Linked List: February 2020

Scanii 

My thanks to Scanii for sponsoring this week at DF. Scanii is a content identification API service. Put simply, you send Scanii your user-generated content and they’ll tell you if it’s safe (and what is actually in it). From malware to inappropriate content (both images and language), Scanii can help you focus on your product with the peace of mind that your users and your brand are protected.

With points of presence across the globe, Scanii can deliver great performance while ensuring regulatory compliance. Integration is simple — they offer SDK clients in multiple languages and have great documentation.

Special offer for DF readers: save 20 percent on any plan for 12 months with this link.

Freeman Dyson, Math Genius Turned Visionary Technologist, Dies at 96 

George Johnson, writing for The New York Times:

“Life begins at 55, the age at which I published my first book,” he wrote in From Eros to Gaia, one of the collections of his writings that appeared while he was a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study — an august position for someone who finished school without a Ph.D. The lack of a doctorate was a badge of honor, he said. With his slew of honorary degrees and a fellowship in the Royal Society, people called him Dr. Dyson anyway.

What a mind, what a life:

Richard Feynman, a young professor at Cornell, had invented a novel method to describe the behavior of electrons and photons (and their antimatter equivalent, positrons). But two other physicists, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, had each independently devised a very different way. Each of these seemed to satisfy the requirements of both quantum mechanics and special relativity — two of nature’s acid tests. But which one was correct?

While crossing Nebraska on a Greyhound bus, Dr. Dyson was struck by an epiphany: The theories were mathematically equivalent — different ways of saying the same thing. The result was QED. Feynman called it “the jewel of physics — our proudest possession.”

The Talk Show: ‘Dot Net Party’ 

For your Leap Day listening enjoyment, first-time guest Federico Viticci joins the show. Topics include how the coronavirus outbreak might affect WWDC, speculation on a possible March Apple event, the state of iPad keyboard (and trackpad) support, and iPadOS multitasking.

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‘Mug’ 

The zen of craftsmanship, captured in this soothing short film by Nick Bennett. (Via Jason Fried.)

Shot on iPhone: ‘Fire & Ice’ 

These “experiments” from Apple are just short art films, and the only real promotional tie-in is they’re shot with iPhones. Sign of the times: this one is presented in 16:9 vertical format, optimized for viewing on an iPhone too. Don’t miss the 3-minute “behind the scenes” video either.

‘When a Pandemic Meets a Personality Cult’ 

Paul Krugman, writing for The New York Times:

From the day Donald Trump was elected, some of us worried how his administration would deal with a crisis not of its own making. Remarkably, we’ve gone three years without finding out: Until now, every serious problem facing the Trump administration, from trade wars to confrontation with Iran, has been self-created. But the coronavirus is looking as if it might be the test we’ve been fearing.

And the results aren’t looking good.

The story of the Trump pandemic response actually began several years ago. Almost as soon as he took office, Trump began cutting funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading in turn to an 80 percent cut in the resources the agency devotes to global disease outbreaks. Trump also shut down the entire global-health-security unit of the National Security Council.

Look at this gibberish Trump spouted at his press conference yesterday, when asked about the severe budget cuts to the Center for Disease Control under his administration:

We can get money. And we can increase staff. We know all the good people. There’s a question I asked the doctors before. Some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years. If we ever need them we can get them very quickly. And rather than spending the money — and I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly. For instance, we’re bringing some people in tomorrow that are already in this great government that we have, and very specifically for this. We can build up very, very quickly, and we’ve already done that.

So Trump is arguing in favor of a policy where we only fully staff the CDC after a pandemic breaks out.

GDC 2020 Canceled Due to Coronavirus 

This follows on the heels of MWC being canceled last month — a huge conference with 100,000 attendees — and Facebook announcing a few days ago that its F8 developer conference, scheduled for May, has been canceled.

So: What does this mean for WWDC? I’d put the odds at 50-50 at this point. Apple’s recent announcement dates for WWDC range from mid-February (2017) to mid-April (2016), with the last two years coming in mid-March. So they still have time to decide. If they don’t hold WWDC this year, my guess is they’ll still prepare all the sessions and simply deliver them via the web and the Developer (née WWDC) app, perhaps with a media-only keynote at Steve Jobs Theater.

The Washington Post: ‘Fact-Checking President Trump’s Coronavirus News Conference’ 

Speaking of countries that are in trouble because their government is treating the coronavirus outbreak as a PR problem. The Trump administration is simply not equipped to deal with a true crisis. This is not something that can be spun. It’s a genuine crisis but the loons in positions of power are treating it as a partisan hoax. Schools are closed in Shanghai — a city of 20 million. The Shanghai and Hong Kong Disneyland theme parks have been closed for over a month, and now they’re closing the parks in Tokyo. Disney doesn’t close parks for hoaxes — they don’t even close the parks in Orlando for hurricanes unless they expect to be hit directly.

There’s simply no way to square the circle of a president who demands not to hear anything bad with a virus outbreak that is inherently bad. Denial is quite literally the worst response possible.

‘Plague Inc.’ Removed From Chinese App Stores Amid Outbreak 

Eliza Gkritsi, writing for TechNode:

Popular infection simulation game Plague Inc. has been removed from Chinese app stores, Apple and Xiaomi users noticed today, after enjoying renewed popularity during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Why it matters: The removal shows just how serious the country’s authorities are in managing the public perception of the virus.

The game remains in Apple’s U.S. App Store, and, I presume, everywhere else outside mainland China. It’s even an Editor’s Choice winner.

Real shocker that a country without a free press is having trouble containing the outbreak. Coronavirus is not a PR problem, it’s a medical problem, and accurate up-to-date information reported to the public is essential in containing it. Any country that treats it as a PR problem is in trouble.

The Man Behind the ‘2020 Astros Shame Tour’ Twitter Account 

Chuck Schilken, writing for the LA Times:

“I’m barely sleeping and eating because I’m trying to monitor everything, come up with content,” Donley said in a phone interview Friday morning.

Donley is the mastermind behind the “2020 Astros Shame Tour” Twitter account, which goes by the handle @AsteriskTour. The concept is simple — “One year to shame them all, one year to jeer them, one year to boo them all and from your seat deride them,” according to the account’s bio.

Already a must-follow Twitter account, and we’re only in the early days of spring training. It’s going to be a long year for these cheaters.

Apple Disables Clearview AI’s iOS Developer Certificate for Abusing Enterprise App Distribution for Its Creepy Facial Recognition App 

BuzzFeed News:

Apple has disabled the iOS developer account of Clearview AI — the facial recognition company that claims to have amassed a database of billions of photos and has worked with thousands of organizations around the world — after BuzzFeed News determined that the New York-based startup had been violating the iPhone maker’s rules around app distribution.

In distributing its app for Apple devices, Clearview, which BuzzFeed News reported earlier this week has been used by more than 2,200 public and private entities including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, Macy’s, Walmart, and the NBA, has been sidestepping the Apple App Store, encouraging those who want to use the software to download the program through a program reserved for developers. After being asked by BuzzFeed News, Apple disabled the developer account associated with Clearview and provided them with notification to respond within 14 days.

This is the same scheme Facebook was using to distribute spyware masquerading as a VPN, and that various porno and gambling services were using to avoid App Store review.

Keep in mind too, that App Store policies aside, Clearview AI had been publicly claiming that their facial recognition software was “strictly for law enforcement”. BuzzFeed News investigated and found they were full of shit.

Disney Blocks John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ Episode Critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi 

Manish Singh, reporting for TechCrunch:

Disney-owned Hotstar, India’s largest on-demand video streaming service with more than 300 million users, has blocked the newest episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The move has angered many of its customers ahead of Disney+’s launch in one of the world’s largest entertainment markets next month.

In the episode, aired hours before U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India, Oliver talked about some of the questionable policies enforced by the ruling government in India and recent protests against “controversial figure” Modi’s citizenship measures. The 19-minute news recap and commentary sourced its information from credible news outlets.

The episode is available to stream in India through HBO’s official channel on YouTube, where it has garnered more than 4 million views. Hotstar is the exclusive syndicating partner of HBO, Showtime and ABC in India.

Curse that notion of a free press and freedom of speech.

MI5 Chief Asks Tech Firms for ‘Exceptional Access’ to Encrypted Messages 

Dan Sabbagh, reporting for The Guardian:

MI5’s director general has called on technology companies to find a way to allow spy agencies “exceptional access” to encrypted messages, amid fears they cannot otherwise access such communications.

Sir Andrew Parker is understood to be particularly concerned about Facebook, which announced plans to introduce powerful end-to-end encryption last March across all the social media firm’s services.

In an ITV interview to be broadcast on Thursday, Sir Andrew Parker says he has found it “increasingly mystifying” that intelligence agencies like his are not able to easily read secret messages of terror suspects they are monitoring.

There is no such thing as “exceptional access” for good guys. That he claims to be “mystified” means he either doesn’t understand how end-to-end encryption works and why it’s essential to privacy, or he’s playing dumb for politics to drum up public sentiment against strong encryption. My bet’s on the latter.

Nine Questions About the Rumored iPad Smart Keyboard With Trackpad 

Jason Snell, writing about Wayne Ma’s report for The Information that Apple is working on an iPad “keyboard accessory” with a trackpad set to ship “later this year”:

Ever since iOS betas added new keyboard features last month, it has seemed clear that Apple has been readying a new keyboard accessory for the iPad. It’s not clear exactly what form that product will take. This report suggests it might be an even more radical change from the existing Smart Keyboard design that’s more or less survived intact since the fall of 2015.

I’m excited. For a long time I’ve been an advocate for iPad keyboards and pointing devices, and this potential product would offer a way for Apple to differentiate the iPad Pro from its increasingly capable lower-end iPads.

But I’ve got a lot of questions, too.

I’m really excited about this rumor. If true, I think it means iPadOS (14?) is set to gain first-class mouse pointer support. Not just the Assistive Touch accessibility feature that puts a simulated finger tip on screen, not just moving the insertion point while text editing, but real system-wide mouse pointer support.

New Android Malware Can Steal Google Authenticator 2FA Codes 

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for ZDNet’s Zero Day:

Security researchers say that an Android malware strain can now extract and steal one-time passcodes (OTP) generated through Google Authenticator, a mobile app that’s used as a two-factor authentication (2FA) layer for many online accounts.

Google launched the Authenticator mobile app in 2010. The app works by generating six to eight-digits-long unique codes that users must enter in login forms while trying to access online accounts.

Not good.

Disney Names Bob Chapek CEO; Bob Iger Remains Chairman of Board and Will Continue to Run ‘Creative Endeavors’ 

Brooks Barnes, reporting for The New York Times:

The Walt Disney Company said that Mr. Iger, who has run Disney for nearly 15 years, would be replaced as chief executive by Bob Chapek, a 27-year veteran of the entertainment conglomerate who has most recently served as chairman of Disney’s theme parks and consumer products businesses. Mr. Chapek will report to the Disney board, which will continue to be led by Mr. Iger, who will also take on the title of executive chairman and “direct Disney’s creative endeavors,” the company said, until the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021. […]

Mr. Iger said the Disney board “identified Bob actually quite some time ago as a likely successor.” He said he decided not to elevate Mr. Chapek to an interim role — perhaps chief operating officer, a job that has not existed at Disney since Thomas O. Staggs, once Mr. Iger’s heir apparent, left the company in 2016. “I did not believe that would bestow on him the kind of autonomy that I wanted him to have during this transition,” Mr. Iger said. Furthermore, “I’m not going to suddenly be working three days a week. My new role is a full-time job.” […]

Mr. Chapek, who has limited creative experience, became the seventh chief executive in Disney’s nearly 100-year history. He can come across as a bit stiff in comparison to the magnetic Mr. Iger, whose celebrated run at the company has made him a corporate celebrity. But what Mr. Chapek may lack in charisma, he makes up for with an uncynical admiration for Disney’s sentimental style of entertainment, gladly clapping along with the parade when he visits the parks and gamefully engaging in scripted banter with costumed characters.

Iger running creative efforts full-time — and remaining, ultimately, in charge — while Chapek runs the company as CEO feels like what would have happened at Apple if Steve Jobs hadn’t succumbed to cancer. Jobs as chief design officer — and chairman of the board — with Cook as CEO would’ve been perfect.

Kottke’s Trip to Vietnam, Singapore, and Qatar 

Jason Kottke:

For three weeks in late January and early February, I travelled to Asia, spending two weeks in Saigon, a few days in Singapore, and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. Here are some of the things I saw and did and ate. Note: this is a long post, maybe the longest thing I’ve posted here in many years. But I think it’s a quick read — pack a snack, stay hydrated, and you’ll be alright.

Such a great piece — lovely writing, great photos.

More on App Defaults in Files on iPadOS 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

I know it’s been open season on the deficiencies of the iPad’s interface lately, but it does feel like portions of the iPad have progressed enough to have reached a sort of uncanny valley. It’s so advanced now that we have to start judging it the same way we judge other advanced interfaces. The Files app is finally worthy of criticism — and it deserves a lot of it.

This whole thing about being able to map a default handler for file types — but not PDFs or audio or video — is bananas. Bananas that even Jason Snell didn’t know about it, bananas that PDFs and AV files are special-case locked to Quick View, bananas all around.

Instagram CEO’s Bullshit Excuse for Not Having an iPad App 

Mitchel Broussard, writing for MacRumors last week:

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri took to the platform over the weekend to answer a few user questions on his story, shared by The Verge’s Chris Welch. Among the many things asked, the topic of an official iPad app for Instagram was brought up, and Mosseri explained why we haven’t seen one yet.

According to Mosseri, the company “would like to build an iPad app” for Instagram, “But we only have so many people, and lots to do, and it hasn’t bubbled up as the next best thing to do yet.”

I don’t buy this for a second. Instagram isn’t some scrappy little startup — they’re a hugely popular, hugely profitable division of Facebook. If they wanted an iPad version of their app, they’d have one. They obviously don’t want one, and don’t want to explain why.

My best guess is they think engagement on the phone is worth more, so they do everything they can to drive you to the phone app. But that’s just a guess.

From the Department of ‘I Did Not Know That’: iOS Files App Has View Options for List and Column View 

Until this afternoon, I had been working under the assumption that the iOS/iPadOS Files app only had one view: icon/grid view. Turns out there’s also a list view, and on iPadOS in landscape, column view. The trick is that you need to pull down on the view to expose these controls. There are also controls to change the sort criterion (name, date, size, kind, tags) and direction.

I had no idea these controls were there. Yes, this was demoed on stage at WWDC last year — I forgot. I do not understand why these controls are hide-able at all, let alone hidden by default. And the way these controls are hidden behind a downward swipe, with no visual hint whatsoever that there’s something there to be exposed, is another sign of how iOS’s design has more antipathy toward visual affordances than MacOS.

How to Enable the Mac Startup Chime on New Macs 

Mr. Macintosh:

sudo nvram StartupMute=%00

Reboot.

I have literally rebooted 5 MacBook Pros multiple times just to hear that classic sound. I could not be more happy!

Hell yeah I enabled this. No idea why Apple did away with this chime.

(Use “01” in place of “00” to turn the chime off.)

A Deceptively Simple iPad Multitasking Concept 

This design concept by Tommy Walton is interesting. What I like about it:

  • It’s direct manipulation.
  • It’s consistent. The way you launch an app for the second spot on the screen is the same as the way you launch an app for the entire screen — you tap it. The way you close an app in split-screen is the same as way you close it in single-screen — you swipe up from the bottom.
  • Everything is a one-finger tap or swipe — no complex multi-finger gestures.

I do see a few problems. Today, iPadOS uses a swipe from the left side of the screen as a shortcut for “go back”. In Walton’s concept, this would be a way to resize a full-screen app to take up the right side of the display. And how would this work with multitasking with other apps — i.e. how do you get a split-screen “space” into the multi spaces view, and how do you get the Dock to appear? There’s a lot more to think through here, but as a starting point this is a good concept — and so much better than what we actually have.

About Those Ugly Prefixes in Folder Names in ‘Group Containers’ 

At the end of my piece last night about the location of the Apple Podcast app’s cache folder on MacOS 10.15, I griped about how ugly the folder’s name is: “243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts”. Most of the folders in Group Containers have similar ugly prefixes.

I figured there was a logical explanation, and there is: those prefixes are Apple Developer Account Team IDs, and according to Apple’s documentation, they’re mandatory:

The value for this key must be of type array, and must contain one or more string values, each of which must consist of your development team ID, followed by a period, followed by an arbitrary name chosen by your development team. For example: com.apple.security.application-groups

<array>
  <string>DG29478A379Q6483R9214.HolstFirstAppSuite</string>
  <string>DG29478A379Q6483R9214.HolstSecondAppSuite</string>
</array>

Just because there’s a reason for this doesn’t make it a good reason. There are logical reasons why the Windows Registry is the way it is, but that doesn’t make an elegant, graceful design. Mac OS X inherited an elegant, graceful design for the layout and naming conventions of the entire Library hierarchy (not to mention the elegance of the separate System, Local, Network, and User domains for the Library). There’s no reason the naming and structure for everything in Library not to be friendly both to developers and users looking there to troubleshoot or simply to figure out how things work.

Like I wrote last night, arguing that it doesn’t matter if these identifiers are ugly and inscrutable (and break alphabetical sorting) because most users will never see them is exactly like arguing that it doesn’t matter what the back of the cabinet looks like.

ShortcutDetective 

You know how some apps and system services have system-wide keyboard shortcuts? Usually, that’s handy. But sometimes it means that a shortcut in the app you’re using doesn’t work because some system-wide utility is eating the keystroke. When that happens it can be hard to track down what app or service is taking that shortcut.

ShortcutDetective, a free utility from Irradiated Software, is designed specifically to track down which app is receiving a shortcut. Just run the app (after granting it Accessibility permissions), type the shortcut, and in most cases ShortcutDetective will tell you which app is receiving it. Saved me a lot of troubleshooting effort today.

(Thanks to Matt Cassinelli for the tip.)

The Talk Show: ‘Polish Stink Eye’ 

Special guest John Moltz returns to the show. Topics include Larry Tesler and his “no modes” mantra for UI design, the state of malware on the Mac, third-party default apps on iOS, Apple and the coronavirus outbreak, and a record number of tips and tricks.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

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Craig Hunter’s Review of the 28-Core 2019 Mac Pro 

Speaking of technical details of the new Mac Pro, aerospace engineer Craig Hunter reviewed a $32,000 28-core configuration:

Now, ordinarily these computations are run on a supercomputer and cost thousands of dollars per solution, or you’d need to build a cluster for $15-20K or more. But with 28 cores and the ability to handle up to 1.5TB of memory, the Mac Pro is a competitive alternative. To test that, I ran a wind simulation case on the Mac Pro and was able to obtain a converged solution in just 42 minutes, which puts the Mac Pro in a very productive club and justifies the high cost of the machine. A $20-30K Mac Pro doesn’t make sense for very many computer users, but an engineering firm would get their money’s worth out of the machine in short order.

While running this test, all 28 cores were pegged at 100% for the full 42 minutes, but the Mac Pro’s fans never got loud, airflow never got excessive, and temperature stayed comfortable. The Mac Pro operated with a very quiet low frequency whoosh that is leagues ahead of similar workstations I have used, and would be well suited to an office environment. I can remember running similar cases many years ago on a quartet of 2012 Mac Pro machines that were insanely loud and required a window air conditioner to keep my office temperature below 85°F, in winter no less!

Mac Pro Technology Overview (PDF) 

Detailed technical paper from Apple. There’s a separate one for the Pro Display XDR, too.

The Triumph of Wikipedia 

Richard Cooke, writing for Wired:

Yet in an era when Silicon Valley’s promises look less gilded than before, Wikipedia shines by comparison. It is the only not-for-profit site in the top 10, and one of only a handful in the top 100. It does not plaster itself with advertising, intrude on privacy, or provide a breeding ground for neo-Nazi trolling. Like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, it broadcasts user-generated content. Unlike them, it makes its product de-personified, collaborative, and for the general good. More than an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has become a community, a library, a constitution, an experiment, a political manifesto — the closest thing there is to an online public square. It is one of the few remaining places that retains the faintly utopian glow of the early World Wide Web. A free encyclopedia encompassing the whole of human knowledge, written almost entirely by unpaid volunteers: Can you believe that was the one that worked?

Wikipedia is not perfect, but what is? The knock against Wikipedia when it started is that it wouldn’t work at all, that it was doomed to failure. Turns out, it not only works, it works very well. It’s an essential, irreplaceable resource today.

Ming-Chi Kuo Says ARM-Based Macs Are Coming in the First Half of 2021 

Ming-Chi Kuo, in a note to investors obtained by MacRumors:

We expect that Apple’s new products in 12-18 months will adopt processors made by 5nm process, including the new 2H20 5G iPhone, new 2H20 iPad equipped with mini LED, and new 1H21 Mac equipped with the own-design processor. We think that iPhone 5G support, iPad’s adoption of innovative mid-size panel technology, and Mac’s first adoption of the own-design processor are all Apple’s critical product and technology strategies. Given that the processor is the core component of new products, we believe that Apple had increased 5nm-related investments after the epidemic outbreak. Further, Apple occupying more resources of related suppliers will hinder competitors’ developments.

Juli Clover at MacRumors says “Apple is said to be moving to ARM-based chips in an effort to make Macs, iPhones, and iPads work together and run the same apps.” There’s obviously an aspect to that with Catalyst, but the existence of Catalyst now shows that it’s not necessary for the platforms to be on the same CPU architecture to run the same apps.

The reason for Apple to move Macs to its own in-house ARM chips is much simpler than that. (1) Apple’s laptop chips are better than Intel’s — they’re faster and more power efficient. (2) Using their own chips puts Apple in control of its own timeline for product updates. Why did it take so long for Apple to get the retina MacBook Air out the door? The one-word answer I was told by a high-perched little birdie: Intel.

I know others disagree, and expect Apple to just drop the mic and unveil ARM-based Macs as a surprise at some upcoming event. I still expect them to announce the transition at WWDC, ahead of actual hardware, because you really do want software to be ready on day one. With the PowerPC-to-Intel transition, Apple made the announcement at WWDC in June 2005, offered developer kit hardware to developers, and announced the first Intel-based Macs — MacBook Pros, replacing the PowerBook brand — in January 2006.

I could see Apple having a more accelerated timeline between announcement and hardware starting to ship with this transition, but I still think they’ll announce it at WWDC to give developers time to recompile Mac software to run natively before any hardware actually ships to consumers. I do not think x86 apps running in emulation on ARM Macs are going to perform well. I wonder, really, if Apple will even offer x86 emulation at all.

The other big question: does Apple intend to transition the entire Mac lineup to its own ARM-based chips, or just the portables? Apple has proven that they have chips that best Intel’s offerings for portables. If they’re working on chips that can best or at least equal Intel’s offerings for the iMac Pro and Mac Pro, it’s a complete secret at this point.

Also worth noting: Ming-Chi Kuo is often wrong, especially about products other than iPhones and iPads. We could be writing this same stuff a year from now and Macs could remain on Intel until the end of the platform. But I do think they’re moving to ARM, sooner rather than later.

Morning Brew 

My thanks once again to Morning Brew for sponsoring DF last week. 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. They even have a fun weekend edition. I recommend it.

How the CIA Used Crypto AG Encryption Devices to Spy on Countries for Decades 

Greg Miller, reporting earlier this month for The Washington Post:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software. The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

What a story. And in turn, makes you wonder what companies the CIA or NSA (or spy agencies from other governments) might own today.

A Pro-Foldable Look at the Galaxy Z Flip 

Michael Simon, writing for PC World:

As soon as I picked up the iPhone back in 2007, I knew that the future of the smartphone had arrived. I feel the same way about the Galaxy Z Flip.

When I flipped it open for the first time, the Galaxy Z Flip was as much of a revelation as the first time I slid my finger to unlock the original iPhone. The other folding phones I’ve used from Huawei, Royale, and Samsung have all felt a little off, almost like they were movie props meant to look like futuristic phones. From the plastic screens to the uncertain form factors, folding phones might be wow-worthy, but they haven’t felt like the kind of product that could change the way we think about smartphones.

I have little doubt that good foldables are in our collective future. Somewhere between today’s technology and something like the phone-to-tablet foldables on Westworld, we might look back on unfoldable phones as archaic and bulky.

Galaxy Z Flip vs. Motorola Razr 

Good hands-on comparison between the two new flagship folding phones from Michael Fischer. (He’s got standalone reviews of each phone, too.) The bottom line is that Samsung has handed Motorola its ass — faster, better hinge, better display, far better camera, and over $100 cheaper. The only thing the Razr has going for it is nostalgia for a phone that I suspect almost no one actually has any nostalgia for.

Apple Maps Expands ‘Look Around’ to Philly, Boston, and Washington 

Such a great feature. The Philly map is excellent.

Adam Engst’s Last Conversation With Larry Tesler 

Adam Engst, writing at TidBITS:

In 1980, Tesler left Xerox PARC to join Apple, and he worked there until 1997. During that time, he led the Newton Group, became Apple’s Chief Scientist, and was the vice president of AppleNet, which was tasked in part with developing and promoting Apple’s Internet strategy. It was at the end of his tenure there that I corresponded with him, since he and I were both on a private Net-Thinkers mailing list that discussed issues relating to Apple and the Internet.

It’s telling how much things have changed, I think, that an Apple vice president would speak freely on even a private mailing list that included a writer like me. (At that time, apart from publishing TidBITS, my Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh book had sold about 400,000 copies, and I had just penned a MacWEEK column entitled “The Emperor Has No Strategy” that had ruffled feathers with Apple executives.)

To give you a better sense of who Larry Tesler was, I’m going to reprint an email conversation he and I had on the Net-Thinkers list back in February of 1997. In retrospect, it must not have been that long before he left Apple, although I have no record of that in my email archive.

A different age.

Gurman: Apple Is Considering Allowing Third-Party Default Apps and, Seemingly, an SDK for HomePod 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:*

The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry.

Users have been clamoring for this ever since the App Store opened. I get why Apple has been cautious about allowing this, but at this point it’s overdue. There are third-party email clients and web browsers that are really good — Apple should celebrate that fact. And browsers will almost certainly still be required to use the system WebKit for rendering, alleviating system resource and security concerns. Chrome on iOS can’t burn through your battery like Chrome on MacOS does, because on iOS Chrome uses WebKit, not Blink.

I could also see Apple doing this for email (and maybe calendars and contacts too) but not for the web browser, simply as defense against Chrome’s growing hegemony over the web. But I think the fact that Chrome on iOS must use WebKit is defense enough against that. It’s WebKit that’s worth requiring, not Safari.

Now, Apple is working to allow third-party music services to run directly on the HomePod, said the people. Spotify and other third-party music apps can stream from an iPhone or iPad to the HomePod via Apple’s AirPlay technology. That’s a much more cumbersome experience than streaming directly from the speaker.

This is interesting news, because at a technical level it would seemingly require an SDK for HomePod. HomePod isn’t like Apple Watch where it’s tethered to an iOS device — it runs independently. It’s possible that Apple could just work privately with a handful of big names like Spotify and Pandora and bake support for those specific services into the HomePod OS, but I hope it’s something Apple announces at WWDC as an API for any audio app. (I’m thinking about podcast clients in particular.)

Also under discussion at Apple is whether to let users set competing music services as the default with Siri on iPhones and iPads, the people said. Currently, Apple Music is the default music app.

Siri does support third-party apps — you just have to specify them by name: “Hey Siri, play some Pearl Jam from Spotify”. It makes sense that this should be a setting too — if you’re a Spotify user it’s a bit ridiculous that you’re currently required to tack on “from Spotify” with every single request.

* 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.

The State of Scamware on the Mac 

Last week there was a hubbub regarding a report from antivirus software vendor Malwarebytes that claimed “Mac threats increased exponentially in comparison to those against Windows PCs” in 2020. That line got a lot of headlines.

Michael Tsai:

This sounds really bad at first, like the number of Mac threats is growing in proportion to the (larger) number of Windows threats. But I guess they are just using the non-technical meaning of “exponential,” so the whole thing boils down to “more than.” […]

This sounds unnecessarily alarmist compared with the contents of the report, and I remain convinced that for most users Apple’s built-in security measures are sufficient. I’ve seen far more Mac problems caused by anti-virus software than actual viruses.

Computer viruses are called viruses because like biological viruses, they spread by themselves. What Malwarebytes is talking about are scam apps — things that trick or otherwise convince the user to install voluntarily. Dan Goodin had a piece at Ars Technica last month about the scourge of fake Adobe Flash installers — which work because unsophisticated Mac users had been truthfully told they needed to upgrade their version of Flash for a decade. It’s a real problem — but third-party antivirus software is not the answer. As usual, Tsai has a wonderful compilation of links to commentary on the matter.

Be sure to read Jason Snell’s excellent take, which convincingly makes the point that Apple has been working to protect Mac users from these sort of apps for years, exemplified by this technical note Apple published back in November, expanding their definition of “suspicious software” that MacOS defends against.

Ryan Christoffel’s Proposed Fix for iPad Multitasking 

Ryan Christoffel, writing for MacStories:

I love the functionality enabled by iPad multitasking, but the current system is unnecessarily complex. I don’t believe the iPad should revert to its origins as a one-app-at-a-time device, but I know there’s a better way forward for multitasking.

My proposal for a new multitasking system employs a UI mechanic that already exists across both iPhone and iPad. Without losing any of iPadOS 13’s current functionality, it brings the iPad closer to its iPhone roots again and makes multitasking accessible for the masses.

Context menus are the key to a better multitasking system.

Christoffel published this two weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since — hence the delay in my linking to it. I’m working on a longer piece about this, but in short, I think two things about this idea:

  1. It’s very thoughtful and considered, and obviously comes from someone who gets the iPad Way, insofar as there is an iPad Way. And the design he proposes is better in every way — or at least almost every way — than what we have with iPadOS 13 today.
  2. It’s not good enough. Hiding everything behind contextual menus is a crutch.

If you haven’t read Christoffel’s proposal, do so. Consider it a reading assignment.

Google Has Banned Almost 600 Android Apps for Pushing ‘Disruptive’ Ads 

Craig Silverman, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

One of the biggest developers banned from the Play Store and Google’s ad networks was Cheetah Mobile, a publicly traded Chinese company that BuzzFeed News revealed in November 2018 had been engaging in ad fraud. The following December, Google removed one of the offending apps but allowed Cheetah to continue offering other apps in the Play Store. As of this morning, Cheetah’s entire suite of roughly 45 apps in the Play Store was removed, and the apps no longer offer advertising inventory for sale in Google’s ad networks.

Per Bjorke, Google’s senior product manager for ad traffic quality, told BuzzFeed News the removed apps, which had been installed more than 4.5 billion times, primarily targeted English-speaking users and were mainly from developers based in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and India. He declined to name specific apps or developers but said many of the banned apps were utilities or games. Google published a blog post today with details about the removals.

I don’t understand why Google was so lenient with Cheetah Mobile until now. BuzzFeed News’s investigation clearly showed they were fraudsters. They hadn’t made a mistake, it wasn’t a bug or misunderstanding — they were ripping off users. Just ban them, and keep an eye out for any attempts to return under a new name. Like I’ve been advocating for Apple’s App Store, there ought to be a bunco squad that hunts down scams and rackets of all sorts and gets them out of the store.

Google has even more leeway to be aggressive on this front, because Android allows sideloading apps. The Play Store is not the only supported way to install apps on Android devices.

Sony, Facebook Pull Out of GDC 2020 Due to Coronavirus Concerns 

This follows Mobile World Congress — a 100,000-attendee conference/expo in Barcelona that should be going on right now — being completely canceled.

Chris Espinosa on Larry Tesler 

Chris Espinosa:

Larry taught me the value of taking the user’s point of view; using heuristics to work magic; to look at all the cases. Much more than inventing copy and paste, he invented it as a writing tool, not a code-editing tool, for people who didn’t understand computers.

‘Pay Up, or We’ll Make Google Ban Your Ads’ 

Brian Krebs:

A new email-based extortion scheme apparently is making the rounds, targeting Web site owners serving banner ads through Google’s AdSense program. In this scam, the fraudsters demand bitcoin in exchange for a promise not to flood the publisher’s ads with so much bot and junk traffic that Google’s automated anti-fraud systems suspend the user’s AdSense account for suspicious traffic.

It’s almost like it’s a bad idea to rely on automated advertising from an ad platform that doesn’t care about you.

You have to admit, this is a clever attack. Companies need a Chief Asshole — someone whose job it is to lead a team that does nothing but think of ways to fuck with everything. That’s only tangential to what we think of as “security” — these crooks are using a system created by Google to defeat fraud to commit an entirely different type of crime.

‘Was It Good? I Don’t Know.’ 

Stephanie K. Baer, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

President Donald Trump criticized the Academy Awards during a rally Thursday for awarding this year’s top prize to Parasite, a South Korean movie. […]

“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year — did you see? ‘And the winner is a movie from South Korea’ — what the hell was that all about?” Trump said to a crowd in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know.”

“Let’s get Gone With the Wind — can we get, like, Gone With the Wind back, please?” Trump continued, referring to the 1940 Best Picture winner, which is set on a slave plantation during the Civil War.

Where to start with this? First, BuzzFeed’s headline is euphemistic: “Trump Criticized the Oscars For Awarding Best Picture To ‘Parasite’, a South Korean Movie”. That obfuscates the blatant truth: he criticized the Academy for awarding Best Picture to Parasite because it’s a South Korean film. His own remarks make that crystal clear — he expressly states that he doesn’t even know if it’s a good movie, but he knows it shouldn’t have been awarded Best Picture because it’s from South Korea.

That is outright bigotry. How can it even be denied?

And honestly, Gone With the Wind? That movie won best picture 80 years ago. The only relevance of Gone With the Wind is that it’s a movie about slave-owning plantation owners in the Civil War South. Out of all the Best Picture winners, Trump cited the one with a favorable perspective on slavery. Birth of a Nation would have been more subtle.

John Markoff on Larry Tesler 

John Markoff, writing for The New York Times:

It was Mr. Tesler who gave Mr. Jobs the celebrated demonstration of the Xerox Alto computer and the Smalltalk software system that would come to influence the design of Apple’s Lisa personal computer and then its Macintosh.

Mr. Tesler left Xerox to work for Mr. Jobs at Apple in 1980.

“The questions the Apple people were asking totally blew me away,” Mr. Tesler was quoted as saying in a profile that appeared in IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in 2005. “They were the kind of questions Xerox executives should have been asking but didn’t.”

It’s simply impossible to even guess where we’d be today if not for Larry Tesler and his team’s work at PARC.

In addition to helping develop the Lisa and Macintosh, Mr. Tesler founded and ran Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, after which he led the design of the Newton hand-held computer, although that proved unsuccessful.

Unsuccessful in the marketplace, no doubt, but the Newton was in many ways a triumph in human-computer interaction that in at least a few ways, remains unmatched. I’m thinking of the concept of the “soup” for data, in particular.

The group also created much of the technology that would become the Wi-Fi wireless standard, and Mr. Tesler led an Apple joint venture with two other companies that created Acorn RISC Machine, a partnership intended to provide a microprocessor for the Newton.

Helped invent Wi-Fi and ARM, no big deal.

In 1960, while attending the Bronx High School of Science, Mr. Tesler developed a new method of generating prime numbers. He showed it to one of his teachers, who was impressed. As Mr. Tesler later recalled, he told the teacher that the method was a formula; the teacher responded, “No, it’s not really a formula, it’s an algorithm, and it can be implemented on a computer.”

“Where do you find a computer?” Mr. Tesler asked.

What a life. Just read the whole thing — too many accomplishments to quote them all here.

Larry Tesler, UI Visionary, Dies at 74 

Luke Dormehl, in a detailed obituary at Cult of Mac:

Larry Tesler, a pioneering computer scientist who worked at Apple from 1980 to 1997 and created computerized cut, copy and paste, died Monday at the age of 74.

Tesler served as VP of AppleNet and Apple’s Advanced Technology Group. During his time at Apple, he played a key role in the development of products ranging from the Lisa to the Newton MessagePad. And that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his contribution to computing. […]

Tesler was passionate about something called modeless computing, meaning a type of computing (now taken for granted) in which the user doesn’t have to switch constantly between different input states. His Dodge Valiant bore a customized license plate reading “NO MODES.” He regularly wore a T-shirt warning colleagues not to “Mode Me In.” And his Twitter handle was @nomodes.

This is so terribly sad. Tesler was a titan in the field. Much of what we take for granted as fundamental in human-computer interaction today is thanks to Larry Tesler.

His death is especially jarring to me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about his “no modes” mantra just this month, specifically in the context of the recent debate regarding iPad multitasking. One simple way to describe what’s wrong with iPadOS multitasking is that it is a fundamentally modal design, and modes are generally bad. (It’s also hard to overstate how preposterously modal most user interfaces were prior to the GUIs Tesler helped pioneer at Xerox and Apple.)

I met Tesler a few years back, when I was invited to lunch with a few of his fellow early Mac luminaries. He was everything you’d think: gracious, friendly, and whip smart. And he was embarrassingly complimentary regarding my work at Daring Fireball. I had been thinking about reaching out to him to get his thoughts on the iPad.

So it goes.

Taiwan News: Apple Is Moving Some Production From China to Taiwan 

Keoni Everington, reporting for Taiwan News:

As the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in China, Apple is moving the manufacture of some of its top devices to Taiwan.

Apple has begun to move the production of a number of its top gadgets set to launch in the first half of 2020, according to a report by am730, which cited DigiTimes. The products listed in the report to be shifted to Taiwan include AirPods Pro Lite [sic], iPads, and Apple Watches.

Apple is trying to diversify its supply chain geographically due to the spread of the virus, which has seriously affected the production of Apple products in the communist country. Apple intends to gradually increase the proportion of production in Taiwan while still trying to maintain its cooperation with suppliers on the other side of the strait.

No mention of iPhones.

Update: Taiwan should have mandated that everyone in the world be able to type their emoji flag in exchange for taking on more manufacturing.

‘McDonald’s Spells It Out’ 

Very clever ad campaign, and it speaks to McDonald’s brand power that they don’t even say it’s from them, but you instantly know it is.

California Supreme Court Rules Against Apple Regarding Off-the-Clock Employee Bag Searches 

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors last week:

Apple broke California law when it failed to pay employees for time spent waiting for mandatory bag searches at the end of their shifts, the California Supreme Court ruled today. […]

Apple requires all personal packages, bags, and Apple devices that belong to retail employees to be checked by a manager or security before an employee is allowed to leave the store for any reason, including breaks, lunch, and the end of shifts.

Employees are also required to clock out before submitting to an exit search, and have estimated that the time spent waiting and undergoing searches ranges from five to 20 minutes. On busy days, some employees have waited for up to 45 minutes waiting for a bag check.

Apple has argued that allowing employees to bring bags and devices to work is a convenience and has positioned the searches as a “benefit” because employees could prevent searches by not bringing personal items or could be banned from bringing personal items all together. The California Supreme Court says that such a ban would be “draconian” and that Apple’s arguments that employee iPhones are a convenience are “at odds” with how the iPhone is described in marketing materials.

This whole thing is an embarrassment for the richest company in the world. I can see how it happened in the first place, but once it got to court, Apple should have recognized that the policy was flatly wrong and settled it by fully paying wages for time spent in these checks to retail employees worldwide. No matter the employer, if part of your job requires time spent in a security check, you deserve to be compensated for that time.

But for Apple in particular, this is absurd. First, Apple Retail stores are, square foot for square foot, the most profitable stores in the world. That would still be true if they paid employees for the time spent in these security checks. Second, taking this lawsuit to the state supreme court left Apple’s lawyers arguing that employees don’t need to take their Apple devices to work. Who doesn’t take their phone to work? I literally don’t know anyone who leaves the house for anything without their phone.

New Kansas – Miles Newlyn’s Revival of Cooper Black 

Miles Newlyn:

Why did you decide to revive Cooper Back in particular? In ’93 I released an elliptical seriffed blackletter font called Ferox and Cooper Black was the inspiration. Since then I’ve spent a fair bit of my career designing type with rounded or soft terminals. The Tate font family is probably my best known of these. I’m motivated by typeforms that have powerful foundations in pop culture, and Cooper Black is the most loved of all.

Why do you think it’s remained so popular over the years? It never looks bad. For that reason it’s available in signage and custom print shops EVERYWHERE. It’s thoroughly embedded in the collective psyche, and so its happy, fun and comforting spirit always reassures.

“Happy, fun, and comforting” is a perfect description of Cooper Black. New Kansas looks to me like an excellent modern digital revival.

Input’s Week-Old Motorola Razr’s Display Already Broke at the Fold 

Raymond Wong, writing for Input:

The Motorola Razr nightmare continues. A week after we purchased and reviewed the foldable phone, the plastic OLED display on our $1,500 device is now peeling apart… at the fold. We always try our best to not be alarmist, but when a giant horizontal air bubble appears literally out of nowhere and starts separating the top lamination and the display panel, we have to wonder why anyone would be optimistic about foldable phones.

And then here’s a guy whose brand-new Samsung Galaxy Z Flip cracked at the fold the first time he opened it, perhaps, he thinks, because of cold weather.

Lastly, from one year ago: “Apple ‘Faces Pressure’ to Deliver Foldable iPhone Fast”.

[Update: This post originally contained the quip “You’re folding it Wong”, a play on the infamous (but inaccurate) “You’re holding it wrong” Steve Jobs response to the iPhone 4 antennagate problem. When I wrote it, I thought it oh-so-clever to work in a second pun, in addition to holding/folding. But I should know better than to ever make a play on someone’s name, which is always out of line, and can easily veer into the outright offensive. I feel that’s true about my mistake here — it was offensive. I am truly sorry, and hereby apologize to Raymond Wong and to everyone who read the post as originally written. I should have known better, and will do better. I also want to thank Raymond for his gracious response.]

Apple Warns That Coronavirus Outbreak in China Will Affect Revenue This Quarter 

Apple press release:

Our quarterly guidance issued on January 28, 2020 reflected the best information available at the time as well as our best estimates about the pace of return to work following the end of the extended Chinese New Year holiday on February 10. Work is starting to resume around the country, but we are experiencing a slower return to normal conditions than we had anticipated. As a result, we do not expect to meet the revenue guidance we provided for the March quarter due to two main factors.

The first is that worldwide iPhone supply will be temporarily constrained. While our iPhone manufacturing partner sites are located outside the Hubei province — and while all of these facilities have reopened — they are ramping up more slowly than we had anticipated. The health and well-being of every person who helps make these products possible is our paramount priority, and we are working in close consultation with our suppliers and public health experts as this ramp continues. These iPhone supply shortages will temporarily affect revenues worldwide.

The second is that demand for our products within China has been affected. All of our stores in China and many of our partner stores have been closed. Additionally, stores that are open have been operating at reduced hours and with very low customer traffic.

Neither of these things should be a surprise. Surely all consumer electronics companies with a manufacturing dependency upon China are affected similarly. For a U.S. company, though, Apple is unique in terms of its retail presence in China. Update: The issue with iPhone suppliers, I know nothing about. But I think Apple itself should have foreseen the decrease in Chinese consumer demand from this outbreak back on January 28. It seems like Apple’s executives actually believed what the Chinese government was saying about this outbreak and based their sales guidance on it.

The other factor I’ve been thinking about is how this outbreak might be affecting the development of future Apple products. Apple’s guidance here is solely about quarterly revenue for this January-March quarter. But Apple employees need to travel to China every day. Remember a year ago, when United Airlines accidentally leaked that Apple was their biggest client, spending $150M a year, including 50 business-class seats to China every day. What I wrote then:

50 seats a day between SFO and Shanghai is just a jaw-dropping number. That’s 25 Apple employees flying home and another 25 heading over every single day.

It’s possible that Apple just has a standing order for those seats, and some days they go unused by Apple employees. But I’ve heard from a few birdies who frequent the SFO-PVG route that “50 seats a day” undercounts the number of Apple employees making this trip, because it’s only counting United. They fly other airlines when those 50 seats are already full, and that’s not uncommon. They also apparently fly a ton on Cathay Pacific because it’s a nicer experience than United.

Those Apple employees who travel to China aren’t doing so for kicks. They have work to do there. Suppliers to meet, parts and prototypes and assembly lines to inspect. The final products are all stamped “Designed by Apple in California / Assembled in China”, but the connection between those two statements is not conducted remotely. It involves a lot of Apple’s own employees traveling to China. If that travel has been curtailed by this outbreak, it’s a problem — but a problem that has nothing to do with the next few weeks.

Square 

My thanks to Square for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS. The entirety of their ad text: “Start taking 💸 with the In-App Payments SDK for iOS in less ⏰ than it takes to make ☕️.”.

They’re promoting a short, smart 4-minute video showing just how easy it is to use Square’s In-App Payments SDK for iOS.

The Woman Shaking Up the Diamond Industry 

For your weekend reading enjoyment, I highly recommend this recent New Yorker profile of Eira Thomas, co-founder and CEO of diamond-mining upstart Lucara, which has developed a knack for discovering particularly large stones:

Gren Thomas dismissed the idea that Lucara had been lucky. His daughter, he said, was both a workaholic and a rigorous scientist. Although it was “beyond anyone’s dreams” that the biggest diamond since the Cullinan would be discovered at Karowe, he felt that Eira had an unteachable talent for discovery. “She has a good smell for things that are liable to be successful,” Gren told me. “She has a good nose, as they say in our business.”

The whole story is fascinating: from the security of modern diamond mines to the history of the marketing that keeps diamond prices high. And, just a week after publication, Lucara found another very large diamond.

Dieter Bohn’s Motorola Razr Review: ‘Folding Flip Phone Flops’ 

Dieter Bohn, writing at The Verge:

The camera is perfectly acceptable for a phone that costs around $500 in the year 2018. Unfortunately for Motorola, the Razr costs $1,500 and it is 2020 — a year in which you can buy a Pixel 3A for $399 (or less on discount) with a camera that absolutely smokes the Razr.

It’s a 16-megapixel sensor, and I was able to get decent shots in bright light or simple conditions. But I’ve been able to say that about most smartphone cameras for years now. Introduce even a little complication, like movement, shadow, or low light, and the whole thing falls apart. I had a super hard time even getting it to properly focus on faces. There is a night mode but it doesn’t do much.

I get it that some compromises were inevitable, but the camera shouldn’t have been one. And it just seems so wrong that the hinge — the defining aspect of this very-premiumly-priced device — has an unpleasant creaking sound.

Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s Lost Notebook 

Wired has a great excerpt from Steven Levy’s upcoming book on Facebook. Here’s Levy on first meeting Mark Zuckerberg in 2006:

I took it in stride that Zuckerberg looked even younger than his 21 years. I’d been covering hackers and tech companies for long enough to have met other peach-fuzz magnates. But what did shake me was his affect. I asked him a few softball questions about what the company was up to, and he just stared at me. He said nothing. He didn’t seem angry or preoccupied. Just blank. If my questions had been shot from a water pistol at the rock face of a high cliff they would have had more impact.

I was flummoxed. This guy is the CEO, isn’t he? Is he having some sort of episode? Was there something I’d written that made him hate me? Time seemed to freeze as the silence continued.

Let’s Get Real About How Important Our Phones Are 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

At its “Unpacked” event here on Tuesday, the world’s largest smartphone maker unveiled a new model called the Galaxy S20 that touts ultrafast 5G and a camera with enough zoom for a spy. A second new smartphone, called the Galaxy Z Flip, opens and closes like a flip phone from 2003, using a cutting-edge folding-screen technology.

And with prices ranging from $1,000 to $1,400, either one is hard to justify as much more than a luxury.

This is the same nonsense we hear about Apple’s phones, post-iPhone X. Yes, phones that cost $1,000 or more are expensive. Yes, that’s outside the budget for most people. But why in the world would anyone argue this is ”hard to justify”? Phones are, for most people, the most-used computing device in their lives. They are also their primary — usually only — camera. A good camera alone used to cost $500-600.

There are way more people on the planet who’d rather have a $1,400 phone and a $400 laptop than the other way around. But you’ll never see a tech reviewer claim that $1,000-1,400 is “hard to justify” for a laptop. It’s ridiculously out of touch to argue otherwise. And, the fact that top-of-the-line phones have reached these price points does not negate the fact that truly excellent phones are available at much lower prices.

21st Century Autocracy 

David Frum, writing back in 2017:

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example — and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

21st century autocracy does not resemble 20th century autocracy. It’s a different ballgame. And we’re facing it right here in America, right now. I’m not going to say that the president of the United States brazenly pushing for a lighter criminal sentence for his long-time friend and co-conspirator is the worst that it can get. It’s not, and I think it’s going to get worse. But let’s stop pretending that Trump and his enablers haven’t already crossed the autocrat line. This is where we are; let’s deal with it with our eyes wide open.

Samsung’s Galaxy Book S Is Thinner, Lighter, Faster Than MacBook Air 

Sanjiv Sathiah, writing for NotebookCheck:

The Intel Core i5-8210Y delivers a multi-core score of 1544 which compares poorly with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx multi-core score of 2745. Yet, despite fitting the MacBook Air with a 49.9 Wh battery, Apple claims it will deliver just 13 hours of continuous video playback. However, because of the superior performance-per-watt of the Snapdragon 8cx when paired with the smaller 42 Wh battery in the Galaxy Book S, it delivers up to 25 hours (claimed) of continuous video playback. […]

The MacBook Air weighs 1.25 kg (2.75 pounds) and is 15.6 mm (0.61-inches) at its thickest point. This compares with the Galaxy Book S which weighs 0.96 kg (2.11 pounds) and measures 11.8 mm (0.46-inches). Given that buyers of the slightly more expensive MacBook Air (US$1,099) are also only going to be doing relatively light-weight tasks on it like internet browsing and running Microsoft’s Office suite on it, why would anyone choose the MacBook Air over the Galaxy Book S (US$999)?

Well, there’s the small notion of, you know, the operating system. And let’s see if it really does get 25 hours of video playback. But the point stands. A lot of people using MacBooks today aren’t devoted to the MacOS experience, and might switch, based on hardware alone. The ARM revolution for notebook PCs is coming, whether Apple is ready or not.

(I think they’re ready.)

What Jonathan Chait Does Like About Bernie Sanders 

In broad strokes, you can probably file me as a Jonathan Chait Democrat. I agree with Chait far more often than not, and when I disagree with him, I almost always think, “Well, he does make some good points.”

Long story short, we’re not Bernie Sanders fans.

But! As Chait points out in his column today, there’s a lot to like about Bernie Sanders even if you’re not a Bernie Sanders Democrat. (I will not bring up the fact that Bernie Sanders himself is not a Democrat.) Among the candidates who seem to have a legitimate chance to win the Democratic nomination this year — Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren, in alphabetical order — Sanders is far from my first choice. But if he’s the nominee — and he may well be — I will support him wholeheartedly and with no reservations. There is a lot to like about all of these candidates, and those of us in opposition to Trump have got to stick together.

Elections are fundamentally about winning. Trump is already trying to distract and divide us.

Today, in Our Headlong Roll Into Banana Republicdom 

Katie Benner:

Senior Justice Department officials intervened to overrule front-line prosecutors and will recommend a more lenient sentencing for Roger J. Stone Jr., convicted last year of impeding investigators in a bid to protect his longtime friend President Trump, a senior department official said Tuesday.

The move is highly unusual and is certain to generate allegations of political interference. It came after federal prosecutors in Washington asked a judge late Monday evening to sentence Mr. Stone to seven to nine years in prison on seven felony convictions for trying to sabotage a congressional investigation that threatened Mr. Trump.

Early on Tuesday, Mr. Trump declared the sentencing recommendation “horrible and very unfair.”

“The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Trump is not just intervening on behalf of a friend, it’s a case where Trump himself (and his son) were up to their necks in it.

“Highly unusual” is an absurd euphemism.

Fox’s Redesigned NFL Graphics 

John Teti, writing for The AV Club:

Everyone has their own focal point on Super Bowl Sunday. Some viewers are there for the halftime show. Others watch for the commercials. And let’s not forget those of us who tune in to see the main event: three hours of men in brightly colored garments, pummeling each other, for America.

Those are all marvelous reasons to watch, but in my living room, there was yet another, admittedly obscure facet of the game that filled me with anticipation right up until kickoff, as I wondered, “Will Fox premiere a new suite of onscreen graphics for the Super Bowl?” The answer, to my delight, was yes.

It really is a good graphics system — replacing an older design that was also very good. It works well for everyone — those who are playing close attention to the game and those who are not, but just want to see what’s going on at a glance.

(Via Todd Vaziri.)

MLB’s 2020 Batting Practice Caps Are Mostly Terrible 

Paul Kafasis:

I know it goes against all logic and reason, but it really seems like shoving one logo inside of another logo is not a great way to design a third logo.

Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Taika Waititi, Asked What Writers Should Be Asking for in the Next Round of Talks With Producers: ‘Apple Needs to Fix Those Keyboards. They Are Impossible to Write on. They’ve Gotten Worse. It Makes Me Want to Go Back to PCs.’ 

This clip is making the rounds this morning, with good reason. It hits home. Watch the whole video — Waititi is obviously being a bit glib with the entire premise of his answer, but he’s not joking. He’s a writer and writers really care about keyboards.

I’ve been saying for years now that Apple has done severe reputational harm to the MacBook brand, which effectively is the Mac brand for most people, especially writers. Yes, there’s a new keyboard with scissor-switch mechanisms in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a pleasure to type on. But we’re still months away from the rest of the MacBook lineup being updated to use that new keyboard. And that’s a presumption on my part, that all MacBooks will get the new keyboard sooner rather than later. It certainly wouldn’t make any sense if they didn’t — but the whole butterfly-switch saga has never made any sense.

Apple could switch every single Mac in the lineup to the new keyboards tomorrow, and people would still be joking about MacBook keyboards for years to come.

Morning Brew 

My thanks to Morning Brew for sponsoring DF last week. 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.

France Fines Apple $27 Million 

On the one hand, this is bullshit.

On the other hand, Apple generates $27 million in profit every two or three hours.

From the DF Archive, Heretofore the Longest Headline in DF History: ‘Yet Another in the Ongoing Series Wherein I Examine a Piece of Supposedly Serious Apple Analysis From a Major Media Outlet and Dissect Its Inaccuracies, Fabrications, and Exaggerations Point-by-Point, Despite the Fact That No Matter How Egregious the Inaccuracies / Fabrications / Exaggerations, Such Pieces Inevitably Lead to Accusations That I’m Some Sort of Knee-Jerk Shill Who Rails Against Anything “Anti-Apple” Simply for the Sake of Defending Apple, and if I Love Apple So Much Why Don’t I Just Marry Them?’ 

I’ll explain why I’m re-linking this now in a bit, but it’s also a fun bit of claim chowder from a staunch iPhone doubter who somehow finagled a Fast Company cover story.

Our Long National Nightmare Is Over: Netflix Makes Preview Autoplay Optional 

They’ve offered a setting for “Autoplay next episode in a series” for years, but the new setting released today for “Autoplay previews while browsing” is the thing that has driven me nuts.

‘Apple, Just Bundle News+ Already’ 

MG Siegler:

This isn’t rocket science. It’s not any kind of science. It’s common sense. News+ was never going to work as a stand-alone subscription offering from Apple. With the news today of a key departure from the group, perhaps the company now sees that. But the writing has been on the wall from day one. […]

So, what to do?

It’s so obvious that it’s already rumored. Make News+ a part of an Apple bundle. Yes, yes, “Apple Prime” as it were. Flip the script so that News+ isn’t yet another cognitive load on us. Something that may be a good deal but will I really have time for that? To: oh wow, this is included in what I already pay for? Awesome.

I don’t know if there’s a strategy behind waiting to unveil such a bundle, or if they’re still working on the technical and possible licensing details behind it, or if internally Apple is actually still debating the merits of a bundle. But I’m with Siegler: it seems obvious.

At the very least such a bundle should include Music, TV+, News+, and Arcade, but I’d like to see it include increased iCloud storage too. One single family subscription to get the best Apple “Services” have to offer. And the name is obvious at this point: Apple+.

New Features in iOS / iPadOS 13.4 Beta 1 

Lots of new stuff for a .4 update, including several new features when hardware keyboards are used with an iPad. Key remapping, for example, which allows you to, say, map the Caps Lock key to Escape.

Who Buys Big SUVs? 

Aaron Gordon, writing for Vice on the return of the Hummer:

And that portrait is largely the result of one consultant who worked for Chrysler, Ford, and GM during the SUV boom: Clotaire Rapaille. Rapaille, a French emigree, believed the SUV appealed — at the time to mostly upper-middle class suburbanites — to a fundamental subconscious animalistic state, our “reptilian desire for survival,” as relayed by Bradsher. (“We don’t believe what people say,” the website for Rapaille’s consulting firm declares. Instead, they use “a unique blend of biology, cultural anthropology and psychology to discover the hidden cultural forces that pre-organize the way people behave towards a product, service or concept”). Americans were afraid, Rapaille found through his exhaustive market research, and they were mostly afraid of crime even though crime was actually falling and at near-record lows. As Bradsher wrote, “People buy SUVs, he tells auto executives, because they are trying to look as menacing as possible to allay their fears of crime and other violence.” They, quite literally, bought SUVs to run over “gang members” with, Rapaille found.

Perhaps this sounds farfetched, but the auto industry’s own studies agreed with this general portrait of SUV buyers. Bradsher described that portrait, comprised of marketing reports from the major automakers, as follows:

Who has been buying SUVs since automakers turned them into family vehicles? They tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities.

I recently rented a Chevy Tahoe because we needed the storage capacity for a day trip. I can’t believe anyone chooses to drive these things daily. It’s like driving a car inside a car, no feel for the road at all.

Wacom Drawing Tablets Track the Name of Every Application That You Open 

Robert Heaton:

Last week I set up my tablet on my new laptop. As part of installing its drivers I was asked to accept Wacom’s privacy policy.

Being a mostly-normal person I never usually read privacy policies. Instead I vigorously hammer the “yes” button in an effort to reach the game, machine, or medical advice on the other side of the agreement as fast as possible. But Wacom’s request made me pause. Why does a device that is essentially a mouse need a privacy policy? I wondered. Sensing skullduggery, I decided to make an exception to my anti-privacy-policy-policy and give this one a read.

Absolutely appalling what Wacom tracks.

Spotify Is Buying Bill Simmons’s The Ringer 

Peter Kafka, reporting for Recode:

Spotify is making yet another big-budget purchase aimed at getting a lead in the growing podcast industry: The streaming music company has agreed to a deal to purchase The Ringer, the podcast-centric media company run and owned by Bill Simmons.

Spotify intends to hire Simmons and all of his approximately 90 employees. Most of those employees work on The Ringer’s website, which covers sports and culture, and Spotify intends to keep the site up and running.

But what Spotify really wants out of the deal is Simmons’s ability to create podcasts, including his Bill Simmons Podcast, and some 30 other titles, which range from an NBA chat show to one devoted to rewatching old movies.

I remain deeply wary of Spotify’s intentions in the podcast space, but if they keep The Ringer’s podcasts as open podcasts, this acquisition really shouldn’t matter much to listeners.

Apple Adds Ability for Developers to Sell Mac and iOS Apps as a Single Purchase 

Apple Developer news:

Starting in March 2020, you’ll be able to distribute iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and tvOS versions of your app as a universal purchase, allowing customers to enjoy your app and in‑app purchases across platforms by purchasing only once. You can choose to create a new app for these platforms using a single app record in App Store Connect or add platforms to your existing app record. Get started by building and testing your apps using a single bundle ID with Xcode 11.4 beta.

Michael Tsai:

It’s great to have the option for universal purchases, but tying it to the bundle identifier seems problematic. What if you’ve already shipped an app for multiple platforms? Apple doesn’t let you change the bundle identifier. Do you have to abandon the old app (losing its links and ratings and migrating its files and AppleScripts) or maintain two separate apps?

From the business side, it’s a great user experience for customers who want to pay once and get everything. But what about customers who only want the iPhone version and may not even own a Mac or Apple TV? They have to pay the same price? And, for developers, this is likely to further devalue software. Get all the versions for one low price, with Apple implying that it didn’t take much extra effort.

Liz Plank on Nancy Pelosi Tearing Up Trump’s State of the Union Speech 

Liz Plank, writing for NBC News:

Of course the speaker is getting pushback. Pelosi displaying the tiniest bit of rage exemplifies the scrutiny that awaits her and women in politics — a scrutiny that is even worse for women of color. Women learn early on to mask anger because they know they’ll be punished for it. While Trump gets to have a meltdown almost every day, female politicians have to be much more savvy and calculated when communicating even the slightest bit of emotion.

But as I watched the twittersphere debate whether Pelosi’s small act of civil disobedience was out of line or not, all I could think about were the Democratic voters I got to interview in Iowa this week leading up to the Iowa caucus. And how desperate they are to win this November. The stakes in the 2020 elections are higher than ever and the voters feel it. Every single caucusgoer I spoke to said the same thing: “We need someone who can beat Trump.”

So will the Democrats continue to play nice? Will they smile through their frustration as the president hurls insults and disgraces the office he is privileged to sit in every day? Or do they want to win?

Pelosi — and I choose this word deliberately — triggers Republicans because she’s (a) a woman, and (b) plays hardball. She’s not fucking around. She was cool as ice as she tore that speech — it was like she was ripping up a junk mail credit card offer. It’s Republicans who’ve flipped out emotionally.

For decades now Republicans have been playing win-at-any-cost hardball politics, while Democrats have played nice. Trump’s presidency has laid bare what should have been obvious to Democrats long ago — they must play hardball too. The difference has been hardball vs. playing-nice-ball. It needs to be win-at-any-cost-including-subverting-democracy hardball (Republicans) vs. hardball with integrity (Democrats).

Pelosi gets that. And it drives Republicans nuts. The Democrats have played nice for so long that Republicans are outraged when a Democrat simply gives them a taste of their own hardball medicine.

Looks Like Eddy Cue Was Right 

Stuart McGurk, interviewing Eddy Cue for GQ last summer:

And yet the rumours that have so far come out regarding Apple’s TV shows are that they’re purposefully taking streaming back to the network TV age: fun for all the family. The New York Post reported that Cook and Cue were visiting sets in order to rein in shows that weren’t toeing the line. […]

Cook’s most common note on scripts, according to the report, was “Don’t be so mean.”

“I saw the comments that myself and Tim were writing notes on the scripts and whatever,” says Cue. “There’s never been one note passed from us on scripts, that I can assure you. We leave the folks [alone] who know they’re doing.”

So Cook didn’t give that particular note?

“I can assure you that was 100 percent false. He didn’t say, ‘Don’t be so mean.’ He didn’t say anything about a script.”

The NY Post report in question has never been walked back either. Say what you want about Apple’s original content thus far, but it does not lack for meanness.

Claim Chowder on the WSJ’s ‘No Sex Please, We’re Apple’ Story 

Tripp Mickle and Joe Flint, writing back in September 2018 for The Wall Street Journal, “No Sex Please, We’re Apple: iPhone Giant Seeks TV Success on Its Own Terms”:

Apple’s entertainment team must walk a line few in Hollywood would consider. Since Mr. Cook spiked “Vital Signs,” Apple has made clear, say producers and agents, that it wants high-quality shows with stars and broad appeal, but it doesn’t want gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.

The result is an approach out of step with the triumphs of the video-streaming era. Other platforms, such as HBO and Amazon.com Inc., have made their mark in original content with edgier programming that often wins critical acclaim. Netflix Inc., which helped birth the streaming revolution, built its original-content business on “House of Cards,” a drama about an ethically bankrupt politician, and “Orange Is the New Black,” a comedic drama about a women’s prison. Both feature rough language and plenty of sex.

I suppose you can argue about the word “gratuitous”, but the TV+ shows I’ve watched — The Morning Show, For All Mankind, and Servant — don’t seem to hold back on sex or strong language. The Morning Show and Servant in particular are clearly adult shows. I haven’t watched See, but from what I’ve heard, it too is for adults. As far as I’m aware, The Wall Street Journal never walked this back.

Remembering Pantscast 

The story behind the very best high-fidelity podcast audio processing engine ever made.

Overcast Adds Voice Boost 2 

The story behind the second-best high-fidelity podcast audio processing engine ever made.

Purported Video of Samsung Galaxy Z Flip in Action 

What problems does this solve? Who has a pocket that isn’t deep enough for an unfolded phone but is thick enough for this thing folded up? This is pure gimmickry.

New Promotion From Apple Offers Up to $100 for Series 2 and Series 3 Watch Models 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple is currently running a new Apple Watch promotion that’s ideal for anyone who is considering trading in an older Apple Watch model to purchase a new model. Apple is offering up to $100 on the Apple Watch Series 2 and Apple Watch Series 3 models, which is a higher trade-in amount than Apple normally offers for those devices.

No word on what you can get for a Series 0 in 18-karat solid gold.

Federico Viticci’s Review of the New Fantastical 

Federico Viticci, writing for MacStories:

I’ll cut right to the chase: I’ve been using the new Fantastical for the past few months (hence the inclusion in my Must-Have Apps story), and it’s become the only calendar app I need, offering more power and flexibility than any alternative from Apple or the App Store. The free version of the new Fantastical — effectively, Fantastical 2 with a fresh coat of paint and some smaller bonuses — is a capable alternative to Apple’s Calendar app, but the Premium version is where Flexibits’ latest creation truly shines. At $40/year, Fantastical Premium may be a big ask for some users, but as a busy individual who deals with teammates all over the globe and likes Fantastical’s new features, I plan to subscribe.

Among my favorite new features: complete feature-parity between platforms (previously, the Mac could do more than the iOS versions); integrated weather from a great source, AccuWeather (which is, needless to say, not a free service for Flexibits to offer); calendar sets with iCloud syncing; “interesting calendars” from SchedJoules like team schedules for your favorite sports (also not a free service for Flexibits); and full task support integrating with Apple Reminders, Todoist, and Google Tasks.

The interface of the apps, as usual from Flexibits, is exquisite. Take note, in particular, of the top-left-corner menu button in the iPhone app. It animates joyfully when opening, has subtle haptic feedback, and you can just tap-and-drag to select an item from it.

Fantastical 3’s Move to Subscription Pricing 

Speaking of the App Store and the market for pro utility software, here, once again, is Dieter Bohn:

It’s not every day we get to talk about a good old-fashioned utility app update. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re a dying breed, but the Apple App Store platform dynamics of recent years have made their row much harder to hoe.

Which is one reason I’m happy to say that if you’re a Mac or iPhone user (or, ideally, both), you should absolutely go check out the newly updated Fantastical apps. There are a few new features and parity across platforms — I personally am excited for a calendar app that integrates with several to-do apps.

The thing about this update that may grab some attention is that it is moving to a subscription model. Historically, this kind of move has sparked consternation, but I’m not feeling any of that. It’s $4.99 a month or — in my preferred way to talk about subscription pricing — $40 per year (a $20 discount). That subscription gets you access to the iPhone, Mac, iPad, and Apple Watch apps. Non-Apple users should look elsewhere.

I think the subscription model is totally fair, especially given Flexibits’ history of updates and quality. That’s partially because, as I alluded to up top, there really aren’t better options for this category of apps given the rules laid down by Apple in the App Store.

Consternation indeed. Lots of complaining on Twitter, and Fantastical 3’s App Store reviews have been dragged down by angry users complaining about the pricing change. For users who only used Fantastical on iPhone, I can see the complaint about pricing — it went from a one-time purchase of $4-5 to a $40 annual subscription. That’s a big jump. But — and this is a huge “but” — Flexibits (Fantastical’s developer) went out of its way to let anyone who owned Fantastical 2 keep the features they already had access to when upgrading to Fantastical 3. If you owned Fantastical 2 you can use Fantastical 3 free of charge and keep the features you already had.

And if, like me, you used Fantastical across iPhone, iPad, and Mac (they previously sold the iPad app as a separate version from iPhone), $40 a year is quite reasonable. Fantastical is a professional calendaring (and now task management) app, and as Bohn points out, subscriptions are the best way for a developer like Flexibits to succeed in the App Store.

Google Has Paid Android Developers About $80 Billion to Date 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

We’ll have analysis of YouTube’s numbers up on the site today, so instead I’ll just pay a little more attention to the Android bit: a total of $80 billion paid out to Android developers, which is significantly less than the $155 billion Apple has paid out via the iOS App Store.

Even if you account for Google allowing developers to use their own payment methods and made a bunch of other caveats, I suspect you can’t avoid the truth. The vast majority of phones on Earth run Android, and yet it is almost surely the case that there’s more money for developers in iPhone apps. That’s always been the conventional wisdom, but Google’s own numbers all but confirm it.

I’d say $80 billion compared to Apple’s $155 billion is a very respectable number, all things considered. In the early days of the mobile revolution, the big debate was whether the Android-iOS competition would play out like Windows-Mac did in the ’90s. I, for one, was correct that it would not.

But I think we were all wrong — myself included — about the biggest trend of all. The question wasn’t about whether there was more money to be made developing for iOS than Android — it was about whether there was money to be made developing for mobile, period. Obviously, $235 billion in combined payments from Apple and Google is a lot of money. But how much of that is for games? Productivity and utility software has turned out to be a hard sell to mobile users. The default is “free”.

Toni Sacconaghi Estimates Fewer Than 10 Percent of Eligible Customers May Have Used Apple TV+ Free Trial 

Stephen Warwick, writing for iMore:

According to Investor’s Business Daily:

Less than 10% of Apple customers eligible for 12-month free trials of the company’s Apple TV+ streaming video service have taken the offer, a Wall Street analyst said Monday. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi estimates that under 10 million Apple customers have accepted the free trial offer. He calls that a “surprisingly low take rate.”

The report is in stark contrast to a recent WSJ report, which included estimates that Apple TV+ may have north of 30 million subscribers. As is per usual with these sorts of estimates, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

Either that, or everyone is wrong.

It is a great deal — why not watch the shows you’re interested in free-of-charge? And Apple does make it easy to unsubscribe — it’s the opposite of, say, trying to cancel your cable subscription. And Apple has done an excellent job of making it really easy for eligible customers — those who’ve recently bought a qualifying device — to get their year-long free subscription started with a big button in the TV app on every device they make. If you buy a new Mac you can start your subscription from iPhone or Apple TV or iPad.

But I wonder how many people who qualify know all of this. How many people don’t know because they never even open the TV app? How many people who see the offer in the TV app don’t try it because they don’t trust that it’s really free for an entire year, and is very easy to cancel before getting charged in 12 months? How many people know that it works perfectly with family sharing — so even if they’re not personally interested in any of TV+’s shows, if any of their family members are, it’s worth signing up?

YouTube Is a $15 Billion-a-Year Business, Google Reveals for the First Time 

Nick Statt, reporting for The Verge:

YouTube generated nearly $5 billion in ad revenue in the last three months, Google revealed today as part of parent company Alphabet’s fourth quarter earnings report. This is the first report under newly instated Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, who took over as the chief executive of the entire company late last year after co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped back from day-to-day duties.

The announcement marks the first time in YouTube’s nearly 15 years as a Google-owned platform, since Google bought the website in 2006 for $1.65 billion, that the company has revealed how much money YouTube-hosted ads contribute to the search giant’s bottom line. On an annual basis, that makes YouTube a $15 billion-a-year business that contributes roughly 10 percent to all Google revenue. It also makes YouTube’s annual earnings nearly one fifth the size of all of Facebook’s.

Why release this now? Speculation centers around the fact that Alphabet’s revenue was $800M less than expected, even though profits beat expectations. Perhaps Alphabet is now breaking out revenue by product to emphasize that they’re not solely dependent on search.

Update: Jeremy Owens, writing for MarketWatch:

Revenue-recognition rules that were approved in 2014 and went into effect at the end of 2017 call on companies to report financial results to their investors in the same manner that they are reported to the main decision-maker at the company, typically the chief executive. Basically, if a CEO sees numbers for a large segment of the company, the company should be reporting that segment’s results to investors.

As the revenue-recognition rules were being put in place by companies in 2017 ahead of the deadline, the Securities and Exchange Commission entered into communication with Alphabet specifically to discern why it was not providing revenue numbers for its segments, mentioning YouTube, Google Cloud and some other businesses, such as hardware. Google responded by saying that its chief decision-maker, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, did not see results parsed to that level, though Google CEO Sundar Pichai did.

Louie Mantia on the State of iOS UI Design 

Deeply insightful thread from Louie Mantia:

People think iOS 7 killed superfluous things like wood textures, but more seriously it downplayed visual design. We lost things like shadows and lighting. This stuff isn’t just a veneer. They are tools. They were used to indicate so many things like inactivity or focus.

In 2020, iPadOS doesn’t convey app focus in split-screen mode. But window focus was apparent over 35 years ago on the original Macintosh. It was only black and white! But today when we have millions of colors, we don’t indicate focus well.

So perfectly said. Post-iOS 7, Apple has been obsessed with not indicating focus. A clear indication of input focus is so helpful to everyone from novices to experts.

The lack of focus indication is much more of a problem on iOS (iPhone and iPad, but especially iPad simply because the displays are so much bigger) than MacOS. But even Apple’s Mac apps often hide focus — I wish the text input field in Messages had a focus ring (like Safari’s location field does — or Message’s own search field), for example.

Faking a Traffic Jam on Google Maps With 99 Spare Phones 

Interesting prank / proof of concept by Simon Weckert — he toted 99 second-hand phones around in a wagon, and thereby tricked Google Maps into thinking it was a severe traffic jam. Pretty sure the same thing would fool Apple Maps.

Google, in a statement to 9to5Google, responded with good humor:

Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community. We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked traveling by wagon. We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time.

Daring Fireball Weekly Sponsorships for February and March 

DF sponsorships for February and March are mostly open, including this current week. One sponsor per week, with a sponsor-written entry in the RSS feed to start the week, a thank-you post right on the homepage from me at the end, and the one and only graphic ad on every page of the site all week long. No tracking or other privacy-invasive bullshit. Just plain honest ads. My best argument that they work: the number of repeat companies in the sponsor archive list.

So if you’ve got a product or service you’d like to promote to DF’s discerning audience, I’d love to have you as a sponsor.

Apple in 2019: The Six Colors Report Card 

Jason Snell:

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

This is the fifth year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 12 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5 and optionally provide text commentary per category. I received 65 replies, with the average results as shown below.

Compiling these report cards is a mountain of work, and I am deeply thankful to Snell for doing it each year. The cumulative grades feel just about spot-on to me. As I did last year, I’ll publish my own full report card later today.

‘Getting the iPad to Pro’ 

Speaking of Craig Mod, I somehow never linked to his November 2018 essay on the iPad as a pro computing device. There are a few aspects that were addressed in iPadOS 13, but most of it could just as easily have been published today:

I have a near endless bag of these nits to share. For the last year I’ve kept a text file of all the walls I’ve run into using an iPad Pro as a pro machine. Is this all too pedantic? Maybe. But it’s also kind of fun. When’s the last time we’ve been able to watch a company really figure out a new OS in public?

When I run into the above usability issues, it makes me wonder two things:

  1. Why am I trying to do something this way? (What strange habit or unnecessary expectation am I bringing to the table?)

  2. How would the simplicity of iOS be subverted by allowing this new thing to happen?

Computers are nothing if not a constellation of design and engineering details that either work for or against you. They either push you forward, smoothly, an encouraging tailwind allowing you to get done the work you want to get done, or they push back, become abrasive, breaking you from flow states, causing you to have to Google even the simplest task. I lost an hour the other day trying to open an Open Office Document. This is bananas. iPads should be better. They’re so close. And they’re certainly powerful enough.

Craig Mod on Running a Paid Membership Program 

Craig Mod:

In the end, launching a paid membership program is maybe the smartest thing I’ve done: 2019 was the most productive and creatively engaged year of my life. And I owe the brunt of that to the Explorers Club. A rapturous THANK YOU to everyone who joined. It has not been “easy,” or effortless. […]

Everyone’s needs are different. I can’t explicitly recommend every writer or photographer or YouTuber to start their own membership program. What I can do is tell you about my experience, and hope that it’s instructive to those readers out there who might, too, be membership-curious.

Memberships — often driven by members-only email newsletters — have been the lifeboat for indie publishing and creative arts in a market where ad spending has largely been guzzled up by Facebook, Google, and Amazon. The term “win-win” applies: income for creators; great writing/photography/videos/music for consumers, from their favorite creators.

I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has joined. I realize not everyone can afford to join, and I realize we’re all a bit bombarded by “memberships” and “subscriptions” these days. But ultimately — this is a good thing! A scant ten years ago this ecosystem barely existed. Now it’s ever-more normalized. This feels healthy. Directly supporting writers, artists, musicians, software developers, et cetera, feels like the final remaining puzzle piece of the last 30 years of independent creation. Computers democratized design in the ’80s/’90s, the web democratized publishing in the ’00s, and now proper payments infrastructure is democratizing creative sustainability.

Bingo. Mod’s Explorer’s Club is just sublime, by the way. Highly recommended.

Russia’s ‘Law Against Apple’ 

Josh Nadeau, writing for Fast Company:

In November 2019, Russian parliament passed what’s become known as the “law against Apple.” The legislation will require all smartphone devices to preload a host of applications that may provide the Russian government with a glut of information about its citizens, including their location, finances, and private communications.

Apple typically forbids the preloading of third-party apps onto its system’s hardware. But come July 2020, when the law goes into effect, Apple will be forced to quit the country and a market estimated at $3 billion unless it complies. […]

“Typically” is a vast understatement. To my knowledge, Apple has never included third-party apps on iOS devices anywhere in the world. In the early years of iPhone, that would have been apps from phone carriers and their “partners”. It’s still typical today for an Android phone purchased from, say, Verizon, to include Verizon apps pre-installed.

Having such apps mandated by the government is new, but the principle remains the same: I expect Apple to resist this, and if necessary, pull the iPhone from the Russian market. (I would expect a very healthy gray market to develop in Russia if that happens.) If Apple concedes to such demands in one country, where does it stop?

Now that I think about it, I’m kind of surprised China hasn’t passed a law like this. That would put enormous financial pressure on Apple — the Russian iPhone market is $3 billion, yes, but that’s small potatoes for Apple. “Greater China” accounted for $13.5 billion in revenue for Apple last quarter alone.

When the “law against Apple” was passed in Russia back in November, experts expressed concern that the preloaded apps would pose just as real a threat as an official backdoor. Last week, the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service published a list of which applications will be required: Among the programs are government-produced apps for paying taxes and fines, as well as banking, navigation, and social media platforms with links to official bodies. These would have the potential to collect and send data related to finances, location, communications, and more, all without direct user permission.

I think Apple ought to refuse to comply with such a law from any country, but holy hell Russia in particular would be a privacy and security nightmare. (Again, though, China would be worse.)

Kolide: User Focused Security For Teams That Slack 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring last week at DF. Kolide is a cybersecurity company that wants to educate your users about security best practices, giving them the tools to stay productive, while keeping their devices safe. Kolide created a Slack app that messages your employees when their Mac, Windows, or Linux device is out of compliance, along with clear instructions about what is wrong, step-by-step instructions to fix the issue themselves, and real-time updates when they resolved the problem.

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. With easy automatic onboarding and user-to-device association, you can get up and running in minutes. Try Kolide’s new product for free for 30 days for your entire fleet.