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Linked List: March 2020

Layoffs at The Omni Group 

Brent Simmons:

Yesterday, along with about ten people (I’m not sure exactly), I was laid off from my job at the Omni Group, and now I’m looking for new work. […]

Omni’s been around for almost 30 years, and I hope it’s around for another 30. It’s one of the great Mac and iOS shops — they will sing songs about Omni, at maximum volume, in the great halls.

But businesses go up and down, and Omni’s had a bit of a down period. Normally that would be fine, but the current economic circumstances turn “a bit of a down period” into something more serious — and, in order to get things going the right way again, the company had to lay off some people. Including me.

This is, notably, the first time Omni has ever had to lay off people. And I bet that the company wouldn’t have had to this time, either — but, well, (gestures at everything) there’s all this.

This feels like another kick in the nuts, in an ongoing series of kicks in the nuts. Oof. All of this — as Brent says, gestures at everything — aside, it is hard to shake the feeling that the market for independent professional software is coming apart at the seams, fraying irreparably.

Paying for good software is in our own best interest.

For anyone who is able to hire right now, the upside of this bad news is that some extraordinary talent is on the market for new work. Brent is one of my closest and oldest personal friends, so feel free to consider me hopelessly biased regarding him. (But I’ve worked with him, too, and he’s an amazing colleague.) But one of the things that makes Omni special is they’ve always been — and remain — a magnet for good, talented people.

Trump: ‘I Haven’t Heard About Testing Being a Problem’ 

From that conference call with governors in the preceding item, here is what President Trump actually said — yesterday — when told by the governor of Montana that they’re desperately short of test kits for COVID-19:

“I haven’t heard about testing in weeks. We’re testing more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests. And we’ve come out with another one tomorrow that’s, you know, almost instantaneous testing. But I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”

Follow this link to the clip from Rachel Maddow’s show last night and listen to the president say these words. Everyone knows the United States is desperately lacking in tests. And masks. And personal protective equipment for medical professionals. Just the fundamental basics.

And the president of the United States says he hasn’t heard about it being a problem. The story regarding this conference call is not that there’s a political debate between governors and the president. The story is that the president of the United States is either utterly delusional or is lying about a catastrophic testing shortage we can all see with our own eyes. The utter dearth of testing capabilities here in the U.S. isn’t some little side story. It is one of the single biggest problems we face in this crisis. It’s huge.

It’s worse than “Trump Says Earth Is Flat; Scientists Disagree”. It’s more easily disproven that the U.S. is critically lacking in test kits, masks, and PPEs — and more importantly, no one would be dying if Trump were out there saying the Earth is flat.

The New York Times Is Committing ‘Journalistic Malpractice’ on Trump’s Catastrophic COVID-19 Failures 

Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor in epidemiology of microbial diseases at Yale, on Twitter, responding to a Times story preposterously headlined “Trump Suggests Lack of Testing Is No Longer a Problem. Governors Disagree.”:

This is journalistic malpractice. If we don’t have scale-up of testing, we will be in lock-down for months & months. There is no debate on this, why frame it like there is one? Next: Trump says earth flat, scientists say otherwise.

Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin responded (lowercase and punctuation sic):

you’re picking the wrong fight, move along

Gonsalves’s thread responding to Martin ought to be reported as a murder:

This is an emergency, act like it. It matters that you’re failing, and it’s not about a lowly reader trying to score points, but the fact that @NYTimes eliding, equivocating on the federal response has consequences for millions of people.

So, get better. Tell us, why 4 months into this we STILL have insufficient number of tests — what happened politically that led us to this point, keeps us still incapable of rising to the task. There are political stories abounding in this world-historical crisis and you surrender to the he-said-she-said variety of reporting, every time. […]

I buried dozens of my friends during the height of the AIDS epidemic and we’re all preparing for burials now of friends and family in this new pandemic. Don’t you dare tell me to move on.

Do your job. We are facing one of the greatest challenges in American history, largely due to political failures of the current Administration. Dig. Find out what is happening, the roots of the failures. Name names. You have the resources of one of biggest papers in the US.

Stop the transcription of press conferences, calls as the news in and of itself. Go deeper. Explain how current American politics led to this epidemiological and economic calamity, and how our leaders are or are not rising to the challenge. You may lose your access to certain prized sources inside the White House, the invitations to the best parties in DC, but you’ll gain the respect of your readers and rescue your reputations from the disdain of history.

Apple Acquires Dark Sky 

Adam Grossman on the Dark Sky blog:

Today we have some important and exciting news to share: Dark Sky has joined Apple.

Part of me wonders what took so long. Dark Sky is simply an outstanding app and service — I’ve been a devoted fan from the get-go in 2012 and have written about Dark Sky many times.

For now, the iOS app remains available (and is still sold for $4). The Android app and website will stop working on July 1. As for their API service:

Our API service for existing customers is not changing today, but we will no longer accept new signups. The API will continue to function through the end of 2021.

That’s a generous grace period. But to my knowledge there is no other service like Dark Sky’s, and it powers a lot of apps, including the excellent Carrot Weather and Weather Line (my personal favorite) apps. Dark Sky is also the weather provider for DuckDuckGo and Yelp.

I’m hoping that Apple has acquired Dark Sky not merely to beef up the built-in iPhone Weather app (Apple has no first-party Weather app for iPad or Mac, curiously), but to add hyperlocal weather forecasting APIs to its OSes. This would add a competitive advantage for iOS and MacOS both in terms of weather and privacy. Third-party weather apps are notorious for abusing location privileges.

Zoom Is Leaking Users’ Email Addresses and Photos to Strangers 

Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard:

The issue lies in Zoom’s “Company Directory” setting, which automatically adds other people to a user’s lists of contacts if they signed up with an email address that shares the same domain. This can make it easier to find a specific colleague to call when the domain belongs to an individual company. But multiple Zoom users say they signed up with personal email addresses, and Zoom pooled them together with thousands of other people as if they all worked for the same company, exposing their personal information to one another. […]

On its website, Zoom says, “By default, your Zoom contacts directory contains internal users in the same organization, who are either on the same account or who’s email address uses the same domain as yours (except for publicly used domains including gmail.com, yahoo.com, hotmail.com, etc) in the Company Directory section.”

Zoom’s system does not exempt all domains that are used for personal email, however. Gehrels said he encountered the issue with the domains xs4all.nl, dds.nl, and quicknet.nl. These are all Dutch internet service providers (ISPs) which offer email services.

Far from the worst thing we’ve learned about Zoom (this week!), but evidence yet again that privacy and security are low on their list of priorities.

Zoom Falsely Claims Its Group Video Can Be End-to-End Encrypted 

Micah Lee and Yael Grauer, reporting for The Intercept:

Zoom, the video conferencing service whose use has spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic, claims to implement end-to-end encryption, widely understood as the most private form of internet communication, protecting conversations from all outside parties. In fact, Zoom is using its own definition of the term, one that lets Zoom itself access unencrypted video and audio from meetings.

“Using its own definition of the term” is generously euphemistic on the part of The Intercept. This is simply a bald-faced lie intended to mislead.

“When we use the phrase ‘End to End’ in our other literature, it is in reference to the connection being encrypted from Zoom end point to Zoom end point,” the Zoom spokesperson wrote, apparently referring to Zoom servers as “end points” even though they sit between Zoom clients. “The content is not decrypted as it transfers across the Zoom cloud” through the networking between these machines.

If video chat is only encrypted in transit between clients and Zoom’s servers, say so. That’s less than ideal, but it is what it is, and as The Intercept quotes an expert, E2E encryption is particularly hard with high-quality group video and audio. But lying about it is unconscionable. And again, like Zoom’s other issues, this can’t be explained as an honest mistake. It’s deliberate. “End-to-end” is not open to interpretation.

Scenes From New York 

New York as a ghost town.

Krugman on the Zombie Response to COVID-19 

Paul Krugman, writing for The New York Times:

But I suspect that the disastrous response to Covid-19 has been shaped less by direct self-interest than by two indirect ways in which pandemic policy gets linked to the general prevalence of zombie ideas in right-wing thought.

First, when you have a political movement almost entirely built around assertions that any expert can tell you are false, you have to cultivate an attitude of disdain toward expertise, one that spills over into everything. Once you dismiss people who look at evidence on the effects of tax cuts and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, you’re already primed to dismiss people who look at evidence on disease transmission. This also helps explain the centrality of science-hating religious conservatives to modern conservatism, which has played an important role in Trump’s failure to respond.

Second, conservatives do hold one true belief: namely, that there is a kind of halo effect around successful government policies. If public intervention can be effective in one area, they fear — probably rightly — that voters might look more favorably on government intervention in other areas. In principle, public health measures to limit the spread of coronavirus needn’t have much implication for the future of social programs like Medicaid. In practice, the first tends to increase support for the second.

How to Open the Emoji Keyboard While Using a Hardware Keyboard on iPadOS 

This 2016 tip from Dan Moren is more relevant than ever. Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover for iPad has a dedicated Globe key you can press to get the emoji keyboard, but (a) most hardware keyboards don’t (including Apple’s own standalone Bluetooth Magic Keyboard); and (b) iPadOS 13.4 now lets you remap the Globe key to, for example, Escape.

So how do you type emoji? Easy: Control-Space opens the keyboard picker.

Bonus tip: This shortcut is similar to the Command-Control-Space shortcut on MacOS that opens the Emoji & Symbol picker.

Bonus complaint: One thing I love about the Mac emoji picker that is bafflingly still absent on iOS: search.

‘The Woman in Michigan’ 

James Fallows, writing for The Atlantic:

It’s nearly three-and-a-half years later. Everything we saw about Trump on the campaign trail we have seen from him in the White House, including the limitless fantasy-lying.

I submit that these three-and-a-half years later, much of the press has still not rebuilt itself, to cope with a time or a person like this. Or with a political party like the subservient Trump-era GOP.

To choose only a small subset of examples, from only the past three days’ worth of history, here are some illustrations. These are words and deeds that, each on its own, would likely have been major black-mark news events in other eras. Now they are just part of the daily onrush.

As Fallows repeatedly points out, the news media has normalized much of Trump’s aberrant behavior — not just including, but perhaps especially so, during this pandemic crisis — as “Trump being Trump”. It is in fact Trump being Trump, but Trump being Trump is anything but normal.

‘This’ 

Big announcement from my good friend Rene Ritchie — he’s leaving iMore and going solo, starting with a new YouTube channel. Finally.

He’s hopping on The Talk Show this afternoon for an episode that should come out tomorrow. We’ll talk MacBook Air and iPad Pro, but let’s also do a Q&A from readers and listeners. Send your questions — Apple stuff, indie media, working from home, handwashing tips, or otherwise —  to the @thetalkshow Twitter account. Public mentions preferred, but DMs are open too.

‘Lego Thunderball’ 

Jon Opstad:

Been isolating at home with my wife & kids for a week now. For my contribution to home schooling my kids (aged 6 & 4). I chose the most obvious thing — creating a shot-by-shot recreation of the jet pack sequence from “Thunderball” out of LEGO.

Astonishingly well-done. Pure joy.

Friday’s New York Times Front Page Visualization of U.S. Unemployment Claims (PDF) 

Brilliant data visualization of a sobering disaster. Like most of you, I’m sure, I seldom read a paper edition of a newspaper anymore. But this design is a good reminder of how expansive the space is on a broadsheet front page. This graphic both makes great use of that space and plays against the reader’s decades-old assumptions about how the front page of The Times is laid out. It’s an unprecedented, shocking design to present unprecedented, shocking data.

(I tweeted this yesterday and a few people asked how they could obtain hard copies — e.g. for teaching data visualization. The Times sells reprints of each day’s front page.)

Update: The Wall Street Journal had a similar front page design on March 27, too.

NextDraft 

My thanks to Dave Pell for sponsoring this week at DF to promote NextDraft, his “quick, entertaining look at the day’s biggest and best stories, from the top of the news to the very bottom”. Pell is a news junkie’s news junkie, and a kindred spirit of mine. NextDraft is his Daring Fireball.

In normal times, NextDraft is a once-per-weekday newsletter, delivered either by email or a very nice iOS app. These are not normal times, and as the coronavirus crisis continues, NextDraft has gone to a 7-days-a-week schedule.

The once-a-day pace keeps you up to date on the news, but keeps you from being pestered by frequent emails or notifications. NextDraft is not about breaking news — it’s just a carefully curated and cleverly written daily update. You like email? Sign up for the newsletter. Hate email? Get the app.

Here’s the kicker: NextDraft is free of charge. There is no catch. I read NextDraft every day; you should too.

Nikkei Asian Review: ‘Apple Weighs Delaying 5G iPhone Launch by Months, Sources Say’ 

Yifan Yu, Lauly Li, and Cheng Ting-Fang, reporting for Nikkei:

The Cupertino, California-based tech giant has held internal discussions on the possibility of delaying the launch by months, three people familiar with the matter said, while supply chain sources say practical hurdles could push back the release, originally scheduled for September.

“Supply chain constraint aside, Apple is concerned that the current situation would significantly lower consumer appetite to upgrade their phones, which could lead to a tame reception of the first 5G iPhone,” said a source with direct knowledge of the discussion. “They need the first 5G iPhone to be a hit.” […]

The engineering development of the 5G iPhone has also been affected by travel curbs introduced in the U.S., China and elsewhere to combat the coronavirus, two people with knowledge of Apple’s schedule said. The company was supposed to work with suppliers to develop a more concrete prototype for the new phones from early March, but it had to delay such close collaboration, which requires hands-on testing, until the end of the month, before postponing it again due to the worsening pandemic in the U.S., they said.

Of course Apple is discussing this. Nikkei’s report from Asian suppliers is, of course, focused on hardware, but on the software side keep in mind that iOS 14 might be delayed or severely scaled back as well. Apple might have to delay the launch of new iPhones this year, and they might want to delay them. “Always in motion is the future” a wise little fellow once said. Never truer than in the midst of this crisis.

Dumb and Dumber 

ABC 7 NYC reporter CeFaan Kim, on Twitter:

Multiple sources tell @ABC Pres. Trump turned to former Yankee Alex Rodriguez for advice this week. A source close to Rodriguez described the call as “pleasant” adding that Trump was seeking thoughts from A-Rod about the coronavirus response.

A-Rod: great player, fun announcer, but not exactly the sharpest knife in the box. So, yeah, he’s probably our next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

‘Slop Machines’ 

Fascinating profile by John Semley for Eater back in 2017:

Since it opened in April 1963, R.C. Farms has had a very particular relationship with the overflowing decadence of nearby Las Vegas. At the time, the Combs family operated a modest hog farm in Chula Vista, near San Diego. They established relationships with a local army base, collecting food scraps to be reused as pig feed. Every year the base would contract out the privilege of collecting their wasted food to the highest bidder, with a few local farmers vying for the deal. But in Vegas, tens of thousands of pounds of food were going to waste. “My dad came here to Vegas for his 70th birthday, to have little gambling vacation,” Combs said as we sat at the round kitchen table of his modest bungalow farmhouse. On that auspicious trip, Combs’s father wandered through a backdoor of the now-long-gone Navajo-themed Thunderbird Hotel, and he came upon a huge container full of food being thrown away — the same sort of stuff he was bidding on back in La Mesa.

Combs told me the story with a well-practiced, raconteur’s confidence. It’s a tale he’s likely told a hundred times before, slowly metastasizing with each telling into a bona fide legend: Imagine Jed Clampett happening across oil in his fetid swamp, except that the treasure is something that was being chucked away. Where the casinos saw only untouched shrimp cocktails and half-nibbled slabs of heat-lamp-warmed prime rib, the older Combs saw profit. He leased 150 acres north of the Strip, at the dead end of a dirt road, and installed his son to run the place. The young Bob (affectionately known as “Goof” to his family) arranged deals with several of the old-school casinos — the Desert Inn, the Stardust, the Sands, the Flamingo, the Sahara, the Tropicana, Caesars, the Riviera, and other locals-only joints. The business model was simple: collect buffet food scraps, reprocess them as feed, fatten hogs, send them off to slaughter.

From the Department of Unexpected COVID-19 Consequences 

Tiana Bohner, reporting for Fox 5 Las Vegas:

A Las Vegas farm relied on strip casinos as its main food source for 4,000 pigs. Now it’s getting creative to keep them full. “Pigs are a lot like us so they love sweets, candies, ice cream,” Las Vegas Livestock co-owner Hank Combs said. “They like meat and potatoes. They’re not a big fan of salads and produce, but they will eat it.

On a normal day, the farm would get 20 tons of food from casinos and restaurants across the valley. Once the strip shut down and casinos closed, their food source was cut off.

“You know we’re just one of the many stories out there in the world and I’m just trying to survive, keep the pigs fed, keep the employees employed,” Combs said.

It is fascinating the way this crisis is revealing how interconnected our world is. The repercussions are seemingly infinite. It makes sense, now that I read it, that Vegas area pig farms would purchase the surplus food from the casino buffets (20 tons a day!), but until this moment, it never occurred to me that pig farming could be massively disrupted by the closing of casinos.

Something to think about as I eat bacon for lunch.

How to Turn Trump’s Daily Virus Misinformation Show Into a Vector for the Truth 

Speaking of good journalism battling against misinformation, this is an important idea from Dan Froomkin at Press Watch:

These are not political rallies, or spin sessions, or even normal press briefings. These are urgent, emergency communications.

And if — rather than sharing credible updates, thoughtful guidance, expressions of empathy and reasoned optimism — Trump lies, spreads misinformation and toots his own horn during these emergency communications, that is the news. Each and every time he does it.

So rather than hide what’s happening, news organizations should respond by doing journalism – in this case, some journalistic jujitsu. When Trump spreads misinformation, the networks need to show viewers, in real time, the correct information. When he lies and contradicts himself, they need to provide the necessary context as he speaks. When he puffs himself up, they need to remind viewers of his massive failures.

Snopes Is Hiring 

Snopes:

Snopes.com is an independent publication owned and operated by Snopes Media Group. We are slightly more than a baker’s dozen of reporters, editors, developers, and professionals who are passionate about journalism, media literacy, and, of course, fighting misinformation. We work remotely — there is no official Snopes office — but we maintain a collaborative and supportive team dynamic.

Snopes managing editor Doreen Marchionni is a good friend and a great journalist. For the reporting jobs, they’re looking for folks with capital-J journalism experience. But they’re also hiring developers and communications specialists. I know there’s a lot of overlap with all of these jobs with DF readers, and good employers (with a fully remote work culture) who are hiring right now are few and far between.

It goes without saying that Snopes’s mission — countering misinformation with verifiable journalism — has never been more essential. Never. Even if you’re not looking for a job, you can support Snopes with a membership, and they’ll thank you for it.

Apple Releases New COVID-19 App and Website Based on CDC Guidance 

Apple Newsroom:

The COVID-19 app and website allow users to answer a series of questions around risk factors, recent exposure and symptoms for themselves or a loved one. In turn, they will receive CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to closely monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended at this time, and when to contact a medical provider. This new screening tool is designed to be a resource for individuals and does not replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities.

Nicely designed, too.

The Apple A12Z Bionic SoC Is Just a Renamed A12X With an Enabled GPU Core 

Vaidyanathan Subramaniam, writing for NotebookCheck:

Essentially what this means is that, the A12X and A12Z are the same physical chip (pending the results of the A12Z floorplan analysis) with the same physical number of CPU and GPU cores. Anandtech feels that the A12Z could, in fact, be a re-binned variant of the A12X. Recent comparative benchmarks have also shown that the A12Z offers minimal performance improvements compared to the A12X.

The A12X has 8 GPU cores, but only 7 are enabled. The A12Z uses all 8 — that pretty much explains the “CPU performance is the same but GPU is slightly better” benchmarking differences completely.

Update: To be clear, this ought not be controversial in the least. See this thread on Twitter from Quinn Nelson.

Every Default MacOS Wallpaper in 5K 

Stephen Hackett:

Every major version of Mac OS X macOS has come with a new default wallpaper. As you can see, I have collected them all here. While great in their day, the early wallpapers are now quite small in the world of 5K displays.

Major props to the world-class designer who does all the art of Relay FM, the mysterious @forgottentowel, for upscaling some of these for modern screens.

Fun trip down memory lane.

The Talk Show: ‘The Subtle Difference Between Hand Sanitizer and Vodka’ 

Matthew Panzarino returns to the show. Topics include the brand new MacBook Air and iPad Pros, and, you know, global pandemics in the internet age.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

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Google Podcasts Now on iOS 

Zack Reneau-Wedeen, product manager for Google Podcasts:

But you should be able to find new favorites in minutes, not years. We’ve redesigned the Google Podcasts app to make it easier to discover podcasts you’ll love, build your list of go-to podcasts, and customize your listening. To support listeners on more platforms, we’re also bringing Google Podcasts to iOS for the first time and adding support for subscriptions on Google Podcasts for Web. Regardless of the platform you’re using, your listening progress will sync across devices, and you’ll be able to pick up right where you left off.

The new app is organized around three tabs: Home, Explore and Activity. The Home tab features a feed of new episodes and gives you quick access to your subscribed shows. When you select an episode you want to listen to, you’ll now see topics or people covered in that podcast, and you can easily jump to Google Search to learn more.

Seems to me that Google has never really made an effort to get serious about podcasts. Maybe this is it. I kicked the tires on the iOS client for a few shows today, and it’s pretty decent, and surprisingly iOS-like for a Google app. (Some strange decisions on line breaks with even slightly long words like “Coronavirus” though.) The integration with Google search for related topics is clever and unobtrusive — there if you want it, easily ignored if you don’t.

Two more things: (1) No iPad support — it just runs as an iPhone app on iPads; (2) I don’t get the icon at all. What is that supposed to be?

Update: A few readers have pointed out the oddness of shipping on iOS first. I’m not sure what the explanation is there, but on iOS, Google Podcasts is a brand-new app. It didn’t exist until now. On Android, Google Podcasts has been out for a while, and it looks mostly the same. When I was testing it today, I was playing with it on both iPhone and Pixel 4. The currently-shipping version on Android looks mostly the same, but lacks the main three-tab interface at the bottom.

As for the icon, folks say it represents a waveform. If you say so. To me it looks like a knock-off of the new Slack icon.

2018 Retina MacBook Airs May be Susceptible to Anti-Reflective Coating Issues 

Joe Rossignol, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple this week acknowledged that MacBook Air models with Retina displays can exhibit anti-reflective coating issues, as indicated in a memo shared with Apple Authorized Service Providers and obtained by MacRumors. “Retina displays on some MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro computers can exhibit anti-reflective (AR) coating issues,” the memo states.

Apple’s internal service documentation for this issue previously only mentioned MacBook Pro and discontinued 12-inch MacBook models with Retina displays, but the MacBook Air is now mentioned in at least two places. Apple added a Retina display to the MacBook Air in October 2018 and all models of the notebook have featured once since.

I don’t understand how this is still an issue. My beloved 2014 13-inch MacBook Pro is afflicted with this, and I never bothered getting it repaired. Whatever causes this, you’d think Apple would’ve identified the problem after a few years.

Update: I have it on good authority that the MacBook Air, retina display or otherwise, is not covered by the repair program. Unclear to me is how widespread the problem is with Airs.

Safari Now Has Full Third-Party Cookie Blocking 

John Wilander, writing at the WebKit blog:

Safari continues to pave the way for privacy on the web, this time as the first mainstream browser to fully block third-party cookies by default. As far as we know, only the Tor Browser has featured full third-party cookie blocking by default before Safari, but Brave just has a few exceptions left in its blocking so in practice they are in the same good place. We know Chrome wants this behavior too and they announced that they’ll be shipping it by 2022.

We will report on our experiences of full third-party cookie blocking to the privacy groups in W3C to help other browsers take the leap.

Somehow I feel like Google could ship this in Chrome long before 2022 if they really wanted to.

‘What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus’ 

Jessica Lustig, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

CK and I had settled in to watch “Chernobyl,” the HBO series about the 1986 nuclear accident and its aftermath, when T first felt sick and went to lie down in the bedroom. We stopped after three episodes. That time, when we would sit on the couch watching something together, is behind us. Now there is too much rushing back and forth, making sure T has a little dinner — just a tiny bowl of soup, just an appetizer, really, that he is unable to smell, that he fights nausea to choke down — taking his temperature, monitoring his oxygen-saturation levels with the fingertip pulse oximeter brought by a friend from the drugstore on the doctor’s advice, taking him tea, dispensing his meds, washing my hands over and over, texting the doctor to say T is worse again, standing next to him while he coughs into the covers, rubbing his knees through the blankets.

“You shouldn’t stay here,” he says, but he gets more frightened as night comes, dreading the long hours of fever and soaking sweats and shivering and terrible aches. “This thing grinds you like a mortar,” he says.

Brutal, heart-wrenching story, beautifully written.

Stay safe.

Tokyo Olympics Officially Postponed to Next Year 

Michelle R. Martinelli, reporting for USA Today:

A day after USA Today Sports broke the news that the 2020 Summer Olympics would be postponed because of the global coronavirus pandemic, it became official. The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, and Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced Tuesday in a joint statement that the 2020 Tokyo Games — which were originally scheduled to begin July 24 — will be postponed. They said the Olympics “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021,” but they’ll still be referred to as the 2020 Olympics.

A surprise to no one at this point, but still a hell of a thing to see. This is the first time the Olympics have ever been postponed, and they’ve only ever been canceled during World Wars I and II.

Facebook, Google Could Lose Over $44 Billion in Ad Revenue in 2020 Because of Coronavirus 

Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:

Ad spending is falling off a cliff amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and Facebook and Google, the two heavyweights in digital advertising, are expected to bear the brunt of the downturn in terms of sheer dollars lost.

The two internet giants together could see more than $44 billion in worldwide ad revenue evaporate in 2020, Cowen & Co. analysts estimate. That said, both Google and Facebook will continue to be massively profitable even with double-digit revenue drops.

Usage of both Facebook and Google is spiking, because everyone’s at home all day. But the general rule of thumb since the dawn of time is that the first thing to get cut in a recession is the ad budget.

‘Who Would Have Thought an iPad Cursor Could Be So Much Fun?’ 

Craig Mod, writing for Wired:

Move the pointer above a button and the circle morphs into the button itself, “snapping” into it, enveloping it like an amoeba, causing it to glow in a pleasing way. What this means is that the usual precision of a trackpad isn’t required to get exact hits on navigational elements. If you own an Apple TV, you’re already familiar with this vibe — it’s how the cursor on the TV “jumps” from icon to icon with a kind of sticky momentum. Similarly, on the iPad home screen, you can “lazily” slam the cursor around and have it lock onto applications with an eerie telepathy not experienced on a desktop OS.

The cursor itself, too, has momentum. It continues to glide on the screen for just a short millisecond after you stop moving your finger on the trackpad. This sounds more annoying than it is in practice. (And you can modify almost all these behaviors to your liking in Settings → General → Trackpad, and Settings → Accessibility → Pointer.) What I’ve found is that this momentum creates a subtle design cohesion between scrolling and scroll bounce, selecting applications, locking onto buttons, and just generally moving things around the screen.

Best piece I’ve seen on the joy and utility of iPadOS’s new pointer support. Five days in and I can’t imagine doing without it.

‘Something, Something, Something Murder’ 

Dave Pell:

The excellent Damon Lindelof is writing this exclusive, serialized story for NextDraft to help us, and him, through the quarantine. Chapters will update here periodically, but for the epic experience and all the day’s real news, get the free newsletter or app by touching the head below (please use a rubber glove).

Yes, NextDraft is this week’s sponsor at DF. No, this is not my official thank-you post. I just wanted to throw in an early-in-the-week link to Lindelof’s story, which I’m enjoying very much. Catch up now, but I think it’s best enjoyed in the daily serial format, which is why I’m jumping the gun with this link.

This week more than ever, we need some fun diversions.

‘100,000 Miles and One Week With an iPad Pro’ 

Matthew Panzarino, who went full-time on iPad Pro while traveling 18 months ago, reviewing the new iPad Pros for TechCrunch:

Lidar is a technology with a ton of promise and a slew of potential applications. Having this much more accurate way to bring the outside world into your device is going to open a lot of doors for Apple and developers over time, but my guess is that we’ll see those doors open over the next couple of years rather than all at once.

I think the lidar sensor in the new iPad Pro is sort of like the U1 ultra-wideband chip in the iPhones 11. It’s there for the future more than the present.

The whole review is excellent, with a slew of insightful observations, but I particularly like this bit regarding multitasking:

With iPad Pro, no matter where I have been or what I have been doing, I was able to flip it open, swipe up and be issuing my first directive within seconds. As fast as my industry moves and as wild as our business gets, that kind of surety is literally priceless.

Never once, however, did I wish that it was easier to use.

Do you wish that a hammer is easier? No, you learn to hold it correctly and swing it accurately. The iPad could use a bit more of that.

Currently, iPadOS is still too closely tethered to the sacred cow of simplicity. In a strange bout of irony, the efforts on behalf of the iPad software team to keep things simple (same icons, same grid, same app switching paradigms) and true to their original intent have instead caused a sort of complexity to creep into the arrangement.

Convergence on the Laptop Form Factor 

Nick Heer, responding to arguments that, with the upcoming Magic Keyboard, Apple is moving the iPad in the direction of Microsoft’s Surface lineup:

I’m going to irritatingly self-quote here from a piece I wrote a couple of years ago:

If there is a smartphone-to-desktop continuum, with the tablet somewhere in the middle, Microsoft has long approached it as skinning Windows with touch drivers and bigger buttons, while Apple chose to start by making a touchscreen phone and build up from there.

The addition of real mouse and trackpad support to the iPad is not just a slapped-on version of the MacOS cursor, but a clearly considered rethinking of what that should be on a system that is still primarily used by touch. I expect to see plenty more changes like this as Apple continues to add more advanced features to iPadOS — features that will probably be similar to aspects of MacOS, but reconsidered for a touch-based operating system.

See also: Tom Warren’s take for The Verge: “Apple Finally Admits Microsoft Was Right About Tablets”, which is a borderline jacktastic headline.

I think Heer gets this right. It’s not about iPad moving closer to Surface conceptually; it’s about moving closer to the laptop ideal. For certain tasks nothing beats the laptop form factor, and quite possibly never will. All computing platforms that are used for such tasks inevitably take on that form. What’s new this decade is the detachable 2-in-1 form — one device that serves as both a laptop with keyboard and trackpad and as a handheld tablet. Microsoft got there from one direction, Apple from another.

Facebook Donates Emergency Reserve of 720,000 Masks to Health Workers 

Reuters:

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Sunday that the social media company has donated its emergency reserve of 720,000 masks to provide health workers with more protective gear. “To help, Facebook donated our emergency reserve of 720,000 masks that we had bought in case the wildfires continued,” Zuckerberg said in a post, adding that the company is also working on “sourcing a lot more to donate.”

Next up: Zuckerberg donates his emergency stash of do-it-yourself haircut kits.

Inside the Xbox Series X 

I’m not into the whole Xbox-PlayStation console scene, but I found this detailed look at the internals of the upcoming Xbox Series X from Austin Evans to be fascinating. The only thing I found surprising is that it’s still going to contain an optical drive. It takes up so much space.

Update: I totally get the practical reasons for including the optical drive — compatibility with older Xbox games (going back several generations — very Microsoftian), helpful for people without fast broadband connections (modern games are huge), reselling games and buying used ones. I get it. Just saying that as an outsider, it looks archaic, especially amidst how cutting-edge the rest of the hardware is architecturally.

Foxconn Gives a Thumbs-Up 

Nikkei Asian Review:

Taiwan’s Foxconn, the top assembler of Apple’s iPhones, said it has secured enough workers to meet “seasonal demand” at all major Chinese plants, stressing a steady recovery from the labor shortage caused by the novel coronavirus epidemic on the mainland. The company issued a statement Sunday night saying recruitment goals have been reached “ahead of schedule at the plants.” This signals progress from early March when Chairman Young Liu told investors that Chinese plants were operating at roughly 50% capacity of normal.

The company also stressed that it has instituted rigorous measures to prevent infection. A total of 55,000 workers received PCR coronavirus tests, and over 40,000 people underwent chest X-rays, according to Foxconn.

I don’t know whether this is good news or terrifying.

Yes Plz Coffee 

My thanks to Yes Plz for sponsoring this past week at DF. Yes Plz sends outstanding coffee beans right to your door, along with a delightfully eclectic print zine — that’s right, a printed zine — covering topics like food, culture, and music.

As I wrote in my thank-you post last week, I love Yes Plz coffee. I’d recommend it wholeheartedly even if they weren’t sponsoring the site. It’s delicious. Last week, I wrote that I was drinking Yes Plz coffee while I posted. I can’t say that this week, because I drank it all. I’m out — waiting for a delivery of new beans that was sent yesterday. (You get a notice when a new batch is on its way.) Luckily, Yes Plz just added a new option for a larger bag of beans — I upgraded immediately. I make a lot of coffee at home in normal times; for the foreseeable future, I’ll be making all my coffee at home.

To that point — I checked with my old pal and Yes Plz honcho Tonx Konecny regarding how they’re holding up right now, and if it was OK to keep sending them new subscribers. Tonx’s reply:

Yes! We’re well stocked on raw materials, our small team and all of our production is isolated, and USPS is still going strong so we’re confident we’ll be able to stay fully operational.

World-class coffee delivered right to your door, on a schedule you control. That’s Yes Plz. Just what the doctor ordered in these stay-at-home times. Try it now — no hassle, no commitment, and you can pause or cancel anytime. They even have a special deal for DF readers: $5 off your first bag using promo code FIREBALL5 at checkout.

Anker’s $10 USB‑C to USB‑A Adapter 

If you do need a USB‑C to USB‑A adapter, my favorite is this one from Anker. It’s small and comes pretty close to color-matching Apple’s space gray aluminum. When you plug it in it has a nice snap. I bought a few a while back — I keep two at my desk and two in my travel bag. The only thing I don’t like about it is the prominent Anker logo, but because it’s USB‑C, I just plug it in logo side down to hide it. (Disclosure: I’m back on the Amazon affiliate gravy train; buying through this link will send a small percentage my way.)

USB‑A on the MacBook Air Wishlist? 

Jason Cross, in his MacBook Air review for Macworld:

Apple is still determined to make every USB port feature a USB‑C connector. We’ve been told that the ubiquity of USB‑C devices is just around the corner for years now, and it’s still not happening. Accessory makers keep cranking out mice, keyboards, storage devices, microphones, audio interfaces, and loads of other things with USB‑A connectors on them. Putting a single USB‑A port on MacBooks would not be a step backwards, it would be recognition that in the wide world of USB devices, that interface is still widespread, and we shouldn’t need a dongle or dock to use them.

It’s undeniable that the USB‑C revolution has been very slow in coming, but slowly but surely, it is coming along. I wrote in my first-look review of the new Air that I wish the MacBook Air had at least one more USB‑C port, on the right side of the machine, but I don’t think a built-in USB‑A port would be appropriate. Is USB‑A still in widespread use? Sure, but at this point USB‑A ports are backward-looking. SD cards remain in widespread use too, and they don’t belong built into the Air either. (MacBook Pros — there I can see the argument for built-in SD slots.)

Just like with the 1998 iMac going all-in on USB‑A, and the iPhone 7 dropping the headphone jack, Apple is helping drive the adoption of USB‑C by dropping USB‑A ports. Adding them back now would set back the whole industry.

Watch Gary Hustwit’s Design Documentaries for Free 

Oh You Pretty Things:

Filmmaker Gary Hustwit is streaming his documentaries free worldwide during the global COVID crisis. Each week we’ll be posting another film here. We hope you enjoy them, and please stay strong.

March 17 to 24: Helvetica — a feature-length documentary about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.

If you haven’t seen Helvetica, or haven’t seen it in a while, it’s just so good.

Google Cancels I/O Entirely 

The Google Developers Twitter account:

A #GoogleIO update: Out of concern for the health and safety of our developers, employees, and local communities — and in line with “shelter in place” requirements by the local Bay Area government — we sadly will not be holding an I/O event in any capacity this year.

Makes you wonder about WWDC. I think WWDC will happen online, even if the current “shelter in place” regulations remain in place through June. Will recorded WWDC sessions be harder to produce remotely than they would with Apple employees on site, collaborating together? Of course. But a lot of WWDC sessions have been slides-only with recorded audio — meaning no video of the presenters — for years. Professional quality video is way harder to produce than professional quality audio and slides.

Also, WWDC is far more important to Apple strategically than I/O is for Google. I don’t think Google, as a whole, really gives much of a shit whether Android developers are taking advantage of the latest and greatest APIs. I’m sure the Android team does, but not Google as a whole. The other annual announcements at I/O are all a bit scattershot. Apple, on the other hand, really does want developers to take advantage of each year’s latest iOS — and to a lesser extent, MacOS, tvOS, and WatchOS — APIs. WWDC is so important to Apple strategically that I think they would go to more effort to pull off an online-only version this year than they do to put together a normal in-person WWDC — and Apple expends a tremendous amount of engineering and design staff time and effort on WWDC in normal years.

But it’d be foolish, given how much the ground has changed in just the last week, to say today that a complete cancellation of WWDC 2020 is off the table. Nothing is off the table at this point.

Three Weeks 

Josh Marshall:

February 26th, 2020. President Trump: “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

March 20th, 2020. Confirmed cases in the United States rise to 16,064.

It’s not “playing politics” to point this stuff out regarding the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19. It is essential that we, collectively, see that Trump is temperamentally unfit for the office. This was plainly obvious to those of us opposed to him all along. It should now be plainly obvious to anyone whose eyes are open. Three weeks ago he was confidently telling the world the U.S. would soon be “down to close to zero” cases. Instead, here we are with close to zero aspects of daily life that are normal.

U.S. Intelligence Reports From January and February Warned About a Likely Pandemic 

The Washington Post:

U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting. […]

Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response — who was joined by intelligence officials, including from the CIA — told committee members that the virus posed a “serious” threat, one of those officials said. Kadlec didn’t provide specific recommendations, but he said that to get ahead of the virus and blunt its effects, Americans would need to take actions that could disrupt their daily lives, the official said. “It was very alarming.”

Trump’s insistence on the contrary seemed to rest in his relationship with China’s President Xi Jingping, whom Trump believed was providing him with reliable information about how the virus was spreading in China, despite reports from intelligence agencies that Chinese officials were not being candid about the true scale of the crisis.

We didn’t have to be here. The story is not complicated — Trump ignored the danger until it was far too late. Why did he take China’s word over that of our own intelligence agencies and experts? Because what China was claiming was what he wanted to hear.

‘Some People’ 

Some people would like to thank Jason Kottke for writing this.

The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What’s Coming 

Absolutely full-stop must-read interview by Steven Levy with Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox:

Now the unthinkable is here, and Brilliant, the Chairman of the board of Ending Pandemics, is sharing expertise with those on the front lines. We are a long way from 100 million deaths due to the novel coronavirus, but it has turned our world upside down. Brilliant is trying not to say “I told you so” too often. But he did tell us so, not only in talks and writings, but as the senior technical advisor for the pandemic horror film Contagion, now a top streaming selection for the homebound. Besides working with the World Health Organization in the effort to end smallpox, Brilliant, who is now 75, has fought flu, polio, and blindness; once led Google’s nonprofit wing, Google.org; co-founded the conferencing system the Well; and has traveled with the Grateful Dead.

We talked by phone on Tuesday. At the time, President Donald Trump’s response to the crisis had started to change from “no worries at all” to finally taking more significant steps to stem the pandemic. Brilliant lives in one of the six Bay Area counties where residents were ordered to shelter in place. When we began the conversation, he’d just gotten off the phone with someone he described as high government official, who asked Brilliant “How the fuck did we get here?” I wanted to hear how we’ll get out of here. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Read this and you’ll come out the end more informed than if you read 20 other articles on this pandemic. I found this exchange particularly salient, for perspective:

Are you scared?

I’m in the age group that has a one in seven mortality rate if I get it. If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention. But I’m not scared. I firmly believe that the steps that we’re taking will extend the time that it takes for the virus to make the rounds. I think that, in turn, will increase the likelihood that we will have a vaccine or we will have a prophylactic antiviral in time to cut off, reduce, or truncate the spread. Everybody needs to remember: This is not a zombie apocalypse. It’s not a mass extinction event.

This is not just idle talk; Brilliant has spent his career truly contemplating extinction-event pandemics.

Jason Snell’s 2020 MacBook Air Review: ‘No News Is Good News’ 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

If you don’t really need a new Mac laptop, maybe you should wait to see what happens with ARM. But if you’re someone who has been holding out for a new MacBook Air — and ideally one without that infamous keyboard — I wouldn’t recommend that you wait. This is the MacBook Air that you’ve been waiting for.

Netflix Creates $100 Million Coronavirus Relief Fund 

Brent Lang, reporting for Variety:

Netflix has created a $100 million relief fund to help members of the creative community who have been left unemployed and without a way to earn an income during the coronavirus crisis. The streaming giant said the bulk of the funds will go toward supporting laid-off crew members.

“The COVID-19 crisis is devastating for many industries, including the creative community. Almost all television and film production has now ceased globally — leaving hundreds of thousands of crew and cast without jobs,” Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in a statement. “These include electricians, carpenters and drivers, many of whom are paid hourly wages and work on a project-to-project basis. This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times, especially while governments are still figuring out what economic support they will provide.”

Great move from Netflix. We need more like this from big companies that are well-positioned to financially weather this extended storm.

Unread 2 

Speaking of iOS feed reader apps, John Brayton’s Unread 2 recently shipped too:

If you are frustrated by feeds that include only article summaries, you will love Unread 2. Unread 2 takes Unread’s Readability view to the next level.

Unread 2 automatically determines which feeds contain only article summaries. When displaying articles from such feeds, Unread displays the full article text from the webpage. For any given feed, you can override Unread’s determination of whether to show feed text or webpage text.

In addition, Unread 2 can cache webpage text ahead of time. This gives you fast offline access to the webpage text and embedded images of such articles.

Unread is gorgeous, and takes an entirely different course than NetNewsWire on how to design a great iOS feed reading app. Unread is focused on eliminating chrome — it is a pure reading app. It’s like reader mode all the time, and the assortment of color themes is nicely curated.

There’s never been a better time to get back into RSS. My RSS subscriptions are largely about tech and design, and I keep political feeds in their own folder. It’s an oasis apart from general world news.

NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS 

Speaking of Brent Simmons, the reborn NetNewsWire is now out for iOS (both iPhone and iPad):

It’s free and open source, and it includes support for Feedbin and Feedly syncing.

Just as the Mac version looks like a Mac app, this is very much an iOS app. It supports Dark Mode, context menus, multiple windows, Siri Shortcuts, and other iOS features.

iOS-assed iOS app doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Mac-assed Mac app, but that’s what NetNewsWire is. I raved about NetNewsWire 5 for Mac when it shipped back in August, and I’ll rave equally about NetNewsWire 5 for iOS now. It’s exactly what I want in an RSS reader, and it has changed my daily reading habits significantly.

Mac-Assed Mac Apps 

Brent Simmons:

A few people have asked me, “What’s a Mac-assed Mac app?”

Answer: it’s a phrase I stole from my friend Collin Donnell to describe Mac apps that are unapologetically Mac apps. They’re platform-specific and they’re not trying to wow us with all their custom not-Mac-like UI (which often isn’t very accessible).

I consider NetNewsWire to be a Mac-assed Mac app, and it’s a point of pride.

Slack, on the other hand, is most definitely not — though it’s not only Electron apps that miss the mark of Mac-assed-Mac-app-ness.

I love this term. It’s better and more clear than just saying “native”. Native is ambiguous. Not to pick on Slack, but you can definitely argue that however odd Slack for Mac is UI-wise, it is a “native” app. But it sure as shit is not a Mac-assed Mac app.

Brent’s post is in the context of Proxyman, which I hadn’t heard of. It looks very cool — it’s a Mac-assed Mac alternative to tools like Wireshark or Charles for observing and debugging HTTP/HTTPS requests.

‘How to Correctly Use a Computer’ 

I love this new ad from Apple for the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard. What’s not to love? Pitch-perfect use of Futura Bold on the title screen, a vaguely Brazil-like dystopian atmosphere to open, and, once the iPad part kicks in, some fun shots of the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard in action out in the world. (Remember going out in the world?) One thing I noticed: not one appearance of the available-to-order-right-now Smart Keyboard cover — only the coming-in-May Magic Keyboard. The Magic Keyboard is hot; the Smart Keyboard is not.

But speaking of not hot: It’s impossible to miss that MacBooks are just as much the butt of the jokes as any PC. “Do not touch the screen.” “Your computer comes with a standard arrow cursor.” “You must stay within reach of a Wi-Fi signal.” “It does not have a camera; to connect one, refer to your instruction manual.”

I get it, all of these are things that make iPads fun and useful. The Mac can take it — it’s the mature workhorse platform. But it’s a little incongruous coming on the same day Apple launched its best-ever MacBook Air — featuring no touchscreen, no option for cellular networking, and the worst built-in camera in Apple’s product line. And, yes, a standard arrow cursor.

Apple Updates Mac Mini With Double the Storage Capacity in Standard Configurations 

One more update to the hardware lineup yesterday. No changes to the internals other than storage, though, which is probably why it wasn’t a talking point for Apple. Still though, it’s great to see Mac hardware getting updates like this mid-cycle.

‘I Always Knew That When the End Came, New Yorkers Would Watch It From a Bar’ 

Pete Wells, writing for The New York Times:

I see two possible futures for restaurants. In one, state and local governments across the country move rapidly to help them survive the closings and get going again when that’s safe. In the other, bankruptcies cascade across the economy, and people are out of work in numbers this country has not seen since the 1930s.

Will a country that is still bitter about bailing out banks and airlines in the last financial crisis be ready to bail out ramen-yas, pupuserias, vegan sandwich counters, dosa vendors and natural wine bars? It depends on whether politicians and the public see the money as handouts to people who made bad business decisions (beginning, I suppose, with the decision to get into the restaurant business) or as a triage measure that will save the life of a national industry with sales of more than $800 billion last year.

Bailouts should go bottom-up this time around, not top-down.

‘The Secret Call to Andy Grove That May Have Helped Apple Buy NeXT’ 

Fascinating story (written in 2018 — I hadn’t seen it until recently, though) from Chris MacAskill, who was the head of developer relations at NeXT in the 90s:

Sometime later Steve wandered in my office and asked if I thought porting NeXTstep to Intel was a good idea. Awkward. Did he know? I asked if Intel was going to help. Steve said they offered two great engineers to work alongside ours. They thought it could be done in 6 months. We’d have to keep it super secret from the outside world. Could I act as relationship manager?

This wasn’t as strange as it sounded because I was managing the IBM relationship. Steve had licensed NeXTstep for them to use on their workstations years ago and they had a team living at NeXT working on it. We didn’t have much faith in that relationship.

“Hmmm, that sounds like a good idea, Steve. The 66 megahertz 80486 chip?”

“Yeah. Intel’s graphics primitives are shit so it probably won’t be any faster than the 33 megahertz 68040 we’re using now.”

Six months later I carried a beige Intel-based computer from a windowless room to my office, wrapped in a black cover. It was exactly twice the speed of our sexy black machines.

The State of the Restaurant Industry 

We see it all around us, but here’s the global day-by-day data from OpenTable. It’s a 100 percent shutdown for many cities now. In some sense this is good — this is what we’re supposed to be doing. But it’s still shocking to see. I don’t think anyone has any sense of what the restaurant industry is going to look like when we get out of this. In the meantime, support your favorite places with takeout and delivery orders — which are safe! — and gift card purchases, if you can.

(The OpenTable app has adapted brilliantly — when I open it here in Philly, it’s chock full of delivery and takeout options, and gift cards are prominent too.)

The Joy of Tech: ‘Pandemic Priorities’ 

My feelings exactly.

Apple Retail Stores Now Closed ‘Until Further Notice’ 

This should come as no surprise to anyone paying even slight attention to the world, but it goes to show just how fast the situation is changing for the worse. It was just four days ago when Apple closed its stores outside China, optimistically “until March 27”.

iPad Pro in AR 

View the new iPad Pro page on an iPad or iPhone, and scroll down a tad to “See iPad Pro in AR”. Very cool. The upcoming Magic Keyboard case looks to be a very cool near-black color. Makes me wish they’d switch the dark option for MacBooks from “space gray” to this near-black color.

The Talk Show: ‘Chain of Precision’ 

Jason Snell returns to the show. Life during the COVID-19 pandemic, WWDC going online-only, Apple’s in-person on-campus workplace culture, speculation on upcoming Apple product releases, and more.

Sponsored by:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
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Free Rental This Week: ‘App: The Human Story’ 

Jake Schumacher:

Let’s do free rentals of App this week. Use code “inittogether”.

App: The Human Story is Schumacher’s 2017 documentary on the human side of app development in the era of the iPhone. I was interviewed — twice! — for it, and am delighted to have played a small role. It’s a really good film.

Bill Gates Leaves Microsoft’s Board 

I try not to overuse “quietly” when talking about company announcements, but this one was pretty much as quiet as could be. A Friday afternoon press release — amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and though I’m guessing that’s purely coincidental, it surely helped bury the news — under the anodyne headline “Microsoft Announces Change to Its Board of Directors”.

I can’t imagine there’s anything they’re hiding here. It seems clear Gates just wanted his final exit to be … quiet. But, man, in terms of history, Bill Gates leaving Microsoft is a moment. To call Gates a titan of industry is an understatement.

Tom Brady Leaves Patriots to Finish His Career With the Washington Wizards 

Good for him — Tom Brady, of all players, deserves a chance like this.

Follow-Up on Soap and Hand Sanitizer 

Don Schaffner, a Rutgers professor who specializes in, well, exactly this sort of thing, refutes the notion that soap is more effective than hand sanitizer when it comes to combating the spread of coronavirus. It’s a good short Twitter thread, with several sources. Worth reading.

But the bottom line is this: we have two good tools for cleaning our hands, and we should all use both frequently. Wash your hands with soap and make frequent use of hand sanitizer.

Speaking of handwashing, after my post linking to the CDC saying it’s just as effective to use cold/cool water (and arguably better, because it causes less skin irritation when washing frequently), I’ve also started following their recommendation to turn off the water after initially wetting my hands. It’s very clear to me after just two days that doing so makes it far more natural to spend more time actually sudsing your hands up. When you leave the water running, it subconsciously puts you in a bit of a rush, because you know you’re wasting water.

‘Take Control of Working From Home Temporarily’ 

Glenn Fleishman:

We’re in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. In the middle of a global viral outbreak, you were told or asked to work from home — and you’ve never or rarely had to be productive where you live before. What to do? We’re here to take at some stress out of your life with a new, free book that details how to set up a home office and balance work and home life for those not accustomed to it.

Free 55-page e-book from Fleishman and assorted contributors. Some of this stuff sounds basic, but if you’ve never worked from home — particularly for an extended stretch — everything about working from home is new territory.

I’ve spent most of my life working from home. Much of what I can suggest are the basics:

  • Make work time work time. I suspect this is one of the hardest things for folks who, until now, consider “home” and “work” to be places not modes.
  • Spend the time and if necessary, money, to create a comfortable productive workspace. You’ll get uncomfortable quickly spending long hours at the keyboard if your desk (or worse, “desk”) is not an appropriate height and if you don’t have a good chair.
  • For collaboration with a team, however big or small, make the official modes of collaboration crystal clear. If work communication is spread across an ad hoc collection of mediums — just randomly spewed across, say, Slack, iMessage, and email — that way madness lies.
  • It’s good to have a virtual water cooler. For me, that’s a Slack group with a bunch of friends, most of whom have long worked from home. It absolutely combats loneliness, but it’s essential to treat it like a break room. Hang out in bursts, not all day long.
Apple Fined Record $1.23 Billion in France for Price-Fixing Scheme 

Chris O’Brien, reporting for VentureBeat:

The case has its roots in a dispute between Apple and one of its leading French resellers, eBizcuss. The latter accused Apple of abusing its position, and in 2012 the reseller shut down in France as a result of what it claimed was unfair competition. The company was part of the Apple Premium Reseller program, whose participants sell only Apple products.

The French competition agency said that under the APR program, partners were told in advance how many of each product would be allocated to their stores. Apple published “recommended” prices and then tightly restricted promotional materials a distributor could use. One distributor said if it ran a promotion Apple didn’t like, the company would retaliate by limiting product supply.

The result limited pricing competition for about half of the retail market for Apple products in France. In addition, the agency found that Apple limited supplies to APR partners during moments of heavy demand around the launch of new products to steer customers to its own stores. Because Apple knew that its APR partners operated on very thin margins, any shortfall in supply could be fatal, the French agency said in its announcement.

I’m no expert on this, but it sounds like Apple’s way of dealing with resellers has always been illegal in France.

Yes Plz 

My thanks to Yes Plz for sponsoring last week at DF. Yes Plz sends outstanding coffee beans right to your door, along with a delightfully eclectic print zine — that’s right, a printed zine — covering topics like food, culture, and music. Yes Plz is from the same crazy coffee geniuses who brought you Tonx Coffee back in the day — Tonx was a long-time DF sponsor, so I’m sure many of you recall them.

Sponsorship aside: I love Yes Plz coffee. I am literally drinking a cup right now. I made a second pot of coffee on this lazy stay-at-home Sunday simply because it tastes so good.

One thing I believe — and that the Yes Plz folks preach — is that it’s easy to make genuinely great coffee at home. Simple methods work best (I’m a pour-over man myself), and the only ingredients you need are clean water and great beans.

Try it now — no hassle, no commitment, and you can pause or cancel anytime. They even have a special deal for DF readers: $5 off your first bag using promo code FIREBALL5 at checkout.

Major Vegas Resorts Are Closing 

Bailey Schulz, reporting for The Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Wynn Resorts Ltd. is set to close its two Las Vegas properties beginning 6 p.m. Tuesday to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. The closure is expected to last two weeks, after which Wynn “will evaluate the situation,” according to a Sunday statement from the company.

Lucas Wright, reporting for KLAS Las Vegas:

MGM Resorts has announced it will shut down all Las Vegas properties until further notice, starting on Tuesday, March 17. Casino operations will close on Monday, followed by hotel operations. […]

MGM Resorts will not be taking reservations for arrivals prior to May 1.

MGM’s properties dominate The Strip: Aria, Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, New York New York, Park MGM, Vdara.

If you didn’t think shit was getting serious when major theme parks shut down, you know it’s getting real when Vegas shuts down.

Vidit Bhargava’s iPad Multitasking Concept 

Vidit Bhargava:

  1. Provides a clear path to launch any app in split screen.

  2. Clearly shows which app is in focus.

  3. Simplifies the multi-tasking screen (spaces to the left of the app appear to left and not the bottom in a grid).

It’s a short video demo that packs a bunch of good ideas. I’d go further on point 3 — it’s more than just simplified, it’s more coherent. iPadOS 13 multitasking lacks any spatial coherence whatsoever right now. When you swipe on the multitasking indicator at the bottom of the screen, spaces are arranged left-to-right. (Same goes for using a 4-finger swipe anywhere on the screen, including on home-button iPads.) But when you go into the full multitasking switcher mode (with a swipe up on Face ID iPads or a double-tap of the old-school home button), apps are arranged in a grid. That is madness. It breaks spatiality.

Also, although Bhargava’s concept doesn’t mention it, ⌘-Tab switching on iPadOS should show spaces, not apps. It’s bananas that it doesn’t.

Anyway, nice work here from Bhargava, whose English dictionary app LookUp (iOS and Mac) is well worth a look. LookUp for Mac is a great example of a well-done Catalyst app. And he documents the design thinking behind LookUp delightfully on his blog.

Apple Developer News:

The App Store should always be a safe and trusted place for users to download apps. Now more than ever that commitment takes on special significance as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities around the world are depending on apps to be credible news sources — helping users understand the latest health innovations, find out where they can get help if needed or provide assistance to their neighbors.

To help fulfill these expectations, we’re evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions. Only developers from one of these recognized entities should submit an app related to COVID-19. Entertainment or game apps with COVID-19 as their theme will not be allowed.

Misinformation (well-intentioned or not), scams, just plain noise — we don’t need any of that in this crisis. The only downside to this policy I can think of is that potentially useful apps from non-credentialed developers aren’t going to get through. Good on Apple for making this policy explicit, so that such developers can focus their efforts on building web apps, or collaborating with an organization that has the necessary credentials.

CDC: Water Temperature Doesn’t Matter When Washing Your Hands 

From the Center for Disease Control’s “Show Me the Science — How to Wash Your Hands”:

Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

Why? Because hands could become recontaminated if placed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use, clean running water should be used. However, washing with non-potable water when necessary may still improve health. The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.

Turning off the faucet after wetting hands saves water, and there are few data to prove whether significant numbers of germs are transferred between hands and the faucet.

I’ve always washed my hands with water as hot as I can take it. (Well, that’s not quite true — but when I’ve used cold or cool water because the hot water was taking too long, I’ve felt guilty about it.) It’s just mind-blowing to me that the recipe is just soap and clean water of any temperature.

The CDC’s cited references:

Social Distancing: The Key Thing We Can Do to ‘Flatten the Curve’ of COVID-19 

Paul Kafasis, writing at the Rogue Amoeba blog:

At its most basic, social distancing is a deliberate effort to reduce your contact with others. Doing so will slow or prevent community transmission of COVID-19, by decreasing the number of opportunities the virus has to spread.

You can practice social distancing in many ways. For those in the tech sector, working from home is a hugely powerful step you may be able to take. Rogue Amoeba’s employees use home offices around the globe, but if that weren’t the case, we’d be mandating working from home now.

It’s not possible for everyone to work from home, but there are still plenty of other changes you can implement. Avoid attending group gatherings. Reduce the amount you leave the house. If you do go out, maintain physical distance from others as best you can.

As Paul notes, there’s not much we can do individually, but doing what we can — particularly social distancing and frequent hand-washing — is both good for us collectively and at an individual level reduces that feeling of helplessness.

Apple Has Closed All Retail Stores Outside China 

Tim Cook, detailing Apple’s COVID-19 response on Apple Newsroom:

We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27. We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers. Our online stores are open at www.apple.com, or you can download the Apple Store app on the App Store. For service and support, customers can visit support.apple.com. I want to thank our extraordinary Retail teams for their dedication to enriching our customers’ lives. We are all so grateful to you.

I walked by our Walnut Street store here in Philly about an hour ago, and the store was already closed. A handful of customers and employees remained inside, and there was a short queue outside to assist people with getting technical support online or via the phone. (Which immediately made me wonder if Apple’s online and phone support staff are able to work remotely. Update: Apparently many or most of them are able to work remotely.)

After yesterday’s announcement regarding WWDC, a few DF readers emailed to suggest (some rather strongly) that Apple ought to close its stores, pointing out the obvious: that, in addition to the general principle of social distancing, Apple Stores in particular are problematic for a virus that spreads by touch. The whole point of the stores is to come in and play with iPhones and iPads, type on MacBooks, and so forth. Apple certainly could have kept the stores open without demo hardware for customers to touch, but closing seems like the right thing to do.

My other thought: when I read “until March 27”, I immediately thought “you mean at least until March 27”. A few weeks seemingly did the trick in China, but we have no idea if that will hold true everywhere else. Same goes for everything else that has closed, from schools to sports. Everyone is saying “two weeks” or “through the end of March” but at this point I think that’s very optimistic.

Cook:

In all of our offices, we are moving to flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China. That means team members should work remotely if their job allows, and those whose work requires them to be on site should follow guidance to maximize interpersonal space. Extensive, deep cleaning will continue at all sites. In all our offices, we are rolling out new health screenings and temperature checks.

All of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations. We have expanded our leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19 — including recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges due to school closures.

All good, and at this point I’m not sure Apple really had a choice. Schools are closed all over the U.S., including San Francisco (and Philadelphia).

Timeline of Trump’s Coronavirus Statements 

Simply a must-watch video. It’s impossible to square Trump’s repeated, months-long “it’ll just go away” wishful bullshit with the unprecedented actions states and cities and private companies have been forced to take this week.

Testing kits are essential. The time for the U.S. to have begun stockpiling them was December, early January at the very latest. Now here we are with 11,000 total people in the U.S. having been tested, while South Korea tests 10,000 per day.

Update: South Korea is now testing 20,000 people per day.

‘Who Wants Four More Years of This?’ 

Charles P. Pierce, writing for Esquire:

Is this enough? Truly, is this enough for the country that looked at itself after eight years of a competent presidency and decided to hand things over to a vulgar talking yam? Are the vacant airports and deserted subways enough? Will the empty arenas and ballparks be enough? Is the plunging stock market enough? When the ambulances start hauling away the old folks down the block, will that be enough? How in god’s name can anyone vote for four more years of this, four more years of a choleric fatburg of a man who calls a press conference about a global health emergency and asks a reporter for Fox News how the ratings were for his last town hall? How does that man carry a precinct, let alone a state, let alone the country? Christ, even Ted Cruz is doing the right thing here.

What is so heartbreaking and frustrating is that this disaster of a response was entirely predictable. What other than this could we expect from an administration that gutted the CDC, is opposed to science, and is led by a president who surrounds himself with obsequious yes-people and is a career con man who thinks he can bullshit his way through anything?

Contrary to Trump’s Claim, Google Is Not Building a Nationwide Coronavirus Screening Website 

Dieter Bohn, reporting for The Verge:

More than an hour after Trump’s press conference, a Google communications Twitter account passed along the following statement from Verily, which is a different company inside the Alphabet corporate umbrella:

We are developing a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing. Verily is in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time. We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort.

Carolyn Wang, communications lead for Verily, told The Verge that the “triage website” was initially only going to be made available to health care workers instead of the general public. Now that it has been announced the way it was, however, anybody will be able to visit it, she said. But the tool will only be able to direct people to “pilot sites” for testing in the Bay Area, though Wang says Verily hopes to expand it beyond California “over time.”

Compare that to what Trump claimed:

“I want to thank Google. Google is helping to develop a website. It’s going to be very quickly done — unlike websites of the past — to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location. We have many, many locations behind us, by the way. We cover this country and large parts of the world, by the way. We’re not going to be talking about the world right now, but we cover very, very strongly our country. Stores in virtually every location. Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They have made tremendous progress.”

Trump’s entire response to the pandemic has been bullshit — and I use that word very carefully, in the sense of Harry G. Frankfurt’s masterful treatise on the subject — but the idea of 1,700 engineers working on a website being a good thing is up there at the top of the list. The entire premise of Fred Brooks’s The Mythical Man-Month (speaking of masterful treatises) is that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”.

The Science of Soap: How It Kills the Coronavirus 

Palli Thordarson, chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales, writing for The Guardian:

Viruses can be active outside the body for hours, even days. Disinfectants, liquids, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol are all useful at getting rid of them — but they are not quite as good as normal soap.

When I shared the information above using Twitter, it went viral. I think I have worked out why. Health authorities have been giving us two messages: once you have the virus there are no drugs that can kill it or help you get rid of it. But also, wash your hands to stop the virus spreading. This seems odd. You can’t, even for a million dollars, get a drug for the coronavirus — but your grandmother’s bar of soap kills the virus.

So why does soap work so well on the Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus and indeed most viruses? The short story: because the virus is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer. Soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and dies — or rather, we should say it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive.

I was not aware until this week that good old-fashioned soap is significantly more effective than alcohol-based disinfectants.

‘We’re Hustlers’: Amid Coronavirus Fears, This Couple Has Made More Than $100,000 Reselling Lysol Wipes 

Douglas Quan, reporting for The Toronto Star:

The couple say they’ve made a bundle in the past three weeks hitting up every Costco store in the region each day, buying up as many Lysol wipes and liquid cleaners as they can — spending thousands of dollars at a time — and then reselling them, mostly on Amazon, to private individuals and companies. […]

Ranga, 38, said one six-pack of wipes that goes for $20 at Costco can fetch four times that online. (A check of Amazon on Thursday showed that a six-pack was going for $89 under their seller name “Violeta & Sons Trading Ltd.”)

I’m all for capitalism and hustle, but now is not the time when it comes to essential products. I get it that buying in bulk is Costco’s game, but they should make an exception and ration some of these hard-to-get products for the time being. It should not be hard to buy hand sanitizer — a product that really does work to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Update: Turns out, stores — including Costco — have been rationing some essential items since last week. It’s not clear why Vancouver-area Costcos were letting this couple buy truckloads of disinfectant at a time.

Apple: ‘WWDC 2020 Kicks Off in June With an All-New Online Format’ 

Apple Newsroom:

“We are delivering WWDC 2020 this June in an innovative way to millions of developers around the world, bringing the entire developer community together with a new experience,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “The current health situation has required that we create a new WWDC 2020 format that delivers a full program with an online keynote and sessions, offering a great learning experience for our entire developer community, all around the world. We will be sharing all of the details in the weeks ahead.”

Very Apple way to put it — not as a cancellation of the in-person conference but as an all-new online format equally accessible to all developers. No mention of “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” in particular — and there doesn’t need to be. Everyone — everyone — knows the “current health situation” that’s prompting this change. More intriguing to me is that there aren’t even any specific dates — just “June”. I would guess that Apple is still planning for the keynote on Monday June 8, or perhaps June 1, but this is all so new that they’re surely figuring out most of the details of how this will actually work.

There Goes Disney World, Too 

Like I wrote this afternoon, inevitable. Statement from Disney:

In an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of our theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort, beginning at the close of business on Sunday, March 15, through the end of the month.

Disney Cruise Line will suspend all new departures beginning Saturday, March 14, through the end of the month.

The Walt Disney Company will pay its cast members during that closure period.

I keep posting about sports and theme parks not because they’re important in the grand scheme of things, but because these closures and cancellations show how serious this has gotten, and how seriously we should all take it.

New York Mandates Restaurants to Reduce Capacity by 50 Percent 

I think actions like this are the right thing to do, but this is just crushing to the restaurant industry. Most restaurants, even successful ones, operate on close margins. You just can’t take away half the seatings and make the nut — because rents aren’t getting cut in half.

The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors 

Yascha Mounk, writing for The Atlantic:

Two weeks ago, Italy had 322 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. At that point, doctors in the country’s hospitals could lavish significant attention on each stricken patient.

One week ago, Italy had 2,502 cases of the virus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19. At that point, doctors in the country’s hospitals could still perform the most lifesaving functions by artificially ventilating patients who experienced acute breathing difficulties.

Today, Italy has 10,149 cases of the coronavirus. There are now simply too many patients for each one of them to receive adequate care. Doctors and nurses are unable to tend to everybody. They lack machines to ventilate all those gasping for air.

This is why preventative measures, even if they only slow the spread, are so essential. We’re all in this together.

NCAA Tournaments Canceled Over Coronavirus 

ESPN:

The NCAA has called off its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments as part of a complete cancellation of all remaining spring and winter championships.

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said in a statement Thursday. […]

The men’s basketball tournament has been played every year since 1939, when Oregon won the championship in Evanston, Illinois. It has grown through the years, both in size and stature. The three-week tournament generates almost a billion dollars in revenue each year for the NCAA and its hundreds of member universities and colleges.

Just a few days ago they announced plans to hold the games in empty arenas. Things are escalating so fast it’s hard to keep up today. And while basketball is getting most of the attention, they’ve preemptively canceled the baseball and softball tournaments (along with other sports) that weren’t scheduled until June.

Disneyland Closes 

Hayley Miller, reporting for the Huffington Post:

Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is shutting down beginning Saturday and continuing throughout the month as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic persists, Disney Parks announced Thursday afternoon.

The decision was made “in the best interest of our guests and employees,” the company said in a statement after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order in response to the public health crisis. Newsom removed the waiting period for unemployment and disability benefits for state residents who lose work as a result of the outbreak, and he gave the state the power to commandeer hotels and other facilities for patient treatment.

Disney World, in Orlando, remains open, but that seems untenable. Disney’s parks are a real bellwether for how serious this is getting. They only close for extraordinary events:

Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., about 30 miles from Los Angeles, has been tied to various outbreaks of measles in recent years, and one outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, but those issues have appeared to not affect visitation. Disney World has only closed during hurricanes and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As of Saturday, 6 of Disney’s 12 parks around the world will be closed.

How Apple Might Transition the Mac to ARM 

Jean-Louis Gassée:

I, of course, have no idea but this one: ARM-ing the Mac is easier said than done, regardless of its intuitive desirability.

Apple Updates App Store Review Guidelines 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple’s new guidelines can be found on its developer website, but we’ve highlighted a few notable changes below.

One change getting a lot of attention are the rules around ads in push notifications. Nick Heer:

Ads delivered by push notifications were once verboten, but some developers ignored that rule and Apple didn’t police it.

It’s not so much an change in the rules as changing the written rules to reflect the de facto policy. It sounds bad, but in my experience it’s easy to avoid apps that send any unwanted notifications.

Anthony Levandowski Ordered to Pay $179 Million to Google, Files for Bankruptcy 

Kirsten Korosec, reporting for TechCrunch:

An arbitration panel ruled in December that Levandowski and Lior Ron had engaged in unfair competition and breached their contract with Google when they left the company to start a rival autonomous vehicle company focused on trucking, called Otto. Uber acquired Otto in 2017. A San Francisco County court confirmed Wednesday the panel’s decision.

Ron settled last month with Google for $9.7 million. However, Levandowski, had disputed the ruling. The San Francisco County Superior Court denied his petition today, granting Google’s petition to hold Levandowski to the arbitration agreement under which he was liable.

I’ll go out on a limb and say it was a bad decision not to settle.

‘No Time to Die’ Release Postponed Due to Coronavirus 

The Hollywood Reporter:

The release of the upcoming James Bond film No Time to Die has been pushed back from April to November, becoming the first Hollywood tentpole to shift its global rollout because of the coronavirus outbreak. The 25th installment in the storied spy franchise will commence its run Nov. 12 in the U.K. and Nov. 25 in the U.S.

This one hits home for me. I mean just look at the poster — so great.

What Happens if Apple Cancels WWDC 2020? 

Jason Snell, writing at Macworld:

In terms of a keynote, Apple has several options. It can invite a small number of guests to a live media event at the Steve Jobs Theater — possibly with health checks for attendees — and make its major WWDC announcements in the same way it unveils the new iPhone every year. I kind of can’t imagine Apple doing a keynote without a live studio audience of some kind, but it’s possible it could limit the guest list even further, perhaps just to Apple employees. They’ll certainly provide the applause that’s required.

What’s left of WWDC, however, is the connections.

If WWDC is canceled, I think what Snell proposes is exactly what will happen. There will still be a keynote wherein Apple does what it always does: lays out the roadmap for its platforms for the next year. If the COVID-19 outbreak is under control by June, I’d expect a keynote at Steve Jobs Theater pretty much exactly of the scope of September iPhone events. Technical sessions would simply all be virtual, distributed via the Developer app. Apple probably has to make a decision on holding the conference as usual by mid-April, but for a press-only keynote they typically don’t send invitations until 10 days or so in advance.

The one thing that can’t be replicated virtually are the personal connections. Snell mentions the developer labs — which are incredibly useful to developers —  and suggests maybe Apple could do them virtually via FaceTime or something. I don’t know if that would work. But there are all sorts of personal and social interactions that happen during WWDC week, and there’s no way to replace them. And WWDC is now the only annual event on the Apple community calendar. But it is what it is.

Google Cancels I/O 2020 ‘Due to Concerns Around the Coronavirus’ 

Corbin Davenport, writing for Android Police:

Google I/O takes place near Google’s headquarters in California every year in the early summer, aimed at helping developers with their work and announcing new products. The 2020 event was scheduled to take place on May 12-14, but now Google has canceled it due to safety concerns.

May 12–14 is the middle of spring, but I suppose that’s beside the point here. I’d now put the odds of WWDC being canceled at about 2 in 3.

iPhone 11 Pro vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Comparison 

Andrew Hoyle, CNet:

To see how the S20 Ultra’s camera compares to the iPhone 11 Pro, I took both phones around the beautiful Scottish capital city of Edinburgh.

Some great photos and a fair comparison.

Marques Brownlee’s Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review 

Great review, largely focused (no pun intended) on the camera. Sure, the 100x digital zoom is a gimmick, but at 30x (10x optical with 3x digital applied) the results look good, and clearly better than any other phone on the U.S. market.

DF Weekly Sponsorship Openings 

This month — and this very week — are wide open on the DF sponsorship schedule. 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.

The Verge’s Mac Pro Review 

Nilay Patel:

So to get this right, we needed to find a configuration that is broadly representative of what pro users might actually buy, allows us to investigate Apple’s performance claims, and hopefully reveals something interesting about what pro users might experience if they upgrade to this machine. And we needed to do all of this knowing that we wouldn’t just send this machine back when the review was done, like we do with every standard review unit. This one was going to be ours to keep.

Happily, we have a bit of an advantage: The Verge is part of Vox Media, a company full of media professionals who use a huge variety of software to work on everything from Netflix shows to print magazine design. And of course, The Verge’s own art and video teams make illustrations and motion graphics for our site and YouTube all day long. So we called in a few friends, let everyone use the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR to work on their various projects, and had them report back.

Excellent review, including the video.

The bottom-line takeaway is a bit ironic. The big problem with the previous Mac Pro is that it didn’t have a thermal design that could handle GPU-intensive computing. The new Mac Pro does, but a lot of pro apps — particularly Adobe’s — aren’t optimized for offloading computation to the GPU.

Update: One other takeaway — the head-to-head comparison with a Threadripper-based PC shows that AMD is kicking Intel’s ass in high-end workstation performance.

Apollo 1.7.3 

Speaking of the joy of well-made native iOS apps, Christian Selig’s Apollo — a client for Reddit — has a nice update out today. For all my pessimism regarding the state of software development today, Apollo is a shining example of the right way to do something. Reddit is a completely free website with its own completely free first-party iOS app. But Selig has made Apollo a successful product that users are willing to pay for — it’s free to use with in-app purchases and subscriptions for additional features — simply because the experience on iOS is so great.

I enjoy that part of the fun for paying users is simply getting custom app icons. People will pay for fun. There’s a level of joy and enthusiasm in the Apollo user base, and a true community between them and Selig, that epitomizes the best of the indie development ethos.

Facebook Gets Native App Religion 

Raymond Endres, VP of engineering for Messenger, writing at Facebook’s engineering blog on a major rewrite of Messenger for iOS:

Mobile operating systems continue to evolve rapidly and dramatically. New features and innovations are constantly being added due to user demands and competitive pressures. When building a new feature, it’s often tempting to build abstractions on top of the OS to plug a functionality gap, add engineering flexibility, or create cross-platform user experiences. But the existing OS often does much of what’s needed. Actions like rendering, transcoding, threading, and logging can all be handled by the OS. Even when there is a custom solution that might be faster for local metrics, we use the OS to optimize for global metrics.

While UI frameworks can be powerful and increase developer productivity, they require constant upkeep and maintenance to keep up with the ever-changing mobile OS landscape. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we used the UI framework available on the device’s native OS to support a wider variety of application feature needs. This reduced not only size, by avoiding the need to cache/load large custom-built frameworks, but also complexity. The native frameworks don’t have to be translated into sub-frameworks. We also used quite a few of the OS libraries, including the JSON processing library, rather than building and storing our own libraries in the codebase.

Overall, our approach was simple. If the OS did something well, we used it. We leveraged the full capability of the OS without needing to wait for any framework to expose that functionality. If the OS didn’t do something, we would find or write the smallest possible library code to address the specific need — and nothing more. We also embraced platform-dependent UI and associated tooling.

File this under “No shit, Sherlock” — native apps are smaller, faster, and more reliable. Via Ben Sandofsky, who notes that this writeup seemingly goes out of its way not to mention React Native, Facebook’s cross-platform framework that pretty much goes against everything in this post.

Some Apple Watch Claim Chowder 

Nick Heer on Mark Wilson’s prediction five years ago that “the Apple Watch is going to flop”.

MacSurfer Closes Shop 

MacSurfer:

Dear MHN Readers:

Not seeing a viable future with subscriptions, MacSurfer and TechNN will cease operations effective immediately. Please allow a few weeks to process forthcoming refunds. If need be, subscription inquiries can be addressed to the Publisher at the bottom of the Homepage.

Thanks kindly for your support, and thanks for the memories…

MacSurfer’s Headline News Team

I’m not quite sure when MacSurfer started, but it was long enough ago that I don’t remember the web before MacSurfer. Internet Archive has a snapshot from December 1998, but I’m quite sure that wasn’t MacSurfer’s debut. Update: Going by their copyright statement in the footer, they’ve been publishing since 1995 — a 25-year run.

Oscars 2020: Best-Picture Typography 

Matthew Butterick:

The Academy has no way of knowing whether its voters actually watch the films that are nominated, or just pick a favorite based on some arbitrary criterion. Consistent with that principle, I feel totally justified picking a best-picture winner based on the typography of the posters.