Linked List: October 2021

Rene Ritchie and Yours Truly Talking About MacOS 12 Monterey 

Lost — at least slightly — amidst the hubbub surrounding the M1 Pro/Max MacBook Pros is that MacOS 12 Monterey shipped this week, too. Rene Ritchie was kind enough to have me as a guest on his YouTube show to talk about it. (I recorded my side using the new 1080p FaceTime camera on the new MacBook Pro.)

TopNotch 1.0 

Free utility from the makers of CleanShot — an excellent screen capture tool — that disguises the notch on new MacBook Pros by making the desktop area behind the menu bar black, no matter which desktop picture you use.

The notch is going to bother some people, so utilities like this were inevitable. This one seems good and simple. But if you get a new MacBook with the notch, I encourage you to just live with it for a few days.

Putting M1 Max GPU Performance in Context 

Andy Somerfield, lead for (the great) Affinity Photo app:

In Photo, an ideal GPU would do three different things well: 1.) High compute performance 2.) Fast on-chip bandwidth 3.) Fast transfer on and off the GPU.

Way back in 2009, no GPU did all three things well - but we thought that eventually the industry would get there, so we took a risk and designed the entire architecture based on that assumption. Things didn’t go entirely to plan.

We shipped Photo in 2015 - six years after the design phase - without GPU compute support :(

A GPU which did all the things we needed simply didn’t exist. We wondered if we had backed the wrong horse. Happily, a short while later it did exist - but it was in an iPad 😬!

Fast-forward a few tweets in the thread to today:

The #M1Max is the fastest GPU we have ever measured in the @affinitybyserif Photo benchmark. It outperforms the W6900X — a $6000, 300W desktop part — because it has immense compute performance, immense on-chip bandwidth and immediate transfer of data on and off the GPU (UMA).

A laptop GPU outperforming a $6,000 300-watt (300 watts!) desktop GPU. Bananas. But here I am, typing this sentence on that laptop.

The entire Apple silicon story — along with the Affinity Photo team’s prescient bet — feels like a perfect illustration of the Bill Gates axiom: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

The Information: ‘Apple Very Likely to Face DOJ Antitrust Suit’ 

More antitrust news, from Josh Sisco, reporting for The Information (alas, paywall-protected):

And Apple’s opponents have raised other issues including the company’s “Sign in with Apple” offering, a button placed on apps and websites that allows people to sign in using their Apple username and password. The Information first reported the DOJ’s interest in the sign-in button earlier this year.

I strongly suspect that it’s not “Sign In With Apple” itself, but the corresponding App Store rule that requires any app that offers the ability to sign in with a third-party service (which, in practice, primarily targets Google and Facebook, and to a lesser degree Twitter) to also support “Sign In With Apple”.

The probe also is examining complaints about how Apple places restrictions on location tracking that its own apps don’t have to follow, said several people with knowledge of the matter.

They say that, but I get prompted to re-confirm allowing Apple’s iOS Weather to always access my location frequently. I wish I could make it ask me less frequently. The complaints aren’t really about Apple’s apps having access to your location but the system itself having access.

Of particular concern to app developers is Apple’s App Tracking Transparency, which requires iPhone and iPad users to affirmatively opt in to let developers share personal information, such as a device’s location, with other apps and advertisers. Apple isn’t requesting such permission to track users of its own apps, giving it an unfair advantage in serving ads in the App Store and elsewhere, developers argue. Apple has said that unlike Facebook, it doesn’t share user data with others for advertising purposes, and that the changes are designed to protect customers’ privacy.

Apple should just abandon selling ads in the App Store. I’m convinced the antitrust problems those ads are causing (not to mention loss of developer goodwill) are not worth the money they generate.

Details From the Newly Unredacted Antitrust Complaint Against Google 

This Twitter thread from @fasterthanlime has a bunch of scathing highlights from the full 173-page PDF of the filing.

A few nuggets. Re: false claims about AMP performance (p. 90):

After crippling AMP’s compatibility with header bidding, Google went to market falsely telling publishers that adopting AMP would enhance page load times. But Google employees knew that AMP only improves the “median of performance” and AMP pages can actually load slower than other publisher speed optimization techniques. In other words, the ostensible benefits of faster load times for a Google-cached AMP version of a webpage were not 90 true for publishers that designed their web pages for speed. Some publishers did not adopt AMP because they knew their pages actually loaded faster than AMP pages.

The speed benefits Google marketed were also at least partly a result of Google’s throttling. Google throttles the load time of non-AMP ads by giving them artificial one-second delays in order to give Google AMP a “nice comparative boost.” Throttling non-AMP ads slows down header bidding, which Google then uses to denigrate header bidding for being too slow. “Header Bidding can often increase latency of web pages and create security flaws when executed incorrectly,” Google falsely claimed. Internally, Google employees grappled with “how to [publicly] justify [Google] making something slower.”

You can’t justify it.

On using Chrome, the browser, as a workaround for tracking users across the entire web, by conflating logging into Chrome with logging into Google’s own web properties (p. 95):

To get publishers to give Google exclusive access over their ad inventory, Google set publishers up for a lose/lose scenario. First, Google started to leverage its ownership of the largest web browser, Chrome, to track and target publishers’ audiences in order to sell Google’s advertising inventory. To make this happen, Google first introduced the ability for users to log into the Chrome browser. Then, Google began to steer users into doing this by using deceptive and coercive tactics. For example, Google started to automatically log users into Chrome if they logged into any Google service (e.g., Gmail or YouTube). In this way, Google took the users that choose not to log into Chrome and logged them in anyways. If a user tried to log out of Chrome in response, Google punished them by kicking them out of a Google product they were in the process of using (e.g., Gmail or YouTube). On top this, through another deceptive pattern, Google got these users to give the Chrome browser permission to track them across the open web and on independent publisher sites like The Dallas Morning News. These users also had to give Google permission to use this new Chrome tracking data to sell Google’s own ad space, permitting Google to use Chrome to circumvent reliance on cookie-tracking technology. The effect of this practice is to rob publishers of the exclusive use of their audience data (e.g., data on what users read on The Dallas Morning News), thereby depreciating the value of publishers’ ad space and benefitting ad sales on Google’s properties (e.g., YouTube).

My post earlier today about Photoshop for the web going into public beta exemplifies the aspects of Google’s expansive vision for Chrome’s technical capabilities that make many web developers love Chrome and dislike Safari.

The details in this antitrust filing exemplify everything that is wrong — deeply contrary to the intended open nature of the web — about Google controlling the most popular web browser in the world.

See also: This lengthy thread from Financial Times reporter Patrick McGee. E.g., one of Google’s own employees compared Google owning the dominant ad bidding exchange as akin to “if Goldman or Citibank owned the NYSE”.

Photoshop for the Web Public Beta 

Thomas Nattestad (Google) and Nabeel Al-Shamma (Adobe), writing for the Chrome Web.dev site:

Over the last three years, Chrome has been working to empower web applications that want to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the browser. One such web application has been Photoshop. The idea of running software as complex as Photoshop directly in the browser would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. However, by using various new standardized web technologies, Adobe has now brought a public beta of Photoshop to the web.

Unsurprisingly, supported only in Chrome and Microsoft Edge, but an impressive demonstration of just how rich a platform Chrome is for something like this.

A Prototype Original iPod 

Cabel Sasser, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first iPod:

Now, there are a lot of mysteries in the Panic Archives (it’s a closet) but by far one of the most mysterious is what you’re seeing for the first time today: an original early iPod prototype.

We don’t know much about where it came from. But we’ve been waiting 20 years to share it with you.

It doesn’t look anything like an actual iPod, but that’s how prototypes work. But the date on this unit was remarkably late in development:

Clearly, this revision of the prototype was very close to the internals of the finished iPod. In fact, the date there — September 3rd, 2001 — tells us this one was made barely two months before it was introduced.

I’ve long wondered whether Apple might have intended to introduce the iPod a few weeks earlier than they actually did, but, well, September 11 happened. I remember that original iPod introduction as much for the iPod itself as for it feeling like a welcome early step in the world returning to normalcy.

Tony Fadell:

This is a P68/Dulcimer iPod prototype we (very quickly) made before the true form factor design was ready. Didn’t want it look like an iPod for confidentiality - the buttons placement, the size - it was mostly air inside - and the wheel worked (poorly).

John Whitley:

@panic @cabel HA! GOT YOU! I have seen exactly that before. I was one of the PortalPlayer firmware devs who went onsite @ the Apple skunkworks site during iPod main development, and again to make sure the GM release shipped on time.

The Register: ‘Google “Colluded” With Facebook to Bypass Apple Privacy’ 

Thomas Claburn, reporting for The Register:

Several years ago, to deal with the competitive threat of header bidding — a way for multiple ad exchanges to get a fair shot at winning an automated auction for ad space — Google allegedly hatched a plan called “Jedi” to ensure that its ad exchange always won.

And in 2017, after Facebook announced plans to support header bidding, Google, it’s claimed, struck a deal with Facebook — dubbed “Jedi Blue” — in which the two internet behemoths would “work together to identify users using Apple products,” and set up “quotas for how often Facebook would win publishers’ auctions.” […]

“And as one Google employee explained internally, Google deliberately designed Jedi to avoid competition, and Jedi consequently harmed publishers. In Google’s words, the Jedi program ‘generates suboptimal yields for publishers and serious risks of negative media coverage if exposed externally.’”

You don’t say.

Mux Video 

My thanks to Mux for sponsoring last week at DF. Mux Video is an API to powerful video streaming — think of it as akin to Stripe for video — built by the founders of Zencoder and creators of Video.js, and a team of ex-YouTube and Twitch engineers. Take any video file or live stream and make it play beautifully at scale on any device, powered by magical-feeling features like automatic thumbnails, animated GIFs, and data-driven encoding decisions.

Spend your time building what people want, not drudging through ffmpeg documentation.

Walt Mossberg With Kara Swisher on Sway 

Kara Swisher’s excellent podcast Sway needs no introduction from me, but her latest episode, with longtime collaborator Walt Mossberg as her guest, is simply sublime. Just so good.

The Verge: ‘Facebook Plans to Change Company Name to Focus on the Metaverse’ 

Possible huge scoop from Alex Heath for The Verge:

Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.

It took Philip Morris an entire century to get to its Altria rebranding moment. If this pans out, it took Facebook 17 years.

‘Exile From Dongletown’ 

Loved this take on yesterday’s announcement from Jason Snell:

If Mac laptops come in eras, one just ended.

It started in 2016 with the release of MacBook Pro models featuring butterfly keyboards, the Touch Bar, and a minimal selection of USB-C ports. It ended on Monday with the announcement of new MacBook Pro models that roll back most of the major changes introduced in 2016, putting the MacBook Pro in a new state of grace that recalls the middle of the last decade.

Also, this tidbit on maximum charging speeds:

(Here’s a quirk of the new MacBook Pros. On the 14-inch models, the larger 96W USB-C power adapter is required for fast charging. You can fast charge either via MagSafe or via a standard USB-C cable attached to that adapter. However, on the 16-inch models — all of which come with a 140W adapter — you can only do ultra-fast charging via MagSafe. While there’s a new specification that allows for much higher power delivery levels over USB ports, the Thunderbolt 4/USB 3 ports on the MacBook Pro don’t support it. You can still charge via those ports, of course — just not at the ultra-fastest speed.)

Jeff Bezos Left Andy Jassy a Mess to Clean Up 

“Lawmakers Give Amazon ‘Final Chance’ to Clear Up Testimony”, from the AP:

The letter says the antitrust subcommittee is considering referring the case to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. It accuses the world’s biggest online retailer of at least misleading Congress and possibly outright lying.

It cites recent media reports detailing Amazon’s alleged practice of undercutting the businesses that sell on its platform by making “knock-offs,” or very similar products, and boosting their presence on the site.

The reports directly contradict the sworn testimony of Amazon executives and other statements to Congress, the letter says. It was signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the antitrust panel.

One report that prompted this is this one last week from Reuters reporters Aditya Kalra and Steve Stecklow, regarding Amazon’s knock-off product strategy in India:

But thousands of pages of internal Amazon documents examined by Reuters — including emails, strategy papers and business plans — show the company ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India, one of the company’s largest growth markets.

The documents reveal how Amazon’s private-brands team in India secretly exploited internal data from Amazon.in to copy products sold by other companies, and then offered them on its platform. The employees also stoked sales of Amazon private-brand products by rigging Amazon’s search results so that the company’s products would appear, as one 2016 strategy report for India put it, “in the first 2 or three … search results” when customers were shopping on Amazon.in.

There’s a good argument for Amazon on this front that store brands are as old as retail. That Sears did the same thing a century ago, and that Walmart does it now. And that of course retailers with house brands — including Amazon — look at sales data to choose what to make. But that’s not what Amazon — and Jeff Bezos in particular — have said under oath. Bezos left Jassy with a serious mess to clean up here.

Apple Music’s New $5/Month ‘Voice’ Plan 

This plan struck me as weird when it was announced during the keynote, but it makes sense for the way many people use Apple Music: by just asking Siri to play whatever, where “whatever” is a particular song, a particular artist, or a particular mood. If this is your plan, when you go to the Music app on your devices, the interface will just be Siri suggestions and your listening history.

What more do you get for the regular price of $10/month? Spatial audio (potentially cool, depending upon how carefully the songs were mastered), lossless audio (borderline pointless), offline mode (downloading songs to your device), custom playlists, lyrics, and music videos. For me, it’d be really weird not to be able to browse an available index of all music (artist → album → song), but a lot of people just ask Siri for whatever.

Spotify doesn’t offer a plan like this (screenshot for posterity) — but Spotify doesn’t have its own voice-driven hardware. Amazon Music has a $4/month Echo plan that is very similar, but Amazon’s Echo plan is limited to one single Echo device or Fire TV.

Facebook ‘Ready to Engage on Substance’ 

John Pinette, VP of communications for Facebook, in a series of tweets:

Right now 30+ journalists are finishing up a coordinated series of articles based on thousands of pages of leaked documents. We hear that to get the docs, outlets had to agree to the conditions and a schedule laid down by the PR team that worked on earlier leaked docs.

A curated selection out of millions of documents at Facebook can in no way be used to draw fair conclusions about us. Internally, we share work in progress and debate options. Not every suggestion stands up to the scrutiny we must apply to decisions affecting so many people.

To those news organizations who would like to move beyond an orchestrated “gotcha” campaign, we are ready to engage on the substance.

Casey Johnston:

this tweet appears to contain words but all i hear are little baby crying sounds? can you explain

There was a time when “VP of communications for Facebook” sounded like a great job, I bet. That time is not now.

Updated MacOS 12 Monterey Page Reveals Safari 15 With Tabs That Look Like Tabs 

Didn’t make today’s event, for some reason, but the updated page for MacOS 12 Monterey (shipping next Monday) shows that Safari 15 has reverted to actual tabs instead of “tabs”. Compact mode is still an option, which is great — the way this design should have been approached all along. Safari 15 on iPadOS 15.1 comes along for the ride too.

We’re left with one single design mistake in Safari 15 across all platforms: the close buttons for tabs being on the right instead of the left on iPhone. Pretty good outcome given what was shown back at WWDC.

Meh.com 

My thanks to Meh for sponsoring last week at DF. Meh.com does the daily deal thing, sells cool shit for cheap, and they keep it simple. One thing a day — just go there and see what’s up now. They’ll have something different tomorrow.

They also have a sharp logo that looks great on the DF background color, and they write really funny sponsored entries for the RSS feed. I sincerely recommend you check them out.

A Brief Chat With Fired ‘#AppleToo’ Organizer, That Is So Brief That It Doesn’t Ask the One Question Begging to Be Asked 

Zoe Schiffer, writing for The Verge:

On October 14th, Apple fired a leader of the #AppleToo movement for allegedly failing to comply with an internal investigation. The employee, Janneke Parrish, has been working behind the scenes for months to organize fellow employees who’ve faced harassment and discrimination. […]

Q: What’s your view on why you were fired?

I believe I was fired in retaliation for speaking out, for my work with #AppleToo, and out of concern that I was organizing to help other employees tell their stories. In my view, this is entirely retaliation for trying to bring Apple’s actions to light and publicly asking the company to do better.

Unasked in the interview: whether Parrish actually leaked confidential company information. That seems pertinent when the stated reason for her firing was suspicion of leaking confidential company information.

The Talk Show: ‘The Negative Version of Icing on the Cake’ 

For your weekend listening enjoyment: a new episode of America’s favorite three-star podcast. Special guest: Nilay Patel. Special topics: the iPhones 13, Apple Watch Series 7, kids today and the file system, the Lightning / USB-C debate, and, of course, our speculation about next week’s “Unleashed” Apple event.

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HTC Photoshopped Their New Headset Onto Models From Stock Photos 

Janko Roettgers, in a hilarious you-can’t-make-this-shit-up Twitter thread:

Remember those leaked PR photos for HTC’s new Vive Flow? Turns out they are photoshopped iStockPhoto images.

Apple Appears to Be in a Standoff With South Korea Over New App Store Regulations 

Reuters:

Apple Inc was on a collision course with South Korea on Friday over new requirements that it stop forcing app developers to use its payment systems, with a government official warning of a possible investigation into the iPhone maker’s compliance. […]

The law went into effect last month but Apple had told the South Korean government that it was already complying and did not need to change its app store policy, a Korea Communications Commission (KCC) official in charge of the matter told Reuters.

“This goes against the purpose of the amended law,” the official said, requesting anonymity as the KCC was still in talks with Apple on compliance. […]

Google had informed the KCC that it planned to comply with the law, including allowing third-party payment systems, and would discuss the matter with the regulator starting next week, the KCC official said.

Apple telling South Korea that they’re already in compliance reminds of the “I told them we’ve already got one” bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Safari 15 Watch: Favorites Bar Edition 

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

And then macOS Monterey beta 10 dropped this week, and would you look at this:

Yep, that’s the Safari Favorites Bar, now located above the tabs.

Apple similarly moved the Favorites Bar above the tabs in Safari on iPadOS 15.1 beta 4, too.

The full Bookmarks menu on iPad, alas, still remains hidden in the sidebar. That’s a weird one. In the initial WWDC previews, the Bookmarks toolbar button was removed in Safari on both iOS and iPadOS. In the late summer redesign of Safari 15 for iOS, the Bookmarks toolbar button (which you tap to access a hierarchical menu showing all your bookmarks, and which, crucially, remembers which folder you were in the next time you use it) was back where it belongs: in Safari’s bottom-of-the-screen toolbar.

Yet on iPad — which has much more room for toolbar buttons than iPhone — Bookmarks are still squirreled away in the sidebar that is primarily intended for creating, managing, and switching between Tab Groups. Tab Groups are a clever and I think useful new feature. Bookmarks do not belong over there though. Worse, every time you use the Bookmarks menu over in the sidebar on iPadOS 15, you have to navigate from the root level of your bookmarks each time. It doesn’t remember which folder you were in.

Here’s hoping that more changes to Safari 15 are coming, on both Mac and iPad.

Microsoft’s ‘Fluent’ Emoji Set 

Keith Broni, writing for Emojipedia:

Microsoft users subscribed to the Windows Insiders program can now install beta build introducing the much-anticipated new Fluent emoji set.

It is under-remarked upon just how much better Apple’s emoji are than everyone else’s. Related factoid: Apple’s emoji went through the great post-iOS 7 flattening and de-texturizing of user interfaces without being flattened or de-texturized.

IBM Will Follow Biden Vaccine Order, Defying Texas Ban 

Clara Molot, reporting for Bloomberg:*

International Business Machines Corp. said it will follow President Joe Biden’s mandate requiring that employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, overriding an order from the Texas governor Monday blocking such actions.

“IBM is a federal contractor and must comply with federal requirements, which direct employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by December 8th or obtain a medical or religious accommodation,” a spokesperson for the New York-based company said. “We will continue to protect the health and safety of IBM employees and clients, and we will continue to follow federal requirements.”

More like this, please.

* You know.

Must Be in the Front Row 

Wonderful profile of Milwaukee Brewers legend Bob Uecker — 87 and going strong in the broadcast booth — by Adam McCalvy for MLB.com:

It’s been like this in Milwaukee forever. When Uecker joined the Brewers’ radio team in 1971, he was only four years removed from playing the final season of a Major League career that spanned the Milwaukee Braves, the Phillies and then the Atlanta Braves. Then-Brewers owner Bud Selig originally hired Uecker as a scout, but it was a failed enterprise. Selig swears that he once received a scouting report in the mail from Uecker that was smeared with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Leaked Promotional Shots of HTC’s New AR/VR Headset 

Speaking of forthcoming AR/VR headsets, Evan “Evleaks” Blass has leaked a slew of marketing images for the apparently imminent HTC Vive Flow. Looks cool, in a Nite Owl sort of way. The future’s going to be weird if these things go mainstream, though.

Update: Does seem kind of suboptimal, to say the least, that it has a fan.

Magic Leap Somehow Raises Another $500 Million in Funding 

Kim Lyons, reporting for The Verge:

Magic Leap has raised $500 million in funding and is preparing to release a new AR headset, the Magic Leap 2, next year, the company announced Monday. The headset will be generally available next year, the company said, and “select customers” are using it as part of an early access program.

CEO Peggy Johnson said in a statement that with the new funding “Magic Leap will have greater financial flexibility and the resources needed to continue our growth trajectory as we expand on our industry-leading AR technology.” She revealed the new device in an Monday appearance on CNBC.

I can’t believe this company still exists, let alone is convincing investors to give them more money.

LoveFrom Unveils a Teaser Website 

Beautiful, simple (purely typographic), elegantly animated, and well written. But, well, it’s really just a statement.

Reload for many — seriously, many — comma animations, each delightful.

More at Wallpaper from Sarah Douglas, including details on LoveFrom Serif, the firm’s bespoke typeface.

Apple Event Next Monday: ‘Unleashed’ 

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

It’s official: there will be another Apple media event this fall, and it’s Monday, Oct. 18 at 10 Pacific.

New MacBook Pro models are likely to be the star of the show. We’ll have full coverage on Six Colors, as always. Myke Hurley and I will offer post-event coverage after it’s all said and done, live on Relay FM.

The event name is “Unleashed”, and the motif is a take on going into warp drive or hyperspace. Greg Joswiak, on Twitter:

Unleashed! These next six days are going to speed by.

You don’t need to be Kreskin to predict that new pro Macs powered by high-performance Apple silicon will be the main attraction. It seems like a surefire bet that we’ll see the new 16- and 14-inch MacBook Pros. I hope we see the new full-size iMacs — 30-inch displays, perhaps? — too. My other hope: MacBook Pros in black or near-black.

The slightly weird thing about the event is that it’s on a Monday — Apple generally holds events on Tuesdays. Looking at my notes, I think the last time Apple held an event on a Monday (excepting WWDC keynotes, which of course are always on Monday mornings) was the original iPhone SE event, which was on Monday, 21 March 2016. They might have held that one a day early because the next day was Apple’s courtroom showdown with the FBI regarding the San Bernardino gun massacre.

Why hold next week’s event on Monday instead of Tuesday? My only spitball: because Google already announced its fall Pixel event for Tuesday.

‘Twenty Bits I Learned About Making Fonts’ 

Lovely little book by my old friend and budding typographer Dan Cederholm. A fine sequel and companion to his Twenty Bits I Learned About Design, Business & Community. Get the hardcover editions, they’re worth it.

The Continuing Bizarre Decline in Science Reporting at The New York Times 

From an editors’ note appended to a New York Times report over the weekend, about COVID-19 vaccinations for children:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described actions taken by regulators in Sweden and Denmark. They have halted use of the Moderna vaccine in children; they have not begun offering single doses. The article also misstated the number of Covid hospitalizations in U.S. children. It is more than 63,000 from August 2020 to October 2021, not 900,000 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The report is from Apoorva Mandavilli, the reporter who replaced longtime science reporter Donald McNeil on the Times’s COVID beat — the same reporter who last month approvingly quoted an epidemiologist who was against booster shots for adults on the nonsensical grounds that “the added benefit may be minimal — and obtained just as easily by wearing a mask, or avoiding indoor dining and crowded bars.”

The difference between 63,000 and 900,000 hospitalized children is not a small error — it’s more than an order of magnitude difference. If nearly a million U.S. children had been hospitalized from COVID-19, our entire perception of this pandemic would be fundamentally different. How did this error even make it past editing? It’s not even a remotely plausible figure given our lived experience of this pandemic.

Here’s a good example of how mind-boggling this error is. The median household income in the U.S. is about $68,000. Imagine if The New York Times ran a story about economic policy which stated that the average household income in the U.S. was $900,000. That’s preposterous. Yet that’s exactly how bad the science reporting at the Times has gotten — an error of that magnitude regarding a crucial COVID statistic went into print.

Daring Fireball Weekly Sponsorships for Q4 

Speaking of DF weekly sponsorships, there are just three remaining openings in the October-December quarter. Plus, this coming week’s spot, starting Monday, remains open.

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. That’s not new — that’s the way the ads on DF have always been. 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. And if you’re ready to grab next week’s opening, let’s go.

Copilot 

My thanks to Copilot for sponsoring last week at DF. Copilot is a personal finance tool whose only goal is to give you a bird’s-eye view of your finances, without compromising your privacy. I started using it when they booked this sponsorship, and I love it. It’s really easy to add your accounts — banks, credit cards, investments — and the UI is clear, useful, and attractive. Whether you’re interested in tracking your net worth, monthly spending, or investment returns, Copilot can do it all.

Use the code DARING when starting an in-app subscription to double Copilot’s usual one-month free trial, and see for yourself why they have a 4.8 rating in the App Store. Learn more and get started.

Ben Sandofsky on iPhone Macro Photography and Halide 2.5 

Ben Sandofsky, writing for the Halide blog:

The iPhone 13 Pro features a new camera capable of focusing closer than ever before — less than an inch away. This opens a whole new dimension for iPhone photographers, but it’s not without surprises. Let’s take a tour of what this lens unlocks, some clever details you might miss in its implementation, why its “automatic” nature can catch you off guard, and much more. At the end, we have a special surprise for you — especially those not using an iPhone 13 Pro.

I’ll spoil it: Halide 2.5 adds a nifty macro mode for all recent iPhones, not just the iPhone 13 Pro. But of course, it works best on the iPhone 13 Pro, where it offers manual control over focus distance — useful for macro situations like trying to focus on a window pane instead of through it.

Apple Files Appeal in Epic Games Case to Stay Anti-Steering Injunction 

Kif Leswing, reporting last night for CNBC:

Apple filed a notice of appeal in the Epic Games case and is asking for a stay on the injunction that lets developers add in-app links to payment websites, according to company representatives and documents filed on Friday.

If Apple wins the stay, which will be decided by a judge in November, a rule change potentially allowing developers to circumvent App Store fees of 15% to 30% may not take effect until appeals in the case have finished, a process that could take years.

Apple won everything in the case but that one point, but they’d like to win that point too.

Rob Enderle, Still Kicking, Still Jackassing 

From a Yahoo News story that’s as insipid as you suspect it is from the headline (“Decade After Jobs’ Death, Has Apple Traded Magic for Profit?”):

But are these game-changing innovations in the post-Jobs era?

“Apple lost the ability to bring out products that could revolutionize a market,” said Tech industry analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. “They became a financially-focused company very effective at milking its faithful users,” he added.

Enderle, in May 2015 — mere weeks after Apple Watch shipped — declared it “obsolete” and a month later called it a “failure”.

Keep in mind I linked earlier today to a survey that suggests 30 percent of U.S. teenagers now wear an Apple Watch.

Michael Dell Claims Steve Jobs Tried to License Rhapsody to Dell in 1997 

CNet’s Connie Guglielmo, writing about a bit from Michael Dell’s new autobiography, Play Nice But Win:

In 1997, Jobs rejoined a struggling Apple after it acquired Next for $429 million, and he pitched Dell on another business proposal (as Jobs was evaluating Apple’s Mac clone licensing project, which he ultimately shut down). Jobs and his team had ported the Mac software, based on Next’s Mach operating system, and had it running on the Intel x86 chips that powered Dell PCs. Jobs offered to license the Mac OS to Dell, telling him he could give PC buyers a choice of Apple’s software or Microsoft’s Windows OS installed on their machine.

“He said, look at this — we’ve got this Dell desktop and it’s running Mac OS,” Dell tells me. “Why don’t you license the Mac OS?”

I’m not saying Dell is lying, but the timeline on this doesn’t add up. In 1997, Mac OS X hadn’t even been conceived yet. In the ink-was-still-drying period after the Apple-NeXT reunification in late 1996, the next-gen OS based on NeXTStep was codenamed “Rhapsody”, and, well, it wasn’t in any shape to be licensed to anyone in 1997. Apple itself didn’t ship anything based on NeXT’s software until Mac OS X Server in 1999 and the subsequent “developer previews” — releases that still used the classic Mac OS Platinum appearance. (Which looked pretty good.) If Rhapsody wasn’t ready for Apple customers in 1997 (or 1998!) how in the world was it going to work for Dell customers?

To me it just sounds like Michael Dell spinning up a tale that makes it seem as though Dell has been the least bit relevant in the last 25 years.

Dell thought it was a great idea and told Jobs he’d pay a licensing fee for every PC sold with the Mac OS. But Jobs had a counteroffer: He was worried that licensing scheme might undermine Apple’s own Mac computer sales because Dell computers were less costly. Instead, Dell says, Jobs suggested he just load the Mac OS alongside Windows on every Dell PC and let customers decide which software to use — and then pay Apple for every Dell PC sold. […]

Dell smiles when he tells the story. “The royalty he was talking about would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, and the math just didn’t work, because most of our customers, especially larger business customers, didn’t really want the Mac operating system,” he writes. “Steve’s proposal would have been interesting if it was just us saying, “OK, we’ll pay you every time we use the Mac OS” — but to pay him for every time we didn’t use it … well, nice try, Steve!”

Now that sounds like Steve Jobs.

Things Support for Markdown 

Cultured Code’s renowned to-do app Things added support for Markdown back in August. It’s really well done. You might think that as the creator of Markdown, that I’m in favor of seeing it in use everywhere. That is wrong. In fact, in recent years I think Markdown is in use in far too many places where something truly WYSIWYG is called for.

Things does Markdown right. It doesn’t hide the Markdown formatting characters, it just styles them. Effectively, the notes field for tasks in Things is still just plain text. It’s just styled nicely if you write that plain text in Markdown. That’s the right way to do Markdown. Don’t hide the formatting characters; just style/color them.

Nano-Chromatic Wallpapers 

New iPhone? Looking for new wallpaper? Basic Apple Guy has a nifty new one.

True story: I put the dark version of this wallpaper on my iPhone 13 Pro review unit. My son came into my office, saw my lock screen, and commented that he had the same wallpaper installed. I had never once steered his attention in the direction of Basic Apple Guy. Just pure serendipity and similar taste.

Piper Sandler Survey Claims 87 Percent of U.S. Teens Carry iPhones, 30 Percent Wear an Apple Watch 

Philip Elmer-DeWitt:

From a note to clients by analyst Harsh Kumar that landed on my desktop Tuesday:

Apple’s share of smartphone ownership remains near record highs in Piper Sandler’s Taking Stock with Teens Fall 2021 survey (here). Of the ~10,000 respondents, 87% have an iPhone, which is slightly below the 88% record set in the Spring 2021 survey. In addition, the iPhone could return to record highs due to the 88% purchase intention among teens. […]

A record 30% of teens own an Apple Watch in the Fall 2021 survey. Apple also has 86% market share among teen smart watch owners.

Larissa Faw, writing for Forbes in January 2013:

Ultimately, in the eyes of today’s youth, massive popularity has watered down Apple’s coolness. “Teens are telling us Apple is done,” says Tina Wells of the youth marketing agency Buzz Marketing Group. “Apple has done a great job of embracing Gen X and older [Millennials], but I don’t think they are connecting with Millennial kids. [They’re] all about Surface tablets/laptops and Galaxy.”

Here’s a link (PDF) to the actual survey.

‎Achoo: HTML Source Viewer for iOS Safari 15 

Speaking of nifty new Safari extensions from Christian Selig, Achoo is an iOS 15 Safari extension that gives you a good “View Source” command for inspecting (and editing) the code for any web page. $1, cheap!

The AnandTech A15 SoC Performance Review 

Andrei Frumusanu, writing for AnandTech:

In the GPU side, Apple’s peak performance improvements are off the charts, with a combination of a new larger GPU, new architecture, and the larger system cache that helps both performance as well as efficiency.

Apple’s iPhone component design seems to be limiting the SoC from achieving even better results, especially the newer Pro models, however even with that being said and done, Apple remains far above the competition in terms of performance and efficiency.

Overall, while the A15 isn’t the brute force iteration we’ve become used to from Apple in recent years, it very much comes with substantial generational gains that allow it to be a notably better SoC than the A14. In the end, it seems like Apple’s SoC team has executed well after all.

A thorough review, as usual. Interesting to contrast with Dylan Patel’s much-publicized “Apple CPU Gains Grind to a Halt and the Future Looks Dim” hot take last month, just after the Apple event. The A15 seems more about efficiency — and thus extending battery life — than going faster, but it does go faster, too.

Paddle In-App Purchase for iOS 

Paddle:

The Epic Games v. Apple verdict clears the way for app creators to choose an alternative to Apple’s payment system (and its 15-30% fee!). But choose the wrong provider and you’ll be burdened with managing payment and subscription logic, taxes, fraud, and buyer support.

Paddle In-App Purchase will let app creators replace Apple’s In-App Purchase without worrying about any of that.

Paddle is charging a 10 percent commission for transactions under $10, and 5 percent plus $0.50 per transaction at or above $10.

It’s unclear to me exactly how Paddle’s SDK works. They’re calling it “in-app purchase”, but it sounds like it redirects to Paddle’s website in Safari (or whatever your default browser on iOS is). If it redirects to a website, I think it might be allowed; if they’re processing transactions in-app, it’s not going to be allowed.

iOS 15 and Google AMP 

Jeff Johnson:

For the past several days at least, Google search results have not included AMP links on iOS 15, but they still include AMP links on iOS 14. I’ve determined that Safari’s User-Agent makes the difference. (You can spoof the User-Agent on iOS using the Safari web inspector on macOS.) […]

Important Update: I’ve received a statement from Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison: “It’s a bug specific to iOS 15 that we’re working on. We expect it will be resolved soon.”

What a weird bug. It’s made weirder by the (I think) coincidence that there are a bunch of popular new extensions for Safari that redirect AMP links to regular non-AMP web pages. I’ve used all three of these extensions, and they’re all great:

  • StopTheMadness — Johnson’s own $8 extension, that offers a whole bunch of functionality to block shitty website behavior.

  • Amplosion — $3 extension from Apollo developer Christian Selig. Wins for best icon for sure.

  • Overamped — $2 extension from Joseph Duffy. Simple and focused.

From the DF archive, January 2017: “The Problem With AMP”.

ActiveTab: $2 Safari Extension That Highlights the Active Tab 

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry that this is a thing.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco Still Dead; iPadOS Still Has No Weather App 

MG Siegler:

Yes, I know there is no shortage of third party weather apps. Some of them are great. But the devil is always in the defaults. And that default Weather widget is about to land on tens of millions of iPad screens with the launch of iPad OS 15 this fall. And with that, Apple will be sending tens of millions of dollars (maybe more?) indirectly to weather.com — which, incidentially is now owned by IBM. Insert the Steve Jobs giving the finger image here.

Do weather.com executives hold some sort of blackmail on the iPad OS dev team within Apple? I can’t come up with a better explanation.

The whole situation is bizarre. Apple just redid the Weather app in iOS 15 to be more beautiful. And the widgets reflect that. And they throw it all in the trash compactor when it comes time to drill down on the iPad.

The lack of a built-in iPad Weather app was a little weird before, but now that they have a built-in Weather widget that, when you tap it, takes you to The Weather Channel’s janky-assed website, it’s downright bizarre.

Jony Ive on Steve Jobs 

Jony Ive, in a remembrance of his friend for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

I loved how he saw the world. The way he thought was profoundly beautiful.

He was without doubt the most inquisitive human I have ever met. His insatiable curiosity was not limited or distracted by his knowledge or expertise, nor was it casual or passive. It was ferocious, energetic and restless. His curiosity was practiced with intention and rigor.

Many of us have an innate predisposition to be curious. I believe that after a traditional education, or working in an environment with many people, curiosity is a decision requiring intent and discipline.

In larger groups our conversations gravitate towards the tangible, the measurable. It is more comfortable, far easier and more socially acceptable talking about what is known. Being curious and exploring tentative ideas were far more important to Steve than being socially acceptable.

Our curiosity begs that we learn. And for Steve, wanting to learn was far more important than wanting to be right.

Apple: ‘Celebrating Steve’ 

10 years after his death, Apple has a nice short film — effectively narrated by Jobs himself — on its home page, along with a beautiful little statement from Jobs’s family.

Pretty big dent in the universe.

30-Second Night Sky Exposure on iPhone 13 Pro 

John Kraus:

I took the ProRAW file into Lightroom CC on the iPhone. Amazed at the detail I was able to extract. Wow!

Wow, indeed.

Understanding How Facebook Disappeared From the Internet 

Tom Strickx and Celso Martinho, writing for the Cloudflare blog:

“Facebook can’t be down, can it?”, we thought, for a second.

Today at 1651 UTC, we opened an internal incident entitled “Facebook DNS lookup returning SERVFAIL” because we were worried that something was wrong with our DNS resolver 1.1.1.1.  But as we were about to post on our public status page we realized something else more serious was going on.

Social media quickly burst into flames, reporting what our engineers rapidly confirmed too. Facebook and its affiliated services WhatsApp and Instagram were, in fact, all down. Their DNS names stopped resolving, and their infrastructure IPs were unreachable. It was as if someone had “pulled the cables” from their data centers all at once and disconnected them from the Internet.

How’s that even possible?

DNS is deep dark stuff, and even at the pidgin level at which Daring Fireball operates, it terrifies me. Can’t even imagine how complicated it is at Facebook’s scale. What a fiasco.

Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram Down Due to DNS Outage 

Sergiu Gatlan, BleepingComputer:

Users worldwide are reporting that they are unable to access Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, instead seeing errors that the sites can’t be reached.

When attempting to open any of the three sites, they are given DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN errors and advised to check if there is a typo in the domain entered in the address bar.

DNS, man. Wheeee!

Company That Routes Billions of Text Messages Quietly Says It Was Hacked 

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, reporting for Motherboard:

A company that is a critical part of the global telecommunications infrastructure used by AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and several others around the world such as Vodafone and China Mobile, quietly disclosed that hackers were inside its systems for years, impacting more than 200 of its clients and potentially millions of cellphone users worldwide.

The company, Syniverse, revealed in a filing dated September 27 with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission that an unknown “individual or organization gained unauthorized access to databases within its network on several occasions, and that login information allowing access to or from its Electronic Data Transfer (EDT) environment was compromised for approximately 235 of its customers.”

For a moment I thought, 235 customers — that’s not too bad. Then I realized that Syniverse’s “customers” are entire carriers, not individual people. So, yeah, this is bad.

Syniverse repeatedly declined to answer specific questions from Motherboard about the scale of the breach and what specific data was affected, but according to a person who works at a telephone carrier, whoever hacked Syniverse could have had access to metadata such as length and cost, caller and receiver’s numbers, the location of the parties in the call, as well as the content of SMS text messages. […]

The company wrote that it discovered the breach in May 2021, but that the hack began in May of 2016.

Not what you want.

The Problem With ‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’ 

John Jurgensen, writing for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

Now he’s attempting to re-engage with a show that offers fewer jokes and a more earnest agenda. With his new biweekly series, “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” his first challenge is getting people to notice it at all. Apple TV+ is decidedly more plush but less entrenched than basic cable.

Fans will find aspects of “The Problem With Jon Stewart” familiar. In front of an audience, he sits at a table for an opening monologue (now wearing a T-shirt and bomber jacket instead of a suit and tie). He twirls his pen, pauses for deadpan stares into the camera, stifles giggles behind his fist and makes self-deprecating cracks like, “I am what’s left of Jon Stewart.”

Breaking from his previous format, the show includes unscripted segments in the show’s writers’ room, where Mr. Stewart and his staff banter over each episode’s topic (expanded on in a weekly companion podcast). A separate panel discussion captures the show’s sober tone.

I watched the first episode and was bored to tears. I certainly sympathize with the plight of U.S. veterans who’ve been gravely harmed by the burning of toxic waste, but the show itself felt like a droll hour-long lecture — not a good sign when the show was in fact only 40 minutes long. Strong “When is this going to be over?” vibes. It was like being stuck back in school.

I’m not saying Stewart can or should only do comedy. I like serious issue-based shows, too, but the good ones, like 60 Minutes, move along at a fast clip. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight devotes itself to the most serious issues in the world today, but the show is entertaining, fast-paced, and funny as hell. It moves. The premiere of The Problem With Jon Stewart can only be described as “plodding”. I’ll give it another shot this week, but one more like last week’s and I’m out.

Kevin Roose: ‘Facebook Is Weaker Than We Knew’ 

Kevin Roose’s take on the inside look at Facebook revealed by The Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” series, which in turn is based on Frances Haugen’s whistleblower leaks:

It’s far too early to declare Facebook dead. The company’s stock price has risen nearly 30 percent in the past year, lifted by strong advertising revenue and a spike in use of some products during the pandemic. Facebook is still growing in countries outside the United States, and could succeed there even if it stumbles domestically. And the company has invested heavily in newer initiatives, like augmented and virtual reality products, that could turn the tide if they’re successful.

But Facebook’s research tells a clear story, and it’s not a happy one. Its younger users are flocking to Snapchat and TikTok, and its older users are posting anti-vaccine memes and arguing about politics. Some Facebook products are actively shrinking, while others are merely making their users angry or self-conscious.

Facebook’s declining relevance with young people shouldn’t necessarily make its critics optimistic. History teaches us that social networks rarely age gracefully, and that tech companies can do a lot of damage on the way down.

Frances Haugen, Facebook Whistleblower, on 60 Minutes 

Keith Zubrow, writing for 60 Minutes Overtime:

Haugen stated that some of Facebook’s own research found that “angry content” is more likely to receive engagement, something that content producers and political parties are aware of.

“One of the most shocking pieces of information that I brought out of Facebook that I think is essential to this disclosure is political parties have been quoted, in Facebook’s own research, saying, we know you changed how you pick out the content that goes in the home feed,” said Haugen. “And now if we don’t publish angry, hateful, polarizing, divisive content, crickets. We don’t get anything. And we don’t like this. We know our constituents don’t like this. But if we don’t do these stories, we don’t get distributed. And so it used to be that we did very little of it, and now we have to do a lot of it, because we have jobs to do. And if we don’t get traffic and engagement, we’ll lose our jobs.”

Haugen’s whistleblowing jibes exactly with my theory all along: Facebook prioritizes growth and engagement over all else, and when they discovered that polarizing angering content drives engagement more than anything else, they let it fly. It’s that simple.

Apple Watch Series 7 Orders Start This Friday, and a Bonus Spitball Theory About the Much-Rumored Flat-Sided Design 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced Apple Watch Series 7, featuring the largest and most advanced Apple Watch display ever — and a reengineered Always-On Retina display with significantly more screen area and thinner borders — will be available to order beginning Friday, October 8, at 5 a.m. PDT and available in stores starting Friday, October 15.

So the Series 7 watches are only shipping three weeks after the iPhones 13. Not bad, but let’s see how supply-constrained they are.

While I’m writing about Apple Watch, let me put on the record my theory about the flat-sides industrial design that a slew of rumor guys claimed was coming for Series 7, but in fact, did not. (I put forth this theory on the latest episode of The Talk Show, with guest Jason Snell.)

My guess is that the flat-sided design is real, and it’s making its way through Apple’s supply chain, which is how it leaked. But it clearly was never intended for Series 7 — Series 7 is an altogether different new industrial design. So my theory is that the flat-sided design is for the next-generation Apple Watch SE. The current SE debuted a year ago, alongside the Apple Watch Series 6, so I wouldn’t expect a second-generation SE until, say, April of next year at the earliest, but perhaps more likely a year from now, alongside the Series 8 models.

The problem, from a product marketing perspective, with the existing Apple Watch SE is that it looks exactly like a Series 6. With the iPhones, the SE models always look older — the original SE looked like an iPhone 5/5S (when the new models had moved to the bigger iPhone 6/7/8 sizes), and the second-gen SE looks like an iPhone 6/7/8 (while the new models are now all derived from the iPhone X design).

There is no “old” industrial design for Apple Watch SE to follow that is distinguishable at a mere glance as a lower-cost budget model. The flat-sided look would do that. I’m not saying the flat-sided design would look bad, per se, but I am convinced that — if it ever does ship — it will look more utilitarian. It’s not a premium design. It’s plain.

Quill 

My thanks to Quill for sponsoring this week at DF. Quill is a new messaging app for teams, made by people who love messaging — many of them grew up on IRC. Messaging is their favorite way to collaborate, but not if it’s overwhelming or disorganized. Unlike a lot of messaging platforms — not mentioning any names here — Quill looks great on both iOS and MacOS.

It’s a more deliberate way to chat. Try it for free.

TV Commercial Promoting the New Safari 

“Now, more than ever, Safari is it.”

Facebook in Crisis Mode Amid Wall Street Journal Exposé 

Mike Isaac, Sheera Frenkel, and Ryan Mac, reporting for The New York Times:

But some of Facebook’s containment has at times backfired with its own workers. This week, the company downplayed the internal research that The Journal had partly based its articles on, suggesting that the findings were limited and imprecise. That angered some employees who had worked on the research, three people said. They have congregated on group chats to decry the characterizations as unfair, and some have privately threatened to quit.

That’s what it takes for these researchers to think about quitting Facebook? Their research shows that Facebook is doing harm to society and harm to teenagers, but what makes them threaten to leave is having their work disparaged? What a magnet for sociopaths this company is.

The Talk Show: ‘A Pretty Generic Thing You Stick in a Hole’ 

Jason Snell returns to the show to talk about the new iPhones 13, new iPad Mini, Safari 15’s craptacular new tab UI, and the insightful questions posed to Kevin Durant on the Brooklyn Nets’ media day from Basketball Digest’s best NBA reporter.

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South Korean Broadband Firm Sues Netflix After Traffic Surge From ‘Squid Game’ 

Reuters:

South Korean Internet service provider SK Broadband has sued Netflix to pay for costs from increased network traffic and maintenance work because of a surge of viewers to the U.S. firm’s content, an SK spokesperson said on Friday.

The move comes after a Seoul court said Netflix should “reasonably” give something in return to the internet service provider for network usage, and multiple South Korean lawmakers have spoken out against content providers who do not pay for network usage despite generating explosive traffic.

Some really odd legal decisions and laws coming out of South Korea lately. I detect a whiff of protectionism. Would they be going after app store payment systems if the dominant one belonged to Samsung? I doubt it.