Linked List: January 2019

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 

Walt Mossberg:

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 

TechCrunch:

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.

Apple in 2018: The Six Colors Report Card 

Jason Snell:

It’s time for our annual look back on Apple’s performance during the past year, as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple.

This is the fourth year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 11 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5, as well as optionally provide text commentary on their vote. I received 55 replies, with the average results as shown below.

It’s a mountain of work to compile this, but I’m so glad Snell does it. I think the consensus grades here give a very accurate assessment of Apple’s 2018.

Apple Revoked Facebook’s Enterprise Developer Certificates 

Kurt Wagner, reporting for Recode:

Apple’s response, via a PR rep this morning: “We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.”

Translation: Apple won’t let Facebook distribute the app anymore — a fact that Apple likely communicated to Facebook on Tuesday evening. Apple’s statement also mentions that Facebook’s “certificates” — plural — have been revoked. That implies Facebook cannot distribute other apps to employees through this developer program right now, not just the research app.

Alex Heath:

This is incredible: None of Facebook’s internal iOS apps/betas (used by thousands of employees) are working right now because Apple just revoked the company’s certificate. They won’t open.

For employees to use Facebook products on iOS they have to go download from the App Store.

Someone is (rightly) pissed.

For Second Time in Six Months, FBI Accuses a Chinese National Apple Engineer of Stealing Autonomous Vehicle Trade Secrets 

NBC Bay Area:

For the second time in six months, the FBI is accusing a Chinese national working for Apple of attempting to steal trade secrets related to the company’s secret autonomous vehicle program, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit learned Tuesday. […]

Chen, according to the complaint, allowed Apple Global Security employees to search his personal computer, where they found thousands of files containing Apple’s intellectual property, including manuals, schematics, and diagrams. Security personnel also found on the computer about a hundred photographs taken inside an Apple building.

Apple learned Chen recently applied for a job at a China-based autonomous vehicle company that is a direct competitor of Apple’s project, according to the complaint. A photo found on Chen’s computer, which Apple provided to the FBI, showed an assembly drawing of an Apple-designed wiring harness for an autonomous vehicle.

Chen was arrested just one day before he was scheduled to fly to China, according to the complaint.

Starting to look like a trend.

Facebook Blocks Ad Transparency Tools 

ProPublica:

A number of organizations, including ProPublica, have developed tools to let the public see exactly how Facebook users are being targeted by advertisers.

Now, Facebook has quietly made changes to its site that stop those efforts.

ProPublica, Mozilla and Who Targets Me have all noticed their tools stopped working this month after Facebook inserted code in its website that blocks them.

“This is very concerning,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has co-sponsored the Honest Ads Act, which would require transparency on Facebook ads. “Investigative groups like ProPublica need access to this information in order to track and report on the opaque and frequently deceptive world of online advertising.”

Shocker.

Cold Weather and Global Warming 

Kottke:

In what is now an annual tradition, when the temperatures in some part of the US plunge below zero degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, some nitwit Republican climate change-denier live-tweets from the back pocket of industry something like “It’s so cold out where’s the global warming when we need it???? #OwnTheLibs”. This time around, it was our very own Shitwhistle-in-Chief who tweeted merrily about the current polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest.

Holding up cold weather as proof that global warming isn’t happening is like hitting a winning streak at the blackjack table and declaring “Who says the casino has an advantage?”

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:

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 quarter’s revenue.

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.

AirBuddy 

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 the lockscreen.

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 were not.

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 in Texas.

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.

Dashlane 

My thanks to Dashlane for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week. Dashlane Premium combines a best-in-class password manager for all your devices, with Dark Web Monitoring and a VPN for WiFi protection. It’s an easy, secure solution for autofilling passwords and personal information. Dashlane has native apps for iOS, Mac, Android, and Windows, and extensions for all major web browsers. If you need to manage passwords and secure notes across multiple platforms, Dashlane is a great solution.

Try Dashlane now and start with a 30-day free trial of Dashlane Premium.

CNBC: ‘Apple Lays Off Over 200 From Autonomous Vehicle Group’ 

CNBC:

Apple dismissed just over 200 employees this week from Project Titan, its stealthy autonomous vehicle group, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.

An Apple spokesperson acknowledged the layoffs and said the company still sees opportunity in the space:

“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever.”

Some perspective here. Project Titan is big — there are still a lot of people working on it. Doug Field’s message to the troops is that he thinks smaller teams do better work. This is not an indication that company is losing conviction on autonomous systems; it’s Field structuring the project the way he wants it. Apple’s statement is — as usual — true: the company is full steam ahead on this autonomous stuff.

Update: CNBC’s use of the term layoff is misleading, if not outright wrong. My understanding is that everyone leaving the autonomous group is still employed by Apple — they have a few months to find new roles within the company. I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything here, but that is not a layoff.

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 

Apple Newsroom:

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 running instantly.

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 didn’t.”

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.

Gallagher again:

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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The Twitterrific Ad Network 

Ged Maheux, writing for The Iconfactory:

When it comes to online advertising, the big question has always been: how do I get the most bang for the least bucks? If you’re a small developer with a limited budget (like we are), then you’re accustomed to carefully picking and choosing how and where to promote your product to reach the widest possible audience. We understand the struggle — which is why we created the Twitterrific Ad Network!

Now you can advertise your app, website, product or service directly on Twitterrific’s expansive network of tech-savvy users for just $100 a month. For that price we guarantee 1,000 tap-throughs — not impressions but actual visits — to your App Store page or website. What’s more, we take care of creating the ad for you ourselves and even provide App Analytics for iOS or Google Analytics for websites.

$100 for 1,000 guaranteed tap-throughs is an amazing deal. And at just $100 a pop, this is a great opportunity for indie developers with a limited ad budget. And of course the ads look great and there’s no user tracking.

EU Fines Mastercard More Than Half a Billion Euros 

DW:

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 

CNIL:

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 to change.

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 

Apple Newsroom:

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.

Procreate 

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 knowledge.

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 development.

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 acquisition.

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 password.

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 control.

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 against whom.

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 

Steven Sinofsky:

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 confidentiality agreements.

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 administration.

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’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 cellphone market.

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 

Jonathan Hoefler:

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.

Good advice:

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 iPhone XR.

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 same time.

The Smart Battery Case can be charged with and USB-PD compatible chargers (not included in the box), which will improve charging time significantly.

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 Instagram’s policies.

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 

DuckDuckGo:

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 devices worldwide.

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 result page.

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 

Reuters:

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 the world.”

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 revenue.

[Update: My battery upgrade discussion above is wrong in two ways.

  1. As readers pointed out, my numbers estimate might be too low.

  2. 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.

HyperDrive USB-C Hub for iPad Pro 

My thanks to Hyper for sponsoring this week at DF to promote HyperDrive, their upcoming new USB-C hub designed specifically for the 2018 iPad Pro. HyperDrive features a unique grip and adds 6 ports: HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack, SD, MicroSD, USB-A 3.0, and USB-C Data with power delivery for high-speed charging.

One hub, no dongles. You can save up to 50 percent on HyperDrive on Kickstarter today. You need to act fast though — the KickStarter project is already funded (10 times over, in fact), but it closes in a few days. Buy now to help push it over $1 million in funding.

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 read on.

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, thinner, cooler.

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 matter said.

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 dual-rear-camera system.

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 rear cameras.

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 

Procreate:

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 available.

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 United States.

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 T-Mobile phone.)

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 

Zoë Smith:

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 

Jason Snell:

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 

Reuters:

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 

Stephen Hackett:

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.

Samsung and Apple, Sitting in a Tree, K‑I‑S‑S‑I‑N‑G 

Samsung press release from CES:

“We look forward to bringing the iTunes and AirPlay 2 experience to even more customers around the world through Samsung Smart TVs, so iPhone, iPad and Mac users have yet another way to enjoy all their favorite content on the biggest screen in their home,” said Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet Software and Services at Apple.

Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation:

Oh, Eddie, if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.

Jerry Seinfeld’s Tribute to Bob Einstein 

Jerry Seinfeld:

We made this little tribute to one of our favorite people ever in the world of comedy, the one and only Bob Einstein.

(And yes, I did give him the car.)

Banktivity 7 

My thanks to IGG Software for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week to promote Banktivity. Banktivity offers native apps exclusively for Mac and iOS (including both iPhone and iPad). Everything you’d want, including dark mode support on Mojave.

Banktivity offers a slew of features and connects directly to over 10,000 banks. It tracks your spending, your debt, and helps you budget your money and plan for the future. If one of your resolutions for the new year is to better organize your finances, you should start by downloading Banktivity.

They offer a free trial and a 90-day money-back guarantee, and they have a special offer just for DF readers: use code “DARINGFIREBALL10” and you’ll save 10 percent when you purchase Banktivity from IGG’s website.

‘Picked Off’ 

Fred Imbert, reporting for CNBC:

Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said Friday that Apple’s technology may have been stolen by the Chinese.

“I don’t want to surmise too much here, but Apple technology may have been picked off by China and now China is becoming very competitive with Apple. You’ve got to have rule of law,” Kudlow said in an interview with Bloomberg. “There are some indications from China that they’re looking at that, but we don’t know that yet. There’s no enforcement; there’s nothing concrete.”

I think what he’s saying here is that the Chinese stole Apple technology, copied it, and are now flooding the Chinese market with phones based on that stolen tech. I’m 99.8 percent certain that hasn’t happened — if there were Chinese phones built with stolen Apple technology we’d know it because we’d see it.

I was going to say “You can’t just make shit like this up”, but as with most of the Trump Kakistocracy, things that you think are can’t’s are really just shouldn’t’s.

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 in reality.

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.