Linked List: June 2019

The Talk Show: ‘Zap the PRAM’ 

Special guest Jason Snell returns to the show. Topics include everything announced at WWDC: SwiftUI, Catalyst, and all the new features in iOS, iPadOS, MacOS, WatchOS, and tvOS.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

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Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. Kolide believes you don’t need to spy on your users or cripple their devices to meet your compliance and security goals. To that end, Kolide recently launched a new product that integrates with your Slack team and messages your users directly when their Mac, Windows, and Linux devices are not up to spec. Your users will receive clear instructions about what is wrong and step-by-step instructions that will fix it. They can even confirm in real-time that they resolved the problem, right in Slack.

This simple premise of keeping your users in the loop and making them a part of the security team is called “User Focused Security” and Kolide is the fastest way to implement it in your organization.

Try Kolide’s new product for free for 30 days for your entire fleet.

Google Is Done Making Its Own Tablets 

JR Raphael, writing for Computerworld:

To be clear, Google hadn’t actually announced any tablet-specific products this year; the last such item that made its way to the market was the Pixel Slate in 2018. But, as I learned today, the company did have two smaller-sized tablets under development — and earlier this week, it decided to drop all work on those devices and make its roadmap revolve entirely around laptops instead.

A couple of clarifying points here: First, none of this has any impact on Pixel phones. Pixel phones and Pixel computers are two different departments, and the roadmap in question is related exclusively to the latter.

Totally unsurprising given the popularity of Google tablets, but also interesting given Apple’s renewed focus on iPad as its own platform. And maybe part of Google’s problem is that these were two entirely different departments?

George Jedenoff: A 101-Year-Old TidBITS Reader 

Adam Engst:

While helping a TidBITS member with a login problem recently, Lauri Reinhardt learned something fascinating. The reader, an amiable gentleman named George Jedenoff, was almost 102 years old. There may be an estimated 72,000 centenarians in the United States, but still, 101 years old! Can you imagine the history he has lived through? When Lauri relayed this fact, I knew I had to talk with George to find out more about him and his life, and he graciously agreed.

What a great story.

Introducing Guardian Firewall for iOS 

Guardian Firewall, from Will Strafach, who’s long been at the forefront of investigating iOS security and privacy issues:

Starting over 2 years ago, we embarked on an ambitious mission: Build a tool that allows any electronic device owner in the world to take back control of their digital privacy. This tool needed to be incredibly easy to use, straightforward, and must allow a user to “set it and forget it” if they did not want to apply any customizations.

We could have cut plenty of corners and shipped an acceptable tool. Instead we took our time and did things right, putting together the most powerful tool and dataset we were capable of building. Why? Because we are working towards a broader set of goals: Make surveillance capitalism an untenable business model. Degrade the quality of shadow profiles maintained on every user of an internet connected device. Methodically expose every bad actor we can find. The electronic devices you bought and own should not be snitching on you at regular intervals. Something has gone very wrong, and the course must be corrected to prevent pervasive data collection from becoming an acceptable norm. It’s time for war. No stone will be left unturned.

They have a very clear privacy policy, and a business model to match:

For the lifetime of our company, Guardian Firewall will utilize a simple tried-and-true business model: Accepting currency for a product that people find valuable. Full stop. We will never track our users. We will never collect personal information about our users. We consider user data to be a liability. Each and every technical design decision is built around that concept.

I’ve been running the current version since I met with one of Guardian’s engineers at WWDC. “Set it and forget it” is exactly the experience.

Update: For now, Guardian Firewall is only available to those who pre-ordered it. It’s set for release to everyone in July.

Google’s RCS Rollout 

Dieter Bohn, writing at The Verge:

We’ve been hearing about RCS, the replacement for SMS texting, for over a year now, but actually using the next-generation service has been nearly impossible due to complicated carrier and phone maker politics. But now Google is taking over: later this month, Android users in the UK and France will be able to opt in to RCS Chat services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their carrier to support it.

That seems like yet another minor status check-in on the service meant to replace SMS, but in fact it’s a huge shift in strategy: as Google rolls this offering out to more countries, it should eventually mean that RCS will become universally available for all Android users.

Regarding RCS’s lack of end-to-end encryption, Sanaz Ahari, Google’s product management director overseeing Android Messages, gave Bohn an anodyne statement:

We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we’re fully committed to finding a solution for our users.

I hope Google can pull that off, but I don’t see how it’s possible with the carriers’ role in RCS. I wouldn’t bet on RCS ever coming to fruition, period, let alone with genuine E2E encryption. I’d bet $10 that a year from now, Google says “Forget about RCS, here’s something else.”

Charlie Warzel: ‘You Care More About Your Privacy Than You Think’ 

Charlie Warzel, writing for The New York Times:

Svirsky ran a series of tests where he had participants fill out online surveys for money and made them decide whether to share their Facebook profile data with a survey taker in exchange for a bonus (in some cases, 50 cents). In a direct trade-off scenario, Svirsky found that 64 percent of participants refused to share their Facebook profile in exchange for 50 cents and a majority were “unwilling to share their Facebook data for $2.50.” In sum: Respondents generally sacrificed a small bonus to keep from turning over personal information.

But things changed when Svirsky introduced the smallest bit of friction. When participants were faced with what he calls “a veiled trade-off,” where survey takers had to click to learn whether taking the survey without connecting to Facebook would be free or cost them 50 cents, only 40 percent ended up refusing to share their data.

Friction is largely underrated in user experience design. Some of the people who understand friction’s effect best, alas, are those purposely designing privacy controls to make them even just a bit harder to use, understand, or discover.

The lack of friction in the Sign In With Apple experience — especially using a device with Face ID or Touch ID — is a key part of why I expect it to be successful. It’s not just more private than signing in with Google or Facebook, it’s as good or better in terms of how few steps it takes.

Designers need to design for what people will do, not what people should, in theory, do.

What a Remarkable Comeback 

Nolan O’Brien, writing for Twitter’s engineering blog on using Catalyst to port Twitter’s iOS app to the Mac:

Mac users are some of the most engaged people on Twitter, and we are thrilled to introduce them to a new fully native Mac app that has full feature parity with our other platforms plus amazing new features. Expect great things like resizable windows with dynamic content, multiple windows support, native notifications, drag & drop and keyboard support. There may even be a few new exciting features we haven’t been able to build for mobile devices that we’re excited to share in the fall!

Resizable windows, drag and drop support, keyboard support. Wow! What a great testimony to Catalyst that Mac users can expect such advanced features. Maybe we’ll even be able to copy and paste text.

Facebook’s New Study App Pays Adults for Data After Teen Scandal 

Josh Constine, writing for TechCrunch:

Facebook shut down its Research and Onavo programs after TechCrunch exposed how the company paid teenagers for root access to their phones to gain market data on competitors. Now Facebook is relaunching its paid market research program, but this time with principles — namely transparency, fair compensation and safety. The goal? To find out which other competing apps and features Facebook should buy, copy or ignore.

Today Facebook releases its “Study from Facebook” app for Android only. Some adults 18+ in the U.S. and India will be recruited by ads on and off Facebook to willingly sign up to let Facebook collect extra data from them in exchange for a monthly payment. They’ll be warned that Facebook will gather which apps are on their phone, how much time they spend using those apps, the app activity names of features they use in other apps, plus their country, device and network type.

Gee, I wonder why it’s Android-only?

Huawei Will Delay Foldable Mate X Launch Until September 

CNBC:

Huawei said its foldable phone will launch in September, slightly later than it was reportedly set to, as it does extra tests following the debacle Samsung went through with its rival device.

I love how Huawei is trying to blame their own product’s delay on Samsung. It makes no sense. Although I guess it didn’t make any sense that Samsung went ahead and sent out review units of their foldable phone, either.

In Court, Facebook Blames Users for Destroying Right to Privacy 

Sam Biddle, reporting for The Intercept:

Representing Facebook before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria was Orin Snyder of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, who claimed that the plaintiffs’ charges of privacy invasion were invalid because Facebook users have no expectation of privacy on Facebook. The simple act of using Facebook, Snyder claimed, negated any user’s expectation of privacy. […]

At one point Chhabria asked, seemingly unable to believe Snyder’s argument himself, “If Facebook promises not to disseminate anything that you send to your hundred friends, and Facebook breaks that promise and disseminates your photographs to a thousand corporations, that would not be a serious privacy invasion?”

Snyder didn’t blink: “Facebook does not consider that to be actionable, as a matter of law under California law.”

Like I wrote a few weeks ago, get these Facebook fuckers in court and all of a sudden they tell the truth.

Genius Catches Google Copying Song Lyrics 

Robert McMillan, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

“Over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius,” said Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, in an email message. The company said it used a watermarking system in its lyrics that embedded patterns in the formatting of apostrophes. Genius said it found more than 100 examples of songs on Google that came from its site.

Starting around 2016, Genius said, the company made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.

When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.”

I love the technique Genius came up with here. It’s like one of the tricks from the old Encyclopedia Brown books I so loved as a kid. It’s preposterous that Google is denying that they did anything wrong here. They truly were caught red-handed.

What I love about this too is that it preys on Google’s institutional lack of attention to typography. All Google would have had to do to avoid getting caught by this scheme is notice that the lyrics they were copying had inconsistent apostrophes. Straight quotes are bad enough, but a seemingly random mix of straight and curly quotes should stick out to anyone paying any attention to the details.

Samsung Advises Smart TV Owners to Periodically Check for Viruses 

Samsung, in a now-deleted tweet:

Scanning your computer for malware viruses is important to keep it running smoothly. This also is true for your QLED TV if it’s connected to Wi-Fi!

Prevent malicious software attacks on your TV by scanning for viruses on your TV every few weeks. Here’s how.

Television sets infected with malicious software sounds like something straight out of 1980s dystopic sci-fi.

Makes me wonder how much debate there was within Apple about partnering with Samsung to put iTunes on these things.

MacStadium 

My thanks to MacStadium for sponsoring this week at DF (as well as my show from WWDC last week). MacStadium is the leading provider of enterprise-class Apple Mac infrastructure providing scalable, reliable, and secure private clouds and dedicated servers for workloads that require MacOS. MacStadium is trusted by iOS developers, mobile testing teams, and network engineers around the world. By combining patented technology, proprietary configurations, and unparalleled expertise in Apple infrastructure, MacStadium can meet the needs of any business from growing startups to large enterprises that require Mac hardware for iOS/Mac app development needs.

Coming soon from MacStadium is Orka — Orchestration with Kubernetes on Apple — a new virtualization layer for Mac build infrastructure based on Docker and Kubernetes technology. Currently in beta, Orka will be released later this summer.

MacStadium is a long-time supporter of Daring Fireball, and there’s simply no question in my mind that they are the experts at hosting Mac hardware.

‘The Nerds Apple Listens To’ 

Hannes Schrader wrote a piece for Zeit Online about my live show at WWDC, and Apple’s relationship with podcasters and writers who follow the company. I usually hate reading about myself, but Schrader’s story is just terrific — he really captures the gestalt of the event. The original story is in German, but Google Translate does a remarkably good job at turning it into English:

There are a few men who call themselves nerds and talk about Apple like others about football. And Apple has been listening for some time.

Rick Wilson on Trump 

Rick Wilson, writing at The Daily Beast:

We live in a world of counterfactuals, hypotheticals, and more tu quoque scenarios than a reasonable person can process. That said, I have to beg my Republican friends to imagine — just for a moment — what you’d be doing if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama said they would accept the help of a foreign power in a campaign and not report it to the FBI.

I’ll tell you what you’d do: You’d lose your fucking shit.

You’d spurt blood from your goddamn eyes.

The obvious but difficult truth is that Trump and his Republican cohorts are not interested in free and fair elections. They see our democracy as a game to rig, not an ideal to uphold. These Republicans don’t view Democrats as their political opponents; they view them as their enemies.

The New Wilderness 

Essential reading from Maciej Ceglowski:

This odd situation recalls the cigarette ads in the 1930’s in which tobacco companies brought out rival doctors to argue over which brand was most soothing to the throat.

No two companies have done more to drag private life into the algorithmic eye than Google and Facebook. Together, they operate the world’s most sophisticated dragnet surveillance operation, a duopoly that rakes in nearly two thirds of the money spent on online ads. You’ll find their tracking scripts on nearly every web page you visit. They can no more function without surveillance than Exxon Mobil could function without pumping oil from the ground.

So why have the gravediggers of online privacy suddenly grown so worried about the health of the patient?

Part of the answer is a defect in the language we use to talk about privacy. That language, especially as it is codified in law, is not adequate for the new reality of ubiquitous, mechanized surveillance.

The New Dropbox Sucks 

Dropbox:

Today, we’re unveiling the new Dropbox. It’s the Dropbox you know and love, but better. It’s a single workspace to organize your content, connect your tools, and bring everyone together, wherever you are. The first thing you’ll notice is an all-new Dropbox desktop app that we’re introducing today through our early access program. It’s more than an app, though — it’s a completely new experience.

I don’t want any of this. All I want from Dropbox is a folder that syncs perfectly across my devices and allows sharing with friends and colleagues. That’s it: a folder that syncs with sharing. And that’s what Dropbox was.

Now it’s a monstrosity that embeds its own incredibly resource-heavy web browser engine. In a sense Steve Jobs was right — the old Dropbox was a feature not a product. But it was a feature well-worth paying for, and which made millions of people very happy.

If iCloud Drive folder sharing works as well as promised when it ships this fall, I’ll probably ditch Dropbox completely. There’s simply no clarity to this new Dropbox. I don’t even understand much of what Dropbox is saying it can do. I think they’re trying to be Slack or something? I already have Slack. All I want is a folder that syncs, with sharing.

See Also: Michael Tsai’s roundup of links.

Federico Viticci: ‘Initial Thoughts on iPadOS’ 

Federico Viticci:

For now though, after using the iPadOS beta on my 12.9” iPad Pro for a few days, I’d like to share some initial considerations on iPadOS and what it means for the future of the platform.

Good overview of everything new in iPadOS 13. I think “desktop-class browsing” in Safari is going to be a game-changer for many people. It really is like browsing on Safari with a Mac.

I still don’t get the multitasking metaphor on iPadOS, though. I can get an app into split view easily enough, but it seems devilishly tricky to get an app out of split view. The main multitasking interface/concept on iPadOS is a lot like Spaces on the Mac. You’re not switching between apps so much as you are between spaces, and a particular app might have instances in several spaces. But ⌘-Tab switching with a keyboard makes a hash of that. You can only get to the most recently used space for an app via ⌘-Tab. I think there should be one unified switching interface on iPadOS.

I’m so glad to see contextual menus as standard UI elements in iPadOS. But I find it annoying that they’re triggered by a long tap — I simply hate the delay. It feels to me like Apple has tightened this up in iPadOS 13 — there’s either less of a delay, or they’ve somehow made it feel like less of a delay. Either way it’s a win.

Apple Has Been Listening 

Marco Arment:

It’s hard to tell when Apple is listening. They speak concisely, infrequently, and only when they’re ready, saying absolutely nothing in the meantime, even when we’re all screaming about a product line as if it’s on fire. They make great progress, but often with courageous losses that never get reversed, so an extended silence because we’re stuck with a change forever is indistinguishable from an extended silence because the fix isn’t ready yet.

But there has clearly been a major shift in direction for the better since early 2017, and they couldn’t be more clear now:

Apple is listening again, they’ve still got it, and the Mac is back.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Mac is back, because it was never gone. It was more subtle than that, I think. Apple simply took its eye off the ball on Mac, with hardware that wasn’t suited to many users’ needs (and infrequently updated) and software that was clearly a lesser priority than iOS.

Apple told us two years ago they were more committed than ever to the pro market. Last week’s new Mac Pro proves it. And on the software side, most of the great new stuff Apple unveiled at WWDC is debuting on iOS 13 and MacOS 10.15 Catalina — SwiftUI, the great new voice control accessibility features, and on and on. For a good long stretch, WWDC felt largely like an iOS developer conference. Last week felt like what WWDC should be: an Apple developer conference. Off the top of my head, it was the best WWDC for Mac users and developers since 2005, when the Intel transition was announced.

In a footnote, Arment writes:

I’m excluding the 2018 MacBook Air because it feels like a stopgap that wasn’t originally planned to exist — the no-Touch-Bar 13-inch MacBook “Escape” seemed intended to replace it — that was rushed into the 2016-era generation mid-cycle, rather than being the first of a new design. Even so, with the large exception of the butterfly keyboard, it’s quite good.

I think if any MacBook was a stopgap, it was the no-Touch-Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro, not the Air. I think Apple always planned to ship this new Air, but it was delayed for years because they couldn’t get a chip from Intel that fit the thermal profile they needed. When the no-Touch-Bar MacBook Pro was announced, Phil Schiller did indeed compare it to the old non-retina Air — very similar in footprint, weight, and price*, but with faster performance and a retina display. But I never took that as an indication that it was intended as the old Air’s successor. I think Schiller made the comparison simply because he knew the new Air was still a long way off and the no-Touch-Bar MBP really was a decent machine for people who were waiting for a retina Air.

* The no-Touch-Bar MacBook Pro’s initial starting price of $1,499 was a lot higher than the old Air’s starting price of $999, but it was roughly in the range of better-than-the-base-model Air configurations. And as we all know, when the retina Air did debut, it didn’t start at $999 either.

Apple’s Swift Era Begins 

Brent Simmons:

I’m surely not the only person to think, all week long, that this WWDC marks the end of Apple’s NeXT era and the beginning of the Swift era. […]

Even if you’ve been writing mostly in Swift the last few years, you’re still writing in a NeXT context. Your apps still live in that world, whether you know it or not. Your apps are still Objective-C apps in a very real sense.

We can quibble about whether to call the old era Apple’s “NeXT era” or “Objective-C” era. I think it works better to compare language to language, frameworks to frameworks. But it’s the same point. SwiftUI and Combine (and whatever else is yet to come) are that big of a change.

We’ll probably see a lot of Mac apps ported from iPadOS using Catalyst. Some of them — games in particular — might even be good Mac apps. But effectively, Catalyst has already been deprecated. The future of app development on all of Apple’s platforms, including those yet to debut, is SwiftUI.

How ‘Sign in With Apple’ Works 

Comprehensive FAQ from TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez.

Pixelmator Photo 

My thanks to Pixelmator for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote Pixelmator Photo, their cutting-edge photo editor designed exclusively for iPad. It includes a collection of desktop-class photo editing tools, AI that intelligently improves photos like a pro photographer, a set of gorgeous film emulation presets, and a whole lot more. Pixelmator Photo has also just received an Apple Design Award for its editing power, native design, and approachability. And it costs just a one-time payment of $5 — no in-app purchases, no subscriptions.

Five dollars! For this spectacular app. Unbelievable. Just go buy it and enjoy.

Apple’s Audacity 

Great piece by Ben Thompson on WWDC 2019:

At the same time, here I am, leading with the Mac Pro, just like those headline writers, and I’m not incentivized by hardware driving clicks: it was fun seeing what Apple came up with in its attempt to build the most powerful Mac ever, in the same way it is fun to read about supercars. More importantly, I thought that sense of “going for it” that characterized the Mac Pro permeated the entire keynote: Apple seemed more sure of itself and, consequentially, more audacious than it has in several years.

My high level takeaway is that this is the first year where Apple seemed to succeed in pushing all of its platforms forward, in step with each other.

Craig Federighi on Federico Viticci’s AppStories Podcast 

Speaking of podcasts with Craig Federighi and Federico Viticci, here’s one more to add to your weekend listening queue.

Dialog: ‘Writing Online with John Gruber of Daring Fireball’ 

Federico Viticci and John Voorhees from MacStories have launched a new podcast, and I was honored to be their first guest:

For part one of a two-part conversation, Federico and John are joined by John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show to talk about how he got started, the role of luck, privilege, hard work, and talent in success, the toxicity of social media, building a business writing online, advertising, sponsorships, hairpieces, and more.

Part 2 should drop on Tuesday.

The Dalrymple Report: WWDC With John Gruber and Matt Drance 

Jim Dalrymple:

John Gruber and Matt Drance joined me again this year to discuss WWDC and all of the announcements from the conference. From coding to the Mac Pro, we give our thoughts on what we saw at WWDC.

We three did the same two years ago, and I think it turned out great. Drance in particular has some keen insights into just how big a deal SwiftUI is going to be. (No Heinekens until after the show this year.)

The Talk Show: Live From WWDC 2019 With Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak 

Now available as a regular audio podcast, in addition to the video that went up Wednesday night. Watch the album art if you want to catch the gag early on.

The Clever Cryptography Behind Apple’s ‘Find My’ Feature 

Andy Greenberg, writing for Wired:

When Apple executive Craig Federighi described a new location-tracking feature for Apple devices at the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote on Monday, it sounded — to the sufficiently paranoid, at least — like both a physical security innovation and a potential privacy disaster. But while security experts immediately wondered whether Find My would also offer a new opportunity to track unwitting users, Apple says it built the feature on a unique encryption system carefully designed to prevent exactly that sort of tracking — even by Apple itself.

Just a brilliant feature.

Uber Chief Operating Officer, Chief Marketing Officer Stepping Down 

Christine Wang and Deirdre Bosa, reporting for CNBC:

The executive shakeup comes about a month after the ride hailing company went public.

“There’s never really a right time to announce departures or changes like this, but with the IPO behind us, I felt this was a good moment to simplify our org and set us up for the future,” Khosrowshahi said.

Late on a Friday afternoon seems like exactly the right time.

If you want to know what’s going on, read this great piece by Hubert Huran in the current issue of American Affairs, “Uber’s Path of Destruction”:

An examination of Uber’s economics suggests that it has no hope of ever earning sustainable urban car service profits in competitive markets. Its costs are simply much higher than the market is willing to pay, as its nine years of massive losses indicate. Uber not only lacks powerful competitive advantages, but it is actually less efficient than the competitors it has been driving out of business. […]

These beliefs about Uber’s corporate value were created entirely out of thin air. This is not a case of a company with a reasonably sound operating business that has managed to inflate stock market expectations a bit. This is a case of a massive valuation that has no relationship to any economic fundamentals. Uber has no competitive efficiency advantages, operates in an industry with few barriers to entry, and has lost more than $14 billion in the previous four years. But its narratives convinced most people in the media, investment, and tech worlds that it is the most valuable transportation company on the planet and the second most valuable start-up IPO in U.S. history (after Facebook).

Uber is a pyramid scheme, a scam. If they charged enough to make a profit almost no one would use the service. If I worked at Uber I’d get out now too, before the investment world wakes up.

Memos — Photographic Memory 

My thanks to Memos for sponsoring last week at DF. Memos lets you search, copy text from, and annotate your photo library.

This means you can quickly find and copy text from insurance cards, instruction manuals, serial numbers, receipts, screenshots, and whatever else is buried in your photo library.

  • Search for text across your photos — including from Spotlight.
  • Copy text by tapping the green boxes.
  • Add a title and notes to each photo — these are also searchable.

Memos is a new app, and works amazingly well. I’d love to see it jump up the paid app chart. Check it out at memos.org.

The Talk Show: ‘An Italicized “Finally”’ 

That’s right, another new episode of my podcast, The Talk Show. Special guest Rene Ritchie returns for a look at what we expect — and hope — to see from Apple at WWDC next week.

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