Linked List: May 2019

WSJ: ‘Justice Department Is Preparing Antitrust Investigation of Google‘ 

Brent Kendall and John D. McKinnon, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

The Justice Department is gearing up for an antitrust investigation of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, a move that could present a major new layer of regulatory scrutiny for the search giant, according to people familiar with the matter. […]

It couldn’t immediately be learned whether Google has been contacted by the department. Third-party critics of the search giant, however, already have been in talks with Justice Department officials, some of the people familiar with the matter said.

Stock up on popcorn now.

Facebook Lawyer Says Users ‘Have No Expectation of Privacy’ 

Mikael Thalen, writing for The Daily Dot:

A lawyer for Facebook argued in court Wednesday that the social media site’s users “have no expectation of privacy.”

According to Law360, Facebook attorney Orin Snyder made the comment while defending the company against a class-action lawsuit over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy,” Snyder said.

Get them in court and all of sudden they’re honest.

Mark Gurman Interview With Former App Store Approval Chief Phillip Shoemaker 

Excellent episode of Bloomberg’s Decrypted podcast, with Mark Gurman interviewing former App Store approval chief Phillip Shoemaker. Tons of insight into the early days of the App Store. It’s quite rare for a former Apple employee to be so forthcoming.

(No word, though, on Shoemaker’s own foray into selling apps back in 2010, which always struck me as a very odd story given his position at Apple at the time and the nature of the apps.)

Tickets for The Talk Show Live From WWDC 2019 

The first batch of 500 tickets for The Talk Show Live From WWDC 2019 are now available. These usually go fast. Update: Sold out in 90 seconds.

The second batch will go on sale tomorrow at 1:00pm ET. Update: Sold out.

The Talk Show: ‘The Dustin Egress Problem’ 

Special guests Cabel Sasser, Steven Frank, and Greg Maletic join the show to talk about Playdate, Panic’s exciting and surprising new handheld gaming system.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

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Also, if all goes well, the first batch of tickets for The Talk Show Live From WWDC should go on sale at 9:00pm 10:00pm ET tonight.

Point-of-Sale Malware Found at 102 Checkers Restaurant Locations 

Lindsey O’Donnell, reporting for Threatpost:

The security incident stemmed from cybercriminals breaching Checkers’ systems and installing malware on point of sale systems across more than 100 of its stores. The malware is designed to collect data stored on the magnetic stripe of payment cards, including cardholder name, payment card number, card verification code and expiration date. […]

The incident impacted 102 stores Checkers across 20 states — which were all exposed at varying dates, including as early as December 2015 to as recently as April 2019 (a full list of impacted stores is on Checkers’ data breach security advisory page).

Can you imagine having to admit this has been going on since 2015 without detection?

Also: magnetic stripes need to be retired.

WWDC by Sundell 

John Sundell:

However, not everyone is able to actually attend WWDC in person. Not only do you have to win the “lottery” in order to qualify for purchasing a ticket, you also need to have the monetary means to be able to fly to, stay at, and attend the conference. So for a huge amount of people, WWDC can feel a bit out of reach.

I wanted to do something about that. This website is for everyone who wants to closely follow WWDC, but from anywhere in the world. Starting right now, this site will be updated daily with articles, videos, podcasts, and interviews, covering all things WWDC — from recommendations on what session videos to watch, to in-depth looks at new APIs, to interviews with people from all over the Apple developer community.

A lot of great content here already. And the site is very fast — no JavaScript, no tracking, no nonsense.

‘Putting the Soul in Console’ 

Anil Dash gets it:

I don’t know if Playdate will succeed in the market. I don’t know what kind of risk it represents for Panic as a company. But I know that people see this cute little device, and are reminded that they used to get excited when they saw cool new technology, instead of wondering how it would warp their reality, or steal their information. Here’s hoping for a return to tech that’s fun, that’s thoughtful, and that’s created with a little bit of soul.

NYT: ‘In Baltimore and Beyond, a Stolen N.S.A. Tool Wreaks Havoc’ 

Remember when the FBI wanted Apple to build backdoors into iPhones, arguing that Apple could trust them with the encryption keys because they would keep them safe? Good times.

Analysts Claim 3D Touch Is Going Away in All 2019 iPhones 

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

Last week, in a research note shared with MacRumors, a team of Barclays analysts “confirmed” that 3D Touch “will be eliminated” in all 2019 iPhones, as they predicted back in August 2018. The analysts gathered this information from Apple suppliers following a trip to Asia earlier this month.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this rumor. The Wall Street Journal said the same thing back in January.

Michael Tsai:

Haptic Touch works well, but it isn’t a replacement for 3D Touch because it’s just about feedback, not input. 3D Touch had the potential to be like modifier keys on the Mac, a way to provide an additional “dimension” of input. iOS really needs something like that. I’m not sure why Apple never really did much with it, but the potential was wasted. Given that, and the fact that it never made it across the iPhone product line or to any iPads, I can certainly see why they would get rid of it and doubt most people will miss it (or even knew about it in the first place).

Lots of good links and comments on Tsai’s post, as always.

3D Touch is a great idea but Apple never rolled it out well, and it was never discoverable. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people with 3D Touch-enabled iPhones have no idea it exists. In and of itself, the lack of discoverability isn’t necessarily a problem. That’s how power user features often work. Right-clicking on the Mac, for example, is in the same boat. What 3D Touch never got right is that power-user shortcuts should be just that — shortcuts for tasks with more obvious ways to do them. Now imagine if right-clicking only worked on certain high-end Macs, but didn’t work on others. That’s what happened with 3D Touch.

I think it should have always been a shortcut for a long-press, pure and simple. Just a faster way to long-press. But because 3D Touch is not just a shortcut for a long-press, and is not available on any iPad nor many iPhones, developers could never count on it, so they never really did anything with it. It doesn’t get used much because there’s not much you can do with it.

iOS Apps Grossly Abusing Background App Refresh for Tracking Purposes 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

It’s 3 a.m. Do you know what your iPhone is doing?

Mine has been alarmingly busy. Even though the screen is off and I’m snoring, apps are beaming out lots of information about me to companies I’ve never heard of. Your iPhone probably is doing the same — and Apple could be doing more to stop it.

On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.

And all night long, there was some startling behavior by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address — once every five minutes.

This is all going on via Background App Refresh. You can see which apps have this permission on your iOS device in Settings: General: Background App Refresh (it’s the 8th item in General in iOS 12).

This feature exists for good reasons — it’s how email, messaging, and podcast apps can update in the background. You probably want new podcasts episodes to download in the background overnight. You want current weather information when you wake up in the morning. But anything that can be abused, will be abused, and it looks like a lot of apps are abusing the shit out of Background App Refresh.

I don’t know what Apple can do to make this more transparent — to somehow let you, the user, see what exactly these apps are doing in the background — but I sure hope it’s on their radar. At this point, a lot of these apps — because of the third-party “analytics” libraries they embed — are acting as spyware, pure and simple.

Sniping From Goldman Sachs Rivals on Apple Card 

Hugh Son, writing for CNBC:

Within the industry, the deal is widely perceived as one that’s risky for a bank to take on. Citigroup was in advanced negotiations with Apple for the card but pulled out amid doubts that it could earn an acceptable profit on the partnership, according to people with knowledge of the talks. Other banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase, Barclays and Synchrony, also bid on the business. Apple and the banks declined to comment on this story.

It turns out that the Apple Card’s consumer-friendly features — no fees of any kind, software that actively encourages users to avoid debt or pay it down quickly, and potentially lower interest rates — make it harder for banks to make money on the product. Even features like the card’s calendar-based billing can impact a lender’s cost of funding and servicing, since customers’ borrowing will be concentrated at month-end, rather than spread out over weeks.

No shit they’re going to make less money than cards that charge fees and higher interest rates. But they’re going to make money — I’ll eat my hat if Goldman and Apple don’t turn a profit on this card. CNBC’s headline — “A Goldman Sachs rival pulled out of the Apple Card deal on fears it will be a money loser” — makes it sound like they’re going to lose money, which is ludicrous. They’ll make money on each transaction and they’ll make money charging interest on any cardholder who carries a balance. Arguing that they won’t make enough money is just usurious greed.

I don’t use the word lightly, but it’s evil to argue against the software Apple is releasing to help cardholders avoid debt and pay down what debt they owe quickly.

Also, this whole CNBC article seems like a way to sell consumers on getting an Apple Card.

The Independent on Apple and Privacy 

Andrew Griffin, in a lengthy piece for The Independent:

“Privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services,” Pichai wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. He didn’t name Apple, but he didn’t need to.

Pichai argued that the collection of data helps make technology affordable, echoing a sentiment often heard about Apple, that their commitment to privacy is only possible because their products are expensive and it can afford to take such a position. Having a more lax approach to privacy helps keep the products made by almost all of the biggest technology products [sic] in the world — from Google to Instagram — free, at least at the point of use.

“I don’t buy into the luxury good dig,” says Federighi, giving the impression he was genuinely surprised by the public attack.

“It’s on the one hand gratifying that other companies in space [sic] over the last few months, seemed to be making a lot of positive noises about caring about privacy. I think it’s a deeper issue than what a couple of months and a couple of press releases would make. I think you’ve got to look fundamentally at company cultures and values and business model. And those don’t change overnight.”

Griffin’s piece is an interesting read, and he was granted rare access to Apple’s testing facilities, but I think it’s a little all over the place, bouncing back and forth between security issues (testing Apple designed chips in extreme temperatures) and privacy issues. I think the above is the main point though — Google and Facebook are both pushing back against Apple, arguing that Apple’s stance on privacy is only possible because they charge a lot of money for their products.

I think the point that needs to be made is that free and low-cost products can be subsidized by privacy-respecting advertising — but privacy-respecting advertising is not as profitable as privacy-invasive advertising, as exemplified on Facebook and Google’s humongous platforms.

‘Nancy Pelosi and Fakebook’s Dirty Tricks’ 

Kara Swisher, writing at The New York Times:

This is ridiculous. The only thing the incident shows is how expert Facebook has become at blurring the lines between simple mistakes and deliberate deception, thereby abrogating its responsibility as the key distributor of news on the planet.

Would a broadcast network air this? Never. Would a newspaper publish it? Not without serious repercussions. Would a marketing campaign like this ever pass muster? False advertising. […]

By conflating censorship with the responsible maintenance of its platforms, and by providing “rules” that are really just capricious decisions by a small coterie of the rich and powerful, Facebook and others have created a free-for-all with no consistent philosophy.

On the Recyclability of AirPods 

Will Oremus, writing at OneZero:

When I contacted Apple for this story, I didn’t expect much of a response. The company is famous for being selective about its press relations. But I found the company more eager than usual to rebut the claim that AirPods are a planetary nightmare — a claim that appears to have caught Cupertino somewhat by surprise. […]

Most of all, Apple wanted to make clear that you can recycle AirPods — or at least important components of them — and you can go through Apple to do it. There’s a link on the company’s website to order a prepaid shipping label, which you can use to send the device to one of Apple’s recycling partners by dropping it in a FedEx box. Apple says that it has accepted AirPods for recycling ever since they were released, although it was only this year that the company added the product as a specific category of return on the website. The company also noted that you can bring your defunct AirPods to any Apple Store for recycling. “As with all of our products, we work closely with our recyclers to ensure AirPods are properly recycled and provide support to recyclers outside of our supply chain as well,” the company said in a statement.

$99 Is Not Nothing 

Apple has published a new “Principles and Practices” page regarding the App Store, which seems clearly in response to this month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing a class action lawsuit alleging the App Store to be an illegal monopoly to proceed. This bit caught my eye:

84% of apps are free, and developers pay nothing to Apple.

Like any fair marketplace, developers decide what they want to charge from a set of price tiers. We only collect a commission from developers when a digital good or service is delivered through an app. Here are some of the ways developers commonly make money on the App Store.

Any developer distributing an app through the App Store, free or paid, must pay Apple $99 per year for a developer account. You can build apps using Xcode free of charge, but you need a paid developer account to distribute them through the App Store.

Pretty good defense of the App Store overall, though, including a list of great third-party apps that compete directly against Apple’s own apps — camera, calendar, email, maps, etc. And of course, music. But one thing iOS users have complained about for 10 years now is that third-party apps can’t be set as the system-wide default in iOS. (They can on the Mac.) I’m not sure how tenable that is.

Update: There are exceptions to the $99 developer fee, for nonprofit organizations in five countries:

You can request to have the 99 USD annual membership fee waived if you’re a nonprofit organization, accredited educational institution, or government entity that will distribute only free apps on the App Store and is based in an eligible country. Apple will review your request and contact you to let you know whether your request is approved.

Eligible countries: Brazil, China, Japan, United Kingdom, United States.

It’d be interesting to know how many of these waivers have been granted.

A Few iOS 13 Screenshots 

The most interesting thing to me is the new interface for the screenshot editing tools. Actual depth, color, and shading — these new tools look great.

New A10-Based iPod Touch 

iPod Touch is such an oddball product, but I’m glad to see it updated. The last revision was four years ago. In the early years, I think a lot of iPods Touch were sold for use by kids. But today, most kids use hand-me-down iPhones. I think a lot of new iPods Touch are sold for enterprise purposes — warehouse scanning, point-of-sale, that sort of thing.

Layers + The Talk Show Live 

My thanks to Layers for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. Layers is a 3-day conference about design, technology, and a lot more (including great snacks). It runs Monday-Wednesday June 3-5, at the historic Montgomery Theater, right around the corner from Apple’s WWDC. Monday kicks off with an opening party from 5-8pm (they know everyone wants to watch Apple’s keynote), and the conference proper takes place Tuesday and Wednesday.

This is Layers’s 5th year. Back in 2015, I was on stage to interview Susan Kare — one of the highlights and great privileges of my career.

Use this link to register for Layers and you’ll get admission to the Layers Design Conference, June 3-5, and The Talk Show Live on Tuesday, June 4.

The Talk Show Live From WWDC will be held at the California Theatre. Doors at 6pm, show at 7pm. (General admission tickets for The Talk Show aren’t even available yet, but will go on sale early this week.)

YouTube Is the Only Social Platform Taking Down Doctored Pelosi Videos 

Kate Riga, reporting for TPM:

YouTube has taken down videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) doctored to make her seem drunk from its platform, saying that the posts “violated our policies.”

“YouTube has clear policies that outline what content is not acceptable to post and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us. These videos violated our policies and have been removed. They also did not surface prominently. In fact, search results and watch next panels about Nancy Pelosi include videos from authoritative sources, usually at the top,” a spokesperson told TPM.

Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, are letting the videos live on their sites.

“We remove things from Facebook that violate our Community Standards, and we don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true,” a company spokesperson said in a statement obtained by Politico.

Shame on Twitter and Facebook. These videos are not parody or satire — they’re being passed off as real, and garnering millions of views. It’s dangerous propaganda.

iFixit Tears Down a New MacBook Pro 

Looks like Apple made two material changes: a different one for the transparent membrane, and (perhaps?) the metal dome switches.

Edge Magazine’s Cover Story on Playdate 

My own excitement about Playdate aside, Jen Simpkins’s cover story for the new issue of Edge magazine (issue #333) is just a terrific read and an amazing behind-the-scenes look at how a 4-year project comes to life. Edge doesn’t publish on the web — how old-school cool is that? — but there are a few ways to read it:

  • Panic has a brief excerpt on the Playdate website.
  • You can buy a hard copy of Edge #333 for $10.
  • Edge is part of Apple News+, so if you’re a News+ subscriber (or sign up for a trial), you can read the whole thing.

One more thing: if you visit the media page on the Playdate site using an iPhone or iPad, Panic has created two ARKit models of the Playdate hardware. It’s fun to play with, and gives you a good sense of the device’s size.

Mac Toolbar Labels and Accessibility 

Interesting post — and that rarest of all beasts, a good comment thread — on a creeping trend in Mac app design: toolbars that don’t have an option to show text labels under the button icons. I like showing button labels in (a) apps that I use infrequently, and (b) apps which have a lot of buttons, some of which have icons that are similar to each other (Apple Mail comes to mind).

I think it’s a real accessibility issue, and another instance of something that looks better but, for at least some people, works worse. I also think the problem is exacerbated by the current fashion where icons are just simple one-color hairline outline objects, not colorful illustrations of actual objects.

Vice News: Inside Huawei-Land 

Tight 8-minute video tour of Huawei’s campus from Vice News:

“We wanted to invite U.S. media to come ask any questions on behalf of American customers,” said Catherine Chen, Huawei’s corporate senior vice president and director of the board.

VICE News took Huawei up on its offer and found out we were the only news organization that showed up.

I don’t know what Huawei thought this tour would accomplish, but I found it interesting.

Ars: ‘Why the Quirky Playdate Portable Could Succeed Where Ouya Failed’ 

Kyle Orland, writing at Ars Technica:

This is the hipster microbrew of the console world, mixing in weird gaming flavors and unique controller ingredients that the Sony/Budweisers and Nintendo/Millers of the world can’t. Playdate is aiming to be the console you buy more as a statement about your refined and eclectic gaming tastes and less as a workhorse that will be a central point in your gaming life.

I think this is pretty good, but I quibble with the word “hipster”. To me, a hipster handheld would have big fat pixels, a more decidedly retro take. Some microbrews are hipsters, no argument, but most aren’t — they’re just good beers made at a small scale. That’s Playdate.

U.S.-China Trade War Puts Huawei in a World of Hurt 

Amie Tsang, reporting for The New York Times:

Google’s decision to cut off support to Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant blacklisted by the Trump administration, is rippling across the globe as companies suspend ties to the handset maker.

In Britain, where Huawei is one of the most popular cellphone brands, two of the country’s biggest mobile networks, EE and Vodafone, announced that they would stop offering Huawei phones to 5G customers as a result of Google’s decision.

In Japan, the three largest cellphone companies also said they were reconsidering plans to sell a new series of Huawei smartphones.

BBC News reports that ARM is suspending all business with Huawei. So: no OS, no CPU, no carrier support in Europe or the U.S. (where Huawei has long been semi-banned over security concerns).

Those are problems I wouldn’t give to a monkey on a rock.

WebKit: Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution for the Web 

John Wilander, WebKit engineer at Apple:

The combination of third-party web tracking and ad campaign measurement has led many to conflate web privacy with a web free of advertisements. We think that’s a misunderstanding. Online ads and measurement of their effectiveness do not require Site A, where you clicked an ad, to learn that you purchased something on Site B. The only data needed for measurement is that someone who clicked an ad on Site A made a purchase on Site B.

Today we are presenting a new technology to allow attribution of ad clicks on the web while preserving user privacy.

This is an amazing proposal, and I really hope it takes off. Safari’s incredible popularity and importance on mobile devices could make this take off. The key idea is this: a web browser should work in the interest of its users.

Critically, our solution avoids placing trust in any of the parties involved — the ad network, the merchant, or any other intermediaries — and dramatically limits the entropy of data passed between them to prevent communication of a tracking identifier.

Anything that relies on voluntary compliance is doomed. If it can be abused or circumvented, ad networks and other web trackers will abuse or circumvent it.

See also: Zack Whittaker’s story at TechCrunch, and this brief thread from Apple’s Maciej Stachowiak with links to other WebKit privacy initiatives.

DF Sponsorships for Spring 

The rest of May and June remain largely open on the DF sponsorship schedule. Every week is a good week to sponsor Daring Fireball, if you ask me, but the weeks leading up to and after WWDC are particularly good. Lots of attention because there’s always a lot to write about. If you have a good product or service to promote to DF’s astute audience, I’d love to have you as a sponsor.

This current week remains open, too. If you can move quickly, get in touch today.

Facebook’s Creepy Data Sharing With Phone Carriers 

Sam Biddle, reporting for The Intercept:

Offered to select Facebook partners, the data includes not just technical information about Facebook members’ devices and use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, but also their past locations, interests, and even their social groups. This data is sourced not just from the company’s main iOS and Android apps, but from Instagram and Messenger as well. The data has been used by Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors, including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more controversial uses like racially targeted ads.

Some experts are particularly alarmed that Facebook has marketed the use of the information — and appears to have helped directly facilitate its use, along with other Facebook data — for the purpose of screening customers on the basis of likely creditworthiness. Such use could potentially run afoul of federal law, which tightly governs credit assessments.

Mark Zuckerberg, last month: “I believe the future is private.”

Pandora for Mac Is an Electron Turd 

Speaking of un-Mac-like apps, Pandora released a Mac client today. I downloaded it just to kick the tires — it’s a bad native Mac app even by the low standards of Electron apps. For example, if you click and drag one of the “buttons” at the top of the window (“Log In”, “Sign Up”, etc.), it both drags the window and gives you a pandora.com URL drag proxy item. I don’t even know how such dysfunction is even possible.

If Marzipan can get more companies to build their Mac apps from their iOS app, that really would be an improvement over these Electron monstrosities. But part of the appeal of Electron is that it gives you an app that works on Windows too. (Pandora’s Windows app isn’t available yet, but is promised soon.) Marzipan won’t solve that problem.

Slack Changed Its Stock Ticker From ‘SK’ to ‘WORK’ Weeks Before IPO 

Becky Peterson, writing for Business Insider:

Slack is not a public company yet, but it’s already gotten tired of its stock ticker.

In an updated version of its IPO paperwork filed on Monday, Slack revealed that it has dumped the proposed “SK” stock ticker it had settled upon a few weeks ago. Instead, in a dramatic pivot, the workplace collaboration company will makes its public market debut with the more descriptive ticker symbol “WORK.”

It’s no big deal, but “SK” was a bad-ass ticker. “WORK” is just corny. I think you ought to be able to look at a ticker and make a good guess what company it belongs to.

(I’ve always wondered why Apple’s ticker is “AAPL”, with two A’s. Searching for an answer, I found this old MacRumors forum thread from 2003. Someone there thought they should change it to “IPOD”.)

Microsoft Edge Preview Builds Now Available for MacOS 

Microsoft:

Last month, we announced the first preview builds of the next version of Microsoft Edge for Windows 10. Today, we are pleased to announce the availability of the Microsoft Edge Canary channel for macOS. You can now install preview builds from the Microsoft Edge Insider site for your macOS or Windows 10 PC, with more Windows version support coming soon.

I’m trying to think how long it’s been since I’ve had a Microsoft web browser running on my Mac. Apple released Safari in 2003, but I was still running classic MacOS on my Power Mac 9600 until 2004 or 2005 I think. So maybe 15 years?

Building a “Mac-like” user experience for Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge for macOS will offer the same new browsing experience that we’re previewing on Windows, with user experience optimizations to make it feel at home on a Mac. We are tailoring the overall look and feel to match what macOS users expect from apps on this platform.

I’m glad they put quotes around “Mac-like” because this is not very Mac-like. It looks and feels a lot like Google Chrome, which makes sense, because it’s a fork from Chromium. But even Chrome uses the Mac’s standard contextual menus (what you see when you right-click) — Edge even fakes those.

The whole thing does feel very fast.

Atoms — Ideal Everyday Shoes 

My thanks once again to Atoms for sponsoring this week at Daring Fireball. Atoms are getting ready to launch their new website and they’re using this sponsorship to give DF readers a sneak peak. It’s a great website, with a custom typeface to boot. (They wanted to get the dot on the i just right.) And you get a chance to pick up the world’s first shoes available in quarter sizes.

That sounds like a pain in the ass. How can you choose the right quarter-size increment ordering over the internet? Easy: Atoms sends you three pairs of shoes in quarter-size increments based on your normal shoe size. You pick the left and right shoe that feels best — a size 9 for your left foot and a 9.25 for your right, for example — and return the rest for free.

Atoms didn’t know this when they chose to sponsor DF, but going back to childhood, my left foot has always been ever so slightly bigger than my right. When trying on new shoes I’m often torn between half sizes. It’s like they made this quarter-size system just for me. No kidding. I’ve had a pair of Atoms for a little bit and have been wearing them a lot. (I got the black and white, but they also have all-black and all-white.) They’re very comfortable and still look near-new.

GB Studio 

GB Studio is “A free and easy to use retro adventure game creator for your favourite handheld video game system”, by which they mean, but don’t want to name specifically, Nintendo’s Game Boy:

Simple visual scripting means you don’t need to have made a game already. GB Studio also hides much of the complexity in building GB games so you can concentrate on telling a great story.

What a fun idea from developer Chris Maltby. You can output ROMs for emulators, play them on actual Game Boy hardware with a flash cartridge, or even export them for the web (which will even work on phones). It’s a remarkably polished IDE.

There’s something about 1-bit (and few-bit) displays that makes me so nostalgic — the original Mac, Game Boy, Newton, PalmPilot, iPod. Those devices all inspired such deep affection. In our current world of ever-cheaper, ever-better color displays, I’d love to see 1-bit displays make a comeback somehow. That doesn’t make any sense, but nostalgia isn’t about sense. “A pain in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone”; “it takes us to a place where we ache to go again” and all.

The Pivot 

Excellent piece from Horace Dediu:

Moving as it does between computers, devices, software, services, retail, logistics and manufacturing means that it’s not classifiable as an “x” company where “x” is an industry sector. Rather, the company should be classified by the set of problems it seeks to solve (e.g. communications, community, productivity, creativity, wellbeing).

This disconnect between what people think Apple sells and what Apple builds is as perplexing as the cognitive disconnect between what companies sell and what customers buy.

This is why so many people, particularly investment analysts, have always missed the point about Apple. They saw Apple as a computer company outside the Wintel world in a Wintel-dominated industry. Now they see Apple as a phone maker in a world where the market is saturated and people are holding onto the phones they already own longer and longer.

Where’s the next iPhone?” they ask. That’s such a dumb question. As Dediu argues at the start of his piece, the iPhone is the most successful product of all time. What sense does it make to expect the same company to make two of the most successful products of all time within the span of 15 years? It doesn’t really make much sense to expect any other company to make a product as successful as the iPhone soon. I think there’s a good chance the iPhone is a once in a lifetime product.

How AirPlay 2 and the Apple TV App Work on a Samsung TV 

I’m not surprised, but this looks and works almost exactly like the new TV app on an Apple TV set top box. If you have one of these TVs with the Apple TV app built-in, I can’t see many reasons why you’d want an Apple TV device. The new TV app on an actual Apple TV does integrate with apps like Prime Video and Hulu that are not available as “channels”, and of course Apple TV has that wildly popular library of games and its celebrated remote control, but if you mostly use Apple TV for iTunes movie and TV show content, you’re probably better off using the built-in Apple TV app on these TVs.

Update: A couple of readers point to one obvious advantage of Apple TV: privacy. Smart TVs do all sorts of nasty things like tracking what you watch and phoning home that Apple TV does not and never will do. There’s a very strong case to be made never to hook a “smart TV” up to the internet at all.

Gmail Tracks Your Purchase History (Shocker) 

Todd Haselton and Megan Graham, writing for CNBC:

Google says it doesn’t use your Gmail to show you ads and promises it “does not sell your personal information, which includes your Gmail and Google Account information,” and does “not share your personal information with advertisers, unless you have asked us to.”

But, for reasons that still aren’t clear, it’s pulling that information out of your Gmail and dumping it into a “Purchases” page most people don’t seem to know exists. Even if it’s not being used for ads, there’s no clear reason why Google would need to track years of purchases and make it hard to delete that information. Google says it’s looking into simplifying its settings to make them easier to control, however.

I’m sure they’ll get right on that.

Remember this saga from a year ago? Long story short, Steam is like an app store for PC games. Steam Link is like a LAN-based remote desktop that lets you stream your Steam games to another device, like an iPhone or Apple TV. Apple initially approved it on May 7 last year, Steam announced it, and then Apple un-approved it, “citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team”.

It seems bizarre to me that it took a year to resolve this, but I’m glad Apple decided it correctly. And I’m interested to see how well it works — my son is an avid player of games from Steam.

Lego ‘Stranger Things’ 

Even if you don’t watch Stranger Things and don’t like Lego, my god, if you don’t love the style of this video, you’re not hooked up right. It’s fantastic.

Update: Do not miss this interview video with Lego model designer Justin Ramsden.

FCC Proposes New Rules to Fight Robocalls 

Makena Kelly, reporting for The Verge:

The new rule would make it easier for carriers, like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, to automatically register their customers for call-blocking technology. As of right now, customers have to opt-in on their own. It would also allow customers to block calls coming from phone numbers that are not on their contacts list. Commissioners are expected to vote on the measure at their June 6th meeting.

“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them.”

I’m trying to think of another issue that could garner so much bipartisan support in America today. I got nothing.

Washington Post: ‘Trump’s Prized Doral Resort Is in Steep Decline, According to Company Documents, Showing His Business Problems Are Mounting’ 

David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell, reporting for The Washington Post:

At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort’s net operating income — a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid — had fallen by 69 percent.

Even in a vigorous economy, the property was missing the Trump Organization’s internal business targets; for instance, the club expected to take in $85 million in revenue in 2017 but took in just $75 million.

“They are severely underperforming” other resorts in the area, tax consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak told a Miami-Dade County official in a bid to lower the property’s tax bill. The reason, she said: “There is some negative connotation that is associated with the brand.”

“Some negative connotation” — you don’t say.

Apple Support: ‘How to Enable Full Mitigation for Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) Vulnerabilities’ 

Apple Support:

Intel has disclosed vulnerabilities called Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) that apply to desktop and notebook computers with Intel CPUs, including all modern Mac computers.

Although there are no known exploits affecting customers at the time of this writing, customers who believe their computer is at heightened risk of attack can use the Terminal app to enable an additional CPU instruction and disable hyper-threading processing technology, which provides full protection from these security issues.

This option is available for macOS Mojave, High Sierra and Sierra and may have a significant impact on the performance of your computer. […] Testing conducted by Apple in May 2019 showed as much as a 40 percent reduction in performance with tests that include multithreaded workloads and public benchmarks.

It’s good that there are no known exploits using these techniques, but even if there were, the overwhelming majority of Mac users — almost everyone — would not need to enable this mitigation. These MDS vulnerabilities enable malware on your computer to do bad things. But these vulnerabilities are not ways for malware to get onto your computer.

Once you have malware on your computer, the game is over. I’m not saying these MDS vulnerabilities aren’t a problem — they obviously are, because they make malware potentially more dangerous. But the game is keeping malware off your computers in the first place.

(Also worth noting: these particular vulnerabilities don’t affect iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, or the vast majority of Android devices because ARM chips don’t have these vulnerabilities. Only Intel chips. We’re running out of reasons for Apple not to switch the entire Mac platform to ARM.)

(Bonus parenthetical: It’s possible that there are similar vulnerabilities in ARM chips too, but if there are, none have been publicly disclosed yet.)

‘Behind Twitter’s Plan to Get People to Stop Yelling at Each Other’ 

Interesting feature by Nicole Nguyen for BuzzFeed with an inside look at “twttr” — a new version of Twitter currently being tested. Lots of screenshots, and I particularly enjoyed (and would have liked to see more of) senior product designer Lisa Ding’s sketchbook.

I do think most of these designs significantly help indicate reply threading. What’s a reply to the original tweet, what’s a reply to another reply, that sort of thing. Twitter is really just awful for that right now, and always has been. And the fundamental reason why is kind of obvious: Twitter started as a product that did not even have the concept of replies. Users invented them, by starting a tweet with “@username” for whomever they were replying to. Twitter eventually embraced replies as a full-fledged feature, but the way it’s worked out over 13 years (poorly) is a perfect example of a fundamental design precept: the origins of a product forever shape its future.

But again, these “twttr” designs do seem to make replies clearer. That’s good. What I don’t see is anything, anything at all, that addresses the ostensible goal of this whole effort: reducing abuse, hostility, and general bad behavior. Trolls and bullies are Twitter’s core problem, not the clarity of reply threads.

Why Paul Ford (Still) Loves Tech 

Paul Ford, writing for Wired, “In Defense of a Difficult Industry”:

The things we loved — the Commodore Amigas and AOL chat rooms, the Pac-Man machines and Tamagotchis, the Lisp machines and RFCs, the Ace paperback copies of Neuromancer in the pockets of our dusty jeans — these very specific things have come together into a postindustrial Voltron that keeps eating the world. We accelerated progress itself, at least the capitalist and dystopian parts. Sometimes I’m proud, although just as often I’m ashamed. I am proudshamed.

Just a lovely piece that I suspect will resonate deeply with many of you. This bit, in particular, put into words something I’ve struggled to capture:

And of course I rarely get to build software anymore.

I would like to. Something about the interior life of a computer remains infinitely interesting to me; it’s not romantic, but it is a romance. You flip a bunch of microscopic switches really fast and culture pours out.

“Not romantic, but it is a romance” — I think that’s what some of us are worried about losing if the Mac grows ever more iOS-like, and it feels a bit like what Brent Simmons wrote recently under the headline “Freedom”.

Google to Show Ads on Homepage of Mobile Site, App 

Paresh Dave, reporting for Reuters:

Alphabet Inc’s Google will begin featuring ads on the homepage of its mobile website and smartphone app later this year, it said on Tuesday, giving the search engine a huge new supply of ad slots to boost revenue.

Google will also start placing ads with a gallery of up to eight images in search results, potentially increasing ad supply further. The ads will appear on Google pages and apps globally.

It’s interesting to me that they’re saying this is mobile-only, and thus doesn’t include the desktop homepage. But mobile is where the most attention is these days. I’ve long considered Google’s homepage the most valuable advertising space on the internet; it still is, and it’s rather remarkable how restrained they’ve been about using it. One obvious reason: they’ve remained laser-focused on keeping their homepage fast, fast, fast.

Update: Interesting take from a DF reader:

Just curious when the last time you were on a search engine’s home page on mobile? Surely everybody searches in the address bar from the most recently opened window? I had to type google.com into my address bar to even see what it looked like and I use google a dozen times a day. Results being more monetized I get… but mobile landing page? Maybe they’ll get Android users, but not iPhone.

That is true — most iPhone users surely almost never see Google’s pre-results landing page.

Postal Address Insanity 

Josh Centers, writing at TidBITS:

If you wish to use Spotify and might ever want to sign up for a family plan, I strongly recommend copying down the exact address you enter somewhere, or you can do what I did and switch to Apple Music because I refuse to play these stupid games.

Over 650 Former Prosecutors Say Trump Would Be Charged With Obstruction if He Weren’t President 

Axios:

More than 650 former federal prosecutors have signed onto a statement asserting that if the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) did not prohibit a sitting president from being indicted, President Trump would be charged with obstruction of justice.

Android Q First Look 

They should have called it Android R for “rip-off”. This is the iPhone X interface. The shamelessness of this rip-off is staggering. Does Google have no pride? No sense of shame?

Don’t Hold Your Breath 

Reuters:

Samsung Electronics said on Tuesday it cannot confirm the shipping date for its foldable device Galaxy Fold yet and apologized to its pre-order customers in the United States for the delay. The world’s top smartphone maker delayed global sales of the splashy $1,980 foldable phone after reviewers discovered problems with its display, dealing a setback to Samsung and its efforts to showcase its innovation.

“If we do not hear from you and we have not shipped by May 31st, your order will be canceled automatically,” the South Korean tech giant’s U.S. subsidiary told Galaxy Fold pre-order customers in an email late on Monday, which was confirmed by a Samsung spokeswoman.

Today is May 7. How can anyone take them seriously that they do not know if they’re going to ship by May 31? This thing is never going to ship and everyone knows it.

Google Pixel 3A 

Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times:

So this will probably come as good news. As of Tuesday, Google is selling the Pixel 3A, a new version of its popular Pixel smartphone, for about $400 — or roughly half the price of its high-end phones. It is the first time that Google is introducing its Pixel phones for the midrange and low-end market.

“We’re seeing the fatigue with some of the flagship pricing of smartphones going up and up and up, and people thinking, ‘You know, five years ago I could buy the best possible phone for half this price,’” said Brian Rakowski, a vice president of product management for Google.

$400 for a good phone with a great camera sounds compelling. But there’s a hump Google has never gotten over with the Pixel phones. They’re great devices that almost no one actually buys.

This Is Why I Would Never Buy Used AirPods 

The Daily Mail:

But he went to Kaohsiung Municipal United Hospital where medics confirmed he had swallowed the AirPod. They said it was currently passing through his digestive system, saying it would need surgery to remove if it did not appear naturally. Doctors gave him a laxative and told him to inspect his waste for any sign of the device.

Fortunately for Mr Hsu the AirPod resurfaced when he relieved himself at a railway station the next day. He was forced into a foul-smelling search but was able to pick out the £65 device and found that it was still intact. After washing the AirPod and letting it dry Mr Hsu was amazed to find that it still worked.

It is The Daily Mail, so there’s a good likelihood the story is complete bullshit. But if it’s legit… jiminy.

SEC Charges Sapphire Glass Manufacturer and Former CEO With Fraud 

The SEC:

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a New Hampshire-based company and its former CEO with misleading investors about the company’s ability to supply “sapphire glass” for Apple’s iPhones. The company, GT Advanced Technologies Inc., also is found to have misclassified more than $300 million in debt to Apple that resulted from its repeated failures to meet performance milestones.

Haven’t thought about these guys in a while.

It’s Not Just Dust 

I’ve gotten a zillion emails and tweets about this Reddit thread from a Mac tech dissecting Apple’s butterfly-switch MacBook keyboards. Like most stuff on Reddit I don’t think it’s very cohesive. It’s like a notebook for an article, not an article. But the author does make one key observation that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make before, even though it’s obvious to anyone following this saga: If the reliability problem with these keyboards is only about particles getting lodged under the keys, then we should see random keys having problems. But that’s not what we see. What we see are that the most-used keys — vowels (especially “E”) and the space bar — are the keys most likely to get stuck or to start emitting duplicate characters.

I’m sure the dust thing is a real problem, but it’s clearly not the only problem. These keyboards simply aren’t durable.

Peter Mayhew Dies at 74 

Filmmaking is a collaborate effort, and many deserve credit for Chewbacca. George Lucas, of course, for conceiving and writing the character. Ben Burtt for that distinctive and emotive voice. ILM costume designers. But Mayhew was the actor. And goddamn if Chewbacca doesn’t feel real. You know he’s a man in a suit but he feels like a real Wookiee. There were aliens in movies before Star Wars, but Chewbacca was the first I can think of who didn’t just look and feel like a real alien but who also felt like a full-fledged character — a character with an interesting personality and real relationships with the humans around him. More than anything else, it was Chewbacca’s realness as a character — along with C-3PO and R2-D2 — that made Star Wars so immersive. He wasn’t a gimmick or a prop. He was Chewie.

And he should have gotten a goddamn medal.

A Technical and Cultural Assessment of the Mueller Report PDF 

Duff Johnson, writing for the PDF Association:

This article offers two things:

  • a brief, high-level technical assessment of the document, and

  • a question of culture: why everyone assumes it would be delivered as a PDF file — and would have been shocked otherwise.

This has nothing to do with the content of the Mueller Report, but rather the actual PDF file released by the Justice Department. Wonderfully nerdy.

Qualcomm to Record $4.5 Billion Revenue From Apple Settlement 

Scott Rosenberg and Ina Fried, reporting for Axios:

In its quarterly earnings released today, Qualcomm said it would record $4.5-$4.7 billion revenue in the coming quarter as part of its settlement of a long-running intellectual-property quarrel with Apple.

This isn’t catastrophic for Apple, and I think that figure is exactly in line with what just about everyone expected. But don’t tell me Qualcomm wasn’t the winner here.

‘Facebook Is Trying to Make the Word “Private” Meaningless’ 

Good piece by Casey Johnston for The Outline on the hollowness of Facebook’s newfound push for “privacy”:

He emphasized several times that Facebook will not be able to see the content of this material, saying it was private “even from us” several times about several features, and emphasizing the words “safety” and “secure.”

But what his presentation elided was the fact that Facebook does not need to see the content of what people are saying in order to advertise to them. The metadata — who, or what (as in a business), you’re talking to, and even where you are or what time the conversation is taking place as it comes together with other pieces of information — provides more than enough information to make a very educated guess about what you’re interested in, to the point that knowing specifically what you are saying adds almost nothing.

Tim Cook and Luca Maestri on Intel 

Something I missed last night perusing Tim Cook and Luca Maestri’s remarks on Apple’s quarterly analyst call: shots fired at Intel. (Emphasis added.)

Cook:

For our Mac business overall, we faced some processor constraints in the March quarter, leading to a 5 percent revenue decline compared to last year. But we believe that our Mac revenue would have been up compared to last year without those constraints, and don’t believe this challenge will have a significant impact on our Q3 results.

Maestri:

Next I’d like to talk about the Mac. Revenue was 5.5 billion compared to 5.8 billion a year ago, with the decline driven primarily by processor constraints on certain popular models.

I asked an Apple source last fall why it took so long for Apple to release the new MacBook Air. Their one-word answer: “Intel.”

One of the big questions for next month’s WWDC is whether this is the year Apple announces Macs with Apple’s own ARM processors (and graphics?).

The Talk Show: ‘A Couple of Awkward Swipes’ 

Very special guest MG Siegler returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s original content strategy and a general look at the state of the company. Also: advice for parents of young children.

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Typography 2020 

Matthew Butterick reviews the typography and design of the websites for the top Democratic candidates in 2020:

For those who think it triv­i­al­izes our po­lit­i­cal process to judge can­di­dates by their ty­pog­ra­phy — what would you pre­fer we scru­ti­nize? Qual­i­fi­ca­tions? Ground into dust dur­ing the last elec­tion. Is­sues? Be my guest. Whether a can­di­date will ever ful­fill a cer­tain cam­paign promise about a cer­tain is­sue is conjectural.

But ty­pog­ra­phy — that’s a real de­ci­sion can­di­dates have to make to­day, with real money and real con­se­quences. And if I can’t trust you to pick some rea­son­able fonts and col­ors, then why should I trust you with the nu­clear codes?

I largely agree with Butterick’s assessments, and where I don’t agree, I find his arguments persuasive.