Linked List: February 2020

‘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.