Linked List: November 2019

BBC News: ‘Apple Changes Crimea Map to Meet Russian Demands’ 

BBC News:

Apple has complied with Russian demands to show the annexed Crimean peninsula as part of Russian territory on its apps.

Russian forces annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, drawing international condemnation. The region, which has a Russian-speaking majority, is now shown as Russian territory on Apple Maps and its Weather app, when viewed from Russia.

But the apps do not show it as part of any country when viewed elsewhere.

Garry Kasparov:

Apple changing its maps inside Russia to make Crimea part of Russia is a huge scandal. Regionalization of facts is unacceptable appeasement.

“Regionalization of facts” indeed. Apple can argue honestly that they’re complying with Russian law by showing Crimea as part of Russia to Russian users. But complying with this implicitly means capitulating to Russian propaganda. It is not a matter of debate whether Russia annexed Crimea illegally. It is a fact.

Ink: A Pure-Swift Markdown Parser by John Sundell 

John Sundell:

Welcome to Ink, a fast and flexible Markdown parser written in Swift. It can be used to convert Markdown-formatted strings into HTML, and also supports metadata parsing, as well as powerful customization options for fine-grained post-processing. It was built with a focus on Swift-based web development and other HTML-centered workflows.

Ink is used to render all articles on swiftbysundell.com.

This sort of performance is harder to achieve than you’d think:

Ink was designed to be as fast and efficient as possible, to enable hundreds of full-length Markdown articles to be parsed in a matter of seconds, while still offering a fully customizable API as well. Two key characteristics make this possible:

  1. Ink aims to get as close to O(N) complexity as possible, by minimizing the amount of times it needs to read the Markdown strings that are passed to it, and by optimizing its HTML rendering to be completely linear. While true O(N) complexity is impossible to achieve when it comes to Markdown parsing, because of its very flexible syntax, the goal is to come as close to that target as possible.
  2. A high degree of memory efficiency is achieved thanks to Swift’s powerful String API, which Ink makes full use of — by using string indexes, ranges and substrings, rather than performing unnecessary string copying between its various operations.

There’s some common syntax that isn’t supported (yet?), but this is already a great Markdown implementation.

The Talk Show: ‘Talking About Crimes’ 

For your holiday listening enjoyment: very special guest Matthew Yglesias joins the show to talk about Tim Cook cozying up to Trump for tariff relief and more.

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Google Faceplants Again on Stadia 

Sean Hollister, writing for The Verge:

On June 6, Google opened up preorders for the $130 “Founder’s Edition” of its Stadia cloud gaming service, promising those buyers would be the first to experience the future of gaming — and reserve a unique username. Though Stadia went live on November 19th, many buyers are still reporting they haven’t received the most crucial piece of the entire Stadia package: the invite email that opens the door to actually let them in.

This seems like a small thing, but the diehard gamers — the ones who preorder to be a “founder” and secure their user name — take this stuff seriously. It’s just a stupid misstep, but it’s more proof Google just doesn’t get serious gaming.

Apple did such a good job positioning Apple Arcade as a casual gaming service. Arcade under-promised and over-delivered, which is what every service should aim for.

1Password 

My thanks to 1Password for sponsoring this week at Daring Fireball. 1Password is a powerful password manager trusted by the world’s leading companies.

1Password keeps your business safe online by securing passwords and other important information. Fill passwords and credit card details with a single click — they sync automatically between your devices and can be shared immediately with select colleagues. Once 1Password is part of your employees’ workflow, good security habits become second nature.

1Password Business gives you the power to create security policies, reduce threats, and monitor your team’s access. When everyone uses 1Password, your risk goes down and productivity goes up.

It’s a great app and a great service that you can trust with your most valuable information.

MacOS Catalina Boot Volume Layout 

Howard Oakley, writing at The Eclectic Light Company:

When you upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina, your boot volume will effectively be split into two. Assuming it’s the standard internal storage, your existing boot volume will be renamed to Macintosh HD — Data, and a new read-only system volume created and given the name Macintosh HD. However, when your Mac starts up in Catalina, you won’t see the Data volume, as it’s hidden inside the System volume, in what Apple refers to as a Volume Group.

Although new to macOS, this scheme is already in use in iOS, and specifies the read-only system volume as having the role APFS_VOL_ROLE_SYSTEM, and the writeable user volume has the role APFS_VOL_ROLE_DATA. In that, the volume with the System role is normally mounted at the root /, and that containing both user and mutable system data is then mounted in /System/Volumes and accessed from there using several firmlinks.

Nice explanation of a complex change in 10.15 Catalina.

For the most part, in the Mac UI (like the Finder), it all just works. You open /Applications and you’ll see all your applications. But when you poke around in Terminal you have to know what’s going on or it won’t make sense. ls in /Applications will show only the contents of the writeable Applications folder; ls in /System/Applications will show you only the system applications on the read-only boot volume.

Gurman: Apple Has Changed Development Process for iOS 14 in Wake of iOS 13’s Buggy Launch 

Nice scoop from Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Software chief Craig Federighi and lieutenants including Stacey Lysik announced the changes at a recent internal “kickoff” meeting with the company’s software developers. The new approach calls for Apple’s development teams to ensure that test versions, known as “daily builds,” of future software updates disable unfinished or buggy features by default. Testers will then have the option to selectively enable those features, via a new internal process and settings menu dubbed Flags, allowing them to isolate the impact of each individual addition on the system. […]

The new development process will help early internal iOS versions to be more usable, or “livable,” in Apple parlance. Prior to iOS 14’s development, some teams would add features every day that weren’t fully tested, while other teams would contribute changes weekly. “Daily builds were like a recipe with lots of cooks adding ingredients,” a person with knowledge of the process said.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

Tesla Cybertruck 

I don’t love the look of it, but I don’t hate it, either. And the more I look at it the more it grows on me. It has a DeLorean vibe that goes beyond the stainless steel frame. But mainly I’m just delighted that Tesla has finally unveiled a car that doesn’t look like a regular car. The Cybertruck is different. That’s exciting.

Unfortunate demo failure with the glass, but Musk recovered well. If handled well, demo failures are endearing.

Cook: ‘China Really Hasn’t Pressured Us’ 

ABC News:

Cook said he isn’t concerned over Apple’s relationship with China. “China really hasn’t pressured us, and so I don’t envision that,” he added.

If China hasn’t pressured Apple, why was the Taiwanese flag emoji removed from iOS devices in Hong Kong?

It’s far from the biggest issue surrounding China. I get that. It’s just a flag emoji, and we’re talking about a regime that has put over a million people into concentration camps. But it is bullshit. Under the one-country-two-systems arrangement China itself agreed to regarding Hong Kong, there is nothing illegal about the Taiwanese flag.

It’s flat-out wrong that Apple removed the Taiwanese flag emoji in Hong Kong. But if they did so at the behest of China at least we’d have a reason why. If China hasn’t pressured Apple on this point, small though it may be, why in the world did Apple remove the flag?

It reeks of cowardice.

Huawei’s Upcoming Android Tablet Looks Like an iPad Pro With a Hole-Punch Display 

What is it like to go though life without an ounce of shame or pride or respect for the creativity and hard work of others?

President Trump’s Handwritten Notes at Today’s Chopper Talk, Presumably on His Way to Austin to Tour Apple’s Mac Pro Factory 

These are not the notes of a man who’s losing his mind (and eyesight). No siree Bob. Everything is A-OK with this guy.

Amazon Will Pay $0 in Taxes on $11,000,000,000 in Profit for 2018 

Kristin Myers, reporting for Yahoo Finance:

According to a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), Amazon will pay nothing in federal income taxes for the second year in a row.

Thanks to the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), Amazon’s federal tax responsibility is 21% (down from 35% in previous years). But with the help of tax breaks, according to corporate filings, Amazon won’t be paying a dime to Uncle Sam despite posting more than $11.2 billion in profits in 2018.

That’s fucked up. Not Amazon’s fault, though — it’s our corrupt tax laws.

Apple Has Locked Guilherme Rambo Out of His Developer Account Since September 

Guilherme Rambo:

Determined to get someone on the phone, I used my employer’s developer account to be able to reach the phone support page, where I entered my number. Developer support then called me, and I gave my previous case number to a nice person on the other end of the phone, who explained that my case had been escalated to a supervisor, who then escalated it to their supervisor, and that I would hear back from them “soon”. This was in mid September. In early October, I called again and was told I would receive an e-mail explaining the situation, I haven’t.

More recently, I tried calling again and got to talk with a supervisor, who said I would be getting an e-mail with instructions to get my access restored. During the call, they told me my developer account is currently “inactive”. I followed up over e-mail a couple of days later and got a generic response that “the internal team is still investigating the issue” and thanking me for my patience.

Like I mentioned before, the problem began in August. So far I’ve tried every possible private communication channel before deciding to make this story public. It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t get any e-mail or call from Apple warning about any sort of action being taken against my developer account. Apple always says that “running to the press doesn’t help”. Unfortunately, they haven’t responded in any way, even when I tried reaching out through internal contacts that I have. So the only option I have left now is to “run to the press”.

It’s bad enough that his developer account has been disabled for nearly three months. It’s downright Kafka-esque that he hasn’t been told why and can’t get an answer from Apple.

Pure speculation on my part, but unsaid in Rambo’s write-up of this story is that he’s not just any random developer. Rambo is extraordinarily talented at what I would describe as digital spelunking — he explores the internals of beta OS releases and pokes at beta APIs and he finds things that weren’t supposed to have been exposed. And when he does, he publishes his findings. It would be quite a coincidence if that’s not the conflict at the center of his account having been disabled — that someone at Apple got pissed off and impetuously ordered Rambo’s account disabled, and now they don’t want to explain it.

Or, you know, maybe it’s just a simple mix-up with Rambo’s billing information. Could have happened to anyone sort of thing. Right?

Trump to Visit Apple’s Mac Pro Plant in Austin Tomorrow 

CNBC:

The White House confirmed on Sunday that President Trump will tour Apple’s manufacturing plant in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday.

This ought to be good.

Android Camera Bug Allowed Attackers to Access Camera and Microphone Surreptitiously, Without Permission 

Checkmarx:

After a detailed analysis of the Google Camera app, our team found that by manipulating specific actions and intents, an attacker can control the app to take photos and/or record videos through a rogue application that has no permissions to do so. Additionally, we found that certain attack scenarios enable malicious actors to circumvent various storage permission policies, giving them access to stored videos and photos, as well as GPS metadata embedded in photos, to locate the user by taking a photo or video and parsing the proper EXIF data. This same technique also applied to Samsung’s Camera app.

In doing so, our researchers determined a way to enable a rogue application to force the camera apps to take photos and record video, even if the phone is locked or the screen is turned off. Our researchers could do the same even when a user was is in the middle of a voice call.

Fixed in software updates from Google and Samsung before Checkmarx published this report, but it’s impossible to say if it had been exploited previously. An exploit like this would have been of keen interest to government spook agencies looking for ways to target individuals.

Also, as Dan Goodin reports for Ars Technica, Google has no idea how many Android phones out there remain completely vulnerable to this exploit.

Dolby Cinema Exclusive Poster for ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ 

Now this is how you design a movie poster. Yeah, yeah, yeah — there need to be posters featuring the stars of the movie, too. But as a simple teaser, this poster is magnificent, with a style paying perfect homage to Ralph McQuarrie’s intricate concept art for the original trilogy. This poster works as well in 2019 as it would have in 1977. Bravo.

(Via Matthew Panzarino — the replies to his tweet have links to higher-resolution versions.)

The Talk Show: ‘Maximally Thin’ 

Very special guest Casey Johnston joins the show to talk about the butterfly MacBook keyboard saga and the just-released 16-inch MacBook Pro, with its all new scissor-switch keyboard design.

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Energy Startup Backed by Bill Gates Achieves Solar Breakthrough 

Matt Egan, reporting for CNN Business:

Heliogen, a clean energy company that emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday, said it has discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius. […]

The breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes. In other words, carbon-free sunlight can replace fossil fuels in a heavy carbon-emitting corner of the economy that has been untouched by the clean energy revolution. […] Cement, for example, accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Sounds like a fantastic breakthrough.

‘Meth: We’re On It’ 

South Dakota’s new meth awareness campaign was all over Twitter last night and all over the news this morning because of its attention-demanding slogan: “Meth: We’re On It”. My knee-jerk reaction was the same as many others who see this as an outrageously egregious mistake: How could they have missed the double entendre in this slogan?

But give it a second thought. Of course they knew. The whole point is the double entendre, and the attention they knew it would draw. Just look at the domain name they chose. They are in no way using humor to belittle South Dakotans addicted to methamphetamine — they are using humor to burst through the apathy around the issue. A campaign with the same budget and an anodyne slogan like “Just Say No” or “We’re Here to Help” would have gotten zero attention inside South Dakota, let alone nationwide. But here we are, one day after the campaign launched, and South Dakota’s meth problem is at the top of the news nationwide. That’s not good advertising; that’s great advertising.

Erika Hall nails it:

“I lost me to meth.” made everyone laugh and look away.

“Meth. We’re on it.” is a fantastic double entendre that gets everyone to laugh and look again.

Starting with a self-aware joke is so much better than all of the sanctimonious anti-drug campaigns that end up as jokes.

Humorless dullards complaining about the half-million-dollar budget being a complete waste of money are missing the point. Not only is this not a waste of money, it might be the most bang for the buck for any state-sponsored ad campaign in history.

Another tell: the graphic design of the campaign is stellar. Good typography, great logo, great photography.

Apple Is Removing All Vaping Apps From Its App Store 

Ina Fried and Mike Allen, reporting for Axios:

What’s happening: The company has never allowed the sale of vape cartridges directly from apps. But there were apps that let people control the temperature and lighting of their vape pens, and others provided vaping-related news, social networks and games.

Apple in a statement to Axios: “We take great care to curate the App Store as a trusted place for customers, particularly youth, to download apps. We’re constantly evaluating apps, and consulting the latest evidence, to determine risks to users’ health and well-being. Recently, experts ranging from the CDC to the American Heart Association have attributed a variety of lung injuries and fatalities to e-cigarette and vaping products, going so far as to call the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic.”

I think I’m OK with this overall, but it’s a close call. The stuff about selling cartridges, and sharing news — it’s fine for that stuff to be out of the App Store because you can get it on the web. But Bluetooth stuff where apps were used as the interface for controlling hardware — web apps can’t do that (nor should they be able to). There is no alternative to a native app, and native apps are only available on the App Store. This would be an easy call to make (and would have been made from the get-go by Apple) if vaping were illegal. But it’s not illegal.

Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring last week at DF. Kolide is a new Slack app that messages employees when their Mac, Windows, or Linux device is not compliant with security best-practices or policy.

With this app, Kolide will notify users or groups when a device is out of compliance along with clear instructions about what is wrong, and step by step instructions to remediate the issue themselves. They can even confirm in real-time that they resolved the problem with an interactive button inside the Slack message!

Unlike most endpoint security solutions, Kolide was designed with user privacy in mind. Your users will know what data is collected about their device, who can see that data, and can even view the full source code of the agent that is run on the device.

Kolide is already used by hundreds of fast growing companies who want to level-up their device security without locking down their devices. Try Kolide’s new product for free for 30 days for your entire fleet.

1Password Takes $200M Accel Investment 

Good roundup of links and commentary by the inimitable Michael Tsai. The 1Password founders seem confident that they can expand rapidly into the enterprise world without losing the soul that has made their indie consumer app so beloved (and trusted). Most companies that have tried this, however, have failed. (Dropbox is the one that pops to mind first.)

Designer AirPods Cases 

Kaitlin Serio, writing for PurseBlog:

If you’re one of the many who go sans a long, dangly wire and you love designer goods then we’ve got you covered. Unsurprisingly, designers like Burberry, Bottega Veneta and Dior are adding AirPod cases to their lines of tech accessories. Louis Vuitton has also tapped into this trend, though the Mini Trunk AirPod Case is not yet available online for sale.

AirPods seems downright cheap when you’re putting them in a $560 case. I’m curious how many of these will fit a sidewise AirPods Pro case.

Google Stadia Launch Seems a Little Rocky 

Only 12 games for now, and they’re all old titles. And in this Twitter thread, there’s a link to a Reddit AMA where someone from the Stadia team was “offering to hand-deliver kits in the Bay Area to make up for the shipping confusion.” All sorts of missing features and confusion about which devices work. Sounds like how you’d think Apple TV games would’ve rolled out, but instead, Apple Arcade rolled out perfectly.

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.

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