Linked List: November 2019

I Shit You Not: Disney+ Version of ‘Star Wars‘ Alters the Han/Greedo Scene Again 

The 4K version on Disney+ — which launched today — was recut again while George Lucas was still in charge. If he hadn’t sold the franchise to Disney we’d eventually have Han armed with a squirt gun.

The Information: Apple Held 1,000-Person Internal Meeting Revealing Plans for 2022 AR Headset and 2023 AR Glasses 

Wayne Ma, Alex Heath, and Nick Wingfield, reporting for the subscriber-only The Information:

Mike Rockwell, who heads the team responsible for Apple’s AR and virtual reality initiatives, led the meeting, which included new details about the design and features of the AR headset, these people said. The product timetables run counter to recent analyst and media reports that said an Apple AR device could arrive as early as next year.

Pretty sure the only source for that is Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman. 2020 never seemed realistic to me.

The group presentation was attended by enough employees to fill the 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater at Apple headquarters, suggesting Apple has a sizable team working on AR projects.

This is an extraordinary leak. Either Apple very rarely holds internal events like this about future products, or, when they do, nothing leaks about them.

Apple’s headset, code-named N301, will offer a hybrid of AR and VR capabilities, according to people familiar with the device. It resembles the Oculus Quest, a Facebook virtual reality headset released earlier this year, but with a sleeker design, these people said. Cameras will be mounted on the outside of the device, allowing people to see and interact with their physical surroundings, they said. Apple wants to make heavy use of fabrics and lightweight materials to ensure the device is comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, executives said in the presentation in October.

Something even remotely like an Oculus Quest doesn’t seem like an Apple product. But who knows.

In contrast, Apple’s AR glasses, code-named N421, present bigger technical challenges than the headset and are further from release. They are meant to be worn all day, and current prototypes look like high-priced sunglasses with thick frames that house the battery and chips, according to a person who has seen them.

Additionally, Apple has explored the use of lenses for the glasses that darken when people are using AR on them, a way of letting others know the wearer of the glasses is distracted, said another person involved with the project.

That window-shade feature sounds dystopic.

And why would people who don’t need glasses want to wear thick glasses all day? And they think it will replace phones in a decade? Do we really want our phone display in front of our eyes all day? I just don’t get it.

People familiar with the October meeting said it was unusual for Apple, one of the most secretive companies in Silicon Valley, to brief so many employees at once about product roadmaps.

To say the least.

Morning Brew 

My thanks to Morning Brew for once again sponsoring DF. There’s a reason over 1 million people start their day with Morning Brew — the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Business news doesn’t have to be dry and dense… make your mornings more enjoyable, for free.

I’ve been subscribed for over six months. It’s a great daily read — concise, fun, and a clean crisp design. You get one email each morning and that’s it. I recommend it..

Carfection Shoots Bullitt Mustang Film Using iPhone 11 Pro 

Carfection:

Our sister channel CNET challenged us to shoot an entire film using only an iPhone 11 Pro. We reviewed the Bullitt Mustang (the special edition of the Mustang GT) and tried to get as close to the quality of our regular Carfection films as possible.

Impressive results (and a very cool car).

CNet’s Andrew Hoyle has a story and behind-the-scenes discussion with cinematographer Charlie Rose.

(Via Gokul Bhargav.)

iOS 13.2.2 Released, With Fix for the Bug That Was Massacring Apps in the Background 

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

If you’re wondering what happened to iOS 13.2.1, Apple released it last week exclusively for the HomePod. The initial HomePod 13.2 update caused some people to experience bricked HomePods, and Apple released iOS 13.2.1 to solve those problems for HomePod owners.

The biggest change in iOS 13.2.2 is a fix for issues related to background applications and multitasking. This RAM management problem caused applications to quit when running in the background, which significantly hindered multitasking performance and capabilities.

So 13.2.0 was released for iPhones and iPads and HomePods, but it bricked HomePods and caused apps to be killed erroneously while multitasking on iPhones and iPads. 13.2.1 was only for HomePods. 13.2.2 is only for iPhones and iPads — but on iPads it’s called “iPadOS”, even though on HomePods it’s called “iOS”, even though a HomePod isn’t really what anyone would consider an iOS device.

Got it.

Every Horse Emoji, Ranked 

Jelena Woehr:

Believe it or not, this horse’s lack of eyes may not limit athletic performance. Many blind horses do well under saddle. However, the missing right hindlimb will severely limit potential for soundness even as a companion. Discuss euthanasia with vet.

For reasons I will not go into here, at this moment, I’ve got emoji on my mind today. This thread is delightful.

Amazon Patches Ring Video Doorbell Vulnerability That Could Allow Hackers to Breach Owner’s Wi-Fi Network  

Computing:

Once the device is reset, it starts the process of pairing itself with the owner’s Wi-Fi network. Because the exchange of information between the device and the app is performed via an unsecured HTTP connection, it enables a hacker within range of the Wi-Fi network to intercept the login details.

The patch released by Ring to mitigate the vulnerability ensures that the device uses an HTTPS connection while broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal for the phone to grab. The connection is also secured through a digital certificate, signed by the firm and validated by the app.

Ring was using HTTP? That seems less like a mistake and more like gross incompetence.

Inessential Turns 20 

Brent Simmons:

Old proverb: “The best time to start a blog is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.”

Bond Film Title Anagrams 

“Overtired Newsroom” and “English Tutor Hoedown” are both amazing, in their own ways. Whole thread is very fun, including great poster art. 🍸

Apple TV, Apple TV, Apple TV, and Apple TV+ 

Dustin Curtis:

Apple TV is a hardware device.

Apple TV is an app on Apple TV that curates content you can buy from Apple and also content you can stream through other installed apps (but not all apps, and there is no way to tell which ones).

Apple TV is an app on iOS/iPadOS devices that operates similarly to Apple TV on Apple TV. Apple TV on iOS/iPadOS syncs playback and watch history with Apple TV on Apple TV, but only if the iOS/iPadOS device has the same apps installed as the Apple TV — and not all apps are available on all platforms. Apple TV is also an app on macOS, but it does not show content that can only be streamed from external apps on an Apple TV or iOS/iPadOS device.

When you spell it all out, as Curtis does here, it really does expose how confusing a lot of this is.

Electron Apps Are Being Rejected From the Mac App Store for Calling Private APIs 

Michael Tsai:

So there are a multiple problems here:

  1. It’s (apparently) impossible for Chromium to get competitive performance and battery life without using private API, which Safari freely uses.

  2. Apple probably has good reasons for keeping these APIs private.

  3. Private API has always been banned, but Apple has been accepting these apps for years and then abruptly stopped without any notice.

  4. Apps using Electron probably didn’t know that they were even using private API. Neither Xcode nor Application Loader reports this, and App Review was accepting the apps.

  5. The rule is not being enforced equally.

Doesn’t seem clear yet if this is a new policy, or just random App Store approval capriciousness. If enforced, this will require significant changes to Chromium, the rendering engine of Google Chrome that’s the foundation of Electron.

Nice Feature on Gus Mueller in the Mac App Store 

The Mac App Store:

Sure, it’s one of the fastest ways to crop, resize, and add text to an image. And yes, it offers more than 100 photo effects as well as nondestructive filters. But the appeal of Acorn has always been that it doesn’t overwhelm you. In fact, Mueller’s inspiration for coding the app was largely creative. “I was curious what it would take to write an image editor,” he says.

Nice little feature. Acorn remains one of my very favorite and most-used apps.

Guardian Firewall 

My thanks to Guardian Firewall for sponsoring this week at DF. Guardian Firewall is a personal data protection solution for iOS devices that offers system-wide blocking and detection of user location tracking, email receipt tracking, and other forms of undesired information collection, and additionally secures all network traffic using a VPN coupled with a lightweight custom-designed firewall.

Sounds complicated, right? Well, behind the scenes, it is. Guardian Firewall is doing a lot of clever stuff to block all these trackers and keep your network speeds super fast. From the user’s perspective, it couldn’t be simpler. It’s a simple app that starts with one big button to toggle Guardian protection. That’s all you need to do. In the second tab, Guardian keeps a log of all the trackers it identified and blocked. My list is hundreds long just from today. Guardian does one thing and does it really well.

Guardian is a small but fast-growing startup aiming to help users fight back against ubiquitous data collection by entities attempting to monetize and/or exploit their personal data. Over the next 90 days, Guardian plans to launch new features for power users, including custom firewall rules, as well as support for additional platforms. Founder and CEO Will Strafach has been a longtime mainstay in the iOS security community.

I’ve been running Guardian Firewall for weeks on my iPhone. It’s everything you’d want it to be: invisible, seamless privacy protection. Nothing breaks, nothing feels slow. It’s a service I’m happy to pay for and a company I’m happy to support. You can try it for free — and read their excellent FAQ for details on how everything works.

AirPods Pro Replacement Tips 

Mike Rundle, on Twitter:

The killer feature of the AirPods Pro is the interchangeable silicone tips that click into place and don’t have to be mashed and misshapen to reattach like every other stupid pair of earbuds on the market.

On the other side, Juan Carlos Bagnell:

iFixit confirming my fears. AirPod Pros are un-repairable. Apple will only replace buds for “service”. Worse, they use a proprietary ear tip design, so you can’t swap to aftermarket tips (NO FOAM FOR YOU) until the grey market rips off the design.

Quinn Nelson, responding to Bagnell:

Replacement tips are $4 for a six pack. This design is vastly superior to the universal barrel design which for people with small ear canals (like me) hurts a ton. This is not something to criticize, imo. It’s okay to deviate from the norm if you can improve on it.

That really is the crux of it. Better necessarily implies different. Complaining that the AirPods Pro tips are custom-designed by Apple is like complaining back in 2015 that Apple Watch used custom strap connectors. It’s a better connector and there will be dozens of third-party options soon — by the end of this month, I bet.

‘Puts’ 

Rachel Siegel and Tony Romm, reporting for The Washington Post on Google’s acquisition of Fitbit:

The deal puts Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in a race against Apple when it comes to tracking fitness and health data.

Somehow, if it were the other way around — if Google’s wearable devices had the sales and cultural ubiquity of Apple Watch and AirPods, and Apple’s five-year wearable efforts had the market share and brand-awareness of Google’s — I highly doubt that The Post would posit Apple’s acquisition of Fitbit at a garbage bin price as their entry into the fitness tracking race against Google.

Android Wear launched over five years ago. Google has been in this race against Apple for close to a decade and they’ve gotten their ass handed to them.

Google to Acquire Fitbit for $2.1 Billion 

CNBC:

Google will pay $7.35 per share in cash for the acquisition, Fitbit said. Fitbit’s all time high share price was $51.90 on Aug. 5, 2015, a couple months after its stock market debut at $30.40. The deal is expected to close in 2020, according to the announcement.

Apple is showing that wearables are a huge market moving forward, and Apple is the only one getting it right so far. I don’t see Fitbit helping Google here.

Daisuke Wakabayashi:

The hardware business is very hard. Even if you “make it” and avoid burning all your cash, the best you can hope for is to be gobbled up by a giant. Nest (Google), Ring (Amazon), Eero (Amazon), Beats (Apple) and, now, Fitbit (Google).

Off the top of my head the only hardware startup of this era that’s seemingly standing on its own is Tesla — and its future remains questionable.

Ben Bajarin:

Fitbit 2019 revenue estimates are $1.45B so Google buying for $2.1B is not even 2x revenue.

When negotiating an acquisition 3x revenue is usually the baseline. This is telling about the state of Fitbit.

I don’t know anyone who’s bought a Fitbit device recently. I know runners and cyclists with Garmin watches, but I don’t know anyone still wearing a Fitbit.

Jason Snell on Apple’s Drive for Services Revenue 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Consider the soul-sucking term ARPU. It stands for Average Revenue Per User (or, alternately, Unit), and it’s a useful-yet-noxious lens through which businesses can view their customers. Of course, businesses should be aware about how much revenue their customers are generating — the issue is more that focusing on ARPU is often a sign that a business is on a path that will attempt to wring every last penny out of its customers. It’s a sign of nickel-and-diming, sliding in hidden fees, and all sorts of other questionable practices that make sense if you’re looking at a balance sheet — but are so infuriating if you’re a customer.

Apple doesn’t do hidden fees. And its media subscription services are all good deals. Music and News have fair prices, and both of those require Apple to pay the content providers. $5/month for TV+ —  including family sharing — is a lower price than most people expected, and the free-first-year-with-hardware-purchase makes it even better. And Apple Arcade is an undeniable bargain at $5/month — again, including family sharing.

To me, every one of these feels exactly in line with putting the customer experience first. Compare and contrast with the high prices and bullshit tack-on fees from your cable and cell phone providers.

But then there’s iCloud storage — Apple’s original subscription service. The prices for iCloud’s storage tiers compare OK against competitors like Google, but I’d still like to see a significantly higher free base tier (Google offers 15 GB vs. Apple’s 5 GB). That miserly 5 GB free tier is emitting an evermore pungent nickel-and-diming aroma.

Apple’s Q4 2019 Results 

Nothing surprising overall. What struck me looking at the numbers is that while everyone is talking about Services, the “Wearables, Home, and Accessories” category — driven primarily by Apple Watch and AirPods — is growing fast too:

  • iPhone: $33.4B
  • Mac: $7.0B
  • iPad: $4.7B
  • Wearables: $6.5B
  • Services: $12.5B

Wearables are now bigger than iPad and will soon be bigger than the Mac. And the glasses are supposedly coming next year, and the $250 AirPods Pro just shipped.

The best charts for visualizing these results, as usual, are at Six Colors.

Shootout: Best Wireless In-Ear Charging Case Lid Sound Competition 

Wait for it.

‘Maintainable Code Is More Important Than Clever Code’ 

The Dropbox company blog, giving thanks to Python creator Guido van Rossum:

“There was a small number of really smart, really young coders who produced a lot of very clever code that only they could understand,” said van Rossum. “That is probably the right attitude to have when you’re a really small startup.”

But as the company grew, new engineers who joined couldn’t understand the code. Clever code is usually short and cryptic, written by and for the individual who came up with it, but is hard for anyone else to understand — and nearly impossible to maintain. Guido called this “cowboy coding culture”. He recognized its value in our early stages of trying to implement things quickly, but knew it wouldn’t be sustainable over time, so he decided to speak up in his own quiet way.

“When asked, I would give people my opinion that maintainable code is more important than clever code,” he said. “If I encountered clever code that was particularly cryptic, and I had to do some maintenance on it, I would probably rewrite it. So I led by example, and also by talking to other people.”

My very favorite quote along these lines is from Brian Kernighan: “Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you’re as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?”

The Talk Show: ‘With Ham I’d Be Better’ 

That’s right, another new episode of America’s favorite 3.5-star podcast, this time with first-time special guest Dave Mark. Topics include AirPods Pro, the subscription streaming war, and the Washington Nationals’ then-impending triumph over the Houston Astros in the World Series.

Sponsored by:

  • ExpressVPN: Protect your online activity today with the VPN services rated #1 by TechRadar and get 3 months free with a 1-year package.
  • Linode: Instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode Cloud. Get a server running in seconds with your choice of Linux distro, resources, and choice of 10 node locations.
  • Hello Fresh: A meal kit delivery service that shops, plans, and delivers your favorite step-by-step recipes and pre-measured ingredients so you can just cook, eat, and enjoy.