.
With Bing, Microsoft tried to play by China’s rules. For example,
a search for the Dalai Lama, the religious leader, would turn up
state media accounts within China that accused him of stirring up
hatred and separatism. Outside the country, it would point to
sites like Wikipedia.
Other searches, like for Tiananmen Square or the Falun Gong
religious group, were similarly scrubbed, though over the years
users reported that using coded language could help turn up posts
about some topics that were generally controlled.
My take on this is that if Western search engines are going to try to work in China, censored search terms should simply return a statement that this term is prohibited. Return no results at all rather than censored results. “This search term is prohibited” isn’t useful but at least it would be true. Turning up only state media results is false.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Doesn’t Understand Why Unpaid Federal Workers Use Food Banks Instead of Going Into Debt ★
Damian Paletta, reporting for The Washington Post:
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday said he doesn’t
understand why federal workers are visiting food banks during the
partial government shutdown, saying they should instead seek
low-interest loans from banks and credit unions to supplement
their lost wages.
“I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross
said on CNBC when asked about federal workers going to food banks.
Ross is a billionaire and a longtime friend of President Trump.
His comment drew immediate criticism from House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Is this the ‘let them eat cake’ kind of
attitude?” she said. “Or call your father for money?”
Is there anyone left in the Trump administration who isn’t a complete asshole?
And, let’s face it, surely a bunch of unpaid federal workers are going into debt during this shutdown — most likely on high-interest credit cards.
Russell Baker, Pulitzer-Winning NYT Columnist and Humorist, Dies at 93 ★
Robert D. McFadden, writing for the NYT:
But it was as a columnist that Mr. Baker made his name. Based at
first in Washington, he recalled that he had to feel his way in
the new genre of spoof and jape. “Nobody knew what the column was
going to be,” he told the writer Nora Ephron. “I didn’t. The Times
But soon he was doing what he called his “ballet in a telephone
booth,” creating in the confined space of 750 words satirical
dialogues, parodies and burlesques of politicians and the whirling
capital circus — then stoking the fires of the antiwar and civil
rights struggles of the 1960s and the Watergate scandal that
forced President Richard M. Nixon from office in 1974.
Baker retired at the end of 1998, but I was a regular Times reader in the 1990s, and loved his column. Such a distinctive voice and deft touch. McFadden cites a 1975 column, “Francs and Beans”, spoofing a report from the Times’s restaurant critic on a $4,000, 31-course meal. Here’s an excerpt:
The dish is started by placing a pan over a very high flame until
it becomes dangerously hot. A can of Heinz’s pork and beans is
then emptied into the pan and allowed to char until it reaches the
consistency of hardening concrete. Three strips of bacon are fried
to crisps, and when the beans have formed huge dense clots firmly
welded to the pan, the bacon grease is poured in and stirred
vigorously with a large screw driver.
This not only adds flavor but also loosens some of the beans
from the side of the pan. Leaving the flame high, I stirred in
a three‐day‐old spaghetti sauce found in the refrigerator,
added a sprinkle of chili powder, a large dollop of Major
Grey’s chutney and a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to make
the whole dish rise.
Beans with bacon grease is always eaten from the pan with a
tablespoon while standing over the kitchen sink. The pan must be
thrown away immediately.
This, from the man perhaps best known as the host of PBS’s “Masterpiece Theatre”.
Apple’s ‘Shot on iPhone’ Contest Has No Prizes ★
William Gallagher, writing at AppleInsider:
There’s one reason why Apple is calling its new Shot on iPhone
Challenge a contest, and that’s because it has no intention of
actually buying any of the photographs it uses. Your best iPhone
photography could end up at the heart of a nationwide billboard
campaign that will cost Apple millions to deliver from concept to
physical execution, and you will get nothing for it.
Apple, the company about to post $84 billion earnings in a
quarter, will get yet more sales. Apple’s ad team will be paid,
Apple’s website developers will get their salary, and even the
billboard company will get money.
I thought about this too when Apple announced the contest today. But I don’t think this is like spec work. Presumably everyone entering is using photographs they would have shot anyway, and the contest rules make very clear there are no prizes. No professional photographer is losing work from this.
And to rub your face in how you’re being exploited here, in
previous campaigns that credit has been your first name and the
initial of your surname. So if you win this contest — or if you
even enter it at all — you are giving the richest company in the
world free use of your work.
Apple’s “first name, last initial” crediting for “Shot on iPhone” ads has always bothered me. People deserve credit for their work, and a full name at least gives those who admire a winning photo the chance to search for them online to find more of their work. I noticed though, that in Apple’s Newsroom announcement of the contest, the three example photos are all credited by full name. Incredible photos too — the bar is going to be very high to win this contest. Also interesting: the three photos were shot on iPhone 7, 6S, and 6 — a four-year-old iPhone.
If you’re happy with no reward other than exposure for your photograph and credit, by all means, enter the contest. But if credit is all you get, it should be credit by full name (and a link to your original post on Instagram, Twitter, or Weibo).
Update: Shawn King:
@gruber BTW, I heard from a “friend” at Apple who said, “Another
reason why this isn’t a contest with prizes? Legal. There are a
whole other set of rules if Apple offers prizes and those rules
differ from country to country. This way, Apple doesn’t have to
worry about it.” Makes sense.
That does make sense, especially since the contest is worldwide, including China.
Netflix on Its Competition (PDF) ★
Netflix, in its letter to shareholders announcing (solid) quarterly results:
In the US, we earn around 10% of television screen time and less
than that of mobile screen time. In other countries, we earn a
lower percentage of screen time due to lower penetration of our
service. We earn consumer screen time, both mobile and television,
away from a very broad set of competitors. We compete with (and
lose to) Fortnite more than HBO. When YouTube went down
globally for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups
spiked for that time. Hulu is small compared to YouTube for
viewing time, and they are successful in the US, but non-existent
in Canada, which creates a comparison point: our penetration in
the two countries is pretty similar. There are thousands of
competitors in this highly-fragmented market vying to entertain
consumers and low barriers to entry for those with great
experiences. Our growth is based on how good our experience is,
compared to all the other screen time experiences from which
consumers choose. Our focus is not on Disney+, Amazon or others,
but on how we can improve our experience for our members.
This seems like a good measuring stick. We’re seeing more streaming services every year, but there are still only 24 hours in a day.
Lee Unkrich Is Leaving Pixar After 25 Years ★
Lee Unkrich, in a letter to Pixar:
It is impossible for me to adequately express how epic this
twenty-five year journey has been, and how much it has meant to
work alongside such fantastic people and phenomenal talent. Many
of you are like family to me, and it’s nearly incomprehensible to
imagine no longer being here at Pixar with you. But life is about
change, and it’s now my time for new challenges and new
adventures. I’m not leaving to make films at another studio;
instead, I look forward to spending much-needed time with my
family, and pursuing interests that have long been back-burnered.
And perhaps I’ll have some new stories to tell along the way.
He co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, and then solo-directed Toy Story 3 and co-directed last year’s amazing Coco. All great movies by any measure, but these Pixar films are particularly near and dear to my heart, because they’re the movies of my son’s childhood. Every one of them is funny, exciting, surprising, beautiful, and most importantly, brimming with a palpable sense of camaraderie. What does it feel like to have loving friends and family? Watch a Lee Unkrich movie.
Ron Amadeo: ‘Even With the Google/Fossil Deal, Wear OS Is Doomed’ ★
Ron Amadeo, writing at Ars Technica:
Meanwhile, the non-Wear OS competition is Samsung and Apple, both
of which have their own private SoC divisions where they can
invest in building quality smartwatch chips. I would argue Apple’s
“S” line of SoCs is the primary enabling technology of the Apple
Watch — it can be compact, fast, and long-lasting thanks to a
smartwatch SoC with actual effort behind it. Apple doesn’t talk
much about technical details, but the S3 chip in the Apple Watch
Series 3 was claimed to be 70-percent faster than the S2
SoC. The S4 SoC in this year’s Apple Watch Series 4 is claimed to
be two times faster than the S3, and it’s a modern ARM
design with 64-bit compatibility.
Wear OS has never once seen the kind of performance increase that
the Apple Watch enjoys every single year. If you read Qualcomm’s
press releases carefully (2100 launch, 3100 launch),
you’ll notice the company never even claims its new smartwatch
chip is faster than its old smartwatch chip. We’ve verified this
with benchmarks, too. It’s just the same ancient CPU being
repackaged over and over.
Interesting way to think about it. Whatever you think of the software, Wear OS just doesn’t have competitive chips available on the hardware side.
The Talk Show: ‘More Smarter’ ★
Joanna Stern returns to the show. Topics include the iPhone XR (and the argument that it might be the best phone in Apple’s current lineup), Apple’s new Smart Battery Cases, Apple Watch, and, of course, the new MacBook Air.
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EU Fines Mastercard More Than Half a Billion Euros ★
The European Commission on Tuesday fined Mastercard €570 million
($648 million) for preventing retailers from looking for better
card payment terms at banks around Europe.
The Commission, which monitors competition, said that Mastercard’s
rules prior to 2015 forced retailers to pay certain bank fees in
the country they are located rather than let them shop around.
Now that’s a fine.
Mariano Rivera First Player Ever Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Unanimously ★
Kristie Ackert, writing for The New York Daily News:
Mariano Rivera thought he might have “a good shot of being a Hall
of Famer” after his 19-year career with 13-All-Star appearances,
five World Series rings, MLB’s all-time saves record, an obscene
postseason ERA and the title as the “greatest closer ever to play
the game.” He never imagined, though, that he would make history
on Tuesday night.
The Panamanian right-hander became the first player in baseball
history to be elected into the Hall of Fame unanimously.
“After my career, I was thinking I had a good shot to be a
Hall-of-Famer, but this was just beyond my imagination,” Rivera
said Tuesday night on a conference call with reporters. ”Just to
be considered a Hall-of-Famer is quite an honor, but being
unanimous — it’s amazing.”
The whole thing where no one had ever been elected unanimously — not even Babe Ruth! — was a bad tradition. Glad to see it go, and even gladder that Mariano Rivera was the player. What a privilege it was to watch him pitch.
Update: Derek Jeter wrote a nice piece on Rivera for The Players Tribune.
French Privacy Regulators Fine Google €50 Million ★
On 21 January 2019, the CNIL’s restricted committee imposed a
financial penalty of 50 Million euros against the company GOOGLE
LLC, in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation
(GDPR), for lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack
of valid consent regarding the ads personalization.
Is this sort of penalty effective, or does Google just shrug it off? Last quarter Google reported $33 billion in revenue and over $8 billion in profit. €50 million is not nothing, but is it enough to give Google pause?
What Happened to CurrentC? ★
In light of Target (and a slew of other major retailers and restaurant chains) joining Apple Pay today, it’s worth a look back at CurrentC. This piece from last April by Nicholas L. Johnson is a good overview:
We’re waiting for CurrentC.
That was the response from a host of major retailers when Apple
launched its much-awaited payments app, Apple Pay, in October
2014. While Apple consumers were excited, many retailers didn’t
see much benefit. Apple Pay was built on top of existing credit
and debit card infrastructure. It was just a shiny new interface
on the same old payment mechanisms.
CurrentC was going to be different. For retailers, it was a way
out. Many merchants don’t like the 2% to 3% that the major card
networks charge when consumers pay with credit. That was all going
I think Johnson’s conclusion that CurrentC solved a problem for retailers, not for consumers, is exactly right.
The last big holdout on Apple Pay in the US is Walmart, who spearheaded CurrentC. Update: Walmart’s the biggest, but there are a few big holdouts in the U.S., including Kroger, the country’s biggest supermarket chain.
Yours Truly on the New Mac Power Users Podcast ★
Stephen Hackett has joined David Sparks on the long-running Mac Power Users podcast, and it was my pleasure to be their first guest. Lots of talk about the ins and outs of writing Daring Fireball and doing my own podcast, and some speculation about the future of Apple’s major platforms. Very fun show — David and Stephen make for a good team.
Apple Pay Coming to Target, Taco Bell, and More Top US Retail Locations ★
Target, Taco Bell, Hy-Vee supermarkets in the Midwest, Speedway
convenience stores and Jack in the Box are the latest merchants to
support Apple Pay, the most popular mobile contactless payment
system in the world that lets customers easily and securely pay in
stores using their iPhone and Apple Watch. With the addition of
these national retailers, 74 of the top 100 merchants in the US
and 65 percent of all retail locations across the country will
support Apple Pay.
Target is a big one for me. It always felt inevitable to me that Target would support Apple Pay, but I’ll bet it was a lot of work behind the scenes to get the deal in place.
My thanks to Procreate for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week. Procreate is a beautiful, fast, and powerful painting app made for creative professionals. It gives you all the tools you need to create quick sketches, inspiring paintings, and detailed illustrations, no matter where you are.
Along with the huge range of pro features like fully customizable brushes and high resolution, multi-layered canvases, you can now experience the brand new QuickShape. This groundbreaking tool helps you create perfect geometry, just like magic.
I’ve been writing a lot lately about how the iPad needs more apps with depth — truly professional power, but exposed through an interface designed for iOS and touch. That’s Procreate. (They even open-sourced their code for enabling tap-with-two-fingers for Undo, and encourage other drawing apps to use it.)
For just $9.99 it’s yours forever, with regular feature-rich updates, and most importantly, no subscriptions. If you have any interest at all in a drawing app for iPad, you should check out Procreate.
Rene Ritchie’s Review of the New Smart Battery Cases ★
I got mine this morning. First impressions:
It’s thick and heavy, but for a practical reason. It packs a big battery. I’m writing this at 10 pm and my iPhone is still at 100 percent. The case is on the cusp of depletion, but I had only gotten it up to 75 percent before unplugging it. It’s a much more clever design than the previous one. Texture- and button-wise, it feels exactly like Apple’s regular silicone cases.
One note: mine arrived with 0 percent charge. From what I’ve seen, so is everyone else’s. Apple products usually arrive with some usable amount of battery charge, but I think something is different about standalone batteries, as opposed to batteries built into devices. Apple.com’s ordering page even states that standalone lithium-based batteries can only ship by ground, not air. At 0 percent, it wouldn’t charge when placed on a Qi charger. I had to charge it via Lightning for a bit first, then it worked on the Qi charger as expected.
If you want a battery case, I feel certain Apple’s is the one to get. But if you only need a portable charger occasionally, I think an external battery pack is still the way to go — if only because it’ll charge any device.
Sorry, Even a ‘Record-Setting’ Fine Isn’t Going to Cut It ★
Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin, reporting for The Washington Post:
U.S. regulators have met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine
against Facebook for violating a legally binding agreement with
the government to protect the privacy of its users’ personal data,
according to three people familiar with the deliberations but not
authorized to speak on the record.
The fine under consideration at the Federal Trade Commission, a
privacy and security watchdog that began probing Facebook last
year, would mark the first major punishment levied against
Facebook in the United States since reports emerged in March that
Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, accessed personal
information on about 87 million Facebook users without their
The penalty is expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million
fine the agency imposed on Google in 2012. That fine set a record
for the greatest penalty for violating an agreement with the FTC
to improve its privacy practices.
It could be 10 times the $22 million fine levied against Google and it wouldn’t make Facebook bat an eyelash or regret anything. The company needs to be broken up.
Google to Pay $40 Million for Fossil’s Smartwatch Tech ★
Paul Lamkin, writing for Wareable:
The Fossil Group and Google have exclusively revealed to Wareable
that Google will pay Fossil $40 million to buy intellectual
property related to a smartwatch technology currently under
The deal, which will see some of Fossil’s R&D team joining Google,
will result in the launch of a “new product innovation that’s not
yet hit the market”. That’s according to Greg McKelvey, EVP and
chief strategy and digital officer of the Fossil Group, who also
stated to us that he sees the deal as transaction, rather than an
Apple Watch isn’t mentioned once in the article, but this deal is all about Apple Watch’s success. Pixel Watch, anyone?
Lawsuit Reveals Facebook’s Internal Documents About How It Made Money Off Children ★
Nathan Halverson, reporting for Reveal:
“In nearly all cases the parents knew their child was playing
Angry Birds, but didn’t think the child would be allowed to buy
anything without their password or authorization first,” according
to an internal Facebook memo. The memo noted that on other
platforms, such as Apple’s iPhone, people were required to
reauthorize additional purchases, such as by re-entering a
A Facebook employee noted that children were likely to be confused
by the in-game purchases because it “doesn’t necessarily look like
real money to a minor.” Yet the company continued to deny refunds
to children, profiting from their confusion.
In one of the unsealed documents, two Facebook employees deny a
refund request from a child whom they refer to as a “whale” — a
term coined by the casino industry to describe profligate
spenders. The child had entered a credit card number to play a
game, and in about two weeks racked up thousands of dollars in
charges, according to an excerpt of messages between two employees
at the social media giant.
The transcript Reveal obtained is jaw-dropping. A 15-year-old ran up $6,500 in in-game charges and Facebook refused the request for a refund.
Facebook is a criminal enterprise.
Tim Cook: ‘It’s Time for Action on Data Privacy’ ★
Tim Cook, in an op-ed for Time:
Last year, before a global body of privacy regulators, I laid out
four principles that I believe should guide legislation:
First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should
challenge themselves to strip identifying information from
customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second,
the right to knowledge — to know what data is being collected and
why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for
you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth,
the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.
Steve Jobs in 2010: “Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for — in plain English, and repeatedly.”
AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint to Stop Selling Location Data to Third Parties After Motherboard Investigation ★
Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard:
Last week, Motherboard revealed that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint
had been selling their customers’ real-time location data that
ultimately ended up in the hands of bounty hunters and people
unauthorized to handle it. Motherboard found this by purchasing
the capability to geolocate a phone for $300 on the black market.
In response, AT&T and T-Mobile said they were stopping all sales
of location data to third parties.
Nearly a week later Sprint has committed to doing the same, in a
statement to Motherboard.
“As a result of recent events, we have decided to end our
arrangements with data aggregators,” a Sprint spokesperson told
Motherboard in an email.
It’s an outrage that this happened in the first place, and should be investigated by authorities. But the fact that the carriers quickly moved to stop the practice shows the power of investigative journalism. Kudos to Motherboard.
Signal v Noise Exits Medium ★
David Heinemeier Hansson:
Beyond that, though, we’ve grown ever more aware of the problems
with centralizing the internet. Traditional blogs might have swung
out of favor, as we all discovered the benefits of social media
and aggregating platforms, but we think they’re about to swing
back in style, as we all discover the real costs and problems
brought by such centralization.
Hear hear. New design for SvN looks great, too.
Garrett Graff: ‘Trump Must Be a Russian Agent; the Alternative Is Too Awful’ ★
Garrett Graff, writing for Wired:
In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there
are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised
by the Russian government and has been working covertly to
cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016
election — or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most
famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could
be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.
At least the former scenario — that the president of the United
States is actively working to advance the interests of our
country’s foremost, long-standing, traditional foreign adversary
— would make him seem smarter and wilier. The latter scenario is
simply a tragic farce for everyone involved.
My guess is it’s a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B — that Russia has something on Trump and he’s a useful idiot. Graff makes a good point, though — we’re still far from knowing the whole story, but we already know enough that it’s not possible for Trump to come out of this clean.
Pew Study on Facebook Users Shows Majority Don’t Know That Facebook Tracks Their Interests for Targeting Ads ★
Paul Hitlin and Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center:
Facebook makes it relatively easy for users to find out how
the site’s algorithm has categorized their interests via a
“Your ad preferences” page. Overall, however, 74% of Facebook
users say they did not know that this list of their traits and
interests existed until they were directed to their page as
part of this study.
When directed to the “ad preferences” page, the large majority of
Facebook users (88%) found that the site had generated some
material for them. A majority of users (59%) say these categories
reflect their real-life interests, while 27% say they are not very
or not at all accurate in describing them. And once shown how the
platform classifies their interests, roughly half of Facebook
users (51%) say they are not comfortable that the company created
such a list.
Facebook issued this statement to The Verge regarding Pew’s research:
We want people to understand how our ad settings and controls
work. That means better ads for people. While we and the rest of
the online ad industry need to do more to educate people on how
interest-based advertising works and how we protect people’s
information, we welcome conversations about transparency and
Allow me to translate from outright lies to the obvious truth:
We do not want people to understand how our ad settings and controls work. If more people understood what we track about them and how to control it, more people would block it, and we’d make less money.
Skim the comments on The Verge story and most of them are along the lines of the first one: “You’d have to be pretty dense…” — i.e. that the majority of Facebook users who don’t understand what Facebook is doing to track them are stupid. This reminds me of arguments about user interfaces. When regular people are confused by or don’t understand something, there’s a segment of the tech savvy world that sees the problem as the people being too stupid. The real problem is that the products are too hard to understand. The problem with users not understanding what Facebook tracks about them is not that the people are stupid, it’s that Facebook purposefully obfuscates what they do to keep regular people in the dark.
Facebook Employees Wrote 5-Star Amazon Reviews for the Portal Camera ★
Kevin Roose, on Twitter:
Speaking of coordinated inauthentic behavior, what are the odds
that all these 5-star Facebook Portal reviewers on Amazon just
happen to have the same names as Facebook employees?
Facebook confirmed the three reviews were written by employees, but claimed it wasn’t a coordinated campaign. Chaim Gartenberg, at The Verge:
Facebook is a huge company with thousands of employees, and even
with internal communications, it’s easy to see how a few employees
just weren’t aware of a request to not post reviews. But it’s
incredible how blatantly deceptive the practice can be: Chappell’s
review, which claims rather disingenuously that he has
“historically not been a big Facebook or other social media user,”
but also “took a chance and got 4 Portals and 1 Portal plus for
the family,” isn’t a great look for the company. There’s a reason
why Amazon bans the policy in the first place.
Three reviews does not make for a coordinated campaign. But it shows what type of people choose to work for Facebook when one of the reviews starts with “I have historically not been a big Facebook or other social media user.”
Update: The good news is, from what I’ve heard, Portal is selling about as well as Facebook Phone did. (Remember that thing? Can you even imagine what Facebook would’ve done with data collection if Facebook Phone had actually gained traction?)
NHL Develops iPad App to Give Coaches Live Stats During Games ★
Greg Wyshynski, reporting for ESPN:
“There are two stat types across the board that every coaching
staff said that, without question, helped them make in-game moment
decisions: Time on ice and faceoffs,” Foster said. “With time on
ice, you want to manage your top players to make sure they have
gas in the tank at the end of the game, or if they’re coming back
from an injury.”
For both ice time and faceoffs, the app offers something that the
coaches uniformly requested from the NHL: easy-to-read displays.
Faceoff success or failure is depicted as a series of green
circles with check marks or red circles with X’s, and faceoff
percentages can be broken down by where they were held and
This app with live stats replaces paper printouts, which team staffers would scamper to get into coaches’ hands as quickly as possible.
Interesting contrast, too, to Major League Baseball, which has had iPads in the dugout since 2016, but which expressly forbids those iPads from being online. Whatever stats are on those iPads at the start of the game are the only stats available during the game. This NHL system is all completely live.
Steven Sinofsky’s CES 2019 Show Report ★
CES 2019 is a kind of year that sort of screams “we’re ready for
the products that really work.” In that spirit, CES 2019 is a
year where products are close, but seem a product manager
iteration away from being a product that can reach a tipping point
of customer satisfaction and utility. Products work in a “thread
the needle” sort of way, but a lot of details and real life
quickly cause things to become frustrating.
This feeling for me is part of the cycle of CES. I like to think
of it as the universal remote problem — everything starts to
work but to really work you long for that one simplified control
point. The challenge is making that while all the other pieces are
still moving. That’s the nature of Consumer Electronics (tech in
general) which is that there are many parts moving at different
velocities and in slightly different vectors — it means sometimes
we go through phases where we seem really close.
I’ve still never attended CES, but if I ever do, my goal would be to do what Sinofksy does in these annual reports — to try to see the forest for the trees, to gauge the gestalt of the tech world at this moment. Figure out what is nonsense (e.g. 3D TV mania a few years ago) and what is a legit trend (voice driven interfaces today).
Sinofsky does this really, really well. It’s a long read but CES is a big show.
Qualcomm’s Dirty PR Tactics Against Apple ★
Jack Nicas, reporting for The New York Times back in November:
When Tim Miller, a longtime Republican political operative, moved
to the Bay Area last year to set up a public relations shop, he
brought with him tradecraft more typical of Washington than
Silicon Valley. […]
Definers quickly found plenty of business, from start-ups like
Lyft, Lime and Juul to giants like Facebook and Qualcomm, the
influential chip company that was in a nasty legal fight with
Apple over royalties, according to five people with direct
knowledge of Mr. Miller’s work who declined to be named because of
While working for Qualcomm, Definers pushed the idea that Apple’s
chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, was a viable presidential
candidate in 2020, according to a former Definers employee and
digital records. Presumably, it was an attempt to chill the
cordial relations that Mr. Cook had cultivated with the Trump
I understand that Qualcomm’s underhanded PR tactics came up at the all-hands meeting this month, and that Tim Cook did not mince words regarding Qualcomm’s ethics.
Facebook’s ‘10 Year Challenge’ – Harmless Meme, or Training for Age-Progressive Facial Recognition? ★
Kate O’Neill, writing for Wired:
But let’s play out this idea.
Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on
age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age
progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get
older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots
of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a
fixed number of years apart — say, 10 years.
Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at
posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures
could end up generating a lot of useless noise. People don’t
reliably upload pictures in chronological order, and it’s not
uncommon for users to post pictures of something other than
themselves as a profile picture. A quick glance through my
Facebook friends’ profile pictures shows a friend’s dog who just
died, several cartoons, word images, abstract patterns, and more.
In other words, it would help if you had a clean, simple,
helpfully labeled set of then-and-now photos.
I think it’s very fair to say we should all assume the worst with Facebook all the time now. That’s why I posted my 10-year challenge to Twitter instead of Instagram.
Slack Gets a Bland New Identity From Pentagram ★
Slack’s old identity had at least three good things going for it: they owned the letter “S” (much like how Netflix owns “N” — something Netflix has doubled-down on as their identity has evolved), they owned the “#” hash mark, and unique among technology companies, they owned plaid. When you saw plaid with those primary colors on a white background, you thought Slack. And plaid isn’t part of any sort of design trend right now. Slack simply owned plaid, to such a degree that Slack company socks — which simply used colors and plaid, no “Slack”, no “S” were necessary to make it instantly obvious these were Slack socks — became coveted swag.
I guessed before this blog post even revealed it that their new identity was done by Pentagram. What Slack needed was a refinement of their existing design. Identify what was good, fix what was bad. What Pentagram seems to do these days, though, is throw babies out with the branding bath water. They only build new identities; they don’t tweak existing ones. There is nothing that says Slack to me about this new identity — no hash mark, no “S”, no plaid. And what they’ve replaced it with is painfully generic. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but there’s nothing quirky or charming or distinctive about it either. Scratch that — given that it’s not distinctive, there is something wrong with it. Just another sorta-Futura-ish geometric sans serif and a mark that doesn’t look like anything and makes for an utterly forgettable app icon. (This new mark is supposed to evoke a hash mark but it doesn’t — what the hell are those squirts? The Nike swoosh this busy little blob is not.)
Was there anything about Slack’s previous identity worth building upon? I say yes, quite a bit actually. Pentagram said no. Slack lost something very valuable today.
The Titanic Hypocrisy of the Republican Party ★
Tom Nichols — longtime conservative Republican — in USA Today, regarding last weekend’s news regarding Trump’s meetings with Vladimir Putin:
This is not normal, in any way. As things stand, more people in
the Kremlin than in Washington know what Trump said to Putin. It
is almost certain that there are readouts and analyses of Trump’s
discussions with Putin — but that for now, they are in Russian.
Finally, it is exhausting but nonetheless necessary to point out
again the titanic hypocrisy of the Republican Party and of Trump’s
apologists in the conservative media. If President Barack Obama
had shredded his notes of a meeting with the Iranian president, or
if Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager were sitting in jail for
lying about meeting a Chinese business associate — and alleged
intelligence officer — to share polling data, that alone
would have been enough for the GOP to impeach everyone from the
president to the White House chef.
And Democrats would not have accepted Obama confiscating his interpreter’s notes or Clinton’s campaign conspiring with the Chinese. Democrats are partisan, of course, but their partisanship has very clear limits. The Republicans, and only the Republicans, have crossed the line where they put party above country. History will not look kindly upon them — or those who voted for them.
T-Mobile Execs, Seeking Approval for Sprint Merger, Repeatedly Stayed at Trump’s Hotel ★
Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold, reporting for The Washington Post:
Last April, telecom giant T-Mobile announced a megadeal: a
$26 billion merger with rival Sprint, which would more than
double T-Mobile’s value and give it a huge new chunk of the
But for T-Mobile, one hurdle remained: Its deal needed approval
from the Trump administration.
The next day, in Washington, staffers at the Trump International
Hotel were handed a list of incoming “VIP Arrivals.” That day’s
list included nine of T-Mobile’s top executives — including its
chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief strategy
officer, chief financial officer and its outspoken celebrity chief
executive, John Legere. […]
By mid-June, seven weeks after the announcement of the merger,
hotel records indicated that one T-Mobile executive was making his
10th visit to the hotel. Legere appears to have made at least four
visits to the Trump hotel, walking the lobby in his T-Mobile gear.
This is such outrageous bullshit — so blatantly, patently unethical — that it’s hard to believe Republicans just accept this. The hypocrisy could not be thicker. Of course there’s always been and always will be a partisan slant to Congressional oversight of the president. But this isn’t shades of gray. This is acceptance of “anything goes”.
The core outrage here is the president profiting from his office, and the Republicans in Congress who accept it. But shame on Legere and his fellow T-Mobile executives for playing along with it.
The president of the United States should not own hotels. (They made Jimmy Carter sell his goddamn peanut farm before taking office.) If the president owns hotels (which he shouldn’t), he shouldn’t own one right down the street from the White House. If the president owns hotels, and owns one in Washington (which he shouldn’t), at the very least nobody with business before the administration should spend a nickel at that hotel.
When posed with such a blatant conflict of interest, a situation that is clearly a form of de facto bribery, no one should be asking, “Well, is this president a Democrat or a Republican?”
Turning Type Sideways ★
This month, researchers made official something that typeface
designers have long known: that horizontal lines appear thicker
than vertical ones. At left, a square made from equally thick
strokes; at right, the one that feels equally weighted, its
vertical strokes nearly 7% thicker than the horizontals. This
phenomenon, central to typeface design, has implications for the
design of logos, interfaces, diagrams, and wayfinding systems,
indeed anywhere a reader is likely to encounter a box, an arrow,
or a line.
Published in the journal Vision, this peer-reviewed paper
confirms that most people overestimate the thickness of horizontal
lines. This is the very optical illusion for which type designers
compensate by lightening the crossbar of a sans serif H, an
adjustment that’s easily revealed by looking at a letter sideways.
Design not for what we expect to see, but for what we actually
believe we’re seeing.
Helen Rosner: ‘The Pure American Banality of Donald Trump’s White House Fast-Food Buffet’ ★
This photograph should go down as the definitive image of the Trump administration.
(Also worth noting: Rosner’s note on pluralizing “Filet-o-Fish”.)
Apple Launches $129 Smart Battery Cases for iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR ★
Lory Gil, writing for iMore:
For anyone that’s been waiting for Apple’s Smart Battery Case for
the latest and greatest X series of iPhone, your wait is over.
Apple just launched a new version for all three in the current
model iPhone X line, that the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and
This year’s model also supports Qi wireless charging. So, you can
set it and forget it and your case and iPhone will charge at the
The Smart Battery Case can be charged with and USB-PD compatible
chargers (not included in the box), which will improve charging
I didn’t hate the humpback design of the old Smart Battery Case the way some people do, but this clearly looks more elegant. What isn’t obvious from Apple’s photos is how the Lightning ports align. I think what’s going on is that because the cases are much thicker at the bottom, the case’s Lightning female port is behind its internal male jack. The old Smart Battery Case needed a chin because the Lightning connectors were on top of each other. I also don’t see any holes for audio from the speakers to pass through. Update: I am reliably informed that there are, of course, perfectly aligned holes for sound to pass through from the speakers — you just can’t see them in the product photos.
Interesting too that the whole thing works with Qi — keep your phone in the case and put it on a charging pad and both will charge. That has to be pretty complicated engineering-wise. I presume the case charges via Qi and the iPhone charges via Lightning from the case.
Instagram Caught Selling Ads to Follower-Buying Services It Banned ★
Scathing investigative report by Josh Constine for TechCrunch:
Instagram has been earning money from businesses flooding its
social network with spam notifications. Instagram hypocritically
continues to sell ad space to services that charge clients for
fake followers or that automatically follow/unfollow other people
to get them to follow the client back. This is despite Instagram
reiterating a ban on these businesses in November and threatening
the accounts of people who employ them.
A TechCrunch investigation initially found 17 services selling
fake followers or automated notification spam for luring in
followers that were openly advertising on Instagram despite
blatantly violating the network’s policies.
At the time Facebook acquired Instagram, Instagram was by far the nicest social media experience I’d seen. It is now quickly descending into a cesspool of crap — bad design, bad experience, way too many ads, and a haven for scammers. I fully expected Facebook to Facebook-ify Instagram, but it’s sad watching it happen. It seems to be accelerating in the wake of the departure of co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger — again, surprising no one.
This bit from Constine’s report is funny:
This led me to start cataloging these spam company ads, and I was
startled by how many different ones I saw. Soon, Instagram’s ad
targeting and retargeting algorithms were backfiring, purposefully
feeding me ads for similar companies that also violated
Their targeting algorithms helped Constine in his investigation.
The Talk Show: ‘Drastically Shakier’ ★
Special guest Ben Thompson returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s horrible no good very bad earnings warning, the Chinese market, Apple’s push toward services for revenue growth, antitrust issues regarding the App Store, and more.
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DuckDuckGo Is Now Using Apple Maps ★
We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on
DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s
MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of
mapping and privacy. As one of the first global companies using
Apple MapKit JS, we can now offer users improved address searches,
additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and
continually updated maps already in use on billions of Apple
With this updated integration, Apple Maps are now available
both embedded within our private search results for relevant
queries, as well as available from the “Maps” tab on any search
I have more to say about this, but I wanted to link to the announcement as soon as it was up. This is huge news (particularly for DuckDuckGo) and really interesting for Apple strategically.
United Really Wants to Keep Apple’s Business ★
A letter to pilots from the United rep who manages their account with Apple, obtained by One Mile at a Time:
As we enter into another 3-year contract renewal negotiation this
coming January with Apple, your partnership is key in
demonstrating to Apple how United differentiates itself from the
competition. Overall, Apple continues to grow revenue on United
more than 20 percent annually and keeping them happy while
traveling on United is critical to the success of many of our SFO
routes. Thanks again for going above and beyond, your efforts make
a positive impact to the strong and growing partnership between
Apple and United.
If you spent $150 million a year on United, you’d probably get nicer treatment, too. And the letter shows that United’s real competition for Apple’s business are the foreign carriers:
Your professionalism and dedication to enhancing the customer
service experience for Apple Global Services customers by hand
delivering personalized ‘thank you’ cards helps us compete and win
against the foreign flag carriers especially in the very
competitive US-Asia market.
50 seats a day between SFO and Shanghai is just a jaw-dropping number. That’s 25 Apple employees flying home and another 25 heading over every single day.
Update: It’s possible that Apple just has a standing order for those seats, and some days they go unused by Apple employees. But I’ve heard from a few birdies who frequent the SFO-PVG route that “50 seats a day” undercounts the number of Apple employees making this trip, because it’s only counting United. They fly other airlines when those 50 seats are already full, and that’s not uncommon. They also apparently fly a ton on Cathay Pacific because it’s a nicer experience than United.
German Court Throws Out Qualcomm’s Latest Patent Case Against Apple ★
A patent lawsuit filed by Qualcomm Inc against Apple Inc was
thrown out by a German court on Tuesday, in a reversal for the
U.S. chipmaker after it won a recent court ban on the sale of some
iPhones in the country.
The regional court in the city of Mannheim dismissed the Qualcomm
suit as groundless in an initial verbal decision, saying the
patent in question was not violated by the installation of its
chips in Apple’s smartphones.
“We are happy with the decision and thank the court for their time
and diligence,” Apple said in a statement. “We regret Qualcomm’s
use of the court to divert attention from their illegal behavior
that is the subject of multiple lawsuits and proceedings around
These court cases are so tedious to follow, but the effects are real. Until this ruling Apple was forced to remove the iPhone 7 and 8 from sale in Germany — very popular products in a very big market. And Qualcomm had to put up $1.5 billion last week just to have the ban enforced. Serious money even for companies like Apple and Qualcomm.
On Apple’s $29 iPhone Battery Replacement Program and Its Role in Their Earnings Miss ★
Jean-Louis Gassée, on Apple’s earnings warning:
I have a hard time believing that the $29 limited time offer had a
significant impact on Apple’s numbers. Did Apple replace hundreds
of thousands of batteries? I doubt it. At 100 replacements per
Apple Store times 500 stores, that’s 50K happy customers and only
$50M in missed new iPhone revenues. I’d have to be off by a factor
of 10 — half a million iPhone battery upgrades, one thousand
repairs per Apple Store — to approach a mere $500M in missed
[Update: My battery upgrade discussion above is wrong in two ways.
As readers pointed out, my numbers estimate might be too low.
And… the error might not matter. Apple had full knowledge of
battery replacement numbers when issuing its Nov 1st guidance.]
I’m pretty sure Gassée’s back-of-the-envelope estimate of the number of batteries replaced was way too low. During Apple’s all-hands meeting January 3, Tim Cook said Apple replaced 11 million batteries under the $29 replacement program, and they’d have only anticipated about 1-2 million battery replacements normally. (The fact that Cook held this all-hands meeting was reported by Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, but the contents of the meeting haven’t leaked. Well, except for this nugget I’m sharing here.)
But Gassée’s second point still stands: the battery replacement program ran all year long, so even if it was more popular than Apple originally expected, why wasn’t it accounted for in guidance issued on November 1 — 10 months after the program started? My guess: the effect of the battery replacement program on new iPhone sales wasn’t apparent until after the iPhone XR and XS models were available. A few million extra iPhone users happy with the performance of their old iPhones with new batteries — who would have otherwise upgraded to a new iPhone this year — put a ding in the bottom line.
The Vitamin D Myth ★
Rowan Jacobsen, writing for Outside:
In November, one of the largest and most rigorous trials of
the vitamin ever conducted — in which 25,871 participants
received high doses for five years — found no impact on cancer,
heart disease, or stroke.
How did we get it so wrong? How could people with low vitamin D
levels clearly suffer higher rates of so many diseases and yet not
be helped by supplementation?
As it turns out, a rogue band of researchers has had an
explanation all along. And if they’re right, it means that once
again we have been epically misled.
These rebels argue that what made the people with high vitamin D
levels so healthy was not the vitamin itself. That was just a
marker. Their vitamin D levels were high because they were getting
plenty of exposure to the thing that was really responsible for
their good health — that big orange ball shining down from above.
The oldest mistake in the book: conflating cause and effect (or, if you prefer, correlation with causation). In addition to vitamin D supplements being useless, the flip side of this argument is that sunscreen is generally doing us more harm than good — that the benefits of exposure to sunlight far outweigh the increased risk of skin cancer.
(Via Charles Arthur.)
Apple Revealed as United Airlines’ Largest Corporate Spender ★
Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac:
United Airlines has released a statement following the circulation
of a tweet that showed Apple as its largest account, spending $150
million on flights every single year.
In a statement to Kif Lewswing, United Airlines said that the
information was displayed as part of a (intended to be) private
project that has since been discontinued. […]
Big companies don’t like details like this being public knowledge,
even if there isn’t anything too sensational about a big
corporation buying a lot of flights for its employees.
“Don’t like details like this being public knowledge” — I’ll go out on a limb and guess that’s an understatement for Apple.
It’s no surprise that a lot of Apple employees fly back and forth to Shanghai, but 50 seats every day is a lot.
Bloomberg: ‘Qualcomm Casting Intel as Hypocrite Backfires in Antitrust Trial’ ★
Ian King and Kartikay Mehrotra, reporting for Bloomberg:
After an interrogation of Intel’s chief strategy officer largely
backfired this week, a Qualcomm attorney on Friday declined a
judge’s invitation to bring Aicha Evans back to the witness stand
as a non-jury trial brought by the Federal Trade Commission moved
into its fourth day of testimony.
“Not from us, your honor,” Qualcomm lawyer Antony Ryan told U.S.
District Judge Lucy Koh, prompting a cheer from Evans, which
provoked widespread laughter in the San Jose, California,
courtroom after one of the liveliest showdowns so far in the case.
It also ended something of an ordeal for him. […]
Ryan frequently sought to corner Evans by citing piecemeal
excerpts from her emails and pretrial testimony, a common tactic
in trials to save time. Evans had none of it, asserting her right
to read documents aloud in their entirety while insisting context
was crucial. When Ryan tried to interrupt her, she ignored him and
You know you’re in trouble when the courtroom laughs at you.
Apple and the Next Big Thing ★
John D. Stoll, in a column for The Wall Street Journal, under the headline “Polaroid. Walkman. Palm Pilot. iPhone?” and sub-head “As demand for Apple’s signature product starts to wane, now is the time for CEO Tim Cook to find the next act”:
Apple, for the better part of the 2000s, was the master of the
next big thing: the iPod, the MacBook Air, the iPad, the iPhone.
Apple wasn’t always first, but its products were easier to use,
It’s a sleight of hand trick slipping “MacBook Air” into that list, to make Apple’s 2000s seem more innovative than its 2010s. The original MacBook Air was a landmark Mac, to be sure, but one of many since 1984.
With the success of the iPhone since it arrived on the scene, the
next big thing has been harder to find. Apple has had no
breakthrough on TV, a modest success with its watch, a stumble in
music and a lot of speculation concerning its intentions for
autonomous cars or creating original programming. Now, as in a
comic-book movie, we’re all left to wonder whether Apple’s
greatest strength could be its biggest weakness?
So the iPod was the next big thing but Apple Watch is “a modest success”? Stoll should follow Horace Dediu. If he did, he’d know that Apple Watch is now a decidedly bigger business than the iPod ever was. And the Apple Watch is still growing, and may not yet be close to its peak.
“A stumble in music”? Apple Music had 56 million subscribers in November, up from 50 million last summer, and has overtaken Spotify in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. $500 million a month in recurring revenue is a stumble I’d like to take.
I’ll close with advice from Steven Sinofsky, who ended a Twitter thread last week with this:
The idea that Apple is on some countdown clock to “next big thing”
is completely the opposite of what to worry about. That is the
mistake analysts are making. Just as with Adobe, nothing is bigger
than Photoshop (or MS/Office) … yet, but so what?
Focus on execution.
Bingo. There will be major new products from Apple, someday, when they’re ready. There is no rush for them. If you’re worried about Apple’s near-future success, the key is their execution on their existing products. The Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Watch are all businesses that any company would kill for. Apple has all of them, and none of them are going anywhere. Apple needs to keep them insanely great where they already are, and raise them to insanely great where they aren’t.
WSJ: ‘Apple Plans Three New iPhones This Year, Plays Catch-Up on Cameras’ ★
Yoko Kubota and Takashi Mochizuki, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:
Apple Inc. is planning to release three new iPhone models again
this fall, including a successor to the struggling XR, the lower
priced 2018 device with a liquid-crystal display that has fallen
short of Apple’s sales expectations, people familiar with the
Apple plans to introduce some new camera features, including a
triple rear camera for the highest-end model and a double rear
camera for the two other models, the people said. […]
Apple is planning to do some catching up to rivals on rear
cameras. It is considering introducing a triple-rear-camera system
to its 2019 flagship model, which would succeed the iPhone XS Max,
the people said. That would be an upgrade from the iPhone XS Max’s
No word on whether the two higher-end models will look like the XS and XS Max design-wise, but I think it’s a fair bet that they will, in the same way the 7 and 7 Plus were clearly derived from the 6/6S.
Adding a third camera only to the Max though would be a major change from the XS and XS Max, which are differentiated only by size. If true, this is a big scoop for the Journal — and a real pisser for those like me who greatly value the camera but don’t want to carry a Max-sized iPhone.
Meanwhile the LCD model is likely to be upgraded to a dual-camera
system from the single camera on the rear of the XR, they said.
The Journal’s report makes clear that now — January — is pretty late in the game for major changes to this year’s phones. I would think the decision between a single-lens and dual-lens camera system for the XR successor (XRS?) is too late to change at this point.
But Apple lags behind its rivals in the number of rear cameras.
Last year, Samsung released the Galaxy A9 with four rear cameras.
Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro and P20 Pro, launched last year, carry three
This is such a bad take. Just counting the lenses on the back is no way to measure the quality of the phone as a camera. The current iPhones aren’t catching up to anyone in terms of hardware — the only arguments to be had are in software, with features like the Pixel’s Night Sight feature.
Update: It’s also worth pointing out that the only phone anyone is seriously arguing is better than the iPhone XS for photography is Google’s Pixel 3 — which only has one rear-facing lens.
2012: ‘iOS 6 Adjusts Metallic Button Reflections as You Tilt Your Phone’ ★
This effect was based on the phone’s accelerometer, not real-world environmental lighting, but it’s certainly along the same lines. I miss details like this — I just love that some folks at Apple put time into making a single button look extra cool.
And I just learned a new word: anisotropic.
Update: Apple Pay has some anisotropic effects on iOS 12. If you have an Apple Pay Cash card in the Wallet app, the “card” shimmers like a holographic material as you move the phone around. And when you send cash in iMessage, the dollar amount has a similar effect. These effects are anisotropic, like the button in the iOS 6 Music app, not based on real world lighting. But it’s similar thinking — and shows that this sort of whimsy isn’t entirely extinguished at Apple. My gut feeling is that iOS 13 will bring some of this back, bring back more depth and texture to the UI.
An Environmentally-Lit User Interface ★
Speaking of drop shadows, here’s a demo from Bob Burrough of what he aptly describes as an “environmentally-lit UI”. He’s using the camera on the iPhone to detect the real-world lighting environment, and using that to shade, color, and reflect the elements of the on-screen user interface in real time. This is not a new idea — I think everyone who has ever designed UIs with shaded textures and drop shadows has thought about this — but I’ve never seen it implemented, and Burrough seems to have implemented it very well.
Burrough has another demo video, and an article making the case for why this is a good idea. I find this very exciting — can’t wait to see where it goes.
Procreate’s Undo Gesture Is Open Source ★
The two-finger tap to Undo was first released in Procreate 3 for
iPad back in 2015, but we actually first developed it for
Procreate Pocket. Undoing an action is one of the most critical
input methods we use today, and we needed a method that wouldn’t
clutter the interface or disrupt the core experience. We went
through dozens of designs until we realised we should treat the
entire screen as the Undo button - resulting in a simple gesture
that could be invoked any time, anywhere.
Two-finger tap to Undo has become one of Procreate’s most
instinctive and essential gestures.
It’s also one of our most-stolen features (over a dozen apps and
counting), and we’re fine with that. In fact, we’re giving it
away. Seriously. We’ve put together a sample project covered by
the Simplified BSD License, which means you can add to or modify
it as you wish.
Whether you’re one of our competitors, or in an entirely different
field, please feel free to grab the project below. Take it, use
it, and give your users the most instinctive Undo and Redo method
I love this attitude.
Just a few days before they posted this, I wrote about how iOS still hasn’t gotten Undo right. Two-finger tap is really great for drawing apps. I’m not sure it’s great in other contexts, like text editing, though. But it’s certainly better than shaking the damn device.
1958 TV Episode Featured a Grifter Named Trump Who Cons a Town Into Building a Wall ★
This clip is so on the nose it’s hard to believe it isn’t a hoax, but it’s legit. It’s probably not some sort of amazing coincidence though — the actor playing “Trump” is a dead ringer for Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s racist slumlord father.
(Via Moisés Chiullán.)
‘Rather Than Dipping a Drinking Glass Into the Ocean, They Say, Astronomers Have Dunked a Bathtub’ ★
The Economist on a new paper addressing Fermi’s Paradox:
Dr Wright’s argument echoes that made by another astronomer, Jill
Tarter, in 2010. Dr Tarter reckoned that decades of searching had
amounted to the equivalent of dipping a drinking glass into
Earth’s oceans at random to see if it contained a fish. Dr Wright
and his colleagues built on Dr Tarter’s work to come up with a
model that tries to estimate the amount of searching that
alien-hunters have managed so far. They considered nine variables,
including how distant any putative aliens are likely to be, the
sensitivity of telescopes, how big a portion of the
electromagnetic spectrum they are able to scan and the time spent
doing so. Once the numbers had been crunched, the researchers
reckoned humanity has done slightly better than Dr Tarter
suggested. Rather than dipping a drinking glass into the ocean,
they say, astronomers have dunked a bathtub. The upshot is that it
is too early to assume no aliens exist. Fermi’s question is, for
now at least, not a true paradox.
Update: The original paper: “How Much SETI Has Been Done? Finding Needles in the n-Dimensional Cosmic Haystack”.
U.S. Carriers Are Selling Customers’ Real-Time Location Data ★
Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard:
Nervously, I gave a bounty hunter a phone number. He had offered
to geolocate a phone for me, using a shady, overlooked service
intended not for the cops, but for private individuals and
businesses. Armed with just the number and a few hundred dollars,
he said he could find the current location of most phones in the
The bounty hunter sent the number to his own contact, who would
track the phone. The contact responded with a screenshot of Google
Maps, containing a blue circle indicating the phone’s current
location, approximate to a few hundred metres.
Queens, New York. More specifically, the screenshot showed a
location in a particular neighborhood — just a couple of blocks
from where the target was. The hunter had found the phone (the
target gave their consent to Motherboard to be tracked via their
The bounty hunter did this all without deploying a hacking tool or
having any previous knowledge of the phone’s whereabouts. Instead,
the tracking tool relies on real-time location data sold to bounty
hunters that ultimately originated from the telcos themselves,
including T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint, a Motherboard investigation
has found. These surveillance capabilities are sometimes sold
through word-of-mouth networks.
It doesn’t seem like Verizon is off the hook on this scandal either:
Microbilt’s product documentation suggests the phone location
service works on all mobile networks, however the middleman was
unable or unwilling to conduct a search for a Verizon device.
Verizon did not respond to a request for comment.
To say this is an outrageous privacy violation is an understatement. It’s downright dangerous. The carriers’ defense is basically that they only intended to sell this data to the “right” people, and the fact that these middlemen are reselling it to the “wrong” people is against their “terms”. Fuck that. This data should not be sold to anyone, period. This is no better than if the carriers let people pay to listen to your phone calls. Honestly, for me and my family, our location data is more private than the content of our calls.
Brief Thoughts on the State of Windows ★
Speaking of a fresh pair of eyes looking at a long-standing desktop OS, my son got a PC for gaming over the holidays. I haven’t really used Windows since the XP era. Windows 10 is — really something.
This tweet from Meowski Catovitch shows what I’m talking about. Windows 10 does have a new, simpler UI for (in this case) power settings. But the Windows 7 UI is still there (click “Additional power settings”) and the ancient XP settings are still there as well (click “Change advanced power settings”). It’s not a better UI — it’s the facade of a better UI built on top of the same old crap, which was in turn a facade on top of older crap. In the same way pre-NT Windows was just a brittle coating on top of creaky old DOS, Windows 10 is just a veneer on top of Windows XP. I’d much rather just have the old XP interface.
I’d rather retire from using computers than use Windows 10. What a mess.
The Mac Through the Eyes of a New User ★
I haven’t used Windows for ten years, since I was contractually
obliged to at work. Perhaps all these features are there too. But
they were not discoverable by Fabio, an intelligent person who
uses a computer to do a job which is not a fancier version of
“using a computer”.
I’ve been a Mac user since the IIsi. I know those features above
inside-out, know which have been there since Classic days, which
have just arrived, and yes, which can be flaky on occasion. But to
see it through a new Mac user’s eyes is to see a vast enormity of
mistakes not made. It is to perceive a clarity of intention
through design, maintained over decades of updates.
I loved this piece. I see a lot of complaints about the state of the Mac from long-time Mac users. I think of a lot of complaints about the state of the Mac myself. But it’s a good reminder that compared to everything else, the Mac remains an oasis of cohesive and consistent elegant design. Just getting the basics right goes a long way.
Using BBEdit and Excel to Revive a Dead Podcast Feed ★
When people ask me what features of BBEdit I use, I can mention
Markdown tools and syntax support, which I use for writing stories
like this one. But the other thing I use BBEdit for is a bit more
esoteric and hard to describe — something I call “text munging”,
for lack of a better word.
Text munging takes many forms, but generally it happens when
you’ve got a bunch of text in one format and you need to get it
into a different format. I’ve used BBEdit to transform the source
pages of websites, to format a mailing list properly, and more.
Today I used it to generate a podcast feed out of a chunk of HTML.
And while I realize that’s not a task most people will do, perhaps
this article can serve as a little bit of inspiration for some
future moment when you find yourself in desperate need of a fast
way out of an intractable text situation.
Jason and I are very similarly inclined this way. Text in format A that I want in format B — I always turn to BBEdit. I was curious what the hell he used Excel for, but it turned out to be the sort of thing Excel (or Numbers — I stopped understanding how Excel works years ago) is perfect for.
‘Post-Purchase Monetization’ — Why Smart TVs Are Cheaper Than Dumb TVs ★
Nilay Patel interviewed Vizio CTO Bill Baxter at CES:
Patel: I guess I have a philosophical question. You guys are
committed to low price points and you often beat the industry at
those price points. Can you hit those price points without the
additional data collection that TV does if you don’t have an ad
business or a data business on top of the TV?
Baxter: So that’s a great question. Actually, we should have a
beer and have a long, long chat about that.
So look, it’s not just about data collection. It’s about
post-purchase monetization of the TV.
This is a cutthroat industry. It’s a 6-percent margin industry,
right? I mean, you know it’s pretty ruthless. You could say it’s
self-inflicted, or you could say there’s a greater strategy going
on here, and there is. The greater strategy is I really don’t need
to make money off of the TV. I need to cover my cost.
I know a certain company that is really good at succeeding in “cutthroat” low-margin industries by making superior products that can sell for higher margins. And their products tend not to do creepy stuff like this.
Let’s be clear what this is: the TV makers have software that watches what you watch and keeps track of it to show you targeted ads.
Bloomberg: ‘Facebook App Can’t Be Deleted From Certain Samsung Phones’ ★
People get annoyed by any undeleteable third-party app, but Facebook is particularly problematic because no one trusts them. You can “disable” it, but does that really keep Facebook from tracking you on the phone? I wouldn’t trust it. And who thought this was a good idea? Was there a single person on the planet who wanted to use Facebook on their phone but didn’t because it wasn’t pre-installed at the factory?
Update: A friend suggests this might be about India and countries in southeast Asia, where not everyone has an email address, the Google Play Store is not ubiquitous, and apps are often installed via sideloading and are often of dodgy origin. I.e. that Android in the developing world really is tricky enough that pre-installing Facebook could be of use to some people.
The Google Assistant Ride at CES 2019 ★
Even by the standards of CES marketing spectacles this is nuts.
(Via this Dieter Bohn feature for The Verge on Google’s plans to turn Assistant into more of an Alexa-style platform.)
Samsung Announces 29 Percent Drop in Quarterly Profit ★
Samsung Electronics surprised the market on Tuesday with an
estimated 29 percent drop in quarterly profit, blaming weak chip
demand in a rare commentary issued to “ease confusion” among
investors already fretting about a global tech slowdown.
The South Korean firm also said profit would remain subdued in the
first quarter due to difficult conditions in memory chips, but
that the market is likely to improve in the second half of the
year as customers release new smartphones.
LG, too. Maybe the market shouldn’t have been surprised.
Stephen Hackett on the 12-Inch PowerBook G4 ★
It’s been pretty quiet on my YouTube channel, but I’m kicking off
2019 with something fun: A look at the most beloved notebook in
Mac history, the 12-inch PowerBook G4.
The 12-inch PowerBook G4 has come up a few times on my podcast recently. Yeah, it’s absurdly thick by today’s standards, but damn if it doesn’t still look cool. Hackett captures the appeal of it so well.
Apple’s Precarious and Pivotal 2019 ★
Great piece from MG Siegler on yesterday’s shit sandwich.
Regarding Apple’s Gross Margins ★
In the wake of yesterday’s terrible no good very bad earnings warning, a bunch of people have been arguing with me on Twitter that Tim Cook is at fault for greedily raising prices to increase profits. I’ve been arguing since last year with the iPhone X that Apple isn’t raising prices, per se, but rather is making more expensive products.
But as this thread on Twitter with “Cremnob” shows, there shouldn’t even be any argument. Apple’s company-wide gross margins have been 37-38 percent for the last five years. Going back 10 years, there’s a bit more fluctuation, but the fluctuations were higher, peaking at 44 percent in 2012.
And these are company-wide numbers. Apple’s Services revenue is growing quickly (as Apple is very happy to tell you — count how many times Tim Cook mentioned it in yesterday’s letter to shareholders), and it seems like their margins on services are higher than on hardware. So if high-margin services revenue is growing but overall company gross margins are stable at 38 percent, that means their margins on hardware products like iPhone are actually shrinking.
Nokia’s Next Android Flagship Will Sport Five Cameras ★
Op-ed by Gillette CEO James M. Kilts in The Onion, 2004: “Fuck Everything, We’re Doing Five Blades”.
A serious question: How would a design like this work with a phone case? It would need to be more like a bumper than a case.
Apple’s China Problem Redux ★
This Ben Thompson column from May 2017 is worth a re-link given today’s no good very bad earnings warning, which Tim Cook made clear was almost entirely about slow sales in China:
That, though, is a long-term problem for Apple: what makes the
iPhone franchise so valuable — and, I’d add, the fundamental
factor that was missed by so many for so long — is that monopoly
on iOS. For most of the world it is unimaginable for an iPhone
user to upgrade to anything but another iPhone: there is too much
of the user experience, too many of the apps, and, in some
countries like the U.S., too many contacts on iMessage to even
countenance another phone.
None of that lock-in exists in China: Apple may be a de facto
monopolist for most of the world, but in China the company is
simply another smartphone vendor, and being simply another
smartphone vendor is a hazardous place to be. To be clear, it’s
not all bad: in China Apple still trades on status and luxury;
unlike the rest of the world, though, the company has to earn it
with every release, and that’s a bar both difficult to clear in
the abstract and, given the last two iPhones, difficult to clear
By Thompson’s logic the iPhone X should have done well in China, because it looked new, and the XS/XR would disappoint in China because they didn’t. And, well, here we are.
Apple does make great hardware — hardware so good that to some extent it sells itself. But the core of Apple’s platforms are the OS’s — the software, not the hardware. I’d much rather run MacOS on a ThinkPad and iOS on a Pixel phone than run Windows on a MacBook Pro and Android on an iPhone XS. If the appeal of iPhone in China is only or even just mostly about the hardware — because the software that matters is WeChat (or anything else that is cross-platform), not iOS and its native exclusive ecosystem — then China is never going to be a consistent market for Apple. It could be (and remains today) a lucrative market for Apple, but if all that matters is the hardware, Apple products are going to fluctuate sales-wise in China in ways they don’t in any other country.
Bob Einstein Dies at 76 ★
Erik Pedersen, writing for Deadline:
Best known to today’s viewers for playing the serious, often surly but always hilarious Marty Funkhouser on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, Einstein was a foil for its creator-star Larry David. He appeared in nearly two dozen episodes of the series dating from 2004 to the most recent season.
Einstein’s younger brother, actor-director Albert Brooks, tweeted today, “R.I.P. My dear brother Bob Einstein. A great brother, father and husband. A brilliantly funny man. You will be missed forever.”
Super Dave Osborne was one of my favorite bits in the 80s. He was one of the best recurring guests on Late Night With David Letterman. He played Super Dave so straight — I always wondered how many people never realized it was a spoof.
Things I learned today: Albert Brooks is Einstein’s younger brother, and Albert Brooks was born “Albert Einstein”.
‘How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success’ ★
Fascinating piece in The New Yorker by Patrick Radden Keefe:
“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense. During the making of “The Apprentice,” Burnett conceded that the stories were constructed in this way, saying, “We know each week who has been fired, and, therefore, you’re editing in reverse.” Braun noted that President Trump’s staff seems to have been similarly forced to learn the art of retroactive narrative construction, adding, “I find it strangely validating to hear that they’re doing the same thing in the White House.”
10 Years as a Cable Tech ★
Lauren Hough, writing for The Huffington Post:
For 10 years, I worked as a cable tech in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Those 10 years, the apartments, the McMansions, the customers, the bugs and snakes, the telephone poles, the traffic, the cold and heat and rain, have blurred together in my mind. Even then, I wouldn’t remember a job from the day before unless there was something remarkable about it. Remarkable is subjective and changes with every day spent witnessing what people who work in offices will never see — their co-workers at home during the weekday, the American id in its underpants, wondering if it remembered to delete the browsing history.
Mostly all I remember is needing to pee.
Really enjoyed reading this piece.