Nintendo Switch Overtakes SNES With More Than 52 Million Sold ★
Sam Byford, The Verge:
Nintendo had its strongest Switch quarter ever this holiday
season, moving 10.81 million units to reach a total of 52.48
million sold as of the end of 2019. That means it’s now overtaken
the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to become Nintendo’s third
best-selling home console of all time behind the Wii and the NES.
Also worth pointing out that according to our estimates the
Nintendo Switch passed the Xbox One in hardware shipments during
the holiday quarter last year.
The Xbox One is not too far behind, but it has only taken Switch
34 months to achieve what the Xbox One did in 74 months.
The Switch is a triumph. It’s a great TV console and a great portable system. So great to see Nintendo with another hit platform.
Update: I was just chatting with a friend about the Switch and I said that I wish tvOS were a lot more like the Switch, and he responded, “YES”. But the Switch is also a great touchscreen interface. Nintendo really did square the circle: they created a single interface that works great both as a touchscreen UI and an up-down-left-right remote-in-your-hand TV UI. The Switch is a hit because the games are great, but the OS is also a triumph, and contributes to the joyfulness of using it.
Matthew Butterick on Ligatures in Programming Fonts ★
Ligatures in programming fonts are a terrible idea.
And not because I’m a purist or a grump. (Some days, but not
today.) Programming code has special semantic considerations.
Ligatures in programming fonts are likely to either misrepresent
the meaning of the code, or cause miscues among readers. So in the
end, even if they’re cute, the risk of error isn’t worth it.
After kicking the tires with JetBrains Mono a few days ago (and taking a peek at Fira Code, another coding font with ligatures), I quickly came to the same conclusion as Butterick. It’s a bad idea that works contrary to the idea of how ligatures are supposed to work in typography.
If you’d rather see
!= in your source code, your programming language should support the actual UTF-8
[NOT EQUAL TO] glyph in its grammar. As Butterick writes:
So in a source file that uses Unicode characters, how would you
know if you’re looking at a
=> ligature that’s shaped like
vs. Unicode character
[0x21D2], which also looks like
ligature introduces an ambiguity that wasn’t there before.
The Super Bowl 54 Uni Watch Preview ★
Paul Lukas, writing for InsideHook:
Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock, you know that
the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will be facing
off this Sunday in Super Bowl LIV. The Chiefs will be making
their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years, while the Niners
have appeared in six Super Bowls during that span, winning five
From a uniform standpoint, the party line for this game is that
both teams have classic, great-looking designs that have gone
largely unchanged over the years. That’s generally true, although
there are loads of additional uniform-related subplots and
storylines to consider if you know where to look. And the best
place to look is in the column you are reading right now.
All of which is a longwinded way of saying welcome to the annual
Uni Watch Super Bowl Preview, where we’ll break down everything
you need to know about the aesthetics of the two teams competing
this Sunday. Armed with the information presented herein, you can
watch the game with a higher level of nuance and sophistication,
annoying impressing your friends with your
knowledge of assorted Super Bowl uniform arcana.
I’m pulling for the Chiefs, but no argument that both teams have truly classic, top-tier unis.
Wilbur Ross Says Coronavirus Outbreak Could Bring Back Jobs to the U.S. ★
Kenya Evelyn, reporting for The Guardian:
The US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said in an interview on
Thursday that the coronavirus outbreak could bring back jobs to
In controversial comments on morning TV, Ross remarked that the
deadly illness that has broken out in China and is spreading
internationally could lead to job growth for businesses in the US
and Mexico. He was speaking during a segment on Fox Business
Ross began by saying he did not “want to talk about a victory lap
over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease” before discussing
the potential economic benefits of the virus.
Ross is, at heart, every bit the ghoul he looks like. Kakistocracy: government by the worst people.
Mark Zuckerberg Says Facebook’s Goal Is No Longer to Be ‘Liked’ ★
Kaya Yurieff, reporting for CNN Business:
“One critique of our approach for much of the last decade was that
because we wanted to be liked, we didn’t always communicate our
views as clearly because we were worried about offending people,”
Zuckerberg said on a call with analysts.
He said his goal for the next decade “isn’t to be liked, but to be
understood.” That’s because in order to be trusted, “people need
to know where you stand,” Zuckerberg said.
The more you understand Facebook, the less you like or trust them. So: mission accomplished. Congrats, Zuck.
Redesigned Apple Maps Now Available for All Users in the United States ★
Apple today announced that all users in the United States can now
experience a redesigned Maps with faster and more accurate
navigation and comprehensive views of roads, buildings, parks,
airports, malls and more, making it easier and more enjoyable to
map out any journey. Apple completed the rollout of this new Maps
experience in the United States and will begin rolling it out
across Europe in the coming months.
The new map tiles are just great. I haven’t used Google Maps in forever. I know that’s not feasible worldwide, but Apple is closing the gap. If you haven’t looked at Apple Maps recently, you should.
Update: Justin O’Beirne, as usual, has copiously documented the changes.
Knewz Launches, Burns Eyes ★
Remember Knewz — a “news aggregation source” announced by News Corp back in August? It launched this week, and the visual design is worse than the name. It’s like the design brief was “Coked-up Drudge Report”.
The Obituaries of Republicans Who Opposed Nixon’s Impeachment ★
Ryan Goodman, Just Security:
In that summer of 1974, seven Republicans joined the Democrats to
vote for at least one article of impeachment, including Toni
Railsback (Ill.), Hamilton Fish Jr. (N.Y.), Lawrence J. Hogan
(Md.), M. Caldwell Butler (Va.), William S. Cohen (Maine), Harold
V. Froehlich (Wis.), and Robert McClory (Ill.)
Ten Republicans voted against all three articles of impeachment:
Edward Hutchinson (Mich.), David Dennis (Ind.), Delbert Latta
(Ohio), Trent Lott (Miss.), Joseph Maraziti (N.J.), Wiley Mayne
(Iowa), Carlos Moorhead (Calif.), Charles Sandman (N.J.), Henry
Smith (N.Y.), and Charles Wiggins (Calif.).
Regardless of whether the congressmen voted for or against the
articles of impeachment, their legacies were largely defined by
this one moment. So much so that newspapers titled their
obituaries with reference to this vote.
Regardless how Trump’s impeachment trial turns out, those Republicans who vote to acquit him — which may well be one and all of them — will forever be defined by that vote. To say that corruption is acceptable is itself a form of corruption.
My prediction: the most likely scenario is that the entire Republican Senate caucus votes unanimously to acquit. But the nature of Trump’s mob-style rule over the Republican Party is such that no dissent is allowed. None. If any Republicans stand up to Trump — even just a handful — the odds increase significantly that the whole dam will burst.
Obsessive Astros Fans Documented Their 2017 Cheating ★
My name is Tony Adams. I’m an Astros fan. In November 2019, when
the videos of the banging during some Astros 2017 games came out,
I was horrified. It was clear within a minute of watching it was
true — my team had cheated. To understand the scope of the
cheating and the players involved, I decided to look at each home
game from that season and determine any audio indicators of the
I wrote an application that downloaded the pitch data from MLB’s
Statcast. This data has a timestamp for every pitch. I then
downloaded the videos from YouTube and, using the timestamp,
created a spectrogram for every pitch. A spectrogram is a visual
representation of the spectrum of frequencies in an audio file. I
could then playback the video of the pitches and, helped by the
visual of the spectrogram, determine if there was any banging
before the pitch.
I initially thought it would be quick work, and the application
did make it pretty straightforward, but there are a lot of pitches
in an MLB season. I ended up watching and logging over 8,200
pitches. And some more than once to be sure I was as accurate as
I love everything about this. The obsession, the presentation of the data, and most of all, the fact that Adams is an Astros fan, and rather than make excuses for his team’s cheating, he’s upset by it.
One bit that came of this. David Spampinato:
On August 4th, the game with the most trash can bangs, the Astros
scored 16 earned runs. Mike Bolsinger, a Blue Jays reliever,
allowed 4 earned runs in 0.1 IP. He never pitched in the big
What a disgrace. MLB should strip the Astros of their World Series title.
The Tragic iPad ★
Ben Thompson, writing at Stratechery:
It’s tempting to dwell on the Jobs point — I really do think the
iPad is the product that misses him the most — but the truth is
that the long-term sustainable source of innovation on the iPad
should have come from 3rd-party developers. Look at Gruber’s
example for the Mac of graphic designers and illustrators: while
MacPaint showed what was possible, the revolution was led by
software from Aldus (PageMaker), Quark (QuarkXPress), and Adobe
(Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat). By the time the Mac turned 10,
Apple was a $2 billion company, while Adobe was worth $1 billion.
There are, needless to say, no companies built on the iPad that
are worth anything approaching $1 billion in 2020 dollars, much
less in 1994 dollars, even as the total addressable market has
exploded, and one big reason is that $4.99 price point. Apple set
the standard that highly complex, innovative software that was
only possible on the iPad could only ever earn 5 bucks from a
customer forever (updates, of course, were free).
There are developers making good money with professional caliber iPad apps. But nothing like the companies that were built around the Mac.
QAnon Conspiracy Theorists’ Magic Cure for Coronavirus Is Drinking Bleach ★
Will Sommer, writing for The Daily Beast:
As the global death toll from an alarming new coronavirus surged
this week, promoters of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory were
urging their fans to ward off the illness by purchasing and
drinking dangerous bleach.
The substance — dubbed “Miracle Mineral Solution” or “MMS” — has
long been promoted by fringe groups as a combination miracle cure
and vaccine for everything from autism to cancer and HIV/AIDS.
The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly warned consumers
not to drink MMS, last year calling it effectively a “dangerous
bleach” that could cause “severe vomiting” and “acute liver
failure.” But those warnings haven’t stopped QAnon devotees — who
believe in a world where Donald Trump is at war with shadowy
deep-state “cabal” — from promoting a lethal substance as a salve
for a health crisis that speaks to the darkest recesses of fringe
Drink up, morons. And don’t forget to rinse your eyes with that stuff, too — that’s how the virus spreads.
NPR: ‘Acclaimed Harvard Scientist Is Arrested, Accused of Lying About Ties to China’ ★
Bill Chappell, reporting for NPR:
Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard University’s Department of
Chemistry and Chemical Biology, has been arrested and criminally
charged with making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements”
to the U.S. Defense Department about his ties to a Chinese
government program to recruit foreign scientists and researchers.
The Justice Department says Lieber, 60, lied about his contact
with the Chinese program known as the Thousand Talents Plan, which
the U.S. has previously flagged as a serious intelligence concern.
He also is accused of lying about about a lucrative contract he
signed with China’s Wuhan University of Technology.
In an affidavit unsealed Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Robert Plumb
said Lieber, who led a Harvard research group focusing on
nanoscience, had established a research lab at the Wuhan
university — apparently unbeknownst to Harvard. […]
The arrangement between Lieber and the Chinese institution spanned
“significant” periods of time between at least 2012 and 2017,
according to the affidavit. It says the deal called for Lieber to
be paid up to $50,000 a month, in addition to $150,000 per year
“for living and personal expenses.”
This is a lot worse than stiffing your university with a $200K tab for strip clubs and Candy Crush in-app purchases.
Input Interview With Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri, Key Members of Original iPad Team ★
Two people who’ve known the iPad longer than anyone are Imran
Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, the married founders of the
mysterious new tech start up Humane, who met while working at
Apple on the iPad and related projects. For the tenth anniversary
of the iPad, Input talked to them about its strange development,
its biggest feature flops, and how it has changed the world. […]
Bongiorno: I joined in 2008, actually, right after they
shipped the first phone. I joined immediately after that and
started as a project manager on the iPhone. There was a very small
team back then; we sat kind of in one hallway. [The phone] was
definitely a startup within Apple and I was brought on board
because the project manager that was working there really didn’t
like working with designers and really didn’t like working at the
higher levels of the stack. She preferred kind of working at a
lower level; the core operating system and the kernel and things
Then very quickly after that, they told me that the real reason
they had to hire me was because Steve had this pet project that he
was really excited about and they needed somebody to lead that
effort because the team really needed to remain focused on
development of iPhone. They needed to kind of spin up a startup
within a startup that would be a small team to build this new
project codenamed K48.
Good interview. Can’t wait to see what Humane is doing.
Walt Mossberg on the iPad’s 10th Anniversary ★
People focus on the fact that iPad unit sales peaked a few years
ago. But they forget that:
- iPad sales took off faster than iPhone sales.
- It’s likely that over 300 million iPads have been sold.
- By annual revenue, if the iPad were a company, it would be on
the Fortune 500.
I think the big factor with iPad sales peaking so early is two-fold. First, they soared early because the iPad filled a heretofore unfilled space. Post-iPhone, people got what the iPad was immediately and they wanted one. Sales then declined (but have leveled off in recent years), I think, because iPads last so long, and a years-old iPad still does all the things most people want from an iPad very well.
See also: Mossberg’s review of the original iPad.
The 10th Anniversary of the iPad: A Perspective From the Windows Team ★
Fascinating insight on the launch of the iPad from Microsoft’s perspective, from Steven Sinofsky, who was then in charge of Windows:
The first looks and reviews a bit later were just endless (and now
tiresome) commentary on how the iPad was really for “consumption”
and not productivity. There were no files. No keyboard. No mouse.
No overlapping windows. Can’t write code!
In a literally classically defined case of disruption, iPad didn’t
do those things but what it did, it did so much better not only
did people prefer it but they changed what they did in order to
use it. Besides, email was the most used tool and iPad was great
‘Brute Force’ ★
Armin Vit, writing at Brand New:
Last week, Trump introduced the official logo for the United
States Space Force, the sixth branch of the U.S. military. The
internet was quick to point out its similarity to Star Trek’s
Starfleet logo which, yes, but also @jbillinson mentioned
similarities to the NASA logo so I figured I would check and, yup,
they copy-pasted the orbit swoosh and most of the star
configurations. […] What a joke.
This administration can’t even do a logo right.
Ben Smith Leaves BuzzFeed News for The New York Times ★
Mihir Zaveri, writing for The New York Times:
Ben Smith, the editor in chief of BuzzFeed, who built a
hard-hitting news operation within a digital media organization
better known for clickbait and listicles, will be The New York
Times’s next media columnist.
Mr. Smith will leave the digital news outlet to replace Jim
Rutenberg, who recently became a writer at large at The Times,
splitting duties between the politics desk and The Times Magazine.
Before Mr. Rutenberg, the columnist position was held for years by
David Carr, the prolific media columnist who died in 2015.
A few months back on my podcast, Dan Frommer observed that contrary to his and my longstanding expectation that the internet would enable startup media outlets to thrive, in the last few years there’s been a concentration of talent at a handful of standard-bearing newspapers: the Times in particular, but also the the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.
See also: Smith’s announcement to the BuzzFeed News staff.
EFF: Ring Doorbell App for Android Is Packed With Third-Party Trackers ★
Bill Budington, writing for the EFF:
Ring isn’t just a product that allows users to surveil their
neighbors. The company also uses it to surveil its customers.
An investigation by EFF of the Ring doorbell app for Android found
it to be packed with third-party trackers sending out a plethora
of customers’ personally identifiable information (PII). Four main
analytics and marketing companies were discovered to be receiving
information such as the names, private IP addresses, mobile
network carriers, persistent identifiers, and sensor data on the
devices of paying customers.
This is sort of nuts. Isn’t a doorbell camera the sort of product that obviously demands more attention to privacy from the company that makes it? Third-party trackers are a privacy scourge in any app, but a doorbell camera seems like one of the last apps that should contain them. (The EFF’s investigation only mentions the Ring app for Android — no word on what trackers are in the iOS app — it’s a good bet its chock full of trackers too, though.)
Seems like every week there are new disturbing disclosures about Ring. Were these egregious security, privacy, and law enforcement issues part of the company culture before Amazon bought them, or because Amazon bought them? And why does Amazon, of all companies, need third-party trackers at all?
Apple Reports Record First Quarter Results ★
Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2020 first
quarter ended December 28, 2019. The Company posted quarterly
revenue of $91.8 billion, an increase of 9 percent from the
year-ago quarter and an all-time record, and quarterly earnings
per diluted share of $4.99, up 19 percent, also an all-time
record. International sales accounted for 61 percent of the
Looking at the details for year-over-year net sales:
- iPhone: +7.7%
- Mac: -3.5%
- iPad: -11%
- Wearables: +37% (!)
- Services: +17%
In dollars, Wearables accounted for $10B in sales, Mac $7.1B, iPad $6B. A year ago those three categories were all roughly tied at around $7B. Apple Watch continues to grow and AirPods are simply a sensational hit.
How to Disable Multitasking on iPadOS 13 ★
Apple support document:
To turn Multitasking features on or off, go to Settings > Home
Screen & Dock > Multitasking, then you can do the following:
Allow Multiple Apps: Turn off if you don’t want to use Slide Over
or Split View.
Picture in Picture: Turn off if you don’t want to use Picture in
Gestures: Turn off if you don’t want to use Multitasking gestures
to see the app switcher, return to the Home screen, and more.
A slew of readers pointed to this after I said I’d prefer iPhone-style one-app-at-a-time multitasking to the convoluted easy-to-make-a-mistake/hard-to-correct-a-mistake split-screen and Slide Over multitasking in iPadOS. iPadOS supports an option that more or less does this — the “Allow Multiple Apps” option mentioned above.
I’m aware of no other graphical user interface that offers a setting like this. The existence of this setting — and that it is not tucked away under Accessibility — feels like proof that Apple knows iPad multitasking is often invoked by accident and can be confusing.
Macintosh Programmer’s Workshop ★
When the Mac shipped in 1984 developers had to use a Lisa to write apps for it. When the iPad shipped in 2010 developers had to use a Mac to write apps for it.
In late 1986 Apple shipped MPW, which allowed Mac software to be written on a Mac. In 2020, developers have to use a Mac to write apps for iPad.
My Review of the Original iPad ★
Yours truly, back in April 2010:
After the iPad was announced, I got two types of emails from
readers. The first group saying they were disappointed, because
they had been hoping I was right that The Tablet would be Apple’s
reconception of personal computing.
The second group wrote to tell me how excited they were because I
was right that The Tablet would be Apple’s reconception of
Count me in with the second group. Apple hasn’t thought of
everything with iPad, but what they’ve thought about, they’ve
thought about very deeply. I got mine Saturday morning, and I’ve
been using it since — or at least as often as I could get it
away from my son. Here are my thoughts.
Nothing hammers home for me just how long 10 years is more than looking at that photo.
The whole thing feels fast fast fast. The only thing that feels
slow overall, so far, is web page rendering. Not because it’s
slower than the iPhone — it’s not, it’s definitely much faster — but because it’s so much slower than my MacBook Pro. It’s easy to
forget on modern PC-class hardware just how computationally
expensive HTML rendering is.
The funny thing is, the iPad, in raw CPU terms, is a far slower
machine than a modern Mac. But the iPad is running a lightweight
OS and lightweight apps. It’s like a slower runner with a lighter
backpack who can win a race against a faster runner wearing a
Ten years later, iPadOS is still significantly lighter weight than MacOS, but Apple’s custom-designed ARM CPUs are faster than the Intel chips in MacBooks.
iPadOS Multitasking Without Using the Dock ★
Jordan Merrick, two years ago:
As some iOS 11 users have pointed out, one alternative to this
is to invoke Spotlight to search for apps, though this requires
the use of an external keyboard to show Spotlight while an app is
still active. Another option is to create a folder of apps and
place it in the Dock, though this still means you’re still limited
to a selection of apps you can multitask from.
So I was wrong yesterday when I wrote that the only way to get a second app on screen is to drag it from your Dock. But one of the other two ways to do it requires an external keyboard to be connected. The other way, jiminy:
There is another way of multitasking apps that doesn’t require
using the Dock at all, allowing you to one-handedly drag any app
from your Home screen and place them in Slide Over or Split View.
You can even use this process to replace any app in a pairing.
- Press the Home button to go back to the Home screen.
- Tap-and-hold an app until you can drag it around.
- Tap to select another app and launch it from the Home screen.
- Invoke the App Switcher (either by swiping up from the bottom of the screen or double-pressing the Home button).
- You can then drop the app in Slide Over or Split View, or replace either app in the pairing.
The first of the “either” steps no longer works in iPadOS 13 — once you start dragging an app from the homescreen, tapping another app doesn’t launch it, it adds the tapped app to the app you started dragging in a stack. So the only way now is the second option, sliding up to enter the multitasking spaces view while still holding onto the app icon you’re dragging.
This is so convoluted, so undiscoverable, so easy to make a mistake with, that it proves my point that the multitasking interaction model on iPadOS is a shambles. Just try doing this while holding your iPad in your hand, not resting it on a table. It’s like playing Twister with your hands. This reads like a joke and in practice it’s worse than it sounds. It’s embarrassing.
How Popular Is ‘Sign In With Apple’? ★
Over the weekend I launched Mezzanine, a new theater diary app
for iOS. Mezzanine is the first app I have launched since the
introduction of Sign in with Apple, so I was interested to see how
popular it would prove with users. The short answer: for Mezzanine
users, Sign in with Apple is much more popular than using any
other social account, and about as popular as using an email
I just used Sign In With Apple for the first time a few weeks ago, and was surprised at how easy it was. I kept waiting for the “confirm your email address” email to arrive but it never did — because there isn’t one. It’s utterly private, where signing in with Google or Facebook is not at all, yet far more convenient than signing up with your email address.
Bill Plaschke on Kobe Bryant ★
LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke captures our collective denial and grief:
This can’t be true.
Kobe does not die. Not now. Kobe lives into his golden years, lives long enough to see his statues erected outside Staples Center and his jerseys inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He lives long enough to sit courtside at Staples when he’s stooped and gray, keeping alive the memories of two decades of greatness with a wink, maybe even fooling everyone one last time by retiring in a community next to Shaq.
I spent an hour yesterday, immediately after the news broke, reloading Twitter waiting for someone to post a report saying it wasn’t true.
Dark Patterns in Tesla’s iPhone App: Accidental Purchases of $4,000 in Non-Refundable Upgrades ★
Twitter thread from Ted Stein, on a spate of Tesla owners getting stuck with $4,000 software upgrades they didn’t intend to purchase. Just look at the low contrast and small print on the “cannot be refunded” warning.
Financial Times: ‘Apple Hits Out at EU Plans for a Universal Smartphone Charger’ ★
Tim Bradshaw, writing for The Financial Times:
Earlier this month, the European Parliament revived a decade-long
argument about mandating a so-called “common charger” for mobile
devices. Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission
for inter-institutional relations and foresight, said in a recent
speech that such a scheme would be more convenient for consumers
and reduce electronic waste. […]
In its first statement in response to the latest proposals, Apple
said on Thursday that forcing it to ditch Lightning would
inconvenience hundreds of millions of its customers and create an
“unprecedented volume” of waste.
“We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of
connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather
than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the
economy as a whole,” Apple said. “We hope the Commission will
continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry’s
ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to
The idea of a universal charger sounds good. Wherever you go, whatever phone you have, you can charge it. But there’s no reason to regulate it, and good reasons not to. It would stifle innovation. If this regulation had been on the books seven or eight years ago, wouldn’t we have been stuck with shitty micro-USB chargers for years to come? Regulations change slowly, if at all. The market has naturally universalized itself; there are only two chargers for modern phones, Lightning and USB-C. Put Apple aside even — surely there will, within a few years, be something better than USB-C for non-Apple phones. Regulations mandating USB-C will slow adoption.
Here’s the nut paragraph, buried deep within the article:
A study by consultancy Copenhagen Economics, commissioned by Apple
last month, found that while 49 per cent of households rely on
different connector types, only 0.4 per cent of European consumers
said they “regularly experience any significant issue” with
charging their devices due to incompatible cabling.
That’s a study commissioned by Apple, so I’ll take it with a grain of salt. But it rings true to my ears. This is not an issue most people have, and nerds be damned, most iPhone users would be angry if their next iPhone had a USB-C port instead of Lightning because they already have Lightning cables.
How Jeff Bezos’s iPhone X Was Hacked ★
Good summary from The New York Times. Until this week’s news, I don’t believe we knew what type of phone Bezos was using when he was hacked. Now we know: an iPhone X.
‘An Embarrassment From Start to Finish’ ★
Ron Amadeo, reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Fold for Ars Technica:
And that brings us to today — the Ars review. This one is going
to be a little different, since I don’t think the Galaxy Fold has
any viability as a serious device anyone should consider
purchasing. Should you buy a Galaxy Fold? NO! God no. Are you
crazy? The sky-high price, durability issues, nascent form factor,
and new screen technology should rule the phone out for just about
Worth reading and looking at the screenshots comparing it to normal top-tier Android phones. The Fold’s front screen is nearly worthless and the interior “big” screen displays significantly less content in most apps.
You Might Like Front and Center Even If You Don’t Like Classic Switching ★
Dr. Drang, regarding my enthusiasm for John Siracusa’s new Front and Center utility for the Mac:
I would argue that just because Gruber misses the old behavior
doesn’t make it right. When you switch to an app via the Dock, all
its windows come forward because you have clicked on a icon for
the app. Similarly, when you switch to an app via ⌘-Tab, all its
windows come forward because you have selected the icon for that
app. But when you click on a background window, you are not
selecting an app, you’re selecting a window. So it’s the window
that should come forward, not the app as a whole.
I completely agree with Drang. I’d never endorse changing today’s MacOS to use the classic-style “click a window to bring all that app’s windows to the front” behavior. Both for Drang’s reasons above, and simply because Mac OS X has been around too long for it to change. (The Mac was 17 years old when Mac OS X 10.0 shipped in March 2001; Mac OS X/OS X/MacOS will have been around for 19 years soon. Classic remained essential until at least 2004, though — Steve Jobs’s 2002 “funeral” for Mac OS 9 be damned, Mac OS X was way too slow and too incomplete until 10.4 Tiger or so for most serious Mac users. So let’s just call it 20 years of classic MacOS and 20 years and counting of Mac OS X.)
But I think classic-style window activation is worthwhile as an option. And more important is Front and Center’s Shift-click override. When using Front and Center in “Classic” mode, you can Shift-click a background window to bring just that window forward. And, if you prefer the “Modern” mode, where just-plain-clicking a window brings just that window forward, you can Shift-click a window to bring all of that app’s windows forward. That’s the killer feature, no matter which mode you prefer by default, and why I suggest trying it even if you don’t want Classic behavior by default.
Gorgeous Maps of the Streets of Any City in the World ★
Enter the name of any city, and Andrei Kashcha’s City Roads website will use OpenStreetMap data to draw all of its streets. Simple and beautiful monochromatic design. (Via Jason Kottke, travel photographer.)
Fast Company: ‘Apple and Google’s Location Privacy Controls Are Working’ ★
Jared Newman, writing for Fast Company:
Some recent data points to consider:
Since the launch of iOS 13 last fall, the amount of background
location data that marketers collect has dropped by 68%
according to Location Sciences, a firm that helps marketers
analyze location data.
Location Sciences also found that foreground data sharing, which
occurs only while an app is open, dropped by 24%.
A Google spokesman tells Fast Company that when Android
users have the option to only share location data when
they’re actively using an app, they choose that option about
half the time.
As Digiday reported last week, apps are now seeing opt-in
rates under 50% for collecting location data when they’re not in
use, according to Benoit Grouchko, CEO of the ad tech business
Good news for everyone except dirtbags.
‘If Right Doesn’t Matter, We’re Lost. If the Truth Doesn’t Matter, We’re Lost.’ ★
Adam Schiff’s summary argument in the Senate trial of Donald Trump’s impeachment. “If truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost” sums up more than the abject corruption of Trump’s presidency — it sums up the state of the world today.
Interesting Stats on the U.S. Streaming Service Market ★
This links to a Wall Street Journal story about the fact that two-thirds of Amazon Prime’s content is user-uploaded, and a lot of it is (unsurprisingly) sketchy. Interesting.
But what caught my eye was this graphic halfway down the page, showing “Q4 2019 U.S. customer base by service”, sourced to Ampere Analysis. Their numbers, in millions:
- Netflix: 61.3
- Amazon Prime: 42.2
- Apple TV+: 33.6
- Hulu: 31.8
- Disney+: 23.2
If that’s even close to accurate I’d say Apple TV+ is a roaring success. Yes, of course, surely most of those customers are using it free of charge for the first year. But that’s the point of this “buy any Apple device, get a free year of TV+” promotion. Apple wants people to take advantage of it — it’s the answer to the question of how you launch a paid streaming service with no content other than 11 original shows. Make Apple TV+ a habit now, get paid later. Apple can afford to be patient.
I’ve been curious how many people who qualify for TV+ know about it, and realize just how easy Apple’s TV app makes it to start your year-long free subscription. Apparently, a lot.
It’s worth noting that Disney+ didn’t launch until November 12, halfway through the quarter; I expect Disney+ to eventually take the number one spot on this list.
(Apple News link for News+ subscribers.)
Update: Neil Cybart thinks the Apple TV+ number is way too high, and thinks Ampere Analysis got the number simply by estimating how many people in the U.S. qualify for the free year, not how many people have signed up.
The Talk Show: ‘Fake Faces’ ★
Special guest Glenn Fleishman returns to the show. Topics include iPhone encryption, the privacy implications of widely-available reverse image search for faces, deep-learning-powered algorithmically-generated faces, and Jeopardy’s “Greatest of All Time” tournament. The show notes are an epic reading list.
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George Soros to Start $1 Billion School to Fight Nationalists, Climate Change ★
Katherine Burton, writing for Bloomberg:
Soros also once again criticized Facebook for its failure to
police the social media network.
“There’s nothing to stop them, and I think there is a kind of
informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing
between Trump and Facebook,” Soros said. “Facebook will work
together to re-elect Trump and Trump will work to protect
98.6 Degrees Fahrenheit Isn’t the Average Anymore ★
Jo Craven McGinty, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:
Nearly 150 years ago, a German physician analyzed a million
temperatures from 25,000 patients and concluded that normal
human-body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That standard
has been published in numerous medical texts and helped
generations of parents judge the gravity of a child’s illness.
But at least two dozen modern studies have concluded the number
is too high.
The findings have prompted speculation that the pioneering
analysis published in 1869 by Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich
Or was it?
In a new study, researchers from Stanford University argue that
Wunderlich’s number was correct at the time but is no longer
accurate because the human body has changed. Today, they say, the
average normal human-body temperature is closer to 97.5 degrees
JetBrains Mono ★
New free and open source typeface for developers. I’m not sure it’s for me, but I do appreciate it. It has a much higher than usual x-height, and an emphasis on rectangular oval shapes for round characters. One idea I haven’t seen before: it comes with ligatures for punctuation combinations frequent in code; for example, the ligature for
-> (hyphen + greater-than) looks like a two-character-wide
→. Certainly worth a download if, like me, you’re a hoarder of monospaced fonts.
Via Gus Mueller, who correctly notes that the website JetBrains created for the font is perhaps more interesting than the font itself. Absolutely worth checking out even if you have no interest in the font itself.
Google Search Results Zip Up Leather Jacket, Strap On Water Skis ★
Danny Sullivan — who for years wrote about search engines independently, but is now Google’s “Search Liaison”:
Last year, our search results on mobile gained a new look. That’s
now rolling out to desktop results this week, presenting site
domain names and brand icons prominently, along with a bolded “Ad”
label for ads. Here’s a mockup.
To say that this design blurs the line between real search results and sponsored items is an understatement. They’ve been inching toward this for a decade, but I’d say this marks the line where they’ve gone too far. Yes, they still have an “Ad” label next to sponsored results, in the spot where legit results now show a small site logo, but to paraphrase a wise man, what’s wrong about this design isn’t the think of it but the feel of it. I haven’t seen anyone react well to it, and most think the problem is that it makes ads look more like search results.
That’s not quite right though. Craig Mod put his finger on it precisely:
There’s something strange about the recent design change to google
search results, favicons and extra header text: they all look like
ads, which is perhaps the point?
That’s it. It’s not that ads look like legit results but that results look like ads too. It’s genius, but perverse. Google is losing the soul of its crown jewel.
Go Dragons ★
News from my alma mater, from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jeremy Roebuck:
The former head of Drexel University’s electrical engineering
department was charged with theft Tuesday, three months after he
stuck the school with a $190,000 tab for research money he
allegedly misspent at strip clubs and on personal expenses.
Philadelphia prosecutors accused Chikaodinaka Nwankpa, 57, of
spending $96,000 in federal grant funds at adult entertainment
venues and sports bars between 2010 and 2017. He allegedly
squandered $89,000 — funding he had secured for science, energy,
and naval research — on iTunes purchases and meals.
I’ll go out on a limb and guess it was mostly on meals, but perhaps in addition to his other hobbies, Nwankpa is quite the cinephile.
Update: I completely blanked on in-app purchases for games. Something on the order of $1,000/month in IAP over this seven-year stretch would only make Nwankpa a low-level “whale” in mobile gaming. He could have easily blown a bigger chunk of the $89K on iTunes than on expensive meals. It’s Vegas, and Apple owns the biggest casino.
(Kind of hard to believe there’s only one hit for “Nwankpa” at The Triangle. A college newspaper ought to live for a story like this. I’d have gotten a month’s worth of columns out of it in my day.)
Away Co-Founder Steph Korey Is Back as Co-CEO ★
Lauren Thomas, reporting for CNBC a week ago:
Just weeks after stepping down as chief executive officer of
luggage maker Away following a report about her leadership
tactics, Steph Korey is back as co-CEO. […]
But she told Away employees in a companywide Slack message Monday,
which was reviewed by CNBC: “The inaccurate reporting that was
published in December about our company unleashed a social media
mob — not just on me, but also on many of you.” She added that
her move to executive chairman had caused “more confusion than
clarity. … So, let me clear that up: I am not leaving the
Korey went on to say the company will contemplate its “legal
options” after The Verge responds to its “demands for retractions
and corrections.” A representative from The Verge wasn’t
immediately available to respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Away said it has hired Libby Locke, the lawyer who won a
defamation case against Rolling Stone magazine for a retracted
story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.
Locke said in an email Monday that the Verge “published hit pieces
filled with lies and distortions designed to damage Away’s
Surprise twist, to say the least. This seemingly puts the kibosh on my theory that Korey was stabbed in the back by Away’s board.
(Disclaimer: Away has been a frequent sponsor of my podcast.)
MacOS 10.15 Catalina Bug: LG 5K Display Resets to Maximum Brightness Every Reboot ★
There are so many bugs in Catalina that I could spend weeks
writing them up. Here’s one that is not just eye-popping
(literally), but of great annoyance to me as a photographer — I
need the display to remain stable and predictable.
After every reboot, the LG 5K display goes to maximum brightness.
Chambers quotes from several others encountering the same issue. A DF reader — also a professional photographer — wrote to me about this bug last week. He (the DF reader) was using a $6,000 new 16-inch MacBook Pro. I say was, past tense, because after a few days he returned it because this brightness issue was no small thing for him, because he sets his display brightness precisely using a display calibrator. Doing this several times per day every day quickly drove him mad.
Is this the worst bug in the world? Not even close. It’s a paper-cut bug. No data loss, no crash, not some sort of thing where something doesn’t even work — just an annoyance. But no one wants to use a tool that gives you half a dozen paper cuts every day. And MacOS 10.15 is chockablock with paper-cut bugs. And it’s not like the LG 5K Display is some obscure unsupported display — it’s the one and only external 5K display sold by Apple itself.
2016 WSJ Story on Apple’s Plans for E2E Encryption for iCloud Data ★
Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for The Wall Street Journal four years ago:
Apple Inc. has refused federal requests to help unlock the phone
of San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. But the company
turned over data from his phone that Mr. Farook had backed up on
its iCloud service.
Soon, that may not be so simple. Apple is working to bolster its
encryption so that it won’t be able to decode user information
stored in iCloud, according to people familiar with the matter.
But Apple executives are wrestling with how to strengthen iCloud
encryption without inconveniencing users. Apple prides itself on
creating intuitive, easy-to-use software, and some in the company
worry about adding complexity.
If a user forgets a password, for example, and Apple doesn’t have
the keys, the user might lose access to photos and other important
data. If Apple keeps a copy of the key, the copy “can be
compromised or the service can be compelled to turn it over,” said
Window Snyder, a former Apple security and privacy manager who is
now chief security officer at Fastly, a content-delivery network.
If Apple were to implement E2E encryption for iCloud backups, there’s no “might” about it — if the customer forgets their password, they would lose access to the data. That’s the entire point of this debate.
Given that this was four years ago, something clearly interrupted this plan. I’ve heard from a few additional sources at Apple (or very recently at Apple), and all believe that Apple’s reluctance to use end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups is about how frequently customers don’t know their password but need to access their backups. My idea is to make it optional, but every additional option makes a feature more complicated. No one expects to forget their password — even if this were only an option, some number of iCloud users would turn it on because it’s more secure, forget their password, and be forever locked out of their backups. If it weren’t optional — if backups were E2E encrypted with the keys solely in the hands of users — thousands of iCloud users would be forever locked out of their data each year.
Also, let me emphasize that with the sole exception of email — which is expected — all iCloud data is encrypted both in transit and in storage on Apple’s servers. (Email is encrypted in transit, of course, just not in storage.) The difference is whether Apple also has a key to the data. End-to-end encryption is when only the user controls the keys. Just plain “encryption” is when Apple also has a key.
Tim Cook to Der Spiegel a Little Over a Year Ago: Apple Will Eventually No Longer Have a Key to iCloud Data ★
From a wide-ranging interview from October 2018 (filtered through Google Translate):
Spiegel Online: Is the data as secure on your iCloud online
service as on the devices?
Cook: Our users have a key there, and we have one. We do this
because some users lose or forget their key and then expect help
from us to get their data back. It is difficult to estimate when
we will change this practice. But I think that in the future it
will be regulated like the devices. We will therefore no longer
have a key for this in the future.
I believe “regulated” is an idiomatic glitch in the translation. In English we tend to reserve that word for rules and laws from the government; Cook I think clearly is talking about Apple’s own policies.
[Update: Via my friend Glenn Fleishman, who speaks German: “You are correct about the Spiegel story. The machine translation is quite good, but ‘regulated’ was translated from the verb ‘regeln’ which can be regulated, but also controlled/set/etc. So it would be better to say, ‘I believe that in the future, it will be handled like on devices.’ ”]
Joseph Menn’s blockbuster report for Reuters today claims Apple abandoned its plans for encrypting iCloud backups “about two years ago”. Something in the timeline doesn’t add up there. (It’s also very clear from the Der Spiegel interview that Cook is keenly aware of how encryption works with Apple’s devices and services.)
Android 9 and Later Offers Encrypted Backups to Google Android Users ★
From the end of Joseph Menn’s report for Reuters today, claiming Apple dropped plans for encrypted iOS backups after the FBI objected:
In October 2018, Alphabet Inc’s Google announced a
similar system to Apple’s dropped plan for secure backups. The
maker of Android software, which runs on about three-quarters of
the world’s mobile devices, said users could back up their data to
its own cloud without trusting the company with the key.
Two people familiar with the project said Google gave no advance
notice to governments, and picked a time to announce it when
encryption was not in the news.
First, while Android runs on 75 percent of mobile devices worldwide, not all of those devices use Google services like backup. None of the Android phones in China, for example — which is a lot of phones. It’s lazy to conflate Android phones with Google Android phones.
Second, I wasn’t aware of this until today. And it makes iCloud’s lack of backup encryption look bad. From Google’s official announcement of the feature a little over a year ago:
Starting in Android Pie, devices can take advantage of a new
capability where backed-up application data can only be decrypted
by a key that is randomly generated at the client. This decryption
key is encrypted using the user’s lockscreen PIN/pattern/passcode,
which isn’t known by Google. Then, this passcode-protected key
material is encrypted to a Titan security chip on our
datacenter floor. The Titan chip is configured to only release the
backup decryption key when presented with a correct claim derived
from the user’s passcode. Because the Titan chip must authorize
every access to the decryption key, it can permanently block
access after too many incorrect attempts at guessing the user’s
passcode, thus mitigating brute force attacks. The limited number
of incorrect attempts is strictly enforced by a custom Titan
firmware that cannot be updated without erasing the contents of
the chip. By design, this means that no one (including Google) can
access a user’s backed-up application data without specifically
knowing their passcode.
I can’t find much additional information about this. For example, how many failed attempts trigger the permanent lockout to the backup? That would be useful to know, but I can’t find it.
It also doesn’t seem to be optional on (some?) devices that support it. My Pixel 4 running Android 10 (Android Pie was version 9) doesn’t say anything about backups being encrypted by my device passcode — I believe they just are.
Not sure why the Department of Justice isn’t publicly complaining about this.
(Keep in mind that anything with a web interface, like Google Photos and Google Docs and Google Drive, cannot be end-to-end encrypted. Same goes for iCloud Photos.)
Derek Jeter, Hall of Famer ★
James Wagner, reporting for The New York Times:
It was never a question that Derek Jeter, the longtime captain of
the Yankees and one of the most celebrated players in baseball
history, was going to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The intrigue instead centered on whether he would become the
second unanimously elected player, following his former teammate
and fellow five-time World Series champion Mariano Rivera.
On Tuesday, Jeter fell just short of Rivera’s historic mark from
Jeter was named on all but one of the 397 ballots cast by members
of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — more than
enough to clear the 75 percent hurdle for election. He eclipsed
the previous second-highest voting mark, 99.3 percent, for
outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016. Jeter received 99.7 percent of
The surprise isn’t that some cowardly little man decided to hide behind the anonymity of his vote and deny Jeter unanimity. The surprise is that there wasn’t a single cowardly dope who did the same last year for Rivera. Every single player among the top 30 on this list should have been unanimous. For chrissake Babe Ruth and Willie Mays only got 95 percent of the vote.
Jeter and Rivera were teammates for 19 seasons — the most, by far, of any Hall of Fame teammates. What a privilege it was to watch them play and win five World Series, all while playing for the greatest team in the history of professional sports.
My thanks to MyNetDiary for sponsoring DF this week. MyNetDiary is a modern diet/food tracking app with a strong focus on design, quality, and usability.
Developed with a team of registered dietitians, MyNetDiary offers a huge and reliable database, lightning-fast food tracking, a totally configurable dashboard, and no ads or user tracking — even in the free version. Their UI design for food tracking is incredibly efficient, with features ranging from a huge database of food, smart parsing of your typed input, and bar code scanning. They even have an AR “grocery check” feature — point your camera at a barcode while shopping and you’ll see a heads-up display with information and recommendations.
A lot of apps like this are just thin wrappers around web apps. MyNetDiary offers excellent native apps — for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. They even have an iMessage app. They are really on top of Apple’s latest stuff, and very privacy-minded. You can use the app fully without signing up for a (free) MyNetDiary account. But if you do sign up for an account, your data will sync between devices and the MyNetDiary website seamlessly. They even support Sign In With Apple when you create an account. I’ve been using MyNetDiary all week, and this is the first service I’ve used with Sign In With Apple — and it was a terrific experience. Probably the best “sign up for a new account with a service” experience I’ve ever seen.
MyNetDiary is now the most comprehensive, accurate, and user-friendly diet app in the App Store, as well as on the web and Google Play, and users and reviewers love it. If you’re looking for an app to help you lose weight or just eat better, you should check out MyNetDiary.
The Talk Show: ‘Sport Mode’ ★
Special guest Merlin Mann returns to the show. Topics include the renewal of U.S. law enforcement officials’ disingenuous campaign against iPhone encryption, the Houston Astros cheating scandal, how that cheating scandal relates to the Trump impeachment saga, and Catalyst and the art of Mac software design. But mostly we talk about finding a good pair of slippers.
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Which Emoji Scissors Close ★
Ah, scissors. They’re important enough that we have an emoji for
them. On your device, it appears as ✂️. Unlike the real world tool
it represents, the emoji’s job is to convey the idea, especially
at small sizes. It doesn’t need to be able to swing or cut things.
Nevertheless, let’s judge them on that irrelevant criterion.
Fun work. Turns out most emoji scissors wouldn’t actually close. I’m curious if the ones that would close somehow look worse at small sizes, or if this is something that most scissor emoji artists never bothered to consider. (Via Andy Baio.)
The FBI Used a GrayKey to Obtain Data From a Locked iPhone 11 Pro Max ★
Thomas Brewster, reporting for Forbes:
Last year, FBI investigators in Ohio used a hacking device called
a GrayKey to draw data from the latest Apple model, the iPhone 11
Pro Max. The phone belonged to Baris Ali Koch, who was accused of
helping his convicted brother flee the country by providing
him with his own ID documents and lying to the police. He has now
entered a plea agreement and is awaiting sentencing.
Forbes confirmed with Koch’s lawyer, Ameer Mabjish, that the
device was locked. Mabjish also said he was unaware of any way the
investigators could’ve acquired the passcode; Koch had not given
it to them nor did they force the defendant to use his face to
unlock the phone via Face ID, as far as the lawyer was aware. The
search warrant document obtained by Forbes, dated October 16,
2019, also showed the phone in a locked state, giving the
strongest indication yet that the FBI has access to a device that
can acquire data from the latest iPhone.
Nothing is confirmed by anyone involved — the FBI, Apple, or Grayshift (the company that makes the GrayKey) — but this sure sounds like the FBI accessed data on an iPhone 11 Pro Max using a GrayKey. Two things if this is true. First, this really puts the lie to the FBI’s claim of needing Apple’s help accessing the Pensacola shooter’s iPhones (which were older models, and thus presumably easier to crack). Second, this is the first suggestion I’ve seen that GrayKey can unlock, or somehow otherwise access the data of, Apple’s latest generation of iPhones.
More on how GrayKey works — or at least used to work — from an April 2018 link. At one point later in 2018, it was believed that bug fixes in iOS 12 stopped GrayKey from working. It’s a canonical cat-and-mouse game. Also worth noting: Grayshift co-founder Braden Thomas previously worked as a security engineer at Apple.
WSJ: ‘Barr’s Encryption Push Is Decades in the Making, but Troubles Some at FBI’ ★
Sadie Gurman, Dustin Volz, and Tripp Mickle, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:
Some FBI officials were stunned by Mr. Barr’s rebuke of Apple, the
people familiar with the matter said, and believe the Pensacola
case is the wrong one to press in the encryption fight, in part
because they believed Apple had already provided ample assistance
to the probe.
Like I’ve been arguing, this has nothing to do with the Pensacola case in particular and everything to do with a push to make encryption illegal.
More on Tile’s Complaints About Apple in Congressional Testimony ★
Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors, reports that Tile is complaining about Find My too:
The smaller companies are aiming to provide evidence that the tech
giants have become too big and have practices in place that stifle
competition and hurt sales. Tile in particular is gunning for
Apple, claiming that Apple’s iOS 13 Bluetooth and location
tracking devices have hurt its business, and that Find My
resembles Tile’s own service.
Find My — originally Find My iPhone — has been around since 2010. And it seems like weak sauce to argue that it’s a feature Apple shouldn’t be able to provide on antitrust grounds. Putting aside Apple’s rumored dedicated location-tracking tile dinguses, if Tile’s business has been hurt by iOS 13 and Find My, their business was in bad shape to start.
It seems one of Tile’s specific complaints is related to the changes in iOS 13 that discourage third-party apps from having “Always Allow” access to location data. Apple has been pushing for apps to use “Only While Using the App”, and, when apps do use “Always Allow”, iOS will periodically remind you which apps are doing so in the background, and how often. And to turn on “Always Allow” access, the user must do so in the Privacy section of Settings — the app itself can’t prompt for it. Apple’s statement seems to suggest they’re reconsidering that.
Remember Apple’s priorities: Apple first, users second, developers third. Developers of location-tracking apps might be peeved by iOS 13’s changes, but users are much better off. A lot of apps that were asking for “Always Allow” location access were not doing so with the users’ interests at heart.
There’s just no way a third-party tile tracking product will be as integrated with iOS as an Apple product would be. It’s like rival smart watch makers complaining that Apple Watch’s integration with iPhone is unfair. Same with AirPods. At some level it is unfair, but what’s the alternative? You’re either asking for Apple (and other big platform vendors) to be severely hamstrung from innovating with integrated new products, or you’re asking for third-parties to be given low-level access to the OS on mobile platforms — a privacy and security nightmare.
There are definitely good antitrust arguments to be made against all of the tech giants, including Apple, but I don’t think Tile is a good example.
Tile to Testify Before Congress About Unreleased, Unannounced Apple Product ★
Nandita Bose, writing for Reuters:
In April 2019, Tile.com, which helps users find lost or misplaced
items, suddenly found itself competing with Apple Inc, after
years of enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship with the
Apple carried Tile on its app store and sold its products at its
stores since 2015. It even showcased Tile’s technology at its
biggest annual event in 2018 and the startup sent an engineer to
Apple’s headquarters to develop a feature with the company’s voice
Early the following year, Tile’s executives read news reports of
Apple launching a hardware product along with a service that
resembled what Tile sold. By June, Apple had stopped selling
Tile’s products in stores and has since hired away one of its
It sucks to get Sherlocked. But is there anything vaguely illegal here? And it seems… premature to testify before Congress about a product Apple hasn’t even announced (and for all we know, never will). What exactly is Tile’s preferred remedy here?
The Case for a Low Power Mode for Mac Laptops – and iPads ★
In light of today’s rumor that a Pro Mode may be coming
that seems to offer benefits in the opposite direction, I wanted
to re-make the case for a Low Power Mode on macOS — and explain
why now is the time.
Modern hardware constantly pushes thermal and power limits, trying
to strike a balance that minimizes noise and heat while maximizing
performance and battery life. […] Apple’s customers don’t
usually have control over these balances, and they’re usually
fixed at design time with little opportunity to adapt to changing
circumstances or customer priorities.
The sole exception, Low Power Mode on iOS, seems to be a huge hit:
by offering a single toggle that chooses a different balance,
people are able to greatly extend their battery life when they
know they’ll need it.
Arment has some interesting numbers showing the difference on a new 16-inch MacBook Pro while running a third-party kernel extension that disables Intel’s “Turbo Mode”. You lose about 50 percent of performance but gain maybe an additional 50 percent of battery life — and your MacBook stays very cool. A lot of people in a lot of situations would happily make that trade-off, especially if it were as easy to toggle and as noninvasive as it is on iOS. When I use Low Power Mode on my iPhone, I’m hard-pressed to notice any difference other than the yellow battery icon, even though benchmarks suggest the CPU is throttled to about half speed. Apple’s A-series CPUs are so fast that half-speed is plenty fast.
The elephant in the room is the Mac’s transition to Apple-designed ARM processors — a transition we’ve all expected to come any year now for, well, quite a few years. Apple’s plan for extending MacBook battery life might just be to switch processor architectures and nothing else. Note too that iOS’s Low Power Mode is for iPhones only — iPads don’t have it. That bodes poorly for the odds of a Low Power Mode for MacBooks — it feels like a feature Apple believes is needed only for phones.
Now that I think about it, why doesn’t the iPad have Lower Power Mode? This could be a huge game changer in a “forgot to charge my iPad before a long flight or car trip” scenario. I just spent 15 minutes searching the web to make sure the iPad really doesn’t offer this feature, because it seems so bananas that it doesn’t.
Study Claims YouTube Ads of 100 Top Brands Fund Climate Misinformation ★
Alex Hern, reporting for The Guardian:
Some of the biggest companies in the world are funding climate
misinformation by advertising on YouTube, according to a study
from activist group Avaaz.
The group found that more than 100 brands had adverts running on
YouTube videos on the site that were actively promoting climate
misinformation. The brands, including Samsung, L’Oreal and
Decathlon, were unaware that their adverts were being played
before and during the videos.
How do we know they were unaware? I highly doubt any of these brands specifically wanted their ads to run against climate change disinformation videos, but doesn’t the scattershot “just let the algorithm figure out where to run our ads” strategy many (most?) big YouTube advertisers take imply that some of the spots are going to run against unsavory content?
I really feel as a culture we are barely coming to grips with the power of YouTube, Facebook, and to some degree, Twitter, as means of spreading mass-market disinformation. The pre-internet era of TV, print, and radio was far from a panacea. But it just wasn’t feasible in those days for a disinformation campaign — whether from crackpots who believe the nonsense, corporate industry groups, or foreign governments — to get in front of the eyes of millions of people.
It feels like something out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel that this is not only the state we’re in today, but that big name mass market advertisers are running commercials on this stuff.
App Store Year-Over-Year Growth in the Christmas to New Year’s Eve Holiday Week ★
Tim Hardwick, summarizing the highlights of Apple’s services year-in-review post today:
App Store customers spent a record $1.42 billion between Christmas
Eve and New Year’s Eve, a 16 percent increase over last year, and
$386 million on New Year’s Day 2020 alone, a 20 percent increase
over last year and a new single-day record.
I couldn’t resist the joke when I linked to it this morning, but these App Store year-over-year growth numbers are impressive. iPhone unit sales have peaked (and iPad unit sales long ago leveled out) but because these devices remain in use for so long, the number of them in active use continues to grow, and it’s probably the case that engagement per-device is growing too.
No numbers on paid subscribers to Apple Arcade, News+, or TV+ though.
FBI vs. iPhone Encryption, Round Two: Pensacola Shooter ★
Devlin Barrett, reporting for The Washington Post:
The FBI is pressing Apple for help opening iPhones that belonged
to the Saudi military student who killed three people last month
at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., signaling a potential revival
of the fight between the federal government and Silicon Valley
over encryption technology.
On Monday, the FBI’s general counsel Dana Boente wrote a letter to
Apple’s top lawyer, Katherine Adams, seeking the tech giant’s
“Even though the shooter is dead, the FBI, out of an abundance of
caution, has secured court authorization to search the contents of
the phones in order to exhaust all leads in this high priority
national security investigation,” Boente wrote. “Unfortunately,
FBI has been unable to access the contents of the phones,” the
letter said, even after asking private technology experts if they
could help agents crack them. “None of those reachouts has shown
us a path forward.” […]
In a statement, Apple said it had already helped FBI agents on the
Pensacola case by sharing relevant data in its cloud storage.
Apple and other companies have said that encryption on phones is
an important safeguard protecting millions of consumers against
hackers and other criminals.
There are two entirely separate issues here, and the FBI either doesn’t understand them or (more likely, I think, but I’m not sure) is willfully conflating them.
The first issue is Apple offering law enforcement whatever information they can, when appropriate. In this case, they’ve apparently done so: providing the FBI with whatever they can from the suspect’s iCloud account.
The second is Apple being technically incapable of complying with additional law enforcement requests. Apple does not have a way to get at the contents of a locked, encrypted iPhone. Also true of iPads and the boot drives of Macs with a T2 security chip and File Vault enabled. That’s how these encryption systems are designed. If Apple had a way in, anyone could have a way in. That’s a backdoor, and backdoors are inherent security vulnerabilities.
Most people don’t understand anything at all about encryption (which is to be expected), and reasonably assume that surely Apple can “get into” any device that it makes. It used to be that way, in fact, in the early years of iPhones, and it was a disaster for security — a thief who had your iPhone also had access to whatever data was on your iPhone.
It’s fine that most people don’t understand anything about encryption, but experts at the FBI surely do, and my suspicion all along with the San Bernardino case was that the FBI was trying to turn the public’s ignorance of encryption — both how it works and how owning truly encrypted devices benefits them, even if they don’t know it — against Apple.
Honestly, I don’t think this has anything to do with the Pensacola shooter. I think this is part of a campaign to drum up public support for making true encryption illegal. And if it really is about the Pensacola shooter, the FBI’s leadership doesn’t understand how encryption works, which is disgraceful.
The San Bernardino case, you may recall, did not turn out well for the FBI.
Cybart: Not So Fast on AirPods Revenue ★
Neil Cybart on Kevin Rooke’s estimates on AirPods revenue (linked here at DF last night):
A few hours ago, this tweet came to my attention. It’s about
AirPods revenue and it’s not correct. AirPods revenue does not
exceed Spotify, Twitter, Snapchat, and Shopify revenue. It’s not
even close either. […]
By the way, the article in question put AirPods revenue at $12
billion in 2019. The actual number will end up being more like
half that — closer to $7.5 billion.
I’d put my money on Cybart’s numbers over Rooke’s, but even if Rooke’s numbers are too high, at $7.5 billion his point still stands: AirPods as a standalone startup would be a fantastic business, growing at an extraordinary pace, with a very high ceiling. Note too that AirPods Pro were sold out until late January by the beginning of December. Could have been a much bigger holiday quarter if Apple could have made them fast enough to keep up with demand.
Apple Recaps Its Year in Services ★
The App Store is the world’s safest and most vibrant app marketplace, with over half a billion people visiting each week. It remains the safest place for users to find software and provides developers of all sizes access to customers in 155 countries.
“Did we mention how safe it is?”
‘What Apple Is Aiming For’ ★
Mark Gurman, tweeting from CES:
Impressed with Nreal’s new AR glasses. This is what Apple is
aiming for, but these plug into an Android phone. The new UI is
super polished - and $499 blows away higher prices from Hololens,
others. Critical to see if it gains an ecosystem.
Yes, I’m sure Apple is aiming for something that looks like the goggles they give you to wear for 3D movies and requires a wired connection to your phone. And Lobot’s headset was what Apple was shooting for with AirPods.
I took some time off over the holidays but as today suggests, I’m back at the keyboard, with a long list of stuff I want to write about. (Did you know that you can get the DF posts for any given day with URLs like that? Bonus: works for months too.)
DF sponsorships for 2020 are currently wide 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.
Lenovo’s ThinkBook Plus Laptop Has a Second Screen on the Lid ★
Andrew E. Freedman, reporting for Tom’s Hardware from CES:
Lenovo’s latest take on the small business laptop has an
interesting surprise: a 10.8-inch E ink display on the lid.
The ThinkBook Plus was announced here at CES 2020, and it comes
with a secondary display meant to foster collaboration. While the
main, 13.3-inch FHD display is closed, the E Ink screen can show
email and calendar notifications from Microsoft Outlook. You can
also use it to take notes with Lenovo’s included stylus. The idea
is you’ll only do what you’ll need to on the screen during
meetings, rather than being engrossed entirely in your laptop. It
will start at $1,199 when it goes on sale in March.
This is a dumb idea. It’s a feature, not a bug, that when your laptop is closed it doesn’t reveal anything at all. Who wants their closed laptop to show email notifications? This is what smartphones (and watches) are for. When is the last time you had your laptop with you but not your phone?
Jimmy Grewal on IE 5 for Mac ★
Jimmy Grewal, writing on Twitter:
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5 for Mac. This was both the most
important release of Internet Explorer for the Mac, and the last
release. Here are some anecdotes and thoughts from an insider’s
It’s easy to forget, but IE 5 for Mac was a great app. Here’s a good Steve Jobs anecdote:
This “new look” had an uncanny resemblance to Apple’s later Aqua
interface for Mac OS X. However it was developed in complete
secrecy within Microsoft. When we previewed MacIE 5 with the “new
look” to Apple in the Summer of 1999, Jobs was not pleased.
Since no one outside Apple was supposed to know about Aqua at the
time, he couldn’t say anything to us about the resemblance;
instead he directed his ire at another new feature in MacIE 5
called Media Toolbar. This feature provided support for playing
back MP3s on websites.
Media Toolbar was based on code licensed from the developers of
SoundJam MP, a popular MP3 player. Unbeknownst to us, Steve Jobs
too had his eye on SoundJam and its lead developer Jeff Robbin.
Jobs insisted we cut this feature claiming it undermined
Microsoft cut the feature, and regretted it. As far as I’m aware, this story has never been told before. Actually, I don’t think either story in this anecdote had been told before — neither the SoundJam-based MP3 player they intended to bake into IE nor the fact that IE 5’s “new look” was something the IE team came up with independently. Everyone I know always assumed that Apple had disclosed the IE team on the Aqua look-and-feel.
Grewal includes a link to Steve Jobs unveiling and demoing IE 5 on stage at Macworld Expo SF 2000. The video quality is terrible — somehow it’s very overexposed — but it is captivating nonetheless. What struck me about this demo is Jobs’s attention to minor UI details — like the fact that the Carbon IE 5 app used the same Aqua scrollbars as a Cocoa app. The pace and conversational tone — and the assumption that everyone watching cares as much as Jobs himself does about nitty-gritty UI details — feels very unlike a modern day Apple software demo. It’s easy to get sucked into the whole video, but the unveiling and demo of Apple Mail that follows has that same thing going for it. What Jobs is saying, effectively, is “Look at how we’re sweating every single detail.”
Apple’s Surging Stock Price Attributed to Services Push ★
Jeran Wittenstein, reporting for Bloomberg*:
For the first time since 2011, shares of the iPhone maker have
traded at a higher price-earnings ratio than the S&P 500 for
months amid a year that saw the stock’s valuation almost double.
It’s a reversal from the previous nine years, when concerns over a
lack of product innovation kept the stock at a persistent discount
to the market.
Credit the shift in sentiment to Apple’s focus on tapping an
ecosystem of nearly 1.5 billion users to generate a steady stream
of profit. The increasing contribution from services like iCloud
storage and Apple Music is making its business more stable and
therefore deserving of a higher multiple, according to Gene
Munster, a long-time Apple analyst and founder of Loup Ventures.
I hope this is simply good news for Apple (and for those who own Apple shares). 2019 marked a serious push into subscription content services and the credit card market for Apple. My concern, again, is what happens if the drive to increase services revenue takes precedence over Apple’s “Prime Directive”: to put product design and experience above all else.
* You know.
‘The Coming Supremacy of AR’ ★
Advertising, gamification, constant distractions and chaos,
interruptions — basically a Black Mirror hellscape. And to be
clear, in the event that high fidelity AR becomes possible, some
company will attempt to make such a hellscape, filled with
crapware and covering your gaze with nonsense for the lowest
I challenge you, though, to imagine not the worst that a future AR
experience could be, but the best. Imagine instead an AR
experience not designed by advertisers, but by Apple — or even
better, Apple’s successors. A team obsessively focused on people,
taking a distinctly human approach to designing how your glasses
could augment what you see.
The potential is obviously huge. My pessimism is that based on the state of software today — what most people use on their phones and tablets, desktops, and the web — there is arguably only one company with the technical and financial resources to make this possible that might be interested in doing it in a way that isn’t based on selling you shit through in-view advertising (as well as using what you see and hear through AR to profile you).
That company is Apple. Facebook — good god no. Google makes almost all of its money through advertising. Amazon makes most of its money selling us stuff. Samsung or any of the upstart Chinese phone companies? They don’t have the design chops to do something subtle and tasteful.
[Update: Two points. First, I should not have omitted Microsoft. They’re not an advertising company, they have the technical chops, and they’ve been working on AR/VR for years with HoloLens. So I’ll file Microsoft under “maybe”. But historically, Microsoft has never led the way on new computer interface paradigms. Second, I know Apple makes most of its money “selling us stuff” too. But Apple’s “selling us stuff” is a very different business from Amazon’s. When you buy an iPhone, Apple doesn’t start badgering you to buy an iPad and Apple Watch, too, in the way that Amazon never ceases suggesting algorithmically determined products to buy. Apple doesn’t track you across the web in order to algorithmically suggest which iPhone model you should buy. But Apple is now promoting its services within its own UIs in a way that it has never promoted its hardware products.]
But I worry that with its services push, Apple is turning into an advertising company too. It’s just advertising its own services. In iOS 13 they put an ad for AppleCare at the very top of Settings. They use push notifications to ask you to sign up for Apple Pay and Apple Card, and subscribe to Apple Music, TV, and Arcade. The free tier of Apple News is now a non-stop barrage of ads for Apple News+ subscriptions. Are we at the “hellscape” stage with Apple? No, not even close. But it’s a slippery slope. What made Apple Apple is this mindset: “Ship great products and the profits will follow” — not “Ship products that will generate great profits”.
It is essential that product people remain in charge of these decisions at Apple, not services people.