Linked List: September 2021

Daring Fireball Weekly Sponsorships for Q4 

Sponsorships have been selling briskly this year, but I’ve only just now opened spots for the October-December quarter. Plus, a last-minute change has opened up next week’s spot, starting this coming Monday.

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 — should be another good week.

iPhone Day Is Still a Thing 

I shot this video while walking past the Philly Apple Store at 2 pm. The line went most of the way down the block. I’ll bet the line was longer than it would have been without COVID restrictions, but still — this is the 15th generation of iPhones and people are still lining up to buy them on the day they’re available. And how many more people had them delivered today, waking up early a week ago to preorder the moment the online store came online? People love iPhone. If you look at it solely as a technology product you’re missing the biggest part of the iPhone story. iPhone Day is a de facto annual holiday for untold millions of people around the world.

That’s not true of any other product in the world.

Apple’s iOS Changes Are Hurting Facebook’s Ad Business 

Alex Kantrowitz, writing for CNBC:

“Just completely running blind” is how Aaron Paul, a performance Facebook marketer, described it. Paul said his company, Carousel, moved from spending millions of dollars each day on Facebook to a few hundred thousand dollars. Before the iOS changes, Facebook generated 80% of the traffic Carousel sent to its product pages. Now it accounts for 20%.

Apple’s iOS changes may lead to irreparable harm to Facebook’s ad business. This moment has demonstrated to Paul and his fellow performance buyers that relying on one channel (albeit a very effective one) is risky. So they’re looking to diversify their ad spend. Paul said he’s moved his ad budget elsewhere, including “Snapchat and TikTok, but also silent killers like email.” On Twitter, Facebook marketers discussing Apple’s changes almost unanimously agreed they needed to follow suit.

🎻.

App Store Release Notes of the Week: Poolsuite FM 

This is the most joyful way of saying “We’re sorry our iOS 15 compatibility update was a few days late” I can imagine. What a fun app.

Monotype Acquires Hoefler & Co. 

Jonathan Hoefler:

Nothing’s changing at typography.com, where you’ll still find all 1,113 fonts in the Hoefler&Co library, as well as the cloud.typography webfont service, and all the other resources we’ve created for designers and brands. The H&Co team is staying in place, too, and there are yet more typefaces from us that you can look forward to seeing soon. […]

In the meantime, I’ll be stepping down from my role in the company, to finally make the time to recharge, reflect, and explore some new ideas. In these past few years, participating in a documentary and using typography to help elect a president have been potent reminders of just how many ways there are for type to make a difference, and just how many people are moved by the splendor of typography.

I’d need 144-point type to express my surprise at this announcement.

iPhone 13 Pro Works, But Fits Poorly With MagSafe Duo Charger 

Awkward.

(Remembers that the MagSafe Duo Charger costs $130.)

Really awkward.

‘Float’ 

Aundre Larrow, announcing his directorial debut:

Shot on the new iPhone 13 Pro, Float is a short film about the journey that a father and daughter take together.

If this doesn’t move you, you’re not hooked up right. Good god, what a powerful, lovely, beautiful short film. Headphones and full screen — this deserves your attention. I take it back, Cinematic mode — which Larrow used to shoot this — is no gimmick at all.

This is just astonishing. Remember Aundre Larrow’s name.

My Advice on How to Set Up a New iPhone or iPad: Quick Start Device-to-Device Transfer 

A bunch of you are probably getting new iPhones (and iPads) today. As someone who’s set up 5 new devices in the last week, my advice is to restore a new iPhone with the Quick Start device-to-device transfer, not iCloud backup. Don’t worry if it says it might take a little longer this way, it’s worth it. Get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. A watched pot never boils; a watched transfer never finishes.

Device-to-device is better because it moves over all your login credentials. When you restore from an iCloud backup, you wind up logged out of a lot of apps on the new device. When you restore device-to-device, almost everything moves over. I know there are exceptions, but I don’t think I bounced into a single app that didn’t keep me fully logged in this week. If you tried device-to-device a few years ago and found it lacking, try it again now — Apple has improved this process every year since it debuted. Worst case scenario, you can always start over and use iCloud backup.

Also, you do not need to unpair your Apple Watch from your old iPhone using this method. You can just wear your watch the whole time. When the transfer is complete, the new iPhone will prompt you, asking if you want to move your watch to the new iPhone. Your mileage may vary but it just worked for me.

I posted this on Twitter tonight, and realized I should post about this here too. The Twitter thread has a bunch of Q&A’s about specific apps, like authentication tokens in Authy (they transfer fine).

Om Malik on the New iPad Mini 

Om Malik:

The best way to extract the most out of the smallest iPad is to think of it as a device enhanced by non-keyboard input methods — Scribble with Pencil, snapping photos with the cameras, or using Siri/voice input. The improved “Scribble” allows you to make notes, do quick searches, and even find directions. It is a very addictive way to use the iPad, especially in the smaller size. […]

The more I use the device, the more I realize that most computing has been defined by a singular idea of work and productivity. Mobile devices have and will continue to redefine our work. In the past, most of the computing involved being in the office. Now, non-office tasks have access to computing resources and thus offer an opportunity to make them more productive. Devices like the iPad are about making non-office work a bit more productive. Whether it is doctors, field engineers, or delivery drivers, devices such as the iPad in general and iPad Mini, in particular, could help change the very notion of productivity.

What makes Om’s perspective interesting to me is that he switched to an iPad Pro as his main computer a few years back, and loves it. The iPad Mini isn’t an alternative to those sort of use cases — but as he points out, there are so many things people do with “computers” today that just weren’t imagined even a decade ago.

I’m sort of the anti-Om in this regard. I have a 2018 iPad Pro that I generally keep in my kitchen, connected to a Magic Keyboard. Ever since the Magic Keyboard came out (with trackpad support and good keyboard shortcut support in iPadOS), I’ve found the iPad Pro much more useful for my work. But nowhere near as useful as a Mac. I’m not arguing that a MacBook is better than an iPad for work. I’m just saying MacOS works better for me. Not even close. Getting in the flow on my Mac, I feel 10 times more productive than I ever do on my iPad Pro. But the iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard is good enough that I now suspect it leads me to punt around in the kitchen drinking coffee much longer than I should at the start of my workdays. I like an iPad for reading the news at the start of the day, but I might be better served with a more limited iPad Mini than a significantly more useful iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard, just because it’d push me to get to my office and sit my ass in front of my real work machine.

The Microsoft Event Had In-Person Hands-On Time With Products 

Carolina Milanesi, on Twitter:

I had the opportunity to see the new @surface devices live … and I am so glad I did.

Holding #SurfaceDuo in my hand, seeing the clever case that secures the #SurfacePen that looks like a finish rather than a case not adding any thickness, the fluidity of the screen and the clever gaming controls…. Very much looking forward to giving it a spin!

Amen to this enthusiasm for seeing the product introduction live. I get it why Apple did not hold an in-person press event last week — iPhone events are huge, and while I think small events can safely be held in person now, there’s no practical way to shrink the iPhone event.

I miss having hands-on time with new devices as soon as keynotes end. You pick up on things immediately: that something is heavier or lighter than you expected. That certain colors or finishes look different. Remember the Jet Black iPhone 7? You had to see it in person to understand how it looked. And I miss in-person briefings, both official ones and unofficial. In-person communication simply cannot be beaten for conveying subtlety.

Product reviews are hampered too. With in-person Apple events, most reviewers get kit in the hours after the keynote ends. With virtual Apple events, the kit ships for delivery the next day. An extra day makes a big difference when the review embargo drops just one week after the event.

Highlights From Microsoft’s Fall Surface Event 

Nice supercut video from The Verge squeezing Microsoft’s Surface event yesterday into eight minutes. A few thoughts:

It seems like Microsoft is letting the Surface division stand on its own, brand-wise. They’re not distancing themselves from Microsoft in any way, but branding-wise they’re just letting the products be the “Surface Whatever”, not the “Microsoft Surface Whatever”. There’s even a moment in the event, regarding the folding Duo 2 phone, when a guy says it has “the most precise and reliable hinge mechanism ever engineered at Surface”. I.e. that it was “Surface” who engineered that hinge, not “Microsoft”. I think Surface works as a Microsoft sub-brand like that.

Speaking of the Surface Duo 2 — their folding phone with two screens — they’re now just calling it what they should have called it all along: a phone. It’s a very interesting and unique form factor, but it’s a big folding phone, not a small folding tablet. It supposedly has real cameras this time, too. Starting price: $1,500.

The new Surface Laptop Studio looks really dumb to me. I don’t understand why one would ever want to use it in either of the new folding positions. I guess maybe if you really want to draw on it, you might want to fold it flat, but if you really want to draw that much, why not buy the Surface Pro 8 that detaches from the keyboard? This design just seems dumb.

The Surface Slim Pen 2 introduces haptic feedback, to simulate the feel of a pen on paper. I love stuff like that.

Apple Watch Series 7 Supports 60.5GHz Wireless Data Transfer, Perhaps Only for Apple’s Internal Use 

Joe Rossignol, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple Watch Series 7 models are equipped with a new module that enables 60.5GHz wireless data transfer, according to FCC filings viewed by MacRumors, but this functionality may be reserved for Apple’s internal use only for now.

The filings indicate that the 60.5GHz module is only activated when the Apple Watch is placed on a proprietary magnetic dock with a corresponding 60.5GHz module, but this dock will likely be reserved for use by Apple employees. For example, it’s possible that Apple Stores might use the dock to wirelessly restore an Apple Watch, and if so, it will be interesting to see if Series 7 models still have a hidden diagnostic port for wired connectivity.

This is a little interesting in and of itself. But if you look at the long-term trend, it’s a sign that Apple — along with the rest of the industry — is moving toward wireless technology for both charging and data transfer. Apple Watch exemplifies that — it’s never had a port, either for charging or data. There’s a diagnostic port hidden inside the bottom channel for the watch strap, but those diagnostics are neither charging nor data.

It’s long been my guess that iPhone is never going to support USB-C. I think it’s Apple’s intention to go straight from Lightning to wireless/inductive, with no “port”. Portless is the future for all devices. Yet the product design geniuses at the European Commission want to mandate all devices have one specific port in 2024 and indefinitely thereafter — a port that by that time will already be 10 years old.

European Commission Unveils Long-Awaited Stupid Proposal to Mandate USB-C on All Cell Phones and Devices 

Elian Peltier, reporting for The New York Times:

The European Union unveiled plans on Thursday to make USB-C connectors the standard charging port for all smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices sold across the bloc, an initiative that it says will reduce environmental waste but that is likely to hit Apple the hardest.

The move would represent a long-awaited yet aggressive step into product-making decisions by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. Apple, whose iPhones are equipped with a different port, has long opposed the plan, arguing that it would stifle innovation and lead to more electronic waste as all current chargers that are not USB-C would become obsolete. […]

The new legislation is likely to come into effect in 2024 because it first needs to be approved by the European Parliament and then adopted by manufacturers. Besides phones, it would apply to cameras, headphones, portable speakers and video game consoles.

Benedict Evans:

This is a profoundly stupid way to approach product design and standardisation. What happens in 5 years when someone wants to use a better connector? What if they’d picked USB 3 five years ago?

How stupid? This stupid:

But Apple has also argued that if the European Union had imposed a common charger in 2009, it would have restricted innovation that led to USB-C and Lightning connectors. In a statement, Apple said that although it welcomed the European Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment, it favored a solution that left the device side of the charging interface open for innovation.

Mr. Breton said on Thursday that he was familiar with Apple’s concerns. “Every time we try to put a proposal, such companies start to say, ‘It will be against innovation,’” he said.

“It’s not at all against innovation. It’s not against anyone,” he added. “It’s for European consumers.”

Mr. Breton said manufacturers, including Apple, could choose to offer two charging ports on their devices if they wanted to keep a non-USB-C connector.

Two charging ports on the same phone, what an elegant idea. This is like a parody of overzealous regulation of something that is not in need of any regulation at all. Why not mandate that all phones, tablets, and cameras have to run the same operating system, too? Oh, you say, it’s only about reducing waste? Why not mandate that all phones must be the same size and shape, so that they’re all compatible with the exact same cases? Great idea.

These E.U. meddlers have indeed been clamoring for this legislation since 2009 — Apple didn’t pick that date out of the air. At the time, iPhones used 30-pin iPod USB 1 adapters and most other phones used adapters like Micro-USB and (gag) Mini-USB. You don’t have to be a computer engineer to look back at your lifetime and realize that computer plugs and adapters keep getting smaller and better. Do they really think no one is going to come up with an adapter better than USB-C? Ever?

And don’t even start with any sort of argument that legislation like this won’t impede progress, but will instead force the industry to work together via committee to agree upon new better standards in a prompt fashion. Almost everything that goes through such committees takes years longer than one company can do on its own, and comes out worse — often far worse. Look at all the horrendously shitty USB plugs the USB consortium has come up with over the years.

And people in the E.U. wonder why England wanted out, and why nearly all the major tech companies are from the U.S. and Asia.

Austin Mann’s iPhone 13 Pro Camera Review: Tanzania 

No big deal — just a safari expedition to Tanzania. Lions, leopards, giraffes. Ultra wide angle 4K 60 video shot from an iPhone 13 Pro mounted to a helicopter. Your typical iPhone camera review.

The review starts with a terrific movie — including some truly pro-looking Cinematic mode shots — by Taylor McKay.

I thought this was a pretty interesting observation from Mann:

Although the iPhone 13 Pro still only has three lenses, the addition of macro capability is like adding a new lens altogether, and for the serious photographer I think it’s perhaps the strongest advancement in this year’s camera system. […]

Photographer or not, you’ve seen the big and heavy backpacks photographers carry with them on every shoot. Whether it’s local or international, we lug these bags full of lenses around because each one offers a new perspective on whatever story it is that we’re telling.

As a photographer passionate about the natural world, I carry a macro lens with me no matter what project I’m working on, just because I never know what tiny detail of interest might present itself. Now with the macro capability of the iPhone 13 Pro, I feel like I have my “in-a-pinch” macro shots covered and I can leave the rarely-used macro lens at home.

Everything you see in this video was shot with a $1,000 device meant to fit in your pocket.

Some great iOS 15 tips from Mann, too, including using the new Focus feature to create a custom “Shoot Mode” with no notifications whenever he’s using the Camera app or Halide. Also, Mann’s custom Photographic Style settings.

Software Update Adds Bluetooth Audio Support to the Nintendo Switch, Four Years After It Debuted 

A story like this is why you shouldn’t misuse finally in headlines. Four years!

How Apple Built the iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode 

Great interview by Matthew Panzarino with Apple vice president Kaiann Drance and human interface designer Johnnie Manzari from Apple’s Camera team:

That’s not even counting tracking shots, where a focus puller is continually adjusting focus as the camera moves and even the subject moves in relation to the camera. It’s a highly skilled operation. To pull off a tracking shot, a focus puller must practice and train extensively for years. This, Manzari says, is where Apple sees an opportunity.

“We feel like this is the kind of thing that Apple tackles the best. To take something difficult and conventionally hard to learn, and then turn it into something automatic and simple.”

So the team started working through the technical problems in finding focus, locking focus and racking focus. And these explorations led them to gaze.

“In cinema, the role of gaze and body movement to direct that story is so fundamental. And as humans we naturally do this, if you look at something, I look at it too.”

So they knew they would need to build in gaze detection to help lead their focusing target around the frame, which in turn leads the viewer through the story. Being on set, Manzari says, allowed Apple to observe these highly skilled technicians and then build in that feel.

Panzarino includes this three-minute video consisting of nothing but Cinematic mode clips from the trip to Disneyland he took with his family to test the new iPhones. There are some really neat shots in the video — I particularly like the one around the 1m:32s mark with his kids on the carousel. That change in focus is exactly what Cinematic mode was meant for.

But the other thing that Panzarino’s video exemplifies is that you don’t have to work to use Cinematic mode. No help from someone else (let alone a crew), no extra lighting, no more difficult than just shooting a regular video mode clip. Something anyone could do — and might want to do — on a hectic day at a fun theme park. If you screw up the focus while shooting you can easily fix it — or just improve it — later.

Apple’s Texas-Sized Problem 

Judd Legum, writing at Popular Information:

On Friday, CEO Tim Cook answered a question about Apple’s stance on the Texas ban at an all-staff meeting. Cook said that “the company was looking into whether it could aid the legal fight against the new law.”

Apple has considerable leverage over the abortion debate in Texas and across the country — but it is not related to its ability to pay for lawyers. Apple’s leverage rests in its status as a major employer and driver of economic growth.

If Apple believes that its employees should be able to “make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health,” it could publicly state that it will not expand its workforce in states that limit abortion rights. That would have a major influence not only in Texas but in numerous states considering following Texas’ lead.

Last week, TechCrunch published the text of a company-wide memo posted to an internal Apple message board regarding Texas’s near-outlawing of abortion. It began:

A message about women’s reproductive health care

At Apple, we support our employees’ rights to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health.

Legum is right — it’s untenable for Apple, or any other company, to “support our employees’ rights to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health” and ask any woman to work for the company in a state with a law like Texas’s. An immediate hiring and construction freeze in Texas — explicitly tied to this outrageous law (which makes no exceptions for rape or incest) — is the only tenable action compatible with Apple’s stated values.

David Simon, linking to Legum’s post:

If an employer, this is beyond politics. I’m turning in scripts next month on an HBO non-fiction miniseries based on events in Texas, but I can’t and won’t ask female cast/crew to forgo civil liberties to film there. What else looks like Dallas/Ft. Worth?

That’s the answer. You move your business out of Texas. Any company that expands or initiates new operations in Texas implicitly supports Texas’s abortion ban.

iPhone 13 and Apple Silicon 

Ben Bajarin, writing at Creative Strategies:

While I will admit there is a small percentage of Apple customers who upgrade every year and a percentage more who upgrade every two years because they are on upgrade plans, the vast majority of consumers upgrade every 3-4 years. I thought it would be interesting to look at some basic iPhone benchmarks through the years and look at how much performance improvement happens every four years.

Incremental improvements every year turn into profound improvements over 3–4 years. It’s like the technology version of compound interest. It adds up.

As I benchmarked the A15 Bionic in different ways and pondered how Apple spends its transistor budget with each A-series chip cycle, an interesting shift emerged for iPhone 13. Going back to how Apple spends their transistor budget on features, not necessarily performance, for the A15, Apple looks to have had the most GPU gains YoY since the A9. For the past five years, Apple has had an average of 19% GPU gains YoY but for the A15 Bionic, Apple has increased GPU performance by 52%.

This intentional increase in GPU performance over CPU performance speaks to the more graphically intense features Apple had in mind for iPhone 13 that is demonstrated in things like macro photography, macro video, and Cinematic Mode. Developers also now have a dramatically increased GPU at their disposal to create new app experiences around and can leverage new augmented reality techniques, visual computing and AI, and more.

It’s almost enough to make one think that Apple is ready to release high-end professional Macs built around Apple GPUs.

Music Video Shot With iPhone 13 Pro Cinematic Mode: Julia Wolf – ‘Falling in Love’ 

Jonathan Morrison:

Went hands on with the iPhone 13 Pro and immediately wanted to test out the camera and cinematic mode. It’s limited to 1080p 30fps but I was surprised to see how sharp it was AND that it retained Dolby Vision.

Interesting to see Cinematic mode in the hands of a talented videographer. Easily the best “in the wild” Cinematic mode video I’ve seen. (Explicit lyrics in the song.)

Wired’s 2011 Review of the iPhone 4S 

From Wired’s review of the iPhone 4S:

Apple never specified what the “S” stands for in iPhone 4S, and it may as well stand for Siri. Sure, the fifth-generation iPhone’s superb camera and speedy dual-core processor are classy additions. But Siri is the reason people should buy this phone. […]

The iPhone 4S looks exactly the same as its predecessor — but who cares? If it was shaped even slightly differently or came in a new color, people would still go nuts over the stuff that’s more important anyway: the insides. And both inside and out, this is a magnificent smartphone.

The late Steve Jobs once called the computer the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. I think of the smartphone as the rocket ship for our minds. With increasingly powerful sensors and technologies, and access to hundreds of thousands of apps enabling us to do just about anything, the iPhone keeps soaring to incredible heights and taking us to places with limitless potential. I guess that’s what you have to do to create a ding in the universe.

I don’t know what happened to the fellow who wrote this review 10 years ago, but The New York Times could sure use a personal tech critic with this sort of enthusiasm and insight into the way that incremental improvements aggregate in just a few years in profound ways.

‘The Most Important iPhone Ever’ 

Horace Dediu, writing at Asymco:

There are more than 1 billion iPhone users. The total number of users has been rising steadily. iPhone users make up about 26% of all smartphone users (3.8 billion is the current estimate). The share of users in the US is about 60% (or soon will be.) The share in UK is close to 50%. All these share numbers are higher than ever. Over 14% of US and 10% of UK survey respondents have switched to an iPhone in the past two years.

I was not aware that churn was so strongly in the favor of iPhone over the last two years. Pretty good for a phone that Henry Blodget declared “dead in the water” in 2012. The downside to this trend, if it continues, is Apple might start running into being deemed an actual monopolist — by which I mean holding a monopoly share of phones period, not just a monopoly on iPhones. And with its sole OS competitor increasingly showing signs of losing institutional interest in Android, that trend might continue.

Dediu on the iPhone 13 and Apple’s camera improvements over the last few years in general:

We did not ask for rack focus, post-production focus (!), night mode, macro photography and portrait bokeh. But once we have these features we begin, ever so slowly, to use them and then we start demanding them. Conversely it seems that what people mostly ask for — that is what the critics ask for — are extrapolations of existing features. The “faster horse” dilemma.

On the surface, the physics of photography are stacked against Apple. Apple’s “cameras” are pancake-thin phones that people rightfully expect to comfortably carry in a jeans pocket. The technically-best photos and videos you can create today are shot using very large, very heavy cameras. But in a very meaningful way, this severe disadvantage works in Apple’s favor. It’s good to be the underdog. It keeps you hungry. And in photography, Apple is very much the underdog — not to any competing company but to the laws of physics. They’ve been making better smartphones than their competition since the day the first iPhone went on sale. That can make a company lazy, and lose focus. The worst thing that ever happened to the Mac was Microsoft Windows going to shit after Windows XP.

But Apple will be chasing “real” cameras in image quality for at least another decade, maybe forever. Settling for nothing less than making the best cameras, period, despite the severe form factor constraints of a “phone”, is the sort of north star that keeps a company focused.

Who Needs to Shoot Photos in Low Light Anyway? 

Nilay Patel, on Brian X. Chen’s iPhone 13 review for Pravda The New York Times:

The NYT does not believe regular people stand to benefit from better iPhone photos in the dark. I live for this review from another planet every year.

I thought this was a really strange passage too. Quoting from Chen’s review:

So in summary, the iPhone 13 cameras are slightly better than those of last year’s iPhones. Even compared with iPhones from three years ago, the cameras are much better only if you care about taking nice photos in the dark.

Just how important is night photography? I posed the question to Jim Wilson, a longtime staff photographer for The New York Times, as he was taking pictures of the new iPhones for this review. He said it would be a crucial feature for people like him, but not as important for casual shooters.

I enjoy how Chen’s review opens with an egalitarian slam that Apple and Samsung’s annual phone updates are “a mirage of tech innovation” and instead are “a celebration of capitalism”, but when it comes to explaining why typical users shouldn’t care about low-light photography, he basically says “because a professional staff photographer at The New York Times says they shouldn’t care”.

Ben Thompson recalled (as I should have, but did not) that this is something of a recurring theme. From Chen’s review of the iPhones 11 and 11 Pro two years ago:

Photos taken with the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro looked crisp and clear, and their colors were accurate. But after I finished these tests, I looked back at my archived photos taken with an iPhone X.

Those pictures, especially the ones shot with portrait mode, still looked impressive. Some of the low-light ones looked crummy in comparison with the ones taken by the iPhone 11s, but I wouldn’t recommend that you buy a new phone just to get better night photos. You could always just use flash.

You shouldn’t feel the need to buy a new iPhone every year” is a fine sentiment, one that many, if not most, reviewers make each year. Arguing, repeatedly, that your readers should not be concerned at all about taking better photos in low light is bizarre. The single biggest change in consumer photography over the last 3–4 years is the exponential improvement in low light and night mode photography on new mobile phones.

And again, as I mentioned yesterday, Chen’s iPhone 13 review doesn’t even mention battery life, even though almost every other reviewer noted significant improvements across the lineup.

Brian X. Chen on the iPhones 13: ‘The Most Incremental Upgrade Ever’ 

Brian X. Chen’s review of the new iPhones for The New York Times is the least enthusiastic I’ve seen:

This is all to say the annual phone upgrade, which companies like Apple and Samsung tout with enormous marketing events and ad campaigns to gin up sales for the holiday shopping season, has become a mirage of tech innovation. In reality, the upgrades are now a celebration of capitalism in the form of ruthless incrementalism.

Fair enough, but I found it curious that Chen’s review didn’t contain the word “battery”. The consensus is pretty strong that the two standout features are better cameras and improved battery life.

Joanna Stern: ‘From Mini to Pro Max, It’s All About the Battery and Cameras’ 

Joanna Stern, reviewing the iPhone 13 lineup for the WSJ:

With videos, gosh, I was really excited about the new Cinematic mode. Aaaand gosh, was it a let down. The feature — which you could call “Portrait mode for video” — adds artistic blur around the object in focus. The coolest thing is that you can tap to refocus while you shoot (and even do it afterward in the Photos app).

Except, as you can see in my video, the software struggles to know where objects begin and end. It’s a lot like the early days of Portrait Mode, but it’s worse because now the blur moves and warps. I shot footage where the software lost parts of noses and fingers, and struggled with items such as a phone or camera. The Apple spokeswoman said Cinematic mode is a “breakthrough innovation that will keep getting better over time.”

Stern went all-in on Cinematic mode for the video accompanying her review.

Raymond Wong’s iPhone 13 Pro Review for Input 

Raymond Wong shot a bunch of great camera comparisons for his Input review. He was annoyed by the same jarring automatic switch between the 1× to 0.5× lens when entering or leaving macro mode that I mentioned in my review:

I welcome greater detail for close-ups and it’s clever that Apple is using the ultra-wide to augment the 1× wide and 3× telephoto at short distances, but the transitioning of cameras is disorienting. Apple makes no mention of this camera switching/augmenting on its iPhone 13 Pro website. I get that it’s supposed to be one of those “it just works” features. At least that was Apple’s intention I’m told, but it just doesn’t.

Here’s a screen recording of the automatic camera switching in action. In this shot, I was trying to frame these delicious soup dumplings using the grid. Holding the iPhone 13 Pro still, you can see the 1× wide switching to another slightly different FOV that’s using the ultra-wide autofocusing. The viewfinder keeps jittering as it tries to choose between a regular wide or wide-macro shot. A regular person wouldn’t look at this and think to themselves, this is normal. They’d look at the jittering and think something is broken with their iPhone camera. The framing should never change from what you compose and never automatically.

Wong’s screen recording illustrates the issue perfectly.

When I first pressed Apple and made them aware of the jarring camera switching, I was told it’s how the camera system works. On the eve of this review, Apple changed course and said it’s going to release a software update to let users disable the camera switching. According to Apple:

A new setting will be added in a software update this fall to turn off automatic camera switching when shooting at close distances for macro photography and video.

Panzarino Takes the iPhone 13 Pro to Disneyland 

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch, regarding Cinematic video mode:

I did some test shooting with my kids walking through crowds and riding on carousels that was genuinely, shockingly good. It really does provide a filmic, dreamy quality to the video that I was previously only able to get with quick and continuous focus adjustments on an SLR shooting video with a manually focused lens.

That, I think, is the major key to understanding Cinematic Mode. Despite the marketing, this mode is intended to unlock new creative possibilities for the vast majority of iPhone users who have no idea how to set focal distances, bend their knees to stabilize and crouch-walk-rack-focus their way to these kinds of tracking shots. It really does open up a big bucket that was just inaccessible before. And in many cases I think that those willing to experiment and deal with its near-term foibles will be rewarded with some great looking shots to add to their iPhone memories widget.

That sounds right to me.

Dieter Bohn on the iPhone 13 Pro 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

Apple’s marketing for the camera system on the 13 Pro is that it’s the “biggest advancement ever.” I don’t know that I would go that far, but I also can’t remember the last time I’ve said “whoa, look at this photo” as many times as I have during this review. […]

Where the Pro 13 camera system shines is in low light. The main wide-angle sensor has seen a massive upgrade this year. Unlike Android phones that are chasing big megapixel counts and then “pixel binning” to achieve low light performance, Apple is sticking with 12 megapixels, the same resolution it’s used since 2015’s iPhone 6S. The sensor itself is much bigger now and features 1.9 µm pixels, which are about as big as anything we’ve seen on a smartphone. And on top of all that, the lens now has an ƒ/1.5 aperture.

All of that adds up to a camera that can very quickly take in a massive amount of light relative to other phones. Combined with some tuning and improvements to Apple’s computational photography, the low light performance on the 13 Pro is simply second to none.

I came away super impressed with the low light performance of the 13 Pro, too.

Bohn makes an important point in his corresponding review of the 13 and 13 Mini too: because the camera bumps are all new sizes, cases for the iPhone 13 won’t fit the 13 Pro, nor vice-versa.

More, Smaller Apps 

Apple Newsroom, back on August 30:

Primephonic is no longer available for new subscribers and will be taken offline beginning September 7. Apple Music plans to launch a dedicated classical music app next year combining Primephonic’s classical user interface that fans have grown to love with more added features. In the meantime, current Primephonic subscribers will receive six months of Apple Music for free, providing access to hundreds of thousands of classical albums, all in Lossless and high-resolution audio, as well as hundreds of classical albums in Apple Music’s Spatial Audio, with new albums added regularly.

I’ve had this flagged for a few weeks. What I find interesting is Apple is going to use this acquisition to launch a dedicated classical music app, not to expand the Music app. iTunes, infamously, expanded greatly over the years, and everyone seems to agree that the user experience suffered for it. I wonder if that’s in the back of Apple’s mind here.

Listen Notes 

My thanks to Wenbin Fang for sponsoring this week at DF to promote Listen Notes, a podcast search engine. He sponsored DF to share his story of how listening to podcasts has largely replaced Wikipedia as an informal learning resource for him, personally.

Fang has used Listen Notes to help himself listen to about 5,000 podcast episodes in the past 4 years. (!) In his blog post, he explains his own idiosyncratic methods for podcast discovery and consumption.

If you want to jumpstart your own podcast project, try the Listen Notes podcast API, or if you want to find all podcast interviews of a person, just search for their name on listennotes.com. Just a website, really well done.

The Talk Show: ‘It Was More Arial Than Helvetica’ 

Rene Ritchie returns to the show for a recap of this week’s “California Streaming” Apple Event: the iPhones 13, Apple Watch Series 7, and new iPads. Also, last week’s decision in the Apple v. Epic lawsuit.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
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Yours Truly on CNBC This Morning 

I enjoy that I’m credited in the headline simply as “expert”. I’ll take that.

The Old Last-Minute Hardware Design Switcheroo 

Killian Bell, writing at Cult of Mac:

Apple Watch Series 7 is not the upgrade most of us expected to see from Tuesday’s Apple event. The new model doesn’t sport the big design refresh multiple sources said was coming. It doesn’t even pack a new chip.

Is this the upgrade Apple wanted to deliver this year? Or is it a last-minute substitution that Cupertino had to settle on because the refresh it really wanted to deliver just wasn’t ready to roll out?

Based on the evidence, we’re going to say it’s the latter.

The only way this could be funnier is if Bell included the theory that perhaps Apple changed the hardware at the last minute because the flat-edge designs leaked.

This is not how hardware works. These designs are set long in advance. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the flat-edge watch designs might be legitimate leaks, but they’re next year’s designs. That’s how far in advance Apple works on hardware — they were already in the advanced stages of designing the 2022 Apple Watches months ago. (Aesthetically, I am not sold on a flat-edge design for the watch. The round edges are iconic and organic.)

You can argue that Series 7 is a marginal upgrade over Series 6, but with an all-new screen (brighter and bigger), all-new crystal (more durable), and 33 percent faster charging, there are upgrades, and none of them could be slapped together.

NSO Group iMessage Zero-Click Exploit Captured in the Wild, Patched by Apple 

Citizen Lab:

In March 2021, we examined the phone of a Saudi activist who has chosen to remain anonymous, and determined that they had been hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. During the course of the analysis we obtained an iTunes backup of the device.

Recent re-analysis of the backup yielded several files with the “.gif” extension in Library/SMS/Attachments that we determined were sent to the phone immediately before it was hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

Because the format of the files matched two types of crashes we had observed on another phone when it was hacked with Pegasus, we suspected that the “.gif” files might contain parts of what we are calling the FORCEDENTRY exploit chain.

Citizen Lab forwarded the artifacts to Apple on Tuesday, September 7. On Monday, September 13, Apple confirmed that the files included a zero-day exploit against iOS and MacOS. They designated the FORCEDENTRY exploit CVE-2021-30860, and describe it as “processing a maliciously crafted PDF may lead to arbitrary code execution.”

The files with the “.gif” extension weren’t actually GIF files — they were carefully-crafted malformed PSD and PDF files that triggered image processing bugs. What makes attacks like this particularly dastardly is that the victim apparently doesn’t even see anything. It’s invisible.

iPhone 13 Claim Chowder: Satellite Connectivity 

Sascha Segan, writing for PCMag:

Well, that was bogus.

Both prominent analyst Ming-chi Kuo and extremely reliable Apple reporter Mark Gurman got seemingly taken in this year by a rumor that the new iPhone 13 line would talk to satellites, something that completely didn’t happen during the company’s iPhone 13 announcement on Tuesday.

In fact, the iPhone 13 doesn’t even feature 5G band n53, the ground-based 5G band owned by satellite operator Globalstar, which I had speculated was the grain of truth in the rumors. So I was wrong, too. […]

We may never know what really caused those rumors to spark, but I wonder darkly if it has to do with some sort of stock pump-and-dump situation. Satellite provider Globalstar’s stock jumped after Kuo’s report, and now it’s crashing back to earth.

It’s possible that the iPhones 13 do contain a satellite-connectivity-compatible chip, but Apple made no mention of it as a feature. Gurman was circumspect about whether the feature would actually ship, but Kuo seemingly reported it as fact.

Norm Macdonald Dies at 61, After Long Battle With Cancer 

Jordan Moreau, reporting for Variety:

Norm Macdonald, the deadpan comedian, actor, writer and “Saturday Night Live” star, has died after a private battle with cancer, Variety has confirmed. He was 61.

Macdonald’s cancer diagnosis was kept secret from the public, but he battled it for nine years.

Terrible news. Fuck cancer, man.

It’s hard to pick one favorite Macdonald bit, but his portrayal of Turd Ferguson on Celebrity Jeopardy makes me laugh every damn time I watch it.

Flat-Edged Apple Watch Series 7 Claim Chowder 

May 19:

The upcoming Apple Watch Series 7 will feature a flat-edged design, similar to the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, and the addition of a new green case color option, according to Apple leaker Jon Prosser.

Bonus points to Prosser for commissioning 3D renders of a fictional design.

Mark Gurman, two weeks ago:

While last year’s upgrade centered on the blood-oxygen sensor, this year’s is all about a new design with a flatter display and edges, a faster processor and slightly larger screens.

Ming-Chi Kuo, four days before Apple’s event:

The new device will introduce the “most significant change in the design of the Apple Watch ever.” […] Kuo echoes those claims, stating that the device will feature “flat-edge and narrow bezel designs.”

Today: A big nope on those flat edges. No always-on display mode for any of the new iPhones, either.

New Data From CDC Shows That COVID-19 Remains a Pandemic Only Among the Unvaccinated 

The vaccinated line in these new charts does show a small bump for getting COVID among the vaccinated, but hospitalization and death are spiking only for the unvaccinated.

NXLog Enterprise Edition 

My thanks to NXLog for sponsoring last week at DF.

NXLog is able to capture logs directly from Apple’s Unified Logging System, can collect Endpoint Security logs natively, and offers powerful log aggregation capabilities. NXLog gives you complete visibility over your MacOS security logging with a native solution. It is by far the most configurable and versatile log collection solution for the Mac.

‘Fear and Loathing in America’ 

You’ll read nothing better — or more prescient — about 9/11 than Hunter S. Thompson’s column for ESPN, written 24 hours after the attack:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerrilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

Nothing — even George Bush’s $350 billion “Star Wars” missile defense system — could have prevented Tuesday’s attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

The good Dr. Thompson’s voice is sorely missed today.

The Bizarre Decline of Common Sense in COVID Reporting at The New York Times 

Apoorva Mandavilli, reporting for The New York Times back on August 18:

Together, the new studies indicate overall that vaccines have an effectiveness of roughly 55 percent against all infections, 80 percent against symptomatic infection, and 90 percent or higher against hospitalization, noted Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University.

“Those numbers are actually very good,” Dr. Murray said. “The only group that these data would suggest boosters for, to me, is the immunocompromised.” […]

Dr. Murray said a booster shot would undoubtedly boost immunity in an individual, but the added benefit may be minimal — and obtained just as easily by wearing a mask, or avoiding indoor dining and crowded bars.

This is like saying we don’t need air bags in addition to seat belts, because the equivalent increase in safety during car crashes could be “obtained just as easily” by limiting cars to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. It’s not factually incorrect, but it defies common sense. It’s the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Wearing masks sucks. People want to eat indoors and go to crowded bars. People want to drive faster than 15 miles per hour.

The Times misses Donald McNeil’s reporting dearly. The above nonsense isn’t going to earn them a Pulitzer like McNeil’s excellent reporting did last year. Meanwhile, writing on his own, rather than telling people to mask indefinitely and stay home, he’s got it right:

Nonetheless, data from Israel suggests that mRNA vaccines start waning after six months. Israel is already offering booster shots to everyone over 60. We must do the same. (And ultimately not just to seniors — early hints suggest that the passage of time lowers everyone’s protection.)

We need to get over the current “pretty please?” phase of this fight. Vaccination mandates change everything. Think how different our lives would be if smallpox vaccine was never invented and, every 20 years or so, one third of our children died. That was life before vaccines.

In this country, 99 percent of Covid deaths are now among the unvaccinated. Data doesn’t get more convincing than that.

Death has a false-positive rate of zero.

Unvaccinated People Are 5× More Likely to Catch Delta Variant of COVID, 10× More Likely to be Hospitalized, 11× More Likely to Die 

Beth Mole, reporting for Ars Technica:

COVID-19 vaccines are largely holding up against the hyper-transmissible delta coronavirus variant, particularly when it comes to preventing severe disease and death, according to three studies published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. […]

In terms of infections, fully vaccinated people were about 11 times less likely to get an infection in the pre-delta period, compared with the unvaccinated (with a 95 percent confidence interval of 7.8 to 15.8). That ratio dropped to 4.6 less likely in the post-delta period (with a 95 percent confidence interval of 2.5 to 8.5).

For hospitalizations prior to delta, fully vaccinated people were 13 times less likely to wind up in the hospital than the unvaccinated (confidence interval of 11.3 to 15.6). After delta, that ratio dropped slightly to 10 times less likely (confidence interval of 8.1 to 13.3). The fully vaccinated were 16.6 times less likely to die of COVID-19 prior to delta (confidence interval of 13.5 to 20.4) and 11.3 times less likely to die after delta (confidence interval of 9.1 to 13.9).

Donald McNeil — the award-winning science reporter formerly of The New York Times — writing a month ago:

Confusion about mask rules is now so great that enforcement anywhere but on airplanes will be impossible. Requiring weekly tests as a substitute for vaccination is doomed to fail because the Delta variant can turn someone from healthy to superspreader in less than four days.

The key to saving lives is vaccine. The key to reopening offices and factories is vaccine. The key to reopening schools is vaccine. The key to keeping bars and restaurants open in cold weather is vaccine. The key to travel and shopping is vaccine. Vaccine in everybody.

Judgment in Epic Games, Inc. v. Apple Inc. 

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled today on the Epic v. Apple case. It seems pretty clear to me that Apple got a huge victory, and Epic was served an even huger loss. But read for yourself. There are three documents:

  • A one-page judgment, finding for Epic only on the issue of Apple’s anti-steering provision in the App Store Guidelines, and for Apple on all other counts. The judgment also says Epic owes Apple 30 percent of the $12 million Fortnite for iOS garnered while they were using their own in-app payment processing between August and October 2020, and that Epic and Apple must both pay their own legal fees.

  • A one-page injunction against the aforementioned anti-steering guideline, the meat of which is this:

    1. Apple Inc. and its officers, agents, servants, employees, and any person in active concert or participation with them (“Apple”), are hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from (i) including in their apps and their metadata buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to In-App Purchasing and (ii) communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app.
  • A 185-page ruling, containing all the findings of fact, etc.

Microsoft Will Require Vaccines for ‘All Employees, Vendors, and Any Guests Entering Microsoft Buildings’ 

Paul Roberts, reporting for The Seattle Times:

In a sign of growing momentum for vaccine mandates, Microsoft has reversed course and will now require employees to be fully vaccinated to enter the company’s U.S. offices and other worksites, starting next month.

The Redmond-based tech giant told employees Tuesday it will “require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors, and any guests entering Microsoft buildings in the U.S.”

The company also said it will have a process to accommodate employees “who have a medical condition or other protected reason, such as religion, which prevent them from getting vaccinated.”

Accommodations for medical conditions that preclude being vaccinated are common sense. But fuck these “religious” exemptions. If your “religion” forbids you from being vaccinated, that’s not a religion, that’s a cult.

So where’s Apple on this? Why isn’t Apple requiring proof of vaccination for employees, including for retail employees and customers? Why reserve courageous decisions only for removing headphone jacks?

Biden Issues Sweeping New Vaccine Mandates for 100 Million Americans 

Zeke Miller, reporting for the Associated Press:

In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.

Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the roughly 80 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

More like this, please. Mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for everything. For getting on a flight, for going to school, for eating in a restaurant, for keeping your job. Yes, mandating anything is an extraordinary use of authority, but this pandemic is clearly the most extraordinary crisis most of us have ever lived through. It’s exactly why the federal government has the far more extraordinary power to draft men into the armed services and send them to war: for the greater good.

L.A. School District Will Mandate Vaccines for Students 

Dana Goldstein, reporting for The New York Times:

Los Angeles is the first major school district in the United States to mandate coronavirus vaccines for students 12 and older who are attending class in person.

With the Delta variant ripping across the country, the district’s Board of Education voted, 6-0, to pass the measure on Thursday afternoon. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest in the nation, and the mandate would eventually apply to more than 460,000 students, including some enrolled at independent charter schools located in district buildings.

More like this, please.

Bloomberg Reports That Kevin Lynch – Who, It Turns Out, Is Not a Bozo but Was Just Being a Solid Team Player for Adobe Back When He Was Staunchly Defending Flash in the Face of the Obvious Fact That Flash Was Crap Technology Holding Back the Entire Web – Is Taking Over All of Project Titan 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Lynch, an Adobe Inc. veteran who joined Apple in 2013 to run the software group for the company’s smartwatch and health efforts, replaced Doug Field as the manager in charge of the car work, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The executive first started working on the project earlier this year when he took over teams handling the underlying software. Now he is overseeing the whole group, which also includes hardware engineering and work on self-driving car sensors, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the move isn’t public.

I think it’s fair to say that Lynch is second only to Craig Federighi software-wise at Apple, and the two initiatives he’s led in the eight years he’s been at Apple — WatchOS and Health — have been huge successes. Apple Watch is a hit product, WatchOS has gotten steadily better every single year, and a large part of what makes Apple Watch so popular — utterly dominant in a still-growing category — is its integration with Health.

I take this not just as a sign that Lynch is a star at Apple, but that Lynch sees a light at the end of the Project Titan tunnel — something that might actually ship, my jokes be damned. It’s also a sign that WatchOS has largely matured. No platform is ever done until it’s dead, so I’m not saying WatchOS won’t continue iterating year-over-year, but the “shaping and steering a new platform from launch through maturity” period is over.

It feels, however, like Project Titan is somehow cursed. Smart people at Apple believe it’s solvable with the right approach, but the project keeps “pivoting” every few years, and that takes a toll on confidence and stamina. The thrill of shipping is the reward for years of hard work, and to date no one who’s devoted serious effort to Titan has gotten even a hint of that reward.

* Bloomberg, of course, remains the outfit that shit its journalistic pants with The Big Hack — a blockbuster report that no one, including Bloomberg, has ever produced a single shred of evidence to back up — yet not only never retracted it but in fact still “stands behind” it even though it’s rather clear they hope everyone just forgets about it. So take anything they publish with a Big Hack-sized grain of salt, even though Gurman’s reporting on the Apple beat has been nonpareil of late.

Philadelphia’s Plastic Bags Ban 

From the city’s website:

Philadelphians use almost 1 billion plastic bags each year, which litter our streets, waterways, and commercial corridors. Plastic bags account for over 10,000 hours of lost staff time and pose a danger to workers at recycling facilities because they get caught in the equipment. Banning plastic bags will make our city cleaner, reduce waste and save money.

I’ve been reading Millions, Billions, Zillions by Brian Kernighan (who is apparently a computer scientist of some renown). It’s a great book ($11 in hardcover from Amazon; BookShop.org link to indie booksellers), and Kernighan’s writing style is as buttery smooth as ever. One of the things he does is encourage back-of-the-envelope math on numbers like the above, when you encounter them. Does it make sense that Philadelphians use 1 billion plastic bags per year?

Philly has about 1.6 million residents. 1 billion divided by 1.6 million is 625 plastic bags per person per year, about 12 bags per person per week, or 1.7 bags per person per day. When I consider how often stores double-bag anything vaguely heavy, that seems plausible. (There’s also the fact that Philly gets many tourists, and in normal times there are many non-residents who commute into the city daily for work. Feel free to bump 1.6 million to a higher number, but for ballpark “does this figure make sense” purposes, I think the Census figure is fine.)

10,000 annual hours of lost staff time is high, but seems plausible too: That’s about 192 hours per week, or about 5 full-time employees.

Anker’s $20 Nano Pro 20W Charger 

Speaking of stuff you can buy from Amazon — with affiliate links that could make me rich — I highly recommend Anker’s small 20-watt Nano chargers. Basically, they’re the size of Apple’s classic 5-watt chargers, and thus fit almost anywhere, but they charge at the same speed as Apple’s much-larger new 20-watt chargers. These new models from Anker come in four colors: white, black, lavender, and sissy blue. If you or anyone you know is getting a new iPhone soon, I would strongly recommend one of Anker’s chargers over Apple’s — same speed, same price, much smaller, and a few color options to top it off.

Another Anker charger I’ve been meaning to recommend is the Atom PowerPort III Slim. It’s a 30-watt charger currently on sale for $19, and what makes it different is that it’s, well, very slim (including folding prongs). This charger will fit behind furniture that’s pushed up against the wall. It’s small and lightweight too — here’s mine next to a matchbox for comparison.

‘Every Streaming Company Not Named Apple Receives a Lousy Grade on Privacy’ 

Karl Bode, writing for TechDirt:

While streaming providers and hardware companies see significantly higher consumer satisfaction rates than traditional cable TV, their privacy practices still leave something to be desired. That’s according to a new breakdown of streaming service privacy policies by Common Sense Media, which doled out terrible grades to pretty much everybody not named Apple:

Our privacy evaluations of the top 10 streaming apps indicate that all streaming apps (except Apple TV+) have privacy practices that put consumers’ privacy at considerable risk including selling data, sending third‐party marketing communications, displaying targeted advertisements, tracking users across other sites and services, and creating advertising profiles for data brokers.

This privacy report focuses on streaming services, not hardware platforms, but related to the previous post re: Amazon’s new Fire TV Omni Series, it’s also the case that Apple TV is the only platform that makes privacy a priority and doesn’t put ads on your screen.

Amazon Introduces Omni Series Fire TV Sets 

New line of LED TV sets from Amazon, with Fire TV and Alexa built-in. The high-end 65- and 75-inch models ($830 / $1,100) come with Dolby Vision support; the lesser models (43-inch for $410, 50-inch for $510, 55-inch for $560) do not. All models are LED, not OLED.

‘Mr. November’ 

Mike Lupica, writing for MLB.com:

Jeter was a part of the last Yankee dynasty. His Yankees won four World Series in five years and nearly made it five in six. In the middle of all the winning in the late ‘90s for the Yankees of Joe Torre — the man Jeter calls “Mister Torre” — I was with Jeter one day at his locker at the old Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees were getting ready for another October, and I said to him, “You know, this isn’t going to last forever.”

He looked up at me and quietly said, “Why not?”

This was before he made The Flip to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate in Oakland to save a Yankees season, and before he went 5-for-5 on the day he got to 3,000 hits with a home run off David Price. But Jeter was already the player that kids wanted to be. There were other great Yankees at that time. Still: No. 2 was the one.

And the moment I will always remember best for Jeter, as big and important and memorable as any he ever had and the old Stadium ever had, came at the end of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, in the middle of three extraordinary nights in the shadow of 9/11, three nights when the Yankees made a wounded city cheer.

Worth it just for the video clip with Michael Kay’s call: “See ya! See ya! See ya!” Gets you right there.

Derek Jeter, Hall of Fame Shortstop 

Tyler Kepner, writing for The New York Times, on Derek Jeter’s entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame today:

The next season would end much differently for Jeter: at shortstop in Yankee Stadium, celebrating his team’s first World Series title in 18 years. It would ingrain in Jeter a demanding but matter-of-fact standard, that a season is only successful if it ends in a championship.

Jeter’s fans loved him for that mentality, and more. […]

He also learned to never make excuses, a lesson embedded in the Yankee experience. With each passing championship, Jeter said, Yogi Berra would remind him that he had won a record 10 as a player. It is tougher to win now, Jeter would protest, citing modern playoff rounds, but Berra would cut him off.

“His response was: ‘You can come over to my house and count the rings anytime you want,’” Jeter said. “So I always felt as though you’re trying to chase something.”

Billy Crystal: “Jeter, simply put, was a winner.”

Ford Hires Doug Field, Who Had Been Leading Project Titan at Apple 

Michael Wayland, reporting for CNBC:

Ford Motor said Tuesday it hired former Tesla and Apple executive Doug Field to lead its emerging technology efforts, a key focus for the automaker under its new Ford+ turnaround plan.

Field — who led development of Tesla’s Model 3 — most recently served as vice president of special projects at Apple, which reportedly included the tech giant’s Titan car project.

The hire is a major addition for Ford and a big hit to Apple and its secret car project, which the company has yet to confirm exists.

Maybe it’s as simple as Field wanting to work on something that’s actually going to ship?

Breakthrough COVID Cases for the Vaccinated Remain Very Rare 

David Leonhardt, writing for The New York Times:

The estimates here are based on statistics from three places that have reported detailed data on Covid infections by vaccination status: Utah; Virginia; and King County, which includes Seattle, in Washington state. All three are consistent with the idea that about one in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid each day in recent weeks.

The chances are surely higher in the places with the worst Covid outbreaks, like the Southeast. And in places with many fewer cases — like the Northeast, as well as the Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco areas — the chances are lower, probably less than 1 in 10,000. That’s what the Seattle data shows, for example. (These numbers don’t include undiagnosed cases, which are often so mild that people do not notice them and do not pass the virus to anyone else.)

Here’s one way to think about a one-in-10,000 daily chance: It would take more than three months for the combined risk to reach just 1 percent.

Breakthrough cases for the vaccinated are far more rare than many people have been led to believe through clickbait headlines.

Pymnts Survey: Only 6 Percent of People With iPhones Use Apple Pay In-Store 

Karen Webster, writing for the oddly-named Pymnts:

Seven years post-launch, new PYMNTS data shows that 93.9% of consumers with Apple Pay activated on their iPhones do not use it in-store to pay for purchases.

That means only 6.1% do.

That finding is based on PYMNTS’ national study of 3,671 U.S. consumers conducted between Aug. 3-10, 2021. After seven years, Apple Pay’s adoption and usage isn’t much larger than it was 2015 (5.1%), a year after its launch, and is the same as it was in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

It doesn’t really make sense to me that adoption isn’t much higher than it was in 2015, and if these survey results are accurate, I find them surprisingly low. I’d have guessed somewhere in the 15–20 percent range. If it’s true adoption is this low, I think one factor could be first impressions — my wife got turned off by Apple Pay in the earlier years because so many retail terminals that supposedly accepted it were so finicky. Using an old-fashioned credit card was more reliable. Also, habits. But I use Apple Pay today whenever I can, and I find it more reliable than tap-and-pay with a physical card.

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

This survey shows an approximately flat use rate from 2019 through 2021, down slightly from 2018. Webster writes that the pandemic ought to have “changed the trajectory of Apple Pay” as “contactless and touchless have become the consumer’s checkout mantra”. But anyone with a Face ID-equipped iPhone can tell you that wearing a mask requires you to authenticate by using your passcode, so it has been far easier for the past eighteen months to simply tap a card. That is probably true generally, as well; Apple Pay may have better privacy and security, but it is no easier to use than a card that supports tap to pay, even without the added complication of pandemic precautions.

Apple Pay with Apple Watch works well while wearing a face mask, but using your iPhone sucks.

‘California Streaming’ — Apple Event Next Tuesday 

A virtual event — which is not the least bit surprising but still a bit of a bummer. No guess from me as to what, if anything, the invitation means. Here’s Greg Joswiak’s tweet, which has a brief video teaser.

Update: And there’s another nifty AR Easter egg on Apple’s main events page, viewable from an iPhone.

Hurricane Ida Flooding in Philly 

A bunch of readers have reached out to ask if we made it through Ida OK, with all the flooding in Philly. We were very lucky. Some neighborhoods very close to us, not so much. I was out all afternoon Thursday, snapping pictures, and here are some showing the damage.

Morning Brew 

My thanks to Morning Brew for sponsoring last week at DF. There’s a reason over 3 million people start their day with Morning Brew — it’s the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Unlike traditional news, Morning Brew knows how to keep you informed and entertained. Check it out — I’ve been subscribed for two years and enjoy it every day.

‘There Goes a Truly Great Drummer’ 

Nick Cave on Charlie Watts. Love this story.

Wirecutter’s ‘Best’ Drip Coffee Makers Pooh-Poohs the Two Best Drip Coffee Makers 

Here’s a perfect example of what I was talking about in the previous item, about The Wirecutter institutionally fetishizing price over quality. And within “quality” I include design aesthetics, which, let’s face it, almost always goes hand-in-hand with price.

From their current list of “best” drip coffee makers, which is topped by OXO’s $200 Brew 9-Cup:

You can find a number of expensive, stylish coffee makers made in small quantities for enthusiast audiences. Clive Coffee’s Ratio Eight and the Chemex Ottomatic are two prominent examples. They’re all made for connoisseurs who are willing to spend a lot on a high-end machine. The main draw of these coffee makers is that they brew similarly to manually making a batch of pour-over — pre-infusing the grounds and evenly pouring the hot water. For the price, however, it’s hard to see any concrete benefits to these machines, and they’re also less widely available than our top picks.

The Ratio Eight costs $495, and the Chemex Ottomatic $350. They don’t just brew coffee similarly to pour-over, they brew pour-over. The difference is only that they’re automatic. And pour-over coffee tastes better than the stuff regular drip coffee makers brew.

The “concrete benefits” to these machines is that they make better-tasting coffee and they look better on your kitchen counter. Yes, $350/495 is significantly more than $200, but many coffee lovers gladly spend $5 a cup every day for pour-over coffee from a good coffee shop. Many people pay close to that for drip coffee from not-so-good coffee shops.

I was recently at a friend’s house who owns the Ratio Eight and it’s a splendid device. Me, I’ll stick with my manual pour-over method, if only for the ritual, but if I were going to buy a machine to automate it, I don’t think I’d consider anything other than a Ratio. Also, Ratio makes the best thermal carafe I’ve ever seen — I ordered one of those. I expect to use it for a decade, if not longer.

And what’s the deal with using “less widely available” as an excuse not to recommend them? A list of “The Best Coffee Makers You Can Definitely Get Delivered This Week” or “The Best Coffee Makers You Can Find on the Shelf If You’re Reading This Review While Standing in the Coffee Maker Aisle at Target” is very different from a list of “The Best Coffee Makers”. A coffee maker is the sort of item I’d research the heck out of, and get on a waitlist to buy, so that I could get one that would most delight me every morning for years to come.

Wirecutter’s description of these two coffee makers is criminal. But at least they did mention them. In many other categories, superior but more-expensive products don’t even get a mention from Wirecutter. I think there’s a huge market opportunity here for a quality-and-design-first rival.

Wirecutter Goes Behind The New York Times’s Paywall 

The New York Times:

The New York Times Company announced today that Wirecutter, its product recommendation service, will institute a metered paywall, asking its frequent users to subscribe for unlimited access to its research and recommendations. New York Times All Access digital and home delivery subscribers will continue to receive unlimited access to Wirecutter’s 1,200+ product reviews, deals coverage and other guides to help them shop confidently online with their existing subscription. A standalone subscription to Wirecutter is available for $5 every four weeks or $40 annually.

This makes sense, and in my opinion, the Times’s paywall rules are among the best in the industry, in terms of offering a generous number of free reads to non-subscribers. But it’s one less “free for everyone to read” high-quality site.

(I have always enjoyed Wirecutter, going back to when they debuted (and had a leading The), but I wish they had a rival that focused less on price. Wirecutter recommendations are very often skewed to the best low-priced product, not the best product in a category, period. I want domain experts to tell me the best products — I can make up my own mind on how much I want to spend.)

Twitter Super Follows Are Implemented as Discrete SKU’s to Work With Apple’s IAP System 

Jane Manchun Wong:

Each Super Follow is an In-App Purchase on the App Store, but because there are too many IAPs for the Twitter app, the App Store only shows 10 instead of the full list.

Her tweet includes this screenshot. The gist is, each Twitter user offering Super Follows gets its own distinct IAP. If there are 1,000 users offering Super Follows, there are 1,000 discrete IAPs in the App Store. If there are 10,000 users offering them, 10,000 IAPs. If there are 100,000, our heads explode.

This is incredible. Ostensibly, Twitter is doing what Apple wants them to do. Right now Super Follows payments are even exclusive to iOS. (Once you pay on iOS, you can see Super Follow content on Twitter’s Android and web clients, too, but the only way to pay is on iOS through IAP.) But Apple’s IAP system is so brittle that Twitter has to make a discrete SKU for each and every Super Follow user, and pay Apple 30 percent of the price for the privilege. (Twitter, per its published terms, takes just 3 percent of the first $50,000 in lifetime earnings, then 20 percent after that.) Also, because Apple’s IAP listings in the App Store rank IAP offerings by popularity, Twitter is being forced to reveal data that they quite likely would prefer to keep to themselves.

No-Quote Attribution of the Day 

Reed Albergotti, reporting for The Washington Post on Apple’s postponement of the new child safety features for iMessage and iCloud Photos:

Apple spokesman Fred Sainz said he would not provide a statement on Friday’s announcement because The Washington Post would not agree to use it without naming the spokesperson.

Fair enough, I suppose, but Albergotti’s blinders have become rather obvious.

Apple Delays Rollout of Controversial Child Safety Features 

Apple, in a statement to the media this morning:

Last month we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material. Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.

Accepting feedback and considering that feedback is exactly why they announced these two initiatives in advance, with details, rather than just launching them. Neither of these initiatives should be rushed.

Vintage 2016 Claim Chowder: ‘It’s Official: Google Is the New Apple’ 

Funny how this didn’t work out, at all, because I thought that when Inc. declared something “official” it was official.

Three New Jersey Cops Swept Away in Flooding, Clung to Trees for Hours, Fired Guns to Signal for Help 

Kevin Shea, reporting for NJ.com:

The call was for a vehicle in floodwaters on Route 518 in Hopewell Township — one of many rescue calls in New Jersey Wednesday evening as storms from Hurricane Ida flooded the state. Police Officer James Hoffman went to check it out.

Moments after arriving in the area, east of Route 31 at about 8:30 p.m., Hoffman turned into a victim.

His patrol car started taking on water, then started floating away — sliding sideways about 100 yards into deeper water. Hoffman ditched his bulky duty vest, climbed through a window and started swimming. He found a tree and held on.

Amazing story.

Surgical Masks Reduce COVID-19 Spread, Large-Scale Study Shows 

Stanford Medicine:

A large, randomized trial led by researchers at Stanford Medicine and Yale University has found that wearing a surgical face mask over the mouth and nose is an effective way to reduce the occurrence of COVID-19 in community settings.

It also showed that relatively low-cost, targeted interventions to promote mask-wearing can significantly increase the use of face coverings in rural, low-income countries. Based on the results, the interventional model is being scaled up to reach tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia and Latin America over the next few months.

You might be tempted to file this under “Duh”, but it’s essential to actually study things like this rigorously. It was just 18 months ago, at the outset of the pandemic, when the CDC and other health organizations were saying people shouldn’t bother with face masks.

(Via Taegan Goddard at Political Wire.)

‘Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks’ 

Wendy Molyneux, writing eloquently for McSweeney’s:

You think vaccines don’t fucking work? Oh, fuck off into the trash, you attention-seeking fuckworm-faced shitbutt. This isn’t even a point worth discussing, you fuck-o-rama fuck-stival of ignorance. Vaccines got rid of smallpox and polio and all the other disgusting diseases that used to kill off little fucks like you en masse. Your relatives got fucking vaccinated and let you live, and now here you are signing up to be killed by a fucking disease against which there is a ninety-nine-percent effective vaccine. You fucking moron. Go in the fucking ocean and fuck a piranha. Fuck. Fuck that. Fuck you. Get vaccinated.

Apple’s Burned Trust 

John Siracusa, on Twitter:

Sure, your “reader” app can include one (1) approved link to your website … but will you be allowed to have any text near that link explaining why someone might want to tap on it, or is that still forbidden? This is where we are, mentally, when considering App Store rules in 2021.

I heard from one reader in the racket wondering if Apple is going to require these apps to also offer Apple’s IAP to be allowed to include a link to a website. I have another friend, who works on a popular subscription app that does use IAP, who’s wondering if they’re going to be allowed to also have a link to their website now, and doubting it.

That’s how much trust Apple has burned.

The spirit of Apple’s settlement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission is clear: these “reader” apps are going to be permitted to link users to their websites for signing up and buying media like e-books, movies, and music. Within that spirit, of course they’re going to be allowed to have text explaining this, and of course they’re not going to be required to also offer Apple’s IAP for these same purchases.

But very reasonable, smart people are genuinely skeptical that Apple is going to adhere to the spirit of this settlement.

Call me a fool, but I think Apple is going to follow through and do the right thing by these apps. There are a lot of negative adjectives that I’d apply to Apple regarding the App Store. Greedy, inconsistent, frustrating, shortsighted, capricious, officious, technically illiterate. Did I say greedy? But one thing Apple is not and never has been is devious. Apple does not play tricks. And the JFTC would not take kindly to tricks.

Apple to Relax Anti-Steering Rules to Allow ‘Reader’ Apps to Link to Their Websites for Account Creation and Management 

This is actually big news from Apple:

Apple today announced an update coming to the App Store that closes an investigation by the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC). The update will allow developers of “reader” apps to include an in-app link to their website for users to set up or manage an account. While the agreement was made with the JFTC, Apple will apply this change globally to all reader apps on the store. Reader apps provide previously purchased content or content subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video.

To ensure a safe and seamless user experience, the App Store’s guidelines require developers to sell digital services and subscriptions using Apple’s in-app payment system. Because developers of reader apps do not offer in-app digital goods and services for purchase, Apple agreed with the JFTC to let developers of these apps share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account. […]

“Trust on the App Store is everything to us. The focus of the App Store is always to create a safe and secure experience for users, while helping them find and use great apps on the devices they love,” said Phil Schiller, Apple Fellow who oversees the App Store. “We have great respect for the Japan Fair Trade Commission and appreciate the work we’ve done together, which will help developers of reader apps make it easier for users to set up and manage their apps and services, while protecting their privacy and maintaining their trust.”

Progress. Apple’s anti-steering provisions are the number one thing I have been clamoring to be changed in the App Store rules. I think this should expand beyond just “reader” apps, but one step at a time.

Do you hear that sound? That’s the sound of a significant amount of antitrust pressure being relieved from Apple. Netflix, Kindle, and Spotify (which has been a particularly vocal critic of Apple’s policies) can all do what they should have been allowed to do all along: link to their websites from their apps and tell users that’s where they need to go to sign up and buy content.

Update: Press release from the JFTC, “Closing the Investigation on the Suspected Violation of the Antimonopoly Act by Apple Inc.”:

During the JFTC’s investigation, Apple proposed to take measures such as revising the Guideline related to the alleged conduct above. As a result of the JFTC’s review on this proposal, the JFTC recognized it would eliminate the abovementioned suspicion and decided to close the investigation on this case after the JFTC confirms the measure has been taken.

Other than this, the JFTC found no other monopolistic conduct.

Teenage Chinese Gamers Lash Out at New Rules Limiting Them to Three Hours of Play Per Week 

Al Jazeera:

The new rules will only allow gaming platforms to offer services to minors from 8pm to 9pm on Fridays, weekends and public holidays, according to state news agency Xinhua, which cited a release by the National Press and Publication Administration. China had previously restricted gaming hours for teens to 1.5 hours per day in 2019.

It’s “indisputable” that indulging in online games affects normal study life and the physical and mental health of teens, the People’s Daily article said. “Destroying a teenager will destroy a family.”

Young Chinese gamers were, however, angry.

“This group of grandfathers and uncles who make these rules and regulations, have you ever played games? Do you understand that the best age for e-sports players is in their teens?” said one comment on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.

“Sexual consent at 14, at 16 you can go out to work but you have to be 18 to play games. This is really a joke.”

I’m not predicting anything, but, this could severely backfire against the CCP. You can only push people so far before they revolt, and it’s hard to imagine how the CCP could breed more resentment than by taking away video games from teens.

The Talk Show: ‘Just a Standard Bird’ 

MG Siegler returns to the show to talk about last week’s surprise announcement from Apple settling a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of U.S. App Store developers, and the various reactions to it. Also, a bit on App Store payment processing, and some speculation on who might succeed Tim Cook.

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